Monday, February 28, 2011

Here, kitty, kitty

Today the Belgians and I went to visit my mom and aunt and the kittens who moved into their kitchen in January. Mom had said they were not bringing cats in the house. Karene had said they were not bringing cats in the house.

Now they have cats in the house. The kittens were from a late fall litter and around here, that never means a very good outlook for survival. Mom and Karene felt sorry for them and now they're living in the kitchen.

The calico is named Brindle. The black is named Little Black. I think there's a Big Black somewhere in the collection of Mom's outside farm cats. Probably a relative. You know how these things go.

Seriously, could you leave this outside in an Iowa winter? 

Yeah, they couldn't either. 

I don't know how they get anything done 
except playing with kittens all day.

Brindle and Little Black are just like puppies, 
Only they don't shred their toys.

I could SO have taken Little Black home with me. This kitten was a total nut case. He was obsessed with the dogs' water bowl and spent all morning putting various paws in it. Yes, while it was full. At one point he had all four legs in it and I think it was on purpose. He can already do four feet in a box and is apparently started on water work! He was completely mental and totally sweet.

The dogs spent some time in the house while the kittens were safely in a crate. Jamie pretty much ignored them. Phoenix was, well, let's just say it would take a lot more cat therapy before he could deal with two kittens bouncing around.

As it was, he sat and stared at the kittens and was quiet and did not lunge or click his teeth and got lots of treats. LOTS of treats. Like probably several meals. I was extremely pleased he could be that close to soft, furry, fast-moving, prey animals and not have a complete meltdown.

Maybe when he's 10 Phoenix can have his own cat. Maybe.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Let the furlough begin

Okay, technically my furlough doesn't start until Monday. But I woke up this morning and realized that for the next 9 days, I don't have to go to work, don't have to think about work, don't have to worry about work and don't have to deal with co-workers. Really, it doesn't get much better.

I spent the morning cleaning house, which apparently no one had done since the last time I did it. Silly me. I keep expecting someone to wander in off the streets and clean my house for me. Never works. But a girl can dream.

The Belgians helped all morning. They were a tremendous help. They helped so much they wore themselves out.

Poor Phoenix. He was so exhausted he couldn't even get his hind legs on the bed before he collapsed.

Then I made obedience trial entries for April: DeWitt, ICDOC and ABMC nationals. Yep, threw caution to the wind and entered Nix in Utility 6 times. He's green but he's got a grip on the basics and I'm not expecting 200s at this point. 

Every Utility journey is different: Jess NQ'd for a couple of months (including a few shows where he NQ'd every single exercise), then went 3 in a row to finish. Connor finished in 4 trials. Over achiever. Jamie . . . oh dear . . . I showed him for a couple of disastrous months then pulled him out of the ring for nearly a year. When I started showing him again, he Q'd 3 in a row like he'd never had a problem with any of it.

Today is the Farmer's birthday. We talked about going out to paint the town tonight but decided to stay home instead. That's the kind of wild, uninhibited people we are. I'm going to cook a big supper - smoked pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn, dinner rolls and birthday cake.

Actually I made the cake last night. I'm embarrassed to admit how much is gone already. We keep testing it to see if the next piece is as good as the last. So far, so good but you can't take these things for granted.

We have a gift certificate for Iowa River Power in Iowa City, courtesy of the neighbor's daughter, so that will probably be our "night out" some time soon. When we had that blizzard about a month ago, she got her car stuck and the Farmer pulled her out. Thanks, Kate!

I have a staggering to-do list for the coming week. The next item: curl up in recliner with blanket and book.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy news

Jamie was able to lower his prednisone dosage again. Since the middle of January, he's gone from 25 mg twice a day to 25 mg once a day to 25 mg every other day to 20 mg every other day. This might not seem like a big deal but it is. He's been able to step down without any symptoms recurring. Since he is doing so well the vet feels he might eventually be able to get off the pred totally and manage his IBD with diet alone.

I am cautiously optimistic. Since the IBD diagnosis and starting treatment, he has been awesome. No more vomiting, no refusing to eat, no diarrhea, no blood where it shouldn't be. He's happy, sparkly and has re-gained the weight he lost. It's like last November, December and January never happened.


This morning I went to our local Chevy dealer and looked at an Equinox. This translates to "crawled around and measured the cargo area." Funny, the sales woman (who sold us C3P0) automatically put the back seats down without having to be asked. I think I have her trained!

