Monday, November 30, 2009

Phoenix vs the shower

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harvest scenes

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Two Belgians and a box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Questions of the day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

There are days . . .

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Game video

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where'd it go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random thoughts

Random thoughts from the last two days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


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

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

Here's another view.

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

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

"Dude, I had a really bad day."

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

"Hey, did you say SUPPER?"

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

Today I am thankful for my vet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Phoenix, AXJ!

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

Here we are:

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to be a better dog trainer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I am thankful it's Friday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank you, veterans!

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Around . . . and run!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting organized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Long weekend, lots of miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

November scenes

Phoenix demonstrates the cool way to carry a Frisbee.

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

He can carry it the traditional way, too.

But then this happens.

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday musings

I like training my dog better than showing my dog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

The 'Recipe'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Now I owe him a cat

U-CDX Phoenix!

Truth is stranger than fiction.

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

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

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

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

Wouldn't you know. Guess he was listening.

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

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