Monday, October 21, 2013

JRTCA Nationals - AKA Mudfest 2013

Did you ever want to find out what it would be like to participate in a trial held in a bog? No. Neither did I. But that is precisely what this year's JRTCA National trial felt like. Let me back up and tell of my journey across the water from south-central PA to western MD.

This would have been a more practical mode of transportation than my Forester

The trial started on Friday, but I didn't have much planned for that day. Sprout was pre-entered in lure coursing and then I planned to run both terriers in the tunnelers agility warm-up, which is a pay-at-the-gate type class. Lure coursing ran until 3 and tunnelers normally starts around 3. The drive SHOULD take a little less than 2 1/2 hours, so I figured as long as we left town by 11 or so, we'd make it there in plenty of time for the lure coursing run and then we could do our tunnelers runs. Unfortunately, that day also happened to coincide with record rainfall for this area. Water and flooding everywhere - and the rain just wasn't letting up. York County was especially hard hit. As a consequence, traffic was horrible and travel was treacherous. At one point on Route 30, somewhere west of York, we came to an area where there was a lot of water on the road, but still passable. It just so happened that when I was driving across, an 18-wheeler was coming in the opposite direction. There was more water on that other side of the road than on mine and as the truck passed me, it sent a tsunami of water over and under my vehicle. I made it through fine, but my check engine and a couple other lights on my dash came on. It was running as normal, but it certainly made me nervous to continue driving it. I had no choice at that point. I wasn't about to turn around and drive through that water again.
Not my Forester, but a reenactment of exactly what I saw. Not good.

We ended up getting to the trial site a little after 3. I was disappointed since that meant I had missed my lure coursing run. As I got out to walk the dogs and get my bearings, I noticed that lure coursing was still running. I wasn't sure if I needed to check in first, but I figured it was worth a shot at trying to get my run in. Unfortunately, because of the chaos, I didn't get any pictures or video of Sprout's attempt at lure coursing, but it looked kind of like this:
Okay. Not really that bad. But the start of the course did involve running through some water and mud. The track was basically square around the perimeter of a field. It started at the lower corner, turned then went up a gradual incline where there was an agility tunnel to run through, turned again and ran along the top of the incline where there was another tunnel to pass through before turning again and heading down the slope to the finish. Sprout started out well. He chased the lure through the water and mud and up the slope. Then the momma's boy part of his brain kicked in as he got to the far side of the field; he realized I wasn't with him and how far away from me he was and panicked. He had two back-to-back runs. The first time he ran back to me as he got to the first tunnel. The second time he made it through the tunnel then panicked at he approached the far corner. He tried jumping over the temporary fencing to cut across to me. The people running the lure tried to get him to chase it again. He started to, but then gave up and came back around to me. So much for our adventures with lure coursing. I thought he'd really like it, but apparently he didn't like it as much as being with me. Hokey seemed interested seeing the lure running. However, she is kind of a princess when it comes to wet and muck and I didn't want to immediately turn off her interest by trying to run her in those conditions. Maybe another, drier, time.
The queen of speed. If I can get her to chase a lure, she'll be a force to be reckoned with.
I wandered around until I found the check in building and picked up my packet. There I ran into a friend who informed me that the tunnelers run was moved to the next day, so we left and headed for the hotel.

At least Saturday dawned a little brighter. It was nice to see the sun here and there throughout the day between the rain showers. I was kicking myself that I didn't enter Sprout in Agility I. Yes, he would have to do the A-Frame and DW, which I've only begun to train, but I think I could have easily "faked" an obstacle performance of each. I think he would have rocked. Instead, while I waited for the tunnelers course to open up and Hokey's Agility II class, I decided to try brush hunt with Sprout. He had no clue whatsoever about what he was supposed to be doing. He probably needs a proper introduction to rats. Who would have thunk he wouldn't just go out there and immediately hunt down a rat in a cage? Oh well. It was fun to try.
Sprout wandering aimlessly around the Brush Hunt area
Next came our tunnelers runs. I ran both dogs twice. I started with Hokey, who did pretty well, although about halfway through she paused for a little bit. I thought maybe because she was suddenly confused about why we were doing so many tunnels.

