Friday, December 31, 2010

2011, here we come!

Time to put my training goals for the new year in writing. What fun! I love this time of year, everything is new and fresh and possible and wonderful and dreams are just around the corner. 

I tend to set goals in terms of earning titles because title goals create a wonderful sub-set of training goals, which for me are a whole lot more fun, motivating, etc. than just saying “I want to get a UD”or whatever.

In order to get that UD, I need to thoroughly train and proof each exercise, train with friends who can help me with the proofing, train in a number of different sites to make sure Phoenix is generalizing the exercises and constantly evaluate his performances and figure out how to improve our teamwork while balancing precision with the element of “more funner.” (That's 2011's theme, MORE FUNNER!)

So these are my title goals for the new year:

• UD. I’ve picked the DeWitt, Iowa, obedience trial the first weekend of April as Phoenix and my Utility debut. Thank doG, the date is April 2. There would be something very wrong with debuting your green Utility dog on April 1. I mean, really, that’s just asking for trouble.

• UDX. This is a lofty goal to complete in 2011 and I’m not obsessed with it. It took my previous boys about a year or so to finish their UDXs. Except Jesse, who was my FIRST UDX, and he did it in 4 months/14 trials. (Jess was the exception to a lot of rules. He was mental. I miss him.) I don’t show in obedience every single weekend of my life (in spite of what the Farmer thinks) so we’ll get there when we get there.

I remember showing back in the days before the UDX existed. (Wow, I’m THAT old.) When you finished your UD and didn’t care about pursuing an OTCh., you just kept showing in Open and Utility for kicks as long as you wanted to. That's still what I do.

• OTCh. Same as above. Whenever. The joy is in the doing, not in the completing. To me, an OTCh. is a lifetime achievement, not something I expect to achieve in the first couple of years of showing.

• MXJ. We need a couple of legs. A couple 3? Maybe a couple 2? Maybe I need to go count ribbons? Maybe I need to not think about it and just wait until I find a certificate from the AKC totally mangled by the USPS in our mailbox. I swear, the Postal Service has something against my AKC title certificates. Mine arrived through 2010 in incredible states of mangled-ness.

• MACH. Same as the OTCh. I’ve never MACH’d a dog before so this is a brand new journey toward a lifetime achievement. I suspect it’s very much like an OTCh. in the respect that once you set your mind to it and believe it can happen, it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when.” So this probably isn’t an actual title goal for this year because I realistically doubt we can get 18 DQs in the next 12 months. I just don’t trial that much. So my goal would be better stated as “continue pursuing the MACH.”

Other odds and ends for 2011:

I’m very much looking forward to Malinois nationals in April in Valparaiso, Ind. My obedience club is hosting Joanne (sp?) Brettschneider for an obedience seminar this spring. And then there all the wonderful obedience and agility trials I always look forward to being a part of.

Given that gas prices go up another nickel or dime every time I turn around (so quit turning around), I’ll be choosing activities carefully this spring. Maybe more quality, less quantity.

My other non-resolution is better meal planning and more organized grocery shopping so I'm not stopping at the grocery store every single night just because I drive right by it on the way home from work. I spend entirely too much time thinking about what's for supper, so there's no excuse for always being out of something and needing to stop at the store.

Wishing you all a very happy and safe New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quote of the week

Yesterday I took the Belgians to see their chiropractor.

Dr. Fred worked on Phoenix's neck for quite a while. Then he said, "There. I put his head back on straight."

That would certainly explain a lot.

Phoenix's neck is routinely "out." Dr. Fred thought it was due to the heads-up style of heeling I teach. I thought about that for awhile. Then I thought about Nix's tugging style. He grabs the tug and whips his head back and forth in the "maligator death roll" while I hold on for dear life.

I'm thinking THAT would be more conducive to putting one's neck and spine out of alignment than a few minutes of trotting around with one's head tipped up. It's not like I ask him to heel for hours without any breaks.

Goal for 2011: keep tug sessions focused on TUGGING instead of THRASHING.

P.S. Thanks, Kathy, for the promise to bring Phoenix a cat. You are his new best friend.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dashing through the snow

This video is very cute when accompanied by an instrumental arrangement of Jingle Bells.

You'll have to trust me on this one.

Because YouTube does NOT want me to post it that way. I don't know why. There are many mysteries in life. This is one of them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy birthday, Skinny Little Dog!

Today is Phoenix’s 4th birthday! He sends happy birthday air snaps to his bros and sisters: Cayenne, Seeker, Joker, Ryder and Ida, who all live on the West Coast, and Passion, in Ohio.

Nix’s top 10 birthday present list, would be, in order:

1) a cat

2) a cat

3) a cat

4) a cat wearing a bitesuit

5) the Farmer wearing a bitesuit

6) for our UPS guy to stay and visit and quit running away so fast

7) dried and smoked ears from any variety of farm animals, including but not limited to pigs and cows

8) a pig in a bitesuit (oh dear, someone has drunk too many post-Christmas margaritas)

9) for my nephew Chase to stay longer and THROW THE BALL AGAIN

10) the elimination of group exercises from obedience trials

Where the heck did 4 years go? Seems like I just brought him home before the Ice Storm of the Century and he slept in bed with me and the Farmer because it was about 40 degrees in the house because the power was out for a week.

Here are some pictures of the Skinny Little Dog.

7 weeks old
(Photo by Catherine Shields)

10 weeks old
(Photo by Sheryl McCormick)

2 years old
(Photo by Marsha Kingsley)

3 1/2 years old
Summer of 2010
(Photo by me)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas delayed

Thanks to the weather, my mom and I decided to postpone our family Christmas until tomorrow. She and her sister are coming up to our place and since it's a 100 mile drive, we decided to give the road crews one more day to clean up the Christmas Eve snow. We ended up with 7-8 inches, which made a nice mess of our hilly roads.

The Farmer and I have had a quiet Christmas Day. I decided to bake myself a present -  a pecan pie. That is my absolute favorite-est pie. French silk comes in a close second.

You can't go wrong with a pecan pie: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, corn syrup and pecans. What's not to love?

I'd been planning this pie for a while. The crust posed an ethical question. Homemade or store bought? I learned how to bake pies when I was in 4-H and I made an awesome pie crust. I also hated every every frickin' minute of it. Nothing raises your blood pressure like mixing and rolling out a crust that is so tender and flaky it disintegrates when you try to transfer it from the pastry cloth to the pie pan. So it really wasn't that much of a dilemma.

Although my mother might disown me. She takes great pride in her pie crusts. Of course, she learned to make them back in the day when lard was the main ingredient. I stood in the grocery store and thought about buying lard so I could make a homemade crust. I thought about it for exactly three seconds. I already have a heart condition. Buying a big ol' chunk of lard for a pie crust I didn't want to make in the first place sounded like a really unhealthy idea.

So I went to the freezer section and bought a two-pack of frozen pie crusts. As far as I'm concerned, the crust is just there to keep the filling from getting away. As long as it does that, who cares about anything else.

I felt vindicated when we were at the Farmer's folks' house last night for Christmas and while I was putting food away in their fridge, I spotted a box of store-bought pie crusts. Since the Farmer's mom is an absolutely wonderful cook, I decided anything that was good enough for her was good enough for me.

Ahh, pecan nirvana. Ignore the broken chunk of crust. It was so delicate and flaky it crumbled when I put my big fat thumb on it. Yeah. Something like that.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Let it snow!

We're having a very snowy Christmas Eve day. The initial prediction of 1 to 3 inches quickly mushroomed to 6 to 9 inches. The Belgians thought it was great fun.

An invitation to play.
Much running amuck ensued.

What are you lookin' at?
Never seen an abominable snow Tervuren before?


I'm worried Santa won't be able 
to bring my Christmas cat.
(Phoenix, darling, sweetheart, baby dog, 
you are so NOT getting a Christmas cat.)


Jamie settled down for a long winter's nap.
At 11:30 a.m.
But who's counting.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Evil psycho killer bunny

One evening last winter, Phoenix was looking out the living room window and pitching a fit. He was bouncing up and down with his front paws on the sill. His hackles were up. His tail was stiff. His ears were crossing (that’s never good). He was making snarly little yodeling noises. He was having an absolute Malinois meltdown.

