Friday, April 27, 2012

Spring pics

This is the north end of a southbound corn planter.

Phoenix on squirrel patrol.

 D*mn tree rat! I know you're up there!

One of these days he's gonna end up in the tree.
I just know it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dancing with the squirrels

Me: It is a lovely spring evening. The sky is clear, the breeze is light. We will train outside at home. Look, I have all the ring gates and jumps set up. The Farmer is in the field. We have the place to ourselves. We can train as long as we like on this beautiful evening. Nothing can disturb us.

Phoenix: SQUIRREL!

Me: Huh?

Phoenix: Squirrel! Up a tree! Didja see it? I saw it! Ran right across the ring! I want to chase it!

Me: Oh (bad word)!

Phoenix: Squirrel-squirrel-squirrel!!!

Me, rolling eyes heavenward: This is a training opportunity. We can work through it. I do not need a gun.

Phoenix, staring at the tree: Where’d it go? I wanna chase it! It wants me to chase it.


Phoenix: Huh?

Me: Hi.

Phoenix: Oh, you’re still here. Whattaya want?

Me: Your attention.

Phoenix: Busy. Hunting. Great squirrel hunter.

Me: Yeah, I get that. But here’s the deal: I’m not going to let you chase squirrels. You can stand here and watch squirrels you can’t have or you can play with me.

Phoenix: Bummer. Sucks. Want the squirrel.

Me: I’m not begging you to play with me. And I’m not going to fight with you about attention. It’s your choice: me or the squirrel.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Phoenix: ‘kay. Whatcha got?

Me: Hey! That’s better! Wanna do go-outs! Run fast, get food!

Phoenix: ‘kay. Get squirrel?

Me: Um, no. Where’s your go-out spot? Look at your spot. Spot!

Phoenix: I’m looking at the squirrel. Little tree rat. Thinks its clever. I could bite its tail.

Me: Um, yeah, no. Your go-out spot is not in a tree. Dear God in heaven give me patience. And remind me I do not need a gun.

About 5 minutes and several lovely, squirrel-free go-outs later . . .

Me: Last one! Ready? Where’s your spot?


Me: Oh (bad word)!  We could stop. We could just stop right now and cut our losses and no one would ever know.

Phoenix, vibrating: Look lady, either send me on the go-out or let me get the squirrel. This sitting here is killing me.

Me: Really? Okay. Spot! GO!

Phoenix, not moving: I can’t.

Me: You can’t? Why not?

Phoenix: Squirrel. Can’t deal. Head might explode. Just sit here. Can’t be wrong that way.

Me: Okay. We’ll go together.

Phoenix: ‘kay, I’ll get the squirrel, you do the go-out.

Me: Um, yeah, no. We’ll do the go-out together. In spite of the squirrel.

Phoenix: You're a freak.

Me: I also have your supper.

Phoenix: Supper? Supper! SUPPER!!

Me: You are insane. I love you.

Phoenix: Look! CAT! HERE, KITTY KITTY!

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be working Phoenix off-leash while squirrels played in the trees above us and farm cats strolled around, I’d have said you were out of your ever-loving mind. It hasn’t been easy and he’s far from perfect, but last night’s training session was a success on so many different levels. I was proud of him for working through it and of me for not losing my patience and letting him make choices.

He was off-leash the entire time and never tried to leave the training area. Oh yeah, he thought about it, I’m won’t say he didn’t. But he made the right choices and he got rewarded for them. On any given day I’m not totally convinced he wouldn’t choose a squirrel over me but that’s who he is and that’s where we are right now.

It wasn't the carefully choreographed training session I'd hoped for but I'm getting better about doing damage control when things head south in our training. In the end, I think the whole crazy squirrel episode probably strengthened the weak spots in our go-outs more than if I'd just set him up and done 10 perfectly flawless go-outs with no interference.

He learned he could work though a pretty major distraction and I learned I could be patient. And laugh. And not try shooting the squirrel. Which I'm pretty sure would have caused more problems than it solved.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Updates on things of importance

All the scabby stuff and dead hair has fallen off Jamie’s muzzle and he is now sporting a Harry Potter scar between his eyes and across the bridge of his muzzle. The skin is nice and pink and is healing well. I don’t know how long it will take the fur to grow back. Phoenix still denies any involvement.

My cold/virus/bronchitis/pneumonia/distemper has finally disintegrated into mild kennel cough. Yay.

