Thursday, May 28, 2009

Training update: Grad Novice, here we come

Thank doG the AKC overhauled the Graduate Novice class. Again. The last time I showed in Grad Novice was when Jamie was getting ready for Open and it scares me to think how long ago that was. I know we both had a lot less gray hair back then. Now the exercises are new and improved. It’s a much more reasonable stepping stone class between Novice and Open.

Phoenix and I are going to show in Grad Novice in two weeks at the Ft. Dodge trials and the week after that at the Hawkeye trials. Are we ready? Define “ready.” Are we perfect? No. Are we improving? Absolutely.

Heeling: I’ve decided to try heeling with my left arm at my side. After years and years of heeling with my left hand clamped somewhere between my boobs and my belly button, I’m ready for a change. The AKC regs say if you carry your left hand up, it should be “centered in the vicinity of the waist.” I’m not sure where my waist is these days and I don’t want to become one of those ladies who heels with her forearm supporting her bossom. Like that would happen. I have no bossom to speak of.

Anyway, so far, so good. Having my arm at my side seems to be improving Nix’s heel position and remedying some of our bump and crowd issues. The only problem is my hand occasionally flops around and whacks him in the face. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely by accident but he doesn't
seem to mind. It’s also really convenient to tweak his head position when my hand is right there.

I’ve managed to drastically reduce the amount of cookies I use on heelwork but admit food will probably always be part of the program for me. I’m getting much better at using toys and playing tug to reward effort and build attitude. However, it’s hard for me to reward heel position with toys because releasing to a tug session pretty much destroys the position I want to reward (although the crazy wild dog can tug like the devil while holding his contacts in agility). So food still has its place, at least for me. Everyone has to follow their own heart when they train.

Drop on recall: If I get a nice running recall, the drop is less than ideal. If he slows to a trot and thinks about doing a nice drop, well, it’s a nice drop but then the recall sucks. We’re working hard on getting that elusive running recall in a formal context and I only ask for occasional drops. I am pretty sure he understands the concept of a drop out of motion. It’s the concept of that motion in the first place we’re working to improve, using toys, chase games and intense play to ramp up his speed. Food does not get the level of drive I want. Toys do. Great. More work for the trainer. (Try explaining this type of thing to your cardiologist when they ask about “exercise.” They sure look at you funny.)

Dumbbell recall: Couple of things going on here. We need to work “get it” in about a million different places. The hard, fast, git-yer-fingers-outta-my-way-sister-or-yer-gonna-lose-em chomp I get in familiar training building softens in new environments. And of course, working to build that driving recall continues. More running. Go, me.

Recall over the high jump: This is pretty straight forward. Fronts are improving as he learns to collect all 52 pounds of his bad self and not just slam into a sit in any ol’ spot. Finishes? They remain a work in progress.

Recall over the broad jump: Same as above. I didn’t want to re-type it. Cuz I’m lazy. And tired after running all over the place so that damn fool dog can chase me.

Long down, handler out of sight: What? I have to leave my dog? Alone? For 3 minutes? Are you sure that’s a good idea?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Confessions of a morning person

Michele gave me this comic strip and it pretty much sums up my life. I can't remember the last time I slept past 6 a.m. Even on weekends. Especially on weekends. Trial weekends. Match weekends. Seminar weekends. Or weekends when I'm meeting friends to train. In fact, I may be genetically incapable of sleeping in. 

The dogs are partly to blame for this. They have very successfully conditioned me to get up by 5:30 a.m., no matter the weather or time of year. Phoenix wants to rush out and embrace the day. Connor and Jamie just want their breakfast. And the Farmer wants ALL of us to get the heck out of the bedroom so he can get another 30 minutes of sleep.

I like being a morning person and getting a jump start on the day. Most of my friends are morning people, too. Sometimes its a chemically induced condition brought on by mainlining caffeine but who cares. We're the ones in the front row of the parking lot at the agility trial when the building doesn't open until for another 30 minutes. We get the best crating spots at obedience trials. We're the people everyone else asks to save them a spot because they know we'll be the first ones in the building no matter wherever we go.

Of course, the downside is that I'm usually crashed by 9 p.m. Morning people aren't known for having a rowdy nightlife. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hummingbirds, etc.

