Friday, April 29, 2011

There are days . . .

Every profession has its cross to bear. I think vets probably have it the worst when it comes to dealing with the public. Small town newspapers are a close second.

Our news deadline is noon on Monday, as our papers print very late Monday night/early Tuesday morning.

A woman called our office on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

Caller: I need to put something in the paper, it HAS to run this week.

Me: It’s too late for this week but I’d be happy to take it for next week.

Caller: No, it has to go in THIS week.

Me: I’m sorry, our deadline was noon yesterday.

Caller: But it’s just a little item, it won’t take much room.

Me: I’m sorry, this week’s paper has already been printed.

Caller: Oh. So if I give it to you right now, you can't get it in?

Ya think?!

Here's another winner:

Caller: I want to let you know about a community event so you can come take pictures.

Me: (this is a common sort of thing in small towns.) Okay.

Me: (still waiting) What is it?

Caller: Some high school kids are going to do a clean-up day at Gateway Park.

Me: (waiting, waiting, waiting)

Me: (apparently I am going to have to pry this information out of him, word by word) When is it?

Caller: When?

Me: Yes, when will it be held?

Caller: Um . . . I'm not sure, I think it’s tomorrow.

Me: (nothing like giving less than 24 hours notice on an event that’s probably been planned for a month) What time?

Caller: Um . . . 2 o’clock? Maybe? Or maybe 3 o’clock. No, it’s 2. Yeah, I think it's 2.

Me: You think it’s tomorrow at 2 p.m.?

Caller: Um . . . yeah . . . maybe. You should call the high school. They’d know.

Me: Yeah, I’ll do that. (It was at 1 p.m., BTW)

Our first prize winner of the week came in today. It was an elderly lady who stopped to place an ad. Our receptionist was making small talk and asked how she was.

“Oh, I’m okay,” the lady replied. “But I just had cataract surgery and I can’t see very well.”

Our receptionist took the ad, took the lady’s money and made change. Several times, the woman made reference to her cataract surgery and the fact she couldn’t see very well.

Then she left our office, got in her car and drove off.

Wherever you work, have a great day and be happy you’re more intelligent and have more common sense than a lot of people out there!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Uh-oh . . .

There are certain sounds you never want to hear - the pre-launch sounds of a dog getting ready to barf on the carpet at 2 a.m. . . . the sound of running water under the kitchen sink when the taps are turned off . . .

. . . and the sound of shattering glass at 5:25 a.m.

Yesterday my alarm went off, as usual. The dogs started cavorting about, as usual (it is just WRONG that they wake up so fast). I had just swung my legs out of bed when I heard the CRASH.

Someone's butt had smashed into one of the glass panels of my grandma's china cupboard in the dining room. It wasn't my butt. The Farmer's butt was still in bed. So it was a Belgian butt. And they aren't talkin'. But I have my suspicions.

This cupboard was a wedding gift from my grandpa to my grandma when they were married in the 1930s. It traveled from Colorado to Missouri to Iowa with nary a scratch. It traveled from my grandmother's house to our house last summer.

It lasted eight months before somebody smacked it with their fat butt. Sigh.

But no one got hurt. The glass all fell IN the cabinet. There wasn't any on the carpet. Which was good because I bolted out of bed, told the dogs to sit (they did, immediately, what good dogs), then walked around barefooted to assess the damage. Hey, it's hard to be totally functional at that hour.

Not having time to clean things up before work, I put a baby gate in front of the cupboard. The dogs could have cared less. It's not like there were cookies involved. When I got home from work, I put the dogs in the kitchen, put on a pair of leather gloves and got ready to carefully pull the shards of broken glass out of the frame.

I carefully gripped the piece that looked the easiest to remove, tugged gently . . . and the ENTIRE FREAKING BROKEN PANEL CAME CRASHING OUT IN ABOUT 500 PIECES!

I said a lot of very bad words, picked up the pieces and got the vacuum.

The Farmer inspected things and measured the empty frame. You've heard of "measure twice, cut once"? How about "measure 14 times — now assisted by Phoenix who was fascinated by the tape measure — scratch your head, make faces, shove the dog out of the way, scribble measurements on paper, scribble more measurements on paper, grumble a bit, take the tape measure way from the dog, take the paper away from the dog and finally give the wife a piece of paper with barely legible dog-slobbered measurements on it." I think the local hardware store can cut a piece of glass to fit, since this was just plain old glass, not fancy curved stuff or anything.

Today is a good day. Nothing has gotten broken. Of course, it's only 10 a.m.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pics from Malinois nationals

Here's our hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott in Valparaiso, Indiana.
I took this pic during the brief window of sunny weather on Thursday.

