Monday, August 31, 2009


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

Aug. 26, 1994 - Aug. 31, 2009

I said good-bye to Connor this morning.

Honestly, I didn't think he would leave me this soon but he had a different idea. Figures. He always did think he was in charge. I was the luckiest person in the world to share 15 years with him. If you knew Connor in his glory days, please send me a memory. You can post it in the comments or e-mail me direct at

Connor was an accident. I had no intention of getting a puppy in the fall of 1994. I was showing my first sheltie Jess, who was 5 years old at the time, and getting a puppy was the last thing on my mind. I didn't even want another dog. Then I went to an Iowa City Shetland Sheepdog Club meeting and there he was: an adorable, obnoxious, HUGE, tri-color sheltie puppy, climbing out of the x-pen, stealing things out of purses and generally being a nuisance. I remember his breeder saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that one.” Connor came to live with me two weeks later.

Connor was the first dog I actually taught to heel with attention (this was during the golden era of Terri Arnold’s focused attention camps) but I can’t take much credit for it. He just plain loved to heel. When we trained, I often took breaks from working other exercises to do “recreational” heeling. I didn’t actually learn how to TEACH a dog to heel until Jamie and Phoenix came on the scene. And some days that was questionable.

Connor had a lot of "help" in training. That silly cat was always right in the middle of everything.

Connor taught me to listen to everyone’s advice but make up my own mind about things. Early in his obedience career I took a lesson from a very accomplished trainer. She told me Connor would never amount to anything because he paced instead of trotting. She was right. He did pace. He paced his way to his OTCh. with multiple perfect 40-point heeling scores, High In Trials, High Combineds and two trips to the AKC National Obedience Invitational.

I wish I'd counted all the run-offs we were in over the years. Connor loved them (more heeling!) and his enthusiasm eliminated any nerves I might have. We won more run-offs than we lost because for him, it was another chance to go back in the ring and do something he loved. He made me look good and covered for my awkward footwork more times than I can count.

He was my first Obedience Trial Champion and the journey to that title was worth every exciting, frustrating, soul-searching, disappointing, rewarding, intense, insane, beautiful step of the way. The day he finished, we left at 4 a.m. to drive to a trial in Illinois. While loading the van, I was thinking how crazy this was and how I could be asleep snug and warm in my bed instead of driving across two states in the cold and dark to show in an unheated fairground building against all those "good dogs from Chicago.” Then I saw a shooting star blaze across the sky and automatically made the wish I’d been wishing for the last year: “Connor’s OTCh.” Seven hours later he won a huge Utility class for 26 points, exactly one more point than we needed to finish.

He was my first agility dog, too, although he spent most of his agility career trying to figure out how to get back into heel position. I tracked with him a little and he enjoyed it immensely because it involved food. He was so pleased to find each bit of hot dog on the track. He would eat it, then spin around and pop into a front in hopes of getting another cookie.

Phoenix, Connor and Jamie, Oct. 2008

Connor was a big boy and we called him an “estate sheltie” or a “street sheltie.” He measured 18” at the withers and stewards sometimes had a hard time deciding what breed he was. At one trial, a steward came out to my group of handlers as we waited on the Long Sit and said anxiously, “Who has the border collie? The judge wants you come back right now.” We all looked at each other. There were no border collies in our group. “What’s it doing?” I asked. “Running back and forth across the ring, barking. No one can catch him,” the steward said. Yep, that was Connor.

He was all Sheltie: bossy, opinionated, impatient and all about the food. He barked occasionally in the obedience ring, frequently in the agility ring and ALL THE TIME around the house. He hated Jamie when I brought him home in the fall of ‘99. Eventually they became buddies although I think he was always waiting for me to send Jamie back. Strangely enough, he totally accepted and actually liked Phoenix when he arrived eight years later. Connor could walk up to Phoenix and take a bone away from him, something that probably would get any other dog killed on the spot.

He was an enthusiastic companion and soul mate, always ready to do whatever I asked. His vibrant energy made me very glad to be his partner both in and out of the ring. It's hard to confine his spirit to simple words. He will always be a part of my heart.

This picture is the very essence of Connor: ears up, eyes bright, smiling.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” Cheryl Zuccaro

(Thanks, Barb B., I borrowed this from your post to Catherine when she lost Tessa. It is so perfect.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Five Seasons cluster at Amana

Talk about your roller coaster weekends! I hadn't planned to enter Novice ever again with Phoenix but when it came time to mail entries for the Five Seasons cluster, it was clear 'Nix was not ready for Open. Since they weren't offering any of the non-regular classes, it was Novice or nothing and I certainly wasn't going to miss a show 7 miles from our house. 

Phoenix won Novice B Saturday w/199, tied for High In Trial and lost the run-off to the Open B winner. He did an amazing job of heelwork and was totally into his job, bright, focussed, bouncing on the releases and setting up quickly. This is the dog I want in the ring with me ALL the time. Yeah, I'm greedy that way.

Today, we NQ'd when he didn't hear me call him on the recall. It was one of those bad deals where the handler in the Utility ring next to him gave a very loud command at the same exact time I called Phoenix. I was 40 feet away from him, the Utility handler was directly behind him. Poor guy, he honestly didn't hear me. Well, stuff happens. Guess I need to train with loud, obnoxious people. Hmmm . . . where can I find some of them?

