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!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fun photos

Paula snapped this picture with her cell phone
while in the Cleveland (?) airport.

I'm not sure if it means:
A) This is the reason why Phoenix acts the way he does in the ring.
B) I should START giving Phoenix coffee before we go in the ring.
C) I should STOP giving Phoenix coffee before we go in the ring.
D) I should give the coffee to ME before we go in the ring.

The general consensus was that anything labeled "Phoenix Coffee" should probably come with a warning.

Here's a pic of Phoenix's nieces and nephews. His sister Cayenne had a litter about a month ago, 9 bouncing baby mals. As Catherine points out, one of the items in this group is not the same as the others. Here, kitty, kitty!

(Photo courtesy of Catherine Shields, Carousel Malinois)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stone soup

First, a bit of deer follow-up. Yes, I feed my dogs raw and I would have LOVED to strap that bad boy on my luggage rack and haul his sorry carcass home. Might have made it all worth while. Although no deer is worth $3,000, having about 100 lbs. of meat would have offset my deductible nicely.

But alas, it was a hit and run. It was pitch dark and the deer vanished after I whacked him. I don't know if he bounced back into the north ditch or if momentum carried him on across the road. It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night. I wasn't exactly in a position to go looking for him. Next time, I hit a deer, I'll do it in broad daylight so I can track him down.

On a tastier note, I made the First Official Pot Of Soup of Autumn yesterday. I'd ground some chicken for the dogs over the weekend and in the process of reorganizing the freezer, found a bunch of soup fixins just waiting to be fixed.

I don't have a specific soup recipe. I just throw stuff in the crockpot.

First, some beef stock from a roast.
It came complete with little bits of potato.

Veggies du jour.

Taters. Lots of taters.
Taters are a food group by themselves.
And I'm too lazy to peel them.

A little chopped up leftover beef roast.
A little chopped up leftover pork roast.
The pork roast was actually supposed to be training treats.
Sorry Phoenix.
Will you forgive me?

The spice of life.
I never cook with fresh onions.
Fresh onions are evil.
Dried onions are my friend.

I love my crockpot.
I seriously love my crockpot.
I might starve to death without it.

Oh yum.
Gimme a spoon and the bread and butter.
Then leave me alone.
I tend to food guard.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

$#@! deer

I hit a deer on the way home from work last night. This was my second deer-bashing incident, my fourth deer total and my first buck.

Ironically, it happened on the exact same stretch of highway where I hit "the herd" 8 years ago. That time I took out 3 deer, all does, all at once. That time, one hit the grill, one hit the driver's side door and one hit the driver's side sliding door.

I don't know if last night's single buck-bashing was better or worse. One minute I'm driving down the road, the next minute THUMP! All I saw were antlers and then he was gone. I didn't spend a lot of time on the side of the road looking for him. Since there wasn't steam billowing from the radiator and no fluid was gushing out of anywhere and the tire wasn't scraping the wheel well (which no longer had its original shape), I drove home, using a lot of creative language.

Actually, I only used one word. A lot. But very creatively. I used it as a noun, verb and adjective.

When I took C3PO to the body shop for an estimate this morning, I learned a new word.

That word is "spendy."

As in, "Oh, an Acadia. That's going to be spendy."

I used my original word some more.

Then he told me I was the fourth person to come in this morning with deer damage. And that was at 9 a.m. Welcome to Iowa County, home of deer with suicidal rage.

Does this look like $3,000 damage to you? Me neither but I guess most of the front end has to be replaced. And some internal stuff, too.

Although the headlights still work and I got assurances it was safe to drive. Whew, I was wondering if I'd be able to go to Omaha this weekend. Really, you have to have priorities.

Does anyone else see the irony of driving approximately 30,000 miles a year to classes, matches, trials and seminars, only to hit a deer coming home from work? My first deer strike happened on the way to work. Clearly, the problem here is work.