Phoenix with his ball-on-a-rope.
He was trying to turn it into a ball and a rope.

Jamie, wondering why there are
so many pillows on the bed.
Seriously, we had 8 pillows for 2 people.

Here's the ribbon table, the rescue raffle
and vendors at the agility site.

The specialty catalog was in a 3-ring binder.
Kinda neat and very easy to keep open to read.
I'm one of those people who never buys catalogs
but I had to know who everyone was!

This was the conclusion of a rally class.
Thought it was a fun pic because
the dogs are all doing different things.
(Click to enlarge and you'll see what I mean.)

Team Bite Me,
Love the theme.

Rescue raffle at the obedience site.
I bought a lot of tickets.
I won nothing.
(Their "wingspan" of tickets was 36 for $20,
Michele, what is the ICDOC record?)

Phoenix's 1st place ribbon for Versatility,
love the national logo in place of the standard AKC logo.
Is that legal? Who cares, it's cute.

Home again, home again,
daffodils still blooming in cold, wet weather.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Random thoughts

Here they are, in no particular order. They might not even make much sense. They're just my thoughts, which frequently lack any kind of sense.

• Three weeks until Phoenix and I have another obedience trial. Lots of good time to train.

• Looking at the forecast, I should probably forget training and start building an ark.

• I will build a training room in my ark.

• Why is there 3 weeks worth of laundry in the basement when I was only gone 4 days?

• I need to make a serious effort to help Phoenix understand the importance of making effort. When he does, he's brilliant. Our Utility run at nationals had a marked lack of effort. Six hours later, our Versatility run had a fair amount of effort. Why does it come and go?

• I will have some pics from nationals to post if I ever get them off my camera.

• I got a new camera, a Nikon D3000. It's an upgrade from my little point and shoot, which I'll still use for video.

• I don't have a clue about downloading pics from the Nikon. That is my project for tomorrow. I can justify doing it at work because I will be using this camera for work, too, so need to learn how to use it.

• We put down grub control stuff on the lawn. Now I have to keep the dogs off the treated area for 3 days or until we get a good rain. Which we are getting now. Good thing, because the Belgians took a dim view of being leash-walked in their own yard.

• Between the lawn grubs and the moles eating the grubs and the dogs trying to dig up the moles, our lawn was a trainwreck last year. I'm going to re-seed it soon. Honestly, why am I trying to grow grass that is only going to make more work? At least you don't have to mow bare dirt!

• People often say dogs don't like obedience but after working at the all-breed agility trials at nationals for two days, there are a lot of dogs who don't really like agility either. Probably from the same reasons: confusion, fear, stress, boredom.

• Getting back to "effort": I need to make obedience training more challenging and creative. (Thought I was, but maybe not so much.) If you're bored with doing something, do you put a lot of effort into it?

• Jamie is down to 2.5 mg of prednisone every other day. Fingers crossed, after two weeks I can take him off of it completely and control his IBD with a restricted diet alone. After living with the Prednisone Drama King for four months, this would be awesome.

• After having trials and/or other dog stuff the last 5 weekends in a row, I'm really looking forward to being home this weekend.

• I am going to clean out the garage this weekend. It's a filthy mess and that psycho black cat has too many places to hide in all the junk.

• Phoenix would like to help me clean the cats out of the garage.

• Not a chance buddy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Got home from Valparaiso around midnight last night. Or was it this morning? Hauled some stuff out of R2 and fell into bed. The Farmer pretended to be asleep but I'm pretty sure there's no way he could have slept through Phoenix telling his papa how HAPPY HE WAS TO BE HOME!

Obedience yesterday had its ups and down. Rally and obedience judging started at 8 a.m. There were two judges but only one ring. With practically dozens of classes, the schedule went south in a hurry. By the time we got into Utility, they were two hours behind. 

Utility didn't go so well. Nix missed a signal (lights were on, no one was home) and that pretty much described the rest of the run. Although he did LOVELY go-outs to wire ring stanchions which he's never seen before so it wasn't a total loss. Generalizing go-outs in new places is a gigantic leap for a green Utility dog.

As the day wore on, I debated about staying for Versatility, which was the second to last class of the day. We had a 5 hour drive ahead of us and looking at the judging schedule, I had (stupidly) calculated we could be on the road by 3 p.m. By 3 p.m., there were still about six classes left to judge. 

None of these classes were very big but being a national specialty, people entered every crazy class they could to show off their dogs. Who wouldn't? 

By 5 p.m., I thought about just cutting my losses and hitting the road. Then I figured it would be REALLY stupid (as opposed to only slightly stupid) to leave now since I'd already been waiting nearly six hours for Versatility. Might as well wait the final hour.