Agility class starts tomorrow night. It will be fun to get back into some sort of structured training and will probably benefit me more than Phoenix because I get into all sorts of bad habits when I’m not practicing something regularly.

Nix and I didn’t do a lot of agility classwork last summer because obedience was our top priority. Not sure skipping agility class improved our obedience any but at the time, I didn’t see the sense in spending an evening of travel and training time focusing on a venue that was not my main priority. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy agility very much but I enjoy obedience more. Yeah. I’m weird that way.

The Farmer started planting corn today. This is kinda like Christmas at our house. It ushers in the spring planting season, which means meals at whack-a-doodle hours, obsessing over weather forecasts and a great deal of chaos in general. I love it.

Been looking at the calendar, trying to schedule my next obedience class to teach. My plan was to squeeze in an early summer class before the building got too hot in July and August and I’ve decided when my current Novice class ends, I’m going to teach . . . nothing.

The problem isn’t lack of facility or lack of students - it’s the  annoying reality that I work one night a week, have agility class one night a week and will be traveling many of the coming Fridays for trial weekends so adding a night of obedience class would give me a grand total of ONE weeknight at home each week. Can’t do it. Been there. Tried that. Didn’t work. Made me crazy. So I’ll take a break from teaching until fall. A break will be kind of nice.

Our next obedience trial is this weekend. Phoenix and I have been working mostly on heeling, especially normal-slow-normal transitions, right turns and right about turns, all of which have bitten us in the butt this spring, and go-outs. We’ve had so many days with gale-force winds I’ve gotten very creative in finding places to set up ring-gates where they won’t blow into the next county. Looking forward to seeing how much progress we’ve made and what Phoenix has to say about it all in the ring.

I’ve started teaching Phoenix “cue words,” aka Bridget Carlsen. Basically, you link an object of high desire (toy, food) with a cue word, get the dog totally psyched about it, then he gets the object. Useful in the ring when you need to rev up your dog between exercises. It’s basically a delayed gratification system, promising a reward to be delivered when the dog gives effort in obedience performance. Phoenix’s words are “ball” and “supper.” My summer project is to have these words cemented to a strong emotional reaction we can take into the ring by fall. Believe me, he is all about his ball and his supper.

Gardening. Ah, gardening. Yes. Ahem. I have potted up exactly 3 geraniums to date. And put Preen on all my perennial beds. That’s about the total existence of my gardening endeavors this spring. I have some clumps of yarrow that need to move from Point A to Point B and I might just be ambitious enough to get that done this afternoon. I can always use the excuse that the Three Cold Kings haven’t passed yet and overnight lows near or below freezing are still a strong possibility. But I’ve already got  a stop planned at a garden center after this weekend’s obedience trials so will probably come home with lots of color to be set out soon.

Yep - that covers all the important stuff: Jamie, Phoenix, Farmer, spring planting, spring gardening, agility and obedience training. Life is good.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Don't tell Mom!

Along with some fun agility trial prizes, a couple of new sweatshirts and way more laundry than one woman should have generated in five days, I came home from nationals with a cold. No big deal but one that required some chemical intervention to keep from sneezing, wheezing and hacking myself completely around the bend.

And so it was that I came to be sitting in my recliner one evening earlier this week, happily sedated into a cold medicine coma, sipping a cup of hot tea and letting my mind think of nothing more important than whatever was on the television.

Since the dogs had determined that I was zero fun in my current state, Jamie and Phoenix were playing some sort of game with a ball in the dining room. This is the worst room in the house for ball playing since it contains more square inches of antique glass per square foot that probably the rest of the house put together.

I was going to call out and suggest they bring the ball into the living room and ram around with it there when there was a sudden, fast and very short-lived scuffle just out of my line of sight. You know, the sudden change of play rhythm, nothing bad, just different. Then total silence. While I was debating hauling my sorry carcass out of the recliner to see who had done what to whom, the dogs came flying into the living room. Jamie leaped up on the couch, curled up and went to sleep. Phoenix leaped onto my lap, curled up and mimicked going to sleep.

While this is perfectly normal evening behavior for both of them, there was a definite aura of "Don't tell Mom!" in the air.

I might be an only kid but my best friend in elementary and high school came from a family of six kids and I didn't run with that pack without picking up a few things.

