Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obviously, it was a dog toy

Can you identify this mystery item? 

Is it:
A) Marge Simpson's wig
B) Smurf poop
C) something leftover from a Blue Man Group party
D) a brand new bath pouf after Phoenix stuck his paw through his crate in the van, pulled it out of the Walmart bag, drug it into his crate and had a party with it?

If you chose D, you are the grand prize winner! 

This afternoon, I took the dogs down to Kay's to train. Then I ran some errands in Iowa City. First stop: Walmart. Jamie and Phoenix napped in their crates. They were tired puppies! At some point (I think it was between Pleasant Valley Garden Center and Barnes and Noble), Phoenix got tired of napping and adventure was as close as the nearest Walmart bag. You'd think I would learn not to put anything within six feet of that dog's crate! 

Ah, well, at least it wasn't a bottle of honey!

Friday, March 27, 2009

One week and counting

Phoenix and I show in AKC Novice for the first time one week from today. I am so excited! My goal for our training sessions between now and then is to focus on our strengths. In reality, a week isn't long enough to "fix" any problems and it's easy to make things worse instead of better with frantic, last minute training. The last thing I want in my dog's mind the week before a trial is doubt and uncertainty. Attitude is everything!

This pic is Nix's bad little self at age 10 weeks, in March 2007. He was 15 pounds of biting, gnawing, grabbing, yowling, kissing, running, wagging wild energy.

This pic is from last summer (2008), age 1 1/2. Pretty much the same package except now he weighs more. This is his "I'm too sexy for the cornfield" look.

Thanks again to photographers Sheryl and Meme for dressing up this blog with their talent.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Magic carpet ride

This is NOT going to become a training blog but I just have to share this idea for proofing stays because it's fun. It's from my friend Renee, who got it from her friend Linda, and if it needs to be credited to anyone beyond that, well, I don't have a clue.

First you need a rug just big enough for the dog to sit on. Obviously, Phoenix is not sitting on his rug. He's eating it. Eating the rug is not a useful proofing tool.

Neither is tugging. But it's fun. And it makes the Malinois happy. And heaven forbid the Malinois not be happy.

We will be serious now. Listen to me! Be serious! You are so not serious. See what I live with?

This proofing game really makes the dog think about holding his stay. It turns a passive exercise into an active, thinking exercise that the dog can "participate" in, not just zone out. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend doing this with great big dogs unless you are a professional weight lifter. Or unless you really like having sore muscles the next day. Phoenix weighs 52 pounds. I am not a professional weight lifter. But I have ibuprofen and I know how to use it.

Have your dog sit on his rug. Give your stay command. Carefully hold the edges of the rug and pull your dog across the floor. Or just pull him a couple of inches if you didn't eat your Wheaties this morning. Did your dog stay on the rug? Did he leap off? Does he think you are a GODDESS for coming up with a new game instead of drilling those monotonous sit-in-a-(yawn)-line stays.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dogs as healers

There's just no delicate way to put this. Last weekend, I caught some kind of freakish stomach bug and went through 12 hours of absolutely violent diarrhea and vomiting. Imagine rabid raccoons brawling in your intestines and frightened, angry skunks trying to get out of your stomach. It wasn't that bad. It was worse.

They say the human body is 98% water. I'm guessing about 97% of it left via one route or the other between Friday night and Saturday morning. A few more raccoons exited through the day on Saturday. I had a warm and loving relationship with the bathroom floor by then.

By the time things settled, I felt like I'd thrown up my toenails. There was absolutely nothing left inside me from top to bottom. In fact, I'm pretty sure if you'd looked down my throat, you could have seen daylight on the other end. 

The Farmer slept through it all. He said he never heard me get out of bed even once. The man is oblivious. A woman sprinting for the bathroom in the throes of gastric upheaval is not a dainty creature.

The sounds that followed were not dainty either. Closing the bathroom door was not a priority. I was happy just to get to the bathroom in time. It really is the little things in life that mean the most.