It was worth it. Phoenix worked like our morning Utility run had never happened and won the class with a 199 (a very generous 199, thank you Edree!) to finish his Versatility title. I have NO IDEA what the abbreviation is for that. Please tell me my dog does not have VD now.

We got on the road by 7 p.m. and were home by midnight.

I enjoyed watching 11 hours of obedience and rally. It was entertaining and enlightening to watch so many different malinois work. I've got some new ideas to try and met some fun new people.

Now if that stupid house elf would just show up and finishing unpacking so I can go back to bed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Live from Valparaiso!

Our hotel has "business center," so I am using it. For business. Obviously.

Here's how Mal Nationals are going to far. Hard to believe we'll be coming home tomorrow already.

Day 1: Cold and cloudy. I met Mom and Karene at the West Branch McDonald's to pick up Karene. I'd made it very clear we were meeting at West BRANCH. They were late. They'd gone to West LIBERTY, just a few miles down the road. Obviously I share this DNA. That goes a long way to explaining why Tammy and I ended up in Effingham a number of years ago. Karene and I made the rest of the 4 1/2 hour drive without getting lost once.

Day 2: Cold and sunny. Agility at Soccerville. Phoenix had an INCREDIBLE JWW run, it was amazingly awesome . . . but he dropped a bar. Got a Q in Std. on a very wild and reckless course. Still, only .5 second off 4th place in a big class so was very proud of the wild child.

Shopping is okay, not a lot of vendors but some fun stuff. Took both dogs for a long walk and worked a little obedience in the hotel parking lot.

Day 3: Cold and pouring rain. Agility at Soccerville. Again, Nix had an absolutely GORGEOUS JWW run with one bar down. Sigh. Who cares. It was still lovely and I ran it exactly as I planned and he was totally connected and responsive. Std. was . . . um . . . let's just say the wheels fell off early . . . and often . . . how many off-course tunnels can one dog take?!?!?!

I was crated next to a gal with labs - all 3 flavors. She had her hand in a cast so of course I had to ask what happened. OMG, this is even better than Michele and Jeff's dual trip to the ER. She was throwing a stick (I think it was a big bumper) and when the dog brought it back, it tried to run between her legs. The stick/bumper was too long and the dog was holding it crossways, so obviously this wasn't going to work. She reached down and tried to grab it but the dog kept on going and long story short, when she tried to grab the stick, the dog's forward momentum stripped all the ligaments off her thumb. If the immobilizer doesn't help it heal, she'll have surgery to reattach the ligaments.

Those doggone labs are dangerous critters. Makes my malinois-inflicted bumps and bruises look pretty tame.

We packed up from the agility trial this afternoon and drove to the site where all the remaining nationals juding will be held, including tomorrow's obedience, to set up crate and chairs. It's at a very nice county fairgrounds. I THINK the building is heated but not holding my breath. Did I mention I can SEE my breath outdoors? April is truly masquerading as November.

We'll do Utility tomorrow morning and Versatility in the afternoon and hopefully be on the road for home by 3 or 4 p.m.

My "business" session is about to time out so that's all for now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pre-national stuff

This is the logo for Malinois nationals this year. It's kind of funny, when I think of Indiana I don't think "corn" but it's cute anyway. Beauty of the Beasts always does wonderful designs.

I love this year's theme: Spending Time Together. Isn't that the coolest part of dog sports - spending time with your dog(s) and your friends?

I'm no more packed than I was on Friday. I just have more piles and more lists. Lists of things to pack. Lists of things that need to get done before I leave. Lists of things to buy. At some point, I'm hoping these lists and piles magically morph into a vehicle that is packed and dogs that are groomed and ready to go.

Okay, Phoenix is groomed. Phoenix is always groomed. He got his semi-annual bath two weeks ago. I'll do nails, give him a cursory brushing and he's good to go.

Jamie got a bath last week. Could you hear the howls of protest? He got his paws trimmed over the weekend so he doesn't look homeless. His fur is growing back on his front legs and belly. It's about half grown back, at least no more bare skin. He looks good. Which is good, because he's probably not going to get any more grooming between now and Wednesday morning.

The JoAnne Brettschneider seminar over the weekend was very insightful. I got some new ideas to play with AFTER nationals - with 2 UD legs under our belt, changing things up all of a sudden is the last thing I want to do.

Our host hotel sent me a confirmation of my confirmation to confirm that I was still confirmed. Kinda silly but they had a link to the weather channel for Valparaiso weather this week: cool and wet. No surprise, since that's exactly what's forecast for here, too. Except there's no snow in the Valpo forecast, TG! And we're indoors for all venues this year. I think I'm still scraping mud off things after last year at Purina Farms.

