Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review

JANUARY
I can’t remember what happened in January, except we had record cold. It was -29 one morning. That was air temp, not wind chill. I probably spent the month thawing pipes in the basement, which I’ve gotten really good at. Practice makes perfect. At least our toilet doesn’t freeze, like Gotsyzygy’s. Lay-offs started at work. Three of our papers closed.

FEBRUARY
February was basically a waste of time. Took my first week of unpaid furlough from work as the newspaper industry began a downward spiral.

MARCH
I launched “Exercise Finished” and spent a lot of time obsessing about Phoenix’s obedience debut. 'Nix earned his OAJ.

APRIL
Phoenix and I went into the obedience ring for the first time and got his first two CD legs. Three days later I was in an ambulance headed for the cardiac unit at St. Luke’s. I don’t think there was any connection between the two. Took the National Weather Service’s storm spotter training, which resulted in a nearly non-existent severe weather season. Sigh. I should probably be careful what I wish for. Phoenix finished his CD.

MAY
Took my second week of upaid furlough from work. Had a lot of doctors’ appointments and took a lot of tests. Passed them all, followed by the declaration, “You have a strong and healthy heart but you have heart disease.” Bought a pill organizer to keep track of all the meds. Got decaffeinated. Did a lot of gardening. Did a lot of training. Went with Michele and the cougars to a Linda Koutsky obedience seminar in KC. What fun! Went with Marsha to O’Hare to pick up Vinnie. More fun! More lay-offs at work. My job got reorganized. Wet field conditions delayed the planting season. Farmer was impatient. Cardiologist mentioned I should avoid stress. Phoenix finished his U-CD.

JUNE
Made my first (and only of ‘09) phone call to the National Weather Service to report flash flooding after we got 3.5” of rain in about an hour. Spotted my first rotating wall cloud to the west of our house. Didn’t get to call it in to NWS because Williamsburg Emergency Management beat me to it . . . they were parked at the end of our lane, watching MY cloud. Katie and Beau came to visit for a weekend, bringing the dog total at our house to five: three Shelties and two Belgians. A good time was had by all.

JULY
I baked zucchini bread. Lots of zucchini bread. Lots and lots of zucchini bread. Jamie turned 10. Dad went into hospice care. The first cherry tomatoes ripened on the vine and the dogs ate them. Phoenix caught a ground squirrel. I obsessed about finding the ideal dumbbell for Phoenix after he broke his perfect Joe Fiest dumbbell. I finally spent the money and ordered a custom-size Invince-a-Bell from J&J. July set a month for record cold temps.

AUGUST
Showed Phoenix in UKC Open. Obsessed about heeling with my left arm up or down. Finally decided on up. Rilda threatened to "help" my decision with duct tape. Poweshiek Water trenched a line to our house and we hooked up to rural water. No more orange well water! The Belgians continued to eat tomatoes off the vine as fast as they ripened. August set rainfall records for the month. Connor turned 15, then passed away a week later. He gave me so many wonderful things. I miss my Skunk Dog.

SEPTEMBER
I did nothing but show dogs and camp this month: obedience at the Amana and Des Moines clusters, agility at Granger and Scott County. Took some actual paid vacation time off work. Wow, what a wonderful, FUN FUN FUN month! 'Nix finished his GN on my birthday. Can it be September forever?

OCTOBER
Big transition at work, as our press room and mail room closed and all printing and distribution was moved to Des Moines. My job changed. Again. Many new procedures to learn. Many irate subscribers who did not get their papers to deal with. Cardiologist reminds me to avoid stress. Hauled in flowers to winter-over before the first frost. Took cuttings from others. Bought a remote control rat and had too much fun with it. Record rainfall delayed harvest. Farmer not happy.

NOVEMBER
Phoenix finished his U-CDX and AXJ. He celebrated by chasing a cat into the rotary hoe. Eight stitches sewed his side back together. The cat was fine. Weather finally dried out enough for the Farmer to continue harvest. The combine went up in flames. Stress? What stress?

DECEMBER
Snow. Snow. Snow. Ice. Fog. Rain. Snow. Ice. Dad died after five months in hospice. Thank doG he is finally at peace. Gannett announced more furloughs in the first quarter of next year. Christmas came and went with very little fanfare. Phoenix turned 3. He wanted a cat. Santa brought him a Big Mean Kitty. He loves it and is trying to dismember it. Life is good.

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s a toast to our dogs, our friendships, love, laughter, joy and optimism in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Decembrrr

I took this picture as I drove up our lane last night on the way home from work. The sun was setting and everything was very quiet and very cold. I was lazy, didn't even get out of the van, just rolled down the window.

This picture represents one of the best things about winter: coming home at the end of the day. I know at the end of the lane is our warm (relatively speaking), comfortable house with two dogs who will be crazy happy to see me (because I'll fix their supper) and the Farmer, who will be crazy happy to see me (because I'll fix his supper . . . hmmm . . . I'm seeing a pattern.)

Today, I am thankful for creature comforts.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy birthday, Phoenix!

Yep, two posts today. It's Phoenix's birthday! He is three. Happy birthday, Wild litter!

Here's his bad little self at 10 weeks, in March 2007.
(Thanks Sheryl, for these pics.)


And last fall at the Des Moines cluster
when he finished his Graduate Novice title.
Where does the time go?

Remembering Kay

Anyone who showed in AKC or UKC obedience around the Midwest during the last 20 years will remember Kay Lowe. She passed away Dec. 25, 2009, and the sport lost a great supporter and tireless worker, as well as a kind and gentle woman who was a friend to all.

Kay shared her life with a variety of breeds, including goldens, shelties, pomeranians, samoyeds, American eskimos, border collies, a labrador, a brittany, a greyhound, an Australian shepherd and others. Many she trained and showed in the obedience ring. Some just hung out at home. All were beloved pets.

Most of Kay’s dogs came from rescue groups or animal shelters. She adopted dogs that had been thrown away by other people. Many times, these dogs went on to excel in obedience. That ability to see a diamond in the rough and turn it into reality was one of the things I admired about her most.

I met Kay in the early 1990s, when I was showing my first sheltie. We soon began traveling to matches, trials and seminars together, which provided no end of funny stories. Traveling with Kay was always an adventure.

Kay had absolutely no sense of direction and she freely admitted it. Of course, I had to learn that the hard way. The first time we traveled together, we were going to the UKC trials at Fort Dodge. I drove to her house and we loaded her van. When we were ready to leave, she told me I could drive. I soon found out why.

I had a pretty good idea of how to get to Fort Dodge from Springville, about a 3 hour trip, but Kay started giving directions (rather vague ones, but who was I to argue). An hour later, I realized we were still in Linn County. That’s when I got out a map and started ignoring her suggestions to “Turn here” and “Why don’t we see where this road goes?”

After that initial learning experience, we enjoyed many years of traveling together. I always drove, no matter whose vehicle we took. And I always plotted the route ahead of time. Our trips took us across Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota. Yeah, we got lost a few times but we always ended up in the right place eventually.

Kay was not into packing light. She brought everything you might need for a show weekend and more. We joked endlessly about her “subsidiary bags.” I teased her about taking so much stuff but if I ever needed any obscure item during the weekend she always had it.

Kay had one sheltie, Dreamer, who bore a striking resemblance to my Jess. He was a shaded sable with the same blazed face as Jess. He was a very pretty dog to look at. At one show, Kay was showing multiple dogs and asked me to take Dreamer in for Novice sits and downs. Of course I said yes. Dreamer reminded me so much of Jess. What could go wrong? We got through the sit just fine. When the judge told us to down our dogs, Dreamer looked at me with that beautiful, friendly, intelligent face and totally refused to lie down. I stood there, sweating buckets, giving every down command I could think of while the rest of the class waited, the judge stood there impatiently and Dreamer gazed at me and swished his tail and totally ignored me. It was a classic example of “IT’S NOT MY DOG!”