For the second time in as many minutes, I debated about getting up to see what had gotten broken. Granted, I hadn't actually heard shattering glass but life with Belgians has taught me that just because I didn't hear something get broken doesn't mean nothing got broken.

But Phoenix was warm in my lap and I was seriously lazy (and afraid if I started moving my nose would start running again - as long as I didn't move we seemed to have an uneasy truce.) So I sat on my butt and figured since the roof hadn't caved in, it couldn't be anything serious.

About 45 minutes later it was time for bed. I got up to take the dogs out and Jamie trotted over. I reached down to scratch his head and  . . .

. . . BLOODY HELL! Blood was was oozing and clotting on his nose from a long, deep gash that started between his eyes and and ran for about five inches along the bridge of his muzzle. He didn't seem at all concerned, just that he wanted me to see his new tough dog street image.

A quick clean up and exam followed. Head injuries being what they are, he had bled like there was no tomorrow (quietly, in the dark living room), but triage proved he was no worse for the wear. The scratch was deep in places, gouging a furrow in his skin, and shallow in others, just scraping off fur.

It was a serious WTF moment.

I asked Phoenix what happened but that didn't get me anywhere. Phoenix adores Jamie. Phoenix submits to Jamie. While Jamie has an idiotically high tolerance level when it comes to his little brother's annoying habits (chew, bite, pull fur), I am pretty sure Jamie would have put the serious smack down on Phoenix if he'd intentionally bitten him.

I even went crawling around the dining room, looking for a Jamie-height sharp corner on any piece of furniture that could have caused the gash. Nothing. No tell-tale gobs of bloody fur stuck to the culprit. The Farmer came in while I was in the middle of this process. He gave me a look that said he thought I'd taken too many cold meds.

Whatever happened, it had happened in silence. There hadn't been a squawk, a squeak, a growl, snarl or any indication anything had gone amiss. Just that little scuffle, probably over possession of the ball, then silence, then both dogs racing to assume their evening positions in the living room.

Since then, I've decided Jamie's muzzle either accidentally ran into one of Phoenix's teeth while in pursuit of the ball or he ran into one of Phoenix's toenails in the same scenario. I kind of pride myself on keeping the dogs' nails ground blunt but even a blunt object, with 55 pounds of launching force behind it, could do some damage if it connected with thin skin over bone.

The dogs saw this as a no-harm, no-foul situation and went on their merry way. Jamie looks a little rough but he's healing. He hates having ointment put on it but Phoenix knows this is gonna score cookies so he's all but bringing me the tube twice a day.

And my cold is getting much better. I gave it to the Farmer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Temperament Test - the recap

This isn't Phoenix. I don't have the gal's name but her dog had some Schutzhund/protection work and took a very dim view of the weird stranger. The stranger was wearing a bite sleeve under his raincoat, just in case. Most of the dogs did not have such a strong reaction.

Here’s a recap of the temperament test at ABMC nationals last week.

During the pre-test briefing, we got details about each sub test that makes up the overall temperament test. There were 7 separate sub tests. Each dog completed each test station before the next dog began. Three evaluators observed from a distance and scored each dog’s reactions.

We were not allowed to talk to our dogs once our test had started. The chief evaluator explained he wanted the dog to be “in control” and if we were talking to our dogs, encouraging them, soothing them, scolding them, etc., the handler would be in control. The dogs were on 6 foot leashes and were to have all 6 feet available to them at all times. We could not assume any “obedience heeling position” and could not give any kind of leash “correction.”

The test was meant to imitate a “walk in the park.” Apparently this park was located in the ghetto as it involved gun shots and a threatening stranger. The only thing missing was a loose dog running amuck.

While we could not talk to our dogs, there were 2 sub tests where we could talk to the inanimate object that was the focus of that test if we needed to get our dogs to come investigate it. One was a noisy bucket of rocks and the second was an umbrella. So, no talking to the dogs but we could chatter away at the bucket or the umbrella.

The dogs were scored on a scale of 0 to 10 on each sub test, with 0 being failure and 10 being okay but not really desirable because it would indicate a very intense reaction. The “best” score would be 5, 6 or 7 on each sub test. The evaluator said he wouldn’t want to live with a dog who scored more than one 10. The test is meant to evaluate baseline temperament. The dog could startle and that didn’t count against him - the evaluators were more interested in how quickly the dog recovered and went to investigate whatever had scared him. There were 3 ways to fail: extreme aggression, obvious avoidance and panic from which the dog could not recover.

