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… is very… something. I tried all morning, while working on The Ball is Out There flyball tournament, to figure out what I was feeling.

I’d known for quite awhile that Cooper wasn’t going to be with me. Russ and I had decided to put our time and effort with Cooper into hunt training and testing. And with hunt test season starting up in earnest, there would be no time for Cooper to practice flyball or go the tournament.

But I’m a team player, so I volunteered to go out yesterday with the my X-Fidos teammates to help out at the Canby fairground. My official job was “sticker runner” (essentially posting the times and wins on a board after each race), but I did a bunch of other things, too.

button for volunteering at The Ball Is Out There flyball tournament

I learned how to line judge, and did both line judging and box judging. Basically, these positions help the official judge know when a dog has dropped a ball, skipped a hurdle, crossed the line too early, etc. I also had a chance to observe the people at the scoring table enter the stats on the official sheets that are turned into NAFA. And I was a go-fer, getting coffee for people who couldn’t leave their seats, lending my jacket, helping to organize the next day’s prizes, finding a judge’s lost stopwatch, etc. A full day, even without Cooper.

But all day, I felt this heavy weight under my ribs. I wanted Cooper with me, and I wanted to be running him.

Of course, getting to run a dog is never a sure thing. In the last tournament, he was a butthead, being kind of snarky at the other dogs. Not good, and enough to keep him out of the races. And I can’t forget that his toenails keep breaking and he’s got this thing going on with his spine.

Maybe he won’t ever run flyball again — I guess that’s the fear and sadness I was feeling. Maybe his behavior got him out of the game, and his health won’t let him try again.

I hope that’s not the case. I know he loves flyball, and I do, too.

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Or, at least, sometimes you don’t win. They’re not exactly the same thing. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself.

Take the most recent Rose City Classic dog shows. Both my dogs looked good. Stacy made Tooey look like a real show princess, and Tammy neatened up Cooper’s gundog cut. They’re both good looking dogs with nice movement.

But neither Tooey nor Cooper won Winners in the ring. Tooey came in first in her puppy class on one of the days, but then lost out to another beautiful bitch. Cooper came in 2nd and 3rd in his Open class on the two days — not enough to progress to the next level. So neither of them “lost” exactly — they just didn’t win.

And then there was last weekend’s Pineapple Express Flyball Tournament. Had Cooper been behaving himself consistently, he would have been much more likely to run more of the 64 possible heats. Instead, he got to run only 10 heats. The captain (rightly) pulled him because he was snarking at the teammate-dogs who were passing him at the start gate. And then, in a couple of the heats that he did get to run, some other dog on the team fouled — dropped the ball, ran outside a hurdle, or something.

All that led to fewer points than possible. Not exactly a loss — after all, he did get some points, and all the points count. He just didn’t do as well as I had hoped going into the tournament.

I think what went wrong was similar in both venues: a combination of handler error, overly high expectations, really good competition, and dogs who need more training and practice.

So what do we do? Get over the discouragement. Lower expectations. Maintain hope. Devise better practice. Work on it. Get support. And give it back.

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The big flyball tournament is coming up in just two weeks, so it’s time to focus the practice. Going into this weekend, the big questions for Cooper were:

  • Can he do a decent box turn?
  • Can he pass another dog without stopping to discuss?

Yes, and it depends. Take a look at this video of yesterday’s flyball Fun Match:

So, yes he can do a decent box turn. What we’re looking for is called a swimmer’s turn. Hit the box sideways with all four feet (triggering the ball), grab the ball, and push off with same said four feet.

You might notice a clear barrier right in front of the box — that’s there to force Cooper to pick up his back feet just before he hits the box. Otherwise, it would be way too easy for him to hit the box with just his front feet. That’s not only slower, it can also cause injury to the dog’s shoulders over time. We’ll use that barrier at all times except in the actual tournament, just to build in the muscle memory of the swimmer’s turn.

And can he pass another dog? Well, it depends. In the video, Cooper did really well passing a little, light-colored dog, and today in regular practice, he did fine passing a Chihuahua, going straight out to the box and straight back. And he’s fine with all dogs when he’s returning to me with the ball.