I'm thinking strongly about trading vehicles (3P0 has some issues) but not sure when it's going to happen. I really like the Equinox (32 mpg, what's not to like!) but to be honest, I'm not sure it has enough room. Sue said I could take it home and "try it on." Is that generous or what! I told her I'd take her up on that offer but not until the weather warmed up a little bit. I hope she realizes it will be mud-coated when I bring it back, since our gravel road is missing most of its gravel.

The Equinox has a lot of nice features but the back seats do not fold as flat as they do in 3P0. I would have to come up with a way to level the crates. Plus the crates would take up pretty much all available room, no space left over for "junk." Which begs the question, how much of my "junk" is necessary and could I downsize?

I can say without reservation it would be an excellent vehicle for a person with one malinois- or Tervuren-sized dog or anything smaller.


I'm on furlough (again) next week and I'm looking forward to it! Not the whole filing for unemployment and only getting a fraction of my regular income for that week part but definitely the having a week to myself part. Personally, I think Gannett has gotten a little too fond of furloughing workers, but, repeat after me, I still have my job.

The weekend weather sounds a bit dicey but maybe that will make me stay home for at least a day and clean out the basement. Ugh. How can two people get a basement so dirty? And where's that house elf! He is such a slacker.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Oregon odyssey

Four years ago today, Michele and I flew out of the Eastern Iowa Airport to meet baby Phoenix and his breeder, Catherine Shields, Carousel Malinois, in Woodburn, Ore. Michele agreed to go with me because apparently she didn’t have anything better to do. We planned to stay in Oregon for a couple of days, meet some other mal folks and maybe do a little sight-seeing, a comfortable 3-4 day trip.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Our flight to Oregon was uneventful, a good thing since I hadn't been on an airplane since 1984. Seriously. We arrived at Catherine’s house just as she was getting ready to take the Wild litter for their CERF checks. She handed me Phoenix and away we went, Michele and I in our rental car, following Catherine and Laurie with the rest of the litter.

Phoenix was a wiggly, squirmy, chewy, bite-y handful. He kept trying to eat the gear shift in the rental car. I finally pried his mouth off it and holding him up, laughing, said, “You can’t do that!”

He looked me straight in the eye with a “Yeah, right, lady” look. That’s when I fell totally in love with him. It took about five minutes. And I've become very familiar with that look over the years.

That night we went out to supper with Catherine, Laurie and CJ. Then back to Catherine’s to play with puppies and make plans for the coming days. Michele and I both tried some clickering to get Phoenix comfortable with going in his Sherpa bag. I can’t remember if Michele actually had a clicker with her (wouldn’t surprise me, she’s the “go to” woman on all our trips because she always has everything anyone might need) or if we borrowed it from Catherine. Either way, it didn’t do much good. The contrary little beast was not interested in going in the bag without all his littermates. Actually, the contrary little beast was most interested in biting things and eating. (Four years later, not much has changed.)

Here's the Wild litter all snug in the Sherpa bag
I'd sent out to Catherine earlier.
Dunno exactly who the puppy in the front is,
but apparently the whole litter made it a point to go in the bag.

The next morning, friend and fellow weather watcher Rilda called from home with the weather report. An approaching storm was forecast to bring 1” ice accumulations and 40-50 mph winds. The storm was predicted to hit the same day we planned to arrive home.

Michele, who did a lovely job as travel agent, immediately called the airlines to see if we could change our tickets and get an earlier return flight. We were afraid if we didn’t beat the storm home and things got as bad as predicted, airport closings and flight delays might leave us stranded in Oregon much longer than we’d planned. Not that that would have been a bad thing - I had taken the following week off work - but Michele needed to get back to her job.

Now, the irony was neither Michele’s husband nor mine (collectively known as The Jeffs) had bothered to call and let us know about the weather. Apparently they did not care if we got home or not. We still hold that over their heads from time to time.

The airline cooperated and we were able to change our tickets to fly out later that morning, pretty much two whole days earlier than we had planned. But we had to leave NOW! I was disappointed we didn't get to spent much time with Catherine and the other Carousel folks.

First Phoenix had to go to the vet to get his health certificate. That little document cost me $50 and nobody at the airport even looked at it even though I had it clenched in my teeth through most of the security check-in process. If you thought checking through security with having to take off your shoes, show your ID and put all your belongings in those little trays was a pain in the butt, try doing it while carrying a wiggly, squirmy, chewy, bite-y puppy.