So now I'm waiting for my insurance agent to get back to me and I'm waiting for a sheriff's deputy to get back to me because you are supposed to report any deer accident damage over $500. Good grief, a deer could just LOOK at your car and cause $500.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let's try this again

Here is the post I tried to put up last week but couldn't get the graphics to cooperate. So I took it down but apparently it was still showing as being up, but no one could open it. One of the computer goddesses at work helped me find larger graphics this morning. She also brought blueberry cobbler for her birthday. I think I love her. Happy birthday, Jennifer, you rock!

Anyway, NOAA came out with their 2010-2011 winter weather outlook last Thursday and since I know you're all as fascinated by the weather as I am (or not), thought I'd share it with you. Forecast outlooks being what they are, you can agree or disagree or agree to disagree or go out and burn your Old Farmer's Almanac because it doesn't say the same thing. Whatever. If you don't like this outlook, get on the Internet and check around, maybe you'll find one you like better.

I have my own personal way of forecasting (and even influencing!) the weather. It's pretty darn simple. Here's the formula:

For a pleasant winter with little snow and mild temperatures, go home and immediately put away all your dog training equipment. Store all jumps, contact pieces, tunnels, weave poles and ring gates securely in your garage before the calendar turns to November 1. Do not plan to get them out any time before April or do any outdoor training of any kind.

For a winter that is an absolute freaking mind-numbing pain in the arse, leave everything outside. It will disappear under a glacier before Christmas and you won't see it again until April. If you're lucky.

This works. Seriously.

My sheltie Connor was not a good jumper. He needed regular jump work in order to keep his rhythm. Any time off from regular jumping meant stutter-stepping next time we were in the ring. So in late fall of 1999, I came up with the outstandingly brilliant idea to leave a jump out in the yard all winter long so we could practice.

It snowed early that year. It snowed often. Whenever it snowed, it snowed a lot. The jump disappeared under a drift within weeks of my brilliant idea, not to be seen again until springtime.

You'd think I'd learn but I did the same d*mn thing with Phoenix's weavepoles a few years ago. He was just mastering them in November and I was excited to keep working him. I left my weaves out in the yard. One snowstorm after another put a quick end to that idea as snow piled up to within six inches of the top of the poles. They would have been great weave poles for a pomeranian or a rabbit.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A walk in the woods

Yesterday, Jamie and Phoenix and I hiked a local trail. We took the "red" route, 3.5 miles, that winds through native timber to a bluff overlooking the Iowa River. For all you forestry type people, the timber is called an oak savannah. 

It's my favorite trail even though it's had very little — make that zero — maintenance since it opened about 20 years ago so parts are kind of primitive. The dogs make sure I get up the steep hills okay. They also help me go down hills a little faster than is probably safe.

Jamie wore his doggie pack from Aunt Michele. He carried a couple bottles of water, a portable bowl and treats. He loves his pack and thinks he is all that when he wears it.

We frequently see deer and wild turkeys when we walk here but yesterday we made so much noise crunching through the dry leaves we probably scared away anything within five miles. 

It was a great way to spend a sunny autumn afternoon, the kind of day I want to bottle and save for February.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

To sit or not to sit


A reader asked why I decided to switch to “send direct” with Phoenix’s scent articles after initially teaching the “turn and sit.” Thanks for the post idea!

When I trained my first two UDs, sending directly to the articles was not an option. The rules dictated a turn and sit, followed by the send. Then the rules changed and sending direct became allowable. I sent Jamie directly because his sits never had “slam your butt into the ground” speed. It seemed counterproductive to do the turn and make him sit, only to ask him get right back up again and go briskly to the pile.

When I taught Phoenix to do articles, he was very mentally immature. That translated to slightly insane. He tended to fling himself all over the place and was easily distract — oh, look, a shiny object!

So at the time, it seemed to make sense to implement the turn and sit so he could regroup and focus before being sent to the article pile instead of just flying out into oblivion, having totally forgotten what we were doing. Looking back, I wish I would have just left the whole turn issue alone until we were closer to actually showing in Utility but oh well, live and learn.

