Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jamie the healer

Jamie is the "healer dog" at our house. If you have an owie of any kind, he will sniff it out and try to lick it. Sometimes this is appreciated. Other times, not so much. Several years ago, I had some extensive dental work done and it didn't go so well. Jamie nearly drove me crazy, trying to lick my face all the time. As it turned out, the particular spot he was focussed corresponded to a place in my jaw that was not healing properly.

When I had a corneal ulcer, he was constantly trying to sniff my eye and he is also very concerned about ears and noses (a serious job in a house full of people with allergies.) I think I could take him to the U of I Hospitals and find him full-time employment.

Lately, he has transferred these diagnostic and healing skills to Phoenix. My apologies for the pictures. They are not shining examples of photography. Actually, they are examples of late afternoon sun shining through the west kitchen window.

Phoenix tore up the "bumper pad" on one leg playing chase games with Katie over the weekend. Yes, Jen, your 12 pound (?) sheltie girl injured the big, tough malinois. Phoenix is not very bothered by it but Jamie thinks it needs attention. Phoenix has kind of "Whatever, dude" approach to all this nursing.

"You have an owie. Let me see it."

"Lie still so I can clean your foot. Here, I will hold you down."

"Kid, you are a mess. What have you done to your hind foot? I will clean it, too."

Monday, June 29, 2009

More adventures in the Conroy Park

The best thing about being home on the weekend is having time to pack up jumps and ring gates and go somewhere for a a training session that isn’t rushed by the need to do some domestic crap, teach a class, etc. It seems like all too often, my training is done in a hurry on weeknights: a quick 10 minutes here, another stolen 5 minutes there, working fronts and finishes while waiting my turn at agility class, doing stays around the house (put the baby dog between the OTCh. dogs and hope he absorbs something), trying to get a fast session done before the class I teach on Thursdays, you know, that sort of thing.

Admitedly, that’s better than not training at all and in all honestly, training that way makes me focus on the job at hand because there isn’t time for screwing around. I can get a lot done in a short amount of time and for the most part, it works.

But ahhhh . . . the pleasure of driving to a park and knowing if I want to train for 20 minutes or an hour, it’s totally up to me and my dog.

So Phoenix and I took off for the Conroy Park Saturday morning. We got there at 7:15 a.m. What’s this? There are people here! In my park! Nobody in Conroy gets up that early!

Come to find out, the park was a staging area for the Conroy Fun Day 5K. Which, by the way, might have been the world’s smallest 5K. Not that I’m an expert or anything but I think there were more people working the registration table and acting as race officials than there were runners.

I set up my jumps and stuff at the far end of the park and we had a great training session. It wasn’t “great” in terms of Phoenix doing everything perfectly because he was certainly distracted by the race preparation and made all sorts of errors. But it was excellent in terms of having time to slow down and work through those distractions and show him A) he COULD ignore them and B) he WOULD be well paid for continuing to ignore them.

Remember what I said about the Conroy Park in an earlier post this month? Now I have another form of transportation to add to the lawnmowers, ATVs, golf carts and tractors people use to get around town. A skid-loader! Yep, a fellow drove up on his skid-loader, parked it and went on his merry way. I think (hope) he was going to move equipment with it later but didn’t stick around to watch.

We finished our session by doing a sit/stay while the race started and people ran, jogged, walked and stumbled down the street past us. I’m sure Phoenix thought this was one of the most bizarre behaviors he’s ever seen: humans running in a pack but no prey in sight.

Just as I was putting my stuff away, a gal came over and wanted to pet my dog. Of course, he was happy to oblige. (Please, rub some MORE loose hair out of my dog. Wait, here's a brush, knock yourself out!) Her bro-in-law is a K9 officer in Muscatine and has a malinois drug dog so she actually recognized what breed ‘Nix was. That doesn’t happen every day, especially in Conroy!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bonus dogs!

Around here, we call any "extra" animals "bonus" animals. We have the occasional bonus cat and when friends' dogs come to stay for the weekend, they are bonus dogs.

From left: Phoenix, Katie, Jamie, Connor, Beau

Having a pack of 5 is not that much different than a pack of 3. Granted, the two "bonus dogs" combined would only equal one Belgian, at least in terms of weight, but not necessarily in terms of busy-ness.

Katie is the definition of busy. She makes me laugh. So far, she has helped me do laundry, take a shower, empty the trash, pull weeds, fix two meals for humans and  three meals for dogs. She has her nose in everything. Her first job in the morning is to set Phoenix straight on a few things, then they are friends for the rest of the day. Actually, it's a little scary how much alike they are.

Beau is taking a more laid back approach to being "at camp." He likes hanging out under the kitchen table and in Connor's crate. It doesn't matter if Connor is already in his crate or not. He is such a handsome boy. I could have a blue dog.

Jen and Spencer will pick them up tomorrow evening. I think Phoenix will miss Katie. They invented a new game this morning while I was weeding flowers. The Farmer and his dad were in and out a lot, driving up and down the lane on tractors and the four-wheeler. Katie LOVED to run the fenceline, barking madly at them. Phoenix ran a careful two feet parallel to her, barking equally madly. They played that game ALL morning and are now exhausted.

Time to get cleaned up for the wedding. The Farmer's sister called. He and I are now in charge of transporting 16 floral arrangements from the church to the reception. Possibly during a thunderstorm. In a skirt. Oh yeah. What can go wrong with this?