Our flight from Portland back to Minneapolis, about 4 hours, was uneventful. Phoenix slept snug in his Sherpa bag. He was more relaxed than I was. So far, we were beating the storm. We landed and spent the next hour in the ladies room trying to get Phoenix to pee on the newspaper I had carefully brought along for the occasion. He didn’t want to pee. He wanted to visit total strangers and chase luggage wheels. Who has time to pee when all those people want to pet you? After living with Jamie’s “stranger danger” outlook on life for 7 years, this was a delightful change.

Then the trouble started. Our 9 p.m. flight was delayed until 10 p.m., then 11 p.m., then 11:30 p.m. I wondered what it would be like to spend the night in an airport with a wiggly, squirmy, chewy, bite-y puppy. (He was actually a doll for the entire trip home.) We finally boarded at midnight. It took about 45 minutes to de-ice the plane. It took 40 minutes to fly to Cedar Rapids and there was so much turbulence the “unfasten seatbelts” light never came on.

Several of the same people who had been on our flight from Portland were on our "puddle jumper" flight from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids. One gal in particular asked often how Phoenix was doing, was he okay, how did he feel, etc. How nice of her. The crazy puppy was sound asleep and oblivious. I was the one who was having little freak-outs and thinking it might be another 20 years before I flew again.

Michele’s husband met us at the airport to pick her up and give me a road report. Freezing drizzle was already coating the secondary roads. My relatively short hop, skip and a jump “back roads” route to our house from the airport was out of the question. The “long way” home was the safest.

Ice accumulation on my van's windshield was starting to out-pace my defroster as I pulled into our garage shortly before 2 a.m., wired from adrenaline and the white knuckle drive home. Our total trip time from start to finish was 26 hours.

Phoenix and I went into the house and found out the Farmer did not share my agitated state of mind and was snoring peacefully. Connor and Jamie were staying with a friend, in anticipation of our extended stay in Oregon. The house was dark and quiet. It didn’t stay that way long, since Phoenix took a dim view of being put in a crate, no matter how warm and soft it was nor how many toys-that-weren’t-littermates were tucked in with him. I slept on the floor in front of his crate, fingers stuck through the wires for comfort. Or mauling.

About six hours later, ice-laden tree limbs and electric lines started snapping and our power went out. It stayed out for six days. With no electricity to run the well pump (this was in our pre-rural water days), we didn't have running water, either. Even with our generator, which we didn’t run all the time, the temp in our house stayed around 40 degrees. Phoenix probably wondered what kind of backward place he was living in: no heat, no running water, only candles and camping lanterns at night. He slept in bed with us at night, under the blankets. He must have heard the Farmer’s ominous warning, “He’ll pee the bed,” because he never did. Connor and Jamie had come home by then and we got up once each night and went outdoors for a group pee (the dogs, not me).

It was a very stressful week and certainly not the conditions I'd envisioned bringing a new puppy home to. I spent the week in my insulated bib coveralls and stocking cap, sitting on the kitchen floor and playing with Phoenix. If we got too cold, I put all the dogs in the van and we drove to pick up some fast food at a nearby restaurant that had power. I cooked a pizza on our gas grill and heated water for minimal washing in an antique coffee boiler atop the grill as well. In the evenings, we listened to the radio and I read by lantern light. It was an adventure, like camping but not quite as much fun. By day #4, I loaded up the dogs and we drove down to my folks so I could shower and do laundry.

Eventually, the power company got things put back together and the lights came back on. Phoenix learned to be quiet in a crate. Sort of. Jamie adored his new baby brother. Connor wondered WTF I'd brought home. I think the Farmer did, too, although today the sun rises and sets on Phoenix, according to him.

Where have four years gone?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Random thoughts on Sunday evening

Yes! Our snow IS gone! Amazing what a week of seriously above normal temperatures will do. The big drifts along the roads are still there but it's lovely brown grass everywhere else. And mud. 

We had our first thunderstorm of the spring (dare I say spring?) this morning about 4:30 a.m. One dazzling flash of lightning and a big clap of thunder and Jamie launched onto the bed. Phoenix followed him because darned if he was staying on the floor while everyone else was on the bed. We need a bigger bed.

Had a great obedience workout Saturday morning with Michele and Sharon. I had Michele video me and Phoenix doing some random heeling. Geez, it felt like we heeled FOREVER. It was less than 2 minutes. 

Then we had a discussion about where to carry your hand while heeling. We decided the easiest way to keep your hand "centered in the vicinity of your waist" was to stick your index finger in your belly button. Or grab the button on your jeans.  This keeps your hand from creeping up. I swear, some female exhibitors who heel with their left hand up carry it so high they look like they're holding up their boobs. 