This plant has nothing to do with hummingbirds. It's a sedum called "Dragon's Blood." I love both the name and the plant. The plant is hardy. Extremely hardy. Psychotically hardy. We had record setting -40 degree temps last winter and this spring it never looked better. This is a little baby clump. The mother clump is in another flower bed. This is part of my "finding good plants to grow in hot dry places" campaign for the flower bed by the patio. Stay tuned.

Okay, on to the hummingbirds. Which aren't pictured here. Don't strain your eyes trying to find one. A few years ago, we were besieged with hummingbirds. Worse things could happen, I suppose. They were fun to watch, once your heart recovered from something the size of a very large bumblebee dive bombing your head when you stepped out the back door.

So the next summer, I put out a hummingbird feeder, kept it filled, clean etc. The only things it attracted were ants and bees and it leaked sugary glop on the ground underneath, which attracted more ants and bees. Go figure.

Last summer, no feeder. A few hummingbirds flitted through and seemed to enjoy the flowers on the patio, so this summer, my hummingbird-enticing approach is totally floral. 

This plant is called lantana. It is supposed to attract hummingbirds. If I were a good gardener, I could tell you what variety it is. But in addition to not necessarily being a good gardener, I am also a very forgetful gardener and don't have a clue.

But it's darn pretty. Even if it doesn't attract hummingbirds, it's still darn pretty. 

The Farmer borrowed the neighbor's skid loader and hauled in some dirt to level off the cistern (again). Now my Sweet 100 tomatoes have somewhere to call home. This is the extent of my vegetable gardening: two tomato plants sitting on top of the old cistern. A couple of years I've planted them directly in the ground, no pots, but that always gave me huge plants without a lot of tomatoes. I get a better yield by putting them in pots. And it's a little harder for the dogs to help themselves that way. A LITTLE harder, not impossible. Trust me. Ask Connor. He is a tomato-picking fiend.

I can already taste them, fresh off the vine, in pasta salad with a garlic and oil dressing, mixed with cucumbers and ranch dressing . . . oh, yikes, now I've gone and drooled all over the keyboard.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some things never change

There should be pictures with this, I just can't bring myself to take them. Probably because I am laughing so hard tears are streaming and I am shaking my head and rolling my eyes and wondering "How can something so simple go so wrong!"

Finding the perfect dumbbell. It's the bane of every advanced obedience trainer. No wonder some people never train beyond Novice. It has nothing to do with teaching a retrieve. It's because they can't find the perfect dumbbell. Or maybe it's just me and my pointy-nosed dogs.

I am the Queen Of Dumbbells (note I did not say Dumbbell Queen. I think that would be something different). I have bought more dumbbells in 30 years of obedience training than you can imagine. Thank God for the garage sale table at the ICDOC trial every spring because I have sold more dumbbells than you can imagine, too. I should probably have a Web site: The fact that I've managed to re-sell nearly 100% of my mistakes just confirms there are other people out there just like me who are always looking for a new (better?) dumbbell. Ha. So there.

How hard is it, really, to buy a dumbbell? Just go to J and J Dog Supplies or Max200 and order one already, for heaven's sake. They even have those crazy pink and green things at PetCo and PetsMart. Hell, the local feed store even has wooden dumbbells. I can't imagine there's much market for them in Iowa County but they carry them, nonetheless.

But we all know it's not that easy. It has to be the perfect fit. Perfect end size. Perfect bit diameter. Perfect bit width. The ideal measurements that will allow for clean and easy pick-ups with no fumbling or mouthing. Then there's the wood vs. plastic debate. Forget actually TRAINING the retrieve, finding the perfect dumbbell takes a ridiculous amount of time.

I honestly do not know how many dumbbells I have bought over the years. Granted, I've always had dogs with long, pointy muzzles and that makes it a little harder to get one that fits just right. Stock size dumbbells seem to be made for dogs with short, wide muzzles. Great if you have a golden or a rottweiler. Not so great if you have a sheltie or a terv. Not a problem, J&J is happy to make custom sizes. The problem is that what looks good on paper may not look so great four weeks later when the UPS man delivers the much anticipated package.

