Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The final review

Better to write for yourself and have no public,

than to write for the public and have no self.

— Cyril Connolly

Back in the day when I was in 4-H, we had to write a report on what we learned each year.

Where to start?!

Clearly, the biggest learning curve of 2011 was Phoenix’s obedience work. Or his attitude. Or my attitude. Or all three to varying degrees. Since many of you agonized through it with me, I’d like to summarize things amidst the blinding dazzle that comes with hindsight.

I’d also like to say everything is happily resolved but until we get into the ring (6 weeks until our first obedience trial since September) I can’t say it with absolute certainty. Although I’m feeling much better about our work together, I’m not so naive as to expect a shower of rainbows and 200s the second we step back into Open and Utility. But I do feel certain our journey through 2012 will be much more enjoyable for both of us.

Looking back, Nix got his UD in the spring. He was not happy in ring. Conversely, I was not happy in ring. I’d never had an unhappy obedience dog before. Horrors! What to do? I blamed ring stress for his crappy attitude. Spent a lot of time trying to dissect ring stress. Concluded it is different for every dog and handler team and can’t be singularly defined – but the basis of ours wasn’t lack of treats in the ring, it was lack of trust and understanding coupled with his feeling that he could never do anything right so why bother. It took me awhile to figure this out.

Summer followed. I tried the “You must do it because I said so” training approach. Showed again in the fall. Didn’t think it was possible to look worse in the ring than we already did. I was wrong.

Got totally fed up with the “You have to make him do it” training theory. Neither dog nor I were enjoying training. In fact, I was coming dangerously close to thinking this might be the end of Phoenix’s obedience career and I’d have a lovely agility dog who happened to have a UD. Did some soul-searching. Thought a lot of “What if . . .”

Talked to my dog. I asked him to forgive me for being an idiot. He gave me that Malinois grin. Oh yeah, he forgave me but it came at a price. I’ve had to let go of a lot of training notions I used to think were carved in stone.

Took a HUGE mental step and explored the concept of letting my dog tell me when he’s ready to engage and work instead of the other way around — always before I’d thought the dog had to work whenever I demanded it. Discovered Phoenix can be incredibly pushy and hysterically funny about demanding to work. Discovered I like this much better than begging my dog to work and/or correcting him for not working. (Yeah, there’s a lot more to this, too – you can’t just sit around in your recliner, waiting for your dog to say LET’S GO!) But it's gone a long way in helping re-invent our obedience attitude. You catch more Malinois with honey than you do with vinegar.

Probably the most important thing I learned this year is to listen to my dog and listen to my heart and do what I feel is right when it comes to training. It’s an over-simplification but we both need to find joy in our work together and there were a lot of negatives (mainly, my demands that he perform everything perfectly every time and make corrections – even what I thought were gentle ones - when he didn’t because God forbid you ever allow your dog to “get away with” anything) that drained that energy and joy right out of it. Phoenix would give me the moon and the stars if he knew how. That doesn’t mean he will perform brilliantly just because he loves me but to me, a successful obedience team is more than just one who can get a high score.

The second most important thing I learned this year is TRAIN THE DOG YOU HAVE. (I’m speaking from a psychological standpoint, but if you want to train your neighbor’s dog, go right ahead.) Look at the dog you have and train in response to what he needs from you. You’re not training your previous OTCh. dog or the dog you think you SHOULD have or the dog you want this dog to become. Train the dog you have NOW.

Sitting here in the twilight of 2011, I cannot thank Phoenix enough for being such a talented, impatient, blunt, forgiving partner.

I’ve always believed our dogs come into our lives for a reason. It’s not an accident that we have the dogs we have, whether we choose them or someone chooses them for us or they wander into our hearts by total accident. They’re ours for a reason.

Wishing you all a very happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Review: September - December

September: Went back into the obedience ring with Phoenix after our summer off from trialing. It didn’t go well. Work was methodical and uninspired, no joy. Tried having a friend show him, just to see what the heck would happen. That didn’t go well either (but thanks anyway, Michele, you did a great job handling him!) I decided to quit being the Obedience Nazi and get off Phoenix’s skinny little butt for every tiny error he made. My pursuit of having a “good dog” was destroying the relationship I had with my perfectly wonderfully brilliantly awesome dog.

Iowa State beat Iowa in 3 overtimes in football. (You have to be a true Cyclone fan to appreciate the magnitude of this.) Tore ligaments in my foot while giving a program with Phoenix at the school library. Seriously - am I the only person in the world who can get hurt just by standing up? Camped with overnight lows in the upper 30s. Not such a good idea. The sleeping part was fine. The getting up part, not so much.

October: The Farmer got hit by lightning. More accurately, the Farmer got knocked on his butt when lightning hit a nearby tree. He is apparently no worse for the wear. The dogs and I went for lots of walk and played ball. Did some agility. Played some obedience. Enjoyed a dry, fast, safe harvest and did not ignite any farm implements this year.

November: Phoenix and I went to the local prison for a demo with my obedience club. Went back in the obedience ring (Open) at a local UKC trial and went HIT both days with a pretty happy dog. Feeling good about the direction our training is going - we’re both enjoying it with no pressure to achieve mythical "perfection."

I learned how to make Phoenix barf after he ate Bad Things. Learned I can use the heated seats in R2 to keep pizza warm n the way home.

December: After 15 years with dial-up, we got high speed internet at home. I am developing a serious on-line shopping problem. Add To Cart! Apparently nothing else happened in December, just on-line shopping and cookie baking. Lots of cookie baking. Lots and lots of cookie baking.

Phoenix and Jamie think they see 2012 coming down the trail.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Review: May - August

May: Phoenix finished his UD. The fact that he did it in 4 weekends was great. The fact that he was not overly excited to be in the obedience ring was not. I began a serious exploration of What The Hell Was Going On In My Dog’s Head And Why Is He So Miserable In The Ring. There was a great deal of soul searching and re-evaluation of previously held sacred cows. Phoenix continued to embrace his inner doofus by helping me garden.

Is there a more welcome sight after a long, snowy winter than fresh green hosta leaves unrolling in the spring?

Went to a Renaissance festival and had a great time. Marsha and I agreed if we go again, we'll eat more.

June: Got a lot of help, advice and suggestions about Phoenix’s obedience career from people who A) excel in obedience with dogs who love their work and B) have never trained for or competed in obedience. We trained. We played in the pool. We enjoyed summer. I interviewed a woman who owns a haunted house and she invited me to go on a paranormal investigation. Here, Phoenix is clearly deep in contemplation about the mysteries of obedience and how to get his human to perform to her potential.

July: RAGBRAI rolled through Homestead, vaulting the town’s population from 200 to 20,000 for about 12 hours. I continued to learn, write about and get feedback on training, corrections and making a dog work vs having a dog who chooses to work. I went on my first paranormal investigation. The jury is out on that. Here's the haunted Old Hollis Inn, Marengo.

I put agility classes on hold while Phoenix and I concentrated on our obedience work. In hindsight, I don’t think it mattered what kind of training we did - it was our relationship that needed the most work, not the technical aspects of any training venue. Sometimes we didn't train at all, we just played.

Jamie turned 12 in July.

He attacked bubbles to celebrate.
Seriously. You want fun? Blow bubbles for your dogs.

August: The Farmer field dressed an 1,100 pound steer with his pocket knife in the middle of the night when the creature needed to be put out its misery. Now we have 700 pounds of hamburger in our freezer. Phoenix and I went on lots of walks on hot summer night (Jamie doesn’t "do" hot so he stayed home in the AC).