Not that I would ever have that problem.

I always wore a belt with a buckle so I could hold the buckle and keep my hand centered. Then somewhere along the line all my jeans shrunk and I can't tuck my shirts in any more so wearing a belt is pointless.

Speaking of winter weight, the Skinny Little Dog has pudged up a little bit over the last few months. He's nowhere near fat but finally doesn't look like a bag of bones in a malinois suit.

Jamie has finally put on a few pounds, too, thank heaven. He's the only critter in this house who NEEDED to gain weight.

It was 4 years ago this week that Michele and I flew out to Oregon to pick up baby Phoenix. What a trip that was - Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis to Portland and back in 24 hours. NOT the original plan! That would be good blog fodder for later in the week.

Today, I am very thankful for my dog friends. They are the best-est.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring fever

It was 65 degrees yesterday afternoon, so the dogs and I went out to play with the flippy after work. Isn't all the dead brown grass lovely?

Note proximity of teeth to fingers. This is probably not safe.
But no camera person was harmed in the process.

The flippy makes a great fashion statement. Worn over the eyes, it increases the likelihood of doing something really stupid when you're running amuck. Note Jamie is wise enough to stay BEHIND and safely out of stupidity range.

If positioned correctly, the flippy-as-head-gear allows just enough vision to to be returned to the flippy thrower. Flippy fetcher is not responsible for crashes incurred in the return process. Again, Jamie shows who has the brains in this outfit.

For more dramatic effect, place flippy over eyes and run directly into the late afternoon sun. Don't worry, someone will yell before you run into them.

You can change up your fashion look by reversing the flippy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Things to celebrate!

There's lots of stuff to celebrate! Here we go, not in any particular order:

• It's supposed to be nearly 60 degrees here today!

• The snow is melting, revealing lovely dead brown grass and a lot of mud!

• I love mud! (Well, not really but I'm soooooo tired of being frozen half to death.)

• The Dairy Queen in Coralville is open again!

• They have Mini Blizzards now!

Last weekend was exceptionally great for a lot of my dog friends.

• Renee and Blast finished their OTCh. with with 199 in Open B and also went High In Trial! They are a wonderful team who worked their butts off together to achieve this.

• SueAnn's Disco got his final major to finish his Ch.! His Handsom-ness is now focusing on a performance career.

• Jill and Kina got their final CDX leg! Kina and Phoenix took the same (dim) view of group exercises. On to Utility!

• Michele and Cider got back in the Open/Utility rings after about 10 months off for a torn ACL, surgery and a difficult rehab. Hurray for them! They're pursuing that final UDX leg.

What are you celebrating today?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What's for dinner?

I spend nearly as much time agonizing over dog food as I do over people food. And that’s saying quite a bit!

Over the years I’ve fed a variety of kibble, commercial frozen raw, homemade raw, dehydrated raw and homemade cooked diets. Currently, Jamie is eating limited ingredient kibble (due to health reasons) and Phoenix eats grain-free kibble for breakfast and homemade raw for supper.

When I tell people I used to feed 100 percent raw, the first thing they ask is, “Why did you stop?”

Honestly? My freezer quit working. In August. I found out about four days later.

Imagine 250 pounds of raw meat and bones sitting for four days in the August heat. And of course I didn’t find the whole mess until a Sunday evening after I’d been gone all weekend at a trial. All I wanted was a frozen pizza to fix for supper. Actually, I don’t think we ever ate supper that night.

It was beyond gross. The Farmer helped me clean out the freezer and load all the spoiled, bloody, dripping, stinking meat into buckets and put them in the back of his dad’s pickup. Pretty funny, it was so gross he didn’t want it anywhere near his own pickup but he volunteered his dad’s with no problem. What are family farms for, anyway?

Then I drove out to one of our fields in the middle of nowhere and dumped the whole mess in a waterway. (A waterway is a wide grass strip that follows the natural contours of a field and provides a place for water to run off during heavy rains, preventing erosion.)

It was as good a place as any to dump that much spoiled meat but to be ecologically friendly, I had to unwrap it all first so the butcher’s paper and plastic packaging didn’t go blowing all over our fields and into the neighbors’ fields or give some wayward coyote an intestinal blockage.

It was awful — bags of chicken hindquarters, ground venison from the previous year’s hunting season, chubs of ground turkey, pork and turkey necks, beef liver (all measured and pre-packaged, of course), and perhaps the most painful, brand new packages of Natural Balance frozen patties. Yeah, the really expensive ones. The expression “bloody hell!” took on a whole new meaning.

