Here is a photojournal of Miles and my year of competitive dog Agility.
Notes: All ribbons shown are from different events in 2017. No photo shows the same ribbon twice. Instead of getting a picture of every single ribbon, I decided to focus on capturing some of our best memories. All photos of Miles doing agility are from 2017; most are from Regional/National events by professional photographers.
Our first trial of 2017 began as the PNW was hit with an unprecedented snowstorm. My friend and I decided to brave the roads. On the highway we drove past a highway snowplow that was ditched, and once off the highway, got stuck for a while. Braving the snowstorm ended up being worthwhile. Miles and I earned 8 Qs — all first placements (we had 5 other intense competitors present in our class!), and our best weekend outcome yet! Miles also earned 4 titles: Bronze Jumpers (10 Masters Jumpers Qs), Steeplechase (10 Steeplechase aka T2B) Bronze Award of Merit (10 Masters Standard Qs + 25 Masters Games Qs), and Bronze Versatility (Any 3 Masters Classes in which the dog has earned 10 Qs in each).
In 2017, we did 4 AKC trials. We started off the year at the Novice level. It was interesting to run a Masters dog in Novice. You’d think it would be easy, and in some ways it was, but there are also unexpected challenges. Novice courses feature a lot of straight lines and wide curves. With a seasoned Masters dog, the challenge for the handler is to keep up! Miles was also re-introduced to the pause table. I wouldn’t say he relished having to stop mid-course, but given all of our work, he understood and humored me. After a few Qs, I became confident enough to use the table as a rare opportunity to lead-out mid-course. In most venues at the Masters level, a dog ceasing motion for 5 seconds is unheard of. I am starting to like this opportunity!
The first class Miles went Silver in (25 Master’s Qs) was Gamblers. Miles excels at interpreting cues from a distance and completing challenging sequences 18-22 feet away from me. Miles is passionate about Gambles, and I think it is because he relishes the audience participation. When the buzzer sounds for final gamble, aka the distance component, everyone goes silent to watch the dog attempt the Gamble (even the busiest competitors and crew stop to observe which strategies work and which don’t). Then, if the dog is successful, the judge breaks the silence by yelling “SUCCESSFUL GAMBLE!” The crowd goes WILD! Miles lives for this!
Regionals were a very exciting time for us. For the first time, we tried Friday’s Steeplechase events. Steeplechase (T2B) is a course designed to test accuracy and SPEED. In 2017 Miles and I were new to this game. That Friday, we ended up having one of the best runs of our career! We were totally in-synch and fast. To my shock, we landed in the top in our class and qualified for the Run-offs! From our cumulative weekend scores we also qualified for Nationals. I was honored when One Mind Dogs shared this photo on their Instagram.
One of the more unique titles Miles earned in 2017 was Bronze Masters Team Relay (10 Masters Team Qs). Each “team” is made up of two humans/dogs. It is a two dog/people team relay for time and accuracy. The teams enter the ring together, and the #2 dog/person team waits in a corner while the #1 team runs their half of the course. When the #1 team is done, they go to their corner and the #2 team runs their half. This year we competed with six different breeds of dogs: Camilla the Mini Schnauzer, Shayla the Mini Aussie, Kwynn the Golden Retriever, Eberle the Lab, Bella the Sheltie, and Padraig the Wheaten Terrier.
Small one-ring trials used to feel overwhelming for me and Miles. Now these smaller trials can seem like a lot of waiting! This hot-weather outdoor trial is always fun, and Miles likes running across the huge sports field with his friends afterwards. A few years ago, instead of chasing his friends, Miles chased thousands of geese across the field… Little turkey. In the photo below, you can see it gets so hot that I soak Miles before each run.
One of my favorite local trials is held 25 minutes from our house. It is fun to do agility in the city, and this park features a stunning view of the mountains. Last year, this was where Miles got his Agility Championship, and also where I was invited to be part of a agility club. This year as a member, I both worked and competed. I barely saw Miles, which I didn’t like. Miles didn’t seem to mind snoozing in his cool crate. Do I have separation anxiety? We had a great time on-course, and set a new best of 9 Qs in a weekend! Miles also earned two titles: Standard Bronze (10 Masters Standard Qs) and Silver Snooker (25 Masters Snooker Qs).
Nationals came quickly. A week before, I injured my back. I used to think it was suspicious that people would get hurt right before big events; now I recognize the power of pre-adrelinline! I was lucky that my dad stepped in to help. He drove us, loaded and unloaded gear, and stuck around all weekend. At the same time massive wildfires raged across the PNW and the area was under a level 8 smoke alert. The site was surreal: thick grey smoke, no mountains visible, and the sun was a red orb. Thankfully, competitors were okay. And, my back didn’t slow Miles down in distance work! He kicked serious butt in Gambles, nailing both and landing final Gamble times that were among the fastest of around 400 dogs! We also beat our personal best for cumulative score at a Regional/National event.