I continued to explore the shaping/luring/compulsion training conundrum. Got my hair colored for the first time in my life. It turned out red. Like so many things, this was not quite what I had in mind.

Tomorrow: the rest of the year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Five years ago today . . .

. . . the Wild litter was born. Here's baby Phoenix (he's the upside down puppy on the far left, labeled RWB - red, white, blue) and his littermates and mom, Promise.

(Photos courtesy of Catherine Shields, Carousel Malinois)

Catherine lost Promise in November at age 12 (she was a '99 model, like Jamie). Promise was a beautiful girl who brought so much happiness to so many people through her puppies.

Phoenix will celebrate his birthday tonight with some ball chasing outdoors if I get home from work when the sun is still up (no small thing this time of year) and indoor games with the crazy ball (thanks Rilda), the dragon (a few squeakers remain to be killed, thanks Mary) and the flying, screaming monkey (thanks Renee).

Happy birthday Phoenix and all the Wild kids: Seeker, Cayenne, Joker, Ryder, Passion and Ida.

Returning soon: the rest of 2011 in review. I'm still trying to remember what happened.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Review: January - April

Here we go with a look back at the year that was. I decided to break it up into several posts. Other wise it would get too long. And I have no idea what happened after April anyway.

January: After a lengthy and scary battle with chronic diarrhea, not eating and vomiting blood, Jamie was eventually diagnosed with moderate inflammatory bowel disease. He started on mega doses of prednisone and a restricted diet. His coat looked like a patchwork quilt after he’d been shaved for multiple IVs and ultrasound. He tried on my '80s legwarmers for the flash dance Belgian look.

February: It snowed. And snowed. And snowed. The dogs took their long winter’s nap very seriously.

March: Went to training to renew my credentials as a storm spotter with the National Weather Service. Learned that Iowa ranks 4th in the nation in terms of the number of violent (EF4 and 5) tornadoes each year. Apparently I did not take any pictures in March.

April: Phoenix debuted in Utility and got his first UD leg. We went to the American Belgian Malinois nationals in Valparaiso, Ind. Nix finished his Versatility title with a 199 to win the class. Yippee for the Skinny Little Dog!

Coming up next: whatever happened after April, if I can remember any of it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We're enjoying a green/brown Christmas for the first time in 5 years. Can't say I miss the 12" of snow we had on the ground at this time last year. In fact, we haven't had much of a winter at all so far. (Did I just type that out loud?) We went out for a Christmas Eve ball chasing session in a light jacket yesterday afternoon and my fingers didn't even get numb from throwing a goobery ball.

The Christmas goose is in the oven (okay, smoked pork chops are defrosting in the fridge) and my mom and aunt will be here soon. The dogs are very excited by this (pork chops and four more hands to pet them).

Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope you all enjoy a beautiful day shared with those you love.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

7 squeakers down, 11 to go

Jamie and Phoenix got a toy with 18 squeakers at a Christmas party grab bag. I admit, I wanted it because it was cardinal and gold, Iowa State Cyclones colors. What was I thinking? It should have come with earplugs.

After one very enthusiastic and squeaky evening, the toy is missing 7 squeakers and 1 leg.

Is this the face of innocence?

I suspect he was responsible for the leg amputation.
A leg dangling out of his mouth was the giveaway.

This is the face of squeaker doom.
Jamie takes de-squeaking very seriously.

Between the 18 squeaker dragon and the malinois nirvana ball, we've had a very active and noisy house the last few days. Thanks Mary and Rilda!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry freaking Christmas

This post could be titled a lot of things.

Like, what a major pain in the a**

Or, Santa, I want a hand gun and some grenades.

Well, you get the picture.

When we switched internet providers, I anticipated some hassles.

I did not anticipate our old provider axing our e-mail accounts without notice.

Yep, the Farmer canceled our old provider yesterday. They didn't take it well.

This morning, guess what, no e-mail. Zero. Zippo. Nada. No notice. No warning. No "Thank you for the last 15 years of allowing us to serve you, please be notified we will close your existing e-mail accounts within 48 hours, 2 weeks, 1 month, etc."

Just gone. With all my messages. All my contacts. Photos. Premium lists. Groups. Class and student info.

Son of a b*tch.

Anyway, I am now the proud owner of a sparkly new gmail account:

Which nearly F'd things up when I tried to log into this blog. Because it is keyed into my old e-mail address and told me "Exercise Finished" did not exist.

It's not a good thing to be told you do not exist.

Imagine my joy when I discovered I do still exist.

You can contact me at my gmail address and please be patient while I try to reload everyone's contact info.

I need a drink.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Malinois nirvana

Phoenix got a present from his Aunt Rilda.

He thinks Rilda picks out the coolest toys.

He also thinks there is a steak hidden somewhere in there.

I'm not going to argue with him.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ma and Pa enter the 21st century

“Merry Christmas,” said the Farmer. He handed me a flat, white cardboard box.

I opened it with a blend of curiosity and caution. Over the last 20 years, I have opened similar boxes containing barbecue sets from Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Corn, matching cake and pie servers from Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Corn, kitchen knives from Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Corn . . . well, you get the picture. For those of you who don't live in farming country, seed corn companies give premiums like hats, coats and kitchenware with the purchase of their seed. There are a lot of farm wives around here with $30,000 pie servers.

This box looked, for all the world, like it was going to contain yet another kitchen accessory stamped with the Pioneer logo. Not that that would be a bad thing. I don’t think I have a Pioneer ice cream scoop yet.

I still don’t.

The box contained a wireless broadband router.

We are FINALLY getting high speed internet access at home!

From our first computer, a second (third?) hand Dell 15 years ago to my current iMac (truly, my precious), we’ve limped along with dial-up internet because that’s all that was available in our neck of the woods. Want to determine how close to civilization you live? Can you get high speed internet? Yes? Then you’re practically living in the ‘burbs. No? Then you’re in hoot owl country.

We live in some sort of Bermuda triangle of internet access. All the local phone companies’ high speed service stops just short of our place. We were inaccessible from the north, south, east and west.

Several times, our phone company had excitedly promised us high speed internet. They’ve re-configured our phone service package and sent out a big box containing all sorts of modems and cables. Then, at the 11th hour, just as I’m starting to install things, they’ve called and said, “Um? About that high speed we promised? Sorry. Can’t do it. Our bad. Please send our stuff back.”

I was getting a complex.

But no more!

Perhaps I’m speaking too soon. At the moment we have NO internet service because I’ve uninstalled the phone line modem and have not yet made contact with the techs at our new provider to install the new router. They were supposed to call last night but because of some fax glitch between the local electronics store in Williamsburg where we got the router and the main office in Michigan, our contract did not get transmitted.

The only phone call I got last night was from my mother, who is dog-sitting for a neighbor’s elderly border collie, who had, for reasons known only to him, eaten an entire fabric toy. My mother was concerned and wanted to know if she should make the dog throw up. I seem to be getting entirely too much first-hand experience with this lately. Happily, a spoon full of salt on the back of the tongue quickly remedied the situation and the toy made a hasty re-appearance.

So now the main office is supposed to call late this afternoon and talk me through the set-up.

This is truly one of the better Christmas gifts the Farmer has come up with over the years, although his motives were not entirely pure. While it will delight his lovely and charming wife to be able to watch videos and upload photos much faster and shop the LLBean and Clean Run sites with ease, it will also allow him to watch online cattle auctions, something that was always out of the question with dial-up.