Friday, June 26, 2009

A pretty picture this time

Took this Tuesday night after all the scary weather rolled through. The skies cleared just before sunset and produced this beautiful double rainbow.

We have house guests this weekend: shelties Katie and Beau are visiting while Jen and Spencer enjoy a get-away to the Twin Cities. Katie moved in and made herself right at home. Beau is not sure this is a very good idea but as long as the cookies keep coming, he's making the best of it. Hope to post pics soon.

Tomorrow is niece Alicia's wedding at Immanuel Lutheran at 4:30 p.m. The Storm Prediction Center has us earmarked for severe weather potential in the late afternoon. Would it be too redneck of me to take my all-hazards weather radio in my purse and get updates during the ceremony?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A midsummer night's obedience dream

“If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

In other words, the definition of insanity is doing something the same way every time but expecting different results.

Over the last three months, I’ve enjoyed the beginning of an incredible journey with Phoenix. We’ve debuted in the obedience ring, had a tremendous amount of fun, earned some titles, had some spectacular successes and some resounding failures and I’ve learned a lot about my dog along the way. The best part of it has been spending time with a dog I love very much and a group of supportive, creative, wonderful friends.

Since we have two months off from trials, now is a great time to re-evaluate where we’ve been, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

My training goal is to be ready to show in UKC Open Aug. 8 and 9 in Ft. Dodge. (Hopefully we won’t have to camp in the chicken barn again.) In order to do this, we need to:

• Put a turn, front and finish with the broad jump while continuing to cement the concept of jumping the center of the jump, not cutting the edge. And not touching any part of the jump with any part of the dog.

• Proof the drop on recall so he understands HE doesn’t get to choose when he drops, even though that is apparently an incredible amount of fun.

• Continue heeling training: body position, head position, turns (especially driving and wrapping to the right) and halts, plus maintaining position during speed changes. In other words, pretty much every aspect of heelwork.

• Proof retrieves both on the flat and over the high.

• Continue building speed on all recall/retrieve exercises.

• Continue to work out of sight stays, especially around the house when he thinks I am not paying any attention and might not actually mean it.

Perhaps the most important thing on my training to-do list is attitude building. Obedience will always be about precision, control and formality. That’s the nature of the beast. But don’t get me wrong, that can all be done with a great deal of joy and enthusiasm and that is my #1 goal beyond any title or score.

So here’s my final goal for this summer: to build attitude without over-reliance on toys and cookies. I was so pleased to have quit using so dang many cookies until a dear training friend pointed out I had just substituted toys for the cookies and was still very reliant on those external motivators to get attitude. Thank you, RS!

There! I’ve put it out there on the Web for billions of people to read! People in Timbuktu know my training goals! If that doesn’t get me off my arse and outside to train my dog, I don’t know what will.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More wild weather

This shelf cloud was the leading edge of a severe thunderstorm that rolled through late this afternoon, just as I got home from work. It brought straightline winds of 60-70 mph to some places in eastern Iowa but I don't think they were that strong at our place. We had a few small tree limbs down but nothing like the straightline winds back in June '98 that tore the hell out of everything.

Since Friday evening, we've had three rounds of severe t-storms that brought torrential rainfall, flash flooding and wall clouds with rotation, then heat indices over 100 degrees and now this cool shelf cloud and high winds. Could we have some nice weather for a spell? How the heck am I supposed to train my crazy dog with all this thunder and lightning?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hawkeye trials

Showed Phoenix in Graduate Novice last weekend. It was a weekend of fun, frustration, good friends, achievement, disappointment and the realization that I need to put more energy into this dog if I am going to get the level of work from him I want. In other words, it was a typical obedience trial.

Saturday, our ring work was not terribly inspired. Heeling was laggy and everything else was a ho-hum affair. Phoenix invented a new exercise, the "Recall Retrieve with Stop and Drop." No points for creativity there, just a big, fat NQ. Honestly, if you TRIED to teach some of the stuff dogs come up with in the ring, you couldn't do it. I would have blamed the heat and humidity except the building we showed in was about 56 degrees and I think there was a wind chill from the ceiling fans. Darn, can't use that as an excuse.

I worked Phoenix at the match Saturday night, playing lots of running and chase games and felt good about where we were. Plus his group exercises with the Open dogs were great and I'm more confident we'll be ready for Open by late summer.

Sunday's judging was a marathon affair due to our judge being "shared" between breed and obedience assignments, both of which brought in much higher numbers than anticipated. Then she had to put her Open B assignment on hold before it was finished to go and judge the hound group! Needless to say, obedience judging continued long after Best In Show. To make a long story short, it was after 5 p.m. before Phoenix and I made it into the ring, the first time in more than 30 years of showing that I'd ever gone in the ring that late. Aside from the judge, stewards and a few folks who were still loading up their stuff, we had the building to ourselves.

His attitude was much better and he powered through the heeling like the dog I thought I'd trained. Horray! (Truly an improvement or lack of any other distractions?) My left hand mysteriously returned to my waistline. I swear I cannot remember where I want to carry that arm! Phoenix's head position is slipping — not that I'm into dogs who heel with their heads totally vertical but he is dropping his lower and lower and with that, comes a lack of eye contact. Sigh. Another problem to fix. Gee, what would I do with all my time if I had a perfect dog?