Somewhere along the line during Jamie's career, I ordered a custom-made dumbbell from a man named Joe Feist. Joe lives in Ohio and he used to make (I don't think he makes them any more) beautiful scent articles that were all the rage and were of such heirloom quality they were probably accounted for in trainers' wills and handed down from generation to generation. But he also made dumbbells, too, and he'd made the one Connor used throughout his OTCh. quest and afterward. So of course Jamie had to have one, too.

Well, Jamie's didn't really fit. The measurements were right but when it arrived, the proportions seemed all wrong. I put it in a drawer, got a custom-sized Invince-A-Bell from J&J and that was that.

Fast forward about seven years. Phoenix had learned to retrieve using a battered, gnawed old Invince-A-Bell and it was time to get him a "real" dumbbell for the Graduate Novice ring. I stumbled across Jamie's still brand new Joe Feist dumbbell and by some alignment of the planets, IT WAS A PERFECT FIT!

Hallelujah! I was freed from the curse of pursuing the perfect dumbbell. No more obsessing over 1/8" measurements and fussing about bit diameter and were the ends too big and was the bit too wide and OMG the future of my dog's entire obedience career is linked directly to whether or not his dumbbell is absolutely perfect.

We trained with that new/old dumbbell for about two weeks. Phoenix loved it. It was such a good fit. I was ecstatic. This was so simple. Surely we would breeze through Open. The gods were smiling on us. The planets were aligned. Life was good.

The dumbbell broke this morning.

I threw it in the house, on carpet, while doing some quick training before going to work. Phoenix retrieved it and as he fronted, I could see something was not right. I took it from him and one end, which had been dangling by a thread of plastic, fell off in my hand.


Oh, the agony of having to start all over again!

Since we're entered in Grad Novice at a trial in 3 weeks, I quickly ordered a stock size dumbbell from Max200 this morning. In the meantime, Phoenix can train with Jamie's dumbbell, which is a touch too small but he'll just have to deal. If the Max200 dumbbell doesn't work, I'll call up J&J and put them to work making us an Invince-A-Bell. We're not trialing through July and August so there will be plenty of time to tweak measurements.

I may single-handedly bring this country out of its recession by buying dumbbells. Don't laugh. You just think I'm joking.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I'm normal! YIPPEE!!!

Well, sort of.

Last week I had a nuclear myocardial perfusion imaging test done. That's a really fancy name for a stress test. My cardiologist called yesterday to say the results came back normal, no blockages or narrowing of arteries in my heart. Definitely good news, since my dad had major blockages resulting in open heart surgery for a quadruple heart bypass when he was in his late 50s.

I've still got the abnormal heart rhythm thing going on but the meds seem to be taking care of it. Six weeks and counting without any caffeine from soda or cappuccino. I'm supposed to "avoid" caffeine because it can make the atrial fibrillation worse. (Hmmm . . . define "avoid.") Good thing I wasn't much of a coffee drinker to start with.

But I haven't given up, nor do I intend to give up, chocolate. Sure, it contains caffeine but not that much. And besides, chocolate is medicinal. Anyone who reads Harry Potter knows that!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Springtime stuff

I love columbines. These are in a little shade garden I planted because it was such an awkward place to mow that I got tired of swearing at it every week and just turned it into a flowerbed. It's full of columbines, ferns, hosta and coral bells. I'll post a picture later this summer, once the hosta get all unfurled. The only drawback to columbines is their bloom time is very brief. They are only pretty for a couple of weeks each spring.

So I enjoy them A LOT during that time.

This year, I am experimenting with ornamental grasses in the flower bed by the patio. It is a very sunny bed and gets a lot of heat reflected from the white siding on the house and from the cement of the patio. I never seem to keep up with watering there like I should. Plus the dogs run through it and occasionally dig in it. Anything that lives there needs to be tough. I'm hoping ornamental grasses will thrive without me having to hold their hand all summer.

Pictured left to right are: hair grass "Northern Lights"; dwarf fountain grass and Lucerne "Blue Eyed Grass." They are all dwarf varieties.

This is Phoenix in the cistern. I have no idea what he is doing. He doesn't either but he does it every chance he gets. The Farmer uncapped the cistern and filled it in about 10 years ago. It has been settling ever since. Every spring, I haul dirt to level it off. This spring, I decided hauling dirt would fall under the "don't do anything extreme" warning from my cardiologist, so I'm waiting for the Farmer to do it. And waiting. And waiting.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lessons learned in the Novice ring

Phoenix went 3/3 at the 4RK9s UKC trials Friday and Saturday to finish his U-CD, 2nd places all the way. Mary H. and her crazy little sheltie Rowdy had a Novice B sweep, winning the class and going HIT all 3 trials. Good job, Rowdy! It had to be the mushrooms. Seriously, Mary was using fried morels for rewards. Why didn't I think of that? Oh, yeah, I ate them all myself.