By the time I was done, I had blood spatter all over my clothes and was a bloody mess up to my elbows. I probably looked like I’d hacked someone to pieces. It’s pretty funny now, wasn’t at the time. Good thing I drove country roads on the way home - if the highway patrol had pulled me over for speeding, the officer would have taken one look and freaked out. When I got home, I had to hose out the back of the pick-up. Blood clotted all over the tailgate of a white pick-up is not a good look. Steven King would have been proud.

After that, I was seriously off feeding raw for awhile. Then we got the freezer fixed and I started again but on a more limited basis. I really like some of the commercial frozen raw products, they’re so darned handy. They’re also prohibitively expensive when you’re feeding dogs the size of Jamie and Phoenix.

I bought a grinder last year and am happily grinding chicken for Phoenix. I will NOT feed that dog un-ground raw meaty bones because he swallows things whole. I know that’s normal but he doesn’t even make a show of chewing, just opens his mouth and down it goes, no matter the size. It’s too chancy for me. When I fed Connor and Jamie raw meaty bones they at least made a show of chewing first.

Connor always chewed his food 10 times before swallowing. That’s just the way he was. Jamie wasn’t quite that thorough and occasionally he brought things back up for a second go-around. I know this “recycling” is normal when you feed raw but it doesn’t make it any easier to explain to your spouse when the dog is hurling next to the bed at 2 a.m., then crunching it back up. For a guy who has made a living dealing with the “indelicacies” of livestock all his life, the Farmer really doesn’t handle dog vomit well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dogs in coats

Ironically, I waited until we're having a good thaw and all the snow is melting to post pics of Phoenix's coats. They're both his. Jamie just agreed to model one.

You might question the need for big tough dogs to have coats. Jamie is such a furball he absolutely does not need a coat, although he seemed to enjoy wearing this one for the pictures. Phoenix is such a skinny little dog there are times when I think he needs a coat, especially if he has to stay in the van during extremely cold weather or crate in a very cold building.

They're both from I think I have a Clean Run addiction. There's probably a 12-step program for people like me but I don't think I want to sign up.

Phoenix is looking very alert in this pic because I was screaming in pain. Jamie had snuck up and crunched the cookie I was waving around to get Nix to look at the camera. Jamie was raised by Shelties. He is a firm believer in "eat first and ask questions later." This translates to "eat first and spit out fingers later." The coat is a very soft double layer fleece that velcro's closed with a belly band.

Here's Jamie wearing Nix's "heavy duty" winter coat. This is much heavier than the fleece one in the first picture. It's very much like a horse blanket. The buckle on the chest is purely ornamental. There use to be a strap of webbing that the purely ornamental buckle hooked into. Phoenix removed it. He does not think purely ornamental things are necessary.

I had a pic of the new water bowls, too, but managed to delete it somewhere between the camera and the computer. Go figure. The brand name is Kennel Gear, not Kennel Technologies. I stand corrected.

Okay, off to make a living and make a newspaper and eat chocolate. Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Odds and ends

First update: Jamie is doing great. I've been able to lower his prednisone again. Now he takes 25 mg every other day. Beats the heck out of the 25 mg twice day he started at. If all goes well, the next reduction will be in the dosage, dropping to 20 mg every other day. He feels good, is bouncy, pushy and slowly growing out of his insane poodle/modified PWD clip.

More good news - I've found a limited ingredient food for him at a much friendlier price. Natural Balance makes a sweet potato and venison formula that is "only" $50 for 28 pounds. Compare that with his current Science Diet potato and venison formula at $80 for 27 pounds. The Big Red Dog isn't exactly a light eater so fingers crossed for a successful and uneventful food switch.

Second update: It's official - I'm old. Got my first pair of bifocals today. There's a bit of a learning curve. To see distant things, I look out the top of the lens. To see close up things, I look out the bottom of the lens. I haven't figured out what to do with the no-man's land in the middle yet but I'm happy to report I managed to cook, serve and eat supper and clean up the kitchen tonight, involving boiling water, a mixer and sharp knives and I'm still in one piece.

Third update: New product review - got some new water bowls for the dogs' crates in the vans. They're made by Kennel Technologies (got them from and they're great because they DON'T RATTLE like metal buckets.

I'm a little OCD when it comes to rattles in the van. They make me crazy. These are hard plastic bowls that attach to holders that screw onto the wires of the crate. They are malinois tested and approved. Phoenix had to nibble on his a little, just to make it his own.