But we still live in hoot owl country.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


In addition to at least five cakes (MACH, PACH, PAX, birthday and one for the "old dogs"), we had a great raffle at the ICDOC agility trials over the weekend. I think we came close to raising $2,000, with all money donated to cancer research. Some of the items included a set of bar jumps, a rainbow panel jump and pink 2 x 2 weaves, plus a couple of gift baskets and other stuff.

This fun fleece blanket made by my friend Marsha was one of the "other stuff." She did a great job on it. People who can sew amaze me. I put all my tickets on it, figuring I wouldn't win because I never win anything at raffles. I would usually be money ahead to just go out and buy whatever it is I'm trying to win. But what the heck, it's good karma to donate to the cause.

But yippee! I won it! (Malinois not included. I "won" him earlier.)

Is this a cute print or what? And it's already dirt-colored. I loves me anything that's dirt-colored - shoes, pants, coats, dogs . . .

I spent the rest of the day carrying the blanket around, clutched to my chest, cackling "My precious . . ." and being suspicious of anyone who looked like they were going to steal it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Malinois and kids

Phoenix turns 5 at the end of the month (yeah, where does the time go?) and I have noticed a pattern that has formed over the years. It’s not so much about Phoenix’s behavior but about how kids react to him.

Since the Farmer and I have a bunch of nieces, nephews and neighbor kids, we are routinely subjected to requests to buy fruit, cheese, wrapping paper, candles, nuts, magazine subscriptions, candy, popcorn, evergreen wreaths, cookie dough, pizza and a partridge in a pear tree. This means lots of kids come to the house to deliver the goods this time of year.

Jamie has never dealt well with “strangers” in his house and it hasn’t gotten any better as he’s aged, so when headlights come up the lane, I pop him in the bedroom and shut the door. Phoenix can stay loose because he likes to do the meet and greet thing.

Here’s the pattern: WITHOUT FAIL, teenage girls delivering partridges in pear trees immediately start to coo and fuss over him. They want to pet him. He wants to be petted. They can’t keep their hands off him. He can’t leave them alone. They get so involved in one another I wonder if their moms appreciate how much malinois fur they are going to drag home with them.

But the boys? The boys are something else. They are scared to death of him. Of course, they are too cool to admit it. But they keep their hands in their pockets. They don’t make eye contact. They stand sideways, trying to be small, as they edge toward the door.

I assure them Phoenix is friendly and loves to be petted. They might make one small foray with a hand to pet his head, then stuff their hands back in their pocket. No, really, he’s very friendly. You can pet him, he likes people. The look in their eyes, while not totally abject terror, shows a distinct level of discomfort. No doubt they think he likes people with ketchup and a side of fries.

Most of these are farm boys who are used to handling livestock but are totally put off by one li’l ol’ malinois. And he’s not even clacking his teeth.

Again, I am sure Phoenix has some feline DNA somewhere in his genetic makeup because like a cat, he’ll pick the one person who does not want anything to do with him and fawn on them excessively. (He did this a lot when we went to visit Dad in hospice care, too. He’d find the one person in the room who was NOT a dog person and guess what, malinois in the lap.)

Watching him work over the latest neighbor boy to deliver FFA oranges and grapefruit last week, I was reminded of the scene in one of the Harry Potter books where Professor Dumbledore comes to pick Harry up for another year at Hogwarts and conjures drinks for the Dursleys, who are less than impressed. Of course, they refuse to even touch the drinks, which become more and more insistent and go to great lengths to get the Dursleys to acknowledge them, with the glasses eventually banging the reluctant muggles on top of their heads.

I finally rescued Tanner from Phoenix, who was nudging, poking, leaning and turning himself inside out to get some attention. Poor kid. It couldn't have been fear of dog fur. He has a lab of his own.

Poor Phoenix. He’ll do better with the Girl Scouts when it’s cookie time in March.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


How hard can it be to get your hair colored and get the color you really want? I am a relative newcomer to the hair-coloring scene. Apparently there is a learning curve.

This is not rocket science but I haven't managed to succeed yet. My goal is, was and continues to be light brown. My stylist listens but I think we have a communication problem. Or my hair is willful and defiant.

The first time I got my hair colored, it was waaaaaay too blonde (light sable sheltie).

Next time, better, although still kind of blonde-y (medium golden retriever red).

Got it colored again yesterday. Asked to go one shade darker. One shade. ONE SHADE. Still aiming for the apparently mythical "light brown."

Now I am a shaded sable. Or dark liver. Oh yeah. It's dark, but probably closer to where it was naturally before I started having it colored, just without the gray.

Next time, I am going to take a freaking dog and march in there and show her exactly what color want.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

You might be a dog person if . . .

I love Jeff Foxworthy so in his tradition of "You might be a redneck" lists, here's "You might be a dog person if . . ."

You have to slam the door in at least one furry face if you have the slightest hope of ever going to the bathroom by yourself.

You’ve ever apologized to your dog for slamming the bathroom door in his face.

You really don’t care if you go to the bathroom by yourself or not.

Your dog knows you’ll rub his butt while you’re sitting on the toilet.

You are absolutely not embarrassed to have your dog see you get out of the shower.

Your dog has watched you throw up.

The windows in your house are covered with dog nose goobers from 3 feet down (or from 6 feet down if you own a malinois or a jack russell)

You’ve ever asked your dog, “What should I wear today?” or “Does this look okay?”

You’ve ever put something back in the closet because you thought your dog didn’t like it.

You can sleep through an F5 tornado or a gas line explosion but wake in an instant if you hear the dreaded pre-barfing noise in the middle of the night.

You’ve ever stepped on a Nylabone, barefoot, in the middle of the night, while rushing to let your dog outside because he’s making the pre-barfing noise.

You spend hours pondering the best diet for your performance dog but eat microwave popcorn for your own supper.

You can pick dog hair out of your food without missing a beat but nearly lose your lunch if you find a human hair in your sandwich.

You’ve fed your dog cereal off your spoon, then absent-mindedly gone back to eating cereal with the same spoon.

You realize you’ve fed your dog off your spoon . . . then shrug and keep eating.

You’ve sat at work, crying, because you just got an e-mail that a friend’s dog died.

You donate to OTCh., MACH, PAX, PACH and memorial funds the way some people donate to charities.

You have explained - repeatedly - to family members that no, you cannot attend the birthday party, anniversary party, graduation party, engagement party, confirmation, family dinner for no good reason, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day get-together, wedding, funeral or audience with the Pope because you’re entered in a four-day, out-of-state trial that weekend.

Your cupboards are always well-stocked with salmon oil, Cosequin, Missing Link, Zuke’s treats, Natural Balance rolls, freeze-dried liver and sweet potato chews but you routinely run out of milk, bread and cereal.

You refuse to drive 20 minutes through a blizzard to get to the office but will drive an hour through a blizzard to get to an agility trial.

You’ve ever gone to the emergency room because of a dog-related (but non-dog-bite) accident.

You’ve ever had to explain suspicious bruises to a medical professional and assured them - repeatedly - that you feel safe in your home.

You’ve ever tried to explain an agility trial to a medical professional while trying to have exercise induced asthma diagnosed.

You’ve had a split lip, black eye, broken nose, rope burn or mild concussion caused by a dog belonging to yourself or a friend.

You’ve asked an auto dealer to take the seats out of a van so you could measure for crate space.

You’ve had days where your only goal was to get home from work while there’s enough daylight left so you can see to pick up dog poop in the yard.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Formal vs. informal

Okay. Finally, a training column because there’s only so much baking and cleaning and shopping a person can do.

