Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Agility video & post-snark followup

Here's our best run from the weekend. The boy does love his JWW courses - no stinkin' contacts or tables to make a fellow stop.

Referencing one of the comments on yesterday's post, someone asked what I do with Phoenix after he's blown up because someone's dog got in his face.

The first, and possibly most important thing is that I don't scold him for it. His reactivity includes a lot of sound and fury with gnashing teeth. It sounds and looks horrible but it's just a warning. If I punish him for giving that warning, pretty soon he's going to skip the warning and cut straight to the chase, which would probably be a full-fledged bite of the offending dog. Phoenix is big, strong and fast. If he meant to chomp another dog, he would do it.

I'm fine with him warning other dogs away. He's sending a message that says "I do not like you, your behavior is inappropriate, I'm very uncomfortable, go away now."

Beyond that, the first thing I do is to get Phoenix safely out of the area and away from the other dog who has probably either realized the error of his ways and run screaming or decided to bring it on. That dog is not my problem. Let the owner deal with him.

Then I focus on getting Phoenix calmed down. He usually settles pretty quickly with quiet words and stroking. I'll give cookies if I have them. Even though I probably have a tug leash or a toy with me, I'd prefer not to use them because that's just amping up his adrenaline level, which is not what I want after an altercation.

Then it's back to business ASAP. I don't want to stay focused on the incident and I want to get his brain back in a happy place where he's thinking about me and what our job is at the time - practicing obedience, getting ready to run agility, continuing our walk, whatever.

Thanks to everyone who left comments yesterday. I think we've become a society where any canine behavior that deviates from obviously (and frequently obnoxiously) "friendly" is immediately labeled "aggressive" and many folks truly do not understand how dogs relate and react to one another.

The journey continues. Hugs to everyone making that journey with a dog who isn't afraid to speak his mind.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Watch your manners - and your dog

Can I fly around on my broomstick for a couple of minutes? I really debated about writing this post but it's something that needs saying and it applies to every single person who does dog sports, no matter the breed, the venue or your level of experience.

When I started training dogs through the local 4-H program about a hundred years ago, the very first thing the instructor told us on the first night of class was “Watch your dog.” Pretty sound advice for a bunch of teenagers with a bunch of barely socialized farm dogs.

Such a simple lesson.

So why don’t we — as adults — do it?

In the last two weekends, I’ve had three separate incidences of dogs getting in Phoenix’s face. None of these dogs were being aggressive but Phoenix didn’t know that. Each time he was on leash, under control, minding his own business and all of a sudden - WHAM! There’s a dog invading his personal space! One was loose (approached straight on at a dead run), one (on lead) buried its nose under his tail and another dog (also on lead) leaped up to put his paws on Phoenix’s head.

His reaction was predictable and it wasn’t pretty. Instant fangs and snarls. Whirling and snapping. The kind of noise that has everyone around stopping to stare to see who’s getting killed. The kind that has me elevating his head and hauling him away on his back legs and body blocking the damn dog who came out of nowhere because its owner wasn’t paying any attention and is now wondering why the malinois wants to kill it.

Only it never comes to that because A) I AM watching my dog and B) Phoenix doesn’t really want to kill the offending dog, he just wants it to GO AWAY.

Unlike my previous dogs, who all came with varying degrees of doggie diplomacy, Phoenix has zero tolerance for strange dogs who get in his face. I’m not talking about dogs who approach him quietly and calmly when I’ve given him permission to go sniff. He’ll happily wag his tail and make nice for a brief greeting (he doesn’t need to develop lasting relationships). I’m talking about the SURPRISE IN YOUR FACE dog who comes out of nowhere because its owner has no idea what’s happening on the other end of the leash. I have a reactive dog and I know he’s not the only one. There were a number of dust-ups at a very crowded trial site this weekend and I know one handler got bitten.

In all three of our instances over the last two weekends, Phoenix was engaged and working with me when it happened. In two of them, we were waiting in line for an agility run, practicing attention and tricks. By their very nature, agility trials are crowded and congested. Basic courtesy dictates keeping your dog's nose to himself.

One lady’s dog was walking at the end of a 6-foot leash at the end of her outstretched arm. All was fine and good until the dog (8 feet away from its owner) decided to sniff Phoenix’s butt. While he was sitting at heel. Watching me. With his back turned to the offending dog. Until a nose rooted under his tail. To say that didn’t go over well would be an understatement. I remember the look of irritation on the woman’s face when I whirled around with my dog and saw her dog at the end of its leash, still trying to sniff Phoenix who was going off like a Roman candle.

The second agility incident happened, again, while we were in line for a run, minding our own business. A fellow stopped to visit some friends crated nearby. Pretty soon his dog wandered over and got in Phoenix’s face. Fireworks ensued.

I’ve quit apologizing for my dog roaring like a demon from hell when he’s taken unawares. Should I apologize because someone else wasn’t paying attention to what his or her dog was doing? Yes, my dog is reactive and yes, I am sorry this happened. But know what? He’s not going to bother your dog if you keep your dog out of his face. It’s that simple.

It scares the crap out of me every time it happens. Then I always feel guilty, like I should have seen the offending dog coming and done something to prevent the snarkiness. (Actually, I spend quite a bit of time watching over my shoulder and have, upon occasion, yelled at people to please keep their dog way. Then I feel guilty for being such a crab. But I’d rather be crabby than break up a dog fight.)

Lots of people believe in a Walt Disney-esque vision of performance events where all dogs love one another and frolic happily together through the day. Of course this is unrealistic. Tension, stress and adrenaline levels can turn a simple sniff into a outright challenge.

