Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Flowers

These flowers I did plant, but last year. I didn't get around to buying any flowers for the bed beside the garage. But these marigolds that I thought were annuals came back this year.  They're stinky but they're my type of plant as they require very little attention from me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Reflections on the 2016 AAC Nationals

Last week, I attended the 2016 AAC National Agility Championships with Beckett. Keltic had qualified to go too but I wanted to focus on Beckett and didn't think Keltic was really ready for that level of competition. This year's championship was held in Montreal, Quebec, only a two and half hour drive from my home. It was held at a school, outdoors on artificial turf.  That caused quite a few people to decide not to attend as turf can get really hot with the hot summer weather. I decided that if Beckett showed signs of discomfort we would withdraw so that was another reason that I did not enter Keltic; losing entry fees for one dog would be bad enough. Of course, we had probably the hottest weekend of the summer. I did find the turf to be hot, very hot in fact, but not burning hot. Several dogs did burn their pads but I would expect it was due to them doing very tight turns or that they had tender pads and were predisposed to that type of injury anyway even if the surface had been dry grass.

The facility was very nice. The soccer field area was completely fenced and surrounded treed park areas and asphalt trails for the shade tenting areas. There were also fountains around the park and a couple in the soccer field that they also had hoses connected to, so there was water available for soaking cool coats, filling wading pools for the dogs and misting tents for people and dogs. The soccer fields were also lighted which came into play on Saturday as due to delays, some dogs were still running at 9:30 pm. There was even an off-leash dog park, that some of the organizers didn't even know about, that we found on Saturday.

Tent City (Photo credit: Leslie Cameron)
The trip to Nationals started with a bit of a panic due the fact that the hotel I had booked way back in January had changed their pet policy from two dogs per room, no weight limit, to one dog up to 10 lbs and then only in one room at the hotel. I managed to get another booking at the hotel that was one of the event sponsors. Three others were also affected by this policy change, two other competitors and a friend of mine who was coming to spectate. Choice Hotels Customer Care was good though, they gave me a $150 discount since the new hotel was more expensive and they gave me 16,000 reward points. It turned out just fine, the new hotel was closer and most competitors were staying there so there was lots of people to chat with in the hotel restaurant in the evenings.

Our accommodations
I arrived on site Wednesday to set up. Most times you can drive up near to the crating area to offload.  The facility had a great turn-around area where that could have been done but they wouldn't let us drive up so I got Beckett on leash and dragged the shade tent about 600 m to one of the crating areas. I found some people I knew and decided that was far enough. I had planned to walk around to select a site. The site we got worked out just fine, close to one of the gates for the soccer fields, we could see some of the rings through the fence, equidistant from two rows of portapotties (kind of important don't you know) and close to the information tent and vendors row.   After setting up and registering, we left and went to check in at the hotel. My roommate and I just decided just to eat at the hotel restaurant. It took a while as there was only one wait staff and she was also doing room service

Thursday afternoon, we had two warm-up runs, two Steeplechase. My favourite event with Beckett as there are no refusals so spinning only loses time. We had one bit of spinning on a tunnel in the first run and a really nice run for the second. Beckett got a qualifying score in both runs and came in 7th place in both runs as well. There was a Steeplechase finals to be held on Sunday but I didn't know if that would be good enough to win us a spot.  We ate again at the hotel but the hotel had not learned from the night before and there was still only one wait staff. He gave us our drinks for free since we had waited so long.

Competitor's view of ring 5
Friday, the championships began. We had two runs in the morning, a Standard and a Gamblers. One run, a Jumpers, was scheduled for 6pm.  Gamblers is not our thing, Beckett did a lot of spinning in this event, as a result we only had a 28 point opening. Next up in our Standard, we had one refusal for spinning on a tunnel and one bar down for 10 faults.  In Nationals, in the Standard and the Jumpers you start with points and your faults are deducted. The Standard is worth a 100 points and the Jumpers 75 points.  If you are clean, points are added for every second you are under the standard course time. As an example if you are clean in a Standard and are 8 seconds under time you would get 108 points for that event. In Gamblers, you earn points and if you get the main gamble get 35 bonus points and get points for every second under time, so if you had 40 opening points, got the main gamble for 35 points and were two seconds under time, you would have 77 points. Highest scoring dog after the six events wins the championship. There are overall placements down to 10th place as well as individual event awards. Our performance in the first two events didn't place us all that high in the 10" Special class. Now we had to wait for the Jumpers run that was supposed to be at 6pm. The events had started late and they kept getting more and more delayed as the day went on; there  was even an individual event ribbon ceremony in the afternoon while our dogs sat in their crates in the heat. Some people took the long break as an opportunity to go back to the hotel which in hindsight was a very good idea.  We didn't start the walk-throughs for Jumpers until about 7pm and I didn't run until about 8:30 pm.  Beckett was spinny, I had walked the course with about 9 front crosses and, for three of them, I just couldn't get to where I needed to be. I know enough to stop when he spins and get him back on line, so we finished with a clean run, still a few seconds under time. But the extra time we took cost us as we ended up in 16th place on that run. We got back to the hotel just after 9 pm and ordered in pizza.  We over-estimated how much we could eat and had a whole pizza left, which we had for lunch the next two days. It was good pizza so that worked out just fine.