Tomorrow I'm off work at noon and am taking R2 for his first oil change. Phoenix is coming with me and has already been cleared to hang out in the service lounge with me. Then we're going to train and do some shopping. Hopefully I can start checking things off lists!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Train like you show

I finally got a chance to sit down (well, not really a chance, I sit down a LOT) and give some thought to the training vs. showing issues I wrote about last week.

We all know our dogs perform better in the show ring if the ring and our behavior there doesn’t look dramatically different from the picture they see when we are training them.

That is one of those things that’s easier said than done.

Here are some things to consider.

1) Reinforcement - In training, we reinforce liberally and frequently with treats, toys, our voice and physically by petting or rough-housing with our dogs. In the ring, we are definitely restricted in the type of reinforcement we can give, as well as being limited in opportunities (between exercises only) to use the reinforcers we are allowed (voice and petting).

Training solution - Obviously, fade treats and toys from your body. Get rid of bait bags and toys hanging out of pockets that advertise “Got the goodies right here!” or “No goodies available!” Place them further and further from your training area and practice releasing your dog to them as a reward after sustained effort. Backchain parts of exercises, then entire exercises, before rewarding. Don’t create a dog with a huge sense of entitlement who expects to be rewarded for every little thing and becomes disappointed and disinterested when rewards are not forthcoming.

2) Environment - Most places we train are familiar sites and the people and dogs who may be training there are also familiar. Trials are held in brand new environments for the dog and they are full of new and unpredictable people and dogs. Our dogs may view this as the ultimate social experience or a new level of terror threat, depending in their personality.

Training solution - Train somewhere different - any new environment will do, just someplace your dog hasn’t been asked to work before. You don’t have to make a huge production of this to reap major benefits. Try some heeling or basic attention exercises on a sidewalk in a small town business district. Train at the local city park, fairground or shopping mall. If leash laws allow, take jumps and ring gates to a park and set up a partial ring. (If you have enough toys to set up an entire regulation ring, I want to come train with you!) Do obedience exercises around agility equipment (this seriously freaked Phoenix out earlier this week - he was absolutely dysfunctional when I asked for signals in the middle of a course that was set up at our club’s outdoor facility.)

3) Timing - When you train, you control the timing of everything you do. In the ring, you are responding to the judge’s commands and can’t do any part of an exercise without first being given a command. Some judges are very brisk, others are slower. You may have a lot of down time between exercises or hardly any at all.

Training solution - Get friends to call heeling and run you through different exercises. Have them carry a clipboard and act impatient. Practice moving smoothly and confidently from one exercise to the next without feeling hurried or flustered. There used to be a cassette tape called The Invisible Judge or something like that, that called commands for different levels of obedience. I’m sure it’s been reproduced on CD by now, if you look hard enough.

4) Pressure/expectations - In training, there’s nothing “on the line.” It’s just training at the club or wherever. Sure, you want it to go well but you won’t “get” anything for it. At a show, there’s the potential to “win,” get a leg or finish a title. There is always a level of achievement available.

Training solution - Switch your view of showing from “We have to qualify today” to “This is a wonderful chance to see what we can do as a team today.” Take the pressure off yourself by changing your focus - instead of thinking about winning, think about seeing improvement in your handling or reducing your dog’s stress.

5) Performance anxiety - This is sort of like pressure/expectations. There isn’t a great deal of anxiety in training because there’s always the assurance you can work on a training issue until it’s resolved or at least until you feel you’re making progress. And you haven’t paid a $25 entry fee to do it, either! But in the ring, there are no do-overs, you have to get it right the first time.

Training solution - Ask yourself, “What is the absolutely worst thing that can happen if we fail this class today?” Believe me, there are worse things than not Q-ing at an obedience trial. Remind yourself, too, that it is an honor to go into the ring with your dog in the first place. There’s always next weekend!

6) Audience - Most of us train by ourselves or with friends we feel comfortable with. The comfort level is very high. Then we go into the ring and a judge is analyzing every move we make and strangers are watching!

Training solution - train in new places. You’d be surprised how many people stop to watch. It’s a great chance to practice “being in the zone” and ignoring everything else.

As usual, I’ve turned this into a novel. Hope it provided some food for thought. Phoenix and I are off to an obedience seminar with Joanne Brettschneider this weekend. My club is hosting her. Turnout has been smaller than we’d like, probably due to a number of other dog doings in the area at the same time.

Then on Wednesday we leave for Malinois nationals! It’s going to be a very busy weekend between the seminar and trying to do laundry, pack, etc. for the trip to Valparaiso, Ind. I’ve started packing but it’s more making piles of stuff than actual packing.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pics from the ICDOC trial

Thanks, Sheryl, for taking these.

