Friday, April 30, 2010

Is this wierd behavior?

Okay, I realize that is probably a loaded question. A better question might be, “On a rising scale of 1 to 10, how weird is this behavior?” This is possibly the only time in my life I might be considered a 10! But only by non-dog people, of course. From a dog person’s point of view, I am absolutely normal.

I just spent some quality time with the AKC Web site, checking trial dates, sites, judges, etc. for places I’d like to show Phoenix the rest of this year. I confirmed all the “standard” trials I always go to and added a few new potential “maybe” trial weekends. In other words, I’ve planned our show schedule for the rest of the year. And it’s still April.

I found so many excellent trials this fall that I even questioned the sanity of entering seven weekends in a row during September and October but decided against it. I did that a few years back with Jamie and learned my lesson. Showing seven weekends in a row is only fun for about the first three weekends, then it’s just dog show hell and you can’t wait for it to be over so you can wake up in your own bed on a Saturday morning and not do anything more complicated that day than make toast. How do those people who trial EVERY weekend do it???

It freaks out the non-dog members of my family (that would be pretty much ALL of my family and the Farmer’s, too) that I know what I’m doing on any given weekend a minimum of six months in advance. Most non-dog people don’t even know what they’re doing this weekend but I can tell you exactly what I’m doing every weekend for the next two months and probably more. I’ve discovered that scares people. Non-dog people, of course. All my dog friends have this same ability to keep a running calendar in their head with trial dates filled in neatly. In ink, of course.

Any “free” weekends quickly fill up with local matches (planned, of course, not to conflict with trial weekends) and plans for lessons or training group get-togethers. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a weekend “at home” that didn’t involve at least one trip to a training building to meet friends or just work my dogs by myself.

In other words, no, I don’t have any “free” weekends. So don’t get hurt feelings when I don’t come to your baby shower, bridal shower, graduation party, confirmation brunch, anniversary open house, wedding or some other silly thing. I’ll be happy to stick $20 in a card and mail it to you with my best wishes. We’ll both be happier that way, trust me.

Have a great weekend, whatever you’re doing. Phoenix and I are off to the Heart of Iowa shows to play in Graduate Open. Our class won’t start until after noon so no need to get up at the butt crack of dawn for a change. How nice is that!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Remember this?

Today the temps are pushing 80 degrees and the wind is absolutely howling at up to 45 mph. The sun is shining brightly, the grass is green, the trees are pollinating (so is every other freaking pollen-producing plant in a seven state region) and there are severe thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow afternoon. Ahh . . . spring in Iowa.

Remember this?

Here's Phoenix floundering around the snow back in January. I think he was looking for a toy but I'm not sure. He might have been doing it for no apparent reason.

Now Jamie has the toy and Phoenix is left eating snow. Whatever. He seems happy enough.

At least there wasn't any pollen outdoors then.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday thoughts

Susan Garrett has had some really great stuff on her blog lately. It’s like she’s been in my mind, reflecting my own thoughts and expressing them much better than I could. So I’m cannibalizing two of my favorite posts.

First, she writes about not creating self-limiting beliefs for yourself and your dog. You know, stuff like saying, “He’ll pop out at the 10th pole, he always does” or “My dog can’t heel outdoors, he’ll be too distracted.” Another word for this is "self-fulfilling prophecies." Sometimes we make things happen simply by believing they will happen. Why do we always pick BAD things to believe!

Instead, Susan writes:

“ . . . when I look at my dogs I can only see greatness.

“I don’t focus on what isn’t there with my dogs, I focus on what is. I take up ownership of anything that can be made better and I spend that dog’s career trying to make it better . . . Why, because we want to do agility, must these dogs suffer us acting, talking or joking about them as if they have failed us some how?”

It’s okay to admit your dog isn’t working up to your criteria but put a positive spin on it, don’t focus on the negative. For example, “Phoenix and I are making great progress on his out-of-sight stays” instead of “He hates those out-of-sight stays and doesn’t want to do them.” (By the way, it’s true, we ARE making great progress!)

Then, Susan writes about believing that our dogs are with us for a reason, that some cosmic hand of fate placed them with US, not a different owner, because they have something special and specific to bring to us. So many of us say, “My dog would be great if only he had a better handler.” I admit to thinking that, too, sometimes. But no more!

Susan believes we have the dogs we have for a reason. In other words, regardless of “achievement” as measured by superficial stuff like titles, scores, ribbons, etc., they belong with us JUST BECAUSE! She writes:

“Regardless of how it may appear to any of us watching, every dog’s life is always one of great intention. The odyssey is unique to each dog and their person. Those of us on the outside looking in may never be privy to all that is being fulfilled during the time you have together but the impact is likely more than any world championship ever could provide.”

For the complete posts, visit

What beautiful thoughts. Go home from work today and hug your beautiful dogs.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Two basic food groups: chocolate & peanut butter

I haven't done a recipe for a while so thought I'd share this one for Crunchy Marshmallow Bars. It combines two of my favorite food groups: chocolate and peanut butter. It also contains Rice Krispies so technically, it could be called a breakfast bar. They're awesome with a big glass of cold milk.