Aside from whacking the last board of the broad jump with a hind paw (I swear, we are under some kind of broad jump curse), he worked a 196.5 to win the class for his second GN leg. Do I have to say we were the only entry? No? Good.

We're off obedience trials for eight weeks now and boy, do we have a lot of work to do. Actually, no trials at all until a four-day agility blast the end of July. Time to train!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My first rotating wall cloud

I intended to write about my weekend at the Hawkeye KC trials but Mother Nature had other ideas this evening.

The Storm Prediction Center had our section of the state under a slight risk for severe weather throughout the late afternoon and evening. I got home from the trial late (6 p.m.! We didn't get in the ring until 5:10 p.m. More on that in another post, I promise!) and lines of storms were beginning to fire to the west. A tornado had touched down several counties to the north and the TV stations all launched into severe weather coverage mode.

There's been a drought (no pun intended) of severe weather this spring, so now, on the first day of summer, I was ready to score some serious radar watching. Seriously, this is probably a form of mental illness. Or I just like to look at the bright colors. Whatever. It's usually more entertaining than regular programming anyway.

Wasn't long before a thunderstorm cell forming in Iowa County was getting serious attention. About the time I decided to go out and have a look-see (that's very technical storm spotter jargon for going out behind the machine shed and looking west), my weather radio blasted off on the kitchen counter and reported Iowa County was now tornado warned as a wall cloud had been reported near Conroy. Conroy is 5 miles directly west of our house.

And here it is.

I stood there and watched that cloud until I started feeling a little bit uneasy. I didn't call it in to the National Weather Service because someone else had obviously beaten me to it and I figured they were probably going a little crazy with multiple severe cells popping up all over and didn't need duplicate reports.

I went back in the house just in time to hear my weather radio blaring out another warning. Trained weather spotters had reported a wall cloud with rotation, moving east out of Conroy at 20 miles an hour. It would arrive near Homestead at 8:40 p.m.

D*mn sneaky thing. There wasn't any rotation a couple of seconds ago. Someone was trying to steal my thunder (sorry, pun intended; I couldn't help it). Out I went again for another look-see.

A section of the cloud had lowered. It's really hard to show rotation in a still photo and I'm still such a beginner at this storm spotting stuff but it was both thrilling and terrifying to realize parts of that cloud were indeed rotating, the first step in becoming a genuine twister. It proves the weather can change in literally the blink of an eye. 

We were starting to get some lightning by then so I bolted back to the house. Jamie put himself in the basement, Phoenix helped me monitor windows and Connor was sound asleep. I think the Farmer was worried we were going to have to go to the basement on this one and he was going to have to carry Phoenix.

We didn't get anything out of this particular storm cell besides some heavy rain and lightning. I spent the next two hours watching live weather coverage on TV and watching live weather right outside our back door. The lightning show in the the storm cell that went to our south was spectacular after the sun set. 

Jamie came up out of the basement about 30 minutes ago — an all-clear signal if there ever was one — and I think we're headed for bed now.

Friday, June 19, 2009


We got 3.5" of rain in about an hour late this afternoon during a severe thunderstorm, which caused a lot of flash flooding. Interstate 80 and Highways 151 and 6 were closed throughout the county. I made my first storm spotter report to the National Weather Service! 

This is the bridge over Clear Creek one mile south of our house. The creek is usually at the base of the treeline and the bank is about 6 feet steep. You could go water skiing in the neighbor's soybean field. An amazing amount of water.

This is Clear Creek west of our house. Again, the creek is normally at the base of the treeline and is not visible unless you are driving over the bridge, looking down at it. The Farmer is concerned about what he will find when the water goes down, namely a lack of fences as well as crops.

All for now. Phoenix and I were at the Hawkeye KC match in Iowa City when the storm hit. We ended up driving home in the tail end of it, just heavy rain by that point, the wind and lightning had moved on to the east. That much rain, coming that fast, did not do the country roads any favors. Wonder what things will look like in the morning? These storms covered a lot of territory so I know there is a lot of water still coming down from upstream.

A visit to the chiro

"The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs."

The Belgians went to see their chiropractor, Dr. Fred, on Wednesday. I’ve been taking them to him for about two years now.

Phoenix loves Dr. Fred. He sits quietly and lets him manipulate him from nose to tail. Phoenix rarely needs more than a minor tweaking, which confirms my suspicions he is indeed made out of rubber and springs. The way that crazy dog flings himself around in both work and play makes me wince. There is no way leaping off the bed sideways with a half-twist while flinging a ball over your head and rotating mid-air so you don’t land on the old sheltie, then crashing into the wall and surfing across the bedroom floor on a dog bed can be good for any part of your body.

Jamie thinks Dr. Fred is the Devil incarnate. Of course, he thinks that about any strange man who wants to put his hands on him. Stranger danger! After multiple visits I think he’s being a bit of a drama king but that’s typical Jamie. Jamie always gets his money’s worth out of a chiropractic visit. He is usually out of whack in his neck, lower back, hips and pelvis. This is most likely the result of having Rubber Dog bouncing off him all the time. In spite of it all, Dr. Fred says my big red dog is in excellent condition with no signs of arthritis/heat/swelling/soreness in any of his joints. This is great news, since he turns 10 next month.

