Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jackpot 101

When I was first exposed to the concept of jackpot training about 15 years ago, it was pretty basic: instead of giving your dog one cookie for a reward, give a whole bunch to make a bigger impression.

Then there was the question of delivery. The late Patty Ruzzo defined a jackpot as "10 to 15 pieces of food delivered over a period of time," so clearly the food was best given one piece at a time to enhance the experience. Woe to those people with snapping turtle dogs who took fingers with treats and spit out what they couldn't swallow.

Then someone came up with the theory that jackpots should be totally spontaneous and happen at any time during a training session. Although a jackpot could be a reward for effort or precision, it didn’t necessarily have to be linked to a specific behavior, leading the dog to believe that at any second he might be released to eat a whole handful of treats. This was intended to encourage attention and handler focus, as the dog never knew when the next bonanza might appear.

Along the line, I also encountered the school of thought that believed jackpot treats should be “extra special,” something different than the dog’s normal treats. Nice theory, although for the love of doG, none of my kids ever let a treat stay in their mouths long enough to taste it, so while I agree that oven-baked garlic Parmesan chicken breast IS tastier than a piece of hotdog, the finer nuances of this appreciation are probably lost on dogs who swallow everything whole anyway.

Like any training method, jackpotting is open to many different interpretations and like training with clickers, toys, pinch collars, etc., the method’s effectiveness relies on the trainer’s skill level and understanding of how dogs learn.

My second OTCh., Jamie, was not a dog who was inspired to paroxysms of delight by the whole obedience scene. He was a happy and reliable worker but unlike Connor, who was totally insane about doing obedience, Jamie needed a reason why: a reason to train, a reason to go in the ring, a reason to stop worrying about the stranger (judge) who was going to touch him on the moving stand. (Jamie did not approve of strangers. He approved even less of strangers who insisted on touching him.)

He was a total chow hound, however (having been raised with Shelties, what did you expect) and I used jackpotting with him for most of his competitive career. It worked nicely but hindsight being what it is, I made a couple of mistakes.

The first mistake was that I should have been more random with his jackpots during training sessions. A jackpot will have more impact at a critical point DURING an exercise - for example, as he was flying back to me with the dumbbell — than it will AFTER the front and finish. (What was I doing putting formal exercises together in training anyway? Bad handler! Bad!) He learned in spite of me. Good Red Dog.

Mistake number two was not implementing random jackpots during matches and group training sessions. Instead, I just kept feeding at the total end of the run-through like it was a formal trial and naturally, Jamie learned that the BIG REWARD came after he’d been in the ring for awhile, never in the beginning.

So at trials, our first few exercises in the class were lukewarm, the next two a little more animated and by the time the final exercises got there, he was sky high. Looking back at our obedience breakdowns through the years, he received wonderful scores on the final exercises in both Open and Utility, regardless of what they were, no doubt in anticipation of the reward he knew was coming. I had very effectively taught him the value of delayed gratification.

So, lessons learned.

For some reason, I have not done any jackpot training with Phoenix. I don’t know if I thought it was out of vogue or what (most likely, I just FORGOT!), but it was a tool I stuffed in the bottom of my metaphorical training bag and ignored until the Bridget Carlsen seminar. Now I can’t wait to introduce it into Phoenix’s training. DoG knows he, too, is a chow hound. And a tug hound. How totally awesomely wonderful it is to have a dog so easy to motivate! (God bless you, Catherine, AGAIN, for this wonderful creature.)

Due to copyright laws I can’t go into details about Bridget’s jackpot training method but she has a series of steps that build a foundation of understanding and motivation for the dog. She starts by building cue word for the dog’s food (Hungry! Supper! Let’s eat!) She also feels the jackpot is eventually best delivered off your body and away from the ring vs out of a pocket or treat bag on your body.

I asked her about this. She has a unique theory about keeping food on your body during training vs having it on a chair or in a bag (this is after the teaching phase is over). She said, basically, that it doesn’t matter whether the dog knows you have food on you or not because people who train continually with food on them, ACT DIFFERENTLY when the food is not there. So it’s not just the dog behaving differently in the absence of food, the handler is behaving differently too, since she may feel her cheese stick security blanket is gone. Definitely experienced that!

Anyway, Phoenix is working for all or part of his meals every day now to implement a jackpotting foundation. Working for meals is nothing new, I’m just using his food a little bit differently. Theoretically, you could jackpot to a play session with a toy, too, but Bridget built her food jackpot system for use with her Norwich terrier who did not have play drive.

Well, this has gotten out of hand, length-wise and I never intended this to be a training blog but sometimes words run away with me.