Funny enough, a Phoenix still won Novice B today. Julie P.'s Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever Phoenix won the class w/198. We were trying to figure out what the plural of "phoenix" is. We decided it probably isn't "Phoenii," which sounds like something you need to get your house fumigated for. "Call the exterminator, dear, we have PHOENII!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Here's your sign

Sometimes ya just gotta wonder, "What were they thinking!?"

This is on the front door to my cardiologist's office. Good thing I left my Glock in my other purse.

I'm really hoping they just forgot to add "cookies" to this sign at the Fairfax DQ. Otherwise, I am pretty sure there are laws against that sort of thing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy birthday, Skunk Dog!

Connor turns 15 today! He's a little wobbly and deaf as a post but mostly doing okay and still likes to give the Belgians hell.

Connor at 10 weeks, in November 1994
(the future OTCh., U-OTCH. Sunazie's Black Diamond, UDX5, MX, MXJ)

Connor, 5 years old

This is my absolute all-time favorite picture of Connor.

Highlights of the last 15 years:

• You were the first dog I ever trained who heeled in the correct position.

• Two trips to the National Obedience Invitational.

• Failing BOTH heeling patterns in Novice our first time in the ring.

• That crazy 4-way 199 point Open B run-off at Madison, Wis., where we kept going back in the ring over and over and over.

• Taking you to the vet school at Iowa State when you had a lung infection.

• Getting you measured at EXACTLY 18 inches for agility.

• Wishing on a shooting star and finishing your OTCh.

• The funny little growls you always made on the figure 8, like it was so much fun you couldn't stand it.

• The kid at the drive-through window who thought you were a skunk.

• Working through that list of food on the elimination diet to find out what you were allergic to.

• Lifting you off the floor in the ring because you wouldn't release your dumbbell after fronting.

• How you shared your opinions on EVERYTHING.

• Doing run-off after run-off during 9 years of obedience. Bonus heeling!

• The spring trial when we camped at Mason City and you slept inside my sleeping bag because it was below freezing.

• Your absolute conviction that no matter what you did, it was right.

• The total rush of going into the obedience ring with you because you loved it.

Love you, Skunk Dog!

C3P0, May 2008 - August 2009

Alas, C3P0 is DOA. She will either have her engine rebuilt or get a brand new one. She is currently at the local GMC dealership, being “torn down.”

Yeah, this came as a shock to me, too. I've had her 15 months and she only has 33,500 miles on her.

C3P0, like her namesake from Star Wars (yes I know he was a HE but all cars, ships, planes and helicopters are SHEs, that’s just how it works, except for Marsha’s Shorty), believed in keeping me up to date with every possible bit of information a driver could need and quite a bit more I could have lived without.

She told me about tire pressure, oil quality, engine temperature, fuel status, traction control, the weather, what language she was programmed in and how soon I was going to hit something while backing up. I got used to her obsessive/compulsive desire to keep me informed about every little mechanical detail and her symphony of beeps and buzzes were part of my daily routine. She was a bit of an alarmist and liked flashing a variety of warning indicators just to shake me up. (Between her and Phoenix, it’s little wonder I have a heart condition.) Most of the time they were false alarms, a sensor that was wired too tight or something like that.

Monday morning on the way to to work, a new icon popped up on her information center. It looked like a little engine. Great. No good could come of that. There was no message with it. Just that little image, glowing ominously. I consulted the owner’s manual. That thing is 327 pages long and do you think I could find that little picture anywhere? No.

I called the dealership. They came and got her. They called me back a couple of hours later.

“The engine is misfiring,” they said. Okay, I understood that. Sort of. Then the service manager launched into an explanation and swear to God the only things that made even partial sense were “no compression in the chamber” and “spraying oil out of the fourth piston.” I am a lot of things but auto mechanic is not one of them. She could have lost all her deflector shields and had a rear stabilizer break loose, too, for all I know.

Depending on what they find when they tear the engine apart, they will either rebuild it or replace it. In the meantime, I’m driving a loaner Dodge Caravan. The dealership assured me they would give me a loaner and although I requested something I could “fit at least one crate into,” I was not sure their idea of a dog vehicle would be the same as mine. So it was a relief to get a van this morning.

C3P0 is the third in a line of vehicles I’ve named after Claire Beauchamp Fraser, the heroine of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. Yeah, it’s a big step from historical fiction to Star Wars but bear with me. When I got Jamie (named after the hero of the “Outlander” series), I was driving a Chevy Blazer. I loved that Blazer. It was almost physically painful to part with it but the dogs and I had outgrown it. When I got my first minivan, Tammy christened her “Claire,” in honor of Jamie, who was the reason I’d upgraded to a minivan in the first place. Claire was followed by Claire II, abbreviated C2, then by Claire III, abbreviated C3, which quickly morphed to C3P0, since I am a confirmed Star Wars addict.

There is an outside chance C3P0 will be resurrected by Friday, but I’m not holding my breath. Thank heaven the shows are local this weekend. This would be a considerably larger pain in the arse if I was planning to travel a distance, camp, take all three dogs, etc.

Rest in peace, 3P0.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back in the day

August 24, 1991

Yep, we look pretty much the same 18 years later. Except I don't think either the Farmer or I have ever worn that much white again. And I'm sure there's sheltie fur on my dress somewhere if you look close enough.

The farmer takes a wife

Happy 18th anniversary, Hon!