Somewhere along the line, he grew up and got a brain. By now we’d been working the turn and sit for about 2 years, although I hadn’t made article work a very serious part of our training since I was focused on Novice and Open. Articles were practically a recreational activity since he learned them quickly and thought they were fun.

When I started matching him in Utility this spring, I really wasn’t happy with the turn and sit he was giving me. Technically, he was doing it okay but like Jamie, the turn-stop-sit-get up-go sequence seemed to be demotivating.

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, this training and titling stuff is MY idea, not Phoenix’s and I feel I owe it to him to find the simplest and most intrinsically rewarding method of teaching/performing any exercise. I really try to not make things harder than they need to be! Thus, the change to the send direct.

Sure, I could have worked to rev up the turn and sit. It’s always a tough decision when you’re facing a training issue: train harder to make the current method work or try something different? This time, I decided to try something different.

Besides, since the turn and sit are a scoreable part of the exercise, you can start losing points for a crooked sit, slow sit, no sit, forged sit, etc. before the dog ever gets near the articles. It made sense to just eliminate one more element of difficulty. I am a firm believer in picking your battles! Deciding to do the sit initially was one of those “What was I thinking?” moments that so many of us trainers have so many of! I’m sure for some dogs and handlers, the turn and sit works very well. It’s purely an individual choice that depends on your dog’s strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, the send direct is not without its scoring hazards. The biggest one is the dog making a wide turn, followed by a huge arc to the pile, although some judges seem to score that harder than others, while other judges totally ignore any sins that might be committed before the dog gets to the pile. Like so many things in the obedience regs, scoring how the dog gets to the pile seems very open to interpretation.

Please feel free to comment on your experiences one way or another.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Onward to Utility!

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

With the ink barely dry on Phoenix’s CDX, I’ve been trying to get a grip on what we need to do in training this winter to be realistically prepared for a Utility debut in March.

Is it legal to use “realistically prepared for Utility” in the same sentence? I hear the echoing laughter of everyone who has ever shown a green dog in Utility.

Phoenix will be my fourth UD. Each of my previous dogs has been a very individual experience.

My first sheltie, Jess, and I stumbled around the Utility A ring for the better part of the spring of 1991, then all of a sudden he Q’d in three straight trials. Connor, being the classic overachiever that he was, Q’d his first time out and went 3 out of 4 to get his UD in two weekends. Jamie? Ummm . . . I showed him a handful of times and it became apparent that we were so dismally unprepared I pulled him out of the ring for a year. When we returned, he Q’d his first 3 times out.

Who knows what Phoenix and I will do on this leg of our journey, but I’m looking forward to it because Utility has always been my favorite class to train for and show in.

Here are some highlights of each exercise that we need to address. One benefit of it taking longer than expected to finish his CDX was that I kept training the Utility exercises at the same time, so we’ve got a pretty good grip on things already.

More or less.

Sometimes less.

Sometimes a lot less.

• SIGNAL EXERCISE: This is all about attention. Teaching the mechanics of the signals are not that complicated. Building a solid understanding that these signals must be performed IN PLACE (no creeping forward) and maintaining the focus that will allow your dog to successfully do them at a distance of 40 feet is another thing entirely. I see many sets of many signals in many different places in our future plus creative proofing when I train alone.

• SCENT DISCRIMINATION: After initially (stupidly - don’t go there) teaching the turn and sit, I switched to sending direct. Needless to say, this resulted in major confusion on Phoenix’s part. I’ve started working “send direct to a cookie” (no article pile, just turn, run and get the cookie on a target on the floor) and suddenly the turn has become crystal clear. Also, I tweaked my turning footwork to keep my big feet out of his way. Seriously, we were running into each other on the turn. This was demotivating for him and painful for me.

• DIRECTED RETRIEVE: This is good. The skinny little dog likes to fetch things and his marking is good. Our weakest point is the #3 turn. I would prefer NOT to have any repeats of our Versatility experience earlier this fall where I turned and he didn’t and he ended up looking over his shoulder to see the signal.