Our weekend agenda is the Hawkeye Kennel Club trials in Iowa City, Graduate Novice both days and ring-rental matches both this afternoon and tomorrow. I'm looking forward to another fun weekend with dog friends AND being able to sleep in my own bed at night, no camping in the poultry barn this time. I'm still shopping for a new air mattress.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Phoenix, the fashion police

Another post that would be improved with photographs . . . or not.

This morning after breakfast, the Farmer was looking for a hat. Now honestly, you do not have to look very far at our house to find a hat. They are everywhere: on the back porch, on the coat rack in the kitchen, in the basement, hanging off the living room lamp (seriously) and occasionally in a few other places where hats really do not need to live. It’s a hazard of being married to a farmer. When farmers buy things like cattle, machinery, seed, chemicals, trucking and the like, they always get a hat. I do not want to think about how much those “free” hats cost.

This particularly desired hat was in the back bedroom. The Farmer trooped off to get it, accompanied by Phoenix, who thinks, well, who knows what he thinks but any adventure with dad has the potential for great fun and mayhen.

A few minutes later, Phoenix started screaming his head off. I mean, seriously loud and dangerous barks. It sounded like he had found an axe murderer hiding in the back bedroom. Okay, he had basically the same reaction last winter when he looked out the living room window and came face to face with a bunny sitting on a snowdrift, looking in the window. You can’t be too careful with those bunnies.

Anyway, I ran into the dining room and there was Phoenix, going totally ballistic on the Farmer . . . who was wearing my Professor McGonagal hat from a Harry Potter themed birthday party last Halloween. It is fairly spectacular, as far as witch’s hats go, very tall and shiny with abundant black plumage and netting. It had been hanging on the coat tree next to the hat the Farmer was looking for.

This is proof that the Farmer has a sense of humor. (But one may question his good sense when it comes to teasing a malinois . . .)

Phoenix thought the hat was totally inappropriate and was doing an admirable Schutzhund “bark and hold.”

Jamie and Connor stared at both of them like they were out of their mind.

See how my mornings start? And people wonder why I am the way I am!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wild times at Ft. Dodge

The plan when I left work at noon last Friday was to zoom home, fill the cooler, load the dogs and head north to Fort Dodge, a 3-hour drive. The van was already packed and ready to go. I wanted to get to the show site in time to get a good camping spot, set up my crate and chair in the building and work Phoenix in the ring-rental match that evening.

Everything went right on schedule until I opened the kitchen cupboards under the sink to grab a garbage bag and found a re-enactment of the floods of 2008 going on. How ironic, since it was the one-year anniversary of the record-setting crest in Cedar Rapids. There was water EVERYWHERE.

The Farmer came in right then. The man’s timing is perfect.

I pointed out the water gushing down the back wall of the cabinet from a madly leaking faucet and said, “You’re gonna want to do something about that. See ya Sunday night. Love ya, bye.” And I bolted.

Was that horrible? Remember, this is the man who A) left me to dump 250 pounds of spoiled meat by myself when the dogs’ freezer went out in August a few years ago and B) left me to clean up the house after the “Disorder of the Phoenix” incident which was HIS fault in the first place. He always had somewhere else he “needed to be.” And Friday, so did I. Turnabout is fair play. (Really, he is a wonderful man even though we drive each other crazy at times.)

It started to rain about an hour out of Ft. Dodge. The closer I got to the show site, the harder it rained. I seemed to be having all sorts of problems with water.

No big deal, I thought, it’ll clear off in a couple of hours. In the meantime, I got set up in the obedience building and logged some training time at the match. By 7 p.m., the rain showed no signs of letting up. If anything, it was coming down harder. I cruised through the show site, the Webster County Fairgrounds, wondering where to tent and how I was going to get it set up without drowning or burying C3 up to her axles in mud.

4-H fairgrounds are wonderful places. They are full of those long, low, open-sided barns where the kids stall their cattle, sheep, hogs, poultry and rabbits during the county fair. I decided one of those barns, with a good solid roof and cement floor was just what I was looking for. I backed C3 into the poultry barn and set up my tent. We slept snug and dry. Except for having to re-inflate my air mattress at 3 a.m., barn-camping was ideal.

Saturday was Phoenix’s first time in Graduate Novice. He won the class by merit of being the last dog standing, so to speak. He was the only qualifier in a class of 6 and I was tremendously proud of his behavior on the long down, his first time doing this with a group of “strange” dogs and me out of sight. Phoenix was the third dog in line. The first dog, a golden, got up and poked the second dog, a standard schnauzer. They exchanged some snappy snarlies and the stewards caught the golden but not the schnauzer. Thank doG the schnauzer had the good sense to leave Phoenix alone, went around him, and poked the fourth dog in line, a miniature poodle. When the poodle ignored him (good little girl), the schnauzer went dancing through the rest of the line-up until the stewards were finally able to corral him and the rest of the time passed in relative peace. I was so proud of Phoenix for minding his own business. Several exhibitors who were watching said he was giving the hairy eyeball to the two errant dogs and I’m also sure he was giving off a pretty strong aura of “Don’t mess with me.”