1/2 C. margarine
3/4 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 C. flour
2 T. cocoa
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2-3 C. miniature marshmallows
1 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 C. peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
2 C. Rice Krispies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 baking pan. Cream margarine and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together and add to creamed ingredients. Stir until just blended. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with enough miniature marshmallows to cover surface (more is better). Return to oven for 3 minutes. Remove and cool.

Melt together the chocolate chips and peanut butter. Stir in Rice Krispies and spread over top of cooled bars. Cool before cutting.

Okay, you can live on the edge and not cool them before cutting. They're very drippy and gooey and I wouldn't recommend trying to eat one while wearing a white shirt but other than that, if you're an instant gratification kind of person, go for it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekend work and a new toy

“Staying at home” weekends are such a rare and valuable commodity, I always end up exhausted and sore by Monday because I tried to catch up on a month of projects in two days. Last weekend was no exception.

First, “staying at home” is open to interpretation. Saturday morning Phoenix and I went to an obedience match at 4RK9s, followed by stops at a couple of garden centers, Dairy Queen and then an afternoon outdoors at home, weeding, planting and mulching.

I bought another new coleus (really, I can stop any time I want). It’s called Dipt In Wine. I love the name. And I don’t even like wine.

As if spreading thousands of yards of mulch wasn't enough Saturday, I decided it was time to do something with the lilac bush. We’ve lived in our house for 19 years this spring and I’ve never done a thing to this lilac bush. If I understand the Master Gardeners correctly, in order to get maximum growth and bloom from a lilac, you should remove 1/3 of the branches or stems or whatever they’re called every year when it’s done blooming. Ours was still blooming so I decided to just cut out all the dead branches. There were a lot of them. An awful lot. I think I took out about half the plant in just dead wood. Phoenix helped by dragging the branches off and running amok with them.

I worked right up to the first raindrops, which turned into 2 inches of rain that evening. This brought the Farmer grumbling in from the field. He was within 50 acres of finishing corn planting. On the bright side, I actually cooked supper for us (Real hot food! Off the stove! Not leftovers or cold ham sandwiches!) and we ate together for the first time in about two weeks. After that it was a hot shower, ibuprofen and bed. We lead such exciting lives.

Sunday morning I cleaned our basement. I’m happy to report the basement threat level is back to a standard code yellow. It was a definite code red when I started. I restocked my emergency storm kit with fresh gallons of water, canine and people meds, a small bag of dog food, dried fruit, nuts and a package of Snickers (yeah, how long are those going to stay there?) Sunday afternoon, Phoenix and I met Michele, Jill and Sheryl for some group training in CR. We had a lot of fun proofing stays.

I got a new toy! My set of PractiJumps from J&J turns 20 this spring and they are showing their age. They’re on their 4th generation of dogs (Jesse, Connor, Jamie and now Phoenix). They’re battered. They’re broken. They’ve been thrown outdoors in the back yard every summer since 1990 and quite frankly, they don’t look so good. I don't want to take them with me to parks to train. They really shouldn't be seen in public. Yeah, they're that scary.

So I bought this portable jump from Clean Run. It sets up in literally less than 10 seconds. How cool is that? It was expensive but I might have to buy another one. This jump will NOT be thrown out in the back yard and left to fend for itself. It will live on the porch where it can stay clean and shiny and will go in the van when we go places to train.

I figure it can double as an obedience high jump if I throw a white sheet or towel or something over it. The height goes up to 26" and folded down, it probably only weighs 5 pounds.

This is going to be another crazy busy week. I'm teaching a new Open class starting on Wednesday. Outdoor agility classes begin on Thursday. I've started the countdown to Mal Nationals: 2 1/2 weeks. The Marshalltown trials are this weekend and at some point, both Jamie and Phoenix really need a bath and a blow dry. I'm clearly too busy to deal with this thing called a full time job!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Green thumb stuff

Yesterday I left work early and spent the afternoon working on my flowerbeds. It was an absolutely perfect day for it. Today it's pouring rain.

Here is part of the cedar mulch I spread. I love mulch. It makes everything look neat and tidy. I ran out of energy before I ran out of mulch. Hate it when that happens.

This year I’m using Preen for the first time. It’s a granular that keeps seeds from germinating, so hopefully things will stay looking nice and tidy. It won’t kill any weeds that are already growing in a flower or vegetable garden but it will keep new ones from sprouting for up to three months after you apply it. I’ll let you know how it works.

Here's one of the geraniums I wintered over. I love geraniums. I cut these plants back by about half when I brought them in last fall and cut them back again by about 2/3 this spring before moving them back outdoors. They’re starting to put out a lot of sturdy new growth and will be blooming again in no time.

Here's a pot of lava rose coleus from clippings I took last fall before frost. They will go in a big container on the patio. They do really well in full sunshine and are tough enough to handle the July and August heat reflecting off the white siding on the house AND the cement patio.

These are Wizard Pineapple coleus. They’re the first “flower” I bought this spring. Pineapple coleus are a favorite and I usually have a couple of pots of them every year. Hope to make it to a local greenhouse this weekend and pick up a few more annuals for patio containers and some more perennials for bare spots in the border along the fence.