Now we are DONE with Novice and moving on to Graduate Novice this summer with an eye on Open possibly later this fall. We'll probably do UKC Open first; UKC trials around here are nice relaxed little shows and a great place to start a new level of work. Plus I like the fact that the out of sight exercises are separated (honor down, then a group sit) so you're not throwing them both at a green dog all at once.

Novice was a great place to test out a young dog and see what the strengths and weaknesses of our teamwork are. After our April and May trials, I have a much clearer picture of what Phoenix understands and what he just plain doesn't get. It's not all about Phoenix, either. I need to work harder to build myself as the motivator, not the cookie. Phoenix loves his cookies but he loves his toys, too, so I need to burn a calorie and play with my dog! Our heeling needs a ton of work, not only on technical skills but on maintaining attitude. Not to mention being much clearer about my criteria and not being afraid to raise the bar and ask my wild dog for more. I'm looking forward to a summer of training and if I feel we have a solid grip on Utility, we might try Graduate Open this fall, too. Dream big!

After a week on furlough, I'm back to the office tomorrow and think the dogs will be glad to see me go so they can get back to their sleep-20-hours-a-day plan. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Places I train, Part II

This is the park in Middle Amana. Its beautiful in the spring. Actually, it's beautiful all year around. Iowa County doesn't have any leash laws so I don't have to worry about animal control showing up and freaking out because my dogs are loose. Oh. Wait. Iowa County doesn't have animal control, either.

There's a lot of lovely flat ground for setting up ring gates and jumps. Since I'll be focussing on Phoenix's Open work more this summer, I'm going to have to get back in the habit of hauling all that stuff around to different sites.

The Belgians enjoy running amuck after a workout. 

Running amuck is even more fun if you have a ball and can get your brother to chase you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Yesterday I rode along with Marsha to pick up her new poodle baby Vinnie at O'Hare. He flew in all by himself from Portland, Ore. Just so you know, you can't pick up cargo at the regular United terminal in the airport, you have to find the cargo terminal, which is basically in another country. 

Vinnie was very happy to meet his new mom and GET OUT OF THE BOX! He is perfectly, adorably, delightfully wonderful and Marsha is going to have so much fun with him.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Perfect chocolate cake

There is nothing special about this sheet cake recipe except that it turns out perfect every time. I've been making it for 20 years and it is always awesome. You can even mess with the ingredients and substitute skim milk and vinegar for the buttermilk and it's still awesome. And the frosting? Oh, baby, the frosting. 

Here's the cake right out of the oven. Yep, that's a toothpick test hole right smack dab in the middle. The whole cake is actually a little uneven. I blame it on the oven, which is uneven. That's because our kitchen floor is uneven. Heck, our whole house is uneven. You couldn't find a 90 degree angle in this place to save your life. Don't worry. That's what frosting is for.

See? It's the miracle of frosting. Now everything is nice and even. You can frost this cake hot or cold, very handy if you're having a major "I need it now!" chocolate cake craving. Waiting is overrated. 

Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a piece of this cake, still warm from the oven with the frosting all soft and melty with a big glass of cold milk. If you're not drooling by now, there is something seriously wrong with you. I only used a half-recipe of the frosting. If I used a full recipe, there would be an equal amount of cake and frosting. And my butt would be as big as Rhode Island.

2 C. flour
2 C. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 sticks margarine
1 C. water
3 T. cocoa
1/2 C. buttermilk (can substitute 1/2 C. milk and 1 1/2 tsp. vinegar)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

In large bowl, sift flour, sugar and soda. In saucepan, combine margarine, water and cocoa over medium heat and bring just to a boil. Pour over dry ingredients while still hot. Mix. Add buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour into greased and floured sheet cake pan or 9 x 13 inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes for sheet cake pan, 25 to 30 for 9 x 13, or until toothpick comes out clean for either.