I do NOT need a dental. Let me show you.

Hey lady, we just met and you're coming on a little strong.

Can we get scored for balance and poise?

Bouncing is good.
How about we do it instead of signals?

You sure are lucky you've got me
to find those articles you keep losing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 years ago today

Iowa City tornado
April 13, 2006
(Courtesy of the National Weather Service)

Aftermath of April 13, 2006 tornado in Iowa City
(Photo by Matthew Holst, Iowa City Press Citizen)

Today is the 5-year anniversary of the 2006 Iowa City tornado. I was teaching a Utility class at a friend's building at North Liberty, which is 4 miles north of Iowa City. It's the closest I've ever come to being "caught in a tornado."

The afternoon was clear and unusually warm for April. I watched the weather on TV before taking off for SueAnn's to train Jamie before class. Although there was a severe thunderstorm watch out for the area, there were no storm cells on radar. When I got to SueAnn's place, she came out and said there was a line of thunderstorms to the west that would bear watching.

What? Thirty minutes ago, there'd been nothing. They'd formed that fast. With assurances SueAnn would monitor the weather, I worked Jamie and started class.

We were about half way through class when the sky started to darken. Being seasoned Midwesterners, all of my students took turns being self-appointed sky watchers and peeking out the door. The wind kicked up and it began to rain. So far, so good.

Then the hail started. Hail sounds awful, no matter how big it is. Even little pea-sized stuff sounds like buckshot. This hail sounded like someone was dropping bowling balls on the roof. I'd give up any attempt at instruction, since no one could hear themselves think, and we were all sort of milling around, cringing at the racket.

Then Tracy, who was stationed by the door, pulled her head back inside and being the professional she is, calmly announced, "SueAnn says ya'll need to get in her basement There's a tornado on the ground and it's headed this way."

We all heard that just fine.

We bolted from the building and sprinted the short distance from the training building to the house. I would say we did this with "dogs in tow" but to be honest, the dogs were leading the pack, especially Jamie who takes a very dim view of any sort of severe weather.

Did I mention it was still hailing? Did I mention the hail was about the size of quarters? Do you know what it feels like to get hit with a hailstone the size of a quarter? Take a large ice cube, cut jagged edges on it and then have someone throw it at you as hard as you can. Then have them throw about 25 ice cubes at a time and you'll come close. I had welts on the back of my neck and arms. Jamie, being covered with thick fur, fared better.

There were about 8 of us and all our dogs, plus SueAnn and her boxers, hiding in the basement. Fortunately, she has a very nice, large, clean, well-lit basement and we were very comfortable there. Jamie still thought death was imminent. Tracy fed him hot dogs and tried to convince him otherwise. He was fine as long as the hot dogs held out. I decided if I had to chose people to hide from a tornado with, I would definitely choose dog friends.

We listened to the local radio station, which was broadcasting one National Weather Service bulletin after another. There were multiple tornadoes that evening, including the one (classified as a strong EF2) that tore up a good section of Iowa City. It seemed like just as one tornado watch was canceled, another one was issued.

Fortunately, none came any closer to us. When we emerged from the basement an hour later, I totally expected to find broken windows and huge dents in my van. Amazingly - nothing. The only dents were in my skin. Just a few miles to the south, there was considerable destruction.

When I finally got home that evening, the Farmer was sound asleep. I woke him up. He'd slept through the whole thing. Apparently the line of storms had formed practically right over our house, about 20 miles west of Iowa City, then moved eastward, strengthening as they went.

Ya gotta love spring in Iowa.

But I really don't want to hide in anyone's basement again. Especially ours. It's not nearly as nice as SueAnn's.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Awesome weekend!

Okay, this pic isn't from this weekend. It's from Phoenix's 1st UD leg at DeWitt. Thanks, Sheryl, for capturing him doing what is probably his very most favorite exercise.

Then the Skinny Little Dog went and got UD leg #2 at the ICDOC trials at Amana over the weekend! Not only that, we tied for 2nd place in a class of 30 dogs. We lost the run-off (against Joanne Johnson) but honestly, I don't care! It felt so good to have everything come together and I think I could actually hear our teamwork clicking. Or maybe that was Nix's teeth, since there was a great deal of leaping and bouncing and sleeve grabbing between exercises.

It was a 3-day trial. Utility on Friday went very badly. We both seemed out of sync and at odds with each other. I wouldn't say nothing good came of that run because it really highlighted the need to for me to make him understand how important giving EFFORT is. Even if he makes a mistake, if he's trying, that's all I want.