Beckett running at Nationals (Photo credit: Tamara Gallant)
Saturday we had the second Gamblers and Jumpers courses.  Again Gamblers is not our thing, we did a little better for opening points getting 31 points and Beckett did go out the first obstacle of the Gamble but I could not get him to complete the main gamble in the time allowed. The Jumpers run was beautiful, we were clean and under time, I hoped that we would place in this event and we did getting 9th place.  Saturday was the banquet. The organizers had planned a great banquet with little gift bags of dog treats and candy (for humans) and napkin rings made with heart-shaped dog cookies. The caterers had prepared a wonderful meal and there was lots to go around, they even had enough for people to go for seconds. We had roasted pork, beef, baked potatoes, vegetable rice, salads, rolls with butter. For dessert, there were Nationals cupcakes that were made by a 15 year-old.

Jumpers 2 and Score Sheet

Our placement ribbon (Photo by: Elaine McLean)
Sunday, they divided each of the height classes into the top 15 and all the rest. There was only one run to do which was the second Standard. The "rest" ran by height class first thing in the morning and the top 15 of the Specials and Vets ran later in the morning and the top 15 of the Regular height classes were show cased running one ring at a time in the afternoon. Beckett wasn't in the top 15 so to be safe we went early in the morning as there were no walk-throughs shown on the program, only again to have some delays. We had a beautiful Standard, a great way to end our Nationals runs. I was a little close to the weaves but Beckett got his weave entry anyway. I came out of the ring sure we had a clean run but my friend said we got five faults and I knew it had to be on the dog walk. It must have been a very close call as I can usually see if he misses the contact zone. Bad luck, had we hit the yellow bit, he would have had 7th place based on his time. We did make the Steeplechase finals. They had live streaming for some of the events over the weekend and Steeplechase was one of those events. It was the last event of the day and they ran all the dogs, one jump height after another in one ring so everyone could watch. It was really cool to hear the announcer say your name as you entered the ring: "Now entering the ring Beckett, a Shetland Sheepdog, handled by Helen Stewart".  I messed up our weave entry but we finished clean in 42 seconds, not fast the mistake at the weaves cost us 3 to 4 seconds.  It was also cool to hear people cheering you on down the last stretch, I don't think Beckett has ever seen me so far in front of him but he stayed on his line and did all the jumps. Maybe I should remember that, as Fred says, if you aren't ahead of your dog, you aren't flying.

Standard 2 and Score Sheet

This year there was an event that was started at last year's Nationals; it is a 3-dog team event. You register a team of three dogs and handlers, the handlers have to be members of the AAC.  They record the scores from your runs counting only the top score although each dog has to count for two of the scores at the end of the scoring. The top team wins $1200, the second place team $600 and the third place team $300. It doesn't cost anything to enter other than your AAC membership. Beckett was on a team we called " This, That and The Other". There are also small prizes for Best Name and Best Costume. Our team came in 35th of 92 teams, not too bad.  I thought we had great costumes but we didn't make the cut in the costume contest, a team with only t-shirts did. The team that won the costume contest had a little white convertible car that their dogs rode in, that was really cute. We had t-shirts and headboppers for us, tires and mini cowboy hats for our dogs to wear. I guess you had to see the photo we had for our team to really understand the dog's costume.

Photo designed by Leslie Cameron
In costume, t-shirts and dog tires designed by Leslie

I wanted to wait for the ribbon ceremony for the aggregate placements as I had many friends who had made it to the podium including my roommate and her dog but I had set a deadline for my departure of 6:30 pm. At 6:38 pm, when they had not yet started the ribbons I decided to leave, after all there was the two and half hour drive home.  I still had some stuff to pack up so had to make two trips down to the car, I heard the start of the ribbon ceremonies when I packed up Beckett's crate and made that last walk to the car with him to begin our trip home.

The 2016 Nationals was over for us, they were fantastic despite the heat. I hope god-willing we'll be able to go to the 2018 Nationals where Beckett will definitely run as a veteran dog and perhaps even Keltic will get a chance to show his stuff. The 2017 Nationals are being held in British Columbia and that's just too far for us to travel.

Nationals Swag

New agility t-shirts