Phoenix is usually the only mal at area obedience trials and frequently, he is the only mal at all-breed shows with obedience trials as well. So imagine my delight at finding another mal entered this weekend. Not only that, it was Phoenix’s half-brother from one of his mom’s early litters. Polly F., a native Iowan now living in Arizona but traveling back to the state this summer, was there with Apache (Carousel’s Money Talks) from the Talk litter. Apache finished his CD with a nice score and 3rd place in the class. I enjoyed visiting with Polly who is active in Schutzhund with her mal boys. Apache and Phoenix had a very brief introduction but were not inclined to feel much brotherly love.

After another ring-rental match Saturday evening, it was back to the poultry barn. That $#@! air mattress sprung a serious leak and I woke up Sunday morning basically sleeping on the cement barn floor. I am now in the market for a new air mattress. Again. I do not have any luck with those things.

Sunday, Phoenix’s ring work was delightful. I heeled with my left arm at my side (totally forgot on Saturday and up it went, automatically) and I that was the NICEST heeling he’s ever given me in the ring, only .5 point off. He worked his fronts and his finishes were actually BRISK! And STRAIGHT! We have struggled with finishes, what a stupid little thing, so it was rewarding to see him put them together. A good thing, too, since there are 4 fronts/finishes in Grad Nov. However, the silly boy used the first board of the broad jump as a spring board, so we NQ’d. (Jump? What jump? Oh, THAT jump!) Only 3 dogs showed and everyone behaved him/herself on the long down, although Phoenix crawled a bit out of line (never lifted his elbows off the mat, according to Paula) and self-rewarded with a crunchy he found on the mat. Hmm, gotta proof for that!

When I got home, the Farmer/Plumber had installed a shiny new kitchen faucet and all was right with the world.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Training food for thought

Phoenix and I are off to play Graduate Novice games this weekend at Ft. Dodge. It’s our first real camping weekend of the season (our over-nighter at Ames a few weeks ago being somewhat of a pseudo-camping experience).

Next weekend is the Hawkeye Kennel Club trials in Iowa City (which got cancelled last year due to the floods) and after that, it’s a no-man’s land of about two months without any local obedience trials before there are tons of great trials beginning in late August through November. I really love having a couple of summer months with nothing to focus on but training, no pressure to have our skills “ring ready” for a specific weekend. So the following article is really timely and I wanted to share it with you.

It was written by Laura Romanik and passed along to me via e-mail from friend and long distance obedience training partner Renee. It has a lot of EXCELLENT points and although it’s aimed at folks who do obedience, with a little tweaking it applies equally to agility or probably any other performance sport you enjoy with your dog.

“If you would like to take advantage of the fall show season, NOW is the time to start planning and preparing. You cannot expect to slouch over most of the summer, and then in late August suddenly start training on a regular schedule and frantically looking for matches, and get the results you want.

Right now you need to finish training the skills your dog will need for your fall g
oals. It’s OK to have a couple of holes or weaknesses at this point, but you better know what they are and have a plan for what you will do at each training session to improve those areas. You should also map out your opportunities to train in situations that will simulate a real trial, whether that be the above mentioned matches or group training get togethers. Put them on your calendar . . .

(This is one of my favorite paragraphs.)

“When you get to these matches and training opportunities, TRAIN, don’t just ru
n through. It does you absolutely no good to go to a fun match and stand there and do nothing while your dog makes mistakes, even if he would have still qualified. All you are doing is increasing his understanding that at home or in one or two familiar training locations you will correct his mistakes but everywhere else all bets are off. One of the main reasons for going to train in other places is to teach your dog to generalize the need to put forth the same effort you ask for at home to everywhere else.

“This doesn’t mean you always have to use a harsh physical correction. Initially your
response to a mistake in a new place should be the same as what you used to give at home for the same mistake when your dog was earlier in the learning process. In other words, always back up a step or two on your dog’s skills in new places. You might need to make the exercise easier. But don’t just ignore performance that is less than what you’d really like to see in the ring. If it is slightly disappointing but qualifying in a new place when you aren’t under the stress of a real trial worrying about legs or qualifying, it will be more disappointing or not qualifying when you do add that stress.

“Last weekend in Kalamazoo, they had ring rental time each day after the trial. I sat and watched even some top handlers ignore errors, presumably because what the dog did during the ring rental time was better than what it had done earlier in the trial. I’m guessing the dog did better because the handler was more relaxed, and projected more confidence because she knew she could correct if needed. So the dog did better but still showed hints of the earlier error. The handler missed a great opportunity to define the error to the dog and enforce completely correct performance in the same ring she was going to show in the next day. The next day, under the stress of a real trial and with no additional training that the error is wrong, the error was magnified again.

“Worse yet, is the people that go out of their way with their own handling to prevent an error, rather than let the dog make the mistake and fix it. Some of these things might be
smart handling in a real ring in order to save a qualifier or points, but most of them are penny wise and pound foolish in training. For example, in the ring you might see that your dog is about to anticipate the finish command and so throw your signal hand out as soon as the judge has “F…” out of her mouth. But every time you do that in training or at a run through, you are reinforcing the dog’s tendency to make that very mistake. You are reinforcing to the dog that the judge’s order is his cue to finish. Another example is the handler that waits or gives extra little body language when the dog hesitates or fails to complete a command. Say the dog is doing a drop on recall, and when told to down it stops and sits. In this situation I see many handlers wait to see if the dog will decide to complete the drop, or even cock their heads or tense their shoulders and lean forward slightly.