I really wanted to watch several people do it before it was our turn, but as it turned out, the order in which you registered was the order in which you ran. I had registered second. Go figure.

Off we went. It was raining. We were on a grass field. Since I couldn’t talk to Phoenix, he could do as he pleased. It pleased him to sniff. A lot.

Sub test #1: friendly stranger greeting. This woman was definitely friendly. We exchanged handshakes, commented on the weather and parted company. Phoenix sniffed and ignored her totally.

Sub test #2: friendly stranger wants to pet my dog. She walked briskly toward Phoenix, both arms extended, saying loudly, “Oh what a beautiful dog! I want to pet your dog!” and reached out over the top of him. Phoenix (still sniffing) was not terribly impressed but he did stop sniffing long enough to go see her and leaned on her and let her pet him from top to bottom. I actually felt a little sorry for her, having to stand in the rain and pet wet dogs.

Sub test #3: We approached a blind where a hidden person was rattling rocks in a galvanized metal bucket. It was loud! Then they popped out from behind the blind and set the bucket in our path. Phoenix drug me across the grass and nearly dove into the bucket. Good dog. I don’t know what he thought was in there but he couldn’t get to it fast enough. Apparently I am not feeding my dog enough if he gets that excited about a bucket of rocks.

Sub test #4: Three gun shots. Well, there would have been gun shots if the starter’s pistol had worked. It didn’t. Maybe the pouring rain had something to do with that? They substituted a wooden noise maker but I never heard it (I stood with my back to the gun shots/noisemaker and Phoenix was too busy sniffing.) He may have heard them but apparently dismissed them easily. I wasn’t concerned about this anyway, since Nix had a rifle fired over his head numerous times during the Great Raccoon Hunt of the Winter of 2009 and was totally unfazed. Long story.

Sub test #5: Umbrella. This probably got the strongest reaction out of him. The fellow in the chair popped the umbrella and Nix hit the deck. RED ALERT! BATTLE STATIONS! If I could get a drop on recall like that in the ring, I’d love it! The evaluator told me to talk to the umbrella to see if Nix would come investigate it. It told the umbrella it was beautiful and smelled like liver cookies and would be fun to tear up. Phoenix was all over it.

Sub test #6: Walking over plastic sheeting and an x-pen laying flat on the ground. Keep in mind it’s raining and the wind is blowing. The plastic sheeting was held down on the corners and sides with a few bricks but it was billowing in the wind. Phoenix trotted over it, no big deal, and paused to have a drink in one of the puddles collecting on the plastic (all that sniffing makes a guy thirsty). Ditto for the x-pen.

Sub test #7, scary guy: I was to stop behind a line and a scary stranger emerged from a blind maybe 30 feet away. (I’m really not good at guestimating distances - you can get all the rules and specs at the American Temperament Testing Web site, Phoenix was so busy sniffing he didn’t pay much attention.

Then the scary guy started lurching toward us, yelling and waving a riding crop. Phoenix took notice. As the scary guy became a threatening guy and charged toward us, Phoenix stepped out in front of me, went to the end of the lead and gave the guy a hard stare. The scary guy turned around and went away. Phoenix went back to sniffing.

We met with the evaluator after the test. This was just as important as any of the sub tests because if Phoenix had shown any aggression toward him (fallout from the encounter with the threatening stranger just a few minutes before) we would have failed. He said Phoenix had very solid, middle-of-the-road responses to all the sub tests. This is desirable, as it doesn’t reflect any extremes — either fear or aggression — and reflected a dog who is mature (really, he said that, I’m still laughing) and has basically been around the block. He called Nix a “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt” kind of dog.

Overall, the test probably didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about my dog. I had wondered how the scary stranger part of the test would go and while it is probably a good measurement of baseline temperament and reactivity, I know Nix would react differently if that guy popped up at home or if I had shown any kind of fear or emotion. As it was, I knew there was nothing to be afraid of and suspect my dog read that as well. He was probably wondering the whole time, “What the hell are we doing out here in the rain, sniffing rocks and investigating umbrellas?”

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pics from Malinois Nationals

Oddly enough, I did not take any pics of Phoenix! But here's Jamie hanging out at the motel. We had 4 pillows on each bed. I guess he figured he could use one of them.

