The Global Agility Movement?

We’re participating in the Dog Agility Blog discussion today – with many great blogs all discussing the topic of the “Internationalization” of agility.  Check out the all the surfing goodness here:

http://dogagilityblogevents.wordpress.com/internationalization/

A Merlie perspective on the ‘internationalization’ of agility…

DesMan - ready to travel?

DesMan – ready to travel?

International Agility – FCI, Worlds, EO, what does it have to do with my trialling with my Merlie boys?  Well, in the last year or two, quite a lot despite our feet staying firmly in our own little neck of the woods.  We’ve participated in several online courses with students from all over the world, focusing on international style handling.

With Duncan, I admired international handlers from afar and studied the gnarly European courses and puzzling moves.  You see, Duncan has always been a teammate who ran for the love of me… (and some cookies) not especially for the love of the course.  But while he can open up and fly on flowing courses, I learned to love the challenge of finding him a way through a technical course.  Pinwheels were a drag, wraps were a cause to throw on the brakes and I’d earn Dunc-glares.  So, I threw myself into learning how to handle efficiently, and find ways to preserve his hard-earned speed as often as possible.  While I’m not always successful, when I cross the line with a grinning Dunc after a twisty course, I feel we’ve truly done something special together.

Duncan and me at the gate

Duncan and me at the gate

Desmond, on the other hand, drug me into the international school of agility handling, and in no time at all, I was converted.  Being able to train and practice with friends and teachers locally is irreplaceable, and I count many fellow competitors from the region as dear friends.  But in addition, the cool part is that my agility community now also crosses the country and spans the world. Being able to bounce ideas off others also trying to push their boundaries well past what most of us see on the weekends is hugely motivating.

Desmond doing his SuperMan thing...

Desmond doing his SuperMan thing…

So what about the moves and skills?  After many moons of teaching Des to collect, to extend, to wrap and slice, I’d love to actually test those skills on U.S. courses.  While I may harbor distant thoughts to competing internationally, that may just not be logistically possible for me…or many others like me.  Until recently, it seems these super technical courses have only been seen a few times a year at WTTs or various venue regional/nationals, which is still something many teams can only manage once in a great while, if at all.  Why not offer some international-style course options like USDAA Masters Challenge or AKC’s rumored  ‘Excellent C’ for everyone to run if they choose?  For those who want to give it a shot, let’s push our boundaries and challenge our team skills way past our comfort zones.  Surprising things can happen…eventually that might become our comfort zone.  Or at least, a place that doesn’t scare the crap out of us while being scope-locked on the course map.

And for those who worry that the venues will become too difficult or exclusive for the EveryDog, I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I too, run an EveryDog, and I will continue to run and play with Duncan on courses that bring us joy, twisty or not.  There is a place for courses that are difficult, that make you think, to puzzle and walk the path a dozen times, to employ that handling move you’ve rehearsed a thousand times in your back yard…just as there is a place for fun, but challenging courses that can be run by everyone.

I get it, not everyone can run as hard and fast as they may have once done.  (I now have the hardware to prove it myself)  Some handlers blow my mind with their amazing connection and skills at a distance, or ability to flow like water around a course.  A gray-faced teammate wagging his way around the course with his beloved handler will always bring me to tears.  But that’s the beauty of agility; there’s something for everyone.  And Des and I vote for more course options for back sides, wraps, and pull-throughs.  Why?  Because I like a challenge, because it’s tough and because my legs still work.

And maybe…just maybe…after falling victim to our share of traps and NQs, someday we’ll get to experience rocking a monster course, look back, and spit in its eye.

Weaves…Contacts…and a Deadline!

When my surgery date was set, I had five loooong weeks to wait.  That day, I set a goal of getting Desmond to full height on his dogwalk and closing Des’s channel weaves completely.  While I didn’t want to rush him, for me, a deadline is unbeatable motivation.  As a serious bonus, it’s provided a welcome distraction full of happy puppy thoughts and given me a reason to get out there Every.  Single.  Day.   As if I could resist this face…

DSC_1351_2

There’s nothing like knowing I’m going to be a chair jockey for a couple + months to motivate me to get outside and run.  And in the last five weeks, that’s exactly what we’ve done!