“In the real ring, if the ju
dge decides it was an extra cue, the dog may fail even if it does eventually go down. Even if you get away with it (and granted in the “A” classes it is more likely that you will), every time this happens the dog becomes less likely in the future to drop on the command alone and eventually he’ll start waiting for more and more of a body cue too. It’s basically the same thing as giving a dog the same command multiple times because he didn’t respond to the first one. You eventually teach the dog that responding to the first command is optional, and that if he really doesn’t want to do it right now he can just wait for an additional, or stronger, or repeated command to finally do it.

“So, get thee out to the fun matches, have fun, and TRAIN your dog!”

Laura Romanik and the Radiant Shelties

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Dawgs

Being silly with my teeny-tiny digital camera again. I LOVE that thing.

And I love my boys.

And yes, Jamie, who'll be 10 in July, is waaaaay grayer than Connor, who'll be 15 in August. Go figure. Obviously, being the Most Patient Dog In The World is hard work and gives you gray hairs.

Connor, the Skunk Dog

Jamie, the Coyote

Phoenix, the Maligator

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Training gone amuck

Last night Phoenix and I went to the park in Conroy to do some obedience training. It’s a tiny little park in a tiny little town but honestly, last night it had more distractions than a barrel full of monkeys. In fact, if we’d stayed much longer, I have complete confidence a barrel full of monkeys would have rolled out of somewhere. It was that kind of night.

One of my goals this summer is to train away from home AT LEAST once a week. I’m trying hard not to count training at SueAnn’s or Kay’s buildings, which we’re at frequently, because Phoenix has spent so much time there, he is virtually bombproof. While it’s great to have a “perfect” workout in a clean, quiet, matted, gated building, that’s just going through the motions and it’s not doing either of us any good.

What the two of us need are brand new training sites. I don’t worry about whether there are distractions there or not. Just being in a new site is enough of a distraction. Phoenix is 2 1/2. He’s got tremendous drive (food and play/prey) and a wonderful work ethic. He loves to train but he needs work on focusing on me and his work when there are other things going on. Last night’s session was an example of “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.”

We were just getting started when a squirrel ran across the grass in front of us and zipped up a tree. Squirrels rank right behind cats on Phoenix’s list of “Animals I Want To Get to Know Better and Must Catch One to Investigate and Possibly Eat.” He had a laser target lock on the tree where the squirrel disappeared. Not only was his brain totally focussed on the squirrel, his body had gone into something resembling full rigor. He was totally rigid from whiskers to tail. I tried tugging him in my direction. It was like tugging a cement statue. The evening’s training agenda I had so carefully crafted that afternoon (okay, it was a slow day at work) flew out the window.

First I had to get him back from Squirrel-vania. He wouldn’t watch me, wouldn’t play with me, wouldn’t do anything but obsess about that d*mn squirrel. I did some head holds, some bouncing and finally got him to tug, gradually playing closer and closer to the squirrel tree. The little varmint had disappeared. If he’d shown his face again, I might have climbed the tree and throttled him myself.

After about 10 minutes of this, Phoenix gave up on his squirrel pursuit and was once again “my” dog. I wiped the sweat off my brow, pulled out his dumbbell and was ready to start some retrieve work when something that sounded like the Hound of the Baskervilles launched from a house across the street. A fat beagle waddled onto the front porch and started baying. How could so much noise come out of such a small dog?

Phoenix was clearly annoyed. His reaction wasn’t so much a distraction issue as it was “Someone needs to go make that dog shut up and I’m volunteering.” While I heartily supported this in theory, it was unacceptable in reality and off we went again with a series of exercises to get his focus off the baying hound and back on me.

More hands-on corrections and more Crazy Dog Lady antics (imagine a middle-aged woman doing fake ballet leaps across the park, waving a fake-fur skunk pelt over her head, being chased by a dog with an insane gleam in his eye; honestly, it’s a wonder I haven’t been arrested) remedied the situation.

By now we’d been training for nearly 20 minutes and hadn’t done one darn thing I’d planned. I abandoned retrieving and decided to focus our remaining time working on drop on recalls.

I set him up in a stay, walked 40 feet away, turned, opened my mouth to start psyching him up and my voice was immediately drowned by the RATTLE-CLACKETY-CLACK of someone driving a lawn mower down the middle of the street. This is Conroy, remember. You could walk from one end of town to the other in two minutes but residents get from Point A to Point B by any means possible, including but not limited to ATVs, tractors, snowmobiles and, apparently, lawnmowers.

It was a question of who was staring harder. Phoenix decided he had never seen a lawnmower before in his life. (Granted, when he sees the mower at our house it is, well, mowing the lawn, not rattling down the street). He was staring at that mower like it was some bizarre mechanical creature in need of pursuit. The guy on the mower was staring at me like he’d never seen a woman with a dog in the park before. (Possibly he’d seen my ballet leaping, skunk-pelt flinging act earlier and was hoping for a repeat performance. Or not.) I was staring at Phoenix, wondering what in the h*ll was going to happen next and if maybe, just maybe, we could possibly string together 5 minutes of productive training before we ran out of daylight.

The mower proved less interesting than the squirrel (still up the tree) or the beagle (still baying on the porch) and we did indeed manage to salvage 10 minutes of uninterrupted training before I called it a night.

In retrospect, it might not have been the training session I had in mind but it certainly gave me multiple chances to work through distractions. I also figure it qualifies as aerobic exercise although darned if I know how I’m going to explain it to my cardiologist.