But he’s not so fine going out, passing bigger dogs who are coming back. With those dogs, he turns his head and body toward the other dog, slowing himself and the other dog way down. It’s not clear why he’s doing that — lack of confidence? trying to protect me from this big dog that’s rushing toward me? trying to play? challenging the other dog? But whatever the reason, whenever he does that, he gets pulled from the race and doesn’t get to play any more for awhile.

You can see in the video that he REALLY wants to play. I’m hoping that not letting him play every time he pulls that stunt will get the message through: Ignore the other dog and GO GET THE BALL!

So it’s clear: We need more practice. More chances to do it right and keep playing. More chances to do it wrong and get pulled. More chances for the connection to be made and the light bulb go on.

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Cooper’s new flyball title is shown in the NAFA database. His 308 points earms him a solid Flyball Dog Excellent (FDX), and puts him more than halfway toward his Flyball Dog Champion (FDCh). It also puts him 6th in the rankings of Irish Water Spaniels. Woo hoo!

NAFA_database_IWSYou can see it for real by going here: http://nafadb.flyball.org/public.shtml, clicking “Breed Analysis”, and scrolling down to “Irish Water Spaniels”.

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Steve, one of the X-Fidos flyball team captains at the “Fun Fair All” tournament, has just posted a video of bits and pieces of Saturday’s action.

Cooper shows up in the opening box-turn segment at about 00:11 and again as the 4th dog in the full race segment at 00:32-00:55. He shows up once more, just for a second, as he starts to veer off into the other lane (ARGH!) at 01:47.

The segment from 02:30 to 02:50 show the tricks and games that people did during lunchtime break.

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At this past weekend’s “Fun Fair All” flyball tournament, Cooper earned his FDX (Flyball Dog Excellent) title from NAFA (North American Flyball Association)!

Cooper jumping over hurdle

Cooper jumping over hurdle

Cooper at the start of a box turn

Cooper at the start of a box turn

To get this title, Cooper had to run fast enough, with no errors, and in enough NAFA-sanctioned flyball heats to win at least 200 points.

It’s both an individual title and a team effort. Each heat has to be finished successfully by all 4 dogs running the heat — no passing early, no dropping the ball, no stealing the ball, no running off into other lanes, no interfering with the other team, no missing any of the hurdles, no helping by any of the people — everything has to be perfect.

And then the team of 4 dogs has to run the heat fast enough. If a heat is run in under 24 seconds, each dog receives 25 points toward a title. If under 28 seconds, then 5 points, and if under 32 seconds, then 1 point.

Cooper’s points are based on the results that were posted at the tournament, so they’re not “official.” In about a month or so, we should get the confirmation from NAFA.

Cooper runs reasonably fast — he averages about 6.5 seconds, and his fastest last weekend was 5.55 seconds. (His slowest was just over 12 seconds. That run, with it’s beautiful recovery, was described in the previous post.)

I am thrilled. Just the practices before, he was STILL running off into the other lanes to chase the other dogs. To have him run so many heats so fast and with so few errors… It’s an unexpected and exciting pleasure.

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During the “Fun Fair All” flyball tournament this past weekend, Cooper earned an unofficial award for Best Recovery. Here’s what he did:

He ran from the gate (#1) to the box (#2). I’ve indicated the tennis ball with a green circle on the box.

step 1

He got the ball out of the box, but dropped it. The ball rolled around to the back of the box. (#3). Cooper then ran back over the hurdles until he got to the middle (#4), stopped, sat, and looked at me like, “Something’s wrong with the picture. Help me out here.”

step 2

From back behind the start gate, I pointed at the box and told him to “Go get the ball! Go get it!”

He turned around (#4), ran back over the hurdles, around to the back of the box and picked up the ball (#5).

step 3

Then, and this is the amazing part, he turned around, and ran back over all the hurdles through the finish gate. What amazed everyone was that he didn’t simply run back in the shortest possible distance with the ball. Instead, he returned to the lane, and ran back over all the hurdles and through the gate to finish (#6).

step 4

All totally legal. His time was 12.6 seconds for the whole run, which is twice as long as his usual 6.6 seconds, but finding the same ball that he dropped and running back with it over the hurdles made the run completely legit.

He got a standing ovation and a fuzzy squeaky toy as a reward.

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In the many moments of frustration with Cooper, the thought that I got the wrong dog has crossed my mind several times. But, I have to say, that I’m glad we got Cooper. This weekend provides a prime example of why.

