Are We There Yet? – – Does “There” Exist?

What is success?  It seems the Dog Agility Blogger Action Day topics keep swirling around these deep, thought provoking subjects.  You can see what others have to say here:

I’ve been chewing on this one for a while.  Success is such a personal thing, so here are my personal thoughts…

I started agility with a shy little boy who was afraid of everything…judges with floppy hats, kids near the ring, a breeze that blew from the wrong direction at the wrong time.  Success running Duncan meant keeping him happy, never showing disappointment to a boy who tried his best for ME, despite all the worries in his mind.  Learning to respect his weird little quirks took time, but once I accepted the good, shrugged off the bad and stopped asking for perfection, running him became a complete joy.

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And yes, I know those weaves weren’t quite right…but who am I to discourage antics with enthusiasm?

Fast forward a few years, to Dunc’s little brother, Desmond, a completely different beast with an entirely different yardstick of success.   The DesMonster wouldn’t care if the judge was waving his floppy hat while driving a Zamboni, he’s out there to play with ME and the agility toys.  My challenge is to never take those gifts of enthusiasm and freakish love of running with me for granted.

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I like competition, and love that we can compete against ourselves and our own goals.   Some of those goals include qualifying for certain events in the next year, and that meant laying down some consistent, Q/point gathering runs.  We don’t have a ton of trials, so we don’t have a lot of wiggle room for mistakes.  I began to second guess my handling choices that put a lot of trust in my boy, even though he’d earned the right to run that way.  I felt old habits try and sneak back in; of choosing the safer handling path, maybe not necessarily the right path, just to get through clean.  And I felt disappointment and negativity creep into my thoughts after nailing down 19 tough obstacles, just because I’d mishandled and we’d dropped one single bar.   I watched my boy’s ears droop when I was disappointed in myself and he saw my shoulders slump after a run.  What the heck was I doing?!?  I’d learned the hard way this didn’t work for Dunc, it certainly wasn’t okay for Des, either.

That broke my heart.  If you’ve read any of my ramblings before, you’re familiar with my fierce desire to protect Des’s joy.  And here I was, taking it from him.  Bad handler.  Deep thoughts and some serious mental browbeating ensued.   Time to refresh my definition of success:

Run With Joy.

Period.

We have time.  We’re both still learning.  And I want to enjoy each run on this adventure.

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So what does success feel like?  The completely cool part of this sport is that it can be something different for everyone.  I have no business defining success for any other agility freakazoid but myself.

My goal is pretty simple:  To grin at my bouncing maniac after the final jump, no matter if we smoked it or left a smoking yardsale of agility equipment in our wake (which isn’t out of the question).   To find the good in each and every run, and reinforce those good things.  This boy is bloody brilliant to me.  To me.  And that, my friends, is what really matters.  If I can run the course the way I believe it can be handled, or can hardly wait to take Des out to the field to practice, can smile and clap and holler for my friends and their own brilliant pups, well THAT feels a heck of lot like we’re on the right track.

We’re going to fail.  A lot.  The trick for me is to remember to learn from those failures without being afraid to fail again.  And accept that sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I will still fail at protecting his joy…but with practice I can get better at that, too.

There’s a lot of noise that can get in your head in this sport.  And sometimes I’m pretty bad at blocking it out.  But I’m pretty good at big, blunt reminders. And one of those comes from a quote from big wave surfer Jay Moriarty, who lost his life while free-diving at age 22:

“We only get to do this once, and it’s not for very long.  So enjoy it.”

Considering I’m having a birthday that ends in zero this year, maybe that’s a good reminder to reflect and remember that one day, I’ll be even more crotchety, sitting on my porch, my turbocharged motorized scooter nearby, hopefully with a pup at my feet and watching the neighborhood kids dare their friends to run up and touch my front door.  And what will I remember of my success?  Ribbons?  Challenges?  Or something else?

I know with certainty that the memories from these years I will treasure above all will be of a crazy bark, a leap into my arms and the unapologetic joy that makes up the amazing little dude I get to call my teammate right now.  That I loved, and was loved, unconditionally.  That I forged a bond with another creature far beyond what many people ever know is possible.

That’s what I’m going to be thinking about next time we step to the line.  I have this time to do this sport, with this boy, in this moment.  And when I put his leash back on, I’m going to be smothered in slobbery kisses.

Success.

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Digging In with the DesMan

It’s apparent that I’m absolute crap at writing about my recovery from fusion surgery and Des’s debut in agility.  I have a reason, but not a very good one.  Each time I’ve sat down to write about the positive strides I’m making in my return to normality from getting four screws installed in my back, I worry I’m risking the wrath of the cosmic monsters and I’ll experience some epic joint setback.  So…I’ve been quietly drinking gallons of milk, sweating and swearing my way through rehab exercises and getting out there to play with the DesMan as often as possible.  As if I could resist this face??

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013.  Photo by Randy Gaines.

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013. Photo by Randy Gaines.

When my husband was on the Helena Hotshots their crew motto was “Opera non Verba“, which loosely translates to “shut up and dig“.  So, following that wisdom, since I can’t seem to find the words to explain how Des and I are doing, I will simply show you.

As you’re about to see…he and I are DIGGING this agility thing!!

For those who can’t view the video with music, here’s the same video in a version that should work for you.  I hope you enjoy!

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.

Got Rubber?

Around my trialling neighborhood, rubber contacts aren’t the norm (yet).  While I think hope like mad that rubber will eventually come this way, it’s not currently on most of the equipment we trial on.  With Des’s running contacts, I considered that training on rubber might make him think he has traction in places he won’t on sanded wood and could launch himself the wrong way when he hit the gas.  But in the end, I went with rubber for two reasons:

1) I wanted the dogwalk that Des runs over most often to be as cushioned and safe as I could make it.