• MOVING STAND: The standing part is good, the returning part not so much. To be honest, our regular finishes aren’t that great either, so I need to work the overall concept. Plus finding lots of people to do exams while convincing Nix to keep his brain in his head and not have a goofy malinois meltdown because someone is PETTING HIM OH DON’T STOP THAT FEELS WONDERFUL A LITTLE TO THE LEFT PLEASE.

• DIRECTED JUMPING: The go out. The turn. The sit. The actual jumping. The front. The finish. Oh dear. Need I say more?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CDX wrap-up

I am still floating around on the euphoria of finishing Phoenix’s CDX. It’s an awesome feeling to know we did it, even though earning a certificate with our names on it from the AKC doesn’t mean all our problems are solved.

We’ve got a lot to work on as we prep for Utility (goal - March 2011), both in technical skills and in relationship. I know the things I’ve learned during the last seven months will improve me as a trainer and help me get enthusiastic, confident work from Phoenix.

Things I learned during the quest for Phoenix’s CDX (in no particular order).

• Don’t take any part of any exercise for granted. Ever.

• Respect your dog as a totally unique individual, never as an extension of your ego.

• All this training and titling stuff is YOUR idea, not your dog’s.

• Evaluate your dog’s skills often and be realistic: recognize the faults, problem areas, etc. and deal with them before they get worse.

• Stay focused on what your dog really needs in training to be successful in the ring.

• Keep your focus on the process (training) not the outcome (title).

• Never be afraid to ask your dog for more effort. This means you have to give more effort, too.

• It’s okay to back up and strengthen a foundation skill.

• Listen to advice, consider it carefully, do what you think is best.

• Relive successes, don’t replay failures.

• If you believe you can, you will.

• Laugh often.

• I have a beautiful, brilliant, athletic dog.

• When it comes to training, quality is better than quantity.

• I have a lot of very good friends and I am grateful for their endless insight, advice and help.

• My dog occasionally thinks I am a complete idiot but he still loves me.

• As much as possible, make training look like showing.

• Get the most out of matches (this is a post in itself!)

• Phoenix is a very honest dog who tries very hard.

• I need to be sillier when I train; when I am very serious, Phoenix is very serious. He needs more feedback to know he is RIGHT and I am HAPPY and life is good!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Phoenix, CDX!!!!!!!

U-CDX Carousel's Call of the Wild, CDX, GN, GO, AX, AXJ, RN

Yep, the Skinny Little Dog did it! He finished his CDX Saturday and got a security leg today. I am SO VERY PROUD of him. This has been a much harder title for us than I anticipated when we first started showing last March. 

I've learned a tremendous amount more about my dog since he first walked out of an Open ring on stays seven months ago than if we had sailed easily to this title. He's given me some very lovely work and some major WTF moments. There's nothing "easy" about Phoenix but he has taught me a tremendous amount in just a few short years and made me re-think things more than once.

It was a wonderful weekend, beautiful weather, good friends, watching awesome dogs and meeting new people. Here are a few of the things I learned (not necessarily having to do with dog training):

• If you check into a Motel 6 at 4 p.m. on Thursday, they tell you all the first floor rooms are taken. If you check into a Motel 6 at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, you get a first floor room without asking.

• Highway 157 and Interstate 64 are not the same road, no matter what Renee says.

• No matter how many times you drive up and down Highway 157, you will not find an exit to Fairview Heights.

• You will find about 17 bars.

• You will not want to stop at any of them for directions.

• Driving straight through downtown St. Louis on Sunday afternoon is actually a faster way home than taking the "less traffic" loop around the northeast/Illinois side.

• The Lotawata Southern Grill has the most amazing menu I have ever seen.

• I want to go back there and order one of everything.

• It is sooooo nice when a judge says something nice about your dog, even though you're obviously not going to be in the placements.