I will post a picture when I get ambitious enough to take one.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Finally, The Heeling Fix

Wish I could say this is guaranteed to bring brilliant attention and 40 point heeling to all who desire it but alas, life and dog training rarely come with that sort of guarantee. In fact, it’s only guaranteed to work on one particular 53-pound malinois who likes this sort of thing. Beyond that, no promises. Try it and modify it to your own use and have fun with it.

First, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have put in the necessary hours teaching your dog to heel with heads-up attention. Cuz you can’t suddenly pull this on him and expect miracle results if there’s no foundation for it.

Let me back up just a bit: I really hate the word correction. Really HATE it. When I started training in the 1970s with my beagle on a choker, “correction” often meant “get angry and show your dog who’s boss.” Today, the word still carries a lot of that negative baggage. Too often, corrections turn into a show of physical dominance and all to frequently, emotion.

Yes, I believe in giving corrections but only in a way that gives the dog useful information. And the correction has to be fairly given. And it can’t be angry. And when it’s done you CANNOT let your dog sit around feeling sorry for himself. A “good” correction shouldn’t make the dog feel sorry for himself in he first place. It should make him think “Oh, THAT'S what she wants. I can do that!”

If you go all crabby on your dog, why would he WANT to watch you? If you are angry or upset, many dogs will look away in submission, hoping not to make you even more crabby, which inevitably does make you crabbier because you were crabby in the first place that the dog wasn't watching.

So, back to a correction for the dog whose brain drifts off to heaven knows where during heeling. Granted, heeling is not the most exciting thing in the world and I am NOT an advocate of working heeling by marching endlessly around the training building forever. But it’s not asking too much to expect my dog to stay engaged for 20 to 40 to 60 second segments of heelwork. (The heeling segment of the Utility signal exercise lasts about 45 seconds or less. Just so you know.)

So if I catch Phoenix going to his cat-filled happy place when he should be watching me, I take him quickly by the collar and bounce him out ahead of me. He understands how to “lift” when I have my hands on his collar so I’m not forcing him to do anything. It’s actually quite voluntary. There is no force, no emotion. It’s more of a GOTCHA! Then he pops back into heel position and we keep going for a bit. I'm usually laughing at him and he gets all wiggly and silly and it's all good.

That's it. Is that too simple?

This solution works for MY dog. It might work for your dog. It might not. Your dog might be totally offended by it, in which case it’s not going to be the right correction. Phoenix LIKES being bounced. He’s weird that way. It gets him all jazzed and silly and that’s what I want.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mystery photo

Sorry, I know today's post was supposed to be a heeling fix-it but things have been entirely too serious here the last couple of days. So today you get a mystery photo.

Do you have any idea what these are?

Does this help?

Phoenix loves his Orbee balls but they have to be stripped first. This is the second Woof ball he's stripped the letters from. He's very deliberate about it. The letters must come off! He also strips the Orbee globe balls. Once he gets rid of the "add-ons" he's perfectly happy and quits trying to tear them up.

I got a new training gear bag and last night I was cleaning out my old one and loading up the new one. THAT could be a post in itself. Long story short, I had five balls in my gear bag, including this practically brand new Orbee ball. Seriously, I don't know why anyone needs five balls at the same time but there you have it.

So I gave it to Phoenix to add to his collection of "house balls" and he immediately began plucking the letters off.

He's such a purist.

Or maybe he's just simple. . . um . . . uncomplicated.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thought for the day - perspective

Don’t sacrifice your relationship with your dog to get a title.

This isn’t new or original. No doubt you've heard it said before. On the surface, it seems so simple. Duh. I love my dog, right? I wouldn’t want to make both of us miserable in the process of doing something we’re supposed to be doing for fun, right?

But weekend after weekend, I see people who are frustrated to the point of tears, anger and remarkably bad language when their dogs fail to perform in the ring. (I always wonder why people are mad at the dog. Wouldn't the blame be more fairly placed on the person who trained it?)

How do things get so seriously out of balance when it comes to our dogs? For most trainers, this is a hobby. Yes, it's a serious hobby that we embrace with enthusiasm, but aren't hobbies supposed to equal happy times spent doing rewarding activities - NOT wallowing in frustration and being upset at the creature who is supposed to be your best friend.

Let me ask you this, is earning a certain title or score or breed ranking or qualifying for an elite group or being recognized by your club going to dramatically change your life?

Will it get you a raise at work?