Utility on Saturday was entirely different. Phoenix was all business, acted like he'd been doing this Utility stuff for years. Fronts and finishes were about 50/50 and yeah, there are always things that need work, but I was so totally proud of him. THIS was the dog I trained! (Sometimes the dog I trained disappears when I go in the ring - I think the fairies steal him. But they always bring him back.)

Sunday went awesome right up until the last exercise: scent discrimination. Just as he got out to the pile, a group of Open B people left for group stays and walked by our ring. Apparently people doing a mass exodus from the building was the most fascinating thing Phoenix has ever seen in his life. He froze in the pile, staring at the people going out the door. Then he forgot what he was doing. Total. Absolute. Space-out.

He stared at me. I stared at him. He stared at me. I stared at the mats, the jumps, the wall, the article pile and the judge. The judge stared at me. Finally, he shrugged. I gave a second command to find it. Phoenix looked at me like, "Oh! Yeah! Articles! Right! I get it now!" And he did. Good boy.

Our mistakes over the weekend were green Utility dog mistakes. I knew going into it that I had not exposed him to working in enough different environments where distractions might not be aimed directly at him but would be distracting nonetheless. We'll find some flying monkeys to train with this week.

It was a learning weekend, another leg in the journey.

And I am super proud of all my "agility friends" (sorry for the stereotype, you know who you are) who came to play obedience games for three days and finished Rally Novice, Beginner Novice and Novice A titles. Carrie/Addie, Michele/Packer, Barb/Coz and Marsha/Vinnie, you guys rock!

And there was great pie, too, from the gal who catered our food.

Hopefully, more trial pics coming soon.

And in spite of the predictions of dire weather all weekend, the tornadoes, hail and high wind happened to the west and the east of us, leaving us unscathed (except for the 85 degree high on Sunday, which was just plain freaky, it's only April for pete's sake).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Flying monkey follow-up

Thanks, everyone, for comments and e-mails about yesterday's post.

Some excellent points, to summarize:

A) Dogs do not generalize well; even though they may be brilliant in a familiar environment, that does not automatically extend to different environments. (This is hard for humans to grasp, as we generalize very easily.)

B) Our job as trainers is not only to teach a skill but to show the dog that performance of that skill is expected to be consistent in a variety of environments. In other words, a down signal means the same thing in the back yard, the shopping mall, when someone is petting the dog and in the show ring.

C) Proofing is essential in creating that understanding and confidence so your dog doesn't have a total meltdown in the ring under demanding circumstances.

D) Proof realistically. Don't overwhelm your dog. Build on success. The goal is to equip the dog to make correct decisions, not set him up to fail.

E) For an occasional training challenge, find a totally new environment and have a "run-through" type training session. Don't set up any deliberate proofs beyond simply doing each exercise as it would be performed in a trial. Watch how your dog reacts simply to the stress of working around new sights and smells that aren't interfering with him in any way.

Having said all that, yesterday after work, Phoenix and I went to a friend's building to train. We hadn't been at this building for a long time, nearly 6 months. I wanted to work some specific issues - namely alternating directed retrieves with directed jumping. The building was quiet. No one else was there. I thought it was practically a sterile environment.

And Phoenix made all sorts of crazy, insane errors. Ironically, they weren't what I expected (doing go-outs to glove corners or not doing them at all because of confusion - which happened at Sunday's trial). They were the sort of sloppy errors that happen when his brain is clearly only half focused on the job at hand and half focused on interesting smells on the mats.

It was a great session because it showed the weak spots in our training, which was exactly what I wanted. Then we had time to work on them. I didn't do anything to deliberately try to mess him up. The "new" environment, full of wonderful smells, did a fine job of that.

So I made some timely corrections, insisted he play with me (well, that wasn't too hard) and I came away from the session feeling good about our progress. Phoenix came away from it with a happy attitude in spite of having been corrected (doG, I HATE that word, it sounds so harsh and is so often equated with physical punishment - to me, a correction is showing the dog what he did wrong and how to be right) for a variety of errors, mostly lack of effort on his part. He was also generously rewarded for making the right decisions.

This afternoon, we're going to the local outlet mall to train a bit. It's a wonderful place for spontaneous distractions as people go in and out of stores or walk past with shopping bags and baby strollers.

I look forward to going to the mall because it means SPRING IS HERE (i.e., it's warm enough to train outdoors without fear of frost bite AND they've swept all the salt and sand off the sidewalks.)

At some point, I hope to write more about the train like you show/show like you train conundrum.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Get rid of with the flying monkeys

The question on most trainers' minds after any given trial weekend is, "Why did he/she do that?" Why did we get no-sits and go-outs to glove corners and walk-ins on recalls and Heaven only knows what other clever things our dogs came up with that they have NEVER EVER been allowed or encouraged or rewarded for doing in training?

