Thursday, July 24, 2008

Most silly agility course ever

Me mates and I were actually looking forward to the Dog Olympic agility trials in June as the puppy people had a nice set of imported equipment and it has been 2 years since they last organized their very 1st trials … wonder what took them so long? Sad to say, things haven’t improved much and the trials was quite a let down.

When the public is charged entrance fees to partake in official trials, one would expect the organizers to conduct the trials in a professional manner. The organizers must not only be independent but must also be seen to be independent at all times. Here’s what happened on that day:

1. The course was designed by the organizer who also had a hand in judging the trials, despite the presence of an appointed judge from Thailand.

The organisers should have exercised better judgment by leaving the design of the course to the appointed judge. With the organisers setting the course and also having a hand in the judging process, the integrity of the trials is called into question. Certainly begs the question, 'Why invite an overseas judge in the first place?'

More ever, with 2 judges (1 official judge and 1 from the organizer) in the ring, there was confusion as to whom the scribe was taking instructions from? How does the scribe keep track of 2 officials at the same time and how will the scribe know that the 2 judges are calling for the same fault or different ones?

2. The course designed by the organizer was bizarre to say the least (bear in mind that agility is a fairly new sport in this country and the dog clubs have only run novice level trials to date). In my lifetime of surfing the net for agility courses worldwide, never have I come across such a silly layout. Here’s a rough sketch:
If you managed to decipher all that, then your run will look something like this:and if you think it looks bad on paper, imagine what it looked like on the open field itself!

If you look carefully (obstacles 3-4 and 11-12), teams actually had to recheck and heel to get to the next obstacle in sequence which were placed on total opposite ends of the ring. Traps were aplenty with certain obstacles barely 2 feet apart. There was even 2 sets of 12 pole weave thrown in for good measure. As a result, runs were choppy with a lot of start and stops, handlers searching for the next obstacle and weird heeling moves in between. 1 team actually executed an OB heeling pattern to get to the next obstacle in sequence!

Evidently, teams were confused by the maze and most slowed down to jogging pace to maneuver the obstacles. As a result, the runs were unexciting and confusing to watch and a poor advert for the sport.

Was a truly weird run particularly for faster dogs like me, as I had to keep coming back to Mr Owner to recheck my pace … felt like a ‘Yo-Yo’ at times. Needless to say, I ended up with too many faults and didn’t get a placing.

In fact, all teams had a fair number of faults and would have ended up being eliminated under normal rules if not for the original faults system thought up by the organizers ie. ranging from 5, 10 and 20 faults for different severity of mistakes. How was the scribe ever going to read the judges’ signals for the different faults?

The unorthodox layout left competitors wondering if they were running a Gamblers or Snookers or Rally-O course instead of Standard Agility. Many teams commented that the organizers was trying to be funny or perhaps had no clue really. One observer even quipped that it made the US ESPN Outdoor Games trials look like child’s play.

The primary criteria when designing agility courses is to promote smooth runs with equal emphasis on speed and control. As it is, teams were reduced to jogging pace in this peculiar trial and the spectators would have had a hard time trying to reconcile the fast, pacy and exciting runs seen in regular trials with this one.

3. Course layout and numbering were not placed properly leading to many queries from teams as to which direction should the next obstacle be attempted from. At times, the organizers were unsure themselves and some decisions seemed to be made at the spur of the moment.

4. Organizers were not well versed with the trial rules and when asked about faults for missing the weave poles the 2nd time around, they looked at each other. A competitor then suggested 5 faults which the organizers then readily agreed as they couldn’t figure out what else to do??!!

5. Official trial results (ie. time, faults and team placing) were not announced or released except for the 1st and 2nd placed teams, leaving competitors wondering as to how they had actually fared at the trials.

Certainly, a far cry from any resemblance of the dog sport of agility, much less an official trial… which is a shame really as we are all trying to promote the sport in this country. Teams from other clubs were even more skeptical saying the organizers set out to achieve a desired result for their own teams. Over eagerness perhaps, inexperienced maybe … I would give them the benefit of the doubt in that they are also on the learning curve. Perhaps they should stick to running their usual casual fun events until they actually get a good grip of the game.