• Jamie and Phoenix  have ZERO concept of "sleeping in." Our motel was 5 minutes from the trial site and we were at the tail end of a 42-dog Open B class. I had a great crating place (thanks, Renee!) and there was plenty of parking. We did not need to get up at 5:30 a.m. to leave for the trial. Saturday, I managed to convince the Belgians we COULD sleep until 6:15 a.m. and no one would arrest us. Today, it was 6:08. To tell the truth, I wasn't really asleep either.

Nix and I have one more big obedience weekend (Halloween weekend), then we're going to take the winter off to get ready for a Utility debut in the spring. I have a ton of training ideas bouncing around in my head and can't wait to get started.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Short week

The week is almost over! Yippee! I’m off work tomorrow for the drive to Caseyville, Ill., for two days of obedience.

I don’t have my things packed (2 shirts on hangers does not constitute “packed.”)

The van is not loaded.

The dogs are not groomed. (Okay, really, how much grooming does Phoenix need? But Jamie needs to rub up against a brush.)

I need to de-clutter my training bag so I'm not taking every leash, collar and toy I own with us this weekend.

I haven’t organized any food. This is VERY important since there’s no food concession at the trial site.

I need to prep food to leave at home so the Farmer doesn’t starve to death before I get back Sunday night.

I have a class to teach tonight.

And I’m leaving mid-morning tomorrow.

Really, that house elf better look out if I ever catch him. He is a major slacker!

Weekend goals: enjoy the time spent with my dog and my friends without obsessing about our ring performance; walk into the ring smiling and relaxed; be the best handler I can be to support Phoenix through all the exercises; build attitude in the ring; work a series of “pre-stays” before we do group exercises. These are all goals I am absolutely confident I can meet.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Milkweed fluff

Here’s another history lesson, courtesy of my Aunt Joyce, dad’s sister. She sends these out at random to her kids and me, I guess whenever the mood strikes.

“During the (World War II) war years when I was in school we would get let out on some fall afternoons, taken by bus out to various areas and we picked bags full of the ripe milk weed pods for use for our airmen and navy life vests. I always disliked doing it as I was afraid of running into snakes.

“On weekends we’d go down across the pasture to some low swampy areas where there were milkweed and pick them and take them to school on Monday by bags-ful on the bus. Most families would have a bag to take as that was just the thing to do.

“Our proudest thing was to each take 10 cents to school on Mondays and buy a war bond stamp from the teacher who carefully put it in our war bond book, and when this was full it was taken home. The government used this money to fund the war effort. I still have a few of the stamps. 10 cents in those days was a big deal. Also had 25 cent stamps but we never got those.”

As confirmed by

"Milkweed fluff was used by the military during World War II. The buoyant milkweed fluff was needed to fill life jackets and for use to line the jackets and outerwear of the U.S. Air Force. Schoolchildren would gather the milkweed pods and the pods from all over were sent to be processed at a central location for the Armed Forces. The natural buoyancy of the silken milkweed fibers made ideal filler material for these life vests. Lightweight and very buoyant, just several pounds of milkweed fibers provide enough buoyancy to keep a man afloat."

Who'd have thunk it?

So last night I had to take some pictures of the milkweed in the fenceline along the hay field north of the house. This is the "real" wild milkweed, not the domesticated plants you can buy at garden centers (I have those, too). Thanks to all the dry weather we've had, the pods have burst open and the fluff is blowing all over.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Phoenix's social calendar

Phoenix has a very busy social calendar for the next few weeks. In addition to two big obedience trial weekends, finishing up a heeling class, doing a mid-week fun match and helping me teach a Utility class, he is taking part in an obedience and agility demo at a nearby correctional facility and now he’s been asked to give a program for the local noon Kiwanis Club. Okay, so I’m the one giving the program but do you really think anyone is going to be paying attention to me if Phoenix is in the same room?

I gave a program on dog obedience to the Kiwanis about 10 years ago. Either they liked it well enough to ask me back or they couldn’t find anyone else willing to give the program that day.