Hug your dogs and enjoy whatever you do with them today.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday musings

Monday is my “late” day at work. I go in late. I work late. Although I’m not thrilled about working until 8 or 9 p.m., it’s great to have a few extra hours on Monday mornings to play catch-up after the weekend.

I spent part of that time with Phoenix this morning trying some of the new things I learned at the Bridget Carlsen seminar over the weekend. We went outdoors as soon as the sun was up. Yeah, it was 30 degrees at 7 a.m. Yeah, I was training in gloves and earmuffs. Yeah, it has been suggested that I am not completely mentally stable.

The Farmer pointed out that it was cold and I had not been seen training outdoors in anything resembling cold since last November. He refrained from pointing out that if asked to go outdoors and do work, I would whine, “But it’s too COLD.” Dog training is a great deal different from work. Obviously.

We had a great session and I was delighted to see Phoenix light up when given some new approaches to familiar obedience exercises. Or maybe it was because it was 30 degrees out. Or because he wanted his breakfast. Or maybe because I was stepping up and doing my part to keep him engaged and not just going through the motions.

Trying new stuff is always fun and makes me think, “Well, duh, why didn’t I think of this?”

I’ll write a bit about jackpot training in an upcoming post but if you get a chance to attend one of Bridget’s seminars, do it. Nix and I had a working spot but I would have still learned a great deal if I only audited. It’s always fun, though, to get out on the floor and work your dog at a seminar and get one-on-one feedback from the person whose techniques you’re trying to implement.

Nix is picking up on several cue words already. Granted, they are ones he recognizes from day-to-day use but now I'm working to use them very selectively and put more intense value on them. One, for jackpotting, is "Supper!" For him, this applies to any meal, any time. I think I'm re-creating Pavolov's dog, since "Supper!" is a pretty powerful drool inducer.

The other one is "Stick!" Stick equals tug - leather, jute, french linen, etc. Where's your stick? Get your stick! Bite that stick! Kill that stick!

Supper and sticks are mighty powerful words.

Okay. Break over. Back to work.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekend wrap-up

Spent the weekend at the Bridget Carlsen seminar at 4RK9s in Cedar Rapids. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious! Had a great time and learned lots of things I can use with Phoenix. It would be silly to totally throw the way I trained before out the window and start over every time I attend a seminar (they all make it look so easy, dang it!) but no matter whether the seminar is a five star affair or leaves you shaking your head, you can always find a few new ideas to incorporate into the way you train. 

Here are a few highlights (I don't have the time or ambition to critique the whole seminar. I just hope I can read and make sense of my notes as I start to implement the new ideas!)

Bridget's system of jackpot training went beyond the generic "Give your dog a whole bunch of cookies instead of just one." I've not not done any jackpot training with Phoenix (I did a great deal of it with Jamie, although not quite the same way she presented it) so that is one new thing I want to try. 

She also does a lot with teaching cue words to rev up the dog in anticipation of a reward (immediate or delayed) or to indicate what exercise is coming next. All I could think of was dear, sweet Kay Lowe telling her dogs "Now we're going to do glovies" or "Let's do heeling" years and years ago. Kay was ahead of her time.

Phoenix is exhausted and so am I. We've got a busy week coming up. Five days until our Open debut!

Today I am very thankful for the opportunity to learn. Now it's up to me to make some changes!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Does anyone use their own name any more? The Farmer calls his brother and sisters by their nicknames: Otter, Duke and Butch. His friends are Toad, Rabbit, Pinkie and Doo-Dah. This drove me crazy when we first met because I never had any idea who in the world he was talking about.

The Farmer’s nickname is Ronnie. That’s because his middle name is Reagan. This makes a whole lot more sense than Rabbit or Doo-Dah. I’m sure there are stories behind those that I am better off not knowing. His mom even has a nickname, Blondie, which is what everyone calls her all the time. Imagine my surprise when we did our wedding invitations and I found out she actually has a first name and it isn’t Blondie.

It’s just as bad with my dog friends: there’s Martha (that’s me!), Meme, Sal, Witchman (me again) and Deerslayer, for whoever the latest person is to hit a deer, which sadly has been nearly all of us at one time or another. There are lots more nicknames, too. Plus we tend to tag everyone with the middle name Sue, so it’s a never-ending stream of RildaSue, TerrySue (don’t ask), TammySue, etc.