6 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
1 stick margarine
1 tsp. vanilla
16 oz. powdered sugar
5 to 8 T. milk
chopped pecans, optional

Melt chocolate chips with margarine. Add rest of ingredients and blend, adding milk until desired consistency is reached. Spread over cake, hot or cold.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The morel of the story . . .

Morel mushrooms are one of the best things about living in Iowa. A neighbor gave us these beauties because we are apparently too lazy to go find our own. Neighbors are another great thing about living in Iowa.

Slice them lengthwise with a sharp knife. 
Be careful. Only you can prevent mushroom-slicing injuries.

Isn't this little guy cute?

Put the sliced mushrooms in a bowl of salt water and let them sit in the fridge overnight. This is supposed to get rid of any little critters who might be living in them. Occasionally the critters run/crawl/fly out when you slice them. Who knew mushrooms could be so exciting?

Here's what you need to make them yummy. You can use any kind of cooking oil. You can use any kind of breading, too, or crushed saltine crackers or even seasoned flour. I like Golden Dipt because it's easy and as I've mentioned before, I'm lazy. That's a duck egg, by the way, from Tammy's flock. Quack.

Beat the egg well with a few tablespoons of milk. 
Dip each mushroom half in the egg/milk mixture and let the extra drip off.

Here's a "mess" of mushrooms, ready to fry. It's always a "mess," never a batch or a bunch or a group. Don't ask me why. It's one of those Midwestern things. Or maybe "mess" refers to the condition of the counter and stovetop when I'm done . . .

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in the skillet, then put the mushrooms in.

Fry over medium heat until golden brown on each side, turning once. Don't use high heat or you'll get blackened mushrooms. And the smoke detector will go off. And your spouse will give you the hairy eyeball.

Ah, done at last. Aren't they lovely? 

Killer dogs in the hotel

Here are a few pics from the trip Michele and I took to KC a few weeks ago for the Linda Koutsky seminar.

I have to kill you now. 
(Notice the Lab nose on right side of the frame.) 

No, I will kill you first.
Stupid boys. (This is Cider, Michele's girl.)
Hey baby, wanna party?
Hurry up with the cookies, lady! 
(From left: Jamie, Cider, Phoenix, Bea)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Scott County, Day 2

Ever get what you wanted, but then it wasn't what you really wanted? Today was like that. We did improve our score a tiny bit (197) and we did tie for 1st (with Shirlee and Dreamer) but it wasn't the performance I was looking for.

It started out good. The heel on lead was beautiful. Stunning. Lovely. No crowding or bumping or any of that stuff I've been working hard to clean up, just smooth and driving and totally ON. Good boy! That's my dog! Aside from grabbing leash on the fast - a good solid catch this time, no casual nibbling like yesterday! - I was totally happy with that heeling.

Then the wheels fell off. Maybe not totally off. But they definitely came loose. The heel free was not a thing of beauty even though we only lost 2 points. I think the only reason he stayed with me was because he couldn't think of anything else to do at the moment. The recall was a casual affair, regardless of only being marked half a point off. Focus? Drive? Attention? Huh?

Then came the run-off. I had a dog for about half of it. Shirlee had a dog for about three-quarters. She won and was in a very good position to go HIT. The trial wasn't over when I left but Utility A was the only thing left and chances of beating a 197 out of UA are not high. She said that was Dreamer's last Novice B weekend and I'm thinking it was Phoenix's, too. We can move up to Graduate Novice for some summer trials and address the issues we're having in the context of of new exercises and only half the heeling. 

Is that really addressing the issues or running scared? We're entered in the 4RK9s UKC trial in a week. Guess we'll have to deal with them there! I know what the problem is, it's no mystery. The baby dog expects more paychecks than are being delivered in the ring and when the paychecks don't come, neither does the behavior. It comes, just not with the intensity I want. I need to make a concentrated effort to STOP USING SO MANY FREAKING COOKIES! There. I feel better now.

I am a food trainer and I admit it. I like to train with food. But it's so easy to get in the habit of TOO MUCH food and not sticking to criteria for what gets cookies and what doesn't. So, hello, wake-up call. Phoenix doesn't need a cookie for everything. (For doG's sake, don't ask him. He'll tell you otherwise.) Does he still need cookies? Well of course. You wouldn't work for free, would you? But he can get other rewards, too, like playing with me which he really enjoys, too. I have the bruises to prove it.