Well, all was not lost though, as the Dog Squad also took part in the casual games and brought home plenty of prizes and medals in Simon Says, 60 Pole Weave, Hurdle Race and Fastest Recall games. In fact, the casual games offered more prizes than the agility trials and what more, they were free of charge compared to the RM30 entry fee for the trials … huh?? ... no point even trying to make any sense of this ...

Those puppy people ... always getting into puppy mischief.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dog sports and trials in Penang Isle

Prior to flexing our brawn at the PAA Agility and OB trials in Sungai Dua Penang, we popped by at Batu Ferringhi beach the day before for a quick dip and also to take in the sunset.

Check out the beach babes and hunks seen parading on the beach that weekend. Here’s Archer prancing as a Baywatch lifeguard … now who needs swimming trunks when you’ve got lots of fur to spare.
Lotus n Empress brought along their new life vests to try on and they looked really smart. Together with Russell, they had a go at swimming in the sea while Archer watched the waves breaking onto shore. Angel got into her usual herding mode and yet again mistook me for sheep. I was too preoccupied with my frisbee toy and got into a fight with Russell over it. Got punished and was sent to another part of the beach away from the rest, which suited me just fine as I could now play with my frisbee in peace. Meanwhile, Pacco took time to meet up with a couple of ‘long time’ pals of hers, the resident dogs of the beach.

The organizers, PAAPP are an energetic and ambitious band of dog lovers. Flyball races, gamblers and standard agility plus OB trials were scheduled over 2 full days. On the side, they also lined up a fancy dress competition, musical freestyle and protection dog demos.

First time that flyball races were being held in the country. As there were insufficient numbers to form relay teams, races were run in a 1-on-1 round robin format. Everyone was on the learning curve and there were naturally some confusion over the number of runs/ reruns/ heats/ races per dog. Most teams thought each race would be decided over the best of 3 runs. Appeared that each dog had to run 3x over 3 heats against each competitor, which meant up to 9 runs per race against each competing dog.

All this proved too much for most dogs and in humid conditions, many conceded midway. This soon became a test of which dog could last the longest over the never ending runs to and fro the flyball box. In the end, only Hannah the Malinos and I were left standing at the start/finish line. The rest were too tired or bored or got distracted. The number of designated runs will have to be revisited as it is way too testing on all of us (humans included) given our hot and humid weather conditions. Plus we were also slotted to take part in the agility events later on.

Nevertheless, the flyball races did prove exciting when 2 dogs were actually racing neck to neck, up and down the lanes and owners were yelling themselves hoarse to get their dogs into 5th gear across the finish line. There were a number of reruns, some came back without the ball, some missed a hurdle or two and some decided that the lane was greener on the other side. I had my fair share of reruns … being a 1 ball mutt, I kept spitting out the balls when they loaded the box with ones which weren’t my favourite. Mr Owner said I was being rude and difficult. I say, ‘Just gimme my ball. I only need 1!’

This time around, PetnYou Dog Squad scored big time and went home with car loads of trophies, medals, certificates and dog food. Congratulations to the winning teams!

My training mate, Kimi the JRT made his owner proud by coming in 3rd in OB PreNovice, 2nd in Jumpers Mini and 1st in Elementary Mini Agility, on the back of a clean run. Quite amazing, considering that he is barely a year old and this being his first time at proper Agility and OB trials. His big brother, Bank the GR, would have been pleased. Angel the BC also produced nice, clean qualifying runs to take top spots in Novice, Elementary and Gamblers Maxi Agility. She just about swept all the titles in agility for maxi dogs. Her owner decided to take the longer but safer routes on the agility courses, and this tactic worked well for them.
Despite my protests, Mr Owner had me up for OB Novice trials again and once again I produced my signature wave-like heeling pattern, somewhat like a snake sliding across the ring. Even funnier was that they left the pause table for agility in a corner of the OB ring and in the midst of the fast pace heeling exercise, I ran up and onto the pause table in anticipation of the start of agility trials. Mr Owner almost had a heart attack! Still, I did well in the rest of the stay and recall exercises and managed a creditable 4th placing in OB Novice with a qualifying score of 88, which was far better than expected. Received an OB qualifying medal for that which was nice.