Will it assure your job security?

Will it guarantee your health?

How about the health of your loved ones?

Will it bring you fame and fortune and all that goes with it?

Will achieving that one thing make your life so incredibly perfect you will never have to worry about anything ever again?


Yeah, it’s important to us but it’s not cosmic (Judie Howard used to say that at her seminars. Maybe she still does. Cool woman, Judie. Haven’t seen her for years.) We're not curing cancer or establishing world peace. We're teaching dogs to run really fast or sit really straight.

If Phoenix and I scored a 200 at our next obedience trial I would come home and the Farmer would want to know when his supper would be ready. My mother would want to know why I don’t come to visit her more often. My boss would want to know if my special section story was going to be done by deadline. My cardiologist would want to know why I’ve gained 5 pounds in the last year. (I would like to know that, too.)

In the grand scheme of things, a 200 would be a delightful experience that would have me walking on air but it would have zero impact on my daily reality. I would have the very same life as if we’d earned a 170. There would be bills to pay and a van that’s overdue for an oil change.

If we were all Big Time Trainers who actually DID make a living giving seminars and camps, then the success or failure of our dogs in the ring might be a little more dramatic. But for me? Not so much.

Yeah, I'm emotionally invested in my dog. He is an incredible, beautiful creature. I love him deeply and am thrilled beyond measure that he is sharing this journey with me. But he's a dog and he doesn't give a damn about ribbons. He's a willing partner in this dance because he loves me, too, and he loves balls and treats and tugs and playing games with me. Even though I may be disappointed with the outcome of a run, I don't measure my self-worth by it and I don't see it as a deliberate reflection of him "flipping me off."

No matter what your dog goals are, what’s going to happen if you reach them? What’s going to happen if you don’t? Enjoy setting goals and expanding your skills and being the absolute best team you can be with your dog. But don’t ruin something beautiful in pursuit of a ribbon.

As you train and show this year, put the relationship with your dog above all else. He won't be there forever.

Next post (I hope): fixing the dog who zones out during heeling.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More training, more thoughts

Today Nix and I trained with Michele, Cider and Cougar, Paula and Petra, Tracy and Rogue and Jill, Kina and Summit at the 4RK9s building. I think we are collectively exhausted. Nix has curled himself up in a pretzel by the computer and is sound asleep. Seriously, how can anyone sleep in that position? Better yet, how can he bounce right out of it without his neck being stuck at a 90 degree angle for the next three days?

Got to meet Sheryl's new baby tervlet, who is currently nameless. Phoenix was quite baffled by him. He tried using the Malinois Paw of Power and the fuzzy little critter flashed his puppy license and made all sorts of funny faces and noises. There was a great deal of tail wagging and ear language and who knows what kind of information was exchanged.

Today I worked a lot on reinforcing attention. When Nix is worried about things, he tends to drop his head, break eye contact and drift off to his happy place which I suspect is full of cats. So today was all about making him responsible for watching me and earning rewards. I'm not into pushing green dogs super hard but I do expect him to hold up his end of the deal. Basic attention is one of the load-bearing walls of obedience. If it starts to sag, you can't expect everything else to be brilliant.

So, fun things to do with Utility:

Articles: put the articles on, under and around a folding chair. Sometimes put the scented one on the floor and sometimes put it on the chair seat. Phoenix loves this. It makes the hunt more of a challenge.

Moving stand: as the dog is behind you on the return, take off running. Chasing is always fun. So it catching. At least for the catcher.

Signals: stand the dog, walk away, turn and lob cheese at him if he's watching. Use a verbal release so the dog knows it's okay to break out and chase food. If he's NOT watching, run back and show him the cookie he could have had. Then eat it yourself. (Choice of cookies is up to you!)

Directed jumping: send on the go-out, get the turn and sit, run out and have a party at the go-out spot. Send over a jump and release to a thrown toy or piece of food. Sometimes I will release to a closeable bait bag filled with food. Phoenix gets to retrieve the bag and I give him treats from it. Work off-center jumping (do the jump I signal, not the jump that is most convenient).

Gloves: I'll mark and send Nix to the glove, then chase him out (he always beats me, of course), then turn and run and let him chase me back. Play tug with the glove.

Now I'm going to sit in my recliner and watch the Super Bowl commercials and eat junk food and be lazy for the rest of the evening.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thoughts after a match

What a crazy busy week. Many thoughts, no time to blog them.

