Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Big Stage

When the American Kennel Club first revealed their Canine Partners program, I had no real interest in it.

They stipulated that mixed breeds were going to be eligible to compete at select trials, but were going to run in different classes and earn different titles. While this incensed many of my fellow mixed breed dog owners, it was not nearly my main reason for being uninterested.

Rather, I simply thought that it was not going to be the best venue for us. Trials are long and only have three classes at most - Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, and the optional Fifteen and Send Time (FAST) class. They are busier than other trials, and, from what I've been told by some, tensions run higher. There aren't as many ways for novice teams to avoid "problem" obstacles like the teeter or weaves. The list goes on and on, and I'm sure people have their own things to say about this organization and all the others, too.

Lately, though, I've changed my tune. Considerably. Now that mixed breeds are competing equally with purebreds, thus eliminating the need for separate classes, ribbons, and other expensive amenities, many clubs in my area have opted to open their AKC trials up to all dogs, pure or mixed. Because of this, it makes plenty of sense to try out this venue - we have a fairly large number of trials to choose from.

The prospect of competing in AKC continues to get brighter and brighter for me. Marge and I are more familiar with AKC courses than any other, as this is the style that my club predominantly teaches. And, her teeter fears are steadily dwindling as we continue to work on it. What's more, Marge can wear a collar during her runs at AKC trials; while it does nothing except give me a sort of false security blanket, I kind of like the idea of Marge running around on a field with a collar on as opposed to without one.

There are still potential problem areas for us, yes - but I think one of the best things about our extremely probable career at AKC trials are the locations. Aside from being convenient for me - there are several trials being run right here on my island this year - Marge is familiar with the majority of the trial sites. This, undoubtedly, should be a stress reducer for both of us.

My one big worry about AKC trials (and CPE too, for that matter) is the question of getting Marge measured. I can't imagine that Marge is going to take kindly to having the wicket placed over her back, let alone more than once (multiple measurements are necessary to obtain a height card, at which time the dog no longer needs to be measured). To combat this, I'm hopefully going to have access to a measuring device in the next couple of weeks, so that I can start the training off on a very positive foot.

My only other concerns are show size - but, from the sounds of CPE enthusiasts, their trials fill up, too - and noise. Marge did not have an aversive reaction to the tents and commotion at the AKC trial I took her to in May of last year, and, as most of you know, had no problems at the NADAC trial we ran in this past November. I can't imagine that AKC trials feature any more bangy-clangy-squeaky noises than CPE trials - in fact, there are probably less in AKC, since a sizable chunk of CPE classes are completed by the sound of a buzzer. Barking dogs are something else we'll have to contend with, but this goes back to the aspect of our familiarity to the trial sites - we should have plenty of places to hide out if it ever gets to be just a little bit too loud.

My instructor is adamant that Marge will do fine in AKC - she tells me that she's light years ahead of the skills needed to successfully finish the Novice classes. She's even pushing for me to do more trials than I already have planned. While I don't plan to heed that advice, simply due to money and time constraints (and the fact that I think too many trials will, indeed, stress both Marge and me out), it is nice to think that she's aiming even higher than I am.

Call me crazy, but I'm really hoping our April 2nd debut in AKC goes smashingly. I'm going to try out both venues this year - about four each of potential AKC trials and CPE trials in my schedule - but I feel like my heart is already set on the big stage. I don't really know why I'm so drawn to it suddenly, but perhaps it's because of how much I see it and hear about it in comparison to the other agility organizations.

My mind has already (very prematurely) wandered to the the thought of the prestigious Master Agility Champion title. I've watched endless videos of handlers and their dogs crossing the finish line, picking up the final jump bar and making their way around the field in a state of total elation, to a chorus of resounding applause from the crowd.

Can that be me and my mutt one day? Only time will tell. All of you know that I don't do this with my dog for the winning or the glory - I do it for the fun and the bond it helps us form with each other. We're simply going to try it; we may wind up hating it altogether. But, in the meantime, it doesn't hurt to dream.


And now, after that musing, let me present to you how my backyard has transformed over the last few days:

Monday evening:

This afternoon:
This is just the beginning of it. The meteorologists weren't lying about this one. We're supposed to get up to an additional six inches. Marge is already having to bunny-hop her way through it - I can't wait to see what she does when it's all finished coming down.


Sara February 10, 2010 at 4:07 PM  

Having an abundance of trials in your area, especially in places you can train is huge in the convenience factor. I try and do almost all of oreo's trials right at our school - no matter what the venue! Relieves one degree of stress right off the bat.

Good for you, for keeping an open mind and giving it a shot. I'm sure you and Marge will do great in AKC.

Cyndi and Stumpy February 10, 2010 at 4:32 PM  

I can't wait for you and marge to blwo us all away!

Sue February 10, 2010 at 4:36 PM  

I think it's a great dream to have. We all dream of winning the big one, even those of us whose dogs couldn't possibly attain it. It's fun to think about anyway.

I think you two can attain it.