I train alone most of the time. This is good because I can do whatever I want without having to share floor time and space. This is bad because A) I don’t have anyone to trouble shoot and make “What if?” suggestions and B) my dog and I get entirely too used to working in a vacuum.

Which brings me to today’s topic:

With Phoenix more than any of my previous dogs, I’ve struggled to find a balance between formal and informal training. Do too much formal stuff and the dog quickly burns out on the (boring - yawn) repetition. Yet I worry if I’m too informal, my dog won’t be realistically prepared to assemble all the pieces when asked to perform complete exercises in the ring. Really, if your job was to build airplane parts and you were very good at building individual airplane parts, would that mean you could assemble an entire airplane if someone suddenly asked?

As we moved through Open and Utility, most of Phoenix’s training was very informal. I focused on individual skills (for example, a quick drop out of motion) rather than complete exercises (formal drop on recall). I didn’t ask for formal set-ups before each skill and I worked fronts and finishes separately from the rest of the exercise. Heck, I worked fronts and finishes separately from each other.

I would occasionally assemble everything and run Phoenix through an entire exercise by myself because I felt it was unfair to him to ask for only 8-second behaviors in training, then expect a smoothly executed 30-second behavior chain in the ring. (Amazing - get a stopwatch and time some of the individual Open and Utility exercises - they don’t take very long to perform from start to finish.)

Even at fun matches, I never went marching around the ring according to the judge’s commands. I did my own thing. Judges laughed and threw their arms in the air. They knew I usually had my own agenda for the day and were always helpful.

Looking back, that may be one of the biggest mistakes I made with Phoenix. When we went into the ring for real and suddenly all my actions were being dictated by someone else’s orders and timing, the picture changed. Phoenix had rarely seen this picture and while you could say, “If the dog is trained it shouldn’t matter and he ought to perform no matter what” (which is true), it DID matter to this particular dog, which means all the “should’s” and “ought to’s” don’t matter at all.

To Phoenix, the formality of the ring didn’t feel anything like our loosely structured informal training sessions. Although it didn’t throw him completely off track, it was enough to cause some slight concern which caused him to stress down a little further, on top all the other weird issues we were dealing with.

For us, it would have been very helpful to do a little more formal work, at least in the sense of having a friend play judge and call commands for one or two exercises each time we had a group training session. We don’t need a steady diet of this, but it would have given me a chance to get better at balancing my handling with responding to judge’s commands and keeping my own timing and rhythms in line. This was a no brainer with Connor and Jamie but, um, Phoenix is not Connor or Jamie.

By doing some things formally, Phoenix can see that yes, the rules are the same and this is indeed a fine and fun thing. Phoenix is a very literal dog. Things are very black and white to him - they are either normal/good/fun/familiar or they are strange/suspicious/odd/uncomfortable. The difference between my informal training and the formality of the ring was painfully apparent to him. I would like this line to eventually become so blurred it doesn’t matter whether we are training alone or responding to a judge’s call.

While some trainers swear they never do anything formally until they step foot in the ring and others swear that drilling is the only way to make the dog understand, once again Phoenix has taught me the important thing is to train the dog you have. What THAT dog needs is what’s important.

One of my goals for this winter is to make better use of group training time when I can get a friend to call an exercise so Phoenix and I can practice being formal with the same enthusiasm we have practiced being informal.

I need to go bake more cookies now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

This and that

I haven’t been posting much lately because it seems like I’ve been caught up in the Christmas whirlwind of shopping and baking and house cleaning. I don’t mind the shopping, love the baking and hate the cleaning. But time marches forward and with Christmas two and a half weeks out, I think things are relatively under control. Ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-ha. Bwaaaa-haaaa-haaa-haaaa. I'd like some rum to go with my Diet Coke, please.


Over the weekend, I went to take pictures for the newspaper at Amana’s annual Christmas festival. There was a lady demonstrating carding wool and spinning at the Woolen Mill. She had a big clump of white fur in her hand and was making it look pretty easy to spin into thread. I’m pretty sure if I’d tried it, things wouldn’t have gone so well. I was envisioning trying to explain a spinning wheel accident to the ER personnel.

She was spinning fur from a Great Pyrenees. She spins with a lot of dog fur and said dog fur is nine times warmer than lamb’s wool because dog fur is hollow, which gives it better insulating properties. (Kathy S., you probably already knew this!)

That does it - I give up trying to get all the loose dog fur off my clothes this winter. Maybe I won’t be so cold! And maybe I’ll just let the fur drifts pile up in the kitchen corners, too, and tell the Farmer it’s insulation.


Had a funny moment this morning. Drove the Farmer’s pickup truck to work today so it could go to the dealer to be serviced. It’s not just a big truck. It’s a Big Truck. It’s a Chevy diesel with one of those super heavy duty engines that come in handy if you want to pull huge rocks or entire mountainsides or possibly small cities down the road. I always feel like a little kid who can barely see over the steering wheel when I drive it but it gives me feel ridiculously powerful to be bigger than pretty much anything else on the road except a semi.

The parking lot of the convenience store where I stop each morning for my coffee/cappuccino mixer is usually a bit of a demo derby with folks coming and going. There’s a great deal of vehicular ducking and dodging as people want to get their morning caffeine hit and get on the road to work or school. Everyone’s in a hurry and people are not always in the mood to take turns.

The beauty of driving The Truck is that everyone gives me the right of way, whether I have it or not. They stop. They wait. Love it. Size matters.

Then I decided to swing by the post office and drop some bills in the outside box on the way to work. I pulled up to the box, rolled down the window, leaned out . . .

. . . and realized I was above the freaking mail slot. I would have to climb halfway out of the window and bend down to stuff the mail in the box. Good grief. I rolled the window up and drove to the office, hoping no one had seen the crazy lady who couldn’t operate the physics of a curb-side mail box.


In case you were wondering, meteorological winter began Dec. 1. This is different from the winter solstice, which happens Dec. 22 and marks the day of the year when us folks in the Northern Hemisphere receive the shortest number of daylight hours. Then the days slowly start growing longer again. Yippee!

Just thought you’d like to know that.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas shopping with the Farmer

A few days ago, I took an afternoon off from work and went Christmas shopping. I power shopped with the grim determination of a woman who knows what she wants and where to get it: Target, Scheel’s (sporting goods), Theisen’s (farm store), PetCo, several restaurants for gift cards, a few specialty stores in Iowa City and, of course, Walmart.

When I got home, exhausted but victorious, with aching feet and bruised MasterCard, I dropped into my recliner and sighed with relief. I wasn’t totally done but I was close.

The Farmer looked at me. “You know what we need to do?” he said. “We need to pick an evening and go Christmas shopping.”


The man is oblivious. Sweet. Wonderful. Totally oblivious.

While some people view holiday shopping as a religious experience, I tend to see it more as a near death experience and can’t wait to get it done. Shopping trips are carefully orchestrated to happen during weekday hours when most people are at work or school. The last thing I wanted to do was head back into the fray, especially on an evening.

But we went Christmas shopping the next night.

I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t another marathon of long lists and crowded parking lots. It was a typical Farmer Shopping Trip. After being married for 20 years, I should have known better.

First stop: Theisen’s. That’s okay. Never mind I’d been there less than 24 hours before. I can always find something there I need there.

Second stop: supper. No problem finding something I need there, either.

Third stop: Sears for the Farmer, JC Penney, Eddie Bauer and Barnes and Noble for me. By now the Farmer is complaining how all this shopping tires him out. Seriously. I told him we were just getting warmed up. He gave me the Hairy Eyeball.

Fourth stop: his recliner in our living room, after I drove us home.