Did considerably better in the running events, taking top spots in Flyball, Gamblers and Novice Mini Agility and registering clean qualifying runs as well. Been a long time since my last recorded clean run and my owners were delighted with my performance in all the dog sports being contested over the weekend.
All in all, the Dog Squad won 9 events, and came 2nd and 3rd in 4 other events, sweet! 1st spot came with huge 15kg bags of kibble and we would have struggled to fit 9 bags of that stuff into our car booths. Thankfully, the organisers have arranged so that we could collect our prizes from distribution outlets in KL.

In between events, Lotus n Empress’s owner even found time to visit an old folks home just next door to the trials venue. The home had a proper stage and audio equipment, so we gave a short, impromptu tricks and musical freestyle demo to entertain the senior citizens, cool.

Amber the GR and I also gave musical freestyle demos at the end of the day to entertain the trialers and audience. Chloe the GR also joined in for an impressive tricks routine with her sister, Amber. They certainly were a talented duo of retrievers.Following the Penang trials, Angel, Archer and I each need only 1 more clean run in Novice Agility to achieve the PAAPP Malaysian Agility Champion (MACH) title. Looking forward to their next trial in Ipoh.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Iron Dog wannabe at Cherating beach - Episode II

Day 2 and the waves were back, nicely set up for some real surfing. This must rank amongst the most extreme dog sports ever. Lost count of the number of times I fell off my board, got wiped out by the surf and took in salty seawater. With my life vest on, I had nothing to loose but pride. After being knocked silly by the waves. I couldn’t really tell whether this activity was dangerous or exhilarating, so I guess I must have lost my sixth sense as well.

Towards the end of the evening, after many attempts and fine tuning on body posture and positioning, I mostly got the hang of it and could actually ride the waves for 10 - 15 meters up to the shoreline, radical dude! Still only a novice at conquering the waves though. Now if only the waves were faster but smaller.

Surfer tips: best to try this when it’s the beginning of low tide and waves are manageable. Also, unless you have a body mass of a St Bernard, if you see a large wave approaching, abort ship and swim to shore immediately … no point hanging onto the board as I can guarantee that you’ll be wiped out in no time, and you’ll still have to swim to shore.

Day 3 and the waves were really back now courtesy of the windy gusts. Mr Owner chose an inopportune time to try out canoeing and he put up a grand struggle to paddle out over the incoming waves. Sea was fairly choppy and he must have spent a good 15 minutes just to paddle out and when he managed to turn around, the waves brought him back to shore within seconds. He was soon exhausted and thought that maybe I would like to have go as well … he told me that it was a walk in the park.

He took out my fav biggie ball to tempt me to go for the ride and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Before I knew what I was doing, I was already on the canoe and heading out to the treacherous sea. The heavy waves kept pounding on the hull, lifting the front end of the canoe a couple of feet in the air and then dropping it amidst the spray of rumbling waves. Felt like a roller coaster ride and the sensation was heightened by the low level of vision by being that close to sea level. At times, I could only see the pounding waves and the drop after that, and not much in between.

This was even harder than surfing, and I had to jump ship or got thrown off way too many times. On rare occasions, when we managed to turn around in time to catch the right wave, it was a rather invigorating ride back to shore but over in a matter of seconds. Canoeing tips: do not try this on heavy waves or windy days or after a heavy meal and always put on a life vest. Do not believe your owner when he/she says that it’s a walk in the park.

At the end of the 3rd day, I was absolutely exhausted and couldn’t wait to get into bed for much needed snooze time. Packed to leave the next morning and Ruby allowed us to autograph her wooden chalet wall, nice.

I rate this holiday as 3 1/2 paws and would recommend Ruby’s Resort in Cherating if you are looking for a tranquil and relaxing holiday beside a cool and sweeping beach setting, all within a 3 hr drive from KL. Simple, serene and just ideal for getting away from it all.

By the way, Ruby is looking out for a Lab to set up the resident Lifeguard Association. So if you are a Lab and can swim well, do send your resume to Ruby’s Resort and you may just earn yourself a permanent holiday by the beach.

Am going to miss those lovely walks by the beach …

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