August 24, 1991

I intended to post a picture from that day but time got away from me and I didn't get one scanned. Yeah, that was back in the day when they took pictures with film! But we both look exactly like we did 18 years ago . . . if you can overlook a few gray hairs, wrinkles, bald spots, tummy pudge, etc. We're not getting older, we're getting better!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Attack of the wrackspurts

You have to be a Harry Potter fan to appreciate wrackspurts but for the uninitiated, they are invisible moth-like creatures that flutter into your brain and render you incapable of sensible thought. In other words, you forget everything you ever knew. 

Phoenix and I were attacked by wrackspurts today at the open dog show at the state fair. They were EVERYWHERE! We are fine now but it was touch and go for awhile. You just never know when a wrackspurt will get you. 

The day wasn't all bad. In fact, I was really proud of Phoenix on his Open group exercises. He sat on his box and I only had to correct once for fidgeting feet. This is a HUGE improvement over just a few weeks ago. Sitting on his box while I fix the dogs' a.m. and p.m. meals has really helped him think about what he's doing with his feet. 

Overall the day was a very long training session and we are both exhausted. Battling wrackspurts will do that to you. I've got to get some repellent before next weekend.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Child of the '80s

I’m in a retro-80’s flashback mood this morning and I’m blaming it on the TV. Ever since local stations underwent the big digital conversion back in June, we’ve been getting “extra” channels that seem to exist for the sole purpose of re-running ‘80s TV shows. Lately, the Farmer and I have been watching “M*A*S*H” and “Airwolf” and God help me, I love them. I rarely watch any “new” programs but just let them start running a show that was on 25 years ago and I’m there.

I am totally a child of the 80s, graduated high school in ‘84 and college in ‘88. Had big hair and legwarmers, wore polo shirts with the collar up, Calvin Klein jeans, Benetton sweaters and a Swatch watch. (It was all about the label!)

Saw Bon Jovi, ZZ Top and .38 Special in concert. Had a Rubik’s cube that I never figured out and excelled at Trivial Pursuit (to this day, my mind is full of totally useless, random knowledge.) Saw the space shuttle Challenger blow up on live TV. Watched “Miami Vice” and “Magnum, PI.” Wondered who shot JR. Danced to Air Supply at the prom. Loved Bob and Doug Mackenzie, eh?

Saw the debut of MTV. Watched Diana Spencer marry Prince Charles and become the Princess of Wales. Got my hair cut like the Princess of Wales. Saw “The Empire Strikes Back.” Gasped in shock when Darth Vader said, “Luke, I am your father.” Watched “Return of the Jedi.” Saw “Indiana Jones” and “Witness.” Fell in love with Harrison Ford. Had a pet rock. Played Pac Man. Knew what Michael Jackson looked like before his nose fell off.

Read “Cujo” and “Pet Sematary” by Steven King and “Valley of Horses” and “Mammoth Hunters” by Jean Auel. Drank Coke. Drank New Coke. Drank Classic Coke. Ate oat bran muffins because they were good for your heart. (My father had a heart attack anyway.) Ate Jell-O pudding pops, Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn and drank Snapple. Learned to fix things with duct tape and dental floss, just like MacGyver. MacGyver was better at it than I was.

Saw “Risky Business” and “Top Gun.” Fell in love with Tom Cruise (gave him up later when he got weird.) Wore acid washed jeans and every shirt in my closet had huge shoulder pads. Cheered for the U.S. hockey team when they beat Russia to win Olympic gold. Watched Haley’s Comet (pretty sure I won’t be here the next time it comes around). Bought a Walkman to play my Def Lepard cassettes. Went to Iowa State and drank something new called wine coolers. Drank a lot of wine coolers. Probably shouldn’t go there.

Oh, make it stop! What else was I doing back then? Graduated college, got my first car (Ford Mustang), first job (same one I have today, although it’s changed just a little) and first apartment (how cool was that, living totally on my own). Got my first sheltie, Jess. Joined the Iowa City Shetland Sheepdog Club. Met the Farmer. The rest is history. I’m going to go watch “Airwolf” now.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I took these yesterday evening on my way home. The clouds were very busy. I especially like the second one, with the dark clouds over the sunlit cornfield. It was a beautiful August evening, very still and humid, not a breath of moving air. Usually, things are not so green by this time of the year but we've had a ridiculous amount of rain this summer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Oh look, a shiny object!

Here's the new view south of our house. The Farmer had a 20,000 bushel grain bin put up in early August. It replaces the old corn crib, which was the only building to survive the 1998 straight-line windstorm except our house and cement block machine shed. It was rickety and rotten and full of raccoons. Apparently they were very fat raccoons that kept the corn crib from blowing away.

They are about half done with the new bin in this picture. The whole thing went up in 2 days. The crew showed up at 7 a.m. and worked until 7 p.m. I thought I was going to have to invite them in for supper!

All done. I took this pic just before we got hit by a severe T-storm cell a few weeks ago. The Farmer was a little paranoid about the whole new building/bad weather combo since last spring, he had just finished construction on the hoop building (hay barn) when we got a severe T-storm that tore it to pieces. He mumbled something about wanting a picture "for insurance purposes" and I ran out to snap a few shots before the lightning started. Yeah, I know the sky is blue in this picture. That's how fast the weather can change around here.

I figure I can climb the stairs up to the top to do my storm spotting. Or maybe not.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hey, where'd the weekend go?

Why is it 6 o'clock on Sunday night already? Weekends just don't last as long as they need to.

Saturday: Up at 5:30 a.m. and on the road to Iowa City by 6:30. First stop, Wal-Mart. How can three bags of stuff cost $95? 