Monday, June 8, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night

If you live in a part of the country where severe thunderstorms are not a part of your weather reality, you haven’t had the joy of being woken up in the middle of the night by a storm phobic dog who is sure every crack of thunder spells impending doom. In my pack of three, Connor is oblivious and sleeps through everything; Jamie is the weather watcher who can alert to dropping barometric pressure two states away, and Phoenix, well, Phoenix thinks its very exciting for the humans to be awake at 2 a.m., watching live color radar on TV. And the Farmer? He doesn’t believe anything the weather forecasters say although he constantly asks me (the journalism and English major) what the weather is going to do.

1 a.m., dogs and humans are sleeping. Thunder rumbles faintly in the distance.

Jamie: Poke. Poke-poke. POKE-POKE-POKE!

Me (waking up): Get your nose out of my armpit.

Jamie: Storm coming. We should go to the basement.

Me: It’s thundering 40 miles away. We are not going to the basement.

Jamie: You’ll be sorry.

Me: Go to sleep.

Phoenix: What’s up? Party?

Me: No party. Go to sleep.

Jamie: We should go to the basement.

Phoenix: I’m not going down there. Scary.

Me: No party. No basement. Go. To. Sleep.

Jamie (snort): Fine. Nobody listens to me.

Phoenix: She’s crabby.

1:45 a.m. Thunder is closer now. Wind is whipping bedroom curtains.

Jamie: Poke. Poke-poke. Oh to h*ll with it. (Leaps on bed.)

Me: Oooph! Get off my stomach!

Jamie: Storm coming. We should go to the basement.

Me (noticing curtains are blowing straight out): OK, it’s going to storm. But we don’t need to go to the basement. Get off my stomach. I want to shut the windows.

Jamie: Can’t move. Scared.

Farmer: Why is the bed vibrating?

Me (rolling eyes): Jamie says its going to storm. (Shoves 60 pounds of vibrating Tervuren off stomach and shuts windows.)

Farmer: It’s not going to storm. ZZZZZZZZZ

Jamie: Woe is me. I’m going to die.

Me: You are not going to die. You’re rocking the bed. Go lie down.

Phoenix: Party now?

Me: NO PARTY. Go lie down and go to sleep.

Jamie and Phoenix: She’s really crabby.


2 a.m. Rain slams into the house, thunder rolls and lightning crashes, illuminating the bedroom in a wash of silver. Outside, wind is howling and tree branches are creaking. Something that might have been an agility jump goes flying by the window.

Jamie (leaping onto the bed): Basement! Now! Battle stations! Full speed ahead! Man the lifeboats!

Me: OUCH! You are a freaking nutcase. Get off my head!

Phoenix (leaping onto bed): It IS a party! I knew it!

Farmer (shoving tails out of his face): %$#?* dogs.

Me (flipping on TV): Since we’re all awake anyway . . .

TV meteorologist: . . . go to your safe place NOW. Repeating, a tornado warning has been issued for -

Jamie: He said go to the basement! LISTEN TO HIM!

Me: That’s for Poweshiek County. We don’t live in Poweshiek County.

Jamie: Close enough!

Phoenix: I am NOT going in that basement and you can’t make me.

From the kitchen: assorted bizzare electronic noises.

Farmer: Now what!

Me: That’s my all-hazards weather radio going off. A tornado warning has been issued for Iowa County.

Jamie (crawling onto the Farmer’s chest): I told you! Now will you listen to me?

Farmer: GET OFF OF ME you big hot hairy panting vibrating dog!

Phoenix (bouncing around on the bed): Party-party-party-party!

Me: Look at that big red blob on radar. Cool.

Farmer: I can’t see it. Get your dog off my face.

Me (grabbing Phoenix): Uh-oh. That blob is headed right for us. Maybe we should go to the basement.

Farmer: You’re the storm spotter.

Me: I can’t spot anything in the dark.

The story ends here because in the 18 years we’ve been married, the Farmer and I have never actually gone to the basement. There have been two times we’ve come very close. Jamie, on the other hand, sends himself to the basement on a regular basis during severe weather season. If the weather gets a bit twitchy, I leave the basement door open and he goes down on his own. This seems to bring him some comfort. Phoenix will not follow him. And Connor usually sleeps through the whole thing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fun in the sun

I took today off work and this morning, Phoenix and I went up to Tammy's place and shared a two-hour private agility lesson with her and Seeker from Michele Persian. This is the first time in my life I've ever taken a private agility lesson and it was totally worth it.

Michele was extremely patient with me as it was apparent I:
A) had never seen a dog before
B) had never seen agility equipment before
C) had two left feet, or
D) had two right feet
E) didn't know my left from my right, and
F) was basically clueless

The time flew by and I got tons of great ideas that (providing I get out there and WORK them - WHAT? You have to train this stuff?) will improve my ability to handle Phoenix with more accuracy and a lot less frustration on both our parts. It's incredible how agility training has changed since we lured our first dogs slowly across the dog walk, yelling "EASY! EASY!" the whole time.

Phoenix is totally exhausted. Since we got home, he just lays on the floor and rolls his eyes at me when I walk by. I think his brain is full, too.