I have some thoughts on this. I have NO IDEA how valid they are. But they're bouncing around in my head and I want to throw this out and see what you guys think.

Point A: The "experts" say we should make training look like showing and vice versa. I agree with the experts. In order to get a dog who understands his job and can perform it with the utmost willingness in the ring, showing cannot look drastically different from training (once you're past the point of teaching the individual skills) or the dog will think it is something totally new and weird and behave accordingly. This is dramatically illustrated when a trainer who works constantly with bait bag on her belt enters the ring cookie-less.

Point B: In order to keep obedience fun and refreshing, we come up with a million creative things to do with our dogs in training to challenge their minds. Everyone would agree this is necessary.

So we do bounces, touches and spins on heeling. We release to jackpots. We let our dogs chase us, chase food and bite toys for recalls. We sit on the ground and do signals. We throw gloves all over, then send the dog on a go-out. I've scattered scent articles over, under and on a lawn chair and asked Phoenix to "find it." I've had friends race him to his dumbbell. He's worked with toys scattered all over the ring and a friend offering him treats every turn. This has all been very fun and good.

Then we go into the show ring and IT LOOKS NOTHING LIKE TRAINING.

Sometimes I think in my eternal pursuit of "new, fresh, challenging, motivating, fun, happy, make-him-think" stuff to do in training, I've totally neglected the bare essentials of teaching my dog to work when there is nothing but me, him and the judge in the ring and no one or no thing is deliberately trying to distract or confuse him. It's almost as if the lack of distraction is overwhelmingly distracting.

When using a lot of creative proofing, I've always thought, "If I make things harder in training, they'll seem easy by comparison when we show."

Honestly, I'm not seeing this.

Maybe it's just our current stage of training.

Maybe I haven't found the magic thread that will pull everything together.

Maybe I'll read this post in five years and laugh and wonder what I was fussing about.

Whatever it is, last weekend I truly felt like I had neglected to train the simple ability to walk into a ring and perform without any flying monkeys.

Don't get me wrong - proofing is definitely valuable and will always be part of my training tool box. But throughout Phoenix's Open career and now two trials into the infancy of his Utility career, I sometimes wonder if I've made things harder than they need to be.

Time will tell.

One of my goals for this year is definitely to blur the line between training and showing. On the surface, that sounds so simple. If you've done it, you know it's anything but. That's going to be a post by itself and I welcome any input!

Happy training!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

DeWitt trial, Day 2

Good thing we rocked yesterday cuz today we kinda stunk up the place.

Phoenix had a bit of an attitude. 


Not sure where it came from. We did gloves and articles okay, although nothing to write home about. Heeling wasn't brilliant either but we managed to get through the signals until the "come" signal. Which he'd never seen before. Ever. In his life. Obviously. He sat there with his ears on his head and gave me the "Do WHAT? No, I can't possibly do that." look.

Directed jumping was  . . . um . . . amusing? We had glove #1 earlier and guess where Phoenix went on his first go-out? Yup. Glove #1 corner. 

He did a great job of taking the jump on the far side of the ring, so I was happy about that.

When I sent him on his second go-out, he had obviously never heard THAT command, either. Go? Where? Me? Now? How about I just sit here? I think he was struggling with some confusion from the previous go-out and decided to err on the side of caution and just not go.

The moving stand was last and it went great until the return, when he tried to do walk-in. Nope, we're not practicing that in the ring! I gave a second command and got a nice brisk finish. 

So all was not lost. It certainly wasn't a Q but it probably taught me more about my dog and what he needs in terms of training than if we had Q'd and I'd pardoned all his little quirks in a rush of euphoria.

I need to study our video, especially ME. Although today's less than stellar performance was definitely a TEAM problem, I know I don't act in the ring like I act in training and I know Phoenix is very sensitive to my emotions and reads body language extremely well. So I may be CAUSING part of the problem . . . although I suspect we're both responsible on lots of different levels. Welcome to Utility!

Time to re-group for next weekend. I've got 3 nights to train before our next trial so need to get a plan to make the most of our time. Not expecting miracles but want to keep progress moving in the right direction so we can have a positive experience next time we go in the ring.

Today, the roast beef sandwiches and Dutch apple pie were excellent.

National Weather Service just issued a tornado watch for us, radar shows a severe thunderstorm headed our way. Gotta sign off and shut the computer down before Mother Nature does it for me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

DeWitt trial, Day 1

Thanks, everyone, for your good luck wishes and positive thoughts. They worked. 


I am so wonderfully proud of the Skinny Little Dog!