I was afeared to look out the window. The way he was carrying on, Freddy Kruger, Jason and any number of Steven King’s demons might be staring back at me.

I put a hand on Phoenix’s withers. He was vibrating. Between snarly yodels, he smashed his nose to the window glass and showed his teeth. The next step was spontaneous combustion.

I looked out the window.

The snow had drifted almost up to the base of the window. There, perched atop the drift, sitting silently in the winter moonlight was . . .

. . . a furry little bunny. Just sitting there. Wiggling its nose. Not knowing it was separated from Malinois doom by only inches.

Thus began Phoenix’s rabbit obsession.

It’s worse than his cat obsession. Which is saying quite a lot.

The cat obsession is getting somewhat better due to Winnie The Cat’s move into the machine shed by the house for the winter and Phoenix’s near daily cat therapy sessions. More on that later.

So here comes Christmas and Liz gives Phoenix one of those Skineez toys, the kind without any stuffing. It's a rabbit.


Darling. Or not.

It looks kind of stoned.

I suppose if you spent a lot of time dangling out of Malinois jaws you might look so good either.

Phoenix loves his bunny. The bunny is an excellent indoor exercise program since simply the sight of it causes spinning, bouncing, leaping and tooth clacking. Humans should wear protective gear when Phoenix and bunny are united. It might be safer just to leave the house.

The Squeaky Ball From Hell is in the box next to the bunny. The box is atop the fridge.

It's all good.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Answering a tough question

One of the comments on yesterday’s post brought up an interesting question: how long do you keep working a dog who doesn’t show much enjoyment in training for a particular activity?

That’s a hard question to answer without knowing a lot of specifics but here are some thoughts. These are all assuming, of course, that you’ve been able to train with a knowledgeable instructor who recognizes how your dog feels about things and that you’ve sincerely tried some different training methods to build a good working relationship.

It’s really hard when your partner doesn’t share your enthusiasm for the activity, no matter how hard you try. Although I’d like to believe most mentally and physically sound dogs could achieve at least basic novice titles in either obedience or agility, the fact remains there are some dogs who are just not cut out to be performance dogs at any level. For whatever reasons, these dogs would truly be happier at home on the couch or playing ball in the back yard without the demands of remembering anything more important than when supper is served.

It’s a tough call. Your journey with your dog is yours and yours alone. It’s not something you can let another person decide for you. Given that an instructor told me my first OTCh. dog would “never amount to anything,” I learned to rely on my own sense of what is the right thing to do and what is not. It comes down to how much time and effort you are willing to put into building a training relationship and how many resources you have available to help with this.

Some things to consider:

Is the dog’s quality of life being improved by the training interaction? This might be the most important consideration. Kind of like the Hipocratic Oath, first, do no harm . . .

Is your goal to show in whatever venue you are training for or are you happy taking classes and playing around at the park?

If you want to show, what level of achievement would you like to reach (just go in the ring, qualify and get titles, get class placements, get High In Trials, be on the World Team?)

Are you in a position (financially, family support, time, etc.) where you can add another dog to your family? Then maybe the uninterested dog could be retired to happy pet status and you could find a more engaged partner if you really want to compete in dog sports.

Thoughts, anyone?

Coming tomorrow: the tale of the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy winter solstice!

Today is the “shortest” day of the year, with the least amount of daylight hours. Starting tomorrow, the daylight hours gradually lengthen. Can’t wait until June when it’s daylight until almost 9 p.m.!

In the meantime, the Celtic people called twilight “the time between times” and that’s sort of how I feel about late December. It’s the twilight of the old year, a time between times. For me, it’s time to think about what I’ve learned while training and trialing Phoenix this year.

The thing that comes to mind over and over is training with joy.

A simple concept, right? Since we do this dog stuff for fun, shouldn’t the element of joy always be present? Then little things start sneaking up and undermining our joyful foundation. Pressure to achieve. Ring stress. Failure to get a certain score or title. Anxiety. Disappointment. Worry we’re not doing it “right.” Ugh. Tons of things to squish the joy right out of you and your dog.

A friend of mine showed several dogs in obedience. It was always fun to watch her in the ring because both she and her dogs were obviously having fun. When those dogs retired, she began showing another dog. She wanted “more” from this dog. She took lessons from a Big Name Trainer. This new dog was a very good obedience dog but lacked the flair and enthusiasm of her previous dogs. “He hates obedience,” my friend often said. “This is my obedience dog who hates obedience.”

I always wanted to ask her why she didn’t change her training methods since her dog obviously disliked it. Surely there was a different approach that would allow them to find joy in the work together. The dog worked with a great deal of accuracy but without much joy. They got very high scores and eventually, she finished the dog’s OTCh. and even got a 200 in the process.

I think about them often when I train. Many trainers are so focused on the technicalities of the methods that teach the dog how to perform a required skill that they totally ignore how the dog feels about it.

For me, the bottom line is joy. I want my dog to WANT to work with me, no matter whether we are by ourselves at the club building or in the ring at a trial. If I get a mechanically perfect performance with no joy, it’s an empty achievement. As a trainer, it is my job to make training (and performing) rewarding to the dog. That doesn’t mean cookies every two steps and it doesn’t mean I’ll never make a correction. Neither are fair to my dog’s expectations or understanding.

But it does mean I will make my dog’s happiness a very high priority when we train. I’ve stumbled around in that no-man’s land of “This is how I will train my dog because So-And-So said ‘Do it this way’ and her dogs are brilliant and she’s got a bazillion titles so I’ll shut off my brain and mindlessly do everything she says and never have an original thought of my own.”

Experience has taught me this is not a good idea. I will keep an open mind. I will try new things. I will experiment. Then I will decide what is right for me and my dog.

This means constantly evaluating how we are working together and tweaking the details to improve our performances AND make them “more funner.” Believe me, Phoenix is all about the “more funner.”

As 2010 slips into the twilight, the image of the year I have in my mind is Phoenix giving me that goofy mal smile while he tries to steal the dumbbell or glove out of my hand when he thinks I’m not looking.

Here’s to much joy and even more funner training in 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chomp

I need to take more pictures of my dogs playing and being silly. These are the moments I remember, the goofy, ridiculous stuff they do that makes me laugh out loud.

Here's one of Jamie very carefully dismantling a cow. He is very serious about his toy dismemberment. It is his mission in life.

One of the biggest differences between Jamie and Phoenix is the way they respond to toys. They both love them but the similarity ends there. If I give Jamie a toy, it's b'bye and he goes off into a corner to tear the hell out of it. Seriously. He can't field dress it fast enough.

Phoenix is the total opposite. He'll grab whatever is offered, then immediately shove it back at me. Here! You play! Tug! Tug harder! Chase me! Here! You have it! I will chase you! Chomp! Now I have it! This is so cool! Play! Play! Play!

His toys are all very well loved but they don't last much longer than Jamie's.

And thank you, Tammy, for the Squeaky Ball From Hell in our Christmas bag! And Liz, for the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.

Coming soon: the story of Phoenix and the Evil Psycho Killer Bunny.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday funny

My friend Renee found this charming sticker for me. It's absolutely perfect.

Phoenix "paints" the windows in the house during his never-ending cat-watching episodes. I guess he figures if he pushes hard enough, he might be able to get that cat. Sometimes he squeaks while he nose-paints. He's artistic AND musical.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gingerbread dogs

Last night I baked gingerbread dogs. I'm not crazy about gingerbread but I like it once a year at Christmas and this is a really easy recipe. Plus it makes the house smell good.

These are gingerbread Tervuren. They could be Shelties or collies if you're feeling ambitious and want to use white frosting on their paws and tail tips and to give them collars. I'm not that ambitious so they are Tervs.




GINGERBREAD CUT-OUTS
1/2 C. shortening (Crisco)
1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. molasses
1 egg
2 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Beat shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg. Beat well. Mix dry ingredients and add gradually to shortening, sugar, molasses and egg.

Cover and chill dough for 3 hours or until easy to handle. (I chilled mine overnight and that was actually too long. It was very stiff and brittle until it warmed a little. Most "chill the dough" recipes really mean "chill the dough overnight" but not this one.)