Before I started my gardening marathon, the Belgians and I went to the park to train. And play ball. And sit on stumps.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Adventures with the neighbors' dog

I am the only person in the township who doesn’t let her dogs run loose 24/7. Living in the country, this definitely puts me in the minority. I recognize every single one of the neighbors’ dogs because at one point or another, they have all taken a dump in our yard, chased my van as I’ve driven by their house or charged at me and my guys while we were out for a walk.

Through trial and error, I have learned whose houses to avoid when we go for a walk and have mapped out a long, enjoyable, carefully orchestrated route that avoids dogs whose owners believe in the sanctity of “letting their dogs run.”

But hey, we all live in the COUNTRY, right? And you’re supposed to let your dogs RUN if you live in the country, right? Because everyone knows it’s cruel not to let dogs RUN. Insert dripping sarcasm here.

Honestly, I can deal with avoiding loose, crabby, territorial dogs. Some of them weren’t even crabby. Missy the basset hound was adorable and my boys loved her. She frequently went for walks with us, galloping furiously toward us on her stubby legs if she spotted us in the distance, then mingling with my two leashed dogs as we went down the road as a Belgian/Basset pack. Jamie and Phoenix thought she was all that. The only problem was, she refused to go home when the walk was over. Then I had to call her owners to please come get their dog from our house. Fortunately for Missy, she has since gone to a new home in town where she is appreciated and has her own people to take her for a walk.

What I really have trouble with is dogs who crap in my front yard. Repeatedly. I don’t let my dogs go and take a dump in the neighbor’s yard, so why do they think it’s okay for their dogs to come over and unload in ours?

Fortunately, we only have this problem with one neighbor. Unfortunately, we are related to them. They’re the Farmer’s second cousin (or something like that) and his wife. So it would be in poor taste to scoop up all the crap their dogs have left in our yard and dump it on their front porch. But I’d really like to. But I won’t because I’m trying to take the high road here. And I don’t want to start a Hatfield and McCoys type feud right here in Iowa Township.

Besides, they only have one crapping dog now, their other crapping dog having bitten one person too many and ended up on a one-way trip to the vet’s. Yeah, it was sad but I can’t say I miss him terribly because he was the primary depositor of large, gloppy puddles of stool that made it obvious the Neighbors were probably feeding whatever was on sale at Wally World. He always managed to deposit said puddles right in the middle of my obedience and agility training area in our back yard. Being a “farm dog” he was always free go where he pleased. Literally.

Now the Neighbors just have a schnauzer. We’ll call him Fat Bastard (FB). I have never seen such a fat schnauzer. He is amazingly, incredibly obese. He is a house dog. When they turn him out of the house, he waddles across the road and craps in our yard. I have, on more than one occasion, witnessed this, grabbed the phone and politely - more or less - called the Neighbor to please come and get their dog out of our yard. It still happens regularly so apparently they don’t get it. I’m thinking about sending Jamie and Phoenix over to take their morning constitutional in the Neighbors’ front yard to see if that makes them see the light. (But I won't. I would never do that.) FB is also eating a questionable diet since nothing that he leaves behind is easily picked up with a scooper either.

When I am outdoors and witness FB on one of his missions, I have been known to chase him down the lane, screeching in my best Celtic warrior woman voice, hurling handfuls of gravel and generally making a spectacle of myself. Upon witnessing this, FB runs (waddles) back across the road. He is scared of me. I admit it, that’s okay. Of course, he’s not scared enough not to come over here in the first place. Guess I need to be scarier.

Well, what comes around, goes around. The Neighbors went to a family funeral in a distant town and asked the Farmer’s Dad, who lives nearby, if he would come over to let FB out a couple of times each day. The Farmer’s Dad did just that. FB wanted no part of him. He would not leave the house. He looked at the Farmer’s Dad and growled. So the Farmer’s Dad did the obvious thing - went and got his daughter-in-law the Brilliant Dog Expert and said, “Why don’t you go take care of him.”

Like I said, I try to take the high road whenever possible.

I went over there, armed with a handful of tasty dog cookies and my best neutral, non-threatening, let bygones by bygones voice. Hey, if ya gotta pee are ya really gonna argue with the person withe opposable thumbs who can open the door?

FB was having no part of me, either. He growled. He snarled. I decided discretion was the better part of valor and in this case, getting the heck out of dodge before I got schnauzer tooth-marks on my ankles.

I told the Farmer’s Dad I would try again later. Maybe the dog would be more willing to go outside then.

Umm. No. Not only was he not willing to go outside, one look at the floors in the house made it clear he no longer needed to go outside.

Still taking the high road. I grabbed a bag and picked up most of the poop. There is a limit, however, on how much of a high road I can take and it ends with clean up of urine and feces from someone else’s dog in someone else’s house who didn’t even care enough to A) board the dog while they were gone or B) take the time to introduce him to his temporary caregivers before they walked into his house. I left, dropping the poop in a bag on their back step and thus somewhat satisfying my childish fantasy of dumping a huge bag of dog crap on their porch.