Our dogs can’t escape this phenomenon either, but nicknames for them are a little more personal and frequently more varied. Connor was the Skunk Dog. Early in his obedience career, a kid at a fast food drive-through looked into my vehicle, saw Connor curled up neatly in his crate, only the white stripe of his ruff showing, and asked, “Hey, you got a skunk in there?” It stuck. As time passed, the Farmer called Connor the Old Dog.

Skunk Dog
The Old Dog

Jamie is the Coyote (he howls), the Big Red Dog and James Alexander (obviously from Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series from whence he is named.) The latter is usually accompanied by many exclamation points, as in “James Alexander!!!! Do NOT poke RildaSue in the butt.” The Farmer calls Jamie the Big Dog.

The Coyote
Big Red Dog
Big Dog
James Alexander!!!

Phoenix is the Maligator. While not terribly original, it’s very fitting. He, too, has a middle name, Phoenix MacKenzie (also an Outlander-series reference), and yes, that, too, is punctuated heavily. “Phoenix MacKenzie!!! Give me back the bottle of honey!” In keeping with the tradition of nicknames that make no sense, the Farmer calls him the Little Dog.

At one point a very long time ago, he was a little dog but even now, at 24 inches at the withers and 52 very solid pounds, he is still the Little Dog. This is the nickname I probably use most for him and embellish it occasionally to Skinny Little Dog or Naughty Little Dog.

Little Dog
Skinny Little Dog
Naughty Little Dog
Phoenix MacKenzie!!!

The two Belgians share a number of nicknames as well: Fuzzy, Bright Eyes and Furball being the most often used.

How about your dogs? How many nicknames do they have?

(Thanks Sheryl and Meme for the photos.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sugar rush

Here are the famous Brach’s Chicks and Rabbits I mentioned in an earlier post.

My parents put them in my Easter basket every year when I was a little kid, so it’s not like they’re anything new but I’ve learned some people both near and far didn’t know what they are and have been missing yet another delicious opportunity to consume high fructose corn syrup and get cavities. (Today’s Exercise Finished post is sponsored by your local dentist.)

Chicks and Rabbits are made of that wonderful dry chewy marshmallow stuff like circus peanuts, only better. I bought two bags over the weekend. One for now and one for well, um, later. No worry about them drying out or getting stale. The drier they are, the better they are. Of course, that might be a matter of taste since you’re talking to the person who opens her Peeps and leaves them on the counter for a week to “cure” before eating them. Fresh Peeps are just wrong. I realize some people think any kind of Peeps are just wrong.

Ever notice how Chicks and Rabbits look like those Easter Island statues? Apparently there was fighting in the bag. The blue chick is missing a beak.

I may have to go buy a couple more bags. They can be hard to find. Stores that carry a full line of Brach’s candy don’t always have Chicks and Rabbits . As much as I love Cadbury cream eggs, Russell Stover’s chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs, solid chocolate bunnies, malted milk robin’s eggs and jelly beans (yes, black ones, too!), the spring season just is not complete without Chicks and Rabbits.

Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Brach’s doesn’t make a Halloween or Christmas version. I think I need to go back to Target.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy birthday, Exercise Finished!

Exercise Finished was one year old yesterday! I had no idea what I was doing when I started this blog a year ago but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve met a lot of great people. And I still don’t know what I’m doing.

One year ago, I was getting psyched for Phoenix to debut in Novice obedience. Now he is 10 days from his AKC Open debut. He got his U-CDX last fall but that admittedly wasn’t our best teamwork and I have high hopes for brighter performances this spring. He’s grown up, my understanding of what he needs from me as a trainer has improved and our relationship has strengthened. The journey continues.

He has a solid understanding of the individual exercises. At least I think he does. (I’ll write about proofing some time. Proofing a mal is something like throwing a lit match on gasoline. You asked for it.) Group stays remain a weak spot although they have gotten tremendously better and we keep working them constantly. I suspect that may be the story of our lives. Phoenix simply does not appreciate being left behind. He wants to go where I go.

Probably my biggest training hurdle with Phoenix is making the exercises challenging enough to keep his mind engaged but not so difficult he can’t succeed, while at the same time building precision and maintaining attitude. It’s like juggling four balls in the air when normally I have to focus really hard just to catch one. Nix learns quickly but then it’s like, “Okay, I get it, now what are we going to do?” Not a dog you want to train by drilling. He is without a doubt both the easiest and most difficult dog I have trained.

Here is my serious obedience dog demonstrating his single minded serious focus in the motel room in Des Moines last weekend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

DMOTC videos

I decided to post two of our best NQ runs instead of our actual qualifying run from the weekend. Yeah, there's a big glitch on each one: Nix knocks the panel jump in Standard, then runs amok due to lack of handler communication half way through JWW. But he did it with a great deal of enthusiasm and there were a ton of things I was really happy about on both runs. As usual, the mistakes were handler-induced. The learning curve continues for both of us.