The fellow who asked me if I would give the program just asked me to speak about “that dog training you do.” Well, that narrows it right down. I only have 30 minutes, which is either a blessing or a curse.

The program is in a meeting room at the rec center so I won’t have tons of space to demo things. The rec center folks would probably freak if I asked to work Phoenix on their fancy gymnasium floor. To tell the truth, I’m not even sure they know I’ll be walking in with a dog that day. I should probably go check the place out ahead of time. The fewer surprises, the better for all involved.

I don’t want to bore the people to tears or get too technical. The program is after a meal, which I figure doubles the chances of my audience falling asleep so maybe I’m over-worrying the whole thing. I’ve sketched a brief outline covering basic equipment, explaining attention training (THAT’S got to be new concept to non-dog people) and walking them through the steps of training an exercise from initially luring the behavior to finally proofing it. I figure with time for questions, that should fill 30 minutes.

Help me out here. If you knew NOTHING about dog obedience training and this was your first introduction to the sport, what would you want to know?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend? What weekend?

I’ve decided that the definition of a weekend “at home” is one in which you drive less than 300 miles to do stuff and always come home at night. If I ever have a weekend "at home" where I actually get to stay AT HOME I won’t know what to do.

Early Saturday morning, Nix and I were off to the Scott County Kennel Club match (150 miles, round trip). He rocked the Open stays with no problem. I put him in with the Novice class for a second set of stays (I went out of sight) and he broke within 20 seconds. He was positioned between a very large GSD and a huge St. Bernard, which kind of confirms my “uncomfortable with big dogs” theory, even though the GSD is a total sweetheart and the St. Bernard was probably more scared of Phoenix than he was of her. I put him back and he was fine. That was a golden opportunity since that is the first time he has ever broken in a training situation where I could work him through it and reward in the ring for the right decision.

Saturday evening, the Farmer and I went to a wedding reception (30 miles, round trip). Good food, excellent cake and we were home early. Love it!

Sunday morning actually provided a few hours of “home time.” The house elf has been slacking off (I’m going to fire his arse if I ever find him) so I had to catch up with the cleaning and laundry. Then it was off to North Liberty to teach a couple of lessons and train with a friend (70 miles, round trip).

Home again, home again, a quick change of clothes and back to Marengo for a funeral visitation for a co-worker’s mom (30 miles, round trip). Saying good-bye to a parent is not easy but the feeling of relief that comes with knowing a loved one is no longer suffering goes a long way to making the grief easier to handle.

Finally, back home to supper, sweats, a recliner and a good book! Weekend mileage total, 280 miles and I never left eastern Iowa.

This week looks like a bit of a zoo: gone 3 nights with work and/or classes, leaving Friday morning for the Mound City trials and the only thing I have packed is the dogs’ food. Figures.

Friday, October 8, 2010


500 AM CDT FRI OCT 8 2010




Yawn. It’s been like this for the last two weeks. Sunny dry days. Clear chilly nights. Zero humidity. Light winds. Totally perfect autumn weather.

Please don't think I’m complaining!

After this summer, it seems absolutely freaky to string together more than 48 hours of dry weather at a time. If you can believe the seven-day forecast, we’re looking at the THIRD WEEK IN A ROW of it.

I’m going to have to water flowers this afternoon. The annuals are on their way out but the perennials need a good soaking so they aren’t stressed going into winter. I ordered some lily bulbs and it would be great if they would come soon so I can get them in the ground while it’s still so nice. With my luck, I’ll end up planting them in the rain on a 42 degree day in November.

This is a “home” weekend but it’s a busy one: an obedience match tomorrow morning at the Scott County Kennel Club building (my fifth trip to Davenport in nine days, just wind me up and point me east) and a wedding reception in the evening (cake!); then lessons and training on Sunday and, sadly, a funeral visitation for a co-worker’s mother.

Plus a huge to-do list at home. I’d like to start packing and getting ready for NEXT weekend’s trip to the Mound City trials in Illinois but the last time I packed a week in advance, the weather totally changed and I ended up throwing in a bunch of extra stuff at the last minute and still didn’t have everything I needed.

