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.