Thanks Meme and everyone who video'd for me!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

With age comes . . .


We celebrated a bunch of very special (ends in "0") birthdays this weekend at the DMOTC agility trials at Granger. It was a cold and snowy weekend but that didn't matter, we had enough sugar in our bloodstream to keep us warm.

First, Rilda turned 60 earlier in the week. She tried hard to think we would forget. Nice try. We sang and everything.

Here's Rilda and her "Holy Crap Look Who's 60" cake. It was delicious. 

Next, we celebrated 4 very special 50th birthdays: Terry, Michele F., Tracy and Bill. They got a chocolate chip brownie. Sorry guys, guess you have to wait 10 years to get a cake.

Here are the new AARP inductees: back row, Bill and Terry; front row, Tracy and Michele. Bill's eyes are closed. Sorry, Bill. Maybe he's in denial about turning 50? 

I took black-frosted sugar cookies, too, just in case the cake and chocolate chip brownie weren't enough. Plus there was pumpkin bread, toffee chip brownies, lemon bar, some ridiculously incredible brownies with about an inch of powdered sugar frosting and a bag of mixed chocolates. Then we all waddled off to run our dogs . . .

It was a very fun weekend. Phoenix and I had some super runs. One of them even Q'd! I'll post that video later. I'll even put up a couple of the NQ runs 'cuz I was so proud of my skinny little dog. He ran really well. His handler? She's a work in progress.

Other weekend highlights included: the guilty pleasure of having a motel room all to myself, no roomie except Phoenix, who very much enjoyed being an only dog; batter dipped fried salmon at Rock Bottom Brewery on Friday night; the apple dumpling at the Iowa Machine Shed Restaurant on Saturday night; watching "Storm Stories" on the Weather Channel (I know, how weather geeky is that!); eating my favorite Easter candy, Brachs Chicks and Rabbits (and stopping at Target to buy 2 bags on the way home) and the University of Northern Iowa Panthers beating #1 Kansas to advance to the Sweet 16. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Odds and ends on St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

This is the day when Americans suddenly claim Irish ancestry whether they have any or not and proceed to do all sorts of things that would probably make our Irish ancestors not want to claim any of us. I DO claim Irish ancestry but will pass on the green beer and leprechaun costumes. But if someone wanted to give me a sugar cookie with green frosting I wouldn’t argue.

Genealogy is a fascinating thing if you have enough time to get into it. I don’t, but I do know my father’s family came from Denmark and my mother’s family came from Scotland and Ireland. They were a bunch of farmers and ended up in the Midwest where the farmin’ was good. That’s probably all I need to know.

I celebrated being part Irish by having a reuben sandwich for lunch. Corned beef is allegedly very Irish. But there was a ton of sauerkraut on that sandwich so it was probably more German than Irish. Plus the Swiss cheese. And French fries on the side. Okay, I celebrated international diversity. Some Belgian chocolate would be great right now.

The herding dog obedience team finally managed an all-member practice last night! Since we have Jill, Judy and Jennifer handling Kina, Kenzie and Katie, Phoenix and I have decided to change our names for the good of the team: I will be Jackie, Phoenix will be Kennedy. We settled on a theme, too: flower children. Peace, man.

Oh, I stand corrected: Keno Davis did not coach basketball at Iowa. His father, Tom Davis, did. Keno coached at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he turned what was considered a loosing program around. See what happens when the obituary editor tries to write about sports? Won’t do that again.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dogs and basketball

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, the University of Iowa has fired yet another men’s basketball coach. This is the fifth coach to be shown the door at Iowa in approximately 25 years, not that I’m keeping track. Heck, I graduated from Iowa State University so University of Iowa basketball is interesting only in the respect that the school is 20 miles down the road and quite frankly, you can’t get away from Hawkeye mania in this part of the state.

Let’s see, first there was Lute Olson, then George Raveling, Tom Davis and son Keno Davis, then Steve Alford. Now Todd Lickliter has gotten the boot. So long, farewell.

The reason? The team wasn’t winning enough. Ticket sales were down. Attendance at games was down. Oh yeah, and the recent school record 22-loss season. Guess that sucked. The message is clear: if you don’t win, you're worthless.

I’m writing about this only because it is in such sharp contrast to the way dog people define “winning.”