Cooper and I competed in the Muddy Paw’s “Fun Fair All” flyball tournament this weekend in Salem, Oregon. Cooper did really well, earning his FDX title (more on that in another post). In addition, our team won 3rd place in our division. Both of these are better-than-I-hoped-for results.

It’s been a difficult and often discouraging experience training Cooper for flyball because he likes to go running off into the other lanes (which makes the team lose that heat, no matter how well the other dogs on the team have done).

But, this weekend, with the help of all my teammates, Cooper did really amazingly well.

And that gets to what I’m grateful for. With a less driven dog, I would have done what originally I expected I’d do with my water dog — go on hikes and walks, play fetch, go boating, have a companion, and generally hang out.

But with Cooper, I have been forced out of my shy shell and into (gasp!) a team sport.

I have never played team sports — never wanted to, never thought I’d be good enough for, never found any sport interesting enough, etc.

But here I am, on a team, playing a team sport.

Cooper and Patrice at the start of his run in a flyball heat

Cooper and Patrice at the start of his run in a flyball heat

Patrice and Cooper as he finishes his run

Patrice and Cooper as he finishes his run

And on top of that, I’ve joined several clubs — also amazing for me (I never join clubs) — X-Fidos flyball club, Cascade Dockdogs club, and IWSCOPS.

So thank you, Tammy and Rosemary, for Cooper. He’s been my catalyst.

(And thanks to Laci for the pictures.)

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All sports stars have their own web pages, right? Well, Cooper’s got two. Here’s Cooper’s flyball page:

x-fidos_page_090709

You’ll find it at http://www.x-fidos.org/id87.htm. Once you get there, you can click “Back to the Team” or the other links along the left to see bios of the other team members.

And here’s the Cascade Dockdogs page:

(arrow added)

(arrow added)

You can find this page at http://www.cascadedockdogs.org/members.htm, along with the other club members bios.

Woo hoo!

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I groaned yesterday evening during flyball practice when Cooper decided to go running off AGAIN into the other lane to play, instead of returning down his own lane to me…

One of my teammates asked me how old Cooper is, and I told her, “2 and a half.”

She said, “Oh, just wait till he’s 3. He’ll be fine when he’s 3.”

Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah — I remember. Rosemary, Tammy, and pretty much every owner of a male IWS has assured me of that.

I’m sure if he’s doing the same thing at 3, they’ll all say, “Oh, just wait till he’s 4.”

And then 5, and then 7, and then (god willing), 14.

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Kristine, my X-Fido teammate, wondered something on her blog: “I don’t know how many Irish Water Spaniels there are running flyball, but I know of at least one…”

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

Good question. I had to check. So I went to the North American Flyball Association database, and looked at their breed statistics.

IWS in Flyball

In the NAFA league, Cooper is the 10th IWS ever, and the only one currently active in NAFA flyball.

Some other IWS have done really well in NAFA in the past:

  • Madcap Rowanberry (retired) with Evelyn Velez-Crawford got 7033 points for a Flyball Master (FM)
  • Ballyhoo Encounters Renegade (inactive) with Renee Nappier got 2640 points for a Flyball Dog Champion-Gold (FDCh-G)
  • Martha (retired) with Patti Bourne got 2192 points for a Flyball Dog Champion-Silver (FDCh-S)

Cooper has 1 (yes, you read that right, “1”) NAFA point. I will be happy if (when?) he gets his Flyball Dog (FD).

I also checked the United Flyball League International (U-Fli) database, and they have no active IWS.

Flygility

I also heard from a New Zealand IWS owner, who plays a similar sport, called “flygility.” It’s like a combination of flyball and agility. It looks like a timed race, instead of being a relay race. And instead of only jumping over hurdles, the dogs also work through agility-type obstacles.

Here’s a video of flygility from YouTube:

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Yesterday evening, warm with clear blue skies and white fluffy clouds, was the perfect time for the first outdoor X-Fido flyball practice of the year.