Bottom line? Stick to my criteria: attitude first, followed by precision. Work to extend the "pay periods," use timely jackpots of food/toys, continue to build myself as the primary motivator through play and using corrections that rev him up to try harder.

It's really a good thing I'm on furlough this week so I'll have time to train!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Scott County, Day 1

Wow, that show site is loud. I'd forgotten how loud it was.

Phoenix was awesome. And a little naughty. Really. I know that's hard to believe. He won Novice B w/196.5. I was hoping to improve our scores a bit this weekend (we've been very consistent with the mistakes we make), so maybe that will come tomorrow. Today, he gave me a lovely running recall, which we've been working hard on so I was pretty darned happy.

He grabbed the leash twice on the Figure 8, right off the "Forward" both times. Naughty little dog! I don't know if the judge saw it or not. There are advantages to having a black leash and a black-faced dog.

We did sits and downs by Shirlee J.'s Dreamer. Pretty funny, Dreamer and Phoenix were giving each other the "Let's ditch this place and go party" look. When Phoenix was a baby, he played with Dreamer and it was no holds barred, herding dog madness. Now that Nix is three times bigger than Dreamer, they don't play quite the same way but immediately recognize each other on sight.

The Farmer finished planting corn yesterday and got started on beans before a couple lines of thunderstorms rolled through and he got rained out. We got .8 of rain at our place but only .2 at his brothers, so they are working there tonight.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Waterloo show pic

Here's our picture from the Waterloo shows a few weeks ago. What a day!

This weekend we're off to the Scott County Kennel Club trials in Rock Island, Ill. It's a total zoo of a show site with conformation, obedience, rally AND agility under one very big roof. It's a big spectator show, too, especially on Sunday, Mother's Day. The Maligator won't have any trouble finding people to shed on . . . err . . . pet him.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cardiologist #2 - Done!

Today's cardiologist visit was a rather mystifying waste of time. I spent 45 minutes sitting in the waiting room (of course I had a good book with me so it wasn't a total waste) and 5 minutes talking to the doctor, who just repeated everything from yesterday's appointment, then told me he'd see me again in a year.

So not really sure what the point of it was, although I got to have lunch out again, did more flower shopping at Earl May's, bought my niece Alicia's shower gift (won't be able to go to the shower, same weekend as Ames agility) and had DQ on the way back to work. So not an entire waste of the morning.

Hopefully after the nuclear stress test next week (they assure me I will NOT glow in the dark, Rilda, but if I did, what fun for camping!), I will be done with hospitals, doctors, clinics, tests, etc. at least until July, when I have a two-month check up with the heart rhythm doc.

In the meantime, it's life as usual, which is WONDERFUL! And I can even have the tiniest bit of caffeine now. Maybe I'll live on the edge and have a Diet Coke this weekend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Good news from the cardiologist!

This morning I went the first of two appointments with cardiologists to follow up on the mess that landed me in the hospital right before Easter (or 3 days after Phoenix's debut at the ICDOC trials, although I'm pretty sure there was no connection).

Today I saw an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in abnormal heart rhythms. Yes, after 43 years, it has been officially confirmed that I am not normal.

Anyway, GOOD NEWS, they don't want to do ablation surgery to correct the problem, at least not at this point and possibly not ever but that's hard to say. Right now, we're going to manage it with medicine, although it might take a little while to get the right combination of drugs/dosage figured out. Great, just when I was finally remembering when to take the original prescriptions, now they've all changed.

Although atrial fibrillation is considered heart disease, it is an electrical malfunction as opposed to disease of the arteries, chambers, valves, etc. Apparently I have a very strong, healthy heart except for the fact it fires off abnormal electrical impulses whenever it feels like it. Sort of like "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

Apparently, I am ultra-abnormal because the doctor told me adenosine (the medicine they gave me in the ambulance to "cardiovert" me back to normal rhythm) does NOT work on atrial fibrillation. Well, who am I to argue. The paramedic gave it to me, my heart rate dropped from 181 beats per minute to 60. Pretty good for a medicine that shouldn't have worked. Coincidence? Who knows. Welcome to my abnormal life.