First exercise was the Directed Retrieve, Glove #2. This is a pretty good glove for us, no tricky turn. Phoenix did a great job, ran out, clean pick up, straight back, good front and finish.

Next was the Signal Exercise. It's always so hard for me to judge my own heeling but it felt pretty good. And he did a super job on the signals, looked confident and focussed. It helped that the judge heeled us almost up to the jumps before having us stand!

After that was the Directed Jumping. I set him up and marked him to his spot. Wasn't sure he'd actually marked it, so marked him to it again. And off he went! Yee-haw! No! Wait! Come back! Judge gave me the hairy eyeball and I tried to look repentant. Phoenix did not look repentant. His go-outs were AWESOME! I am so proud of this dog! Fronts and finishes were a little sloppy but ask me if I cared!

Then the Open A folks went back into the ring next to us for awards. People were screaming and clapping. The judge asked me if I'd like to wait until they were done. It's not fair that your dog has to work through it and no one else dog had to, he said. What a thoughtful guy. I said okay, let's wait. BAD DECISION even though it seemed like a good one at the time.

We stood there and Phoenix totally deflated. I tried getting him to do some little tricks but he wasn't having any part of it. Hindsight being what it is, I should have just worked him through it. He would have thought the applause was for him anyway.

So off we went in a funk to do the Moving Stand. The heeling, stand and exam were rock solid but he walked in on the return. Yikes. That was ugly.

Last exercise was Scent Discrimination. I tried marking him to the pile. He didn't want to look at it. He didn't want to look at me. Not sure what was going on in his little brain. I figured when I sent him he wouldn't have a clue what he was doing  . . . but I was wrong. Again. He did a lovely job with both articles, although he spit the first one out on my feet, then picked it up again.

So we got our first UD leg with a score of 191, 6 points off for the two major errors (walk in and dropped article.)

I am so proud of him I could just burst! He showed me exactly what I needed to see. He understands the concepts of each exercise. He can do them in a brand new place. (This was a lovely site for a green Utility dog, not too congested or busy.) But he is a little lacking in confidence. I saw some hesitation and unsureness. The only solution for that is lots of training in new places to build him up. And of course, the eternal fine tuning and polishing that never ends.

Here's the report for the rest of the crew:

Carrie and Addie got their 1st CD leg with a 196 to win Novice A. AWESOME!

SueAnn and Willow got their 1st CDX leg!

Becky and Ninya got leg #3 to finish their CD!

Michelle and Cider were rather crazed in Utility. For a minute, it looked like she was showing Cougar. They got out of the ring without breaking anything.

Sharon and Rudy got UDX leg #1!

Johnette and Rufus gave it the ol' college try in Open A. Pam and Chance and Mary and Rowdy gave it the ol' college try in Utility A. They got all their bugs out today and will rock tomorrow.

And the pecan pie from the concession stand was awesome.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Let the games begin

Tomorrow Phoenix and I debut in Utility. I'm excited! Utility has always been my favorite class to train for, show in and teach. I think it's because my first Utility dog, Jess, was so insane and loved it so much and it left a lasting imprint on my mind - Utility rocks. Plus I really like the whole instant gratification of knowing that you either passed or you didn't when your run is over, no agonizing wait for sits and downs.

I haven't shown in Utility for 4 years. Yikes! Jamie retired from regular obedience in the early summer of 2007. Wow. That was a long time ago. Phoenix will be the first dog I've shown in Utility since the rules changed so every exhibitor gets the same glove on the Directed Retrieve. No more obsessing about which glove we'll get - it will be posted ring side along with the order of exercises.

Are Phoenix and I ready? Yes! I think one of the reasons I'm looking forward to showing tomorrow is because I don't care if we Q. My goal for the weekend is to find what exercises Phoenix can generalize and perform with confidence in a new environment. Utility is a class that demands a lot of training in new places around new distractions to really hone the dog's focus. We've done a little of that but I'm looking forward to warm weather and hauling jumps and ring gates all over the place.

So we'll go in the ring tomorrow and do our best. No pressure. No setting myself up for unrealistic expectations. He's young. He's green. He's also freaking brilliant in training, a creative thinker and a clever problem solver. I can't wait to see where our teamwork takes us. If we Q, awesome! If we don't, we train some more and try it again.

Plus I have friends showing in every single class from Novice A to Utility B. Good luck to everyone showing at DeWitt this weekend: Michele/Cider, Carrie/Addie, Tracy/Rogue, Pam/Chance, Paula/Petra, Johnette/Rufus, SueAnn/Willow and Becky/Ninya (I think?) and anyone else I might have missed.

And the concession stand has the most amazing homemade pie . . .