The Purina Event Center (pretty self evident, huh?) They have automatic doors, which was great for hauling stuff in and out. Do not be fooled by the pretty blue sky. It only lasted 2 of the 5 days we were there.

They had a couple of cool topiaries right outside the front door.
Michele, I think it's Cougar!

Marsha, Vinnie was on the other side!

A view of the agility ring.

Another view of agility. Everyone wants to know what the footing is like there. It was artificial turf, which I'd never run on before (soccer turf, yes, astro turf, no.) Phoenix slid on his first run, then I waxed his paws and he did much better on the following runs. I think any dog can slide on any surface, it just depends on how fast they run. Phoenix isn't super psycho fast but he's no slowpoke either. There's probably no perfect surface for every dog. The gray matting through the rest of the facility is a hard, texturized rubber and it worked well for obedience and breed judging.

Here's the obedience ring. It's truly a huge and lovely facility. The acoustics weren't that great but really, that's what you're gonna get with a building that size. I would definitely show there again.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Day 5: Obedience and home

Ahhhh, the sheer bliss of typing on a full-sized keyboard again!

Yesterday Phoenix and I did obedience: Open and Utility. I'd like to say it went well and to an extent, he was really, really good. From the standpoint that my dog teaches me something new about what he understands and likes doing every time we go in the ring, it was a valuable learning experience. From a Q-ing standpoint, it was a bust. No second go-out in Utility and he moved substantially from place on both the long sit and down in Open.

I'm disappointed but not disheartened. I know Phoenix will never be what you might call an "easy" dog in terms of showing and my goals for his obedience career are long-range, not tied to any particular weekend or specific event.

Although I thought we'd conquered his out-of-sight stay demons, they were back in force. However, after thinking about it for nearly 6 hours on the drive home, I have to admit he very cleverly solved the problem of not wanting to stay in a line-up of strange dogs. He carefully took himself out of the lineup by scooting forward (judge said he never lifted his butt) until he was away from the other dogs. Then the judge said then he relaxed and held position, looking fairly comfortable. In his mind, he stayed in the ring and completed the stays.

Although his heeling in both classes left a little to be desired, I was really happy with the rest of his work and the judge complimented me on his fronts and finishes. I think he only missed one. This is huge for us - I know if he is feeling comfortable and in the zone, so to speak, he will work his f and fs.

Sooo . . . we've got 2 weeks until our next trial and I'm working on a game plan for training. A) Do NOT overtrain B) Focus on building drive and effort in heeling, especially with ME being silent C) Many go-outs. Many, many go-outs. D) Stays. Guess who just earned a ticket to do stays with my Thursday night class?

We left Purina about 2:30 p.m. and by the time I dropped my aunt off and drove home, our area was under about every severe thunderstorm and tornado watch and warning the National Weather Service could throw at us. My plan of parking under the big tree in front of the house and letting the dogs run while I unloaded the van was quickly abandoned. One of the local meteorologist said there were over 20,000 lightning strikes last night!

Looking forward to a quiet day at home, unpacking, doing laundry and playing catch-up. And someone really needs to go the grocery store because the Farmer ate everything in this house while I was gone.

I will write about the Purina Events Center sometime soon, too. It really is an amazing facility. And post pics.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 4: Temperament test

We passed! I'll write about the test in more detail when I get to a real keyboard, since iPhone blogging could send me to the nut house!

It was a rainy, cold morning and I think Phoenix was annoyed at being asked to work on the pouring rain more than anything else. Okay, maybe I shared his feelings! (There is apparently some rule that it has to rain like hell during EVERY Belgian national ever held at Purina Farm.)

He dove into the bucket of rattling rocks like someone might have hidden a steak in it and gave the aggressive stranger a good hard stare and a little posturing.

We tried to watch the herding trials but due to thunder, lightening, rain and wind (and cold, did I mention it's cold?) gave that up and came back to the motel to thaw out.

Obedience is tomorrow morning, or afternoon, as the case may be, then headed home. Really hoping NOT to repeat the 1 a.m. return home like last year's national!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day 3: Agility

Not quite as long of a day today, done at 5:30.

Std. presented the classic dilemma, table or tunnel. Guess which one Phoenix chose?

T2B was another crazy fast course. We came in 2nd again and were the fastest mal in the class.

JWW, um, well . . . we were really fast and we did the right number of jumps, technically speaking, they just weren't in the order the judge wanted. Details.