Kay was plagued with knee problems that reduced her mobility but never limited her enthusiasm for training, showing and teaching classes. She was a wonderful instructor and gave many newcomers to the sport an introduction to gentle, humane training methods. She taught for ICDOC, CRKA and 4RK9s. Kay used food liberally in her training and you could always count on her to have cheese to share. Her favorite line was “I suppose you want a piece that hasn’t been in my mouth.” She was one of the kindest, most patient trainers I have ever met.

I was so lucky to call her my friend. She was willing to help with whatever training problem you might be having and she would never give up on a dog or say it can't be done. When Connor and I were struggling with his jumping issues in Open, she offered constant encouragement and support.

Kay had a great sense of humor. On days when her dogs did not perform well in the ring, she would ask me, very seriously, “Is your van unlocked?” If I had a dollar for every time she threatened to put one of her dogs in my van, I would be rich. She also threatened routinely to put her misbehaving dogs on the raffle at a trial if one was offered.

Kay’s husband Kenny was a saint. Back in the good old days, Kenny drove Kay to all the local dog events. You could always see him carrying crates, pottying dogs and going to get whatever Kay needed. We were all so jealous and wanted our own “Kenny.”

I will miss Kay’s smile, her off-beat sense of humor and above all, her friendship.

Exercise finished.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It's a rainy, windy day here. The predicted drop in temps and accompanying snow have not arrived. Yet. 

The threat of bad roads is keeping Mom at home. I think Sunday is Plan B for our family Christmas. We had Christmas with the Farmer's family last night. Today I'm going to be lazy: bake, read and play with the dogs. I have a recipe for chocolate covered cherry cookies I'm going to try.

Hope you are all able to enjoy the day with your loved ones. Phoenix is bringing me socks so I think we are going to work some retrieves now. What? Doesn't everyone train their dog on Christmas Day?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The official Christmas card pic

Merry Christmas, everyone!

And thanks again to Marsha for designing the card.

Phoenix was really disappointed there wasn't a cat in the package.
Maybe next year, buddy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A malinois Christmas

Phoenix got his Christmas present early. It's one of those toys that have more little toys stuffed inside it. I got him a jack-o-lantern last fall that had a ghost and two bones stuffed in it. He was CRAZY about that thing but it seemed a little wrong to be playing with pumpkins and ghosts at Christmastime so I got him this gingerbread house.

Phoenix is a good boy with his toys. Seriously. You don't see a picture of Jamie playing with plush toys here, do you? There's a reason. He won't just squeak them and run around, throwing them in the air and pouncing on them and bringing them back to me to throw again like Phoenix. Oh no. The minute Jamie gets his teeth on a fuzzy toy, it's all over. He goes off in a corner and field dresses it. End of story. End of toy.


Phoenix occasionally does a little field dressing, too, but generally he is very careful with his "skeeks" and enjoys bringing them to me and shoving them at me to play.

Nix' birthday is Dec. 28. Of course he'll get another present then. Really, how could I NOT keep giving this dog presents?

Don't worry, Jamie will get a Christmas present, too. It will be something that's meant to be eaten in the first place.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Celebrate!

Happy winter solstice! It's officially winter now, in case you had any doubts.

With three days to go until Christmas, the weather guys are forecasting, well, a mess for the rest of the week. Rain, freezing rain with ice accumulation and heavy snow all appear to be headed our way as a monster storm system stomps across the Midwest.

I hate ice. I hate ice like Indiana Jones hates snakes.

"Ice. Why does it have to be ice?" Sorry, Indy.

Tonight I'll be in full storm prep mode. Snow storms don't bother me. Ice storms bother me. I'm still in therapy from the ice storm that knocked out our power for a week in February 2007. I really don't want to do that again.

So my theory is, if we're prepared, it won't happen. That means making a grocery store run tonight after work, stocking up on batteries and food that doesn't need cooking, digging out the lanterns and candles (yippee, camping in the house!), finding extra blankets for the bed and yeah, my stocking cap and Carhartts to wear around the house if we lose power. The Carhartts are NOT overkill. Ever sit around in a 40 degree house for a week? Body fat is not a bad thing.

At least now we have rural water at our place so we're not dependent on an electric well pump for running water. Granted, it will be cold water if the power stays out very long but I can heat it up on the grill if it comes to that. I can also grill a pizza! Oh, the things I learned in '07 . . .

Hopefully, the whole system will fizzle or turn to snow and skip the ice part totally. What are the odds?

By the way, the new header pic is the last of the Christmas card picture outtakes. The Santa hat is no longer with us.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Taking a break . . . or not

Every year, I swear I am going to give my dogs and myself a break from training for a couple of weeks. We'll still do "stuff," like play ball or go for walks or whatever, just absolutely no skill training for either obedience or agility.

It never works for me.

Never, ever.

Chris Zink (Coaching The Canine Athlete) says she gives her dogs a month off once a year. She feels it is mentally and physically helpful and they come back recharged and ready to tackle whatever performance venue she is pursuing. I always think that sounds like such a great idea until I try to do it. Then it just doesn't happen.

The reason I'm writing about this now is because I actually did go for six days last week without training. It took my father's funeral to make it happen. There have been very few times in my life when I didn't feel like training my dog and that was one of them. But after the funeral and all its draining social demands were over, wanting to work with Phoenix came back like an almost physical need.

Apparently, I am addicted to training. Like a junkie, I crave the rush I get from interacting and communicating (or trying to communicate) with another species. Take that away from me for a couple of days and I start going through withdrawals.

There are times of the year when I train harder than others but in reality, I train year 'round. I love to show and can't justify mailing entries if I'm not consistently preparing my dog and me to be ready. No, I'm not talking about hour-long sessions at the club building every day. I try to go to the building at least once a week but most of the time, we just train at home most evenings, after work or after supper, for 10 minutes or 20 minutes or whatever we feel like. 

One thing I've learned is if I'm feeling worn out, frazzled, drained, annoyed or just plain crabby, DON'T TRAIN THE DOG! Those are the nights we sit in the recliner and drink cocoa. In other words, there are times when you SHOULDN'T train and it's good thing to recognize them. If I want my dog to be bright, energetic and creative, I need to be, too.

This is a slower time of year. The holidays bring a ton of other demands on my time, plus with a foot of snow outside, going out to the back yard to train isn't going to happen. In fact, right now I'm missing the first session of an Open/Utility proofing class because it's snowing, not a blizzard, but hard enough to make me reluctant to drive the 50 mile round trip to and from Iowa City for class. 

So Phoenix and I worked finishes (doG, we're going to be working finishes until we're both old and gray) and signals in the living room, then Jamie joined us for stays. Apparently that took every ounce of energy both dogs possessed because now they are crashed out by my feet, sound asleep. Or maybe that's because we had some friends over last night and both boys were up late and stayed VERY busy keeping track of A) people and B) plates of food.

For me, the bottom line is I enjoy training very much. Even when we're having a problem with something, I still enjoy interacting with my dog and trying to resolve the issue. Training has never been something I feel I have to do. It's something I need to do, like eating or sleeping.

Yep. Addiction. There's probably a 12-step program out there for me.

What about you? Do you schedule "time off" from training for your dogs?

Friday, December 18, 2009

White sugar cookies

When the Farmer and I got married, my aunt Rosemary (Dad's sister) gave me a cookbook of family recipes. This sugar cookie recipe was in it and I stumbled across it totally by accident that first Christmas. I'd never been a big fan of making sugar cookies, mostly because all the recipes I'd used before produced dry, crumbly cookies that seemed like more work than they were worth.