I’m thankful I live in the country, in spite of FB.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Stay" update

Because I know you are all totally and utterly fascinated by Phoenix’s stay issues, I’ll give you an update on what we’re doing in training.

First, I canceled our Open B entries from the Heart of Iowa shows May 1 and 2. That’s less than two weeks away and I don’t want to do something stupid by thinking, “Oh, surely he can do his stays now” and then have a repeat of him exiting the ring again. Two weeks is not enough time (at least in my mind) to fix this problem and I have no desire to practice bad behavior. We’ll still go and do Graduate Open, though.

And even though I’m entered in Waterloo this weekend, we’re not going. Sorry, Michele, I won’t be there to see you and Packer get your CD. Which you will. Because she’s a brilliant Weiner-meier.

My goal is to be ready to show in Open by Mal nationals. That’s four weeks away. We can make some serious progress by then and I feel it will be realistic to show.

After an agonizing amount of thinking (my brain hurts), I concluded that Phoenix’s main issue with stays was that he really didn’t have any idea what he was supposed to do if I wasn’t standing right in front of him. This was proven fairly handily when some friends helped me over the weekend.

Here’s a list of the proofs we worked through. Initially, I was standing right in front of Phoenix. Then I was 30 feet away. Then 30 feet away sitting in a lawn chair with my back turned to him. Then out of the building.

A friend would:

1) Offer a cookie (“Come and get it!”). Toss a cookie on the ground. Put a cookie on his paws.

2) Same thing with toys, especially ones that squeak and bounce.

3) Verbal coaxing, praise, baby-talk and basically encouraging him to leave that stupid old stay and come have some fun.

4) Give different commands: if sitting, telling him to down; if laying down, telling him to sit. Use Utility hand signals.

5) Play “Ready, steady, GO!” right next to him.

6) Pick up his (attached) leash, walk away and saying, “Let’s go!” Put his (unattached) leash on his collar, walk away and say “Let’s go!”

7) Physically try to pull him out of position with the leash.

At first, I had to do a fair amount of re-positioning but as we worked through it all, the light bulb seemed to come on on. I could see the little cartoon bubble over Phoenix's head. It read, "You do all this weird funky stuff and I ignore you. NOW I get it!"

Liz and Jill, you guys were great. Thanks for all the help. Now if we could just do that a dozen more times in a dozen different places! Until we can get another group session together, Phoenix is working stays at home while I play with Jamie. I need to do a lot more “disappearing” behind him, too, because he is quite sure he needs to turn around and look to see if I’m still there. A little paw movement leads to a little more paw movement and pretty soon, he's not sitting where I left him.

We’re also doing stays in “high stress” areas and I’m returning to reward only when Phoenix clearly chooses to ignore a major distraction and makes the decision not to move. I’ve even taken to carrying a cosmetic mirror around with me so I can watch him while I walk away and also around corners when I’m hiding. Good grief, I’m starting to feel like the spy who trains dogs.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

ICDOC pics

Finally, I’m getting around to posting some pics from the ICDOC trials.

First, here’s our “Senior Moments” team. From left, Sharon and Simon (age 11); Marsha and Robin (who just turned 12 yesterday); Tammy and Kruz (age 12), and me and Jamie (age 10). The four dogs enjoy a combination of multiple MACHs, OTCh./U-OTCh., multiple UDXs, MXs, MXJs, MXPs, MJPs, a TD and even a Senior Courser. Just don’t ask any of them to do a drop on recall and you’ll be fine. (Note the boys' stylish bandanas to match our shirts, courtesy of Marsha.)

Next, here’s the backside of Team Flower Power. From left, Michele showing Kina for Jill who had a death in the family (but her dog still made it to the trial, how cool is that!); Jennifer and Katie; Judy and Kenzie, and me and Phoenix. We don’t want to talk about our drop on recall either. Or our stays. But our heeling rocked!

Finally, here’s the Skinny Little Dog doing articles in Graduate Open. He likes his “Go sniffs.”

Thanks, Sheryl, for your photography!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Planting season starts

The Farmer started planting corn Friday, April 16. This may be a record early start date for us. Usually it is the end of April before he starts planting but when you have a couple of weeks of temps in the upper 70s, soil temps warm quickly. This is his brand new corn planter. He planted the sweetcorn first. Okay, it's probably overkill to use the field corn planter for sweetcorn but hey, we plant a lot of sweetcorn. Lots for us, the neighbors, the raccoons, the deer . . .

This year, the Farmer installed EZ-Steer on one of his tractors. I took lunch out to him in the field Sunday and rode a few rounds. (I think the jump seat shrunk over the winter. Cuz my butt couldn't possibly have gotten any bigger.) Basically, thanks to GPS, he doesn't have to steer the tractor, just make the turn at the end of the row and then it automatically takes over again. If you had really long rows, you could take a nap or something.