Roll out dough on floured surface and cut out cookies. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 for 5-6 minutes or until edges are firm.

Ice with powdered sugar icing if desired:
1 C. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 T. milk (more as needed)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Video from ICDOC

Here are three of our runs from the weekend. I had fun putting them to music this time, never done that before.

The music for the first run is "Gator Drive."

Seriously.

How fun is that.



The second one is "Dance of the Clowns." If I do this again, I really need to just let YouTube pick the music for me. I could spend waaaaaaay too much time doing it myself.



I can't remember what this one was called but I spent entirely too much time picking it out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The blizzard trial is over

First, let me say how eternally grateful I am we did not get the 10 or 18 or 22+ inches of snow our neighbors in northern Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota received. There should be a law against that sort of thing.

The entire state of Iowa was under a blizzard warning this morning. I wasn't too excited about getting up before the butt crack of dawn and driving 30 miles in the dark through a blizzard, so slept a little later, waited until sunrise, added a couple of extra layers of clothes and drove 30 miles in the daylight through a blizzard. 

It wasn't all that bad. I had the highways pretty much to myself, so I drove right down the middle of them, equal distance from both ditches that way.

We only got a couple of inches of snow and even though the wind was screaming with up to 40 mph gusts, it didn't have much material to work with. The roads were snow packed and no doubt slick. I never went fast enough to find out. Got to the trial just as my Standard walk through was starting.

Many folks clearly had chosen to cut their losses and went home last night. Even some of our local exhibitors didn't come back today either. Can't blame them at all. Thanks to all the wonderful folks who jumped in to fill empty worker spaces. Agility people are the best. Or maybe they just wanted a job to keep their minds off the drive home. The blizzard warning was replaced by a windchill advisory around noon. That means windchills at minus 20 or lower. That is seriously unnecessary if you ask me but no one did.

Phoenix ran wonderfully all three days. I was an idiot handler here and there (so what's new) but Phoenix didn't seem to mind. One thing I've learned from him at agility trials is that he never, EVER, thinks he's wrong. He is quite sure that whatever he does on the course is exactly what he was supposed to do. That's one of things that makes him so much fun. I'll post video in the next few days. 

No Qs for us today but I feel like we ended the year on a really good note this weekend. Of course Phoenix doesn't know the agility year is over but human nature being what it is, I have to look at the calendar and mentally wrap up this year before launching into 2011.

Right now, it sure feels good to be home, safe and warm, my dogs sleeping by my chair, the Farmer watching football on TV and the wind howling around the house. This cold spell has settled in to stay for awhile.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Men in pink, and other stuff

I'll get to the men in pink in a second.

Today was the second day of the ICDOC agility trials in  Cedar Rapids. True to form, we had a mix of rain, freezing rain and snow throughout the day with the promise of a blizzard warning beginning at 9 p.m. tonight and lasting through 6 p.m. tomorrow. I made it home okay on dicey roads this afternoon, the jury is out about the return trip in the a.m. 

Club members and lots of other exhibitors wore pink today to honor a member who was diagnosed with breast cancer this fall. She's doing great. We had a raffle of weave poles and jumps with proceeds going to the Susan B. Komen Foundation. 

Real men wear pink as evidenced below. From left, Bill, Jeff, Terry (now known as Saint Terry), another Bill, Vern, Don and another Terry. I've never seen any of them wear pink before. I'm pretty sure I won't see any of them wear pink again.

Phoenix has had a great weekend so far. Friday he ran great in Std. and finished his MX. Dropped a bar in JWW but otherwise had an amazing, beautiful run. Today was a repeat: great run to Q in Std. and great run but dropped one bar in JWW.

Since I know everyone is fascinated by other people's dogs' personal quirks, I'll share this little treat. Phoenix rarely throws up. Like never since he was a puppy. Seriously. In the last almost 4 years, I think he's tossed his cookies twice.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting here, typing away, and he trots up to me, arches his back, opens his mouth and hurfs up some very weird looking slimy stuff. No advance warning, no drama, no endless pre-launch noises . . . just, HURF. Here ya go. And then he trotted off.

Inspection revealed . . . drum roll please . . . a variety of toy parts. Well. Yuck.

Phoenix had indulged in some unauthorized toy consumption a few days ago. I'd been doing very thorough poop inspection since then, which revealed various furry little scraps of this and that. Honestly, the only thing more unpleasant than poking through poop is poking through poop in the pouring rain just a few degrees above freezing.

His deposit (on the dining room carpet, of course) revealed various furry BIG scraps of this and that. He ate more than I thought. I'm grateful they had been churning around in his tum, not trying to pass on through. Pretty scary, several friends have had dogs with bowel obstructions from eating inappropriate things and that's not an experience I want to have.

Time for supper and an up-date on the weather. And a hot shower, ibuprofen and mug of cocoa. Tomorrow morning and its decisions will come soon enough.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Still undecided

The meteorologists are still undecided about the track of this weekend's storm. That means we could see from 1" to 8" of snow on Saturday. I'm not holding my breath. The only thing they all seem to agree on is that it's going to get freaking cold and windy Saturday night and Sunday with air temps below zero, compounded by windchills.

You should see the stack of stuff I have piled up to take to the trials. How can one person and one dog need so much stuff for trials that don't even involve an overnight stay? Blankets, vests, crate covers, boots, my Carharrt bibs . . .

I even broke out Phoenix's coat, just in case. Yes, he has a coat. It's even been custom designed, since Phoenix removed what he felt was an extraneous buckle. He was right. It didn't do anything, was just there for looks. He thought his coat looked better without it. Who am I to argue with Malinois design principles.

The whole dogs-in-coats thing is new to me. After years of Shelties and Tervs, I was accustomed to furry dogs who loved the cold and snow. Then as Connor aged, he lost muscle mass and his fur thinned. I bought him a coat. He loved it. He always was my "dress up" dog. He loved to wear things and preened and pranced. Silly boy.

I figure Jamie would probably bite me if I tried to put him in a coat. (Actually, he wouldn't. He would just get that pathetic, woe-is-me look on his ever-patient face.) If ever there was a dog who didn't need a coat, it's him. At age 11 1/2, his thermostat is perpetually stuck on high. He pants in January. Good for him. Some days I am jealous!

Then Phoenix entered the picture: 53 pounds of solid muscle (and a very hard head) without an ounce of fat. It didn't seem right to ask the Skinny Little Dog to spend much time sitting in his crate in the van or semi-heated crating areas at winter trials when it was really cold. So I bought him a coat.

I'll have to take a picture of him in it. It's really quite stylish and I think he secretly enjoys wearing it.

Good luck to everyone who is running in our trials this weekend and safe travels to all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snow? No-no-no!

Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't following you.

In my case, I'm paranoid about the weather.

Which is a total waste of time because I can't do a darn thing about it. Like the song writer said, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Just not this weekend.

The Iowa City Dog Obedience Club's agility trials are this weekend. Our trials have the questionable honor of being known as the Snow and Ice Trials.

With good reason. I think we've managed to have at least one day of seriously ugly winter weather each weekend for the last five years. It's not like we plan this sort of thing. We have our hands full planning and running the trials, let alone trying to orchestrate the weather. Although, if that were possible I would happily serve as Chief Weather Steward. Clear and safe travels for all!

Last year, a big snowstorm rolled in Sunday afternoon. The year before that, there was freezing rain on Saturday afternoon and evening and I didn't even try to drive home. The Belgians and Connor and I bunked with Marsha and Brian at their place just a few miles from the trial site.

Phoenix pooped behind their couch and Jamie very casually hiked his leg on a door frame. (Talk about the houseguests from hell. I swear my dogs are housebroken in spite of all indications to the contrary.) Connor just laid in front of the fireplace and didn't move. He was the perfect houseguest. Oh, and Phoenix chased Marsha's IGs around the kitchen. Did I mention Marsha and Brian moved to the other side of town the next year? Clearly, they weren't taking any chances with me coming back.