While The Farmer was blissfully slumbering, I was wondering if I'd contracted the ebola virus or some modern strain of the plague. And my dogs were right there with me. At least Jamie and Phoenix were with me. Connor, at 14, is a bit oblivious and he slept through it all, too.

It is a universal fact that dogs love to accompany people to the bathroom. They are convinced there is a portal to another dimension behind the toilet. Trust me, there isn't. If there had been, I would have happily gone through it Saturday about 1 a.m..

Regardless, both Belgians accompanied me to the bathroom every single trip and waited patiently while I made rude noises. A lot of rude noises. And groaned. And regretted every bite of food I'd eaten in the last three days. And washed my hands. And brushed my teeth. And then staggered back to bed to do it all over again a few hours later.

I'm not sure how altruistic their motives were. They were clearly fascinated by what incredible thing I might do next. I think my canine cool factor was rising with every retch. But I was clinging to the whole "Lassie" theory and was sure they were there to offer comfort and ease my distress. In retrospect, my route to the bathroom passed through the kitchen and right by the treat cupboard. Gee, a floor show AND the possibility of cookies. 

We spent most of the next day in bed. I am using the royal "we" to indicate me and the dogs. The Farmer took one look at me and fled. To his credit, he came in to check on me once during the day, flung a bottle of 7-Up on the kitchen table and bolted again. He's not big on nursing things that do not have four legs and can be sold for a profit.

So it was up to the dogs to take care of me and they took their role very seriously. (Yeah, the dog who enjoys goosing people and the dog who once emptied an entire squeeze bottle of honey through four rooms of the house.) Looking back, I realize neither of them left me alone that day. One of them was always with me. Jamie slept pressed against my back, Phoenix curled behind my knees. The took turns snuffling me and licking my ears and making contented dog noises that were actually very soothing.

Two days and five pounds later, I'm good as new. Would I have recovered as quickly without such attentive canine care? Who knows. But I know they were very warm and comforting when that was exactly what I needed.

Again, when I count my blessings, I count my dogs twice.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A new adventure

In the world of obedience trials, the judge says "Exercise finished" at the end of each exercise. This means the handler can take a few seconds to tell her dog how wonderful he is and get ready for whatever comes next. Or she can do damage control . . . like when her dog pokes her in the butt on the halt. My dogs would never do that. Never. Ever. Okay, maybe once. 

That's what this blog is going to be like (no, not like getting poked in the butt), just a quick break to reflect on what's going on with my dogs and my life. Wait. That's redundant. My dogs are my life. Here they are:

This is Connor. He is a 14-year-old Shetland sheepdog. His favorite things are mealtimes and barking at things. It doesn't matter if there is actually anything to bark at or not.

OTCh., U-OTCh. Sunazie's Black Diamond, UDX5, MX, MXJ, RN

This is Jamie. He is a 9-year-old Belgian tervuren. His favorite thing is poking people in the butt. He's very good at it. He is also The Most Patient Dog In The World.

OTCh., U-UD Ariel's Escape Through Time, UDX3, TD, MX, MXJ, MXP, MJP, RE, NF

This is Phoenix. He is a 2-year-old Belgian malinois. His favorite things change by the minute: "Yeah, cookies! Wait, a ball! No, wait, a tug! Hey, agility equipment! Cool, a bone! Awesome, my dumbbell! Oh-oh-oh, a fuzzy squeaky! Whee, my bite stick!" See what I mean?

Carousel's Call of the Wild, AX, OAJ, RN

The focus of my life right now is getting Phoenix ready for his debut in Novice obedience this spring. It's hard to decide when to bring out a young dog. If you do it too soon, it may be a trainwreck. If you wait until they're perfect, you'll never get into the ring.

With that in mind, I have decided on the criteria I want from our first formal ring experience. Forget the scores, I want ATTITUDE! Ears up, eyes bright, bounce in the step, happy, confident, enthusiastic, working in drive, focused, joyful ATTITUDE!

(Thanks to photographers extraordinaire Meme and Sheryl for the pics. You guys rock.)