Des and I began working weaves in earnest around his first birthday.  I’d happened across the channel method as a part of the online classes I’m taking, and decided to give it a shot.  I worked him a couple times a week for a few months, succeeding at some gnarly entires while gradually closing the channel, yet leaving it open enough not to actually make him weave a lot.  In November, I began to close about an inch a week, and he weaved his first completely closed set right after Thanksgiving.  Since then, he’s blown me away with his ability to hit entries…at speed or with the meanest angles I can dream up.

And his running dogwalk?  Each time I’d raised the height of his dogwalk in the previous month, he never flinched, adjusting quickly to maintain his lovely striding.  That is, until we hit 45″; a mere three inches short of full height.  All of a sudden, things fell apart.  His strides became shorter, and he missed the contact over and over.  I pondered what to do. I promised myself he was *not* broken, no matter how heavy the sinking feeling in my stomach.  He needed to build back up his confidence.  With Duncan, I would have dropped the height and built back up a little less quickly.  But this is Des, who charges at most things like his fur is on fire.  So, I decided to take my cues from Des and do the same.  For several days, I ran alongside the dogwalk like a madwoman, making a heck of a racket, and most likely worrying the neighbors and scaring the wildlife.

But it worked.  Des got his striding back and began to fly.  A week later, we raised it to FULL HEIGHT!  

More than six months.  Learning to see his stride.  Learning to reward a good stride.  Des learning to adjust his own stride.  Dragging myself out before sunrise to beat the heat, rushing home and running in my work clothes to catch the last few minutes of daylight…it’s been a long journey.  One that’s been truly worth it.  What?  Video?  Of course!

We aren’t done yet…we still need to work turns, but getting to full height on the dogwalk and competition weave poles were two large and rewarding hurdles.  Ones that will help carry me through the upcoming months of forced idleness.  While I may be watching Die Hard (hey, it’s a Christmas movie…) or Downton Abbey reruns, I’m sure a small part of my mind will be be doing mental handsprings over what Des has done.  And looking oh, OH so forward to running him the moment I’m able to do so again.

Yippie ki-yay….

Plan B? Nah, This is Definitely Plan C…

Well, damn.

I’ve seen more than enough MRIs of the lower spine to know that the one I was looking at had a pretty screwed up L5-S1 disc.  The problem was that the image on the screen was, for the third time, of my own back.

This is just the latest chapter of a losing 13 year battle with this disc, including two previous back surgeries, and I was fresh out of options.  So, in mid December, I’m having spinal fusion surgery.

In the span of an hour, my plans for the next six months to a year have changed drastically. Instead of debuting my brilliant little boy, Des, I’m going to instead be inventing Rube Goldberg-like devices to be able to tie my own shoelaces.  The cool (and disturbing) part is that I’ll soon have titanium parts: screws, rods and bionic thing-a-ma-doodles.  You can bet the first time I run post surgery I’ll be making ‘na-na-na-na6 Million Dollar Man sound effects.  The not so cool part is that I won’t be able to even shuffle around outside with the Merlie Boys for a couple months, and if all goes well, not back to running at all until sometime next summer.  Gah.  I haven’t gone three days without working Des in a year.   Mr. Neurosurgeon, I think you’ve officially taken away my birthday.

How did I get here?  Well, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told “you’re too young to have xxx back surgery…”, (as if that fixes things) I could buy you lunch.  But since I’m a few years shy of 40…

Some would hazard a guess that it came from the years of hanging my arse over the side of a boat, my unofficial major in college.

That’s my said arse in front, in the blue lifejacket. San Diego Thistle Midwinters, January, 1997.

Others may speculate it came from hauling 1/3 of my (then) bodyweight across the countryside for weeks on end and spending days bent over digging as my means of employment with the St. Joe Hotshots?

A few years after my hotshot days, I guess the crew didn’t stop digging <ahem>to take pictures.

Or years later, dragging almost that much weight around for fun?

Mmmm….red rock canyons!  How I long to have red grit in my ears again!

Or maybe I’ve just been too stubborn to slow down combined with a bad draw in the joint lottery?  Whatever.

