Nationals was hard. Way harder than I could have imagined. I felt no nerves or stress in the ring when I was competing but the stress of getting Ve to and from the ring was nothing short of awful. There were dogs everywhere, no surprises there, but just no way of avoiding them. He shouldn't have been there and all I could think of was that it was all my fault and that I should never have taken him. To his credit Veto was amazing. Despite his fears he kept going like a true star. His only faults on course were mine from bad handling choices. Unsurprisingly he was cautious but I can't blame him for that. The fact that even though he was worried he still did everything I asked of him was amazing and I can't ask for more than that. At the end of the first three days he had a 6th place in Novice Agility in a class of 140. The following day he came 10th in Excellent Jumping and then on the third day a second in Excellent Jumping out of 86 dogs. His placings qualified him for finals in both classes. I never imagined he would make one final let alone both of them.
|On our way|
Finals day was plagued with crappy Melbourne weather. The day before which was the scheduled Open day had to be cancelled because destructive winds made it dangerous to run the dogs. After a delay of a couple of hours events kicked off but it was cold, wet and unpleasant. I tried to watch as many finals as I could but for much of the time you were just trying to stay warm. A decision was made to remove dog walks from all agility rings for safety reasons. I can understand that call being made but when you have spent the last six months working on your running dog walk skills because you know you need it to have any sort of advantage and then it gets removed from the finals of all things. Well it summed up my Nationals nicely... In the end Veto had probably his best run out of the whole competition and went round clear finishing in 5th place. The Excellent Jumping final took forever to start. It was about 5pm by the time it was run. By this point we were all freezing and pretty over it. Unfortunately things didn't go so well. I had an assembly steward on a power trip screaming at me to get in line as he was determined to have us all run in number order. Even though there were other dogs there in front of him ready to go. There were a lot of dogs around and I really didn't want to bring him through and line him up but I had no choice. My biggest concern was a blue merle Australian Shepherd lining next to us that was really upsetting Veto and I had no way of avoiding it. If I had my time again I would have asked the owner to give us space but I was so frazzled at this point that I was just trying to get him to the start line. But I was stressed, Veto was stressed and he just couldn't keep his eyes off the other dog. In the end I had no choice but to excuse myself from the ring. It was too risky and I couldn't jeopardise either Veto or the other dog. What a way to finish our Nationals. All because a ring steward (and also a judge a might add) was on a momentous power trip and felt the need to be a bully.
Our Nationals accommodation
One of the things I enjoy most about Nationals is getting watch all the other dogs. And wow, there are some phenomenally fast dogs out there, mostly in the 500 height class. Each time we have a Nationals they just get faster and faster. Of course the downside to that is there is also a significant amount of bar knocking going on that goes with the speed. Some of them were dropping three or four bars per run. So it had me asking myself the question of how much speed is too much speed. Or are we just not good enough trainers here in Australia yet to manage that speed and make sure we teach the dogs to jump properly. I'm sure our dogs here are as fast as the dogs we see at the top levels overseas. Watching the superfast dogs they are so low when they jump that there is no way on earth those bars are going to stay up. I find myself torn between the desire to have a dog going those speeds (lets face it, that sort of drive is mind blowing and pretty awesome) and having a dog that is fast but has the ability to think while doing agility and take some sort of care. I don't want my dog's clear runs to be flukes and then have them still in Novice and Excellent classes at six or seven years old because we can't string enough clears together to finish a title. Seems a bit pointless. And of course then you have the injury side of things. Either way I will certainly never tire of watching them!
|Veto the farm dog|
Cassie's Nationals was a bit of a non-event. The courses were utterly disgraceful for the 200 height. Many of them had obstacles two and a half/three meters apart and barely took up half the ring. I've never seen anything like it (and hope never to again...). I had to scratch her from three of her six runs because there was a real risk of her hurting herself should she have decided to run. For a dog who only ever trains on five or six meter set ups she could have really damaged herself. And why on earth would I want her to spend her run having to slow right down and collect the entire way. There was not one course that she would have been able to extend on. So that was a total waste of my time not to mention the money I spent on taking her over there and entering her. I will never take a 200 height dog to an interstate Nationals again unless there is a rule change and the minimum distance increased to 4 meters. I'll do everything in my power to prevent it from happening at our Perth Nationals in 2020 and we will be extremely selective about our choice of judges to ensure that common sense prevails.
So that was pretty much the end of Cassie's agility career. I am not going to make her compete anymore. We may still do some training because she does enjoy doing agility, but she can't handle the stress of the ring environment. And I'm not going to force her, she has to want to. I will always have regrets and what ifs about her agility career. I'm angry at myself for letting it happen. But of course you don't know what you don't know. I made the mistake of treating her like a border collie because when doing agility she acted like one. And I just never recognized the signs of stress when they started to appear. Thinking she was being naughty when she was actually worried. I will certainly never make that mistake again. Papillons are not working dogs. They are a toy breed bred to sit on your lap all day. They don't see the world the way a border collie does. But being gifted with a papillon with Cassie's drive and speed I had no concept of that. I have learned so much though and I have become a much more empathetic dog trainer and become a much better teacher of others as well because I am better equipped to give advise to people struggling with non-working dog breeds. So while I regret that Cassie never got to fulfill her potential I will always be grateful for who I have become because of it. I will always remember just how much fun it was to run her.
Remembering Cassie's awesomeness 😍
So we are back home now and I am extremely relieved that it is all over and things can get back to normal. I really would like to finish Veto's Novice Agility title off and now that his running dog walk is significantly improved I hope that won't take too long. He finished his Excellent Jumping title off while at Nationals so he is now in Masters Jumping. I am confident he has the skills to run Masters courses but my only worry is that depending on the course design they may be a bit demotivating. We'll continue to work on building his confidence around other dogs outside the ring and hopefully that will mean his confidence will improve inside the ring as well. I've ordered a bright fluro vest with "Give Me Space" written on it. So when it arrives he can wear it at trials and I would hope that those who don't know him will give us a wide berth. It can only help I'm sure.
|My clever boy|