Gus, Louie and Callie February 10, 2010 at 5:03 PM  

Now snow is the best thing ever. Or at least we hear it is.. Sure wish we knew....

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

Jules February 10, 2010 at 5:09 PM  

Yay for you and Marge. I say, why not?

Martha February 10, 2010 at 5:26 PM  

Enjoy your snow Marge! We wish you well in any trials you chose to do - as long as you are both happy competing that is all that matters.
Martha & Bailey xxx

Frankie Furter and Ernie February 10, 2010 at 6:02 PM  

Marge I know you can do it!!!
I hope YOU like the snow. I don't. I'm just sayin'.

Kari in Alaska February 10, 2010 at 6:03 PM  

I am sure you guys will be awesome! That is a huge landscape change

LauraK February 10, 2010 at 6:09 PM  

It's nice to hear other people's views on this. Everyone I seem to train with have purebreds, so they don't really know what I was hesitant about. But, lo and behold I have decided to at least try it. Mainly, because my friends trial in AKC, and I want to hang out with them! Another huge factor is where the trials are held. I have numerous opportunities within 30 minutes of our home instead of the hour and a half to the other ones. Another reason I hesitated with AKC is it seems to be a very uptight and "snooty" here in Colorado, not to mention that I have DOCNA, USDAA, and NADAC to choose from as well- too many venues! Thank goodness we don't have CPE too! AKC is a little more expensive, but I guess the money saved on gas will make up for it. I didn't believe in the concept of "segregation", but at the same time- the smaller classes would have been nice instead of being in the 20" class with 70+ border collies. So, I guess it's just something that you have to deal with.

Riley isn't a scaredy dog (most of the time) but she HATED being measured. Thankfully, she only had to be measured once, but I was shocked that she kept jumping off the table and freaking out. I'm not trying to discourage you at all, but I have complete faith that if I would have had access to a measuring stick and did training with it, she would have done well. I think that's great that you are doing that- so it won't be a scary experience for Marge!

Best of luck to you, I am so looking forward to hearing about your first trial! I hope that someday I can read about your first MACH title! I had dreams of being the first mixed breed in CO with a MACH, but since I moved Riley to select because of her shoulder injury we won't be able to obtain that goal, but like you said- it's all about the bond and the fun you have with your dog. Maybe we'll just have to go for a PAX instead! It's fun to dream though! WOW- sorry this was so long, but I just have a lot of thoughts about the mixed breed program. Tell Marge to have fun doing snow zoomies!

Diana February 10, 2010 at 6:20 PM  

I know I hear lots of people complain about AKC. All trials seem the same to me, Long. My dog has to be measured in both AKC and USDAA. And USDAA , you have to have 3 measurements. I see the same people at AKC and USDAA, so if they are snooty, then they are in both places. I think people just like to complain and I just wouldnt listen to anyone and just try it yourself . Have fun. Diana

Chris and Ricky February 10, 2010 at 6:25 PM  

We do AKC because that's mainly what we have near here and that's what we were exposed to first. The trial days are long but so far we haven't had bad experiences with too much noise or snotty people. Course we don't go for the socializing part and if we talk to anyone it's mostly just our teachers or some classmates. We're just there for us to have fun and try to do well and we're not competing with anyone else.

I hated getting measured and I would barely stand up straight enough but I got through it. I think if you can practice with Marge with the wicket, you'll be fine. It's a great idea and mom says she'll definitely do it with her next dog.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart February 10, 2010 at 6:44 PM  

I still pretend, have active fantasies, that Lilly can earn a MACH. It's highly unlikely since we can't even take lessons right now, but it's a nice dream to have.

Have you ever read the early piece I wrote about the winning moment?

I'll send you a link.

Bijou February 10, 2010 at 6:44 PM  

HI Marge,

You don't know til you try. Or so they say. I'm sure you and Sam will do a great job.

I like Monday's picture best!


AC February 10, 2010 at 6:59 PM  

Sam, I'm excited for you and Marge! I think it's HUGE that you can even make plans to go to trails. That's an accomplishment in itself. I can't wait to hear more about your experience and training as time goes by.

Keep up the good work! Even through just your photos and videos, it's obvious that the work you're doing with Marge has created a special bond.

Life With Dogs February 10, 2010 at 7:42 PM  

Your dedication alone makes me think you'll do far better than you give yourself credit for, but I sense more optimism in you and that's a great way to propel both of you to the podium. The power of positive thought is your friend. I'm truly excited for you!

houndstooth February 10, 2010 at 8:27 PM  

Good luck to both of you in the trials! I think you'll do better than you expect!

Deborah February 10, 2010 at 9:16 PM  

Hi Marge! We were suppose to get 12-18 inches of snow and guess what...we got a dusting...if that...
Good Luck with your trials. A lot of work, but it sounds like you love it!

Kate February 10, 2010 at 9:27 PM  

I think she will have a fantastical time, as long as its not too cold for her feetyfeets and she has plenty of fur on her tum!