We set up on the lawn of the Garden Home Rec Center, including:

  • the fluorescent orange fencing (to keep the team dogs in and non-team members out),
  • two courses of bright white hurdles,
  • the two ball-launching boxes,
  • various flags,
  • several kinds of tennis balls (small, regular, squeaky, soft, etc.), and
  • a plastic tub for water.
(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

It was a good practice. We did:

  • a bunch of runbacks (where the dog runs only the last half of a run, from the box, over the hurdles, and to the finish line),
  • some practice box turns (where the dog practices getting all four feet onto the box in order to launch the tennis ball), and
  • a few full runs with 4-dog teams (from the start line passing a dog, over all the hurdles, to the box to grab the tennis ball, back over all the hurdles, and passing — with tennis ball — another dog at the finish line).

Experienced dogs first, then novice dogs. Cooper is a novice, and he got a turn at two full runs.

Cooper did one run 98% perfectly. The only thing not perfect was that he slowed slightly to look at the teammate dog passing him. The whole run, I had been yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!” Then, when he turned slightly to look at the other dog, I could see that his puppy brain was calculating the possibility of stopping to play. I boomed out a really loud, “NO!!!” That took his attention off the dog and toward me, and my running away, wildly waving the pink puppy toy, and again yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Then, the other run… Instead of returning over our course of hurdles, Cooper ran over to the other course to chase a dog running over there. Nancy was closer, so she ran over to him, waved her arms, and yelled, “Cooper! No! What do you think you’re doing?”

Cooper stopped abruptly. Nancy said that his golden almond-shaped eyes got really big and round. Then he decided that running to me was the best possible idea. Good choice, Cooper.

He got a drink and then took a break in his crate, watching the other dogs run. Sigh… better luck next week.

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Last night was supposed to be the X-Fidos first outdoor flyball practice of the season. But we had to cancel due to predicted thunderstorms.

I was disappointed about canceled practice, but now I’m glad. Cooper is not fond of thunder — and we had a bunch of it over our house last evening. He told me how much he didn’t like it the whole time.

So what to do? Walking was out, playing bumpers in the back yard was out, just listening to him bark is unpleasant, and putting him back into his crate seemed unfair.

Then an idea struck. I got out his favorite two squeaky toys, and played what I’m going to call Fast Fetch:

  • Person throws the 1st toy.
  • Person squeaks the 2nd toy until the dog brings back the 1st toy.
  • Dog brings back 1st toy.
  • Person then throws the 2nd toy in another direction.
  • Person squeaks 1st  toy until 2nd toy is brought back.
  • Repeat as often as needed.

Cooper added a new rule:

  • When thunder blams, freeze and bark.

So this is how it worked out: He’d run off to get the toy, the thunder would blam, he’d freeze and bark for a bit until he could “hear” the squeaking again. I could see him remembering — he’d unfreeze and do this micro head-shake-thing. Then he’d remember he was playing a game, and finish the retrieve.

Noisy on all fronts, but fun.

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The X-Fidos Flyball Club gave a rousing demo of flyball at the Multnomah County Fair at Oaks Park. Eager dogs and orange team shirts really radiated energy in the bright sunny day. We alternated on the field with a local dog agility team, both of us giving demonstrations of the fun you can have with your dog. We even staged a race, dog team vs. kids’ team. Of course the kids won.

Kristine Gunter, dog photographer, writer, trainer, and fellow X-Fido, took this photo of Cooper and me. Cooper looks very attentive. I was patting my chest, inviting him to jump up on me. What dogs don’t like jumping up on their people?

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

In between heats, Cooper and I went down the Willamette River to cool off. As far as Cooper is concerned, everything always goes better with swimming. And even better, we found the Northwest Air Dogs dock diving pool. Guess I know where we’re going tomorrow!

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I had been warned that just because a dog is on a flyball team, that does not mean that he will actually run in a tournament. But this past weekend, at The Ball Is Out There tournament, Laura, my very kind flyball captain, said that he would get to warm up. This would give us both a feel for the noise, activity, confusion, lights, music, other dogs, and distractions that make up the excitement of a flyball tournament.

Russ got some video of Sunday morning’s races. Cooper shows up for the first 16 seconds of the video, acting like a twit and showing off his samurai hairdo. He also appears much later (at about 2:50) doing some of the warm ups:

Unfortunately, the video doesn’t include the two heats that Cooper actually got to run. One time he did it perfectly (hooray!). The second time he stopped after the 2nd hurdle, turned around to confirm with me that, yes, he *is* supposed to go and get the ball now, and then finished his run. Slowed up the team some, but fortunately, they thought it was funny. (Cooper doesn’t usually stop to confirm anything!)

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