Then out to Kay's building to train Phoenix. We worked mostly retrieves, heeling and recalls, slipping back into Novice-mode for the Amana cluster in two weeks. I have got to spend more time working left-side finishes. They'll help get his focus off my right side (he's anticipating the "around" finish) when he fronts. Did some fun clicker work with the "back" (left-side) finish. It was a pretty warm morning but pleasant in the building with a good breeze coming through the south windows and the west end overhead door open.

Pam O. and Chance came at 9 for a lesson. They're getting ready for Open A at the Amana shows. Chance thought it was hot, too.

By 10:30 a.m., I was on the road south to visit Mom and Dad. Dad is about the same. He seemed happy to see Phoenix (no particular recognition of me), then fell asleep. Visited with Mom and Karene, had lunch, then left mid-afternoon for home.

Stopped at Ainsworth on the way home for ice cream therapy. Phoenix and I shared a cone. I got the top, he got the bottom. We were both sure we each had the best part. Stopped in Iowa City to get KFC for supper. There was a huge hole in one wall and the sign on the door said, "Please excuse our mess. Someone drove a car through the building." Yeah, that's pretty much what it looked like. The newspaper office may be crazy at times but at least no one has driven through the front window. Yet.

Got home and unloaded all the Wal-Mart stuff. Talked to the Farmer briefly, ate a chicken leg, fed the dogs (only a light supper for Phoenix, we're going to train again!) and let them outside.

Loaded jumps and ring gates and - 


- headed to the Amana Park to train with Paula, Tracy and Michele.

We had the park to ourselves and it was a great evening to train. Phoenix decided two-a-day obedience workouts were all right. More opportunity for food and toys! We did a little heelwork, marking gloves, articles, go-outs and finishes with Petra doing her sexy little black dog best to distract him. Now honestly, if 'Nix can do brisk finishes with Petra bouncing in his face, they should be no problem in the ring.

It was Paula's birthday and she brought cupcakes. It wasn't Michele's birthday and she brought pecan bars. Think pecan pie in cookie form. Yum! We ate and visited until 9 p.m. Tracy had lost the contents of a chest freezer when it malfunctioned after last week's severe weather. Ugh. Been there, done that. We exchanged tales of disposing of 250 pounds of rotten meat which somehow led to re-visiting my and Terry R.'s theory about the best way to hide a body if you need to kill someone. Don't ask where this stuff comes from. It just does.

Home, let the dogs out - 


- let dogs back in, showered and crashed.

Sunday: It was pouring rain when we got up. Decided to go to church, then out for breakfast afterward. (And I wonder why my jeans are tight. Sigh.) Made a couple batches of homemade food for Connor (See? MORE food, that's all we think about around here).

Went to the outlet mall at Williamsburg and picked up a few things. It was packed with crazed back to school shoppers. None of them knew how to drive. 

Made it back home in one piece and tackled the bathroom cleaning. (See, I went two whole hours without eating anything.) Wanted to get all the rust out of the fixtures for once and all, now that our fancy-schmancy not-loaded-with-iron water is here. The bathroom is sparkling now but sorry, Tammy, I used up all the Whink. Guess I know what to get you for Christmas.

Washed a ton of laundry and vacuumed. Where is a house elf when you need one? And how does our house get so dirty? We're never here to live in it!

The furry dogs needed a good grooming so we sat under a tree outside and did a marathon brushing session. Great for Connor and Jamie. Bad for my back. Phoenix spent the time chewing on sticks that blew down in last night's heavy rain and - 


Finally did what I should have done first thing Saturday morning: picked the cherry tomatoes. Picked what was left of my cherry tomatoes. Phoenix had missed a few. Connor helped. I still managed to get a bowl full.

Now supper is in the oven. Sorry. Food. Again. I can't help it.

Then the dogs and I are going out for a little agility work and a walk. Or maybe just a walk. But definitely no more food. At least not now.

Friday, August 14, 2009


It’s here! Gingerich Well and Pump came yesterday and ran the water lines into our basement, then Poweshiek Water Association flipped the switch or lifted the handle or whatever it is they do. After more than 100 years of well water, the Wichmann farm is on rural water! I suppose my generation will remember this somewhat like our grandparents recalling when they got electricity or indoor plumbing or their first tractor.

There are some downsides to rural water. The obvious one is the mole run from hell across our back yard. Of course it goes right through my favorite training area. How can you bury a four-inch water line and end up with 12 inches of dirt left over? Guess I can use it as a jump or something until it settles.

The second one is now we’ll have a water bill every month. Since it's just the Farmer and me, no teenagers who take 30 minute showers, I hope it won't be too bad. The only water-sucking appliance we have is the washing machine. No dishwasher. I AM the dishwasher.

The house is the only part of the farm that is hooked up to rural water. The barns, hydrants, etc. are still on well water. The Farmer uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for the cattle and filling sprayer tanks and well water is just fine for that.

The good news is NO MORE ORANGE WATER in the house! Well, it wasn’t totally orange, just kind of like weak High C. But the iron content was so high it stained bathroom fixtures in spite of the water softener. It left deposits on my hair and it ruined white laundry. It tasted bad. No, I am not sorry to see it go.

Plus, when the power goes out, we'll still have running water since we won't be dependent on the electric well pump to bring water into the house. You don't know how much you take little things for granted, like being able to flush the toilet or wash your hands, until you can't do them. Honestly, one of the worst parts about being without power for nearly a week back in February '07 wasn't the cold, it was not having any water.