Please. Watch your dog. It doesn’t matter how friendly it is. Or that it just wants to say hi. I don’t want anyone to get hurt - my dog, your dog, me or you.

Okay, parking my broomstick now.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hair - good, bad and ugly

So I got my hair cut last week.

My stylist took off 4 inches.

This was a mildly traumatic event for me because it represented change and once I got past 40, I discovered I do not embrace change with the same enthusiasm I used to.

But when it came to hair, I really needed a change. I tend to get in hair style ruts and once I find something that works, it’s hard to convince me to change. Nope. Not good with change at all. Don't even get me started on my continuing quest to find the perfect hair color.

It was all Jamie’s fault. Again.

Seriously. The Big Red Dog has had more impact on my hair style (or lack thereof) over the last 12 1/2 years than any vagaries of fashion.

When I got Jamie in the fall of 1999, I had long wavy hair that spent most of its life in a pony tail because I wasn’t really given to messing with it. You say “styling.” I say “messing.”

Jamie was a very cuddly puppy (12 1/2 years later, at 60 pounds, he’s still very cuddly) and I spent a lot of time holding him in my arms. He would snuggle up, put his muzzle under my ear, then with a quick snap and grab, he would yank the scrunchie right out of my pony tail. OUCH! A little of that went a long way.

That was the first inspiration to get my hair cut short. I went short. Shorter. Shortest. I look at our HIT pic from Terv nationals in 2004 and holy buckets, I think my hair was shorter than the Farmer’s!

Then a year ago, when Jamie was so sick and we were still chasing the IBD diagnosis, I was overdue to have my hair trimmed but during that horrible month, it seemed like all I had time for were trips to the emergency vet. Once things settled down and Jamie was on the mend, my very short hair had gone into business for itself. It didn’t look too bad. It looked okay. In fact, I kind of liked it. OMG, I wanted long hair again. What was I thinking?

And so I spent the next 12 months growing out my short layers. Fortunately, I’m one of those people who has relatively fast growing hair. There were a few months that were kind of scary (have you ever seen gravity defiant layers being grown out? I swear they were growing horizontally, NOT a good look) but by January of this year, I had shoulder length hair again.

I liked it. For about a week.

Then it made me crazy. It was everywhere it shouldn’t be. It was in my face. It was in my mouth. I’m used to picking dog hair out of everything - my breakfast, my toothbrush, the refrigerator - and it doesn’t bother me a bit but I drew the line at picking HUMAN hair out of the same things. Ewww. Yuck. Gross.

And so the crisis begin. I needed short hair again.

How short? What style? Go back to the short layers? But I’d had that style for years. Try something new? Oh lord, change. I can’t deal. My co-workers were very helpful, offering suggestions on styles that would be “adorable” and “super cute.”

Hmmm. I’m not really an adorable, super cute kind of gal.

When all was said and done, my stylist cut my now-all-one-length-no-longer-layered hair in a bob. Okay. Fine. Good. Low maintenance. Cute enough for who it’s for.

Then she started with the hair goop. Oops, product. She moussed, gelled, scrunched, spritzed and blow dried on the lowest, slowest speed I’ve ever seen a hair dryer produce. I’m used to blasting my head with my trusty old Conair on high. It could blow a pomeranian off a grooming table. More hair goop. More spray. More scrunching.

In the time it took her to style this new cut, I could have taken the dogs out, fed them, showered, dressed and eaten breakfast.

The result was . . . um . . . amazing. I was impressed. Truly. It looked super. It didn’t move. I could have gotten hit by a tornado and that hair would not have moved a fraction. It was kind of scary on a lot of different levels.

There was no way in hell I was going to be able to replicate that look the next morning. But then, I didn’t plan on spending more than five minutes on it, either.

That was a week ago. I’ve mastered slooooow blow drying to retain natural curl and ventured into minimal application of hair goop and the results are acceptable. I’ll probably stick with this style for awhile. I really don’t want to have to deal with change again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Odds and ends

A dear friend shared this with me and it is so totally perfect for dog sports I had to post it. Oh yeah. We are so there, somewhere in that snarled up part but heading the right direction.

In other news, well, there really isn't any other news. I'm looking forward to our first agility trial of the year this weekend. Of course Phoenix doesn't know it's the first trial of the year but from the human standpoint, there is a sort of ceremonial element to it. We haven't trialed in nearly two months so I anticipate a few yee-haw moments on course.

You'd think by now I would have changed my header pic to something reflecting the appropriate season but A) this had been a really weird, warm, dry winter and believe me, there's no photogenic snow around here, just half melted, re-frozen dirty snow and muck and razor sharp ice, and B) I really, really, really like the pic I took last autumn. It's all warm and sunny and happy. So it will probably stay until spring.

Phoenix has reverted to a couple of bored-dog-in-the-house behaviors - mostly, stealing ink pens and crunching them up. I don't know where he's getting them but I've taken 3 away from him in the last week. He was chomping on one a few nights ago, I called him, he brought it to me, I took it . . . and the ink cartridge broke just as he dropped it in my hand. Timing is everything.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Michael Ellis seminar

At this point, it's totally in the planning stage - like trying to find a date that works stage.

A friend mentioned back in December that her Schutzhund group is trying to bring Michael to the Iowa area (might not specifically be IN Iowa) for an obedience seminar some time in the summer of 2012.

That's all I know at this point but will be happy to post details when they emerge.

Wow, this is a record-setting short post.

Have a great day!

Stopping writing now.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Too much of a good thing

My experiences with Phoenix over the weekend at the conditioning seminar got me to thinking about a lot more than just the technical stuff we learned (and there was a LOT of it!)