Have a great weekend, whatever you’re doing!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Confessions of a hot water addict

There are certain things in life you never want to see, like a pile of dog poop by the door or a flat tire on your van when you want to leave for a show at 4 a.m.

A large puddle under your water heater is one of those things.

This was the floor under our water heater last Friday. Not good. TG it’s a cement floor. But still. That’s not the point. The water is supposed to be in the heater, not on the floor.

This is the warning sign on the side of the water heater. Trust me, we were in no danger of receiving any kind of burn from the water that came out of it.

That’s because most of the water was on the floor. What was left did not have much scald potential.

This is why the Farmer and I have been taking two-minute showers for the last week.

Okay, the Farmer normally takes a two-minute shower anyway. He’s a guy. Guys are like that. I like to spend a little more time in the shower. The teen-age days of lingering for 20 minutes (doG, did I really do that? No wonder my parents freaked about the electric bill) are long gone. Of course, so is my long hair. I’ll blame that for my extended showering time back in the day. Maintaining ‘80s hair was a time consuming commitment, what with all the shampoo, rinses and conditioners to apply. But I digress.

I discovered the water heater’s pending demise at 5:15 p.m. last Friday. Of course, the local plumber closed at 5 p.m. If it had been a true emergency, I’m sure he would have come out. For a price.

We decided we could make it through the weekend. After all, the heater was still heating, just not as much. The Farmer would call the plumber Monday morning. He would come install a new unit and life would be good.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning’s showers were speedy affairs. No lingering. No soaking. The fear of getting doused with cold water kept me moving. I take a very dim view of cold showers.

Monday, the Farmer called me at work. The plumber couldn’t come out until Wednesday. WEDNESDAY? That was two whole showers away, four if you counted the Farmer’s. I had visions of standing in the yard, using the garden hose to wash my hair. Don’t laugh. I’ve done it before, while camping at an agility trial.

I started having flashbacks to the ice storm of 2007 that knocked out our power for a week and sent me scrambling like a homeless waif from door to door to beg a hot shower. Okay. It wasn’t that bad. (Well, yeah, it WAS that bad — it was February and we didn’t have any electricity and it was pretty much the same temperature in the house as it was outdoors and Phoenix was just a baby dog and I was heating water in an antique coffee boiler atop our gas grill just to do basic washing up. But I digress.)

I awaited Wednesday with the anticipation of a little kid at Christmas. I rushed home after work, flung open the basement door, raced down the steps and found . . .

. . . a brand new water heater. Isn’t she beautiful?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Things I've learned

I meant to post this last month, after my birthday, to celebrate all the things I've learned in the last year but that didn't happen. So here it is now, only a month late.

• If you rearrange the bedroom furniture after 19 years, expect to run into the wall at least once when you get up in the middle of the night.

• If you feed eight cats out of the same big pan, they all eat quietly and don’t fuss because someone else might get their food. If you feed two cats out of the same big pan, neither one of them will eat because they’ll be too busy squabbling with each other about whose food it is.

• If your health insurance company says they will call back within 48 hours regarding a billing matter, it will take about three months to get settled.

• The dog who can (and will) eat grass, dirt, green tomatoes, wood chips, buttons and the bird he caught — including feet, feathers and beak — with no digestive upset whatsoever will throw up on the dining room carpet for no apparent reason.

• Pantyhose are out. Bare legs are in. I was feeling guilty about not having any hose to wear with a skirt at a summer wedding until someone told me I was right in style. I didn’t tell her the only way I would ever be right in style would be by accident.

• Digging up a plant and moving it to a spot where you think it will “do better” means it won’t come up at all next spring.

• Digging up any plant that bumblebees are crawling around on is a bad idea.

• Only in America will a physician's clinic schedule you for two appointments with two specialists in the same week, then tell you insurance won't pay for one of them because the appointments are too close together.