Now if we could just get high-speed internet . . . yeah . . . right . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Duck! Incoming dumbbell!

If you’ve known me for longer than 5 minutes, you know precision dumbbell throwing is not one of my finer skills. I’m happy if it stays in the ring and doesn’t concuss the judge. It doesn't help that I have BIG dogs with BIG dumbbells. If I showed a pomeranian, I might be less of a hazard.

Over the years, I’ve been beseiged with advice on how to throw a dumbbell by well-meaning people who feel I am impaired and could benefit from their knowledge. Bless their little hearts. I tried all their advice. It didn’t help much. Then I started watching them in the ring and realized in spite of all their expertise, their throws weren’t a darn bit better than mine. Their dumbbells bounced and rolled and went every which way. Some days, those things are possessed and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

I decided until judges start scoring the handler’s throw as part of the exercise, I would stick with the method that works best for me. I just hold the dumbbell by one end, focus on an imaginary target and give it an underhand toss. For the most part, it goes pretty much where I intend. Pretty much.

There is a margin of error, however. Be warned. If you ever train with me me, do not, I repeat NOT, stand directly in front of me when I am working the retrieve exercises. I don’t want to have to explain to the paramedics why there is the imprint of an Invince-A-Bell on your forehead. Hey, stuff happens.

I’ve had my share of perfect throws. Even a blind pig finds an acorn sometimes. But I’ll admit, I’ve had plenty of dumbbells that fell short of the mark, skittered sideways, got hung up in the ring gates, bounced into an adjoining ring and - worst of all - smashed broadside into the high jump with such a reverberating crash it brought the entire trial to a standstill. Jamie sat there and gave me the hairy eyeball. It’s bad when your dog looks at you like you are an idiot.

At least I haven’t shattered a light fixture or thrown it into the spinning blades of a ceiling fan. Seen both of those done. Yikes. Or, and this may be the best one yet, had it land perfectly balanced atop an exposed ceiling beam about 18 feet off the floor. I think they finally had to get a ladder to get that one down.

When I was showing Connor, I got really good at landing his dumbbell almost exactly on the minimum distance line past the high jump. Connor was not a strong jumper and did much better if his dumbbell didn’t land too far from the jump. With him, I did practice throwing until my throws were reliable. Jamie pretty much ruined any dumbbell throwing skills I might have had because he was simply so good at bringing it back no matter where I threw it, that I gave up worrying about being a perfect thrower. Phoenix looks to continue this trend. I think he expects his dumbbell to go flying at bizarre angles and landing who-knows-where. It’s part of the game.

Here’s the bottom line: my dogs are trained to retrieve dumbbells no matter where they land because unless it goes clear out of the ring, the judge is not obligated to allow a re-throw (although most of them are terribly nice people and will). He may say “Send your dog” and then what happens?

My dog’s job is to bring it back. Period. I’m willing to meet my dog half-way on a lot of things and even more than half-way on some things, but retrieves aren’t one of them. He has four legs, a lower center of gravity, incredible physical flexibility, a keen nose, loves to chase things and uses his mouth like we use our fingers and hands. So I’m not going to obsess about throwing the dumbbell perfectly for him each time. Which is a darn good thing. Because I’m not done obsessing about what to do with my left arm on heeling yet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A heeling we will go

I love you guys. And when I go into the obedience ring in two weeks, with my left arm stuck to my pants with orange duct tape, I’m going to tell the judge it was ALL RILDA’S IDEA!!!!! Rilda, will you be stewarding at the Tri-City/Cedar Rapids cluster? Because I may need you to explain this to the judge.

Okay, discounting the suggestions to tape my arm to my side, the comments and e-mails I’ve gotten show the jury is split about 50/50 on the arm up/arm down dilema. Small dog folk generally agree that “arm down” is the way to go. As a rule, folks with bigger dogs thought “arm up” was the answer, except for Belinda and I really liked her comment: “A longtime Belgian competitor around here(Al Breece) always said your left hand down and swinging “claimed” the air space you owned between your leg and your dog.” In other words, it’s the DOG’S job to stay out of YOUR way, not the other way around.

That’s the problem I’m having and Kathy described it exactly: when she heeled with her left arm down, she ended up smacking Jazz in the face. I think if you heel with your arm down, heel position becomes a much more exact spot (and more demanding for the dog to maintain) because if the dog varies from it, he’s going to run into your hand . . . or your hand is going to run into him. With your arm up and your hand at your waist (the I'm-trying-not-to-barf position), he has more freedom to forge/crowd without actually making body contact. Is this a good thing? You decide.

Several nice people wrote to say they show big dogs and are having the exact same problem or they have gone from a big dog to a small dog and their demon-possessed arm refuses to hang naturally at their sides no matter how badly they want it to. (Clearly, more duct tape candidates.) Oh dear. You know what that means? There are people out there just like me! My mother always told me I was one of a kind. She lied.

Some people were surprised I would even consider heeling with my arm down, since at 24”, Phoenix is considered a big dog and at 5’5” (yeah, we'll go with that) I am no Amazon woman. The biggest reason I like heeling with my left arm down is it relaxes my body posture and keeps me from being tense. You’d better believe Phoenix reads that. The very act of clamping my arm across my waistline seems to lock me into overall rigidity. The flip side is, I catch myself holding my left arm very still because I don’t want to swat him in the face . . . which is a heel position problem, not necessarily an arm up/arm down problem . . . which I am finally realizing.