Phoenix and I went to the obedience show-n-go at the Scott County club's building today. We picked up Kate and Orbit in Iowa City and hit the open road. The sky was blue, the interstate was dry and you'd never believe our part of the state had 12-17" of snow just a few days before. 

Our Open run went well. We're kind of treading water in Open. I'm not working the exercises very much since our focus is getting ready for Utility. But one thing we're having fun with is the dumbbell retrieves and having the "judge" try to race in and beat Phoenix to the dumbbell, both on flat and over the high.

When I first started doing this, Phoenix didn't see the point. He just backed off and let the "judge" get it. What a polite boy. We worked at it awhile and now when I set him up for either retrieve, he scopes out the judge and gets that locked and loaded look in his eye. It's now a grand game to get the dumbbell first before someone else steals his prize.

Utility continues to be a work in progress. (Is it ever NOT?) Watching him this morning, scent discrimination is his strongest exercise. He gets it and he thinks its fun. Signals have improved tremendously. Gloves are strong, turn #3 isn't. Moving stand seems to bore him half to death. The go-out part of directed jumping was great today but the actual jumping part escaped him when dogs were moving around close to the ring gates outside the ring. 

At this point, Nix's mistakes are coming from a lack of confidence. For all his craziness in agility, he's not one of those "Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead" dogs in obedience. Our training at this point is all about building confidence and joy in the work, no matter the environment. It's a different ride than with any of my previous UDs/OTChs., always something new to figure out.  I love my skinny little dog. 

Also had a short but interesting conversation with a friend about how much pressure we as handlers put on our dogs with our expectations and goals for titles, scores, rankings, etc. This is a double-edged sword, often inspiring higher achievements but at the same time, setting the human element of the team up for disappointment when things don't go as planned.

Sometimes that self-inflicted pressure to achieve also turns us into freak handlers in the ring, ironically CAUSING our dogs to engage in the weird "I've never been trained for this activity before in my life" behavior we desperately want to avoid.

Okay, enough thoughts. Hug your dogs and treasure your time with them, no matter what you're doing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter wonderland

I took a few pics on my way to work this morning.

The county maintainer finally went through last night.

When I don't go to work because "the roads are bad," this is what I mean.

This is one of the country roads I take to get to the highway.
It's now half a road.

The view from the windshield.

Hope I don't meet anyone. Think skinny!

The view out the passenger window.

It is asking too much for winter to end? NOW!!!!!

And then this will all melt.

And that means MUD!

Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy freaking Groundhog Day

Nothing says happy Groundhog Day like a foot of new snow and 30 mph winds. Our blizzard is winding down after dumping anywhere from 10 to 18" of snow across eastern Iowa. We haven't had a big ol' winter storm like this for a long time. I stayed home from work as the county plow hasn't been by and the roads to the highway are drifted shut.

The "official" groundhog in Pennsylvania apparently did not see his shadow this morning, so according to folk lore, that means an early spring. I'm all for that!

I think there is an official Iowa groundhog, too, but I'm guessing he didn't see his shadow either. In fact, I doubt he even got out of his burrow unless someone shoveled him out.

I did the shoveling thing for a while earlier this morning, then reminded myself that I have a heart condition and asthma and was I crazy or just stupid? So I quit. I'll go at it again this afternoon. Maybe. At least we can get in and out of the back door and basement door without plowing through drifts. Poor dogs - they sort of fell right out the back door into a drift. It was nasty.

Right now, I'm baking chocolate chip cookies. Mmm . . . . hot cookies and cold milk in a warm kitchen. Perfect.

The Farmer had a rough morning. With the roads drifted shut between our place and our other farm, he tried opening them with the snow blower behind the tractor. That worked great until he sheared off a pin in the snowblower. So he replaced it, which worked great until that one sheared off, too. Finally, he gave up clearing the road and went through the fields, which he said he wished he'd done in the first place. Cattle have to eat, no matter the weather.

Will post some pics later if the Belgians and I venture very far from the fireplace today.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Agility videos

Here are a couple of Nix's runs from the trials over the weekend. I was proud of the Skinny Little Dog. He nailed every weave entry in every class, including a couple where I did absolutely nothing to help him be successful.

He did a great job all three days, even on our NQ-ing runs. Watching all the videos from the weekend, most of our mistakes are the result of me being late with direction. I get hung up watching my beautiful dog run and forget I need to tell him what to do next, preferably before he's made up his own mind.

In the first video, check out the doberman and her handler moving across the lower left corner of the frame. The floor was slick w/snow from shoes and paws and Connie is doing a little indoor skiing with Kei.