Who knows, maybe he'll help me bake cookies this weekend.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The early winter crazies

This is the time of year when I train less and less at home because it’s A) too cold outside B) too dark outside C) the squirrels have taken over the yard and they scare me. I try to go to the club building at least once a week and the rest of the time is spent doodling and working little things like fronts and finishes at home, either in the living room or in an empty upstairs bedroom. The Farmer says the cracks in the dining room ceiling are the result of this doodling. I think he is mistaken but there's no telling him that.

This is also the time of the year the dogs start driving me crazy because they’re spending too much time in the house. Usually in the evenings, after the supper dishes have been washed and I’m ready to settle down in my chair for a long winter’s nap, they get wound up and let ‘er rip. This manifests itself in a variety of ways which include, but are not limited to, climbing the walls (I am so not joking) and emptying the laundry hamper.

I finally decided Phoenix could learn to pick up his toys and put them away. We’d work up to returning purloined laundry to the hamper. I might as well have gone outside and tried to herd squirrels.

Phoenix knows how to mark and retrieve an object. He will deliver to hand. He will hold until asked to release the object. How hard could it be to get him to put his toys away in a small plastic tote?

One of these years I will quit asking questions like that.

Me (pointing at green ball): Get the ball.

Phoenix trots out of the room and returns with a blue ball.

Me: Okay. Whatever.

Phoenix: Throw the ball?

Me: No ball throwing in the house. Put it in the box.

Phoenix: Why?

Me: Because it’s a tidy thing to do. And this way no one trips over them in the middle of the night.

Phoenix: No, why no ball throwing in the house?

Me: Seriously? Our insurance guy still hasn’t gotten over the “a raccoon fell out of the garage rafters and broke the outside rear-view mirror off my van” claim. I am NOT explaining why there is a malinois-sized hole in the picture window.

Phoenix: You’re no fun.

Me (pointing to a Nylabone): Get the bone!

Phoenix trots out of the room and returns with a shoe.

Me: Look! Bone! Get it!

Phoenix drops shoe on my toe.

Me: %$#@! Look! Bone! Get it!

Phoenix brings back a Kong.

Me: Okay. Whatever. Put it in the box.

Phoenix drops the Kong in the box. It bounces off a ball, causing both to go ricocheting out of the box, narrowly missing the glass-front antique secretary.

Me: Bad Word.

Phoenix: You made me do that.

Me (teeth gritted): Look! Bone! Get it!

Phoenix fetches the Nylabone and stabs it into my leg.

Me: Ouch! $#@! Put it in the box.

Phoenix drops it. It misses the box.

Me: Try again.

Phoenix reaches in the box and flings out two balls and another Nylabone before I can stop him.

Me: Ack! No! You put things IN the box, not take them OUT!

Phoenix: You’re no fun.

Me (pointing at a toy): Get it!

Phoenix grabs the toy and gallops off with it. China rattles in the cupboard.

Jamie wanders through, picks up a bone, wanders off, drops the bone and goes back to sleep on the couch.

Phoenix gallops back, exchanges Toy A for Toy B and gallops off again. I have clearly lost control of this lesson.

Farmer (walking through the room on his way to bed, barefoot): You should teach that dog to pick up his toys.

Me: Watch out for the Nyla —

Farmer: OUCH! $#@!

Me: —bone.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Yep, the holidays are here

I baked the first batch of cut-out sugar cookies today. That pretty much rings the bell to kick off the Christmas season at our house. Baking is my favorite holiday activity.

No. Wait. EATING is my favorite holiday activity. Does that mean I am enabler for myself?

Plus, I spent this long weekend cleaning house and doing a little decorating and today I even wrapped some presents.

Having friends and family gatherings at our house for Christmas is a good excuse for me to actually pay attention to house cleaning for a couple of weeks out of the year. I usually give the house a deep cleaning before Christmas, which I keep telling myself justifies the hit and miss cleaning it gets the rest of the year.

I love having a clean house. I hate making it happen. And I know it won't last, which is very demotivating.

The most time consuming element of house cleaning seems to be putting stuff away. Some days it seems like I spend all my time putting stuff away. Once things are de-cluttered, cleaning goes pretty fast. How can two people have so dang much stuff? And what were they thinking 100 years ago when they built a house with only ONE CLOSET on the first floor!


Thanks for asking, the pumpkin pie was great. I'm honestly not that big a fan of pumpkin pie but it is the Farmer's favorite and he gave it rave views. Given that he can be a bit oblivious, I'm not sure he really knew what was going on while I was making it.


We are under siege by squirrels. Squirrels are a new arrival at our house. I don't know why we never had them before but they moved in this fall and aside from the fact they are driving Phoenix absolutely insane, they are pretty hysterical.

There were 5 of them ricocheting around the yard this morning, doing all sorts of acrobatics for no apparent reason. Is it possible our squirrels are on crack? Or is that just normal?

I should probably start a pool on how long it takes Phoenix to catch one.

I should probably start another pool on how long it takes Phoenix to start climbing trees.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How to make a pumpkin pie

I should have titled this post “How to make a pumpkin pie while trying to induce vomiting in a dog who has eaten Bad Things.”

It started the day before Thanksgiving when Phoenix did some un-authorized snacking in the field west of the house. By the time I realized what he was doing, he was happily chomping away at some unidentified substance.

One of Phoenix’s life rules is “Eat fast. If the human catches you eating something you think is Good but they think is Bad, eat faster.” He was eating like there was no tomorrow when I finally put a stop to his fun. I really couldn’t tell exactly WHAT he had been eating but thought it might be the mummified remains of a dead raccoon he had discovered earlier.

Phoenix has the constitution of a goat and didn’t seem any worse for the wear so I put him in his crate and went to work.

I took the afternoon off from work that day and went to train. We were about two blocks from the building when Phoenix threw up in his crate. His crate is directly behind the driver’s seat so this was the equivalent of throwing up on my shoulder. Fortunately, all emissions were contained to his crate but OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN THE STENCH WAS INCREDIBLE.

I hit all four power windows and wondered what the odds were that he could projectile vomit right out the window. He didn’t. He kept it neatly in his crate, thus keeping the stink inside the van.

Of course I was in the wrong lane, with no access to a handy parking lot and with heavy late afternoon traffic, a fast lane change was impossible. In the meantime, Phoenix had quit upchucking and was now happily recycling his yummy tossed cookies. The only good thing about this was that the stomach-clenching stink went away.

Two blocks later, I whipped into the building parking lot, parked, jumped out, threw open R2’s back door and yanked open Phoenix’s crate just in time to see him swallow and lick his lips. Every bit of the eye-watering, reeking toxic substance was gone.

No. Wait. There was a little chunk of something peeking out from under his crate pad. I grabbed it. It was small and white and hard and sort of . . . boney? Bone? Raccoon pieces? Well, whatever.

We had a really good training session and headed home. We were a couple of miles from our house when Phoenix vomited again. OH DEAR LORD IN HEAVEN IT WASN’T GETTING ANY BETTER SMELLING. True to form, he had it all cleaned up by the time I pulled into the garage, except, again, a little piece of white stuff . . . semi hard . . . not really bone . . . oh sh*t, it was a piece of corn cob.

Suddenly it was very clear what Phoenix had been eating that morning – manure that fell off of tractor tires coming out of the cattle yard. Manure that contained stuff that came out of cattle that ate silage. Silage is made from chopped up corn, the whole plant – kernel, leaves, stalks, cobs. My dog had a gut full of corn silage, deliciously side-dressed with steer poop.

