I've been trialing just about every weekend for the past couple of months so I should probably write an update while things are relatively fresh in my mind.
My goal with Devon this Fall is to qualify him to go to AKC Nationals in VA in March 2011. I've never run a dog in any national competition so I thought it was something I'd enjoy and it's only a 3.5 hour drive at a location I know well from having attended three Clean Run Camps there.
In order to qualify, I need 6 double Q's, one of which I got back in August. My next trial after that was a local USDAA trial so my Q's there didn't contribute to the 5 I still need. Last weekend I trialied at a small outdoor trial in VA and didn't Q at all. I'd like to blame it on the poor footing and unlevel rings but I'm not sure I can. And this past weekend I attended just one day of a CPE trial as a way to test out what would happen if I just ran really hard with him and gave him a lot of forward motion cues. I did see him run faster and happier but I also saw him pop off his contacts and actually bail from the upside of the A-frame.
It's no mystery why he's doing this; it's because I've been quick releasing his 2 on/2 off stopped contacts in an effort to reduce the stress I feel waiting for him to get into position and/or pop off them. The quick realease worked for about 4 trials and then started producing their own stress since he now really has no idea what I want him to do. I thought I could squeak by with this band aid approach to his contacts just long enough to get my 6 QQs and then I was going to take some time off and retrain a managed but moving contact (not a true running contact but not a stopped one either).
But now I don't think it's going to work and I'm in the position of having entered a whole bunch of trials hoping to get the QQs which puts a lot of pressure on me to qualify in standard which isn't good for our contact performance. So now I'm really not sure what to do other than to try to reproduce what I do in trials in practice which is really hard to do unless I can go to drop in classes which is the only time he gets excited enough to pop off the contacts and allow me to figure out if I can mange them somehow.
I'm pretty mad at myself for doing the quick release thing. It's not like I don't know better and couldn't have predicted this happening. It's really due to the pressure I'm putting on myself to get these QQs for the AKC Nationals. I wish they didn't base their qualifying on QQs but they have to have some way to keep the numbers of entries down or you'll have week long Nationals the way USDAA is doing this year.
On a happier note, my Dobe, Zodi had her agility debut this weekend at a CPE trial. I entered her in Jumpers and Standard and was very happy with her performance in Jumpers and about half as happy with her performance in Standard.
Edited on 11/15/10 to add:
I've trialed several times since I first wrote this post and have acheived three more QQ's, not a great success rate but not surprising considering how much pressure I feel to get the Q. I have two more trials to get two more QQs but I don't think I'll be too disappointed if it doesn't happen. I've learned a lot this fall and feel a lot more comfortable trialing than I did. Part of that is just getting more practice and being able to predict what Devon will do as a response to my handling.
And it's not like I was expecting to be really competitive at nationals, I just wanted to go to my first nationals as a participant rather than as a spectator. I think it would be fun and I know Devon would enjoy seeing all those dogs and people. He's such a sociable dog and loves making new friends. But truthfully, I'm not sure I want to spend the money just to get the t-shirt, if you know what I mean. I do think it would be a good experience for me to go and see how I react to that kind of trialing situation--whether or not I actually enjoy it--and to learn first hand how it feels to step to the line at a Nationals.
I've considered withdrawing from the last couple of trials but that was mostly when I wasn't running very well and getting nervous. Now that most of our runs are pretty good, I feel like I'd like to face the challenge of this type of pressure. This weekend I'm going to Charlotte to a large indoor trial and the following weekend I'm flying to Springfield, MA to run in the big Thanksgiving cluster there. Since my sister lives only a couple of hours away and because I can actually stay with family, it's something I've thought about doing for several years. So, I've decided to go for it and let myself committ to trying right up to the last possible run. I think the worst thing that can happen is that I spend some money I don't really need to be spending and the best thing that can happen is that I have a great time and feel successful.