Not these! They are soft and never dry. I hesitate to say they're fool-proof but in 18 years of baking them for Christmas and other special occasions, I've NEVER had a batch fail. They are simple and very good.

I know everyone has their own favorite when it comes to cut-out cookies. These are mine. Aunt Rosie said when she made them for her church holiday bazaar, women would meet her car when she pulled into the parking lot and buy them all before she ever got them into the church.

I used to spend a lot of time using different shaped cookie cutters, making colored frosting and decorating them to the nth degree but, well, let's admit it, simple is good. Or I'm getting lazy. Or practical.


WHITE SUGAR COOKIES
1 C. margarine, softened
1 1/2 C. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. vanilla
4 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream margarine and sugar. Add eggs, then almond and vanilla. Mix well. Beat in dry ingredients. Chill dough at least two hours, overnight works best.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out in small amounts on floured surface to desired thickness and cut into shapes. Bake approximately 8 minutes on ungreased cookie sheets (I use parchment paper), removing from oven when they are barely brown. Cool on wire racks and frost.

FROSTING
3 C. powdered sugar
1/3 C. margarine, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
about 2 T. milk, more or less as needed

Beat all together until smooth and spreadable. Frosts about 4 dozen cookies.

These cookies freeze very well, even after frosting.

Today, I am thankful for the Christmas luncheon and cookie walk we're having at work.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Outtake #3

Christmas Eve is a week from today! Here's another outtake from the Christmas card photo shoot. Jamie apparently finds the whole process extremely boring.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Funerals are exhausting

Dad's funeral was today. I am glad it's over. It's been 48 hours of too many emotions and a totally sleepless night on the motel bed from hell. 

The service was nice. The church was beautiful. It was already decorated for a wedding this coming weekend. Guess we got bonus decorations. Actually, it looked like people sent us about 75 poinsettias and evergreen wreaths.

I am exhausted. I've done nothing for two days but sit and stand around and talk to people and cry and blow my nose and change my clothes and fix meals and go to the grocery store (3 times in two days, possibly a record, even for me) and remind my mother what she was doing when she got halfway through it, then couldn't remember.

Big thanks to Tammy and Marsha for coming down for the visitation and Mary and Liz who came to the funeral. THANK YOU. It meant a lot. Of course, it also caused more crying and nose blowing. My nose feels like it might fall off at any moment.

The dogs took it all in stride. They got to shed on all the relatives who came to Mom's house after the luncheon. Phoenix did a lot of testing to see if any of them really didn't like dogs so he could pester that person in particular, but they all passed the test. He spent the afternoon working the room in a clockwise circle, giving everyone equal time. Although I think he spent more time with anyone wearing black pants.

The Farmer and I left Mom's late in the afternoon and went back to the church to load up flowers. I was tempted to take an extra poinsettia or two but we had gotten a huge and beautiful one from Mom and Dad's bank and really, how many poinsettias does one need?

I've gotten everything unpacked and put away. Now I just want to crawl into bed and sleep for about 12 hours. 

Today, I am thankful to have the next two days off work.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Last pictures

Here are a couple more family pics from back in the day. From left to right, Jack, Rosemary and Dad. The little boy in bibs in front of Dad is his brother Dave. The two little kids in front of them are cousins. It's funny how many dogs pop up in these old photos. There were six kids in Dad's family. One died when she was a toddler. Dad was the middle kid of the five who lived. Yep, they were pretty much stairstepped.

This is the house that belonged to my Grandpa and Grandma once they settled down. They were really quite nomadic during the early years of their marriage. I'll have to blog about that sometime. They even car camped with a tent that attached to their Model T. I come by the camping gene honest!!!

Grandpa and Grandma retired from farming and moved to town in the 1960s, Dad married Mom and bought the family farm and this is where I grew up. It was a cool old Victorian, built around the turn of the century. It had beautiful woodwork, stained glass windows, carpenter's lace, pocket doors and high ceilings. Most of that is gone now, "remodeled" in the name of energy efficiency and ease of maintenance. But this is what it looked like in the 1930s or 1940s. The big tree on the left is a Dutch Elm. Obviously, it's not there anymore. 

PS. My aunt Rosemary WAS a dog person. She and her husband had a sheltie they loved very much and who traveled with them wherever they went. Meghan stood 17" at the withers and probably weighed 45 pounds. She, um, never missed a meal.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More family pics

Spent today at Mom's. Her sister Karene was there (she just lives down the road) and Dad's brother Dave from Indiana and sister Joyce from Wyoming arrived in the afternoon. Other brother Jack from Texas is coming tomorrow. He lives on the Gulf coast and is not excited about coming to Iowa in December.

Here's Dad (left) and Jack (right), circa 1938. Their bibs must have been brand new in this picture. They look like they still have the store creases and starch in them. And they don't look like they have any holes in them yet. Look how long the legs are. I'm guessing they "bought big" and expected the boys to grow into them.


This pic was taken in the early 1930s. From the left is Dad's sister Rosemary (she died in 2007), Dad and Jack. Don't know who the dog is. Notice Jack's rolled up bibs again. Dad looks jealous that he doesn't get to hold the dog. Rosemary looks like she's thinking about shoving both boys off the bench. 

Finally think we're ready to leave tomorrow. The weather sounds questionable on Monday with predictions for a freezing rain/snow mix so I ended up packing extra clothes and dog meals in case we need to stay for another day after the funeral. I really, really, really wish the next 48 hours was over. 

Today, I am thankful for support and cheer from a lot of friends and family.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Love the old pics

Dad's funeral is Monday. The Farmer and I are going down to Mom's tomorrow, driving home tomorrow night, then going back again Sunday for the visitation and staying over night for the funeral on Monday.

We decided to get a motel room instead of staying at Mom's house. There's room but . . . sometimes you need a little breathing space from family. So I called the local motel and asked if they took dogs. The clerk said yes and wanted to know what kind of dog. I told him a Belgian shepherd. There was a long silence. I could tell he was trying to decide if he wanted to know how big one was and what the potential was for it eating the room. But he didn't ask any more questions. Ignorance is bliss.

I got to looking at some family pictures one of Dad's sisters put together for a family reunion a couple of years ago and thought I'd share a few. 

Dad served in the Army during the Korean War. He got shot and honorably discharged. He never talked about the war. 


Dad went to a country school in Iowa. This pic was taken in 1938. He would have been about 10. Some days my hair looks just like that.

I'll post some more pics tomorrow if I have time. I'm trying to get things packed. The dogs' things are all ready to go. It's always easy to pack for them. I'm having a little more trouble putting together good clothes for me. It's easier to pack for an agility weekend. Mom would probably get a little excited if I showed up for the funeral in jeans and my Team Orange sweatshirt.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dad

My father died this morning. He passed away quietly in his sleep at Great River Hospice, West Burlington, Iowa, where he had been living since July.

It is both a blessing and a relief. He had been struggling with a number of health issues in recent years and there was no cure for any of them. The people at Great River were wonderful and kept him as comfortable as possible during his final days.

I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now, mostly just relieved and numb.

Today, I am thankful my father is at peace.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow day!

We were right in the path of that big winter storm system that steamrolled its away across the Midwest Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday. I stayed home from work today. Figured 10 inches of snow, 40 mph winds and a blizzard warning were a pretty good excuse. It's almost 5 p.m. and the county snowplow hasn't been by our house yet so whether I can get out tomorrow is anybody's guess.

Phoenix and Jamie enjoyed playing in the snow late yesterday afternoon. It was snowing but still warm at that point. Warm is a relative term. It was about 30 degrees. 