2) My DW sits outside in the sun and snow all year round.  After six months, my well painted and sanded plywood ramps were already showing cracks.  My DW frame is beautifully made (thanks, Tom!), but there’s really nothing anyone can do about the quality of ‘marine grade’ plywood these days.  I’m just happy I’m not trying to build a boat!

So in the fine tradition of peer pressure (tell your friends!), I hope the following how-to may take some of the mystery out of sticking down that rubber and that traction-riffic contacts could become the norm in our agility neighborhood too.  (come on, everybody’s doing it!)

I chose pre-made dogwalk skins from Rubber On the Run.  Why?  Dunc has run on  NADAC spec rubber belting, rubber granules glued to an epoxy base, and rubber skins, and they all have good grip.  For me, the granules were out…I’ve messed with epoxy a time or two and it’s easy to get it really wrong (reference above boat building fears...I had a bad experience)!   I wanted a flat, non-sticky-uppy surface that was sealed firmly to the plank on all edges.  It was a bonus that I think the skins are pretty, and who doesn’t love a pretty contact obstacle?   You can get a kit and form the skins yourself, but that was more than I wanted to take on, skill, time or garage space-wise.

Enough about the why – let me get to the how…at least in reference to the skin type rubber.  First off, my plywood topped DW didn’t have slats.  If you have slats, I’d strongly recommend taking them off to sand your wood base as flat as possible.  Trying to cut and fit rubber sections between wooden slats – and get the rubber tight to the wood joints – would be a nightmare.  If you want slats, the skins have a slat option.  More details on this later.

First, sand the boards as flat as possible so the rubber will have a uniform surface to adhere to.  If your plywood is warped at all, it might be better to just replace it.  I used a palm and belt sander.  The belt sander did the majority of the work, and the palm helped get the edges and areas around the screw heads.  When you buy sandpaper (and you’ll want LOTS of it),  find a grit as coarse as your sanded surface.  Then choose one coarser than that…it will look like paper with small rocks glued to it.  Just a warning if you’ve not used a belt sander before…before firing it up, HANG ON.  Holy crap, the darn thing took me for a ride the first time I pulled the trigger.   I used to run a chain saw at work, and I think that sander called the shots in a way that no Stihl ever did.

A good sanding will look like the center plank in the photo – some paint and sand base remaining, but a much smoother and glue-friendly surface overall.

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I then gave the ramps a couple of coats of paint each to seal the wood.  A small foam roller worked well.  If you need to adjust your contact length, this is the time to do it.  In my case, I was changing from 42″ to 36″ contacts, so painted the top and sides of the wood to match.

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Gluing:  I followed the manufacturer’s advice and bought the “Wozzit” glue instead of using a rubber cement type glue.  The huge plus is that the Wozzit glue allows for some adjustments once the rubber is stuck down…I could move the entire rubber sheet back and forth to make sure I had it on straight and lined the edges up carefully.  Once the rubber cement glue adheres to the rubber skin, you’re literally stuck with what you’ve got.  I can’t even stick a decal on my car window without messing it up…I was NOT going to screw around with a giant sheet of rubber!

The instructions that were included weren’t bad, but while they mention you’ll need clamps, they don’t mention how many clamps.  You’ll need a lot.  Fewer if you don’t have the skin with rubber slats, but if you do, you’ll need 1-2 clamps per section between rubber slats and some wood pieces to put between the rubber and the clamp.  What worked best was to spread glue on the ramp in foot long sections, unrolling the rubber and clamping as we went.  When we ran out of clamps, we stopped gluing for the day.  The next day, we continued where we left off, with no problems.  I’d imagine an A Frame could be done in a similar fashion…if you don’t use contact cement, a couple people could unroll/glue as they went, and adjust the edges as needed.

Here’s a picture of our gluing operation in action; note all the high tech devices that were employed to weight the clamped wood down.  It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.  Where ever the glued wood was in contact with the rubber, it stuck, but a few small areas near the edges didn’t get direct adhesion and weren’t stuck.  The next day, I shoved a knife blade with glue into those spots, re-clamped and viola!  Perfect!  One more tip – it was a little cold when we glued, so we put the glue bottle in a bucket of hot water.  The glue flowed and spread beautifully.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

And here’s what it looked like when done.  The rubberized plank on the right still needs trimming.  We did that with a builder’s utility knife, but I’ve also seen some pretty handy trimming on YouTube with an old electric carving knife, if anyone can convince their Mom to part with that ’70’s must-have.

DW4And done!  The planks look beautiful, the rubber surface is almost flat on top.

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I’d mentioned slats earlier.  I’m not a huge fan of slats, but decided to get them because it’s required by the majority of the US and international venues, and didn’t want Des’s first taste of slat to come in a trial.  The rubber slats are formed out of the same rubber material, and literally fused to the surface of the contact rubber.  There are no gaps between the rubber surface and rubber slat, and the slats have a small bit of give, just like the surface itself.

DSC_2141And how do the boys like the rubber?  Des demonstrates below.  Well, maybe that’s not the best picture to illustrate paw grip…now that I think about it.

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I can’t address longevity yet, but upkeep in my sand field means I break out the broom to sweep it off every now and then.  It’s sat through quite a lot of snow and two weeks of sub-teen (and zero) temps this winter, and the edges remain where I stuck them.  We’ll see how it handles the thermal nastiness of summer, but so far, rubber does indeed rock!