We went up just one day since I had to work at my real job on Saturday AM and after the previous weekend of failing at Sunday's gamble, last run of the day and weekend, I really put it out of my head there would be another chance ever in our lifetime (not that I'm overly dramatic or anything). I really didn't want this one last Gamblers leg that we needed for our championship to turn into the 40th double Q drama of 2011 where I received QQ's 21-39 in about 6 months and took an entire 6 months earning the last one because of anxiety, nerves and pressure.
However the day before, upon examining the running order I realized that there was Gamblers Sunday but I tried to push the thought away and just go up for a day of fun USDAA runs with no pressure or expectations. I didn't even have an idea of when Gamblers was and was determined to just take it as it came...didn't even look at the course map in advance of the course build. Once I did look at the map I couldn't help but feel hopeful since there was a teeter in the gamble and for some odd reason, we seem to excel at gambles that have teeters as the focus.
So, I began my walk through of gamblers in a fairly chill state (which was great) and planned a safe route (no dog walk) that would allow me to get plenty of opening points so I wouldn't need to panic about points when I should really be thinking about the smoothest approach to the gamble. I had a small quandry on what to do to get enough points since weaves were the high point obstacle and as a rule with Brag since he's gotten older, I really try to minimize the number of weave poles he performs in the day. But, I wasn't in Speed Jumping since I didn't attend Saturday and we only had Jumpers and Snooker left and I didn't need to do weaves in either of those so I decided to go for it since he enjoys doing weaves. Surprisingly my plan went perfect and I was totally in the spot I wanted to be when the horn blew (*wow*) and I actually backed us up a little in order to get some momentum going into the teeter send and ran for it. As I sent him, it seemed like he was thinking hard about turning his head to look at me and see if I was sure and that would be the kiss of death so thankfully he just trusted me and carried out and did it. There was a small amount of challenge in the exit of the teeter getting them to pass the first tunnel exit and opt for the second one but with my dog, that wasn't a big deal since I knew he'd be eager to get closer to me which would work to our advantage. The final part (and most difficult as far as I was concerned), was getting them to exit the tunnel and send back out to the final jump. I really didn't get myself in the right position for that but I had just been working him on the practice jumps sending to the jump with almost no movement from me. It worked and he went right out there and jumped (and kept bar up!). I acted like an idiot in our victory lap because I was genuinely surprised we got it. Though there wasn't much of a distance challenge, there was a bunch of starting and stopping which doesn't generally treat us well.
I'm totally in awe of Brag. We've been messing around in USDAA for a couple years without much for goals and working hard for our AKC MACHs. Last August he was still running at 26" Championship and I thought long and hard about what I wanted and decided to knock him down to 22" Performance and think about trying for the Championship title but it seemed so far off and earning Super Q's and gamblers Q's seemed next to impossible. Even after we met our Super Q requirements (and then of course the next few trials we got them without even trying - that is always the way it works), the Gamblers Q's seemed like they'd never happen. Then I thought I'd resort to doing something radical, and actually trying to train a little distance. We attended a short seminar by distance pro, Carol Lemche and got a little perspective and thought a little harder about how "the line is not your friend!)" Eventually I learned to stop panicking when the horn blew and things started getting a little better. Even courses where we did not succeed at the gamble, there was less flailing on my part and less looks of confusion from Brag. Unfortunately we had a rather large set back in February when Brag became suddenly and terribly ill. That sickness took a huge toll on his body and he lost even more weight (already had a tough time keeping it on him) and he lost much of his muscle seemingly overnight. In a few weeks after that, all of his coat came out and he was down to bare skin on most of his body. His attitude was the only thing about him that was still bright. I'm truly grateful he is still with me most importantly and also that he still wants to play the game.
There are so many things I haven't trained Brag to do at distance such as the a frame, dog walk, weave poles...definitely things I plan to do better with my younger dogs. I guess I used to think it was all about the "send" training but I've changed my opinion of that since working with my youngest, Swift. Now I believe that if you teach them to have value for something and perform it independently of you (so much so that they LOVE it), they will go to it enthusiastically whether it is 4 feet away or 25 feet away. I discovered that one day when I was able to send her to the table that was clear across the yard basically just standing still. She loves the table and will drive to it happily. Now I need to be able to get all the obstacles to have similar value. Of course, there is still skill involved in training distance and redirection and all that but obstacle value is half the battle!