The Maligator and I have two weeks to work on this before the Tri-City/Cedar Rapids cluster at the end of the month. Those shows will see us returning to the Novice ring by default. We are sooooo not ready for Open, the clubs aren’t offering the non-regular classes and darned if I’m going to stay home from a show that is only 7 miles from my house! Not only that, it’s a Malinois supported entry on Saturday. So I clearly HAVE to enter and Novice is our only option. What the heck. It will be nice to test-drive some hopefully improved heelwork and do sits/downs with me staying in the ring.

Plus I may get to show Katie in Open for Jen, who is 8.99 months along with Baby Howard and due in a matter of weeks. Oh, what joy to go in the ring with a Sheltie again!

I’ll leave you with some various heeling pics of Phoenix and me. Or at least, my legs.

This was taken when 'Nix was maybe 1 year old. We're working Figure 8s at a match. I was doing some light collar pops to encourage him to drive around the outside turn. He looks great, my left leg is wide.

This was the set up for the Heel On Lead at my club's trials this spring, his first CD leg. Love that watch, you handsome man!

This was from a Novice run at a ring rental match. Naughty little dog! Actually, this is very representative of life with Phoenix. It's all about the teeth. Thanks, Sheryl Mc., for the great images.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Random thoughts

For the love of Pete, will someone please tell me to heel with my left arm up or with my left arm down and be done with it already? I keep bouncing back and forth between the two styles and I honestly cannot decide which one is the best. I always heeled with my left arm up for Connor and Jamie and now it automatically goes there of its own accord. Point me at a ring gate and the left arm snaps to attention “centered in the vicinity of the handler’s waist.”

I think Phoenix’s heel position is better if I keep it down at my side but darned if I can keep it swinging naturally and end up looking like someone shot a full body-bind curse at me but only hit my left arm. Plus Phoenix still thinks heeling is some kind of race and he will win if he keeps his head ahead of my hand and starts to curve around my left leg. I think this style of heeling is perfectly acceptable in the UK. Clearly, I need to move. Or train more. Moving might be easier.

If you’re reading this and you’re into obedience and you have any thoughts on the matter, please post a comment or e-mail me at This is making me insane. Insaner. More insane.
Black dogs are absolutely stunning. I watched a number of black dogs at the trial last weekend and they were beautiful. Yes, I know they’re a photographer’s nightmare. I don’t care. I want another black dog someday.
Don’t miss the Perseid meteor shower tomorrow morning! The waning full moon may present a bit of a viewing problem but the peak should occur in the hours before sunrise Aug. 12 with up to 60 meteors per hour. I didn’t go out last year since the cloud cover was too thick to see anything. Fingers crossed for clear skies this year. Last October I took the dogs out to watch the Draconids. They weren’t very exciting (the meteor shower, not the dogs. The dogs thought going outside to sit in a cornfield at 4 a.m. was incredibly exciting.)
I just ordered a second custom-made Invince-A-Bell, exactly the same measurements as the first one, which is perfect. This way, I figure I will NEVER lose the first one. But if I didn’t have a back-up, the first one would probably be gone by Halloween.
Now I have TWO sit boxes. The Farmer made me one, then Earl W. made me one and brought it to the Ft. Dodge show. He must have felt sorry for me when he saw how much Wiggle Butt moves on his sit/stay. It’s a good thing, too, because I’ve already gone and left the first one at SueAnn’s building after class. See why I ordered the second dumbbell?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Shopping in Webster City

Webster City RV was located right next door to the Super 8 so the dogs and I did a little shopping Saturday evening.

We picked out this one for Michele and Jeff. Cider and Bea would love it and it's already customized.

Where's the Farmer when I need him? I wanted to show him what I picked out for my birthday next month. He hates to shop so thought I'd do it for him. Really, he should appreciate my efforts. I found a couple other models if he didn't like this one. Many of them claimed to be "Affordable!" Clearly, that is a matter of opinion. The window sticker on this one said "Loaded!" Maybe you have to be loaded to write the check. I did not look at the sticker price.

Isn't this just cute? It had a teeny-tiny kitchen, heat, A/C and a seating area that folded into a bed. I think it would sleep two but you'd better really like the person you're sleeping with. I figured I could probably afford this. Then I looked at the price tag. Holy buckets! $17,582. Guess I'll keep my tent and I don't feel bad about splurging for a new air mattress.

The Ft. Dodge recap

Every once in a while, I do something very sensible. Deciding to get a motel and NOT camp at the Fort Dodge UKC trials over the weekend was one of those things. So don’t expect anything sensible from me for the rest of the month.

Getting a motel was breaking with tradition. I ALWAYS camp at Ft. Dodge, even if I did end up pitching my tent in the 4-H poultry barn the last time I was there. But with the forecast for heat index readings over 100, I decided to be a weenie. I wanted AC and I wanted a lot of it. So did the dogs. Sleeping in a tent when nighttime lows only dropped to 75 with dripping humidity would not have been any fun.

Saturday was blazingly hot. The show site had awesome air conditioning and we all sat around in jackets. When I took dogs outside, my glasses fogged up. I happily cranked the AC at the Super 8 that evening and the dogs and I watched “Finding Nemo.” Am I the ONLY person in the free world who hadn’t seen that movie before? It was adorable. I think I found my soulmate in the blue fish, Dorrie. “Oh look, a shiny object!”