Jamie thinks he is superior to his li'l bro because he has all this wonderful fur. Which just means he can drag twice as much snow into the house.


I have no idea what Phoenix is digging up here. I don't think he did either.


It started snowing hard about 7 p.m. I love watching it snow at night, especially when I'm warm and snug at home. 


Winter is tough on livestock and farmers alike. The Farmer did a little snow relocation first thing this morning so he could get around to do chores. The wind was blowing so hard it made shoveling pretty much a waste of time. The temps dropped all day. It's in the single digits now and the wind is still howling.


This is not an almost 4-foot drift. If it hardens, it is a malinois escape plan. I may have to attack it with a shovel when I am feeling ambitious.


I had a great day at home: finished Christmas cards, caught up on laundry, read, made a Crock Pot of vegetable beef soup and did a little front and finish work. But first I baked and frosted sugar cookies. You gotta have priorities. I'll post the recipe soon. 

Today I am thankful for a warm house and hot food.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas card pic, Outtake #2

Here's another version. Seriously, next year I may forget about getting a "good" picture and just put one of the silly ones on the card.

Enjoy. Sounds like we have a bunch of snow headed our way so this is probably the last green grass I'll see until spring.

PS. Phoenix did NOT eat the ball off the Santa hat. Although he tried.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

ICDOC weekend

This weekend was my club, the Iowa City Dog Obedience Club's annual agility trial at the Iowa Equestrian Center, Cedar Rapids. For the first time in the last three or four years, we got through the entire weekend without snow, freezing rain, snow, high winds, blizzard conditions, well, you get the idea. 

I am exhausted, my feet hurt, my back aches and you don't even want to know what three 10-hour days in a dusty horse arena has done to my respiratory system. I probably have dirt in my bloodstream at this point.

But I am ecstatic! Phoenix earned his first two MXJ legs with second and fourth places and had some lovely Standard runs that proved we CAN run as team in the Standard ring in spite of frequent evidence to the contrary. Granted, deliberately sending one's dog over the off-course jump leaves a bit to be desired in the handling department but well, everyone deserves to be an idiot now and then. I'll try not to make a habit of it.

Phoenix's down contact on the dog walk has apparently disappeared (Should I stop now? Now? Maybe now?), so that needs some repair. He's still making some pretty wide turns, the auto drop on the table seems to come and go and weaves could always be faster but I'm really proud of my skinny little dog and totally happy with how we ran this weekend. As usual, I had to learn a few things the hard way.

Got home shortly after dark, unloaded the van, started the first of many loads of laundry (how could things be so clean Friday morning and so filthy by Sunday night? I swear, after Christmas, I'm going shopping for a dirt colored winter coat!) and am now headed for a nice long, hot shower.

Today, I am thankful to be part of a club that works well as a team and knows the value of laughter and friendship.






Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dear Santa . . .

Since Christmas Eve is three weeks from today, I thought maybe we’d better get our letters written to Santa.

Dear Santa,

Would you please bring me a new John Deere 9500 combine? A fireproof one would be nice. A mild winter, strong cattle prices and an early spring for calving season would be appreciated, too.

I have been very good. Built a sit-box for the wife’s dog. Started doing dog chores on the night she works late. I don’t get mad when the big furry dog nibbles on my jeans.

The Farmer

*****

Dear Santa,

I have been very good this year and only bit my little brother once. He deserved it. Mom said so.

I would like more food and fewer green beans in my food bowl. I am not plump. I am furry.

Jamie

*****

Dear Santa,

I want a cat.

Or a hamster in one of those hamster balls. That would rock.

And I can totally explain about all the socks.

But I really, really want a cat.

Phoenix

*****

Dear Santa,

We have been perfect this year. Of course. We are cats.

You do not need to bring us anything. In fact, we want to give YOU something. Please take the dogs with you when you stop at our house. Especially the skinny one. Although it is amusing to watch him do stupid things.

The Barn Cats,
Winnie, Beauty, Brass, Dora, Cat With No Name and Fat Bastard

*****

Dear Santa,

I have tried to be good this year. Some days I tried harder than others.

Would you please bring me and my dogs enthusiasm, attitude, speed, focus, drive, joy, animation, teamwork and accuracy in the ring and endless motivation to teach and maintain it? Plus brilliant ideas for students in my classes. And energy. And creativity. And patience.

Or you can just bring me a lot of chocolate.

Melinda

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas card pic, Outtake #1

My Christmas cards have been safely delivered to the the printer (thanks Marsha for doing such an awesome job designing them!) so now it's time to share the "almost-but-not-quite" photos.

I have a LOT of pictures of Jamie licking his nose. I think he finds picture taking very stressful, even though he did get to chew on a Santa hat. And yes, the package is supposed to look like that, although it got to that state a little faster than I anticipated.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Phoenix vs the shower

Phoenix LOVES running water. Crank up the sound so you get the full effect.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harvest scenes

Here is the Farmer's brother, combining corn at our place with the rented combine yesterday. Look at that blue sky. It was beautiful yesterday, high in the 50s, bright sunshine and no wind. 


An Iowa traffic jam. The Farmer is offloading corn from the grain cart into the semi. This is a pretty typical scene around the township this time of year.


Still think Iowa's flat? Apparently the land here is very much like the land in Germany where the Farmer's ancestors came from three generations ago. 


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Two Belgians and a box

I'm not sure what normal people do on Thanksgiving night but I'm pretty sure it isn't teaching their dog to sit in a little cardboard box. Few people have accused me of being normal and Thanksgiving night was pretty quiet at our house, so I decided to take a page from Tammy's book and teach Phoenix and Jamie to put all four feet in a box, using a clicker and cookies.

When the Farmer asked what I was doing, I gave him a quick intro to shaping behaviors, markers and positive reinforcement. He gave me a look that said, "I married a crazy woman." I am very familiar with that look. 

I'm happy to report Phoenix mastered box-sitting in two sessions. (Time to get a smaller box.) After three sessions, Jamie is happily swatting the box with his paw.

No, that doesn't mean Phoenix is smarter than his bro (I haven't had to haul Jamie to the vet to get stitched up after crashing into a rotary hoe), it just means I've shaped some other behaviors with a clicker and Nix clearly understands how the program works. Earlier this summer he learned to sit in a PVC box, although that was substantially bigger and didn't have sides. Jamie, on the other hand, did not experience much clicker training during his trialing career and is still working through the why's and wherefores of how it all works and why won't you just give me the cookie NOW!

Actually, Jamie's first box training session consisted of him picking up the box and bringing it to me 24 times. Yep, 24. I counted. Finally he got disgusted and just sat and stared at me. He finally adjusted his sit, moved one paw closer to the box (yes, probably by accident), got clicked and cookied and we ended the session.

Truth be told, Phoenix's first session started out pretty much the same way. All he wanted to do was fetch the box. Who taught these dogs to retrieve everything?! The difference between him and Jamie was that he figured out much more quickly that fetching was not going to be rewarded and started experimenting with new behaviors. We ended the first session with his two front feet planted firmly in the box.

Nix's second session included a lot of other experimental behavior, much of it involving his teeth. At one point I was pretty sure the game was going to be over until I could find a new box but a little duct tape worked wonders. 

Jamie's second session still involved a lot of fetching, although not as much, and some very tentative experimenting with other options. By his third session, he didn't even try fetching the box and soon started pawing at it.

I'm sure some die-hard obedience people (along with the Farmer) are thinking "What is the point of all this?" Well, it's just plain fun for one thing. Knowing you're never going to be judged and scored on your dog's ability to sit in a box takes all the pressure off so you don't have to get all tense and freaky obsessive about it, which I admit to doing with obedience exercises from time to time. But mostly I am doing it to make my dog think. I want a thinking dog no matter what venue we're training for. I want a dog who is willing to keep trying even if he's not getting a reward for every little thing.