The EZ-Steer Web site says:

"The AgGPS® EZ-Steer® assisted steering system turns the steering wheel for you by combining a friction wheel and a motor with GPS guidance from the FmX integrated display, the EZ-Guide® 500, the EZ-Guide 250 or the EZ-Guide Plus lightbars. While the EZ-Steer keeps you on line, you can focus on many different tasks, such as spray or planter performance, improving job quality and crop yields while reducing fatigue."

Or in this case, eat ham sandwiches and drink a Pepsi and listen to his lovely and charming wife explain how many nights next week she's going to be gone, doing dog stuff. I'm sure he heard and remembered every word of it.

Ag technology is incredible. You ought to see the computer screen and monitors for this stuff. And the Farmer says he can't run my iMac in the house.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A question of time

I videotaped a friend's Open run at our trials last weekend. Guess how long it took her and her dog to do all five exercises?

Three minutes and thirty seconds.

That's all! Start to finish. Including set-up time between exercises. They were moving briskly but certainly not sprinting around the ring.

When you stop to think about how long you're in the obedience ring, sometimes it feels like forever. In reality, it's much shorter.

Although we've all lamented about not being able to take cookies in the ring, is it asking too much for your dog to interact with you for three minutes and thirty seconds without being bribed or "paid" constantly? Can you set a kitchen timer and play with your dog for 3:30? Could you play with him that long without using a toy? Try it.

Thanks to Michele and Cider for making me realize how short an Open run really is. I know the space/time continuum is different when you're INSIDE the ring.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and do something fun with your dogs!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Asking a better question

I’ve spent most of this week gimping around on my bum knee and sneezing my head off. A creative combination of antihistamines and decongestants has remedied the latter to a certain degree. The jury is still out on my knee, although it is feeling much better than it did Sunday night. No doubt three 12-hour days on cement floors at the trials last weekend didn’t do it any favors. Sitting at my desk eight hours a day this week might have actually been good for me.

In spite of the sneezing and the gimping, I’ve managed to get some training time in with Phoenix every day. You don’t have to be incredibly athletic or even able to breathe very well to work out-of-sight stays and that’s been our emphasis because A) we really need the work on them and B) I’m honestly not up for much else in my current state.

I wouldn’t stay I’m totally re-training the stays. I would say I’m going back and clearing up a number of gray areas I let slide when I initially taught them. In other words, Phoenix is not performing up to standards that I failed to enforce in the first place. Bad trainer, bad, bad!

In one of her books, dressage rider/Olympic equestrian coach/author Jane Savoie wrote about “asking a better question.” When faced with a performance issue, instead of asking “Why is my dog acting like a freak?” try asking a question that can lead to a solution, like “What can I do to help my dog work through this?”

For Phoenix and me, that translates to working sits and downs in conditions where he would be tempted to move. Fortunately - from a training standpoint - it’s been pretty easy to find those conditions. The more we work on this, the more I realize I did a really crappy job of training stays in the first place!

Although the NQ-ing part of our problem is the down stay, his sit stay is not above reproach. He tends to fidget and shift his front paws and then his butt shifts to catch up with his front paws and before you know it, he’s scooted forward without ever getting up.

Here’s a short list of things we’ve been doing:

1) No more stay practice with Jamie right next to Phoenix. I always let Jamie do stays with Phoenix because it gave the old man a job but now I’m wondering if Jamie’s constant presence at each session served as a security blanket for Phoenix? Not that I’ve ever met a dog who needed a security blanket LESS than Phoenix but who knows. Having Jamie right there all the time is certainly not the picture he's going to see in the ring.

2) Approaching this with an attitude of “building up,” not “tearing down.” No harsh corrections to worsen his stress level.

3) Keeping emotion out of corrections. Corrections are firm but gentle.

4) Lots of work “disappearing in plain sight” behind him. Does he turn more than just his head to see where I went?

5) Doing stays in unusual places. For us, these are mostly outdoors in places around the farm that Phoenix does not have access to on a daily basis, so they are full of exciting/stimulating/stressful smells and sounds that he would want to go investigate. Since he is not allowed to go to these places by himself (in the machine shed, on the barn yard, down the lane toward the field), being left alone there on a stay creates a fair amount of conflict, allowing him to make a choice about staying or breaking.

6) Can he remain quietly in place when he thinks I am not monitoring him (i.e., talking to someone.)

7) Can he remain quietly in place while I play with Jamie nearby? (Ah-hah! Jamie has found new employment.)

I’m thankful to have three opportunities this coming weekend to train with friends!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Team video, trial pics

If you need a laugh, check out the video of two of the 5 teams from our trial last weekend. Jamie and I are in the first team, Senior Moments (which was a very apt name):

I know video exists for the Flower Power team (Phoenix, wearing flowers) but I have yet to get my hands on it.

Sheryl is starting to post stills from Saturday and Sunday. These include individual club members and the teams. Jamie, Phoenix and I are scattered throughout. Look under the "Obedience" gallery, "ICDOC Saturday" and "Teams." They can be found at:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have found yet another way to get hurt. This should not come as a big surprise to people who know me.

The worst part is, I don’t even know what I did, but at some point in the last two weeks, I wrenched my knee in a way it did not appreciate. It’s one of those now-it-hurts, now-it-doesn’t sort of things. Walking is fine. Running is occasionally fine and occasionally not. Abrupt, weight-bearing turns are not. There is no swelling, no heat, no bruising.