When we get a puppy, we’re filled with optimism. Surely, this will be our ultimate OTCh. or MACH dog, the brilliant, bombproof dog we’ve waited for all our lives. This will be the perfect puppy we don’t screw up. We will do everything right with this puppy: the right toys, the right food, the right training methods, the right instructors, the right everything.

Time passes. The puppy grows into a dog and takes our dreams with him. Some dreams become reality, others not. Goals are set, pursued, achieved, revised or abandoned. We laugh and love and cry and learn. We go places and discover things along the journey we never could have imagined.

Ten years down the road, we look at our puppy and see gray hair on his muzzle and a little stiffness in his gait and realize, the run is over. And you know what? You don’t give a damn about what scores or titles you won or didn’t win. You wouldn’t trade the last 10 years for the world and if you could go back and do it all over again, you would in an instant.

That’s the difference between our dogs and college basketball. Handlers don’t fire their dog because he isn’t winning. Even when the wheels fall off, 99 percent of us keep on training, no matter what gets recorded in the judge’s book on the weekend. We train harder. We re-train. We get help from friends. We try new ideas. We measure success by personal bests, not in a win/loss column. We get to define our own “winning season.” That’s why I love obedience and agility so much. There are so many different ways to win.

Enjoy March Madness. Hope your brackets all turn out well.

Today, I am thankful to have agility trials to look forward to this weekend. The weather sounds a bit questionable but that’s March in Iowa. Both parking and crating at these trials tend to be cold, damp, muddy and cramped so Jamie is going to stay home with the Farmer while Phoenix and I have a one-on-one weekend.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fast, faster, fastest

I am not a naturally gifted athlete. Gee, I realize that’s such a surprise to everyone who knows me.

Having said that, running agility is about as much of a “sport” as I have ever played. I figure it’s a good run if I come off the course still vertical, without having done a face plant or butt plant or crashed into a jump or tripped over the chute or fell down just because I could.

With my previous dogs, there wasn’t much emphasis on speed. Connor and Jamie and I loped around the course at a mellow gait and got things done. I was totally winded by the end of it, regardless of how fast we went.

Then Phoenix arrived and the little issue of actually running surfaced. Phoenix ran. I ran. He ran faster. I was lightheaded and thinking I might pass out. I went to the doctor and said, “Why can’t I breathe?” She said, “You have asthma” and gave me a prescription for an inhaler. Ahhhhh. Better living through chemistry. Life was good.

When we’re on the course at a trial, I feel like I’m giving it my all: feet pounding, arms churning, muscles burning, sweat pouring, driving forward with as much speed as is humanly possible. I am a world class sprinter! I am speed incarnate! I hear “Chariots Of Fire” music in my head.

Then I watch the video. There I am, trotting along like I’m in an Easter parade. It’s like someone taped us in slow motion. This can’t possibly be right! But it is. My “fast” is not. It’s faster than I ran with Connor and Jamie (good heavens, I must have been WALKING with them) but it’s not nearly as fast in reality as it feels like at the time.

A friend and I were discussing this phenomenon over the weekend. It happens to her when she runs her dogs, too. She said her brother likes to shout encouragement to runners at family softball games to help them run faster. It goes something like this: “Unhook the plow and RUN!”

I love it. It is my new mantra.

Today, I am thankful for friends to laugh with.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Be glad there are no pictures

This week, I have been busy with a traditional springtime ritual: picking up all the dog poop that is re-appearing as fast as the snow drifts can melt. Every day, there are abundant new offerings to be scooped. A lot of new offerings. Do I have two dogs or 12?

I am admittedly OCD when it comes to keeping the dogs’ yard picked up. Even during the winter, I am out there every couple of days, scooping away.

Only this winter, I apparently skipped a couple of days. Or a couple of weeks. Or I possibly haven’t done it since the first big snowstorm buried us back in December. Or maybe the neighbors’ dogs are coming over and letting themselves into my dogs’ yard before crapping all over the place. (That is a blog entry all in itself. I’ll get back to that topic some time. I promise.)

In any event, the snow is disappearing and the poop is re-appearing and I am a scooping fiend. To make matters worse, it has rained every day this week and the newly exposed and thawed poop is in immediate danger of melting into (play horror music here) poop soup. So I am scooping with a vengeance to stay ahead of the elements. Wiping off paws before the Belgians come back in the house is bad enough when all I’m wiping off is mud.

Last night I was making my yard rounds with my scooper and bucket when I looked up to see the Farmer pulling up in front of the house with the big manure spreader hooked behind the tractor. Um . . . thanks, honey, even though that’s a little bit of overkill. He waved and drove on by. Guess it wasn’t for me after all, although it would have saved me making multiple trips out to the field to dump my little bucket.