Then I ran Sprout twice. He did well with his first run. Excellent for his first time at a trial, especially with the multiple distractions such a excited dogs at the brush hunt area nearby and the less than idea footing due to the wet weather. He, too, seemed a little confused about why we were doing so many tunnels in a row, but took it in stride. He had one off course tunnel entry in that first run. His second run included a couple moments of distraction, but he worked well and was fast and this time got around without going off course. So proud of him!

Then I did a second run with Hokey. That's when things started to go awry. She stopped after the 1st tunnel and refused to go on as I encouraged her to continue. Then she took off back to the gate. She did come back and start working again, with a couple more weird glitchy things, like stopping to bark at the judge, but then she did finish strong. I'm still not sure what went wrong. Something freaked her out - the mushy footing, trialing outside for the first time, the general atmosphere? Maybe she was sore somewhere? Who knows? Being at the hotel was a new experience too and she became somewhat obsessed with the light and shadows under the door. So maybe the entire experience was just too much for her to handle at this point.

Things went even worse in our Agility II run. I got her to the line and released her. She ran around the 1st jump and over to the fence at the opposite side of the ring (where the gate was). I got her to come back to me a few times, but was unsuccessful at getting her to take any obstacles. She was definitely having a meltdown. Poor girl.

We ended the day by taking both dogs to the Thunder Tunnel area. Both dogs were introduced to the rat in the cage that would be at the end of the tunnel. Sprout, Mr. KILL ALL THE THINGS, completely surprised me by acting terrified of the rat. He's my highest prey drive dog at home, so that threw me for a loop. Hokey, Miss Nearly Zero Prey Drive, at least showed some vague interest (and Sprout got slightly more brave seeing her checking out the rat).

The women running Thunder Tunnel were SUPER super nice and encouraging. I can't say enough good things about them. Sprout went first. He did the entire tunnel with A LOT of encouragement. He'll do just about anything for me. What a brave boy!

Hokey made it clear she wanted no part of doing the entire tunnel, so we just had her do the short section from the ball pit to the end a couple of times. She was a good girl.

Sunday, the final day of the trial, started out gloomy and got worse - drizzle to rain - as the day progressed. Hokey was entered in Agility III in the morning and Colors in the afternoon, but I wasn't sure if I was going to attempt to run at all given the even mushier footing and her quirkiness the previous day. I walked the Agility III course and decided I had nothing to lose by at least attempting it. It did not go well. Again, when I released her from the startline, she ran to the fence on the other side of the ring. This time she wouldn't even come back to me. I wasn't going to push her anymore. It was disappointing since I know what she is capable of, but she'd made it clear something was bothering her and that she didn't want to work. I scratched her from the afternoon class, but did stick around to do a "fun run" in the rain with Sprout so I could at least end things on a good note. It was a game called Dare-to-Double, which I gathered comes from Teacup Agility. He did great. His greenness showed a little bit as he was reluctant to take the long tunnel that curved away from the inside of the ring when I handled it from the inside, but then he did take it when I went out and did a front cross and stayed to the outside. I was told that our score would have been a Q in a Teacup trial. So proud of my little man and how he handled everything. It's hard to believe he's only been with me and in training for 3 months!

Each dog got a placement ribbon in the tunnelers practice run, so at least they each got a memento to bring home. I think it's pretty cool that Sprout's first ribbon is from a national event. I got an expensive car repair bill that I have no idea how I'm going to afford. My take home from the trial is that Hokey needs a little break from agility, so we are working on some other things right now to build her confidence back up and cement our working bond again (watch for an upcoming blog post on that). But I'm already looking forward to going back next year and rocking agility with Sprout and potentially doing some other things with Hokey. I'm just hoping for much better weather and definitely better driving conditions.

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