• The words “We think someone is using your credit card illegally” can take at least 10 years off your life. This may cause you to need yet another appointment with the cardiologist.

• When in doubt, hug the dogs, kiss your partner and eat chocolate.

• It is possible for a Kong to become so embedded in the inner workings of a La-Z-Boy you will never get it out again. In fact, you will not even be able to see it.

• A lot of things that sound like a good idea at the time, aren’t.

• Throwing a ball for a malinois in the house is not a good idea at any time.

• If you try to act like an authority, something will inevitably happen to make you look like an idiot.

• It doesn’t really matter what happens in your life — what matters is how you react to it.

• Do not buy groceries while wearing your sunglasses. You’ll come home with all sorts of things that aren’t quite what you thought you were getting.

• It is possible to get clean in a two-minute shower.

• Two-minute showers suck.

• Gas prices will always drop right after you’ve fill the tank.

• Plants labeled “dwarf” frequently end up being four feet high after you have planted them in the front of the flowerbed.

• Dogs love to go digging after moles.

• There is a big difference between “digging” and “catching.”

• Storing clothing in closets for too long causes them to shrink. This has been proven time and time again.

• There’s nothing wrong with eating cake for breakfast. Pie is good too.

• Let the malinois win.

• If you start with the KCRG early morning news about 5:40 a.m., you can watch three different weather forecasts within six minutes. I know this because it makes early morning treadmill time go faster.

• Seeing a big spider run under the treadmill makes you walk faster.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What do YOU think about?

Phoenix and I were O/4 at Saturday and Sunday’s agility trial according to the official results but I still met 100 percent of my goal for the weekend. (And no, it was NOT to NQ every run!)

I decided to spend the weekend focusing only on the positive aspects of our runs instead of agonizing about every little (or big) handling error I made. Heaven knows I’ve spent enough time doing that and it only makes me feel miserable and inadequate and like I’ve let my dog down. (Seriously, look at Phoenix at the end of our runs in the videos below. Does he look disappointed about anything? I think not.)

I’m a big fan of Jane Savoie’s books, “That Winning Feeling” and “It’s Not Just About the Ribbons.” She talks about how your dominant thoughts program your mind. So if you’re thinking about everything you did wrong on a previous run or are doubting your inability to time front crosses or cue direction changes, well, guess what’s going to happen on your next run?

It took a lot of effort to keep my mind on what went RIGHT and let go of what went WRONG. Old habits die hard. I let myself think about the “wrong” stuff just long enough to figure out why it happened and how I could have handled the sequence better. Then I let it go. It’s done. It’s history. No amount of obsessing is going to change it so why not spend the mental energy replaying the brilliant stuff we did instead? That was a lot more fun.

Have you ever congratulated someone on a nice agility or obedience performance and they immediately start telling you everything that went wrong? Over the years, that has bothered me more and more, even though I've been guilty of it, too. Why are we so focused on negatives? Where did we learn this? Is it just human nature? Are we afraid it will sound like bragging if we say, "Thanks! It was awesome! He did such a good job!"

I admit, it was a bit of a challenge, especially as the weekend progressed. I’m an obedience trainer. I tend to obsess about what went wrong because that is what needs fixing. It’s easy to skip over what went right because, well, it doesn’t need fixing. It helped to have friends who are essentially positive people and share the same outlook that emphasizes success, not failure.

Driving home Sunday afternoon, it was refreshing to give myself permission to think, wow, Phoenix was incredible this weekend. He had speed, drive and focus. Our teamwork felt good. We are running better each time we go in the ring. He is a beautiful, athletic dog and he LOVES to play this game. I feel incredibly fortunate to be healthy enough to run him, to be able to afford the entry fees and to have great friends to spend the weekend with.

Here are our Standard runs from Saturday and Sunday. Thank doG they got taped BEFORE we started an on-going conversation about running agility in body gloves and Brazilian bikini waxing. I can’t imagine some of the background audio that is on friends’ runs!