The vagueness of the injury is keeping me from going to the doctor. When I go to the doctor, I like to present solid symptoms, like running blood or a heart rate of 200 beats per minute. That gets their attention and they take me seriously. Trust me on this. It's the voice of experience. Going to the doctor and saying, “Sometimes my knee hurts and sometimes it doesn’t” sounds wimpy. I don’t need to kick out a $25 co-pay to be told, “Go home, take anti-inflammatories and put ice on it.” That’s a trial entry, for heaven’s sake.

Or worse yet, they could say, "Try to stay off it." Yeah, right. I'll just put the maid, gardener, cook and laundress on overtime pay for a couple of weeks, no problem.

In the meantime, I went to the drug store and bought a knee brace. It’s one of those snug, neoprene type things and it is truly the only thing that got me through three 12-hour days at my club’s obedience trials last weekend (that and a lot of ibuprofen). I was measuring the passage of time not in hours but by how many “fasts” I had yet to do in the ring with my dogs (one on Friday, seven on Saturday, three on Sunday.)

In case you’ve never had reason to buy one, generic drugstore-type knee braces come in three sizes: small, medium and large, depending on how big around your knee is. How many of you know your knee measurement off the top of your head? How many of you just went and measured your knee for kicks?

Not having measured my knee at any point in recent memory, I agreed w/the clerk who suggested a small would probably fit. Since it was obviously a guy’s knee pictured on the box (or an extremely hairy woman’s), I figured the things probably ran large.

I changed my mind about that after I put it on. I also decided A) I would probably end up being buried in it and B) if I ever managed to get it off, I was going to spray my leg with cooking spray before putting it back on so maybe it would slide without peeling off the top layer of skin in the process. Long story short, I ended up going back and exchanging it for a medium, which was easier to put on and take off. A little. But not much. Maybe they only fit fashion models with super sculpted thighs and no body fat. No one will ever mistake me for a fashion model.

I’ve given myself a one-week window of no deliberate exercise and very restricted heelwork training with Phoenix. If things aren’t better with my knee by next week, I will call the doctor and say, “Sometimes my knee hurts and sometimes it doesn’t” and hope I don’t sound too stupid. This is the same clinic I went to when I gave myself severe tendonitis a couple of years ago throwing balls for the dogs with a ChuckIt. Fortunately, the practitioner I saw then has moved to another position. Although I think she and I had reached an understanding since she diagnosed my exercise-induced asthma after several long and rather odd conversations about dog agility and my inability to breathe. I don’t think this knee thing is a dog-induced injury, however, so it might be easier to explain to non-dog medical personnel.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Looooong weekend

 When your club hosts an obedience trial, it's kind of like Christmas: you spend ages getting ready for it, making lists and checking them twice, can't wait for the big day(s) to arrive, then time flies, all of a sudden it's over  . . . and you're both disappointed and relieved.

For Phoenix and I, it was a weekend of the good, the bad and the ugly. He did a lovely job on his Open individual exercises both Friday and Saturday, with improvement in both animation and accuracy on Saturday, but walked out on the long down both days. Sigh. 

The best thing about obedience people is everyone genuinely wants to help and I got tons of very sincere advice. Than you, everyone! It's all spinning around in my head and I need to sift through it all and decide how I want to approach working through this problem. I'll be eating a couple of entry fees for trials that have already closed but I don't want Phoenix to keep practicing stress-ball behavior.

We did Graduate Open today and won the class for his first GO leg. Apparently he knows more about Utility than I realized. Good Skinny Little Dog!

Jamie won Veterans on Saturday and was 2nd today with a 196 and 4 points off for a couple of no sits. Sweet old man. If you don't want to sit, you don't have to. It was fun to heel with him again in the ring although I didn't realize how different his working style is from Phoenix.

Our teams Saturday were spectacular. We had so much fun! I have never laughed so hard both inside and outside of the ring. Jamie was in his element on Senior Moments and Phoenix loved being the only boy dog on Flower Power (he even happily wore his neck boutonniere with good will and totally ignored the fact he had a bouquet on the back of his head! In fact, that might have been the nicest heeling he's ever done. Can he wear flowers all the time?). 

I will definitely do team again but next year, but I'm only going to be on ONE team! Scrambling to change clothes, switch armbands and handing Phoenix off for stays (thanks, Renee!) got a little hectic, but 3 other handlers were doing the same thing so it was a bit of a free for all at times.

Tons of people took tons of pictures and video so if  any get circulated to me, I'll share. The other teams included the Red Hat Ladies (Knockers up!), the ICDOC Dumbelles and Team Nauti-Pom (2 PWDs, 2 poms, all owned by the same people).

It's been a fun three days and I am thoroughly exhausted. G'night.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Growing pains

“This will make you a better trainer.”

That sentence has abut 279 different translations, the first and most generally accepted being: “By the time you figure out how to resolve this problem, you will have become a more resourceful, creative, compassionate trainer and you will have developed a better understanding of your dog and a better relationship with your dog so suck it up and quit whining and get to work.”