Today, I am thankful next week’s forecast shows three days in a row without rain.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let the thunder roll

Had the first thunderstorm of the season last night. It wasn’t severe or even strong, just a good old garden variety t-storm that confirms spring IS coming even though there’s still snow on the ground. It was almost pleasant to have precip falling as liquid, not snow flakes or ice. I was driving home from teaching my Wednesday night class as the storm broke over the area. Lots of lightning which was pretty spectacular at night.

Jamie was not impressed. He does not approve of thunderstorms and it’s only getting worse as the years progress. Poor guy. I know his hearing is decreasing and hoped storms would not be as traumatic this year if he couldn’t hear them but apparently that’s not the case.

This was only a level 1 or 2 storm, as gauged on the Belgian Storm Meter: minor panting and sticking to me like Velcro but no panicked leaping onto the bed and burrowing between me and the Farmer, trembling so hard the bed rattles.

Phoenix could give a rip. He is totally oblivious to thunder and lightning. When things really start to rock and roll with the bigger summer storms, Nix thinks it’s GREAT that Jamie gets to sleep on the bed and sees no reason why he shouldn’t join him. After all, life’s a party!

I’m debating taking the National Weather Service’s storm spotter training again this spring. I took it last year and the spring and summer severe weather season was practically non-existent in this area.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Refrigerator update

I am very happy to report our new refrigerator has been delivered and set up without crisis. I really should have a picture of it to go with this post but that would require thinking ahead and quite frankly, I don’t see that happening this week.

The appliance store guys hauled the old one away first. Holy buckets, you should have seen the furballs flying around when they pulled it away from the wall. There was a whole pack of pomeranians living back there. They didn’t say anything. The guys, not the furballs. I suppose they’ve seen worse. Which scares me. They laughed at the big metal nut we were using to level the old fridge on one side.

I grabbed the Dyson and vac’d up the furballs quick. Then they brought in the new fridge. They took the doors off it first. This allowed them to bring the cabinet in with a whopping 1/2 inch of space to spare on either side. If we ever need to replace appliances in the future, I think we’re going to have to build a new house first. Everything keeps getting bigger.

I asked them if they’ve ever delivered an appliance and it wouldn’t fit. Got the big eye roll. Guess it happens more often than you’d think. Sure glad it didn’t happen at our house! Tim said if it’s a really tight fit and if it’s okay with the homeowner, they grease things up with Vaseline and shove it into place. Yikes! He said sometimes people measure for width but not height and buy refrigerators that won’t fit under the kitchen cabinets. Boy, we were sounding smarter every minute.

Then they tried to level the fridge. Good luck with that. Our kitchen floor is not level. Actually it’s about three different levels. Which explains the floor jacks in the basement. Oh, isn’t it fun to live in a 100-year-old house? They quit laughing at the nut. I think they might have wanted it back.

When they left, I took everything out of the big coolers and put it in the new fridge. Wow. I need to buy groceries. This thing has a lot of room. The coolest thing is that everything is clear. You can see into all the compartments - no more food hiding for weeks and weeks, only to be green and furry once it’s rediscovered.

Of course, this also means I can’t hide my secret chocolate stash in there any more.

Today, I am thankful for no longer waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of grinding rocks, then realizing it’s just the old fridge.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Naperville video

How did we ever do agility before video cameras? Here are our 2 Exc. Std. Qs from last weekend. Watching them, I see a dozen things I want to do differently, improve, correct, etc. Can't wait to be able to get outside and train this spring as soon as the ground dries out.

I optimistically thought I could drag my contact trainer out to a dry spot in the back yard this week but the weather shows no signs of cooperating, with rain on top of semi-frozen mud. Guess we'll stick with obedience work in a warm, dry, clean building.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Naperville results

Yippee!! Nix got his first 2 MX legs this weekend! I had been starting to wonder if we were ever going to Q in Standard again! After finishing his AX what seemed like years ago (okay, it was 1 year and 4 months but who's counting), we seemed to hit the wall.

He has been running great but there was always one thing - usually what the Farmer calls OE (operator error). One silly thing. A bonus jump. A bonus tunnel. Okay, a lot of bonus tunnels. Using the table as a trampoline. A lot of growing pains while we slipped and slid along the learning curve.

But the stars aligned for us on Saturday and Sunday and not only was Phoenix brilliant, I was there for him, giving him actual useful cues in a timely fashion so we could fly around the course together. The learning curve is still very much there for us but it feels so darned good to cross the finish line, hug my dog and say, "YES! WE DID IT!" Not that there weren't a couple minor freak-out moments today when both of us ended up in places I had not planned. You'll have that.