Phoenix was essentially 55 pounds of opposition reflex while we were supposed to be practicing the stretching and massaging techniques. Basically, this meant when I applied pressure to move one of his limbs in a certain direction, he applied counter pressure to hold it in place.

Part of it was probably due to his discomfort level. He’s not into casually relaxing on the floor when there are strange dogs doing unpredictable things nearby.

But then I started thinking about all the different ways I use opposition reflex in training. Poor guy - he probably thought he was SUPPOSED to resist. Clearly he didn’t understand the context of what we were doing.

Here are just a few of the ways I use opposition reflex in obedience. In each instance, the goal is for my dog to actively resist being moved and to work (make effort) at staying in the position I’ve asked for.

Sometimes I will do the pushing or pulling. Sometimes a training partner does it. The goal is never to push or shove the dog totally out of position, just get him to respond to gently increasing physical pressure and work to maintain his position.

When introducing opposition reflex exercises or “pressure stays,” reward your dog immediately for the slightest resistance. Go slowly and you’ll be able to feel the instant he resists. That's the light bulb moment. As the dog shows understanding, increase the pressure. It’s not about how hard you can pull, it’s about your dog understanding his job (watch, sit, heel, etc.)

• With dog sitting in heel position and watching, gently try to push his head out of position (push sideways on the head or muzzle)

• With dog sitting in heel position and watching, use several fingers to gently try to push his muzzle down. The idea is the dog will push back against your fingers as he works to maintain his “watch.”

• Stand-stay: with dog standing, push the gently sideways on his shoulders, push backward on his chest, push forward on his rump; from in front, use a leash and apply pressure forward at different angles (when using a leash to apply pressure, always work on a buckle collar and keep the leash parallel to the floor)

• Sit-stay: again, push dog sideways, forward and backward ; try lifting the front legs. For dogs who know how to shake, try moving their legs by putting pressure on the backs of their elbows, not their paws, which they may interpret as a “shake” cue

• Heeling: attach a long-line to the dog’s collar and have a training partner try to gently pull the dog out of heel position while you are in motion. Praise and reward effort by the dog to stay in position, even if it's not perfect. It’s a laugh out loud moment when you see your dog glance at your training partner as if to say, “Would you STOP that, I’m heeling here!”

There are probably other examples, too, but these were the first that came to mind.

I think some dogs are naturally wired for strong opposition reflex while others will respond to the slightest pressure by moving immediately away from it. Phoenix is clearly of the former mindset while my shelties and Jamie fell into the latter category.

There aren't any corrections. If your dog moves when you push on him, just set him up again and reduce the amount of pressure you’re using so he can realistically be successful.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The year of the seminar

First things first - I was supposed to be helping with a ring-rental fun match at my club this morning but obviously I am not. A light glaze of ice on everything and freezing mist in the air when I went out with the dogs at 6 a.m. convinced me that trying to skate to Iowa City was not a good idea.

Okay, seminars.

I am not a seminar junkie but you couldn't guess it by looking at my calendar this year. A conditioning seminar and two obedience seminars (Bridget Carlson and Denise Fenzi) are on my list, with the outside chance of a Michael Ellis seminar, pending timing and finances.

Yesterday Phoenix and I spent the day at a canine conditioning and fitness seminar in Muscatine. It was interesting in both material and the way Phoenix reacted to it. I know I need to get a better plan for pre- and post-run routines at trials since what I've been doing is probably the bare minimum in terms of preparing my dog to run safely.

First, the material was great. The presenter (Dr. Laurie McCauley, from TOPS, Grays Lake, Ill.) covered in-depth techniques for warm ups, cool downs and massage for canine athletes, all aimed at preventing injuries. Lecture was mixed with hands-on practice on our own dogs.

This is where things got interesting.

Phoenix did not want to be stretched. He did not want to be massaged. He was clearly out of his comfort zone being asked to lie down (be vulnerable) in close proximity to a bunch of dogs he didn't know. He was so tense it was difficult to do many of the manuevers. Gradually he relaxed but I don't think he really enjoyed it, probably because of the environment (which he perceived as stressful) and I was doing a lot of fumbling and odd things to his back, legs and feet (which he perceived as unnecessary - remember, he is the dog who sees things in black and white: good, fun, right, normal, okay vs. weird, odd, wrong, bad).

He wanted to work.

During the stationary work (stretching, massage), he was . . . um . . . contrary. I asked him to roll left, he rolled right. I asked him to stand up, he laid down. I asked him to face away from me, he stuck his head between my knees. Well, you get the picture. By about 2 p.m., he was thoroughly fed up with being fussed over.

But at breaks or when we did more active work, he lit up. Ears came up, tail came up, eyes were bright and engaged. Going out on the floor to do heelwork or retrieves, he was in his element. THAT was what he wanted to do. YES! That's what I want to take in the obedience ring soon! Sure, I would like him to be more relaxed and compliant when I stretch him out or massage him (we've done a small amount of this but clearly not to the degree we experienced yesterday) but I was happy to see that he clearly thought his job was working, not the touchy-feely stuff.

Toward the end of the day we were able to do more physically active exercises like cavalettis and ladders and he enjoyed those very much, especially working with exercise balls, which was a new concept for him. Plus we learned several tricks and exercises that very much resemble things we already do in obedience training. I think Phoenix breathed a sigh of relief - finally, something he understood!

Due to a weather delay the seminar didn't start until 10 a.m. and it ran until 7 p.m., which was a pretty long day. By the end of it, I was pretty sure I needed to quit my job so I would have time to do all the stretching, massaging and strength and endurance conditioning - let alone training - Dr. McCauley suggested for keeping my dog competing safely. I hope the Farmer will understand.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sniff, sniff, sniff

Here's Jamie at a tracking workshop back in his glory days.