It also translates as:

1) I’ve never seen a dog do THAT.

2) Wow, you sure got a problem there.

3) What the hell are you going to do about it?

While I tried to focus on the initial translation, my mind spent a lot of time bouncing back and forth between 1, 2 and 3 as Phoenix and I worked on his out-of-sight stays issue this week. (Oh, did I say workED? I meant, workING, as in, continuing to work. Forever and ever. Amen.)

My club’s three-day obedience and rally trial starts tomorrow. I’m showing Phoenix in Open the first two days and in Graduate Open the third day. Plus showing Jamie in Veterans two days and showing both boys in Team on Saturday. Plus being trophy chairman for the whole weekend. I think my overall goal for the weekend is to be in the right ring with the right dog at the right time. Anything beyond that will be icing on the cake.

But I digress.

After Phoenix chose to leave the ring half way through the long down at the DeWitt trial last weekend, I redoubled our out-of-sight stay work. In a perfect world, I would have been able to go to a totally new environment and work stays every single day this week. Two nights of severe weather and one night of work derailed that plan. I suspect working stays outdoors during a tornado warning would be counter-productive. We did manage to work stays in several “strange” places where Phoenix had to think about his job. There were corrections. There were rewards. There were successes. We’ll build on that and keep moving forward.

I’m looking forward to showing Nix this weekend because A) we can work stays tonight during set-up at the site (not in the ring but close enough) B) there are matches both Friday and Saturday night after the trial C) my friends can help me with him throughout the weekend D) overall, it will be a great opportunity to work on the problem in the context where it occurs: trials.

I know it’s only Thursday but have a great weekend everyone!

PS. Layla's mom: e-mail me at if you want to and we'll talk about heeling!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You asked for it

Baby Phoenix during an early heelwork session.
(Photo by Rilda Sue)

Several people have asked me to write about teaching heeling. This won’t be a novel, I promise.

I love to teach heeling.

There. I said it. It’s true. Call me weird, twisted or just plain nuts but I honestly LOVE to work heeling with my dogs. (No doubt that is why Phoenix got a perfect heeling score on his Open debut and flunked the long down. Maybe I need to love teaching group exercises a little bit more.)

I’ve always enjoyed heelwork and I think it got started when I was a kid with a beagle in 4-H. That was back in the “jerk and yank” days. By some act of doG, my 9-year-old brain actually mastered the “pop and release” technique that escaped everyone else. They didn’t pop. They didn’t release. They just drug their dogs around in a choke hold. So the cool thing was, my dog could heel on a loose leash and do automatic sits and nobody else’s could. Yeah, back then it was totally an ego thing and I admit it. Hey, ya gotta start somewhere. And I had a beagle, gimme a break.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a bit more refined. Obviously, the jerk and yank method went out the window. Nowadays, I love to heel with my dog because, well, it’s just cool! (See? Weird. I can’t help it.) I figure super smooth, powerful heeling is as close to riding a dressage horse as I will ever get. I grew up riding horses but only in the sense of jump on and try not to get tossed off. There was never a great deal of skill or finesse involved. I totally missed the concept of communication with another species.

Now I figure I can achieve that sense of partnership with a 50 pound dog instead of a 1,200 pound horse. Much safer for all involved.

But a lot of people don’t enjoy teaching heeling for a variety of reasons. They think it’s boring or frustrating. I can totally understand that. Many of us started training during the jerk and yank days and still have a lot of negative emotional baggage attached to heeling. You need to get rid of that!

So here are a few thoughts to help you with your heeling training (there are dozens of ways to teach heeling and I don’t want to get into a dissection of each method. Plain and simple, I use food. A lot of food. And it never totally goes away, just moves out of my hand. There ya go, “How To Teach Heeling in 50 Words or Less.")

• Having a beautiful heeling dog —”beautiful” means a dog who enjoys heeling, not necessarily one who is perfect at it — is the product of as much mental skill on the handler’s part as it is a physical skill on the dog’s part. Heeling is a complicated exercise to teach and not only does it take years to teach, it requires constant maintenance. Don’t take it too casually but don’t lose your religion over it, either.

• Realize not every dog is going to heel the same way. Some dogs prance and wag their tails. Others seem to float smoothly while others bounce and vibrate in place. Yet others may be quietly intense. Each dog has his own style. Recognize it and celebrate your own dog’s style.

• Learn to recognize the signs that tell you your dog is enjoying what he’s doing: ear set, tail set, head posture, the “softness” of his eye, the set of his lips and tongue and overall body carriage. Learn also, to recognize signs of stress, boredom and unhappiness.

• Have a clear mental picture of what you want. Think of words that describe it: smooth, joyful, powerful, dynamic, etc. Use words that have a lot of energy. Focus on YOUR dog performing that way vs. saying, “I wish my dog would work like So-And-So’s dog.”

• Realize that awesome heeling is not going to happen over night. Great trainers will tell you they make heelwork a priority throughout the dog’s career even though there are additional complex behaviors to teach and maintain at each level. It can take several years to establish the teamwork that results in (apparently) effortless heeling in the ring.

