Our Trip to AKC Agility Nationals 2014: Part Two

In part one of this series, I wrote about the trials leading up to Nationals and our trip to PA. Today I’ll recap the actual competition!

Thursday

We started the day by driving to the nearest Starbucks so I could become sufficiently caffeinated. (This is a necessary dog show ritual.) It was empty in there, so they didn’t bother asking us for a name to write on the cup. It wasn’t until after we left that we realized the barista was a kindred spirit:

Get pumped! It's TUUKKA TIME!
Get pumped! It’s TUUKKA TIME!

For those who are not aware, Dan’s favorite thing in the entire world is hockey, specifically the Boston Bruins. I’m a big fan, too, (and I liked Tuukka Rask before he was cool, I’ll have you know) but not the way he is – he is obsessed with hockey. This is why all of Strata’s gear is black and gold, and I dress to match him accordingly.

Ready to run!
Ready to run!

Back to agility! Thursday was the “warm up” day for everyone except for the 20″ dogs. Since Strata is a 16″ competitor, our only run was Time 2 Beat.

The results of T2B don’t count toward the cumulative results that decide who makes it to finals. The winner of T2B in each jump height is eligible for the Challengers’ Round, which is a way for ultra-competitive dogs (class winners) to make it to Finals even if they had a fault in one of their rounds.

We are not an “ultra-competitive” team (just regular type “competitive”) so my goal was just to lay down a nice clean run for my psyche. Mission accomplished:

I came out of the ring feeling pretty good about our performance. Strata was not running as fast on this dirt as he does at home, and there were a couple of spots where we could have shaved off some time – namely, tighter turns before and immediately after the weave poles. It was a good reminder to stay as precise as possible for the rest of the event.

We celebrated Strata’s clean run by purchasing a Dogpacer treadmill and watching some of our friends run. From there, we went on a short road trip to Tröegs for a brewery tour and some lunch. If you find yourself looking for something not-chocolate-related in Hershey, I can’t recommend it enough! We had a great time. We found a little park nearby to let the dogs run around before heading back to our motel.

Friday

The Bruins’ shutout the night before provided plenty of inspiration for the first day of the competition. They had a clean game, and I need three clean runs to have the opportunity to make finals. So I donned my Bruins t-shirt early in the morning and we were off to the show!

Dan and I watched most of the teams that ran ahead of us. The course was relatively straightforward, but included a couple of 180 degree wraps that were making or breaking a lot of teams. The weave pole entry was also tricky, depending on which way you turned your dog at the earlier 180. I was confident in my handling plan – I just knew I needed to execute it.

Strata at AKC Agility Nationals
Strata says, “Hey! I think I know one of those doggies.”

Well, I executed it just fine – unfortunately, Strata knocked the bar on the first wrap. I’ve watched the run a dozen times, and honestly can’t take the blame for it – he knew where he was going, I didn’t do anything to startle him, he just didn’t pull up his knees high enough. It happens. C’est la vie.

The rest of the run went off without a hitch. Dan, Strata, and I found a comfortable spot to watch some of the other jump heights in the other arena and talked about where to go from there, literally and figuratively speaking.

It’s tough knowing that early in the competition that you’re done. Last year, Strata had one fault – a refusal – but it was in his third and final run of the competition. Up until that point, I was flying high, knowing we had a chance at making finals.

We also knew that Strata needed to have a really great performance at Nationals to be up for consideration at World Team Tryouts, which are in May. For a dog that is fast but not blazing-fast, “really great” for him basically meant “finals appearance.”

I was bummed out about our result in JWW. No meltdowns or drama, just seriously bummed out.

Dan and I took the dogs for a good long walk and retreated to the hotel for a good long nap. Too good, actually – it kinda threw off our sleep schedules for the rest of the event!

Saturday

I woke up the next morning determined to stick to my original goal of “three clean runs.” There was nowhere to go but up. I couldn’t fix Friday’s result but I could make darn sure things didn’t get any worse.

That day’s run was Standard, which is generally Strata’s best event. His running A-frame helps him pick up a bit of time. The course design was also good for him – another very technical course that proved to be challenging for a lot of teams.

Clean! Thank goodness. I over-handled the dogwalk, which slowed him down, but we made it.

Sunday

We arrived at the venue bright and early. Earlier than Starbucks opened. Enough said.

I took one look at the course map and could not wait to get out there and run the course. Fast A-frame! Backside! Forward send that many teams over-handled into oblivion! Let me at it!

Nailed it!

I came out of the ring and stuffed almost an entire container of treats into Strata’s mouth (he was happy to oblige), I was just so excited. That was the run we came to PA for. There was only one tiny spot we could have cleaned up. I stuck to my game plan on the ending even though so many people handled it differently (with varying levels of success). I trusted my dog. We killed it. Life was good.

We watched the rest of the 16″ dogs run, then got a quick lunch before returning to watch the Challengers and Finals rounds. What great agility! We had a great time cheering everyone on. (We could have done without the surprise sleet, followed by about 3″ of wet, heavy snow, falling as everyone tried to pack up and leave… yuck!)

The Trip Home

With AKC Agility Nationals 2014 in the books, we slept in and had a leisurely road trip home that took nearly all day long on Monday. The weather was perfect for driving. We enjoyed some wonderful, authentic eastern PA cooking at Dutch Kitchen for breakfast. (Homemade shoo-fly pie, OMG!)

Nationals next year will be in Reno, which is where I went to watch in 2012. As of now, Strata has completed nearly half of the qualification requirements, so I’m optimistic that we’ll be there!

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