Today's post is kind of silly but I haven’t written about Jamie in a while. 

Jamie has an incredible nose.

It’s really a shame I didn’t work harder to get his TDX because he loves to use his nose.

At 12 1/2, he can’t hear diddly squat any more and doesn’t see as well as he used to but let me tell ya, he doesn’t miss any sniffers.

His best talent is alerting on new scents. He orients on anything that is different from the day-to-day norm at our house and there’s no stopping him until he’s got the new scent inspected and categorized. 

He is REALLY good at sniffing out different stuff on me. This occasionally leads to awkward situations but I have learned through the years that he is just very good at detecting anything that doesn’t fall within the parameters of how he thinks I should “normally” smell.

Oddly, very few of the scents he obsesses about are food oriented (although he’s a champion at finding treats in pockets). 

Any new lip balm or toothpaste is guaranteed to get a reaction. Wearing new clothing for the first time draws him like a magnet, even if it’s been laundered. Using new dish soap? He’ll practically stick his head in the sink to sniff it. Back in the day when I actually bothered with makeup, switching brands of cosmetics would get me paws on my shoulders while he sniffed my face. I couldn’t get anything past him.

Jamie has always been very interested in my hair after I have it trimmed. Granted, my stylist loves to use every product available and I always get my money’s worth, leaving her shop with a head of hair that has been shampooed, conditioned, de-tangled, mousse’d, gelled and sprayed within an inch of its life.

When I get home after a hair appointment, Jamie is obsessed with sniffing my head. If I don’t just stop and let him do it, he will stalk me around the house until I happen to lean down to open a drawer or pick something up and then he buries his nose in my hair to sniff. This usually ends with an explosive sneeze. 

About 10 years ago, I had a bunch and I mean a BUNCH of dental work done. It didn’t go well. My jaw ached. Ibuprofen barely dulled the pain. I couldn’t eat. Jamie would not leave that side of my face alone. He was constantly trying to sniff my mouth and kept licking my cheek. I went back to the dentist and found out things were not healing properly.

After that, I started paying more attention to him if he sniffed a particular body part. So far, so good. He’s OCD about ears, too — my ears, Phoenix’s ears, your ears. Just sayin’. Look out if he gets near you.

When I came home from the hospital after my heart scare in 2009, Jamie kept sniffing and poking at my midsection. I finally figured out he was sniffing the leftover adhesive from all the places the EKG patches had been stuck. He was also very interested in the spots on my arms and hands where they’d put IVs. If he were a human, I think he might have been a doctor. Or a medical examiner.

He’s the only dog I’ve ever had who seems to care about stuff like this. The Shelties weren’t very sniffy. Phoenix sniffs me but not with the same determination. He’s more of a casual sniffer (“Oh, yeah, it’s you”) and he's all about finding treats in pockets.

When I throw a ball for both dogs outside and it lands in a difficult place, I can see Jamie drop his nose and work to locate it by scent, while Phoenix runs amuck and can’t find it half the time even if he runs over the top of it. 

Love my Big Red Dog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where are we going in 2012?

A friend and I were visiting while carpooling to a match last weekend and we both noted that our desire to make long road trips, usually by ourselves, weekend after weekend in pursuit of shows was dwindling. We looked back at the amount of traveling we’d each done while campaigning previous dogs to high achievements over the years (OTCh. for me, NATCH for her) and wondered out loud if we had it in us to continue the demanding pursuit of earning similar titles with our current and future dogs.

Before we start sounding like candidates for rocking chairs, I might add neither of us have plans to move to the retirement home and start knitting tea cozies any time soon. We’re just both at a place where it might be time to re-evalute how we want to invest the large amounts of time and money we devote to our love of dog training and dog sports.

I got Connor’s OTCh. 13 years ago and Jamie’s OTCh. 7 years ago. To be perfectly honest, while I’d love to write those letters in front of Phoenix’s name, I don’t know if I want it badly enough to repeat the damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead campaigns that yielded Connor and Jamie’s championships.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot while goal setting for this year. What do I really want to achieve in 2012? I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve abandoned OTCh. dreams for Phoenix and myself, I’m just trying to decide what’s best for both of us in terms of having fun and being affordable. More emphasis on fun than affordable. If we’re truly having fun, I’ll find a way to make it affordable.

Obedience training has evolved tremendously in the last decade. When I showed Connor, Open B and Utility B class wins typically went to different dog and handler teams every day. Now it’s not unusual for the same person to win both classes and go HIT/HC every single day of a three-day cluster. It will probably be the same person who won them the previous weekend and the same person who will win them then following weekend. I think each region of the country has one or two trainers who simply dominate the sport. While I’m amazed by the level of precision and consistency they’ve managed to achieve with their dogs, this is not an encouraging scene for folks chasing wins for an OTCh. Yes, there are points for second place but you must still have three 1st place wins.

And so the game begins. You try to figure out where Exhibitor A is going to show on any given weekend because you don’t want to be fodder for her endless ring supremacy. You find yourself going to trials not because they’re at a local site or have your favorite judges or that’s where all your friends are going — you go somewhere else in another state to try to escape the exhibitor with the 199 average who rarely, if ever, fails. And for me, that’s where pursuit of the OTCh. starts to erode the simple enjoyment of obedience trials. Showing stops being a let’s-have-fun hobby and starts resembling a military strategy.

Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m going all sour grapes on the OTCh. but quite honestly, I’ve been there, done that. It was a fine achievement and I was tremendously proud of my dogs, but the title didn’t help me win the lottery, guarantee my health for life or earn me a promotion at work. While the title represents something different to each trainer who achieves it, I’m happy to say my own happiness and sense of self-worth are not tied to achieving those four letters and if I don’t ever earn another one, I won’t be any worse for the wear.

On the other hand, earning an OTCh. brings you incredibly close to your dog. You build a relationship that is light years beyond what it takes to earn three legs and get a title. You learn a lot about yourself, your dog and what the two of you can do together. It’s an adrenaline rush, an incredible high, a beautiful thing. But it comes at a price.

So that brings me back to my goals for this year. I want them to fall into the category of being realistically achievable while still being elusive enough to trigger my own prey drive as a trainer.

Whatever Phoenix and I do, I want to enjoy it. What was fun 13 years ago and 7 years ago, may not be as much fun now and I’m realizing that with both a slight pang of loss and a breath of relief and a quiet determination not to give up but to see how things go and not close any doors too quickly.

I love obedience work. I love to train. I love to see my dog enjoy the training and carry that joy into the ring. Those are my goals for 2012. Everything else is icing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

An indoor winter project

Today's project has been purging.

I started out to purge a big tote of training equipment but the coat tree got in the way. This sort of thing happens a lot at our house.

If our house had closets like a normal house this wouldn't have been an issue. The coats would have been in a closet, out of sight, out of mind. But our house is not normal. It was built in 1919 and I guess people didn't have as much stuff back then because they sure didn't waste any time building closets. There is exactly one closet on the first floor and it's a weird sort of little after-thought affair tucked under the stairs in our bedroom. There are four bedrooms upstairs and only two closets. And they're not big either, let me tell ya.

So there were about 30 coats hanging on the coat tree because where else are ya gonna put them?

Okay, I exaggerate. I think there were 15 coats. Not counting the ones on hooks by the kitchen door and in the basement. The Farmer and I take our coats very seriously.

Anyway, I was carrying the training equipment tote out to the living room to sort through it and something caught on the coat tree when I walked by and pretty soon, the day was turning into one of those deals where each new project I start leads to something else that has to be done first and before long, I have 10 new projects started and nothing actually finished.

But I did purge the coat tree. It was amazing. I have three rain coats. I was not aware of that. It was like a raincoat archaeological dig. At what point in my life, knowing I already had a perfectly good raincoat, did I decide I need to buy another raincoat? What's worse, at what point, knowing I already had two perfectly good raincoats, did I decide, let's get a THIRD!

Aside from the raincoats, I also have a jacket for pretty much every meteorological condition possible. Several of them are going to Goodwill. Trust me - no one needs that many coats.

I finally did get the training tote purged. It confirmed several things. I have the same problem with collars that I have with raincoats, only 10 times worse. The good thing about purging dog gear is that my club has a garage sale table at our spring obedience trial so it's a good time to get rid of all that stuff that seems to accumulate over the year and make some money in the process. We also have a kick-ass raffle which provides excellent donating potential.

Phoenix "helped" by casually walking by, then grabbing something and running off with it. I think he was dismayed by the amount of gently loved odds-and-ends toys that were being donated to the raffle.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Snow day!

Well, more of a wind day but who's counting.

We got a little snow and a lot of wind out of this storm, which made the little snow look like a lot of snow in a few places. Coming on the heels of several record-setting 50 degree days it was disagreeable to wake up to drifts and below-zero windchills this morning.

Then the kitchen pipes were frozen so I just gave up and took the day off.

Took half the morning to thaw the d*mned pipes. I'd like to meet the rocket scientist who ran all the kitchen and bathroom plumbing along the foundation in the northwest corner of the basement. Then set windows into the foundation.

We've lived in this house for 20 years and no matter how much insulating, caulking, wrapping and swearing we do, they freeze at least once every winter. I've gotten really good at figuring out where to aim the space heater. And which magic words to say to make the pipes thaw faster. I'm sure it's the magic words that really help.

Phoenix was a bit of a nutter about the snow. He got the butt-tucking, crazy-ass-wild zoomies. Would have been cute if it hadn't been below zero and pitch dark at 5:30 a.m. Jamie couldn't get back in the house fast enough.

The Farmer moved the bred cow herd up into a field closer to the house yesterday. Phoenix looked out the living room window and discovered this at about 8:30 am. and had a good 15 minutes of screaming malinois meltdown. He is a wonderful alert dog but he alerts indiscriminately - the same reaction for strangers on the yard, bunnies hopping in the moonlight and a large number of cows where there were no cows yesterday.

I spent part of the day actually working (the chair at my home computer is seriously NOT an office chair, gimme the ibuprofen), catching up with laundry and making food. Made a yummy pasta salad for a party tomorrow night, a meatloaf for tonight's supper and just put two loaves of English muffin bread in the oven.

Mixed up the bread and the recipe said "Cover and place in warm spot to rise." Yeah. Warm spot. Right. And where would THAT be in this house today?

Went out to try shoveling the sidewalks and patio about an hour ago. First I had to find my winter coat. Don't laugh - we haven't had enough nasty weather this winter to justify wearing a winter coat until today.

Wind hasn't gone down a bit. I re-shoveled the same snow I'd already shoveled in the morning and decided it might just be easier to walk around the drifts and wait for it to go away. Fed the cat (who didn't want to come out of her box), convinced Jamie to stay out long enough to actually do his business and convinced Phoenix to stop acting like a crazy idiot long enough to actually do his business.

Played some obedience games indoors with Phoenix and gave Jamie hugs just because. Phoenix has been flinging his toys at me and every single ball, Kong and Nylabone he has is carefully piled at my feet. Now he's bringing me slippers.