Do I use a clicker to teach everything? No, of course not. But it's a valuable tool and one I want to work with more this winter. I know a lot of people don't "believe in" clicker training but I suspect they've seen it used poorly or just don't understand how it works. I've seen trainers use leashes and collars poorly, too, but in the right hands, they can produce magic results. 

So the next step is to down-size Phoenix's box and keep working with Jamie to put one paw in the original box. And to come up with some new tricks to teach over the winter. One thing I've started has been teaching "Bounce" on a verbal command. I say it and Nix goes leaping around like a crazed jumping bean. He has even incorporated it into the left finish which is very cute but horribly crooked at this point. We have a lot to work on this winter.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Questions of the day

Question #1: "How many times can a John Deere combine catch on fire before it is totaled?" 

Answer: possibly three, but that is pending the insurance adjuster's final decision. The Farmer's combine went up in flames last Friday. This was after two minor fires earlier in the harvest season that were put out by an on-board extinguisher. This latest fire was put out by the Williamsburg Volunteer Fire Department. 

Combine fires are not unusual this time of year. Neither are field fires caused by driving an on-fire combine across dry cornstalks. The Farmer and his brother rented a combine to finish the harvest since theirs got crispy crittered. It's looking like early December before they get done this year.

Question #2: If the Farmer is in the basement and the Farmer's Wife is in the kitchen, did he really not hear her yell "Oh F***ing Bloody Hell that hurt!" and come to her rescue when she drove a screwdriver tip into her thumb by accident? 

Answer: He says he didn't. I think he just didn't want to come near me when I swear like that. I'm fine. Really. The bleeding stopped eventually. And I got that nasty-ass little screw out of the remote on my indoor-outdoor weather station so I could change the batteries.

Question #3: If you take the lights off the Christmas tree and put them in a storage box and put the box in an empty upstairs bedroom with all the other Christmas stuff after the holidays last year, where will you find the lights this year? 

Answer: Darned if I know! I was going to put up our little Christmas tree today and well, I did put it up but that's all I did because I can't find the lights. The Farmer claims to know nothing about them. And I notice all the screwdrivers have disappeared from the junk drawer.

Question #4: If I put all my agility equipment away in the garage, will that guarantee a nice, mild, nearly snow-free winter?

Answer: It better! Because doG knows what's happened the last couple of years when I left it out! So if being prepared means we don't get 48 inches of snow this year, you can thank me in the spring.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ll be honest: this year has totally sucked on so many levels and been totally wonderful on so many more.

First, the suckage. I was in the hospital, have been diagnosed with a heart condition I’ll have for the rest of my life, watched the newspaper industry crumble, spent about eight months wondering each morning if I would have a job at the end of the day, took unpaid furloughs, got former co-workers’s workloads when their jobs were cut (no extra pay, are you kidding?) and saw my father move into end-of-life care (apparently he thinks it’s someone else’s life that’s going to end because in spite of everything, he shows no sign of leaving any time soon). My 401K nearly committed suicide and I’ve had a bazillion doctor’s bills to pay. I lost Connor. This year has been a mental, physical and financial roller coaster.

On the other hand . . . it’s been an incredibly FUN year with my dogs and dog friends. I showed Phoenix in obedience for the first time and he rocked. We had a 199 out of Novice, something I’ve never done with a Novice dog before. Training for Open and Utility has been (and continues to be) a wild ride with a slippery learning curve. We went to a great obedience seminar in the spring and enjoyed camping through the summer and fall. I reached - and surpassed - my titling goals with Phoenix (CD, U-CD, U-CDX, GN, AXJ) and learned volumes about him in the process. I’ve been brave enough to try some new things as a trainer and enjoyed experimenting with “what if . . .” instead of keeping on with the same-old, same-old.

I got to take National Weather Service storm spotter training in the spring (followed by a nearly non-existant severe weather season, go figure), bought my first digital camera, started this blog, went to Chicago with Marsha to pick up Vinnie and had a great summer of gardening. I got a lot of satisfaction from teaching obedience classes and enjoyed helping friends learn with their dogs. Traveling to agility trials with Team Orange continued to be a non-stop wave of friendship, fun and food (Calories? What calories?). Dog friends are the best.

I’m one of those “glass half full” people, so this Thanksgiving, I’m very thankful for all the wonderful and happy things that have happened to me this year and especially for the joy my dogs bring to my life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

There are days . . .

In spite of all our recent changes, the paper where I work remains a small town newspaper and one of the “old-fashioned” things we still do is print wedding stories that include a complete description of the bride’s gown, attendants’ gowns, flowers, church decorations, etc. It is my job to write these up. The raw copy is always good for a few laughs because I have decided that very few people know how to spell anymore and apparently everyone else’s spell-check is broken.

Last week I received a wedding that was neatly prepared and included all the pertinent information in an easily legible form without requiring a degree in deciphering handwriting. It was an editor’s dream. Be still my heart. I started typesetting and all was going smoothly until I hit a word I’d never seen before. Now trust me, I’ve done this for 21 years and I’ve seen practically everything a bride can throw at me. My favorite was the wedding where the attendants wore gowns of “bellowing tulle.” Bellowing? Perhaps “billowing” would have been more appropriate. But who knows? Maybe the dresses were loud.

But I digress.

The word of the day was “boka.” I was baffled. Wow, after 21 years of doing wedding write-ups, I had encountered something new. What in the world was a boka? What came immediately to mind was a “bota,” those wineskin things we used to fill with various combinations of alcohol and smuggle into college football games back in the day.

However, I know this bride and her family — not to mention the pastor of the church where they were married — and was pretty sure she did not carry a loaded wineskin down the aisle for a restorative snort during the ceremony.

Boka. Boka. Boka. What the . . .?

Finally, it hit me. A boka was a bouquet.

For the love of doG, people, don’t they teach spelling in school any more?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Game video

Finally! Video of Phoenix and Jamie playing The Game. If I'd known how long it was going to take to upload, I would have put the toy someplace really obvious where they could find it in 10 seconds, not 2 1/2 minutes. It's hidden under the brown plaid blanket in the recliner on the left side of the living room, by the way.

This also shows off Nix's "I'm a dork and chased a cat into a rotary hoe" boo-boo. He got his stitches out this morning and is healing really fast.

The quality is a little dark but it's still fun. Turn up the sound. I love all the snuffling and snorting.

Today, I am thankful for technology I can figure out.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Where'd it go?

The sun is finally shining again and after three days of rain, the dogs deserve to get outside today after work for a hard run. But since I’m not too excited about Phoenix doing himself further damage (not that it would bother HIM), we’re going to hold off on playing ball and Frisbee until after his stitches come out on Monday. Of course by then, it might be raining again or even snowing. Sigh. How’s a dog mom supposed to keep her little darlings exercised?

That’s where The Game comes in handy. I learned this at a seminar and was amazed how fast my dogs caught onto it. It’s something you can play indoors when the weather is crummy (like for the next six months). It provides both mental and physical exercise. The amount of physical exercise depends on how much your dog gets into it. You can also incorporate out of sight sit/stay and down/stay work if you want.

I KNOW I should get some video to post of the Belgians playing The Game because they are hysterical. I’ll try get some over the weekend. Just remember you’re dealing with the technologically challenged here.

Here’s how The Game works. First, get a toy. Show the toy to the dogs. Get all excited.

Put the dogs on a stay (or shut them behind a baby gate or have your significant other hold them).