After supper Karene and I took the dogs for a walk. Now we're worn put and the dogs are chewing on each other and acting mental. Guess all day in a box does that.

Temperament test tomorrow. It was supposed to be held indoors but apparently the evaluator wants it held outdoors. It is supposed to rain but the word is we will be outdoors in the rain on the Schutzhund field unless there is lightning. I've never done a temperament test before and am looking forward to trying something new with the Skinny Little Dog.

Time for bed. Aren't you supposed to stay up late and party on vacation? I'm going to bed earlier than ever and that's saying quite a bit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Day 2: Agility

Today was possibly the world's longest agility trial. We got to the site at 7 a.m. and back to the motel at 8 p.m.

There was only 1 ring and they had all the normal Std. and JWW classes, plus FAST and T2B.

Our Std. Run was great, minus the table, which Phoenix thought was a great impediment to running the rest of the course.

T2B was super fun and JWW was a riot. I called it a NASCAR course - go fast, turn left and don't slow down for anything!

Turned out, Nix was the fastest malinois to Q in both T2B and JWW and got special prizes from the ABMC. Overall he was 2nd in both classes but our national has all-breed agility and the 1st place winners were a weim and a terv, respectively. It was nice to have the recognition.

Jamie made friends with a little mal girl and wants to trade Phoenix in. Phoenix is collecting tennis balls - found one under the bed at the motel and won 2 today. Karene hasn't tried to catch a bus back to Iowa yet. We're all good.

It's past time for bed. Tomorrow we get to do it all again!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day 1: Travel

Left home at 8:30 a.m., picked up Karene at 10, arrived at our motel at 3, off to the Purina Events Center to set up crates. Site looks lovely, very spacious - lots of room for vendors!

Tomorrow is agility, all the regular classes plus FAST and T2B, all in one ring. Wanna take bets when we get done?

Supper at Applebee's. Did some training at the motel - Karene held Nix' stanchion for go outs. He rocked. Maybe I can take her in the ring for obedience Saturday?

Almost time for bed. Yeah, I know it's only 7:30. We're such party animals. Tomorrow will get here plenty early.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Candids from the weekend

My club's 3-day obedience trial was held over the weekend. Things didn't go exactly as planned for Phoenix and I but thanks again to Sheryl for some great pics. I will attempt to provide the proper narration.

Send me to the articles!
C'mon, send me now!
I said NOW!

Me: You cannot eat a Hershey's Kiss!
Phoenix: Just did, didn't I?

This is why I can't have any nice leashes.

Awesome job!
(I dunno what we did but it was good.)

Pretty boy.

And the winning photo of the weekend . . .

This is what showing a malinois eventually does to you.

Thanks Sheryl, for capturing the moment!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Go-outs: the other side of the gate

Phoenix has been shown in Utility about a dozen times. That includes getting his UD last spring in a quick but uninspired fashion, a few horrible ring experiences last summer and fall and a few wonderful ring experiences this spring.

During that time, his go-outs have run the spectrum from a fast trot, a slow trot, a meandering and wobbly trot and the occasional refusal to even go out. Although I did his initial go-out training to food on the center stanchion, I switched about a year ago to a paw-touch behavior. I like it because it's not dependent on running out to "load" the gate all the time in training and since there's no food involved, there's no sniffing or extended hunting expeditions. Nix likes it because he has freaky monkey paws and it's one more thing he can do with his feet that earns him cookies.

I know go-outs are one of the hardest things for a dog to generalize. Getting fast, straight go-outs in your club's training building does not automatically mean you're going to get fast, straight go-outs at show sites, no matter how much we think the ring picture looks exactly the same: four 10-foot sections of accordion-fold baby gates, separated by wooden uprights. (That's the Midwest picture about 98 percent of the time.)

With this in mind, we worked go-outs every stinkin' chance we got. We did them in multiple training buildings. We did them in multiple parks. I set up my ring gates in all sorts of different places around the farm. He was awesome, flying out and spinning to turn and sit on command. Then we went into the ring and sometimes they were great, sometimes they weren't.

I spent a lot of time scratching my head, trying to figure out what was going on in Phoenix's head. It's taken me this long to figure out it's not the ring picture that's the issue. It's about what's BEYOND the ring. More specifically, it's about AVOIDING what's beyond the ring.