Golden Samantha February 10, 2010 at 9:38 PM  

This is all very interesting. When we took Sammie in as a rescue and decided to do obed., I had to get a PAL number for her. After a bit of training and meeting other obed. dogs, I found out that a good friend who had a "goldendoodle" couldn't compete in Akc trials - well, that is... until now. Thank goodness the AKC is opening up its MIND and allowing mixed breeds to compete. I was ready to stop doing obed. trials until an end was put to the prejudice. Boooo. Marge is so pawsome and I can't wait to see her in the ring... Yahoooooo!

Kathy Mocharnuk February 10, 2010 at 9:51 PM  

AKC courses are tighter, and I think the way you and Marge run will fit that really well-and I personally think with less room between some obstacles and the type of courses Akc does it will make it nice for keeping in touch with Marge, also not sure about your area but all our AKC trials here are fenced with snow fencing at least, I like that!!!!.

Amy / Layla the Malamute February 10, 2010 at 9:59 PM  

I think it'll be a really good idea for you guys to compete in AKC - even if you just use the trials as a match-like experience, albeit an expensive match.

I'd like to try USDAA because the courses and games seem like a lot of fun, but I don't feel comfortable running Layla at 26 inches. I already am questioning myself on running her in the regular 24 inch classes - so many large breed people do the preferred class, there has to be a reasoning for it.

As for the tensions running higher, that might be true. But since that's primarily what your club teaches, you'll probably have other students that you train with at the same trials, so you'll have your own little clique. If you guys are alone, Marge'll probably be the best company you can ask for. I can't count the number of times I pass up going out somewhere with people so I can spend time with Layla, and it's probably the same with you and Marge.

Also, I'm glad that your mind has wandered to the thought of MACH. Now I don't feel so bad. My mind has wandered there too - as well as to OTCH, and Champion Tracker. She'd be the first Mal to get either. If she gets any OTCH points, she'd be the first Mal to get invited to the AKC Obedience Invitational. Keep in mind that she can't even heel with attention, but I like to have those thoughts. Like you, I'm more interested in the bond, but it's good to dream, too. I think it'll keep us working harder toward the goals, without risking the bond in the mean time. I'm positive that you guys will be incredibly successful.

Kathy Mocharnuk February 10, 2010 at 10:00 PM  

PS, I made some wickets from directions clean run ran a few years ago, sorry I am just not sure when, but I donated a few to my club where I train and then I kept one---although it broke, ;-(, so I need to make another one, but I clicker trained it. Breeze can not stand to be touched, and wont even stand up and gets really upset, to top it off she was right on the line of jumping 16 and 20 inches and because she is dysplastic it was important to have her not jump higher then she should have to jump. If Marge is not close to the cut off then they will just work with her and if you get some nice judges, you will be fine, they do a good job and will most will not be buttheads and really stress your dog especially if the measurement is not close. I would take her to some trials if you can BEFORE you are going to enter her, If there is a certified judge, or what ever they are calling them you can get her measurements BEFORE you ae entered-I did all of Liz and Chloes when they were not entered, I think Breeze only did one on an actual trial date, the rest I did when we just went to watch where I knew there would be a measuring judge, it sure helped not to have to deal with stress on the day we were already stressed about running. I would suggest having a friend help you, that is what I did with Breeze, I think she would stand in front and just give her some treats, I stood next to her, I tried to get there early so I was one of the first measurements in the early morning not when all the other novices were there stressing. You dont want to feed-I dont think they will let you-right when you are measuring but you can get her up there and sort of get things ready and then just get the measurement fast, between those things and if you do a little clickering even Breeze got through it.

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With Khattledog February 10, 2010 at 10:46 PM  

I know the two of woo will do pawesome work!

SOOOOOOO, how 'bout that snow!?!


Scout and Freyja February 11, 2010 at 8:23 AM  

Your backyard looks like our backyard but we never got to see the dead grass in between☺

We think that Marge will do great in AKC trials. After all, she isn't relying on the intelligence of just one breed, she can draw on the bright spirit of several☺

KB February 11, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

I think that your idea of getting a measuring wicket (or even just something like it) to practice is great. After she's totally used to it (e.g., you could measure her just as she gets her dinner each night), then you could ask other people who she knows and likes to measure her. Etc, etc... you know more than I do.

But, I think that you two can do it. You've already overcome so much and look like a good agility team!

It is always worth dreaming... but this one might come true!

Brenda's Arizona February 11, 2010 at 9:04 AM  

The dream of being the Master Agility Champion is pretty darn cool. One needs to dream! That way, when the reality of it happens you are prepared.
And you well know, our dogs surprise us everytime, don't they? I still relish seeing your 'lesson' layouts. That is my dream for our guys.

Cheryl, Indiana, Shingo and Molly February 11, 2010 at 9:30 AM  

Keep us posted on how Marge does at the AKC agility!

Woofs and Kisses!

RILEY AND STAR MY MALTESEKIDS February 11, 2010 at 2:09 PM  

Hi Marge,

Guess what? It's snowing here too and we live in Texas! We luv it!!!
Just had to share our excitement with you.

We been missing you lots!

Riley and Star.

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