If you’ve read this blog before or know me peronally, you might think I lean towards a little ‘too’ positive (at least where agility is concerned and after I’ve had my coffee).  Well, now you know why.  Every time I’ve stepped to the line in the three years since my last surgery I’ve known two things:  to cherish each and every run with my amazing teammate, and that each day that my body carries me around the course is a gift.  Life is too short, too good and running Merlies too much fun to let this slow me down permanently.  So let’s screw this problem down (literally), and get on with things!  With luck, Des’s debut will only be delayed a few months, and I’ll be running harder and faster than ever come summer.  Because if you’ve seen the DesMan lately you’ll understand why that’s gonna be a requirement!

I have a few weeks left before my surgery, so I’m putting my time and mobility to good use.  I’m aiming to get Des to full height on his dogwalk, and his channel weave poles closed.  If we don’t make it, that’s okay, but goals are good.  Stay tuned for video progress!

I’ll apologize now, in the coming months, I may be posting a little more about surgery and recovery than about agility.  But I’ve learned there’s that there’s a huge lack of positive stories about surgery and a return to athletic pursuits on the internet to help others facing the same situation.  So I plan on documenting mine.  Because I’m determined that I’ll be back out there Running Happy as soon as the doc says it’s safe to do so.

Thanks, C for finding this, and you and G for getting this picture! It’s Dunc’s mantra!

It’s been a while since I was a professional dirt thrower, but some of the lessons learned on the line become ingrained for life.  Hotshots have a pretty straightforward mentality on tough assignments. Here’s the PG-13 rated version:

“The hill is steep.  So the heck what.  Quit your bitching and get going”.

I know this isn’t going to be a walk in the park.  But I’m going to get going, and keep going.

And….we’re back!

Have you ever looked at the calendar in July and realized it’s already October?  Well, maybe not, but that’s how fast our summer blazed by.  Quite literally.  This girl is not a fan of 100 degree temps and is glad to welcome hats, jackets and hot cocoa weather.

So.  Without further ado…gratuitous puppy shot!  Oh wait, he’s not really a puppy, anymore.  Okay, <ahem> gratuitous Dogwalk shot!  Oh, dogwalk, how do my Merlies love thee?

DesMan or SuperMan? You decide.

If that didn’t give it away, I’ll be blunt…  Desmond is following his older brother’s paw prints and is learning running contacts.  While Des is not a big boy in the doggy world, he’s a lot bigger than Dunc, and strides like he expects to go into flight.  But since I enjoy a challenge (and banging my head against hard objects) I decided to give running contacts with Des a shot.  Holy guacamole, Batman, this kid’s got wings!

4.5 months in the making…in the spirit of “dude, pics or it didn’t happen“, here you go:

Look mama, no feet!

Today was a banner day.  We’ve spent the last two weeks learning how to glue rubber onto a dogwalk.  It involved several days of sanding (belt sanders are tools sent straight from hell), and then several more days of gluing.  My fingers may never be the same again since a combo of sandpaper and glue has removed my fingerprints, but we debuted the finished dogwalk today.  (and maybe my life of crime??)  First time with slats, first time with rubber, and first time at 33″.  This is what Des thought of his newly improved contact:

I think that’s a big “Whoo Hoo” from the DesMonster.

 

Happy Birthday, Desmond!

DuncanDes…Des one year old.  Dude!  You got big!

One year ago, on the night of a monster full moon, little Desmond was the first of seven blue merle pups in his litter to arrive.  This once in a blue moon boy is a funky mix of sweet and funny, and so full of himself he makes me laugh out loud every single day.  I adore him with a capital “A”.

He was a cute little bugger when he came home to us.  Duncan wasn’t convinced of his charms, but Des just jumps into your world and heart (and up to your eyebrows) with unapologetic zeal.  Even serious Dunc decided he was okay and plays with him…as long as he doesn’t see anyone watching.

Desmond, 8 weeks

That cute little baby has turned into a handsome young man.  I find his sticky-uppy, slightly floppy ears about the most adorable thing ever invented and hope they are here to stay.  He will tilt them forward when he’s curious or happy, and they slam straight back for aerodynamic advantage when racing Duncan.

Des has one heck of a sense of humor.  At least once a day he turns into a nuclear powered freakazoid and may just slow the spin of the Earth with his lapping of the yard.  He’s a well-traveled road warrior, able to turn magazines into Des-origami, and a power shopper of any unsupervised bag of dog toys and goodies.  He can silently leap onto the counter, delicately removing whatever forbidden booty he can abscond with.  Des-Cat, indeed.