Spring is just around the corner, right?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How I feel about today

I was cleaning out some files on my computer at work and found this. It pretty much says it all.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The spare is WHERE?

This morning Phoenix and I trained with Michele, Kate, Paula, Tracy and Rilda at 4RK9s. We had a great session and I was looking forward to grabbing lunch and heading home for a lazy afternoon.

Then I walked out to the parking lot and saw R2 had a flat tire. Not low. Flat. I've seen thicker pieces of paper.

I said a lot of very bad words and called the roadside assistance number from my auto insurance. That didn't start well because I spent about five minutes with an automated voice system before I got to talk to a real live person.

I secretly think there was a real live person listening the whole time anyway, because when the system asked for my policy number I said a lot MORE very bad words. Who in the hell knows what their auto insurance policy number is without rooting through their glove box to find it?

Anyway, a very nice woman apparently got tired of listening to me swear and came on the line. Within 30 minutes, a guy in a tow truck arrived to change my tire and put the spare on. Yeah, I'm a weenie. I don't change my own tires. They put lug nuts on with air wrenches and I'm not brawny enough to get them loosened.

I was sure I had a spare tire. I had no idea where it was. I'd never needed it before.

Which was a good thing.

Because it was tucked neatly away in a little compartment UNDERNEATH ALL THE F***ING DOG CRATES!

Oh yeah. Saw that coming.

Every other vehicle I've ever owned (except my Mustang) has had the spare tire mounted underneath the vehicle.

R2 had to be different.


Thank doG Liz was still there. She helped me haul the crates out and held Phoenix while I signed papers and kept an eye on the the tow truck guy as he did his thing. He was the absolute stereotype of tow truck guys: greasy and surly with a big beer belly. Phoenix did not approve of him. Wow, it took 5 years but he finally met someone he didn't like.

Soon I was on the road, bumping along on the 45 mph max "donut." We went to a local farm store that does tire repair. No way was I driving all the way home on the donut.

Some days I wonder if my speech is impaired or people just don't listen.

Me: I need to have a flat tire repaired and put back on my car.

Tire Service Desk: You need a remount?

Me: Um, yeah, I need a tire re-mounted after it's been repaired.

TSD: Is it on the vehicle now?

Me: Um, no, it's flat, so I had it taken off and put on the spare.

TSD: So the spare is on your vehicle?

Me: Yes.

TSD: And you want it taken off?

Silly me. I assumed that would be part of the process.

Me, grinding teeth: You got it. (Wonder if I need to supervise this operation myself. I wasn't totally convinced they weren't going to put the flat tire back on without repairing it first.)

TSD: Okay, you can pull your vehicle up to the service bay door.

Me: I have my dog with me. I don't want to leave him in the car.

TSD: Oh, no, you can't leave him in the car.

Me: Is it okay if I bring him into the store and wait right here?

TSD: OH NO! NO DOGS IN THE STORE! NO DOGS! (This was followed by a treatise on health department regulations. We were surrounded by tires, motor oil and batteries. I didn't think we were a big risk to the foodstuffs on the other side of the store but didn't point that out.)

Me: So I can't leave him in the car and I can't bring him in the store. What do you suggest I do?

TSD: Um . . . . you could sit outside.

Me (giving the MAJOR hairy eyeball): It's 28 degrees outside and you want me to just sit there for 30 minutes?

TSD: Um . . . I guess you could bring him in. If you sit right here and don't go into the store.

Me: Thank you. I think we can manage that.

Things went well after that. The tire got fixed. Phoenix did not wreak any havoc in the store. I paid my bill and down the road we went.

About three minutes after I'd turned onto 1st Avenue and was accelerating out of town, there was a huge WHOOMP CRASH BANG BOOM from the back. I nearly peed my pants.

A quick check revealed the rocket scientists at the tire department had not put the spare tire back in its compartment. Instead, they'd tossed it atop the crates that I'd folded up in order to get the spare out. Do you know what a spare tire sliding off a metal crate and crashing into the rear liftgate sounds like? It's not reassuring.

When we got home, the Farmer just raised his eyebrows when he saw me drag the spare tire out of the back. It was clearly one of those "I can't wait to hear this story" moments. Poor guy. He has a lot of those.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A winter walk

This afternoon the dogs and I went for a walk on my favorite nature trail. I've never walked this trail in January - you usually can't even get to the trailhead without a snowmobile. This year is different - we have ZERO snow and temps are way above average. There aren't many years you can go for a walk on Jan. 7 in just a sweatshirt, jeans and a down vest.

Before we left, the Farmer said, "Don't get shot." He's great with the words of wisdom. Before we go camping, he either says, "Don't freeze to death" or "Don't get hit by lightning." Before we go walking in the woods, he always says, "Don't get shot." Deer hunting season ended last month but I guess he figured maybe some folks hadn't heard.

Jamie wore his bright yellow pack and carried water bottles and a soft-sided bowl. Phoenix wore his brand new bright blue pack and carried nothing (it was his inaugural trip with the pack). I wore a red hoodie and a bright blue vest. We were a colorful bunch. We didn't get shot.

It's a public trail and my guys always walk on leads. An amazing number of people think it's okay to let their dogs run loose. They're the ones yelling, "It's okay, he's friendly!" when their big goofy dog comes crashing into my guys. I am usually yelling, "Call your dog NOW, my dogs aren't friendly!" Phoenix makes that perfectly clear. Once the people get their idiot dogs back under control, they usually give ME the hairy eyeball. Whatever.