Go hide the toy in another room. Let the dog see you hide it the first couple of times. You decide how well you want to hide it. I usually walk through multiple rooms, then tuck it out of sight behind a piece of furniture. Sometimes I’ll put it on a chair seat in the dining room. I’ve put it in the bathtub and under a blanket on my recliner or on the back of the toilet. I DON’T put it in places I do not want the dogs to go in the first place, like on kitchen countertops, top of the entertainment center, etc.

Go back to your dogs. Release them from their stay and ask “Where’d it go?” Encourage them to go look if they don’t take off on their own. This is the part that amazed me. Both my guys will ignore the variety of balls and bones lying around and be totally obsessed with finding the toy I hid. The more often we play The Game, the more creative I need to be in hiding the toy. They have learned to look “up” as well searching on the floor. It’s fun to watch them search room-by-room. Sometimes they go together, other times, they go opposite directions.

Actually, it’s kind of scary. They are both totally possessed while they are hunting. You really need to stay out of their way if you value your knees. And yes, there is occasionally some collateral damage to the house. But it’s minor. Usually.

You could play this with a piece of food, too, if your dog isn’t crazy about toys, but half the fun for my guys is being able to flaunt the toy in the other dog’s face when they find it.

Today I am thankful it’s Friday and I have a weekend at home.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random thoughts

Random thoughts from the last two days:

• Phoenix does not CARE that he has 8 stitches in his side.

• Dogs obviously have a much different pain threshold than humans. Especially THIS human. In other words, I'm a weenie.

• I’m going to teach an “obedience for agility” class for my club in January. This is a topic I’ve never taught before (now that will inspire confidence in my students) and I’m excited about teaching something new. I’d better start working on lesson plans NOW.

• My Christmas shopping is nearly done and you could not pay me enough to go anywhere near a retail outlet next Friday. I’ll be home. Baking. And training my dog.

• It is the week before Thanksgiving and the Farmer does not have all the corn harvested. In the 18 years we’ve been married, harvest has never been this late. Plus it's rained off and on since Monday so he won't be back in the field for a few more days.

• This weekend I’m going to take Jamie and Phoenix’s Christmas card picture. Thank doG for digital cameras - 100 shots to get one good picture and then delete the other 99. Does this make photography easier than back in the dark ages of film? That’s how I learned photography, on a film camera. The woman who did our darkroom work at the newspaper did NOT appreciate having to process multiple rolls of film from one event so I learned to make every shot count. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am a good photographer by any stretch but being able to be snap-happy with my little digital is totally a guilty pleasure.

• Marsha is going to design my Christmas cards this year. I can't wait. But I have to get a good pic first. The pressure is on. The Belgians and I been having "practice" sessions with the props, a clicker and a lot of cookies.

• I am running a trap line in the basement, catching mice. Ugh. Morning routine: let dogs out, let dogs in, feed dogs, shower, dress, eat breakfast, wash breakfast dishes, make bed, carry laundry to basement, check mousetraps, empty mousetraps, re-set mousetraps, remind Phoenix he cannot eat a mousetrap.

• I’ve been promoted (and I use that word loosely) to assistant receptionist at the newspaper office. We’ve got so many people out A) sick or B) trying to use up their vacation before the end of the year, that the phone rings off the hook and there aren’t enough front office people to answer it, so the editorial staff is pitching in (not that we don't have anything better to do but it's more fun to do someone else's work than our own). Yes, the inmates are running the asylum. The Farmer called yesterday, I answered the phone and neither of us recognized the other one. Not sure what that means.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ouch

This is a rotary hoe. It is a piece of tillage equipment used on the farm.


This is what happens when your dogs runs into a rotary hoe while chasing a cat.
The cat fit behind the hoe. Phoenix didn't. But he didn't let that stop him.


Here's another view.


This is what he looks like $146 later.
He has 8 stitches, 4 under the skin, 4 on top.
The tech was really good about not going crazy with the clippers.


Poor Phoenix. He was still pretty out of it from the anesthesia last night.

"Dude, I had a really bad day."


"Let me tell you how bad my day was."


"Hey, did you say SUPPER?"

This morning, he was back to his wild self,
leaping around like nothing happened.
Know I wouldn't bounce back that fast!

Today I am thankful for my vet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Phoenix, AXJ!

After a very long spell of "woulda-coulda-shoulda" on the agility course, Phoenix finished his AXJ at the Muscatine trial yesterday. It felt really good to run as a team and especially to be the handler my dog needed.

Here we are:



Thanks for doing the video, Tammy, since I accidentally on purpose didn't give my camera to anyone before we ran. I swear, we have our best runs in agility and obedience when I don't ask anyone to video!

To prove my point, I made sure Marsha had my camera for our Std. run and well, the wheels fell off in a whole lot of places. Who knew we had that many wheels?

Silly Phoenix went home and chased a cat to celebrate. Today, he's at the vet getting stitched up. Seriously. But not from the cat. He plowed full tilt into the rotary hoe (a piece of tillage equipment with very sharp pointy spikey things on it) in the hay barn and sliced open his right side. He'll be fine, it didn't cut into muscle or anything. I'll pick him up this afternoon on the way home from work. Will post details tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to be a better dog trainer

There's an equine version of this floating around on the Internet right now and I couldn't resist the temptation to rewrite it for the canine performance sports subculture.

So, here are some tips to help you enhance your training skills.

• Put on good clothes, preferably ones that require dry-cleaning. Have a friend throw muddy ditch water on you while you repeat, “Good dog! That was an awesome recall and I love it when you leap up so I can catch you.”

• Slam fingers in door. Smile as you grit your teeth and say, “Out, sweetheart, those are mommy’s fingers, not the toy.”

• Practice heeling footwork while walking around your office. Don’t worry if co-workers stare. It prepares you for showring pressure.

• Learn to grab your checkbook out of your purse and write a four digit check to your state veterinary teaching hospital without flinching.

• Jog long distances carrying a leash and waving a bag of liver treats. Go ahead and tell the neighbors what you are doing - they might as well know now.

• Put a leash on a moving freight train and practice guiding it into heel position. Smile! Isn't this fun!

• Finesse your fibbing skills: “Congratulations on your amazingly perfect performance, class wins, High In Trial and High Combined, just like the last 28 weekends I’ve shown against you.”

• Look in the mirror and practice explaining why there are a number of large bruises on your thighs (and everywhere else) before you go to your annual ob/gyn appointment.

• Remove all gross, moldy leftover food from your refrigerator. Put in bowl and mix well. Drizzle contents of bowl across living room carpet. Hide some in a special place where no one can find it for a few days.

• Borrow the US Army’s slogan: “Be All That You Can Be” . . . sore, sweaty, bitten, bruised, scratched, sprained, dislocated, broken, jammed . . .

• Take a $100 bill and tear it to tiny shreds while repeating to yourself, “Qs don’t matter, all that matters is we’re having fun . . .”

Today, I am thankful it's Friday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank you, veterans!

Today I am thankful for all the men, women and K9s
who have served and are serving in the nation's military.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Around . . . and run!

As promised today I am going to write about finishes, specifically, the right or “around” finish. Like everything else, there are a dozen ways to teach this and if what you’re doing works, doG bless you, don’t change a thing! But if you’re not happy with what you’re getting (lazy, slow, sloppy, crooked, casual, unmotivated finishes), here’s an idea for a little game that might just push your dog’s buttons.

First, I have to say a word about games. Have you ever noticed that some people like to play training “games” intended to improve their dog’s performance, yet totally ignore the fact their dog clearly does not LIKE these games? The trainer is delighted, the dog is miserable. How much good do you think THAT game is going to do? I bring it up only because I’ve seen it time after time. Either the handler is not using them correctly or the game just isn’t the right fit for that particular dog.