In keeping with our snow and ice tradition, something is brewing for this weekend. Here's the current forecast for Dec. 10, 11 and 12:

National Weather Service, Quad Cities, IL:

"A stronger storm system is then expected to follow for the weekend, bringing the potential for some accumulating snow to the region Saturday into Saturday night. At this time it appears mainly light to possibly some moderate accumulations over the region. However, there still remains uncertainty with the track and intensity of the storm, which will have an impact on precipitation type and amounts. As a result, be sure to stay tuned to later forecasts and statements regarding the potential for accumulating snow this weekend. Despite the uncertainty with the track of the storm, there is growing confidence that windy and bitterly cold conditions will settle in by late in the weekend and early next week. This is likely to be the coldest air of the season thus far."

Maybe they're wrong? Ya think? In Iowa? In December? Snow? Bitter cold? What are the chances?

And why is it that when you really wouldn't mind having a snow day, that's when the predicted storm system fizzles out into nothing, but when you have serious plans, that's the storm system that arrives as advertised?

Enough rhetorical questions. Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday musings

My mind is all over the place today. It's the sort of day where my biggest concern is deciding if I should eat Leftover Casserole A for dinner and Leftover Casserole B for supper or vice versa. The fact that I managed to pack up little boxes of both Leftover Casserole A and B this morning, then actually remembered to take them out of the fridge and bring them to work with me is nothing short of amazing.

Don't laugh. I KNOW you've packed lunches and left them at home before. Hate that.

It's deadline day at the newspaper and casserole really is the least of my concerns but food is, as always, a very high priority for me.

Another priority is staying warm. I abandoned my happy state of denial last night and reluctantly admitted that winter has really and truly arrived (the first below 0 windchills of the season) and I am really and truly screwed. It's the first week in December and I'm already pulling out the big guns: last night I went to bed wearing a long-sleeved T, flannel pajama pants (red, with little dogs on skis, really, they are adorable) and fuzzy socks. I had the heating pad on high so I could thaw my poor cold toes.

WTF am I going to do when it gets REALLY cold? We've got a good 4 months of cold weather left and I'm already reacting like it's already Threat Level Red when it comes to staying warm.

By February, I'll be waddling around like Nanook of the North, so swathed in layers of polar fleece and down I'll barely be able to move.

And Phoenix will probably think I'm wearing a bite suit. Game on!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cookies, cats & unemployed malinois

I love the holidays, really, I do but things are a little insane right now. My work hours are all over the place and it seems like the hands on the clock are spinning double time. Things should settle after this weekend, at least where work is concerned.

Phoenix is disgruntled. Poor little dog. He's not getting any attention.

No. I take that back. He's getting plenty of attention (Give me that $#@!-ing sock!) but he's not getting any work. Seriously. He's getting trained about once a week whether he needs it or not and believe me, that's not enough. He's starting to invent jobs for himself. Anyone who lives with creative, intelligent, high-drive, easily bored dogs, you know what I'm talking about.

This morning I baked sugar cookies. Phoenix helped. He was in charge of anything that fell on the floor. He was very bored. I take sugar cookie security very seriously. So did he.


He helped me frost them, too. He sat by my chair, put his head on my leg and drooled. For 45 minutes. Really, a little malinois fur in the frosting adds that special, festive touch, don't you think?

Later in the morning, I went on the Amana Christmas Haus Tour to take photos for the paper. It was kind of fun. It really made me appreciate our house, warts and all. And it made me want to come home and clean and de-clutter. Some of the homes were so filled with "decor" I wonder if the people who live there actually LIVE there?

This is Jenise and her cat Walter. They were on the haus tour. Well, their haus was, they were hosts. Jenise used to work at the newspaper office with me, about a million years ago. Then she got smart and left. Now she and her husband have a business in Amana. They live above their shop, which is located in the ground floor of a 150-year old "küche haus" or "kitchen haus," from Amana's communal era.

Walter was very cool. He wore a Christmas tie for the occasion and thought he was all that. Check out his paws. He is a polydactyl cat. He has extra toes on each foot. Ernest Hemmingway had polydactyl cats. There. Now you've learned something new today. Walter is from northeast Iowa, however, not from the Florida Keys where Hemmingway's multi-toed cats are found. There's a story there, if Walter would ever like to tell it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another annoyed animal

In addition to the angry 3-legged mouse, who hasn't been seen since Sunday night, I've managed to completely honk off Jamie.

It's not my fault.

Jamie spent most of last week throwing up, which earned him a trip to the vet yesterday. Of course, the minute I made the appointment, he quit throwing up. Go figure.

We kept the appointment anyway. After 45 minutes and $130 worth of blood work, the vet said he was totally normal, or as normal as Jamie ever gets. His temp was normal, there was no swelling, hardness, tenderness or pain in his abdomen, no diarrhea, normal stools, no parasites and his blood work was all totally within normal ranges except for his white cell count which was abnormally low but has been all his life.

She sent me home with some Pepcid and instructions to give him one 30 minutes before each meal. He may have some doggie version of acid reflux or it may just have been a weird thing that will go away on its own. If it doesn't, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Things went well last night: pill, wait 30 minutes, supper. Evening meals at our house are a hit and miss affair, one never really knows when they will be served so the dogs have no great expectations.

This morning was another story.

Our morning routine is much more formulated: up at 5:30, dogs outside, dogs back in, dogs eat breakfast, bring me their bowls and I get on my treadmill for 30 minutes of bonding with the early news.

This morning, we got up at 5:30, dogs went out, dogs came in, Jamie got his Pepcid and I got on the treadmill.

Jamie: Hey, lady, what about my breakfast?

Me, firing up the treadmill: You have to wait.

Jamie: Starving. Can't wait.

Me: You can wait 30 minutes.

Jamie: Want breakfast NOW!

Me: Sorry. That's life. Deal.

Jamie: I'm going to eat a sock.

Phoenix: I'll get you one!

Me: You are such a drama king.

Jamie: You hate me.

Me: I do NOT hate you. Let the medicine work.

Phoenix: Here's a sock!

Me: Put that down!

Jamie: I will eat this sock. You'll be sorry.

Me: For the love of pete. Where did you get that sock?

Phoenix: Laundry hamper's open. There's more. I will get more.

Jamie: This sock stinks. You hate me. You won't feed me.

Me: I will feed you when I'm done walking.

Jamie: Walk faster.

Phoenix: Here's another sock, two gloves and some underwear.

Me: WTF?

Phoenix: You LIKE it when I bring you things. I can tell. I will bring more.

Jamie: I will sit here and stare at you with the Evil Belgian Eye of Doom until you get off that walky thing and get my breakfast. See? I am staring.

Me: You are both insane.

Jamie: Old Belgian mind trick. Get. Off. The. Treadmill. Feed. Me. Now.

Phoenix: Here's another sock, one house slipper, yesteday's paper and a TV remote.

Me: Oh dear Lord. I still have 15 minutes to go.

Jamie: Staring. Staring. Staring. Look at me. I am pathetic.

Me: Yes. You are.

Phoenix: Here's an LL Bean catalog, three socks, a bra and some long underwear.

Me: I bet other people's dogs don't do this.

Jamie: I bet other people don't starve their dogs.

Me: I am NOT starving you!

Jamie: I don't see YOU missing any meals.

Me: You are not missing a meal. It's just delayed.

Jamie: I want to talk to the manager. This place has lousy service.

Phoenix: Here's a boot, an Iowa Farmer Today, the towel off the stove and your weather radio.

Me: Seriously. Other people have NORMAL dogs.

Jamie: Dr. Walker says I'm normal. I heard her.

Me: Dr. Walker doesn't live with you.

Phoenix: Here's a bath towel, two coasters, a mouse pad, a bottle of honey and an ink pen.

Treadmill: BEEP!

Me: TG

Jamie: I'll be in the kitchen, hurry!

Phoenix: Wow. Sure is a mess in here. Just sayin'.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mouse, 1; trap, 0

Good news: I caught a mouse in one of my fancy-schmancy new traps.

Bad news: the mouse was caught by the hind leg and very much alive.

Good news: but the trap held it!

Bad news: but now I was going to have to kill it.

Good news: I'm not bloodthirsty but I'm not horribly squeamish when it comes to mice. I could do this.