 

In the past year, Des and I have spent many hours out in the field, learning to become a team, and laughing together (sometimes with me on my butt and him flying into my lap) when I don’t hold up that end of the bargain.  He attacks every new thing I throw at him with good humor and nothing less than 100% supercharged attitude.  We’re pretty sure Lucy shared her sass and zeal with him, and it’s so nice to still have that Attitude in the house.

Here’s a video of some of our recent work:

Happy Birthday baby Des!  May you have many, MANY more!  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

Des-es still have springs!

 

 

MACH Duncan!

MACH Dunkie!
Photo by Randy Gaines

On July 8th, Duncan finished his MACH AKC Agility Champion title in Farmington Utah. It’s taken me a little while to attempt to find the words to describe how special this journey has been with my amazing little boy.

Here is our MACH run…I can remember every step of it.

Duncan is a sweet little soul and was often shy and tentative especially early in our agility career.   If not for the kindness and camaraderie of my agility friends (especially sharing their Trial from Hell stories) I doubt we would have made it past our first out of town AKC trial.  But persevere we did.   Dunc learned to trust that I’d keep him safe, and in turn, he’d put on his Brave Pants and fly around the ring, rocking five states worth of dogwalks along the way.

Running a dog like Dunc is never boring, and is usually comprised of one part foretelling the future, one part randomly changing motivation, and one part rolling with whatever he dishes out.  But that’s the magic of Dunkie…have patience, hang in there, make sure your shoes are tied on, and a brilliant little boy often emerges.   I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and am grateful for all the lessons my Super D has taught me.

With judge Tim Pinneri, Photo By Randy Gaines

When the Canine Partners program allowed us to play in 2010, we were off and running!  He earned his first QQ at our fifth trial, and he finished his MACH 16 months later.  All but six of our 750 speed points were earned without multipliers.  At first, they came a few at a time, but as our confidence grew with each other, we really began to rack them up.

Dunc brought me into the world of agility.  He forgave me while I was learning how to handle, and gamely tried anything new I threw at him.   He grinned at me while I laughed at his antics, and he’d curl up in my lap and sigh as if to say “it’s going to be okay” when the going got tough. We traveled with friends, we traveled alone, he stealthily robbed many pockets of their cookies…but through it all, Duncan has been my unwavering little buddy…my co-pilot and sharer of pillows and ice cream.

Duncan has taught me so much about love and patience, perseverance and trust.  He showed me time and time again that to get to our destination, we needed to enjoy the journey – to find the joy on each and every run.  And so, standing at the gate before our MACH run, I wasn’t going over the course in my head – – I was whispering in Dunc’s ear:  “If you run like I know you can, you get to run the dogwalk again!”  He did, so we did!

This is what Duncan’s MACH means to me:  It’s a written record, a testament of the time and effort, the faith and trust that it took to get us here…and the honor I feel to call this fantastic, smart and funny little boy my teammate.   I treasure memories of each run along the way – from the wavering to the solid, to the speedy and spectacular.

I always believed in you, Duncan.  Thank you for believing in me, too.

And We Have Liftoff…

Summer has arrived.  With it has come the heat and the bugs, the sunscreen and the dorky wide-brimmed hats.  And the glorious long evenings.  Dunc and Des are putting them to good use.

Des doing Des stuff.

Since Desmond was a fall baby, and missed last summer’s heat,  I’ve been slowly introducing him to water.  After an inaugural run through the sprinklers, Des, following puppy tradition, quickly found the nearest towel to dry off with.  Too bad the towel was in the form of my shirt, and I was wearing it at the time.  That was refreshing!

Is there nothing better than a good roll in the wet grass?

The Double D’s love a good game of fetch.  Several months ago, I observed that Desmond, while full of unbridled initiative at trying to catch a thrown ball, lacks a little something in the accuracy department.  While he’s certainly breaking free of the earth’s gravitational field while launching himself into orbit, he’s still not entering the same solar system as the ball he’s aiming at.  Duncan, who just earned his 8th degree black belt in catching is not fooled by the acrobatic insanity of his baby brother.

We have liftoff!

Houston, we have a problem…

In the meantime, Duncan and I have some pretty exciting times in our near future.  Twenty six points now stand between us and our MACH, with our next trial swiftly approaching.  I feel so honored to have this brilliant little boy as my teammate and teacher, who has taught me boatloads along the way.  Thank you, Super D.