• Look forward to training sessions as something you WANT to do, never something you HAVE to do. Be excited, be optimistic. Expect good things to happen.

• Never just go through the motions. If you find yourself doing this, STOP IT NOW. You’re boring both yourself and your dog. Look at the dogs who are animated heelers in the ring. Do you think their trainers spend endless hours working L-patterns or heeling in circles around and around a building? NO! Mix it up. Teach a touch. How high can your dog jump to touch? Release to a toy. Run away and let your dog chase you. Let him catch you. (Phoenix loves this. I can always buy new clothes.) Set objects all over the building and do crazy “Figure 8s” around them.

• Maybe the most important? Truly enjoy the process. Don’t be in a rush to get the finished product.

Monday, April 5, 2010

No pain, no gain

Today I am hobbling around with some serious sore muscles. Went a little crazy working in my flower beds yesterday afternoon and now I'm paying for it. Today's post is sponsored by Advil!

I love daffodils. Not only are they gorgeous, they are extremely low maintenance. They are not responsible for any of my sore muscles.

Here's part of the reason everything hurts from my waist down. This is part of the perennial border south of our house. I cleaned off all the leaves, sticks, dead stalks, etc. and dug out about 100 dandelions. I swear those dandelions were growing under the snow. The day lilies are coming up now, along with the peonies, Russian sage, phlox and some tulips.

Here's more of the reason I am gimping around like a granny. I cleaned off the perennial bed by the patio and back door, too. I really love this bed. After about 5 years, it's really filling in. By June it will be full of blooms and greenery. There are some day lilies, purple coneflower, sedum, salvia, phlox, ornamental grasses and hen and chicks. I'll throw some snapdragons and petunias in, too, for instant color gratification.

This is the only rose I've ever been brave enough to try growing. Its blooms are a very hot coral pink, totally stunning. It's a miniature and it's surviving in spite of me. It would look a lot better if I didn't dig it up and move it every year. Seriously, I've moved this poor little rose nearly every year for the last four years because it always seems to end up in the wrong place and something decides to grow over it. It keeps blooming anyway, even though it looks kind of rough right now after I trimmed all the winter-killed growth off.

This is the opening to one of our cisterns. Even though we have rural water now, we still run a well for livestock, mixing field chemicals, gardening, etc. According to the Farmer, the cistern is "broke." He is doing something in it to make it un-broke. I don't really know how cisterns work and I'd like to keep it that way. If I learn too much, pretty soon it will be MY job to make it un-broke. It's about 12 feet deep and 10 feet in diameter.

The dogs helped me garden all afternoon. Phoenix kept the birds chased away and brought me things at random, like the water bucket out of the kennel and various garden tools. Jamie shredded sticks and dug small exploratory holes. They were 'zhausted when we came back inside.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Hope your day is filled with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow eggs and that there is not too much dog fur in any of them.

Phoenix was hoping to find a bunny or a kitty in his Easter basket this morning. Nice try, kid, but it ain't gonna happen.

The Farmer and I are going to the hospital to visit his mom, then in the afternoon I think I'll take the dogs to the Amana Park for some obedience work. It will be our first official "train in the park" trip of the spring. I have GOT to get back in the habit of going to train in different places, especially outdoors, especially with Mal nationals being outdoors in about six weeks.

The National Weather Service has us under a slight chance for severe weather Monday and Tuesday. Spotter activation may be needed! Yee-haw! Need to plug in my weather radio and dust off my spotter's field guide. Since last year's severe weather season was practically non-existent, I never got a chance to practice the stuff they taught us in storm spotter school.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The good news is . . .

. . . Phoenix gave me 40 point heeling in his Open debut today!

The not-so-good-news is he got up half way through the long down and left the ring. Sigh. 

I'm disappointed about him breaking the down but I knew going into today that was our weak exercise. He stuck the long sit (very tense) and did an absolutely lovely job on his individual exercises so all in all, it was a very good start. I'm glad I only entered one day this weekend. 

My goal for this week is to go to different places and work out of sight stays with tons of rewards to build confidence and reduce stress. Phoenix really does NOT like this exercise and can't say that I blame him. Why the AKC, which endlessly pushes an agenda of responsible dog ownership, continues to insist on an obedience exercise that NO ONE in their right mind would do in real life, I have no idea. I mean seriously, would you ever take your dog's leash off and leave him in a strange place with a bunch of dogs he doesn't know, supervised by a total stranger and three high school-aged ring stewards, while you disappear for 8 minutes?

In other news, the Farmer's mom continues to recover after an 8-hour spinal surgery to fuse some collapsed vertebrae earlier this week. She'll transfer out of the hospital soon into a rehab facility for lots of physical and occupational therapy. We've all been rather fruit-basket-upset lately, trying to get to the hospital to spend time with her. 

The Farmer, the Farmer's Dad and the Farmer's Brother have started spring field work, which is actually the fall field work they didn't get done last fall because the day after they finished the corn harvest, it snowed.

This means it's 8 p.m. and we haven't had supper yet. I love this time of year. I really do!