The trail doesn't get a lot of maintenance. Some parts are a little primitive but it's a great hike. We took the three-mile trail that goes back to the river and had the whole thing to ourselves today.

The forestry department who (sort of) maintains the trail calls it an oak savannah. I'm not sure what that means but apparently there aren't a lot of them left in Iowa. There are Indian burial mounds along the trail. The signage assures visitors they are there but is a little vague about exactly where. That's probably a good idea. The green moss-covered rock in the creek was about the only splash of color this time of year. Everything else is shades of brown.

They have put up some new directional signs. I had to laugh. "You are here." Well, I pretty much had that figured out. There was a tiny little asterisk to indicate where I was.

No ice on the Iowa River, which is very, very low. We frequently see Canada geese and bald eagles around the water but it was pretty quiet today.

It was a great walk in the woods on a sunny winter day. It was probably the best time of the year to hike with the dogs there - when we got back to the car, NO BURRS.

Friday, January 6, 2012


When it comes to training, I'm not big on using a lot of gadgets. They're handy to an extent but A) it's easy to become so dependent on them you can't function if you forget to take them to your training session and B) you eventually have to wean the dog off them.

But there is an exception to every rule and this is it. Keep in mind this is remedial work. If I'd bothered to teach a nice, tight return on retrieves in the first place, I wouldn't be trying to fix it now. Another lesson learned.

In this video, I'm using a small PVC hurdle to work that nice tight turn after the pick up. Phoenix has to jump the hurdle going out to get his glove AND returning to me with the glove. It prevents those big loopy herding dog turns after he picks up the glove, which in turn should make it easier for him to get a nice front.

I initially shaped the over and back behavior by sending him after pieces of cheese. He likes to jump and it didn't take long for him to figure out if he jumped back over the hurdle to me he got another piece of cheese. If he went around it, no cheese. I didn't give him any command at that point. It's like the retrieve over the high but at that point it was NOT a retrieve - it was a jumping and cheese-eating game. 

We'd played this over and back game with a full-sized high jump when he was young so that probably helped him pick up on this version so quickly. You could use full-sized jumps if you wanted to but the little hurdles are handier and can be made out of PVC scraps. There's no magic size, just whatever fits your dog.

I'll keep the hurdles out there for a long time as we work gloves in training. Right now, they're about 2 feet from the glove. As Phoenix shows me he is starting to turn tightly after the pick up, I plan to gradually move the hurdles further and further away from the gloves (closer to me), so their presence isn't such a factor in determining the turn.

Like anything else you re-train, it may take a while for the desired behavior to transfer to the ring. In the meantime, this allows us to practice perfect tight turns every time.

Thanks Michele, for making me a hurdle for each glove! And BIG thanks to Joanne Brettschneider for the initial idea!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Recliner, blanket, dog, TV

I’m not much of a television watcher because A) I always seem to have a list of more important things that need doing and B) I have a really hard time staying up past 9 p.m. So sad. But true.

Winter finds me watching a lot more TV than I do during the summer and I admit I’ve got a couple of serious series addictions going on. Snuggling down with a blanket, a mug of cocoa, Phoenix (if and when he's tired) and the latest adventures of FBI profilers and homicide detectives is a great way to spend a cold winter’s night.

I watch TV for pure entertainment, so my list isn’t exactly filled with intellectual, highbrow stuff. (We don’t have cable or a satellite dish — what a surprise — so we’re basically limited to the network channels and a few extra digital stations. That's fine. I'm easily entertained.)

One of my favorites is “Criminal Minds.” Okay, this show is dark and violent and disturbing and makes me wonder if any of our neighbors might be serial killers but the good guys always catch the bad guys in the end and I can reassure myself that most people are not psychotic killers who hide bodies in the basement. I want computer skills like Garcia’s and a memory like Reed’s.

“NCIS” is lighter version of “Criminal Minds.” The body count usually isn't as high. Again, the good guys always win. Best part is Agent Ziva David’s frequent twisting of the English language.

My favorite addiction is “Grimm.” Back in the day, I took a college course on fairy tales (yeah, seriously) and let me tell you, the instructor was totally into his subject and wasted no time explaining that the real Grimm Brothers fairy tales were not all about happily ever after. Many of them were morality tales used to threaten small children into good behavior least they get drug off and eaten by monsters.

The teaser for the NBC series says, “Remember the fairy tales your parents used to tell you before bedtime? Well, those weren’t stories, they were warnings.” Apparently, a large number of people weren’t listening because they get drug off and eaten by monsters on a regular basis in this series. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and if you’re looking for intense, psycho-drama-thriller stuff this probably isn’t for you. If you love shows that are off the beaten path, this one gives a new twist on classic tales along with a laugh and occasional spook. Reminds me a bit of the Anita Blake vampire hunter series by Laurel Hamilton, minus the porn (if you read any of her stuff, you know what I mean.) Plus the scenery is enjoyable on a number of different levels.

The Farmer watches it, too. Or more exactly, he watches me watching it and yells “BOO!” when he thinks it’s appropriate. I’m wise to him now so I don’t jump anymore. Or at least not quite as high. It disturbs Phoenix.

Finally, “Three and a Half Men.” The show has changed since Charlie Sheen had his crack-up and left the series but how can I not watch Homestead’s own Ashton Kutcher? More eye candy. It’s still a very goofy and irreverent show and exactly what my deadline-fried brain needs by the time I get home from work on Monday night.

To tell the truth, I’m not good at sitting still for very long, so an hour of TV is about my limit for one night. Once warm weather gets here, I’ll end up taping things or watching on-line (yippee, a new bonus of having high speed internet access!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Games malinois play

This is a tough time of the year to train if you don't have your own training building or live nearby a building.