Sunday morning brought some wicked weather. Between 9 and 10 a.m., the sky went dark as night, the wind howled and rain, lightning and hail slammed the fairgrounds. The hail was big enough to make us all a little twitchy as we watched it bouncing off our vans but there wasn’t any damage that I heard of. The power went out in the building for a brief period but soon came back. Jamie was not impressed with any of it. Connor slept through it. Phoenix didn’t care.

From the show ring standpoint, the weekend was perfect. We came home with 2 U-CDX legs but MOST importantly, it showed me what Phoenix understands and what he most certainly does not. His individual exercises were solid and he recognized the broad jump as a JUMP, not a BRIDGE, both days. He gave me lovely, elbows-down drop on recalls and was patient enough to keep them down while the walker went past. Retrieves were solid, with nice speed going out but the return was a slower trot than I would like. Our heeling was a bit of a garage sale on Saturday but on Sunday, only 1/2 point off and awesome, driving figure 8s both days. Yippee!!!

The darn out-of-sight sit/stay was nearly our undoing. I had anticipated this being a problem. He scooted forward both days for major deductions. This confirmed my decision not to enter AKC Open this fall. Fronts and finishes remain largely a mystery. We’ll keep training and test him again at some local UKC trials in October. I feel good about the weekend and have a better focus for the direction our training needs to take.

Will post soon about my Saturday “shopping trip.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's that smell?

There aren’t pictures with this post. Be glad. Be very glad.

If you can’t handle blood, vomit, urine and feces, chances are you do not share your life with a dog or a small child. Dog owners and parents quickly learn how to wipe, mop, scrub, wash and deodorize after all manner of accidents without losing their own cookies in the process. This is very much an acquired skill.

Yesterday when I got home after work, it was eyewateringly apparent something was amiss. The stench wafting through the house was not the familiar scents of vanilla candles or laundry soap. Connor had had a major intestinal blowout in his crate. Diarrhea was splattered liberally from one end to the other. He’d tried to cover it up with his crate fuzzies, which only resulted in smearing it around further. There was no way to tell when it had happened but Connor had poop caked on all four paws, up and down his legs, on his belly fur and tail. Poor Connor. Poor Phoenix, who was crated next to him.

To heck with the dogs, poor ME, who was going to have to clean it up.

On the CDS (Canine Disaster Scale), this incident ranked an 8. If Connor had managed to splatter the walls or the surrounding floor, it would have been a 9. Had he managed to splatter both the walls AND the floor, it would have been a perfect 10. A 10 ranking can also be achieved by yanking houseplants out of their pots, grinding the dirt into the carpet, then squirting honey on top of it but that particular canine-induced disaster deserves a measurement system all its own - perhaps the MAD (Malinois Absolute Destruction) scale. It would be something like the Enhanced Fujita scale meteorologists use to measure tornado strength. I’ll write about that incident some day. It involves 6-month-old Phoenix, the Farmer and a crate door that was left open.

Back to the present. Connor looked miserable. Phoenix, crated next to him, was bouncing off the walls of his crate, wanting to get away from his stinky brother. I turned him loose and looked at Connor. He looked at me. I swallowed hard. There was nothing for it but to open his crate door and carry him outdoors without letting his paws ever touch the carpet. Oh joy. Now I had dog poop all over my arms and shirt and smelled as bad as he and the house did. I sighed. My mother would probably tell me this builds character. I’m pretty sure my character did not need building that badly.

I deposited Connor on the lawn. He stalked around, stiff-legged, looking at his feet and wrinkling his nose. Yeah, buddy. I feel your pain. The only way it could have been worse was if my mother-in-law had stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar. She could probably get a whiff of the house from a mile away, though, and stayed away.

An hour later, Connor had been bathed, the crate fuzzies were in the washing machine, I had on clean clothes, the fan was blasting stinky air out of the bedroom windows and I probably wasn’t going to have any appetite for a week. Life was good.

This random diarrhea is just one of Connor’s weird little health issues as he approaches his 15th birthday. He also has a grade 2 heart murmur, his kidneys aren’t working quite like they should and his liver enzymes are elevated. In spite of it all, he is every bit as vibrant as he was during his glory days. He believes firmly in recreational barking. He takes Nylabones away from Phoenix with total impunity. He is deaf as a post but gets around fairly well and still has a voracious sheltie appetite. His motto is "Grab the treat and spit out the fingers later."

The source of the intermittent diarrhea baffles both me and my vet. It is possible the cancer Connor had three years ago has returned. Many of the symptoms are the same. We could do x-rays, biopsies, ultrasounds but to what end? Connor will turn 15 on Aug. 26. I’m not going to put him through another painful surgery and months of recovery. He will live his days in peace and if he occasionally needs to be cleaned up after, well, I’m good at it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ready or not, here we come

We’re four days out from Phoenix’s Open obedience debut at the UKC trials at Ft. Dodge this weekend. I need to get my mind around our progress and make a realistic assessment of what I want from our time in the ring this weekend.

But first, I want to know where in the heck summer went. I swear just yesterday it was spring and the ink was barely dry on his CD and we had all summer to get ready for Open. Yeah, I know it’s just turned August but around here school starts in two weeks! If that doesn't mean the end of summer . . .

I hadn’t really planned on showing in Open this fall. But Phoenix is solid on the exercises and UKC Open is a good place to start a green dog because the long sit/long down are split, with an honor down while another dog does heeling exercises, then the long sit as a group exercise. If it goes well, I'll enter AKC Open at some fall trials. If it doesn't, we'll play in Graduate Novice through the fall and keep training for Open in the spring. It's good to have a plan. And a Plan B and Plan C . . .