Next week, I get to take a nuclear stress test to see if any of my arteries are clogged. This is a two-day event, carefully scheduled on Wednesday/Thursday, between going to Chicago with Marsha on Tuesday to pick up little Vinnie and showing Phoenix at the 4RK9s trial on Friday. Good thing I'm on furlough next week, I'm going to be too busy to work!

Since I had taken the whole day off, I did some shopping at Gander Mountain and a couple of greenhouses. Now I have flowers to plant. If I get busy, I can get some of them in the ground before going to agility class tonight.

Tomorrow, I go back to see the cardiologist at St. Luke's. I'm not sure what he's going to tell me but hey, it's more time out of the office.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Linda Koutsky seminar

The Linda Koutsky seminar over the weekend was fantastic! If you get a chance to see her, do it. A word of warning: her training style is not for trainers who only want to put out a minimal effort or those who are reluctant to stray from the “traditional” approaches to obedience training. Her methods are geared at making interaction with the trainer the ultimate reinforcer, not a cookie or a toy, and at challenging the dog to truly perform, not just go through the motions of the same old routines over and over. The results are great but you will sweat! (Which totally justifies everything I ate all weekend. Honest.)

I went looking for ideas to bring Phoenix’s obedience work ethic (not sure I like that word but can’t think of a better one) up to his full potential. He likes obedience and is a happy, cheerful worker. Obviously, he’s doing fairly well in the ring so far but I feel like he is occasionally just phoning it in and not as truly engaged and driven as he could be. I’ve seen this dog in total focused drive (and lived to tell about it) so can tell when he’s giving me everything he’s got and when he isn’t.

Linda believes in “hands on” dog training: touch is vital both in the context of correction and reward. I won’t forget the video she played of rats who zoomed through a maze to reach a person who would “tickle” them. No food involved! Her corrections (get those jerk, yank and ear pinch visions OUT of your head right now, out I say!) build the dog up to try harder the next time and with more drive.

It’s impossible to mimic another trainer’s style completely and you’ll drive your dog insane if you switch methods every time you go to a seminar, but I brought home a list of ideas from Linda that I can’t wait to plug into Phoenix’s training. I admit I use food entirely too much, don’t play nearly enough and have obviously made a complete mud puddle out of some of the concepts I’ve tried to teach. It’s a good thing I’m taking my second furlough from work next week; I’ll have lots of time to train.

Major thanks to Renee for inviting me and Michele to come down and to the Greater Kansas City Dog Training Club for hosting the seminar. And HUGE thanks to Linda for all the inspiration and new ideas. She has no idea how much Phoenix is going to thank her. Or maybe she does.

Rilda, there was no spoon fetching. But if she knew about that, she'd like it.

Here are just a few highlights from the weekend:

• Flash sessions with 20 other dogs on the floor and Phoenix never tried to eat anyone who got in his face. Not once. And he had plenty of chances. Good boy.

• Doing hand-touches and realizing Phoenix can levitate 4 feet off the floor. Is this really a behavior I want to encourage?

• “Small dog people have nothing to complain about. They get to have little crates, little cars, little dumbbells, little gloves, little food and little poop. You bought it, you train it.” (Does this sound like Natalie or what? Seriously, when she was about 3, Nat looked at Phoenix and told me, “You bought him, you train him.” I love that kid.)

• A 30-foot bungee cord with a toy on the end, stretched to 50 feet, then released, for building drive on go-outs. AWESOME! Phoenix wants one for Christmas. Protective eye-wear not included but I still have both eyeballs and no stitches were involved. Marsha, the weasels would love this. Linda called it "lure-coursing go-outs." I think Michele was just waiting to drive me to the ER.

• Michele wearing her neon yellow “I train with Melinda Wichmann” T-shirt Sunday. Make it stop! At least she had excuses if Cider messed something up: A) she trains with me, which explains EVERYTHING and B) Cider was probably blinded by the shirt.

• Tickling rats.

• Eating too much spring salad at lunch. Then going back for more.

• Speaking of eating too much, the Italian buffet Saturday night. Incredible. Just throw me in a wheelbarrow and roll me out the door.

• Don’t rehearse a behavior you don’t want. (Okay, probably a bad one to put right after two references to over-eating.)

• Ring carry-over is about honesty. Does your dog REALLY work that well at home or are you relying on crutches (food, leash, etc.)?