Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Welcome to Purgatory

When we first starting competing in AKC agility, we ran into one of our old classmates who had just moved up to Open--the second level--with her dog. She mentioned that everyone told her that Open was also referred to as purgatory because people spent so much time working on getting their three qualifying runs. We laughed about it and I went back to racking up successes in Novice--the first level--with Rye.

It didn't take Rye long to move up to to Open and I was sure we'd be in Excellent--the third level--in no time. It didn't take me long to realize that we had officially entered Purgatory.

We moved up to Open in the Jumpers with Weaves class the first weekend in June. Since then, we've run 9 AKC Jumpers courses at the Open level--and we have yet to qualify once! 

We've been running some beautiful courses, though. As you move up from one level to the next, you're allowed fewer faults. In Novice Jumpers courses, we could get two refusals--where the dog goes past the obstacle and you have to bring them back to take it. We had some clean Novice runs, but Rye also jumps really big and sometimes we needed those two refusals to qualify. 

In Open, you only get one refusal. Now, we're trapped in this two refusal purgatory where on all but one of our 9 courses, we've earned two refusals. In the one course where we didn't have any refusals, Rye dropped a bar, which is an automatic NQ. 

This past weekend, we finally seemed like we were on the same page. She was responsive and collecting well. We also had the kinds of courses that Rye lives for--big flowy courses that have beautiful arcs of jumps where she can run full speed ahead. She didn't go past a single jump, but we still got two refusals thanks to our new nemesis: the weaves.

Rye is a beautiful weaver. But lately she's been struggling with the weaves. Sometimes she struggles with the entrance and that causes mini meltdowns on the course. Rye doesn't like to be wrong. She's eager to please and she really truly wants to do what I want her to do, so when she misses the entrance and I pull her back around to start over (you get three tries--even though if it takes you more than two tries, you get two refusals), she usually starts barking in frustration and sometimes pounces on me. That makes it hard to get a clean entrance the second time. Other times, she enters the weaves beautifully, but pulls out close to the end--usually around pole 10 of 12--and that makes her equally frustrated when we have to start over.

This weekend, she wasn't having quite as much of a meltdown when we'd start over--but it still took all three tries to get the weaves on our first Jumpers course of the weekend. She also wanted to make up her own course, but I was so proud of how she came when I called and got back on track.

Our second Jumpers course of the weekend was even more beautiful. The judge even told us during the briefing that he liked to design flowy courses because he likes to see dogs in extension and having fun. (Yes, I will be signing up for any trial where I see his name on the premium as the judge!) Rye and I were really clicking. In the one spot with some tight turns, she read my cues perfectly and I couldn't have been more proud. But we also took three tries at the weaves.

Rye had the time of her life even though we didn't qualify. To be honest, this weekend, I was having the time of my life, too. I've probably watched each run at least 5 times just admiring the way we were moving together. 

We also spent lots of time connecting in the park across the street.

At the last trial, our judge gave all of the Open teams a pep talk during our briefing. She pointed out that Novice is where your dog is learning the game. Open is where you're learning how to run the dog you have. Excellent and Master's are where you're really a team. She told us to cherish our time in Open because that's where some of the best memories and stories are created. She also mentioned that it took years for her to get out of Open with her own dog (and we know several other people who have taken 2 years or more to get their 3 Qs!). 

Each time Rye and I go out on a course, it seems like we're more connected than we were the last time. I'm learning to anticipate her moves and she's learning to read mine. 

We still have a few moments when we don't communicate well or she gets a little wound up and forgets some things. Like our first Standard course of the weekend. She ran a beautiful opening sequence and then missed her contact on the dogwalk because she was going so fast and I was way too far behind to reinforce her wait at the end. But she got a challenging tunnel entrance after the dogwalk and did her weaves perfectly. She also got a little wound up on the table and pounced on me after bouncing off the table once. The judge was chuckling so much that I could hardly make out the numbers in his table countdown to release us to the next obstacle! 

Thankfully, we have had a little bit of success in Open. While we don't have any Jumpers Qs, we do have 2 of the 3 Qs we need for our Standard title. 

The only Q we earned this weekend, though, was in our Novice FAST course. We're really loving FAST--or Fifteen and Send Time--where there's a distance challenge (or send) that you have to complete, but the rest of the course is made up by the handler. The goal is to get a certain number of points--in Novice FAST it's 50 points in addition to completing the send and you qualify. We've only run in FAST four times, and this weekend we got the third Q we needed to move up to Open FAST. The best part of FAST is that the only fault you get is if you fail to get the send when you attempt it--knocked bars, missed contacts, failed weaves aren't a problem. FAST has given us a chance to get a little of the crazy out before moving on to Standard and Jumpers and Rye loves that I can choose the types of lines she enjoys running. This weekend, we ended up with 64 points and could have gotten more because we crossed the finish line with almost 4 seconds to spare, but we had enough to secure our Q and earn first place.

With weekends like this, Purgatory doesn't seem like such a bad place (although I still don't want to stay for long!). Rye was happy and tired even after the hour-long car ride home.

And I bought a shirt to remind myself that this is really all about having fun. It says, "The best handler in the world is the one whose dog is having the most fun" and has a little stick figure dog bouncing around like Rye. (I also had to get a shirt to wear for Barley outings.)

We have one weekend off and then we'll head off to a CPE trial, so I'm hoping that the slightly more lax rules will give us a chance to build even more confidence and be ready for our next AKC trials in October where maybe I can get a belated birthday present and get our first Open Jumpers Q!


  1. For the first time ever this makes total sense now that we have our first AKC weekend behind us. Madison did awesome but couldn't generalize that weaves at the trial were the same as weaves at school. She too loves to please and was frustrated not understanding what Mom wanted her to do. Fri and Sat night was Mom and Madison weave practice. Sun she finally got the in standard on the third try but timed out. She did get her first leg in jumpers. Everyone in Open was frustrated, so we totally understand that too. Madison is excited to try again in October at her next agility trial! Good for you guys having fun and getting something in fast. With 3 dogs and 4 sports, Mom is hoping the variety keeps her from obsessing about any one sport.

    1. I'm so glad that you've started trialing! And that Madison finally made the connection with the weaves--hopefully that sticks for the next trial! It has made me feel better that there are always a lot of other NQs in the results, so we're not the only ones struggling in Open (and on at least one of our 2 standard Qs, we were the only dog to qualify). I'll keep my fingers crossed that Madison builds on her success in October!

  2. It is the time you are spending together and bonding that is most important, and I have no doubt you and Rye will succeed at the level you want to with just a bit more time and practice!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. We're getting better every time we go out on the course--but I'm so used to my perfect Barley that I forget just how many years it took us to actually get there sometimes when I'm working with Rye.

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