I want us to have fun in the ring this weekend. Everyone says that, no matter what venue they show in, but sometimes it’s a lot easier said than done and sometimes as handlers, we put so much pressure on ourselves, we suck the fun right out of it. Just the basic act of showing is stressful, no matter what level you’re at. All your friends are watching and someone with a clipboard is passing judgment on your every move.

But who cares! If we fumble an exercise is the world going to end? No. Is anyone going to die? No. Am I going to lose my job? No. Well, then, chill. I’m in the ring with my beautiful dog and I want to see how good our teamwork is. At the end of the weekend, we’ll go home together and guess what? We can still train, which is more fun than anything else.

Heeling: I love teaching heeling. I want my dogs to love heeling as much as I do. It's a dance. It's dressage with a dog. It should be fluid and graceful and take your breath away to watch. Phoenix is totally willing but the two of us still occasionally step on each other’s feet. Literally. Mostly because he is pushing the envelope on heel position. Corrections for position and inattention have been what I call “head cradling.” After months of work, he will happily trot along in heel while I hold his head (and thus the whole dog) in the right position. My focus has been keeping my hands very gentle and soft on these corrections. I try to imagine cradling a tiny bird, not a thick-skulled, nose-breaking malinois. He responds well and usually gets a big bounce release after a few steps. At least in Open there is no leash to grab on the fast. However there is clothing . . .

Drop on recall: This is either really good or really bad. Seriously. There’s no inbetween. I’ve been making it a point to count to five after dropping him in training to allow time for the UKC “walker” to get past before re-calling him to front. He thinks maybe I have forgotten to call him.

Retrieve on the flat: Phoenix has a killer retrieve at home and generally when I train in new sites. He is slightly concerned about the presence of the “judge,” though, and that can slow down his retrieve. I’ve been having friends try to “steal” his dumbbell in training and he is getting more confident about charging out to get it. Funny, I seem to have fewer friends than I used to . . .

Retrieve over the high jump: The basic bones of this exercise are fine but the concept of front has totally disappeared. Gone. Vanished. Sit? Where? How about here? No? Okay, here? Sigh. That’s okay, his fronts aren’t great on anything else yet, either, so I’m not going to worry about them this weekend. Look down, smile at the dog. He’s beautiful and I love him.

Broad jump: I know where summer went. It flew by while we were working 100 different versions of the broad jump. Phoenix will jump 24/48 in the AKC ring. He does not take the broad jump seriously, so I stretched it to about 60 inches. Yeah, I know that’s an extra foot. This has made him put out some effort and drive into the jump. So far, so good.

I’m trying to put the exercises together this week, which is really hard for me since I usually work bits and pieces and rarely assemble the whole thing. We’re going to trade run-throughs with Kate and her girls Thursday night before class so Phoenix, Orbit and Lucy will be ready to rock this weekend.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New toys

Phoenix and I went to Des Moines today to train with Renee and Ellen from KC and Shirlee, Earl and bunch of great Des Moines folks at the DMOTC building. Had a great time and it was worth the drive time. Wish we all lived closer together!

One of the hardest Open exercises for Phoenix is the 3-minute sit. Since the AKC shows no signs of coming to their senses and eliminating the ridiculous out-of-sight exercises any time soon, he and I will have to find a way to master it. It's the sit-in-one-place-and-don't-move concept that baffles Phoenix. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind want to do that? 

One thing a number of trainers around here use is a "sit board." It's a whole lot like his PVC go-out box except it's elevated off the floor, to make a consequence (falling off) of fidgeting around and moving paws. It's hard to tell in this picture but his sit board is elevated about an inch. (Doesn't anyone ever mow the grass around here?) Thanks, Earl, for the great idea and thanks, Nancy, for letting me borrow yours to try on for size.

I brought it home and caught the Farmer at a convenient time. He was waiting for hay to dry. That is sort of like waiting for paint to dry. I said, "Do you want something to do?" He gave me the hairy eyeball. He could have jumped up and down enthusiastically and said, "Oh, yes! What kind of weird thing would you like me to build for your dogs today?" But if you know the Farmer, you know that is not likely to happen.

I showed him Nancy's sit board and explained it in careful detail. He is continually amazed that people actually spend a lot of time thinking about this sort of thing but just nodded a lot and then disappeared into the shop. Ten minutes later, he came back with a fine and dandy sit board. Granted, it is not quite as polished as one of Earl's creations but like they say, it's good enough for who it's for. I tacked on some old mat and we are good to go.

Here is Phoenix, sitting on his board. I think this is his "bored on a board" look. He doesn't have much wiggle room. Hopefully this will make him aware of where his paws are and what he is doing with them. Left to his own devices, he is like a little hovercraft who can scoot out of position without ever seeming to move.

Yippee! The new Invince-A-Bell has arrived! It took almost exactly 6 weeks to get a custom size from J&J and it is perfect. I need to order another one as a backup.

We have one week until our Open debut at the Fort Dodge UKC trials this coming weekend. How I feel about our performance there will determine what we enter at the fall trials. 

And regarding the zucchini bread: yes, the Farmer eats it. No, I don't think he can tell there's a shredded vegetable in there. No, I don't think you could leave it out, either. Yes, I think you could substitute bananas or shredded apples. Yummy!