Bad news: the mouse would not cooperate.

Good news: mice can't move that fast when they're dragging a trap along behind them.

Bad news: they move faster than I thought.

Good news: I was able to grab the trap before mouse and trap disappeared into a laundry pile (yuck, yuck, yuck).

Bad news: the little SOB tried to bite me.

Good news: I have EXCELLENT reflexes when being attacked by a killer mouse.

Bad news: I have HORRIBLE aim when stomping on a killer mouse.

Good news: I didn't break the trap.

Bad news: I didn't break the mouse, either.

Good news: I got a second chance (the mouse apparently couldn't believe a human could be so clumsy.)

Bad news: I was even clumsier the second time. I stomped the trap instead of the mouse. The trap opened. The mouse bolted.

Crap. Now there's an angry 3-legged mouse running around our basement.

No wonder Phoenix doesn't want to go down there.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

10 fun things I did this weekend

1. Ate. A lot. Eating is always fun.

2. Trained with Jill, Kate, Paula and Tracy. UD in spring 2011, here we come!

3. Taught the last session of my Utility class. I am now class-free until January. Wow. What will I do on Thursday nights?

4. Played Frisbee with the dogs on a sunny, 50 degree afternoon. Won't have too many more of those.

5. Drove through a local Chevy dealer and checked out new wheels. I have Equinox envy. More precisely, I have Equinox mileage envy: 34 highway. I want one. Bad.

6. Put up the Christmas tree at home. Okay, it's just a little table top tree but it's pretty. And sparkly. I'm not a real bling-y girl but I love sparkly at Christmas.

7. Played with my houseplants. Gave them showers and trims. It's a gardner thing. If you don't garden, you won't get it.

8. Gave myself permission NOT to write a Christmas letter this year. Every year I am obsessed with condensing the last 12 months into a letter. Not gonna do it this year. I'm simplifying Christmas. Sugar cookies are worth the time. Christmas letters are not.

9. Bought a new crate. There's something I haven't done for a couple of years! Got a tent crate for Phoenix, who has proven himself worthy of one (i.e., has occasionally used Jamie's tent crate over the last year and it still has the same number of doors and windows, no new Malinois designs.) Got 15 percent off and free shipping which made it even more fun.

10. Took the shoe, glove, mitten, slipper, sock that Phoenix brought me about 147 times. I don't know what's going on with him but he's decided I need to have a shoe, glove, mitten, slipper, sock at any given time of the day and is constantly presenting me with one every time I turn around. Maybe he just does it to see me laugh. It works.

What did you do for fun this weekend?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Really giving thanks

The Farmer and I went to my mom's for Thanksgiving yesterday. A good time was had by all. Burp.

We didn't take the Belgians along because Mom was dog-sitting for the weekend for a border collie who belongs to one of the brothers who rents their farm. She said the dog was very shy and we agreed that throwing two strange new people (me and the Farmer) plus Phoenix and Jamie into the mix for the day would probably put it right over the edge.

The dog was pretty much dysfunctional as it was. I felt so sorry for him. Apparently he had zero socialization as a puppy and as a result, had zero coping skills when taken out of his home environment, although I got the impression he wasn't much of a firecracker there, either. "Scottie" spent most of the day laying on his dog bed, about as far away from all of us as he could get.

He wouldn't come to anyone unless coaxed with a treat. If you dropped the treat, he ignored it and fled. He wouldn't follow anyone around the house. He wouldn't go to investigate new smells or sounds. He wouldn't make eye contact. He wouldn't wag his tail.

Wow. I forgot dogs like that existed. Everywhere I go in my happy little universe of performance dogs, I am surrounded by dogs who want to go see people, interact with people, get petted, get cookies, play with toys and just make a general nuisance of themselves. They sleep on our beds. They accompany us to the bathroom. They "help" us with every detail of our daily lives.

Not this one. He had essentially no use for humans. Part of it was fear. Part of it was he didn't think that humans were worth much.

Apparently he is tied up all day at home on the back porch (little to no human interaction). He can go outside through a doggie door to do his business (no need for the human to take him outside). He is free-fed (food always available, ho-hum, don't need a human for that either.) He is "dog aggresive," and barks when other dogs come around his house (hmmm, fear, more likely, since he is confined by a chain and can't escape). He gets to go in the house in the evenings sometimes. And sometimes his owner will throw a ball for him. But the dog tends to take the ball and run off. Because he doesn't know how to play with a human and it's more fun to entertain himself.

It was a classic example of "Why do you have a dog in the first place?"

The sadness of this overwhelmed me. Most BCs I know are perpetual problem solving machines who view life with humans as one large puzzle that needs to be figured out. Not this guy. He just existed. Perhaps with time and tremendous effort on the owner's part, he could truly connect to this dog and they both could experience the mutual joy that comes from sharing your life with a dog. I'm not holding my breath.

As soon as we got home, I sat down on the kitchen floor with the Belgians and we had a big ol' hairy dog party with kisses and pokes and fur everywhere. Phoenix chewed on my arm. Jamie brought me a house slipper. There were wagging tails and bright eyes.

Through the evening, I started counting how many different times one or both dogs initiated interaction with me or the Farmer. I totally lost count.

I am truly so thankful for my dogs and the daily joy they bring.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video and commentary

Here are a couple of our JWW runs from the trials last weekend.

This one goes really well until Phoenix adds a bonus tunnel at the end. He thought it looked like more fun than the silly triple. And of course I was waaaay behind him and sucking wind so not able to give him much direction. So he directed himself. I probably should have rear-crossed the tunnel and called him hard to pull him back toward the triple. Maybe? Who knows.



When I watch video, I ALWAYS see things I could have handled differently. Does that ever end? Probably not. I don't think there's such a thing as the "perfect" way to handle a course. It depends on each individual dog and handler team, their strengths and weaknesses.

This was a Q-ing run. I thought maybe the leash runner was going to join us on the course at the end.



Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, wherever you may be!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That sound

When I let the dogs out yesterday morning, Jamie must have spent the entire time eating grass because he came in the house, went directly to the living room (carpeted) and barfed up about a half bale of grass.

Sigh. Could he not barf on the vinyl floor in the kitchen?

No. It has to be on the carpet.

But he apparently felt a lot better for his efforts and was all waggy tail and squinty eyes so I forgave him his sins and gave him his breakfast.

Later, while washing dishes, I heard the dreaded sound. You know the one. It is the pre-barfing sound, that horrible retching noise that you know spells doom. It can wake you from a dead sleep at night and send you sprinting through the house in what is usually a futile attempt to MAKE IT STOP. The sound can make you drop whatever you are doing immediately.

The sound makes you start yelling "Noooooooooo!" like that is actually going to make it stop. Once the launch sequence has been initiated, there is no turning back. The best you can hope for is to be able to shove the offending party A) off the carpet and onto the vinyl or B) out the door in time.

I have given up trying to get dogs out of the house in time. That pretty much ended the day I went to yank open the dining room door and the door knob came off in my hand. I stood there and stared in alternating horror at the beautiful turn-of-the-century cut glass door knob that was no longer attached to the door and Connor, who was heaving his guts out all over the dining room carpet.

With the shelties, I was occasionally able to scoop them up and race out of the house. With Jamie at 60 lbs. and Phoenix at 53 lbs., that isn't going to happen. Plus, Phoenix never throws up. Never. He turns 4 next month and I think I've seen that dog barf once in his life. But I digress.

Back to Jamie. He had barfed up some more grass (good grief, I didn't know we had that much grass left in the yard!) and part of his breakfast. He appeared quite happy about the situation. He trotted off, had a drink and started chasing Phoenix around the house.

I cleaned things up. It was on the carpet. Again. Of course.

A little later, I was puttering around when . . . again . . . I heard the sound.

Oh for the love of doG! Noooooooo!

I ran into the dining room. No Jamie.

I ran into the living room. No Jamie.

I checked the bedroom. No Jamie.

WTF?

I followed the sound back to the living room.

Jamie was behind the entertainment center. I have NO FREAKING IDEA how he got back there, but there he was, apparently barfing up his toenails.

Do you know what is behind our entertainment center?

A lot of electrical cords.