It's dark by 5 p.m. so when I get home at 4:30, it's a mad scramble to let the dogs outside to play and do the eternal poop pick-up. Then it's back indoors for the rest of the evening. Jamie is content to snooze on the couch but Phoenix sees the evening hours as time to take advantage of the humans' end-of-the-day stupor by ricocheting off walls and furniture.

Even though this winter has been bizarrely, weirdly warm and the lone 1/2 inch snowfall we got back in December is long gone, training outdoors is still generally out of the question. Thirty-five degrees may be bizarrely, weirdly above average but it's still COLD. It's hard to concentrate on what I'm doing when my nose is dripping and my fingers are too numb for proper cookie delivery or tug-holding. (Phoenix loves it when I intend to deliver one cookie but end up giving him six because I have no feeling in my fingertips. He thinks we should train outside ALL the time.)

Still, the Upper Midwestern native part of my brain that keeps screaming "It's WARM outside, go outside and do something with Phoenix so he's not climbing the walls later" insists we take advantage of this odd climate change for fear that the other shoe will soon drop and we'll get 12 inches of snow which will put us into hibernation mode until April.

So we've been going outside and playing games in those last few precious moments of sunshine at the end of the day.

Hide and seek is becoming a favorite game and I discovered it by accident.

Phoenix loves to go crittering (sniffing, hunting, trying to find things that do not want to be found). He is truly a vermin dog. Fortunately most of the vermin we have around our place are limited to the small and fairly harmless variety, although raccoons, groundhogs and skunks are not out of the question.

In the past, his vermin OCD has prevented him from even acknowledging I exist, let alone actually coming when he's called more than once so I finally decided to stop managing it and start resolving it.

I put him on a 40-foot tracking line and outside we went. We did a few recalls in "safe" places where success was practically guaranteed.

Then we walked down the lane toward the field west of the house. Now we were in Critter Territory. Phoenix was sure there were critters in the fenceline, critters hiding behind bales of hay, critters living in the trees, critters hiding in the old shed, critters hiding in the new shed, critters everywhere!

Again, we did recalls where I was A) sure he could see and hear me and B) sure he was not so over-threshold on critter hunting that he couldn't respond. Yay - success! And yes, he was getting a treat when he came to me but I think the bigger reward for him was that I released him immediately to go back to doing what he wanted to do - hunt critters.

My own laziness led to a natural progression of this game. When he disappeared out of sight around a big hay bale or around the corner of the building, instead of running to keep him in sight, I stood my ground and called him. Since he was on the line, I had 40-foot of bright blue nylon to watch and if trouble was brewing, I could put a stop to it.

As this went well, I let him "disappear," then I disappeared and called him. He had to actively hunt to find me. Apparently this was great fun.

The next step was letting him trot off to do his thing, then quietly fading from his sight line and hiding. I was surprised how quickly he abandoned his critter hunt and came to find me when he realized I wasn't nearby.

This is HUGE for us! It's reassuring to think maybe my dog is starting to put a higher priority on me and my whereabouts than chipmunk or rabbit. I wish I'd played games like this with him when he was a baby and not waited until he was 5. Oh well, live and learn.

He was tired when we went back in the house.

That lasted for about 15 minutes.

Is it spring yet?

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: The Plan

I don't do resolutions. They're too stiff and formal.

Goals are better. Goals are flexible. I can tweak them as needed without feeling like a failure if they don't come out quite the way I intended. Look at 2011! I learned a TON of stuff about Phoenix and myself that never would have happened if we'd earned his UD and sailed right into his UDX without any hitches. As it turned out, the year was one hitch after another but I hope what I learned will bring an even better 2012.

I'm great at setting goals. Reaching them is another thing but at least they're out there and I know what I want to do. With that in mind, here are my goals for the new year.

Phoenix - Obedience: pursue his UDX. I can't wait to get back into the Open/Utility rings and make sure we have our feet under us in terms of team attitude. We can move on from there in terms of technical performance. I'd love to see him start getting some awesome scores but that's not what it's all about for us - happy teamwork will be awesome enough for me. I want to keep our trialing pressure-free and stay focussed on my dog giving me the best effort he can and vice versa.

Phoenix - Agility: get an auto down on the table. We had it. We lost it. We had it again. Sort of. I confess to not asking for it consistently, so of course it deteriorated because Phoenix finds STOPPING at any point on a course very annoying and having to lie down makes stopping twice as bad.

Then the AKC eliminated the table position requirement and I thought what the heck, let's not bother. This worked great, except when it didn't. With no position requirement, Phoenix thought it was totally acceptable to fly onto the table and fly right off to the next obstacle with zero decrease in speed. Also need to continue improving my timing and being a proactive handler vs. a reactive one.

Jamie - He'll be 13 this summer. I want these sunset years to be comfortable and happy. This may mean exploring some pain meds since I'm noticing increased stiffness in his hind end. He never acts like he is in pain but he rarely sits any more and stairs are getting to be more of a challenge. But he still chases Phoenix around and gives him hell on a regular basis.

Me - 15 pounds need to go away. It would help if I would quit eating like every meal is my last one. Seriously. And grazing at work. Ugh. It's a bad habit. Thinking about portion control and cutting way back on fast food meals and snacks (or making better choices) should help. My love/hate relationship with my treadmill continues. Maybe it needs to feel the love a little more.

Gardening - I'd like to plant some shrub roses this year. Also, try new combinations of annuals in planters instead of doing the same old thing again. I'm spending a lot of quality time with garden catalogs in preparation.

Have fun setting your goals for the new year!