Phoenix is not fond of other dogs. This is nothing new. He would be perfectly happy at obedience and agility trials if all the other dogs would go away. Small dogs are usually okay, although size is no guarantee of acceptance on his part. Big dogs are not okay. Big, boisterous dogs are definitely not okay. Even dogs who are minding their own business exert "pressure" on him just by being there.

Looking back, Nix has done his best go-outs in rings where I was sending him to a wall or at least to a gate with nothing beyond it. He's done his worst go-outs to gates where people and dogs were milling around on the other side.

People and dogs milling around is pretty standard fare at an obedience trial. It's only taken the better part of a year for me to figure out the problem is not lack of training or using an incorrect technique or confusion on my dog's part.

The problem is I'm telling him to run away from me straight into something that worries him. To me, there's no threat. Yeah, there are people and dogs standing around, no big deal. But to Nix, that same picture clearly launches his mind into Red Alert status. It's avoidance behavior that either slows him down or stops him completely.

We had a chance to work on this in training yesterday when I got together with some friends. They played with their dogs opposite where I was sending Nix for his go-out. They weren't doing anything threatening but he went about half way out, pulled up and veered off. My initial reaction was "You have got to be kidding me, what part of this is scary?!"

But it clearly was. Phoenix didn't want any part of going there.

I needed to show him that he MUST go there but I needed to do it in a way that wasn't going to turn him into a stressball about the whole exercise. I've made THAT mistake too many times. There's a fine line between forcing a dog to do something and making him think it's his own great idea in the first place.

I had my friends back off a little, then took his collar (gently) and ran with him out to his go-out spot (running is always good for us, Phoenix would happily run straight into the mouth of hell, he likes running very much). When we got there, I had him do his stanchion touch behavior. Verbal marker for being right but no cookies.

My friends kept playing with their dogs and generally being chaotic. We did more touches, sending from up close at first and gradually backing up. He got cookies for successful touches. We went back between the jumps and I sent him from there, doing both touches and sits. Success! We backed up to the far end of the ring. Success! Friends resumed their full-bore mayhem, including one dog doing stanchion touches on the opposite side of same stanchion Phoenix was running to.

Is the problem fixed? Probably not in one session. It may never be truly "fixed." As long as Phoenix worries about dogs on the other side of the gate I'll need to do maintenance work on this exercise for as long as I show him.

But I felt good at the end of the session: I'd managed to re-create the problem in training so we could address it. We addressed it in a way that A) didn't make it worse and B) showed him that he COULD be right. I hadn't assumed my dog was being stubborn or wilfull or that he "knew better." (The mindset that creates those excuses will never be able to solve them in a positive way.)

When we train alone, I think I can re-create the problem to a degree by putting toys, bowls, treat containers, etc. on the far end of the ring. I can hang coats, towels and other odds and ends on the gates. I'm pretty sure he'll do some avoidance behaviors, which will give me the opportunity to show him how to be right again.

He's a bright fellow. When he does something, either right or wrong, it's very clear that there is a reason. I wish I was a little quicker at interpreting those reasons.

Our dance card continues this weekend with the ICDOC trials at Amana. We're showing two days out of three, then we have a day off (Phoenix has a day off, I have to go back to work and do a million things in a single day) before heading to Malinois nationals.

Thank heaven for Wal-mart because packing is going to get done at the last minute and I know I'm going to forget at least one thing in spite of my lists.

Monday, April 2, 2012

DeWitt, the review

Phoenix is becoming quite brilliant at showing me what he likes, what he "gets" and what he wishes would go away.

Saturday, we QQ'd for UDX leg 2. Ended up in a 3-way tie for 3rd in Utility but didn't have a very good run-off. Solid work in Open but our heeling got a little lazy.

Sunday we did directed jumping first in Utility and Nix either didn't know where he was going or didn't want to go toward the "busy" end of the ring - I think a little of both. He didn't do his second go-out but worked even better on the rest of the exercises. More solid work in Open, again heeling was our weak spot. We need to work on sustained effort.

Great group exercises both days and more willingness to play and even be a little silly in the ring. For us that's always a big deal! This was the first time we've successfully shown in Open and Utility 2 days in a row. Even though we had an NQ in Utility the second day I still felt this was a successful weekend for us. I got to know my dog a little better and came away with a better understanding of what he needs from me.

The company was great and the pie was excellent. Looking forward to this week's training - lots of building up heelwork. We're back in the ring in 5 days at my own club's trials.