A furnace vent.

Carpet.

They were now all covered in dog vomit. Massive amounts of it. How could this much stuff come out of one dog? His one cup of breakfast kibble and hard boiled egg had morphed into about half a gallon of of slimy, gelatinous gunk.

It was dripping into the furnace vent.

I said a lot of very bad words.

Jamie looked repentant. He wagged his tail.

I put him outdoors.

I moved the entertainment center, which thank heaven is on wheels.

I got a pair of pliers and pulled the furnace vent out of the floor, took it to the shower and washed it off. Then I cleaned dog barf out of the furnace duct. In an entire lifetime spent with dogs, I have never cleaned dog barf out of a furnace duct. I am not sure this is something I would list on a resumé.

I cleaned off all the power cords and scrubbed the carpet. By the way, I recommend Resolve spray carpet cleaner.

Occasionally I checked out the window to see what Jamie was doing. Apparently he felt fine. He was dancing from paw to paw on the patio, staring at the back door in hopes of coming back in.

That was 24 hours ago. No more barfing has ensued. Jamie had a small meal of hamburger and rice last night and another this morning. I have not seen either one reappear. It is a very good day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is it wrong . . .

. . . to get excited about a mousetrap?

At our house, NO!

Thanks to the fact we live in an old house in the middle of a cornfield, mice are a seasonal nuisance. I run a trap line in the basement through the fall and early winter and average a couple of catches a week until A) I catch all the stupid ones and/or B) the rest of them find a place to spend the winter that is not inside our house where they would be tempted by the Peanut Butter Lure of Death.

Apparently I had worn out our previous traps by too many successful trapping seasons. (That is very, very wrong on so many levels.) The mice were eating the peanut butter right off them without springing them. Great. The only way they were going to set off the old traps was if they ate so much peanut butter they got fat enough to spring the lever when they sat on it.

So today on the way home from the Muscatine agility trial (which has so far brought varying degrees of brilliance and train wreck-age), I stopped at the new Thiesen's in Coralville.

It was a religious experience.

If you don't have a Thiesen's where you live, it's a farm store. But it's more. It's the ultimate farm store. They have everything. This new store is huge. It has more of everything.

Seriously, that's the store motto: We have more of everything.

You'd better believe it, too. (But sorry, Rilda, they didn't have 2" orange vetwrap. So I guess they lied.)

They have mousetraps.

They have BETTER mousetraps as evidenced here.


This was too cool. I am all about mousetraps that are easy to set. And these said so right on the package. So of course it had to be true.

I had to try them out.

Right there in the store.

The manufacturer had cleverly packaged the traps so you could do this.

I did. WOW! That was super easy. I got so excited I must have shaken the cardboard they were attached to.

SNAP! SNAP!

Holy crap! Glad my fingers weren't in there! 

I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

Nobody was.

So I did it again.

COOL!

I was fascinated.

I bought them and brought them home. (I also bought cat food. Is that an oxymoron, to buy mousetraps AND cat food? If the cats were doing their job, I wouldn't need the mousetraps. But that would mean the cats would have to be in the house. And the only one happy about THAT would be Phoenix.)

Here is one of the new traps, all set up with the tasty Peanut Butter Lure of Death. I'll let you know how it works. (No pics, I promise.)

Seriously, only people who have had to trap mice will fully appreciate this. If you live in a mouse-free zone, count your blessings. Start now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Excuses!

This week has not been conducive to creative, funny, thought-provoking blogging. I seem to be doing good just getting from one day to the next without damaging myself.

In a fit of panicked desk-cleaning at work, looking for something I never did find, I found this, which is just as funny now as it was 10 years ago, which was the date stamped on it. Maybe if I cleaned off my desk more often than once every 10 years I wouldn't be losing stuff, huh?

EXCUSES
I cannot train my dog today,
the sky is overcast and gray,
the air's too damp, I've got a cramp,
and the dog's just eaten anyway.

Can't find the leash, got home too late,
I'm due somewhere tonight at eight.
I've got a rash, a gash and bumps,
Too tired now to get the jumps.

Traffic's made me tense and strained,
I have to lose this weight I've gained.
How can we work when it's just rained?

The dog's too hyper, my mood is blue,
I must be coming down with the flu,
I cough, I sneeze and wheeze and choke,
Darn! My only dumbbell broke!

Too cold outside - my feet are numb.
There's a sliver in my thumb.
The house needs cleaning, it's a sight.
I have to work overtime tonight.

I had a nap. Had company.
Lawrence Welk is on TV.
My toe is sore - it might be gout,
I think my hair is falling out.

I ate too much. My day's been rough.
I think my dog has had enough
Of this daily training grind,
we need some time off to unwind.

Author Unknown

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Daily dose of cute

Phoenix's nieces and nephews (from his sister Cayenne's litter) took a field trip recently. Breeder Catherine took them to visit Lowe's. Apparently Lowe's is very dog-friendly. Or maybe it's just this Lowe's. Or maybe it's a west coast thing.

Anyway here they are. Dang, they are adorable. And YES, it made me want one in a major way. But no. Not yet. Not for a very long yet.

The puppies rode around in carts and met people and had a grand time.







In case you're wondering about the North and South litter theme, they are a dual-sired litter. One papa dog is from the north, the other from the south. Catherine will DNA test to determine who's your papa.

Thanks Catherine/Carousel Malinois for the pics!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Basement steps, Part 1

She wants me to go down the stupid basement steps.
No, thank you.
I'll stand here at a safe distance and look.
Is that good enough?

No. Of course it isn't.
Okay. I'm closer.
Are you happy now?


Oh, there is food involved!
I am doing my corgi/Yoda imitation.
Keep the cookies coming, you will.
Scary looking, this carpet is.

Okay. Fine!
I'll put one foot on the first step.
ONE FOOT.
That's it.
And I'm not leaving it there for very long.
For the love of doG, woman, don't you ever vacuum?
(Um, not here. Obviously.)

Okay. Fine.
Two feet.
ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?
Where are the cookies?!?!?!
Don't you have a day job to go to?
And seriously, get the vacuum.
Or I'm not going one step further.
I mean it.
Two on, two off is good, right?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Winter games

It's 36 degrees with light drizzle and howling wind. Guess summer is over.

This afternoon Phoenix and I began one of my winter projects: the basement steps. More precisely, teaching Phoenix to go down — and hopefully back up — the basement steps. He will be 4 years old next month and wants nothing to do with the basement.

Zero. Zippo. Nada. From day one.

The dog who is virtually bombproof in any given situation will not go into our basement. Like many turn-of-the-century farmhouse basements, it is kind of dark and usually dirty and not my choice of places to hang out either but it's not THAT bad. 

And don't suggest I contact the local ghost squad and have the basement exorcized. If I think about that long enough, I won't want to go down there either.

I wouldn't say Phoenix is scared of the basement. He just doesn't see any need to go there. Jamie goes there all the time. Phoenix waits at the top of the steps to maul him when he comes back up. It's a wonder Jamie ever comes out of the basement.

We live in the upper Midwest, which means tornadoes, which means we ALL may need to go there at some point. The Farmer and I have had this discussion. He is responsible for picking Phoenix up and carrying him down the stairs if it ever comes to that.

But in the meantime, I decided it would be a good winter project to tackle.

Wait. Tackle isn't the right word. There will be no tackling involved. I've managed to stay out of the hospital just fine this year and I'd like to keep it that way.

There are very few things you can force a Malinois to do. Maybe there aren't ANY things you can force a Malinois to do. I don't know. I've never tried it. Phoenix is big enough and muscle-y enough I wouldn't want to try it. This needs to be his idea if it's going to work.

So this afternoon I got some yummy treats and sat on the top step and tried to get him to put his paws on that step.

Didn't work. 

He stretched. He stuck his paw out into the air and waved at the treats. He laid down and wagged his tail hard enough to send furball flying across the kitchen floor. He whined. He drooled.

Did you know malinois have hyper-extendable necks? And ant-eater tongues?