On the hottest weekend of the summer, Miles and I went to a small trial with a judge who is known for highly challenging courses. I used to be a weenie who would avoid such trials. I would’ve struggled to remember the complex courses, and Miles would’ve happily helped himself to many off-course tunnels in the meantime. This trial ended up being the most fun Miles and I had in agility all year! We Q’d 4/4 standard runs (!!!) and 1/2 Challenges. Challenge is an “international style” standard that is more technical. If you’ve been following us any length of time, you know that Standards, even the simple ones, have long been our kryptonite. We felt so in synch that weekend, strategizing together as we ran the tricky courses.
At the end of the summer, we did one last AKC trial. Miles made every moment count: He Q’d all three runs, placed first in each, and scored two titles. At the end of the day, someone told me how adorable Miles looks when he is running a course. That was the best part!
Seven seemed to be our lucky number in 2017! At this trial, Miles Q’d 7 runs and was first in 6. Not too shabby at a hot summer trial for a dog who used to run slowly in the heat. In 2017, Miles was game for anything!
Aside from the constant driving that is agility, we did two dedicated weekends away this year. One of them was a well-planned 3-day trip with our friends Ashley and Benson to an AKC trial. Benson is a Border Terrier (pics here). Miles and Benson both earned a pile of Qs, first placements, and a title each. Ashley and I had a blast, but determined that our hotel had a major downside: it was right beside a top-rated milkshake joint.
In September, Miles and I visited my mother on the East Coast. She was nice enough to agree to take us to a trial an hour away from my parents house. The trial was a half-day “run for money” Steeplechase competition. The day before, we had been sunbathing on the lake, and that morning, my mother and I woke up to a power outage and below freezing temperatures. Miles loves the cold, but my mother and I were a tad chilled! Miles ended up winning the small dog category and “bought” us a fancy steak dinner with his winnings! It was our first time winning money, and the steak was delicious.
Standard was always Miles and my “one fault” run… Before 2017. This was the year we began absolutely rocking Standards. By the summer, Miles had earned Silver Masters Standard (25 Masters Standard Qs) and Silver Award of Merit (25 Masters Standards and 50 Masters Games). When my friend Christine announced Miles’ Silver Standard at her club’s trial, she yelled out, “And Emma will just a little excited to pick this ribbon up… Silver Standard!” Standard curse no more!
Here is a candid shot I took of Miles practicing “sit pretty.” I had been in the middle of filling out ribbon details a Sunday night. By the end of the year, I stopped filling out ribbons. It is amazing how relative things get. After trials, I have always called my mom to tell her about our experiences. In 2017, Miles and I did so well that I could not help myself from going into great detail of the nuisances of the courses, and it it felt like to through them with Miles. My mother began finishing every call with an exasperated, “Well, what’s the tally!?” I’d answer, and she’d say, “I can’t believe it!!! Can you believe how far you both have come?” It is true.
4 + 3 + 3 + 3 = what? 13, that is what! This was the weekend we earned 13 Qs. Our top Q’ing trial <em>EVER</em>. I don’t expect to break this record again. I am happy to have achieved this once. It felt amazing to run in synch with Miles. We had a blast. I will forever cherish the memory.
This year we tried UKI agility. UKI courses are styled on World competitions. The rule is that you enter UKI at the relatively highest level in which you currently compete. Miles and I started at Champ, which I found more challenging than Masters in AAC or AKC. Though the courses took adjusting compared to Masters AKC or AAC, I now believe there are huge benefits to trying UKI. I will cover these in a future post. At the last UKI Friday night of the year, Miles was the only dog at his level to run the Standard clean, and also ran clean in Jumpers. This meant that he earned a highly competitive Masters Series Bye (Q) for UKI Nationals!
At the first trial of 2017, Miles earned a whack of Bronze-level titles. So how fitting is it that he’d finish the year with a bunch of Silver-level titles? In November, Miles earned Silver Jumpers (25 Masters Jumpers Qs) and Silver Versatility (The culmination of 25 Qs each in 4 different Masters classes — aka 100 Qs total) to complement the other Silver titles he’d earned throughout the year.
The finale to our year of agility was a 3-week stint with a trial each weekend! We have never done that before. Miles was physically toned from all of the conditioning, hiking, swimming, and of course agility that we did this year, and he was raring to go in every run. In this grand 3-weekend finale, Miles earned a total of 28 Qs. What a way to finish of an incredible year. Here he is posing with the last 3 weeks of Qs and first place ribbons.
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you just dont give up.
Read about what makes our team tick in the previous post, A Year for the “Different Team.”