Will post video soon. Not only did we Q, I actually got it recorded!

Tonight, I am thankful to be home in my own quiet house and out of what might have been the noisiest Red Roof Inn in the entire United States.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A dog diary

I’ve been on furlough this week and Jamie and Phoenix have been keeping a diary.

Day 1: MOM’S HOME TODAY! This is so cool! This is totally awesome! We can go to the training building and play ball outside in the snow and play games indoors, too. We’ll help you with all your non-dog projects. COOL, COOL, COOL! Anything you want to do, we’re right here for ya. We love it when you’re home all day!

Day 2: Mom’s home again! Excellent! How great is this! We can spend all day doing fun stuff together! We know how important it is for humans to have canine supervision. What’s on today’s list?

Day 3: Mom’s still home. Great. What are we going to do today? We need a nap first. If you want to do some things without us, go ahead, you won’t hurt our feelings. Yawn. If you need us, we’ll be on the couch.

Day 4: You’re still home? For the love of doG, woman, don’t you have a job to go to? We’re not used to being up and running 14 hours a day. How’s a guy supposed to get his beauty sleep? You go do whatever it is you need to do. Leave us out of it. We’re crashed. You humans make us very tired. How do you function on only 8 hours of sleep? That’s not normal. No wonder you eat so much.

What? We’re going to an agility trial? We’re leaving now? COOL! That is totally awesome! LET’S GO!

Have a great weekend, everyone. I’ll report back from the trials in Naperville when possible.

Today I am thankful for sunshine, dry roads and Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” on CD for the drive to Naperville.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Measure twice, cut once

We bought a new refrigerator Monday amidst the chaos that was the short-lived and basically dysfunctional Iowa appliance rebate program. As it turned out, the model we bought was not included in the rebate program so it didn’t matter that the local appliance dealership was over-worked, under-staffed and basically a three ring circus that day or that the rebate money ran out about 20 minutes after the program began at 8 a.m.

The Farmer wisely sent me off on this mission by myself. I think his exact words were, “You have time today, I don’t.” What he meant was, “No way am I getting involved and you’ll end up making the final decision anyway so why bother.”

The man is not dumb. This preference for hauling manure over going refrigerator shopping relieved him of any responsibility, should things go wrong at any point along the way.

We had already pre-shopped. Pre-shopping is an invaluable skill I learned from my friend Michele, the queen of shopping, pre- and otherwise. So I marched into the local appliance store on Monday afternoon knowing pretty much what I wanted. We’d measured the available space in the kitchen to assure ourselves a slightly bigger model would fit. Now I was good to go.

My first clue that this was not going to be a quick errand was when I discovered the parking lot was full. This is in Amana, Iowa. The only time the parking lots are full are during Maifest and Oktoberfest, never on the 1st of March. Clearly, every person within a 25-mile radius had decided it was time to buy a new washer, dryer, microwave, stove, refrigerator, dishwasher or deep freeze.

It took about 30 minutes before a salesperson was free to help me so I had plenty of time to wander around and pick out the refrigerator I wanted. The model I chose was part of the store’s scratch and dent sale. The scratch and dent discount was actually higher than the rebate would have been so I was feeling smug. It had a microscopic cosmetic blemish on one side of the cabinet. Once in place in the kitchen, it wouldn’t show anyway but was worth knocking nearly $450 off the list price. What a deal I was getting.

We did the paperwork, set up a delivery time (next week, ugh, I’m just as bad as my dogs for wanting instant gratification) and I was out the door.

That night, I heard the Farmer rattling around in the kitchen. Then he rattled around on the back porch, then he came in, holding a tape measure, and asked “What are the measurements of the new fridge?” I dutifully recited them back, “70 inches tall, 36 inches wide, 32 inches deep.”

“This doorway is only 30 inches wide,” he said. “Even if they bring it in sideways, it’s not going to fit.”

Oh, bad word, I said.

After a few moments of total panic, thinking I had paid a four-figure price for a refrigerator that would end up sitting on the patio, running off an extension cord strung into the house, reason prevailed.

“I think they took the doors off the old one when they brought it in,” the Farmer said. “If they take the doors off the new one, it should come in all right.”

“Should” wasn’t good enough.

I was going to be the one at home when it was delivered. I had visions of dealing with angry, sweating deliverymen trying to wedge a 32-inch-deep fridge through a 30-inch doorway. Not a good scene.