Don’t worry, this finish game isn’t one of those. First, it’s totally hands-off, so if your dog is demoralized by being physically manipulated, no problem. In the beginning you can lure the dog with food or a toy, so again, no problem. If you have a high prey drive dog, he’s going to get to chase you - YIPPEE! - no problem. In fact, the only problem I can think of is that you are going to have to run. Not a marathon, just maybe a couple of yards? Can you run a few yards? Of course! No problem!

Start with two pieces of food - one in your right hand to lure (yes, lure, it’s not a bad thing, you have to start somewhere; the lure will go away later) the dog around and one in the left to bring the dog toward tight heel position. So you would say your finish word, draw the dog around to your right with the visible food in your right hand and have your two hands meet behind your back. When they meet, your right hand closes shut over the food and now your left hand has the visible food, so your dog switches his focus from your right hand to the left. He never actually gets the piece of food in your right hand. Who knows, it might last forever.

As soon as you see your dog’s nose at your left hip - almost but not quite in correct heel position - take off running. Run straight ahead. Let your dog chase and follow the food in your left hand. When he catches up, he can have the food. Once your dog gets the idea, you can quit holding food in your right hand at all, and just keep it in the left. It shouldn’t take long to get to that point, especially with a dog who already KNOWS what the finish command means.

When your dog is beating you and you almost cannot take off fast enough before his nose is at your hip, THEN you can add a verbal “sit” command as he’s at that nose at the hip position. That gives him a split second to react to the command and sit in proper heel position. You can also bring that left hand (still with food) up your body slightly so it keeps his attention/face pointed UP when he sits.

Of course, you will gradually fade the food but can continue to run on finishes at random to keep them fun and unpredictable. Run in training. Run at show-and-goes. Run and don’t ask for a formal sit, give a big, happy release instead. Your dog never knows when you might take off. Dogs who love to chase will seriously get off on this.

I’ve worked this in two separate sessions with Phoenix. No, he’s not immediately doing wham-bam perfect around finishes but he definitely LIKES this game and it is making what was previously a very tedious skill a whole lot more fun for both of us. One thing about Phoenix, he loves to chase. And he loves to catch. So you’d better believe I have that piece of food VERY visible in my left hand. Otherwise he tends to “catch” whatever he pleases.

It’s nice if your dog will charge into a gallop when you take off but that’s not required. I’ve spent nearly 3 years working on Phoenix NOT galloping anywhere near heel position so he does what I call an extended trot to catch up with me. It’s brisk and he’s moving with purpose and it’s basically what he does on “fast” time in heeling. Besides, I am on the short side of average height and he is a very athletic dog and I KNOW I can’t run fast enough to make him break into a gallop so am not going to have a heart attack trying.

Thanks, Renee, for letting me share your idea. Hope some of you find it helpful. And thanks Sheryl for this lovely pic of Phoenix from his Novice debut in the spring.

Today, I am thankful for my club’s “new” training building, which we have rented for the winter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting organized

If you’ve known me for more than 10 minutes, you know I am a list maker. I make grocery store lists, Wal-mart lists, to-do lists and Christmas lists. Yeah, I’m a little OCD about my lists.

As Phoenix and I began serious work on Utility, one thing I’ve found helpful is a master training list. I plan to show him in AKC Open in the spring, train like crazy over the summer and be ready to show in Utility in the fall. At least that’s the plan. I have almost as many plans as I have lists.

I was driving myself crazy(er) trying to maintain and improve his Open work while continuing to teach the Utility exercises. It was easy to overwork some skills while totally neglecting others. My attempts at keeping a comprehensive training diary have not met with a lot of success. I either write too much or not enough to be useful. But my training list A) lets me focus on the skills and exercises we need to learn/proof and B) keeps me from forgetting the “little stuff” that really matters, like actually teaching glove turns. Yeah, those do matter. Funny how that works.

My list is keyed into the elements we need to address on each exercise or skill. So it’s not just “recalls.” It’s “build speed on recalls, esp. after the drop, throw food or toys; turn and run, let him chase; only ask for fronts occasionally.” The list is like super condensed seminar notes, highlighting the techniques I want to use for each skill. Otherwise, I end up finishing a training session only to think, “Well, duh, I should have done (fill in the blank with brilliant idea).” See? I swear if it’s not written down I can’t remember it.

I keep the master list in my training bag for quick reference. It helps me plan each session and keep a balance between continuing to keep Open challenging while training for Utility. I make a separate (and much shorter) training list of things to work on at each session because I’m not always quick at thinking on my feet (which explains a lot of our agility issues) and I need to think out in advance how I want to spend my training time and resources.

Okay, I know what you're thinking: if you needed proof that obedience people are total obsessive-compulsive control freaks, this is it. Hey, that's all right. I resemble that remark! I just don't want my poor dog to pay the price for inconsistent training that bounces wildly from one skill to another without any forethought. He gets enough of that even WITH the list.

So how do I decide what to train, even with my fancy, schmancy list? It depends on A) where I’m going to train, B) how much time I have, C) who else will be there and D) how ambitious I feel. Sometimes I don’t even get past the first thing on my list because Phoenix tells me our training session is going to go in a different direction. That’s okay. He thinks it’s all about him and it really is. Lists are great but flexibility still rules.

Happy training! Tomorrow I'll write about Renee's idea for speeding up finishes. Hope to have enough time today after work to enjoy this ridiculously warm weather and train a bit outside before dark.

Today I am thankful for the silly people I work with.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Long weekend, lots of miles

Friday, I took the day off work and Phoenix and I went to see my dad. It was his 80th birthday. He woke up long enough to eat cake and ice cream, then went back to sleep. Guess that's a good way to spend your birthday. I'm amazed he is still alive. Last summer when he went into hospice, none of us thought he would live to see this birthday.

Of course, if I had a dollar for every time someone has told me "Your father is failing fast, he won't be here much longer" or "Your father is dying, you'd better come soon," in the last four months, well, I'd probably have $10.  

He has good days and he has bad days, sometimes they are the same day. He sleeps most of the time, can't speak and relies on others for all of his care. Thank God for Hospice. I wish a quick and peaceful end would find him and yeah, I'm selfish, I wish it would come soon because I want to get off this emotional roller coaster ride. Thank God for my dogs who have given me  lot of happy reality to anchor on through the summer and fall.

The Farmer combined beans until 9 p.m. We've had 5 whole days without rain.

Saturday morning, it was off to Kay's to train a bit and teach lessons. It was the "big girl" morning, with Chance the GSD and Mae, a St. Bernard. Mae is big, sweet and beautiful. It's fun to work with other dogs and figure out how to get the results you want. That's one thing about the big dogs: you can't force a 125-pound dog to do anything she doesn't want to. It has to be HER idea.

After Kay's, we went into Iowa City and checked out the new ICDOC winter facility. It rocks! It's the old Randy's Carpet store on Highway 1, just off Hwy. 218. The agility area is the former showroom and it's really nice. There's a separate spot for obedience in the back of the building and it's also huge and great. Everything is fully matted and ready to go.  

Phoenix and I trained with Kate and her two girls for a little while, then I ran a few errands in Iowa City and got the heck out of town before the football traffic cut loose.

Came home and raked leaves for what seemed like three days. This was not a lot of fun. How can you get blisters under band-aids AND gloves? Setting the leaves on fire was greatly satisfying, however. Then I took a shower and a lot of ibuprofen and was lazy the rest of the night.

The Farmer combined soybeans until 8 p.m. Six days without rain.

Sunday, we were up and on the road to Des Moines by 6 a.m. to the DMOTC show and go. Phoenix did two Open runs which were relatively nice  and one pre-Utility run which showed me the only thing he understands are the articles. 