In all my years with dogs, I’ve never had to deliberately make one vomit. They all seemed to do it just fine on their own, usually when I didn’t want them to. Now that I needed one of them to barf, I had no idea how to make it happen. I had a vague notion of doing something with hydrogen peroxide but wasn’t clear on details.

I called several friends and thankfully, Michele had nothing better to do the night before Thanksgiving than consult her reference book for inducing vomiting in dogs by using hydrogen peroxide. I dosed Phoenix with 1 tablespoon (he took it well, just looked annoyed) and set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes, since this seemed to be the timeframe for expected results.

Did I mention I had to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving at my mom’s the next day?

Tentatively, I got out all the pie-making stuff, keeping an eye on Phoenix. No way did I want anything coming out of him in the house.

I was half way through measuring the sugar when Phoenix gave me The Look. You know, THE LOOK.

I abandoned the sugar and sprinted to open doors, then followed him around the yard in the dark with a flashlight.

False alarm. He pooped. Sloppy, goopy poop that amazingly, matched the scent he had barfed in his crate in R2. Big surprise.

Back in the house. Back to the pie. Crap. How much sugar had I measured out? I poured it back in the canister and started over. Martha Stewart would not have approved.

It’s a good thing pumpkin pie only has limited ingredients because I was alternating between measuring with more trips outdoors in response to Malinois eye rolls and posturing.

These yielded more pooping. No barfing. Stuff was coming out of him but not from the end I expected. The 15 minute window for the hydrogen peroxide came and went without the desired results.

I finally got all the pie ingredients assembled. By that point, I wasn’t sure if I’d doubled one ingredient and left another out entirely. By that point, I didn’t care, either. I stuck the pie in the oven, set the timer and looked at Phoenix. He looked distraught. Outside we went again.

We’d been outside, sniffing leaves, walking around, visiting the cat, peeing, having another poop and looking for squirrels in the dark when I suddenly realized CRAP! The pie cooked at a high temp for only 15 minutes, then the oven temp needed to be turned down. Sprinted back to the house. Oh, good, there’s still 3 minutes on the timer. No. Wait. That’s 3 seconds. But that’s fine. Just fine. Turn the oven down. Pie is fine. I am fine. Dog is fine. Well, dog is probably not fine.

What next? Dishes. I can wash the dishes. Thought about dosing Phoenix with another hit of hydrogen peroxide. Thought about calling the emergency clinic. Thought about driving back to Iowa City. Discussed location of dead raccoon near edge of field vs. location of recently killed possum by hoop building with the Farmer. Why couldn't my dog have acted like a CARNIVORE and eaten one of them instead of indigestible cellulose? Thought about keeping hermit crabs as pets.

At that point, Phoenix stood up, stuck out his tongue, roached his back and began vomiting clear down to his toenails. Typical Phoenix. When he decides to do something, he does it. There was no time to get him through 3 doors and outside.

I have no idea what the volume of an average dog’s stomach is but I’d say Phoenix had probably tripled it.

He vomited five times all over the kitchen floor, great big stinking gobs of greenish-blackish-whitish stuff, all swimming in a slimy green liquid.

The good thing was that I could finally see what he was tossing up AND I could keep him from eating it again.

The bad thing was, you guessed it, steer manure mixed with canine stomach acid does not improve with time. The wonderful aroma of cinnamon and cloves wafting from the oven were no match for the huge wadded clumps of corn and corn husks plus an absolutely staggering amount of corn cob pieces.

Now, 24 hours later, the little beast seems fine and totally unconcerned. No more vomiting, his appetite is good and stools are returning to normal. I’ll be watching him closely in the coming days. Anything out of the normal and we’re off to the vet.

Hope you all had a wonderful and uneventful Thanksgiving with dogs who only eat appropriate amounts of appropriate things

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The thankfulness list

It's time to count blessings. Here are just a few of the things I'm thankful for:

Jamie, 12 1/2

Phoenix, 5 next month

the Farmer

20 years with the Farmer

my “dog friends” family


microwave popcorn

living very close to sites that host multiple agility trials a year

training via e-mail with friends

group training with friends

heated seats in R2

mac and cheese

better living through chemistry

Phoenix’s UD this spring and all the lessons that have come with it

good books

good books on CD

road trips with good books on CD

classes to teach

Winnie the Cat, who is always happy in the morning

my treadmill (love/hate relationship)

summer nights, sleeping with the windows open


snapdragons, geraniums, petunias, impatiens and all the other annual flowers that give max return with minimum input every summer

perennials that look great in spite of heat, drought, insects, hail and rampaging Belgians

going to movies with friends

the ICDOC winter building

Wednesday and/or Thursday "dog nights"

flannel sheets

long underwear

hot showers

Pop Tarts with cake frosting

This list could go on and on. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Count your blessings. There is something to be grateful for every single day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To shape or not to shape

When I wrote yesterday about teaching Phoenix to do “scratch” go-outs by shaping the behavior, I thought, wow, that was so easy, he enjoys doing it and it appears to transfer well to new environments. So why didn’t I shape ALL his obedience behaviors?

Well, there are a couple of reasons.

The primary one being I am not patient enough.

The way I understand it, training by shaping largely means waiting for the dog to offer a behavior that is vaguely related to what you want, then you can reward that behavior and progress until the dog eventually gives you what you want. That is probably an over-simplified explanation but you get the idea.

I always want the maximum return on my training time, so even with the behaviors I have successfully shaped with Phoenix, I did everything I could to set him up to succeed. I don’t know if this is “real” shaping or not, because I was controlling a lot of the variables and limiting some of the things he could offer. He has a repertoire of silly tricks, fun go-outs and killer weave poles, all the result of shaping.

But I think the real reason I don’t shape everything (and once again, it’s connected to patience), is that there are some behaviors that I want performed in a specific way and I prefer to cut to the chase, so to speak, in order to ensure the dog learns them the correct way right from the start with as few forays into gray zones of confusion as possible.

For me, this usually means initially luring to make the behavior happen, combined with hands-on positioning to get what I want. I’m not saying you can't get a tight tuck sit or a sphinx down by purely shaping it. I’m saying I choose not to shape those behaviors because I feel there is another way I can help the dog learn what I want quickly and clearly without allowing him to experiment with a lot of different variables. Teaching positions (sit, down, stand) and how to get from one position to another with speed and precision is a critical element in foundation training and quite frankly, I’m not willing to take chances with any variations on theme. (Maybe if I were more adept with shaping this would be different. Just sayin.’)

As soon as my dog shows me he understands what to do (example: tuck his butt forward on the sit, not rock back or roll on a hip) the luring and/or positioning will fade quickly. I don’t want them to become a crutch that we are never able to move beyond.

On the other hand, there are some skills that fairly scream to be shaped, but again it depends on the handler’s overall approach to training and what she is willing to embrace: shaping vs luring vs compulsion/force. Retrieves are prime for shaping and so is heeling. The more I learn about it, the more I want to try with the next dog.

Like any other training method, shaping is only as effective as the trainer who employs it. I’ve seen too many people attempting to “clicker train” dogs who are wandering away from them, sniffing, bored, distracted and clueless while the trainer becomes frustrated and disillusioned. I want to tell them another method might be more appropriate and yield better results in a manner both dog and handler would enjoy more. It's not about latching on to what's popular on today's training scene, it's about what finding what works for you and your dog.