I spent a restless night, dreaming of a gigantic home remodeling project in which we tore off the entire south side of the kitchen to accommodate the new fridge. In the morning, I called the appliance store, wondering how many people were dumb enough to buy something without seeing if they could actually get it in their house first. (Don’t laugh, a co-worker once bought a new 4x4 SUV that wouldn’t fit in his garage.)

The lady at the appliance store was clearly used to dealing with people like me.

“Don’t worry, we can take the doors off and the cabinet will measure 28 inches deep,” she reassured me. "We do it all the time."

Well. Okay. If you say so.

I’ll let you know how it goes on Monday. Now I am in the midst of a massive refrigerator cleaning. How can we have so much stuff in there and never have anything to eat?

Monday, March 1, 2010

You might be a redneck if . . .

Your husband shoots raccoons out the living room window.

Yep, the Farmer is at it again. This is same self-proclaimed non-hunter who I found sitting in a lawn chair in the back yard one summer afternoon, holding a pitchfork in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other. He was hunting moles.

Well, somebody had to. The dogs showed interest and made some exploratory digs but were a complete washout when it came to following through and actually catching moles. Probably a good thing. If the Belgians went after the moles with intent to deliver, the yard would look even worse than it does now. Which is saying quite a bit. Probably a good thing it’s still covered with snow.

In any event, we are overrun with raccoons, which isn’t unusual for farms in these parts. Raccoons are incredibly adaptable when it comes to making themselves at home in man-made structures. They live in the hayloft of the cattle barn and amidst the big round bales in the hoop building. They lived in the old granary before it came down and the Farmer has even encountered them hanging out in his silage wagon. Adorable Disney images aside, raccoons are dirty, destructive creatures that carry disease. And they poop everywhere. Seriously. Everywhere. Raccoons must have invented the high fiber diet.

The Farmer and his dad spend a lot of time working to eradicate the raccoon population. They often use a live trap although the success rate there is somewhat questionable, since they catch as many barn cats as they do raccoons. The cats, they turn loose. The cats do not seem to learn anything from this, as they continue to get caught over and over. The raccoons, they dispatch humanely with a gun.

Our raccoons are fairly predictable. Or stupid (as evidenced by last summer’s catching of three raccoons in one live trap at the same time. Really, did the other two think it was a good idea to follow the first one in?). Every evening, one or two of them come ambling down the lane in front of our house. I suspect they are going over to the neighbor’s place to check out cat food leftovers.

Anyway, this is a pretty regular occurrence and since dark colored raccoons show up well against our snow pack, thus the idea to shoot them from the warmth and comfort of the house was born. It was a simple concept: see a raccoon, grab the varmint rifle, open the window and blast away.

Phoenix and I were not at home for the first couple hunting expeditions. Jamie was. The Farmer said Jamie did not approve of the rifle shots, much in the way he does not approve of thunderstorms.

Phoenix experienced his first raccoon hunting via the living room window one evening last week. It went something like this.

Me: Reading.

Farmer: Watching TV.

Jamie: Sleeping on couch.

Phoenix: Patrolling. Looking out the windows for cats.

Me: Look, here comes a raccoon!

Farmer, grabbing the gun: Get hold of the dogs!


Jamie (bolting from the room): Oh $#@! Here we go again.

Me, grabbing Phoenix by the collar: Hold still and stay out of the way.

Phoenix, bouncing up and down: LEMME GO! I WANNA GET HIM!

Me: You will absolutely NOT go raccoon chasing.

Loud rifle crack!

Farmer: D*mn. Missed.

Phoenix, dragging me across the room to where the Farmer is lining up his second shot: TURN ME LOOSE! I CAN CLEAR THAT WINDOW IN A SINGLE BOUND!

Me, through gritted teeth: That’s what I’m afraid of. What would you do with a raccoon if you caught one?

Phoenix: Does it matter? LEMME GO!

Jamie (under the kitchen table): Is it safe to come out yet?

Loud rifle crack!

Jamie: Apparently not. Maybe I should go to the basement. This is not safe.

Farmer: Got him! (Pause) What is wrong with your dog? (Strangely enough, he didn’t have to specify WHICH dog.)

Phoenix, vibrating, leaping up and down, yodeling, trying to drag me through the window, totally unfazed by rifle fire over his head: DO IT AGAIN! THIS IS SO COOL!!! I’M A HUNTIN’ DAWG!

Jamie: You are a freaking nut case.

Me: Are you done? Can I turn him loose?

Farmer: Yeah, but I’d better shut the window first.

Me: Ya think?

Phoenix: What? We’re quitting? Nooooooooo . . .

Jamie: You are all mental. If you need me I’ll be under the table for awhile.