We'll keep at it. It's a long time until spring.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pre-stays

Several people have asked me about “pre-stays.” It's probably not a new concept, but this fall I learned that doing a couple of brief out-of-sight stays with Phoenix at a show site BEFORE we did the formal group exercises in the ring seemed to help him get more comfortable with the concept of me leaving — specifically, me leaving and him STAYING. With more ring experience I hope this becomes a non-issue but right now, it’s helpful. After all, we do warm-ups for other exercises, why not do a warm-up for stays?

When I do pre-stays, I pick a helper who understands my criteria for the exercise. This is important. Novice trainers or those who figure “he’s pretty much where she left him, must be okay,” might not recognize the importance of correcting sniffing, wiggling, shifting, fidgeting, scooting, crawling, etc. Phoenix has done all of the above and they are a precursor to getting up and leaving, so I don’t want him to practice those behaviors.

I also need someone who will be aware of other dogs in the area and the potential for strange dogs coming close to Phoenix while he’s on a stay. I always leave him in a quiet place but dog shows being what they are, you never know when an errant dog will pop up in your own dog’s face.

I leave him in a formal sit or down close to the helper’s chair (he’s on leash) and walk away in the same direction we will leave for group stays and out the same door if possible. My helper will make mild corrections, usually a verbal scolding for fidgeting his feet or hip-shifting. If he is being really naughty, she will call me back and I’ll make the correction and start over. Otherwise, I leave for 20-30 seconds, return, praise, leave again, stay away longer this time but usually not the whole 3 or 5 minutes, return, praise, change positions, leave briefly, return, etc.

The goal is for him to see me leave, return, leave, return, multiple times before we do it for real. No big deal.

A few words about praise: when I return, I want him to know how absolutely BRILLIANT he is for staying there without me because I know it's difficult for him. My praise is heartfelt but calm. I don’t want to cheer and shout and add a lot of bouncy energy to this exercise when my goal is for my dog to perform it with calm confidence. Dogs can hear the enthusiasm and sincerity in your voice, so high volume is not required.

Occasionally, I will leave him with a friend who is just sitting ringside. She can play with him, tug, have him do tricks, etc. while I go out of sight or she can just sit and hold his leash and let him hang out. It’s not a formal stay exercise, he’s just out of his crate and I’m not there. But I’ll still disappear in the same direction we will leave for group stays and he’s not allowed to pull or try to follow me.

At the Omaha trials a few weeks ago, I carefully did my pre-stays, exiting through a door to the left because that’s where an exhibitor told me they’d gone on Friday. Oops, we exited through a door to the right on Saturday and Sunday because one of the exhibitors in our group was in a wheelchair and obviously couldn’t do the steps out the left-hand door. Phoenix was fine. He’s used to me being mixed up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Comfort food

It seems like everything is still fruit basket upset at the newspaper office. Just when we were getting our feet back under us from our editor-in-chief leaving and not being replaced, we got hit with layoffs Monday and everyone's job got reorganized AGAIN. I'm not sure how many times I've been reorganized in the last two years but I'm happy to have a job and that's the bottom line.

In times like these, comfort food is important. Here's the chicken and noodle recipe I made over the weekend. Wow. I don't know if it was that good or we were just that hungry but I made a half recipe and . . . um . . . there were no leftovers.

INCREDIBLY EASY CHICKEN AND NOODLES

26 oz. can condensed cream of chicken soup
10.75 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth
2 C. diced, cooked chicken breast meat (more is better)
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
12 oz. package frozen egg noodles

In a large pot, mix the cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, chicken broth and chicken meat. Season with onion powder, seasoning salt and garlic powder. Bring pot to a boil and stir in the noodles. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

I couldn't find a 26 oz. can of cream of chicken soup and since I was making a half-batch, just used a single small can. Yeah, I know the numbers don't add up but this is cooking, not rocket science.

Hug your dogs, kiss your partner and be thankful for what you've got, not what you've not.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blue Monday

This week has not gotten off to a spectacular start. This morning I found out a good friend just lost her job. She got downsized. Another good friend is going to lose her job in a matter of months. Her corporate division is being eliminated.

Then the Mother Ship arrived at our office and laid another round of layoffs on us. Just like that. Out of the blue. Wham. Bam. Good-bye.

Not me, thank doG. I’m still here. I’m doing so many different people’s jobs these days I don’t even know what my "job” is any more. I just keep doing whatever I have to. Smiling when they double my workload at the same pay scale. Being flexible. Being patient. Being very glad I have a paycheck and benefits. Being very glad I’m already taking high blood pressure medicine (it controls the irregular heartbeat) because if I wasn’t, my head might have blown right off my shoulders today.

Would someone please tell the alleged “economic recovery” to hurry up and get here to the Midwest. Cuz we’re not seein’ it.

Here are 10 things I’m very thankful for right now at this very minute because I'm tired of thinking unhappy thoughts.

1) I have a job.

2) I am healthy, more or less (better living through chemistry).

3) I have two wonderful dogs.

4) I have a wonderful husband (should I have mentioned him before the dogs?)

5) I got C3PO back from the body shop today. She's very shiny and buff. (Jeff H., no, I didn't get the James Bond/Rambo front end package with 50 caliber machine guns mounted behind the grill. But it's a lovely thought.)

6) I finally got those bulbs planted before the ground froze.

7) I made the most awesome chicken and noodles last night.

8) My kennel club has rented a great building for winter training and I can't wait to train there with friends.

9) I have 74 hours of vacation to use before the end of the year and come hell or high water, I’m going to use them. (Seriously, after today’s layoffs and staff “reorganizing,” the Powers That Be told to use our vacation so we don’t “burn out.” Um. Yeah. Good luck with that. But I’ll give it the ol’ college try.)

10) It’s 7 p.m. and our publisher just carried in five pizzas and assorted pop. For the workforce we’ve got left at this point, that’s about 1/2 pizza per person.

Life is good.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grounded

Ah, the best laid plans . . .

I was grounded this weekend.

C3PO did not get released from the body shop on Friday as planned. The guy said he found "more extensive damage" once he started working on her and this entailed ordering extra parts which did not come in on time. (Do auto parts EVER come in on time? Seriously? Never in my automobile-owning life have parts ever come in on time.) Since the Farmer needed the Truck for doing farmer things, I STAYED HOME ALL WEEKEND.

Yep. Home. All weekend. Two days in a row. It nearly killed me. Not the staying home part, the working my butt off because I was trying to do everything I'd been letting slide all fall.

Honestly, I didn't have anywhere to go so it wasn't that big of a deal. Although I missed going to the DMOTC match on Saturday. Bummer. Oh well. It's not like I didn't have plenty to keep me busy. Apparently my house elf has migrated south for the winter.

Saturday, I dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed the bathroom, washed windows, potted some coleus and wandering jew clippings, did a ton of laundry and a bunch of end-of-the-year farm bookkeeping stuff for the Farmer. And that was all before dinner. 

In the afternoon, Phoenix and I trained for a little bit and I cleaned out the Truck, since it looks like I'll be driving it for a while longer. The Truck was very dirty. I may have mentioned that before. I'm not sure it's exactly clean now. It's just a lot less dirty.

Then I spent about 4 hours cleaning off perennial beds for the winter and planting bulbs. At the time, it seemed like a really good idea to do it all at once. I was on a roll! Look at all this work I'm getting done! About two hours after I quit, my back and other previously un-known muscle groups had second thoughts about the wisdom of my gardening marathon. I took a hot shower and a lot of ibuprofen, set the clocks back one hour and went to bed.

Apparently, I forgot to set the Belgians back one hour. I usually get up at 5:30 a.m. At 4:30 a.m. this morning, there was a lot of nose poking and pawing and generally being a pain in the arse until I convinced them it was NOT 5:30 and I was NOT getting up. Go. Back. To. Sleep. Before I beat you.

Today I did more bookkeep-y stuff, finished planting bulbs (after a healthy dose of ibuprofen) and worked Phoenix. It was a beautiful day, very sunny and warm, by November standards. Heck, it would have been a beautiful day by May standards. I hauled in all my jumps, ring gates and weave poles and stored them in the garage. Left my contact trainer and one jump out in the yard. I figure there's a balance between tempting Mother Nature by leaving everything out or being a wimp and bring it all inside too soon. It is the second week in November, after all, and never mind the fact it was about 25 degrees above normal today - the other shoe will drop eventually.