If you have lousy timing or ask for too much, too fast or never move beyond rewarding the initial behavior, shaping will not yield brilliant success. Of course, you can screw up other training methods by doing the same things so it’s six of one and half-dozen of the other. Shaping, clickers and cookies are not miracle answers - they require an element of patience and clear vision on the human end of the process, as well as a dog who is capable of having an original thought and is allowed to think without being led around by a cookie.

I’ve done enough shaping with Phoenix that he’s pretty good at trying different behaviors to see what gets rewarded. It’s fun to teach him new stuff that way because he has to think and figure it out himself, not just sit in a lump and wait for a cookie to appear so he can follow it. I DO like having a "thinking" dog but there are still certain aspects of life and training where mental free-styling is not needed and I need him to understand that I will make some decisions for him about how things are done. My overall goal is a balance that keeps my dog happy to work and eager to learn.

So the bottom line on why I haven’t shaped ALL his obedience skills is that there are a lot of different ways to teach things and I think some are better suited to certain methods than others. It’s good to have a lot of tools in my toolbox and it’s good to learn how to use new tools.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Silly dog

I'll probably never be a trainer who uses pure shaping for everything but I have used it with great success on some things. Teaching Phoenix to scratch the center stanchion on go-outs is one of them. I've used about every method there is to teach go-outs and each has found great success with different dogs: the shelties loved squeeze cheese on the gate, Jamie loved retrieving his dowels and Phoenix loves to scratch.

Admittedly, this was not how I originally taught his go-outs. He started with food on the gate and that was all fine and good but I saw the "destination behavior" technique at a Laura Romaik seminar this summer and was enchanted. (Seriously. Some women are enchanted by jewelry and shoes. I'm enchanted by training methods.) So I switched. I'm all about making the work as fun as I possibly can for my dog and for whatever reason, Phoenix loves to touch things - nose touch, paw touch, you name it. So I put that to work for us.

Phoenix had been doing "scratch" go-outs with increasing enthusiasm and accuracy throughout the fall. I was eager to test them at the match we went to in Des Moines over the weekend, since he had never done go-outs there.

But they didn't have the back of the Utility ring gated. There was no center stanchion to scratch. Okay. Well then. What to do?

Before our run, I set him up a few feet from a blank wall and asked him to scratch. Apparently that behavior transferred easily from stanchions to walls because was happily scratching the wall in no time. Yes! And treat!

When we did go-outs in the ring, I marked him to his (nonexistent) go-out spot and sent him with the command "Go scratch!" This presumes he will go out and scratch the gate unless I tell him otherwise to sit, in which case he's expected to stop and sit, not keep going to scratch the gate. The turn and sit has been heavily rewarded, too, so it's pretty much a win/win situation for him. 

Phoenix ran across the ring. He stopped dead center, he turned sideways, he looked at me . . .

. . . and he pawed the air right where the center stanchion would have been. If it had been there, he would have smacked it good.

What a wonderful brilliant clever talented awesome Skinny Little Dog.

I ran out and he got a cookie and then we practiced scratching the actual wall, which he was happy to do on the next go out.

I wish everything was that easy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The last autumn hurrah

I’ve been on the road for some sort of dog-related activity (trials, matches, lessons, group training, road trip to visit mom - yes, in my family that’s a dog-related activity) for the last 15 Saturdays in a row, going back to the first weekend in August.

I’m not sure what compelled me to get out my planner and count backwards to discover that. I guess when the opportunity arose for me to have a Saturday AT HOME I was befuddled. How did this happen? Stay home? On a Saturday? That ain’t right.

Not to worry. Phoenix and I are going to a match in Des Moines tomorrow, keeping our string of dog-activity-related Saturdays in tact a while longer.

When a friend e-mailed the match info, I admit to thinking, “Thanks but no thanks. We’re done showing for awhile. Let’s sit this one out.”

Then I looked at the calendar. It is November. The weather Saturday is forecast to be dry, clear and relatively warm. How long do ya think that’s gonna last?

I couldn’t NOT go. Yeah, it’s another three-plus hours on the road but it’s probably the last time for the next four moths that I’ll be able to jump into R2 with the dogs and hit the highway without the threat of snow, ice, freezing rain, windchills, blizzard warnings and pursuit by the Abominable Snowman.

If I made plans to go to a match in January, then we got 10 inches of snow and howling winds, I know I’d be beating myself over the head, thinking, “Why didn’t you go to that match back in November when it was warm and sunny, you freaking idiot? Your dog will NEVER get better if you just sit at home on your lazy butt.”

Yeah, my conscience gets downright nasty at times. She’s great with the guilt trip.

If I want to realize the goals I’ve set for Phoenix in 2012, we need to take advantage of every training opportunity that comes our way in the months before we head back into the ring.

Which is why I’m getting up at 5:15 on a Saturday morning and playing dodge-the-deer all the way to Des Moines — so I can work my dog in a new site, reinforce the good stuff, take note of the not-so-good-stuff and adjust my plan for what we need to work on this winter.

Time flies. Pretty soon, so will the snow. Training nights at the club building and weekend group sessions with friends will be dependent on weather and there will probably be plenty of disappointing “better stay home” nights while the roads turn to skating rinks.

I'll have some "home" weekends before long to bake cookies, clean house, wrap presents and do all kinds of fun Christmas stuff. But tomorrow, it’s one last glorious hurrah for autumn sunshine and warmth on the open road.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Phoenix, 0; Winnie The Cat, 1

Regular readers of this blog know that Phoenix has an obsessive/compulsive disorder about cats. This started when he was a baby and we had a lot of farm cats. By the time I realized his prey drive was pretty much out of control where cats were involved, he’d already been practicing some bad behaviors. Well, they were just naughty, not lethal. He chased with an almost religious zeal but he didn’t catch and he didn’t kill. Mostly because he could never focus on just one cat and tried pursuing multiple cats at the same time, which meant none of them were ever in any danger.

Over the last few years, our farm cat population has dwindled. There’s always natural attrition when it comes to semi-feral farm cats and I admit to helping it along when “cat flu” swept through the population last year. A number of infected cats made a one-way trip to the vet.

Now we have only one cat, not counting the neighbor’s cats who bop in and out. Winnie The Cat is my antique cat. She is about 15 years old and looks half that age. She is the ONLY farm cat I have ever had spayed and vaccinated who lived longer than six months after I wrote a big check for their care at the vet’s. While I had tried the responsible spay/neuter/vaccinate route with our farm cats a number of years ago, this seemed to be a death sentence for them. Inevitably, they got hit on the road, caught in engines or just disappeared in short order, taking all my carefully planned and paid for health benefits with them.

As Phoenix has gotten older (notice I did not say “grown up”), he has gotten better about behaving himself around Winnie. I worked hard this summer at “cat desensitization.” Winnie is a good cat for this because she does not run. If you are a malinois, stationary cats are not a great deal of fun. The program consisted mostly of “Look at the cat, get a cookie. Sniff the cat, get a cookie. Co-exist peacefully in the same sphere of existence with a cat, get a cookie.”

By this fall, Phoenix could actually be loose in the garage with Winnie and not engage in OCD behavior, which included, but was not limited to: active pursuit, muzzle punching or squishing (squashing her to the ground with a paw.) In fact, he occasionally seemed to go out of his way to avoid her. He spent a lot of time following me around, looking for a cookie. I was delighted. (I was also under no illusion that this behavior was transfer to other cats.) When Winnie was in a mood, she would rub against both dogs and try to wash their faces. Phoenix took a dim view of this and would flee rather than be subjected to cat indignities.

Last weekend, I was putting stuff in the van to go to an agility trial. Phoenix and Jamie were in the garage. Winnie was in the garage. I called Phoenix to put him in his crate. He didn’t come. I looked all around the van. No Phoenix. I looked under the big grain truck that is parked next to my van. No Phoenix.