Thanks, Michele, for all your insights and thanks, Tammy, for hosting her and providing such an absolutely, perfectly, wonderfully, beautiful Iowa June day for playing agility outdoors.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A study in blue

Blue is my favorite color. Royal blue, navy blue, sky blue, cornflower blue, denim blue, teal blue, whatever. Blue is definitely my team color. So it's little wonder I have lots of blue flowers in my gardens. Here are a few of them.

This is Siberian squill. It blooms early in the spring. A word of caution, if you plant Siberian squill, you will never get rid of it. Never. Ever. This is a small portion of a patch I thought I'd "dug out" the previous fall. So much for that. (Did you know if you double click the pics in this blog, they blow up to full screen size? It took me a long time to figure that out. But they do. Now you know.)

I have no idea what kind of flowers these are. They are a perennial I bought cheap last spring and stuck in an empty spot. The little clump tripled in size this spring and bloomed throughout May and are still blooming now. If anyone can tell me what they are, I would appreciate it. Everything needs a name!

This is perennial salvia. They are gorgeous and very hardy. They bloom May through June. The only drawback is they attract bumblebees. Lots of bumblebees. I'm thinking they should attract hummingbirds, too, but maybe the bumblebees have scared them off. I know they scare me.

These are my very favorite bearded iris. They are just plain gorgeous. That's the newspaper office in the background. It is not so gorgeous.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The dumbbell saga continues

After the fates conspired and Phoenix's PERFECT dumbbell broke, I ordered him a new one from Max200. That was back on May 21. When it hadn't arrived by June 1, I called them. "We'll ship it today," they said. Hmmm, 11 days to ship an in-stock size dumbbell, especially when their Web site says they ship within three days? Wonder how long it would have taken if I hadn't called?

Here is Phoenix with what is left of his perfectly-sized Joe Feist dumbbell.

"This was NOT my fault. Just want to make that clear."

Below is Phoenix's old "training" dumbbell. It is not fit to go in the ring. Actually, the chew marks are not from Phoenix. They are from Jamie. Sweet, patient, gentle Jamie . . . who has teeth like an industrial buzz saw. If the Max200 dumbbell is not satisfactory (providing it ever gets here), I will have J&J make me one just like this. But it won't look like it's been gnawed by a rabid wolverine.

In the meantime, Phoenix has been trying on some of his friends' dumbbells.

"Mom, this isn't going to work."

"I am Petra, queen of the demon pomeranians.
Do not put malinois slobber on my dumbbell."

(Now honestly, whose idea was it to take a picture of a black dog against a black background? But on the bright side, Petra finished her CDX a few weeks after this picture was taken.
Maybe malinois slobber is a lucky charm?)

"You have GOT to be kidding. I could poke my eye out with this thing."
(This dumbbell belongs to Sydney, a PWD who preferred pick up dumbbells by the ends, not the bit. A custom job with monster ends from J&J fixed that problem.)

Will Phoenix's new dumbbell ever arrive? Will it be suitable? Will I end up spending a small fortune again to find the perfect dumbbell? Don't I have anything more important to think about? (No. Duh.) Stay tuned!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ames agility

The Ames agility weekend was as much fun as ever. Great friends, excellent weather and of course, FOOD! The only bummer was Rilda the Deer Slayer reducing the Linn County deer population Saturday morning. Thank goodness she wasn't hurt, her car is drivable and looks really cool and redneck with the bumper held on with duct tape. Three cheers for Mike taking her tire to get fixed. Wonder if Sophie and Ryelee have chewed the deer fur off the rim yet.

Phoenix and I came home empty handed when it came to ribbons but I am really proud of my wild dog for the way he ran. And the way I ran, too! Probably my biggest overall goal with Phoenix in agility is to change my running style from "spectating" to having my dog chase me around the course at top speed. I got into the habit of being a "spectating" handler with Jamie, who had one speed, a pleasant lope, and I had all the time in the world to watch him as he ran.

Not so much with Phoenix. He loves to chase - meaning I need to be ahead of him - and I'm learning a totally new approach to handling. Some days it comes easier than others. Of course, this means I need to burn a calorie and RUN! (If I didn't have a heart condition BEFORE getting this dog, I'd certainly have one by now.)

Speaking of calories, thanks to Liz for making pancakes for breakfast Sunday morning, Marsha for bringing cinnamon bread and Marsha's parents for bringing cookies and to die for cinnamon rolls. Plus we had orange birthday cake to celebrate Jamie, Sydney, Ryelee, Simon, Breeze and Nina (in memoriam) who all turn 10 this year. Our "1999 models" rock. Not to mention delicious barbecue at Hickory Park Saturday night and DQ for humans and dogs on the trip home. The diet starts to day. Really.

Saturday after supper, I got to tour Wendy and John's "new" house north of Ames. It was built around 1880 and it a wonderfully cool place they have put a ton of work into.

Camping Saturday night was slightly less than ideal. The weather was super but as the Farmer pointed out the one and only time he camped with me there, "It's too d*mn loud." Yeah. He had a point. And there weren't even any severe t-storms this year. Between the sirens, trains, traffic, fireworks, trains, Odyssey of the Mind kids coming back from their closing ceremonies and did I mention trains, it was not a great night for sleeping.

Phoenix gets today off from training. We have a busy week ahead: agility class Wednesday night, obedience workout Thursday night and agility lessons with Michelle Persian on Friday morning.

I should probably go eat some leftover cake to make sure I have enough energy for all this.