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Never Been to the Cynosport Games?

Here are some tips - and laughs - from last year's "newbie" reporter, Simon Harvey.

Last year, after the hustle and bustle of the Games died down, Simon Harvey wrote a list of things he learned from  his first time at a national event.  We're reprinting those thoughts here for those of you gearing up for the big event.  And if you aren't going, you might enjoy Simon's humor anyway!

Eleven Things a Newbie Learned at USDAA Nationals

1. Treats or Tricks?
There will be lots of tempting new treats being given out as free samples and sold by the many vendors.  I appreciate free samples as much as anyone.  But unless you're sure your dog has a stomach of steel, save them for AFTER nationals.  Nationals is NOT the time to discover that your dog has an intolerance to pregelatinized corn starch!

2. Have The Best Seats in the House
Bring a chair that you can easily carry to ring-side, preferably one with a strap that you can hang over your shoulder.  You might also want to bring an umbrella for shade.  Your chair should be as tall as possible.  A beach chair might be comfortable on the sand where you can stretch out your legs and recline backwards, but when there are two rows of people in front of you trying to watch the pairs finals, you'll want to be sitting as high as you can.

3. Next to Cleanliness...
So you've got a pair of lucky shorts?  A great team t-shirt?  By the time Nationals rolls around, you should have FIVE complete outfits to wear.  Those shorts will seem yucky, not lucky, after wearing them for five days.  Don't be seen in the same outfit twice!

4. Watch Out for Miss Gulch!
If your Toto doesn't like bicycles, get him used to them before you arrive.  You'll see LOTS of people riding bicycles all over the grounds.  Bicycle seems to be the preferred mode of transportation from the RV park to the trial site.  Other wheeled vehicles you'll come in very close contact with are motorized carts and, on the first few days, forklifts and other construction vehicles.

5. The 90% Rule
Unless you're 90% sure a handling maneuver will work, don't use it!  Nationals is not the time to try out new maneuvers and then pray they'll work unless that's your only option.  It's best to go with what you've done successfully many times before. In the Gamblers run I tried to turn my dog left off of the A-frame into the tunnel.  Well, the last time we tried that in class she had a much slower A-frame, and we really haven't done it that many times.  Sure enough, at the speed she was going, she turned too wide to get in the tunnel.  Maybe next year we'll have mastered that maneuver!
6. In Pursuit of Performance
The USDAA Performance Program is a GREAT place to be.  If for any reason you and your dog don't quite "fit" into the Championship Program, then the Performance Program may be the perfect place for you.  Besides, who wants to spend their first nationals competing against world team members in the Championship program?  We always talk about putting our dogs in situations where they can be successful so that they have a good attitude.  I believe the same thing applies to people.  I won two ribbons in Performance.  Would my times have gotten me ribbons if I had been in Championship?  No.  Does that lessen my sense of pride and accomplishment?  NO!  I hope to someday compete in Championship at Nationals, but only when we reach the point when we're not sufficiently challenged enough in Performance and that time hasn't arrived yet!  There are some great teams in Performance.  The Performance Program is not and should not be the "step-child" to the Championship Program.

7. Read The Fine Print
There may be fine print on the course map, especially in Gamblers and Snooker.  Read the special rules carefully and ask questions if you don't fully understand.  Ask the judge, ask other competitors.  Even experienced competitors were confused on both of these courses this year.  In Snooker it was the rule:  "Combinations may be done in either direction (forward or reverse flow)."  That's the one that got ME the whistle.  In Gamblers it was the figure 8 sequence of two sets of 6 weave poles and a jump.  Some competitors thought you must complete at least one sequence before you could go to the finish jump.  In reality, you could finish the course at any time after the first whistle, without even trying the gamble.

8. Who Knows Best?
Trust your instinct...but acknowledge the wisdom of others who have been doing this a long time.  Nobody knows your dog better than YOU!  Nobody knows yourself better than YOU!  Nobody knows how to run your dog better than YOU! might have a thing or to learn from more experienced competitors.  Be aware of what choices they're making in the walk-through and as they run the course.  Especially be aware if they're running a dog similar in size and speed to yours.  What works?  What doesn't?  I was planning a front cross on one part of the Jumpers course. Watching other competitors complete this maneuver helped me understand better where and when to turn.

9. Don't Blame the Dog
Of course, NONE of us would ever do that!  But the most common complaint I heard the last two days was that the dogs were tired, shutting down, or had just had enough.  Well, that's kind of blaming your dog, isn't it?  It's your responsibility to make sure that your dog has as much energy on the last day as she did on the first day.  Figure out what that entails:  more rest, more food, less food, more play breaks, a fan, a cool coat...  Each dog is different.

10. Don't Blame Yourself Either!
Everyone makes mistakes.  Give yourself a break.  It's your first nationals!  There are people there who have been going to nationals for YEARS.  And when you do make a mistake, learn to bounce back.  The best handlers make mistakes constantly, yet they know how to immediately bounce back and finish the course as if the mistake never happened.  If you have a bad run, you need to concentrate on the next run which may be in less than an hour.  Your dog has forgotten the mistake; you should too.  But try to learn from your mistakes.  They could be blessings in disguise.  We had a day full of mistakes on Thursday, but I applied what I learned from each of those mistakes and that allowed me to have some great runs on Friday.

11. Button Up Your Overcoat
Take good care of yourself...and your dog.  Don't overdo it.  The first time of anything is never easy.  Maybe those that have been doing this for years can go out eating and drinking every night and still put in a good performance the next day.  Maybe those dogs that trial 40 weekends of the year can rest peacefully in their RVs while their owners are off somewhere else.  Yes, you'll want to watch others run their dogs, but don't spend all day doing that.  Allow for some time to rest.  Take a nap in your crating area.  Know what you and your dog need to be at your peak every day.  Eat well.  Stock up on decent food when you arrive and avoid the junk food that's sold on the grounds.  Take Advil BEFORE you start to hurt.  Stay hydrated.  Carry a water bottle with you when you walk the courses and walk the grounds.  Stay out of the sun.  Wear a hat.  Use sunscreen! 

Simon Harvey lives in Los Angeles and started competing in 2005 with his first dog, Lucky, who is a rescued Cocker Spaniel.  While Lucky is still waiting to be discovered by a Hollywood talent scout, Simon works frequently as an actor on television and in film.

*Check back next week for more interviews with judges and the best Cynosports Games coverage EVER! 


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