This afternoon was spa day for the dogs: nail clipping, paw and ear trimming, bathing, blowing dry and lots and lots and lots of brushing. My boys do not seem to appreciate spa day. I wonder if I had a girl dog if she would feel any different. I would love to have someone fuss over my nails and hair. Phoenix and Jamie do not share that sentiment. They think it is a serious waste of time and effort.

But now they are stunningly clean, whether they like it or not. I should have taken their picture. But it's too late now because it's almost 5 p.m. and the sun is going down.

I need more ibuprofen. I need to go back to work, where I can sit in my chair and only move my fingers on my keyboard. Which is good, because by tomorrow morning, I'm not sure I'll be able to move anything else.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Skunk!

Got home from teaching class last night, still driving The Truck, and was congratulating myself on having driven the great big beastie all over three counties, in and out of numerous parking lots (which required backing up, never my strong suit) and to several evening commitments with Phoenix, all involving the Iowa City I-380/I-80 interchange at rush hour, without any dents, dings, additional deer bashing, spilled cappuccino or Malinois-gnawed interior furnishings.

Then I pulled into our lane and there sat . . . a skunk.

Seriously. It was just sitting there. Looking around. Being cute in a way only skunks can.

I threw out an arm to hold Phoenix and slammed on the brakes.

I was NOT hitting a skunk in our own lane with The Truck.

The skunk looked at me.

I looked at it. I told it it had the right of way.

It got up and began to run.

This was hysterical. Wish I'd had my video camera. Have you ever seen a skunk run? They usually don't. I mean really, who would chase a skunk?

It got out of the lane. Good.

Now it was running toward the house. Bad.

Phoenix did not see it. Good.

If I kept driving this slowly, he would. Bad.

Now the skunk was galloping along, parallel with the lane. I followed in The Truck. Going very slowly. And quietly. I'm not big on passing on the right, especially when the pass-ee is a skunk. I glanced at my watch. At this rate, it would be after midnight before we got home.

Straight ahead, I could see the open door of the machine shed. How sweet, the Farmer had left it open for me.

The skunk was headed right for it.

What's worse than a skunk running up the lane?

A skunk running into the machine shed. Let's not go there. We did the "skunk in the machine shed" thing back in 1998. That's another story.

But it didn't go in.

It made a hard left and disappeared out of headlight range into the field. I punched the accelerator, zipped into the machine shed and hit the button for the overhead door before it could change its mind. Phoenix was oblivious, for once.

The Farmer took possession of The Truck again this morning and gave me a ride to work. C3PO is supposed to be finished at the body shop this afternoon. Poor Farmer. He got into The Truck, started it, looked at me and said, "What have you done?"

Um . . . the driver's seat was moved up, the mirrors were adjusted, the radio was on an oldies rock station, the air vents were pushed in a different direction, the armrest was shoved up to give Phoenix more room on the seat and I'd turned the passenger side airbag off.

Sorry, I said. Meant to change that all back. I got the hairy eyeball. He loves me. Really.

At least I didn't hit a skunk.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

One down, one to go

The prison demo last night went great. Phoenix worked well and, proving that he has ZERO judge of character, was a total schmooze during the meet and greet with the inmates. You'd have thought they were all his best buddies. That's my dog - gets snarly with a friendly golden retriever but adores criminals.

But first we had to get there. Remember that Nissan commercial from a few years back? The one where the mysterious little man in colored sunglasses says "Dogs love trucks"? Well, it's true. Phoenix thinks the Farmer's truck is ALL THAT. It's a Chevy Silverado, not a Nissan, but I guess it doesn't matter. Malinois love trucks.

I abandoned the notion of the seatbelt/harness thingie. The harness fit well enough but the strap that attached to the seatbelt wasn't nearly long enough and it wasn't adjustable. If I'd attached it, Phoenix would have been basically immobile. That didn't look comfortable at all so he ended up riding loose.

First he sat up and looked out the windows. Then he laid down. Then he gave me kisses and tried to crawl in my lap. (Fortunately we were still on the country roads at that point and I could stop and show him the error of his ways.) Then he sprawled out across the seat and put a paw on my leg and went to sleep. On the way home from the demo, he curled up in a little ball and didn't budge the whole trip.

OK, back to the demo. Before we went in, I had to have Phoenix's article bag inspected, as well as his treat bag and tug stick. The fellow who did the inspecting thought the metal scent articles looked highly suspicious. He counted them. I suppose he meant to count them before we left, too, but guess he forgot. We all got stamps on our hands that showed up under black light and had to be scanned out before we could leave.

It was a group affair, with about a dozen ICDOC members and their dogs. How's this for irony - people in ICDOC (Iowa City Dog Obedience Club) shirts giving a demo for people in IDOC (Iowa Department of Corrections) shirts. First we did a little obedience demo. Then we did a little agility demo. Then we had a meet and greet where the inmates could pet the dogs.

At the risk of totally creeping me out, one man not only remembered ME, he remembered JAMIE, who hasn't done the prison visit in four years. Most of the men were polite and appreciative. They talked about their dogs "on the outside." Truly, being locked up away from my dogs would a horrible punishment.

Yesterday, the inmates. Today, the Kiwanis Club. Tonight, Utility class.

Lots of riding in The Truck!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Busy week

C3PO went into the body shop this morning to get put back together after our deer-bashing incident. The Farmer is supposed to bring his pickup into town later this morning so I can get to interviews this afternoon for work. (Doing interviews for this job, not doing job interviews. There's a big difference.)

Tonight is my obedience club's annual visit to the local prison. We go every year and give an obedience and agility demo. It's a little freaky, going into a prison and giving a demo when there are armed guards standing around. Really makes me appreciate my freedoms as a citizen. And reminds me that robbing banks, shooting people, dealing drugs, etc. is a really bad idea.

Tomorrow, Phoenix and I are giving the program for the noon Kiwanis Club. Still scrambling to get that outline put together. There's a meal involved! Food is a definite motivator.

Tomorrow night, I have Utility class to teach. Lesson plans? What lesson plans?

This means Phoenix will get to ride in the Farmer's pickup a lot in the next few days. He has never done this before. The Farmer harbors some strange notion that his pickup should be a dog hair free zone. Whenever he brings that up, I just give him The Look and refrain from pointing out the mud, cow sh*t and heaven knows what else it is full of. It's definitely a cattleman's pickup. I think a little Malinois fur will improve it.

Since I'm not crazy about the idea of Nix riding "loose," I got a harness that hooks to the seatbelt. I really think he will just look out the window because that's what he loves to do in the van — lay in his crate and look between the front seats as we go down the road.

3PO is supposed to be done on Friday, just in time to go to a fun match at the DMOTC building on Saturday.

Sunday, I plan to STAY HOME, just to see what that's like.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mystery photo

A box of cool stuff arrived in the mail yesterday.

Guess what's in all these little packages?

C'mon, guess!

But I can't tell you, even if you're right.

Cuz it's a surprise for a friend.

And sometimes she reads this blog.

Meme knows.

But she's not tellin'.

Right, Meme?

I'll tell ya in December.

Oooooooh, the suspense!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stick a fork in us . . . we're done

Phoenix, Jamie and I just got home from our last obedience trial of the year. Yeah, there are a couple of other "local" trials we could still enter but at this point, I think our time and money will be better spent buckling down and training.

This weekend capped a wonderful, wild, surprising, disappointing, enlightening, joyful string of autumn obedience trials. Phoenix Q'd in Open B both days and did his stays without looking like a stressball. He made some good choices in the ring. He made some naughty choices in the ring. He tried hard on some things. He didn't try very hard at all on others. 

We had fun at the matches and had lots of laughs sitting ringside. The costume parade on Saturday was hysterical. I wonder how many of the dogs got even with their handlers today?

The club even offered a Highest Scoring Malinois prize and we won it! Okay, we were the only malinois there but still, that's not a prize you see offered at every show.

I'm not sure when we'll go back into the obedience ring. My goal is to be ready for Utility in the spring but right now I'm not sure how I'm defining "spring." 

Happy Halloween!