Renee had a great idea to help with his finishes, which have never been all that great and I've decided to go back to square one and start over. Can't wait to try it. Nix will do a million finishes in his career, we'd both better like them and get better at them! Good thing ICDOC has that great building because we're going to be there A LOT this winter!

I need to get organized about the things we need to train this winter. Right now I feel like one of my obedience students when I ask what they want to work on and they say "Everything!" Maybe tonight I will try to prioritize this mess of training ideas. I'm sure it will become crystal clear when I'm sitting in my recliner in my PJs with a cup of cocoa.

Came home and played Frisbee with the dogs. It was 70 beautiful, sunny degrees on the 8th of Nov. Don't tell me winter is just around the corner. I'm sticking my fingers in my ears. Lalalalalala . . . I can't hear you.

The combine broke down with 12 acres of beans left. It will be a late night if they can get it fixed. It's supposed to rain tomorrow. No need to rush supper.

Ooops, the combine just went roaring down the lane. Sounds like they're back in business.

I hear my recliner calling . . . with a mug of cocoa . . . and a brilliant training plan for this winter.

Today, I'm thankful for dog friends who make me laugh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November scenes

Phoenix demonstrates the cool way to carry a Frisbee.


I don't know why he doesn't run into stuff. But he doesn't.


He can carry it the traditional way, too.


But then this happens.


Nothing to do with dogs or Frisbees.
Just pretty frosty morning yarrow.


Today I am thankful for my little digital camera that lets me take 50 pictures to get one semi-good shot.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday musings

I like training my dog better than showing my dog.

There. I said it. I’ve gradually realized this during the last five years but Phoenix’s arrival on the show scene in the last 12 months has really brought it home.

It’s not that I don’t like showing. I like it very much. I just like training better. I like the one-on-one time spent learning to communicate (with varying levels of success) with a different species. I like it that I can train when and where it’s convenient for me, with people I like and I can set my own agenda for the session. I can change the agenda if I want.

So why not forget shows and spend all my time (and money) training instead? Sounds like there would be a lot less stress and fewer gray hairs that way, huh?

I show because showing is a test of my training methods. If I didn’t show, I’d never find out what behaviors I’ve taught successfully (that is, which ones hold up under the stress of a new environment when the cookies and balls disappear.) I’d never know what my dog really understood, what he sort of understood and what he didn’t have a clue about.

We joke about our dogs being a 200 in the backyard but how many trainers can walk into a totally new environment and still have a 200 dog? If you CARE whether your training methods work, you gotta show to find out. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Showing drives me crazy because when my dog and I make a mistake in the ring, I want to stop and work through it. I am such a control freak (show me a serious obedience competitor who isn’t) that I can’t stand having to go on to the next exercise when my dog has just shown me he didn’t understand the previous one. Or that he was distracted. Or just plain didn’t give a damn on that particular day. I want to stop and TRAIN.

What if there weren’t any obedience trials? Would I still train?

Of course, because I love the interaction with my dog but I probably wouldn’t train the same things. I’d focus more on games and tricks in addition to basic household obedience. And I’d still teach scent discrimination because I think it’s cool.

What if they had obedience trials but didn’t keep score or have titles and you could just show at whatever level you wanted for as long as you wanted? Would I still show then? Absolutely, because I’d still get to go into the ring and test my training methods. Scores don’t have a lot of meaning to me. If I got a 199 with a robotic performance, I wouldn’t be happy because that is NOT how I want my dog to work. If I got a 190 with enthusiasm and animation, I would be delighted.

What about you? Do like training or showing better? Would you still show if they didn’t keep score? Would you still train if there weren’t any shows?

Today I am thankful for good friends to bounce training ideas off of. (Yes, I know you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. And I don’t care.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The 'Recipe'

Remember the two elderly sisters on "The Waltons" who brewed moonshine whiskey and called it "The Recipe"? Well, this is something like that. Only its legal. And non-alcoholic. Although it has been known to cause odd behavior in some individuals.

This is Swamp Water (or Polyjuice Potion for all you Harry Potter fans.) It originated a looooong time ago, when a bunch of us were training at the Shueyville Community Center every week (before its $175,000 makeover, they probably don't even allow dogs in the parking lot now) and decided to have a St. Patrick's Day party. I made green punch. It looked like this.

(Photo by Rilda at this year's Halloween party)

The original recipe has been lost and I've spent the last 15 years trying to recreate it. Every version of Swamp Water differs slightly. That's the beauty of it.

SWAMP WATER (makes 2 gallons)
2 packages Kool Aid lemon lime drink mix (dry)
1 can frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cans frozen limeade concentrate
3 2-liter bottles of ginger ale
a bunch of lime sherbet (4-5 cups?)

Mix Kool Aid with frozen juice concentrates. Add ginger ale and stir in sherbet in large chunks. Stir occasionally while serving to blend melted sherbet.

Having said that, you can substitute a lot of the ingredients to customize the recipe. I've used frozen pineapple juice concentrate in place of the lemonade and pineapple sherbet in place of the lime sherbet. That was a rockin' recipe but since our small town grocery store doesn't carry things as exotic as pineapple sherbet I usually go with lime because it's readily available without a trip to the big city.

The key to good Swamp Water is that is is tart and has a lot of fizz. You don't need to add any sugar, there's plenty in the sherbet, which doesn't melt right away but floats around and looks wonderfully scummy.

Today I am thankful for ibuprofen. I overdid it playing Frisbee with the dogs and winterizing flowerbeds over the weekend. The dogs are tired and happy, the flowerbeds are tidy and I feel like I've been hit by a truck.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Now I owe him a cat

U-CDX Phoenix!

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Phoenix did a lovely 3-minute out of sight sit today to earn his third leg and finish his U-CDX at the 4RK9s trial in Cedar Rapids. His individual exercises were not the best work he's ever given me but right now, I don't care! That sit trumps any other sins he may have committed along the way.

I knew he could do it and I knew he would do it but we've struggled with that darn sit so much in the last month I just didn't expect him to do it today. I was showing him because we were already entered, it was a very nice local club and I doubted we could do anymore damage to that exercise that we already had. That may not be the most intelligent approach to training I've ever had but live and learn. In fact, when we returned to the ring after the sit, I automatically checked the stewards standing at the gate. They were not holding Phoenix. Holy crap! Where was he? Well, there he sat in line, tense but confident, just like it was all his idea in the first place. Hurray!

I know we aren't out of the woods on this problem and we have a ton of work to put into it yet but today the planets were aligned in our favor. I think it helped that he was the dog on the end of the line, so he didn't have dogs on both sides of him. Michele and Rilda said he fidgeted a little at the start, then settled down into a very alert but rock solid sit for the rest of the time. Good boy, Nix!

Now, about the cat. Michele and Jeff found a little kitten in their front yard last night. It's a dark gray tiger stripe, my favorite. Michele will take it to the humane society if no one claims it soon (Jeff put a sign in their front yard, I'd love to see that.) Anyway, we were talking about the kitten today at the trial and discussing who should take it home and I jokingly said, "If Phoenix holds his sit today, HE can have the kitten."

Wouldn't you know. Guess he was listening.

Now I have to explain to him that I was just kidding and the Farmer would absolutely throw a rod if I brought home a tiny little kitten that would have to live in the house because the wild barn cats would either run it off or kill it. I'm pretty sure Phoenix wouldn't eat it, he just wants his own personal cat to . . . well, I'm not really sure WHAT he wants to do with one. But he wants one. And for now, he's going to have to go on wanting.

Jill is going to bring LeRoy The Bomb-Proof Cat to the last night of Utility class in a few weeks so Phoenix can meet a real, live cat up close and personal. So that will have to do.