Then I found him. There is a stack of four old pickup tires from 1982 (because you never know when you might need four bald tires), topped with a sheet of plywood. This is where I put Winnie’s food and water dishes. It keeps them out of the way of errant dogs running through the garage and they’re within easy leaping distance from her cat box atop a nearby old wooden telephone cable spool.

Phoenix was balanced atop the plywood sheet, which was wobbling precariously atop the tires. The whole thing had been engineered for a seven-pound cat, not a 55-pound dog. To make matters worse, Winnie had joined Phoenix and was lovingly rubbing around his legs and belly. She was trying to reach his face to wash it. Phoenix had his head stretched as high as he could, to avoid her, and the look on her face clearly said, “MAKE HER STOP IT!” I suspect he went up there in the first place to get away from her and she followed him.

Poor Phoenix. Paybacks are hell.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Agility video

Here are Phoenix's QQ runs from the weekend. Thanks, Rilda, for video-ing us! I think this breaks our "If someone tapes us we never Q but if I don't ask anyone to tape, we will Q for sure" superstition.

I'm really, really happy with the Skinny Little Dog. Aside from a very naughty start-line creep-and-scoot on the JWW run, he was sooooo very good. It helps when I make sensible handling choices and actually cue things appropriately.

Okay, there were only two tunnel traps on the Standard run, not 14. It just seemed that way. When you run a dog who has been known to fly off the top of the A-frame to run through a tunnel he saw on the other side of the course, these things become larger than life.

The blind cross at the end of the poles may not have been the best-timed maneuver in the history of agility but my wonderful dog read what I intended and carried through. Okay that's just scary - Phoenix is saving my butt.

I think what I like most about these runs is that they're not the frantic, desperate racing that has been typical of so many of our previous assaults on courses. Is it possible Phoenix and I are actually starting to communicate through an entire run?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wonderful weekend!

Sometimes, it doesn't have anything to do with your dog.

This weekend, I got to watch friends reach milestones with their dogs.

Bill and Airee finished their MACH! 

Tracy and Syd finished their PAX!

Marsha and Frank finished their PACH, PAX2, MXP5 and MJP5! (I think that's right? Seriously, if you finish more than 1 title per weekend you can't expect your friends to remember!)

Phoenix went 3/6 (holy freakin' cow - we had a 50% weekend!) including a QQ today. Yippee for the Skinny Little Dog!

All the title runs were exciting. It's great to see friends running with their dogs and enjoying those moments of perfect teamwork that so often elude us by one dropped bar or one too-late cue. It's dang hard to sit in the stands, not breathing, until they clear the last jump and the last QQ or final speed points are confirmed.

Congrats to everyone who enjoyed lovely runs with their dogs this weekend — there were a lot of them. There are a lot of tired dogs and happy handlers in eastern Iowa tonight.

I hope to post video of Phoenix's QQ runs soon. I'm especially proud of him for today's Standard run because he didn't take a single one of the tunnel traps and there were at least 14 of them. Seriously. Would I kid you about tunnel traps?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Prison break

Last night, Phoenix and I went to prison. We go every year with my obedience club and give and obedience and agility demonstration that is a “reward for good behavior” kind of thing for the inmates.

The club member who organizes this annual event calls Phoenix the “Prison Dog” because she used to work in corrections and remembers the mals and German shepherds used by the guards. She says Phoenix secretly aspires to be a prison dog. Not sure how she is privy to this information but I’ve added “Prison Dog” to his list of nicknames.

Here’s part of the e-mail Carol sent to all participants before the demo:

“Hi Folks,

Just a reminder that tomorrow night- Wednesday- is the night Phoenix dreams about all year long . . . We meet at 6:30 in the prison lobby. You will need to sign in and need a photo ID. You will also sign a statement that you are taking responsibility for your dog. Don’t bring in wallets, phones, medications . . . Travel light! There will be a place to leave car keys in the building.

Its ok to bring what you need for your dog . . . treats, props for tricks, etc. Good chance Melinda’s article bag will be searched by someone who has no idea of what should be in an article bag, but would recognize a wire cutter.

We go as a group to the gym. We all hold our breath and sometimes muzzles so we all fit into the interlock. Be aware the floor in the hall can be slick for dog paws. Our program starts at 7:00. We introduce ourselves with first names only. During meet and greet-visit about your dog not about you. . . And there may be some folks who remember you or your dog from previous visits or have done community service with us. We will be out by 8:00.”

As promised, a guard searched my article bag before we went in. He also searched the canvas tote I brought to carry treats, a toy, dumbbell, water and a bowl. TG I’d left my great big gear bag at home. They would have had a field day searching that! After the manual search, both bags were put through an x-ray machine. All the handlers had to pass through a metal detector before entering the facility. This was all new this year. The dogs were neither searched nor scanned.

Giving a prison demo gives a whole new meaning to playing to a captive audience. The evening was fast and intense. We did an obedience demo and then an agility demo. The more the dogs mess up, the better the inmates like it it so there’s no pressure to be perfect. Phoenix tore the chute off the closed tunnel (it hadn’t been attached right) and I had one of those OMG moments of panic while he was rolling around all wrapped up in the chute. He popped out with help from me and Jennifer and thought it was all a grand adventure.

The evening ended with a 20-30 minute meet and greet with the inmates. This always proves that Phoenix is no judge of character because he fawned all over the inmates and got scratched and petted and thumped and was a total suck-up. The guys really enjoy the interaction with the dogs. We were told time after time, "Thanks for coming, thanks for bringing your dogs, thanks for doing this."

I haven’t taken Jamie to the prison demo for 5 years. He always liked the demo part but not the meet and greet part, so when Phoenix came on the scene, he got to go and Jamie stayed home. There is one inmate who always asks about Jamie. It’s both sweet and creepy. I mean, he remembers him by name and always asks how he is. Weird.

When we came out, the guards searched my bags again. They said they wanted to make sure I hadn't left any of those "metal things" behind. I told the guy they were too expensive to "leave behind." Clearly he's never had to pay for a set of new scent articles for a dog Phoenix's size.

Best part of the evening is hearing those door clang shut with us on the RIGHT side!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Agility pics

I don't order pictures from trial photographers very often any more. I've got a ton of great pics taken by some talented friends and if I ever want anything "special," I know they'll work to get whatever shot I want.

But I went a little crazy ordering pictures from the DMOTC trials back in October. There are shots from some new and different angles and they make me appreciate what athletes our agility dogs are.

Phoenix is by far the most athletic dog I've ever run. Connor had lousy structure. He tried, bless his heart, but it didn't come easily and Jamie was sound but not insane about agility so he did the "pretty dog lope" through most of his career.

Then there's Phoenix . . . who firmly believes in "Go big or go home!"

Launching off the start line.
Note tongue sticking out in uber concentration

This picture says a lot.
Most of it's not good, from a handling standpoint.
Except that he DID clear the jump that's not even in the frame.
Someone needs to set her dog up better for that first jump.

This is just a fun pic.
Love the steering with the tail.

So is this.
Ears clamped back for max streamlinabilty.
(Is that even a word?)

A pretty basic tire pic.
But he's such a handsome fellow.

Phoenix loves to weave.
It baffles me.

I mean seriously.
What part of this looks comfortable?
Or rewarding?
His body is going in about 6 different directions.

And then there's the "wild eye at end of the weaves" look.

These pics brought to you by Nieder Arts Photography and my MasterCard.