Often, the results of a competition only tell one part of the story. Breeze and I just returned from the AKC World Team Tryouts. We finished dead last amongst the talented teams that competed in the small dog division. Ouch. Double Ouch. Of course, I was disappointed in this result. We had worked very hard to get ready..and I felt the most prepared ever walking into this event. With the mild winter, I had more training opportunities than usual leading up to this Spring event (usually, I only get a few weeks to train outdoors before leaving). Breeze was well conditioned, running GREAT and I was in decent shape. Over the last year, I had made massive improvements in my mental game.
So what happened? As expected, the courses were extremely challenging. There were very few clean runs across all competitors. Some of my errors were timing errors, forced by the yahoo lines that got me behind the speedy little guy. But a significant contributor to our results was a weird weave issue that popped up on Friday. During our practice time, all was all good until Breeze hit the weave poles. He popped out around pole 8 or 9 and looked confused. When I entered him again, he put poles together, then he didn’t want to enter at all. Ok, then…what the heck????? After our practice time was over and I was puzzling over this, I saw the ring crew resetting the poles. Turns out, the poles were set up wrong and the legs were in the wrong place…apparently where his feet were supposed to go!! About 1/3 through practice, the organizers figured this out and fixed them. Everyone affected had a chance to get our dogs back on the weaves but apparently that wasn’t enough for Breeze. He refused entries and/or popped out of poles in all but one run. He was thoroughly checked out. Physically, there didn’t appear to be a problem. His weave concerns were most damaging in the last round when he refused the poles 3 times in the easiest entry of the weekend in an otherwise near perfect round. He simply refused to acknowledge the poles were there until I stopped him in front of them and said “weave”. In international competition, 3 refusals results in an elimination and 50 faults. At that point in the competition, the results of that one round made the difference between being in the top 10 versus dead last.
Despite the results, there was much to be proud of. Overall, I was pleased with my handling decisions and execution…we had beautiful lines through some of the most challenging sequences. Breeze was fast, responsive and accurate with the exception of the weaves (and one teeter). My mental game rocked and all the work I’ve done over the past year paid off. Before every run, I felt confident, relaxed and focused. After his first weave refusal in Round 1, I was sure to visualize him entering correctly so I wouldn’t inadvertently let my handling make things even worse. Even when things were going really badly on Saturday, I was able to put that behind me. I’m proud of the fact that I could come back after such a disappointing first day and found a way to get into that zone on the next day’s runs.
After every competition, I ask myself what I learned. Training opportunities? Need to get back to a consistent full stop on the teeter in trials. Breeze has a fast teeter because he runs nicely to the end of the board but the risk is that if he doesn’t shift weight and work his stop, we can get a call. Hasn’t happened much…maybe once in the past trial season but he’s been uncomfortably on the edge of late. He’s so light that it can seem to take forever for the board to drop and patience in waiting for the drop is not his strong suit (see picture above where he did shift weight). I need to make sure he knows this isn’t an option!
And what about those weaves? Why did that one bad moment in practice have such an effect? It’s not like him to worry like that…he’s had plenty of little things happen over the years…falling off contacts, hitting metal jump cups, maybe even his handler knocking a jump down on top of him. He’s always just gone right at it again. So, it’s quite uncharacteristic of him to worry about anything like this. Not long after arriving home, I couldn’t resist trying him out in the backyard in a couple of short sessions. He did great…driven, confident and accurate on tough entries. I’m going to assume for now, that the issue was isolated to weaves in Hopkins arena. I’ll be sure to add the highest value rewards to his weave training and work on even more independence to build his confidence.
From a handler perspective, I’m still noodling over how to know when I can get places on some of these long speed lines. Could I have trusted Breeze more in round 4 and made it to serp position before the double threadle? After watching video, I think the answer is “yes”! Can I train to be faster? Yikes, Tai is coming up. Since I’m not sprouting longer legs, I need to work smarter on my handling and harder on conditioning and running form.
Most of all, I’m grateful for having the opportunity to play amongst such talented teams and to be running this gifted dog. Hard to believe I can say this after what happened but its still my favorite event of the year. Am I crazy?
Here is the video of Round 5 (thanks Agility in Motion!) where you can see the weave problem. It’s a journey!