Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Odds and ends

Feels like I haven’t blogged since forever.

There’s either nothing happening, so I don’t have anything to write about, or there’s too  much happening and no time to write about it. I think it’s mostly the latter.

Worked with a great bunch of Terv folks over the weekend to put on the second annual ABTC national specialty fundraiser agility trial in Davenport, Iowa. There were about six of us on the trial committee but thanks to dozens of wonderful, generous, awesome, hard-working volunteers from area clubs, the event went smoothly. We couldn’t have done it without them and very much appreciate their help.

Hit a deer on the way to the trial Saturday morning but no damage to R2. Fortunately (for me) someone else hit the deer first and it had checked out on the fast lane of I-80. My friend Marsha who was driving ahead of me missed the first large pile of body parts. I did, too, more or less, but when Marsha swerved to miss the rest of the deer, her van's tires kicked up a spray of semi-liquified critter in the best Hollywood gore style. While trying to avoid the oncoming splatter, I managed to whack the remaining remains on the road. As a friend of mine says, it wasn’t purty.

I went to the car wash at the first chance but my options were limited to Basic, Deluxe, Premium and The Works. They did not have a Remove Deer Splatter option. I should have gone for The Works since Basic was not up to the task. I finally took a bucket of water and a towel out to the garage the other night and scrubbed most of it off. Phoenix helped.


This is the time of year I realize that I’ve got about 6 weeks to take pictures of the dogs for a Christmas card, get the card designed, ordered, printed, addressed and mailed out in a timely fashion, so as not to offend the Holiday Police and be sending Christmas cards some time in February of 2013.

Every year, I swear I’m going to take that picture on a pleasant summer evening when my flowers are blooming and hummingbirds are darting around the patio. The reality is usually that I end up taking it in mid-November when it’s about 34 degrees outside and we’re fighting the light and the dogs are disgusted with the whole process.

This year, I may have lit on the perfect solution: take many, many pictures throughout the year so I have a large library to choose from, thus reducing the stress of taking The Perfect Christmas Card Picture at the last minute.

So far, so good. Now I just have to sort through about 472 shots of the Belgians. Yep. Sure made that job easier.


Phoenix and I are showing in UKC Utility for the first time this weekend. It’s a local trial, in a familiar building, very little travel expense and they serve the most fantastic lunches. It should be a good place to test our growing play skills in the ring. We’re getting better together. Training is now much more about play and much less about cookies. 

We haven't trialed for about two months and I am looking forward to seeing what has improved. Phoenix continues to be a wonderfully fun dog to train.


Jamie and Phoenix were playing “Who’s the big dog?” last night. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, taking turns putting their head over the other’s withers and posturing, tails wagging madly and ears pinned back in Belgian delight. This went on for quite a while. I have no idea who won.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Our freaky weather continues. Thanks to a fluke of the jet stream, we had near record high temps yesterday, with the mercury soaring to 80 degrees (keep in mind we’re just one week out from Halloween, which frequently comes with snow flurries along with trick-or-treaters in these parts.)

Last night the low was a warm and humid 65. Unreal. We slept with the windows open. Tonight’s low is forecast to be in the upper 20s, which is relatively normal, and the weekend looks happily cold and blustery.

It’s not a minute too soon. I am not a fan of hot weather. This summer’s blistering record-temps were nearly the end of me.

Color me ready for flannel sheets, hot cocoa, long underwear (c’mon, it’s silk, not a red flannel union suit), frosty mornings and crisp afternoon walks. I want to wear my winter coat and my cool new  Iowa State University stocking cap.

At the risk of tempting fate, I love fall and I love that winter is coming. Bring it!

There. I said it out loud. I love fall and winter. Yes. I know the daylight hours are dwindling and training outdoors will soon be unrealistic and the roads will get crappy and I’ll need gallons of lotion to battle dry skin and I’ll eventually catch some weird mutated cold virus that will lay me low for a few weeks. I’ll have to drag all my jumps and ring gates inside, wage war against frozen pipes in the basement and swear creatively when the garage door freezes shut.

Don’t care.

The real reason I am such a fan of late autumn and winter is that I finally get to STAY HOME. This year has been a dazzling whirlwind of obedience and agility trials, a trip to Malinois nationals and a ridiculous number of wonderful seminars. It felt like I spent more time loading and unloading R2 for another road trip than anything else. During the week, there were classes to take and teach, plus matches and lessons on my “free” weekends. Training get-togethers with friends were wedged into any available cracks in the schedule.

I wouldn’t have missed any of it for the world but I am ready for a break. I’m ready to slow down and hibernate for a couple of months. It’s great to be busy and active and have so many fun things to do. But the last 10 months have been non-stop. I vaguely remember having a summer break from obedience trials but agility trials filled in that gap.

There was no rest for the wicked. Seriously.

Now the wicked want to rest. We want to sit in our recliners with steaming mugs of tea in our hands and dogs on our laps and read good books or watch movies. We want to come home from work in the evening and stay home - not head back out in the dark and cold and drive somewhere to teach classes. We want to have entire Saturdays and Sundays that are not committed to clubs and trials. We want to be selfish. Just for a little bit.

Dare I say we want to think about getting ready for the holidays? Shopping? Baking? Cleaning? For the last few years, I’ve made it a point to have any classes I’m teaching wrapped up by Thanksgiving. Teaching between Thanksgiving and New Years has proven to be largely a waste of time in the past - people are overwhelmed and preoccupied. Throw in a few weather cancellations and pretty soon the new year arrives and I'm still trying to finish the old year's classes. So now we're done before Turkey Day and that's that.

Now it’s time to hibernate. To finish up the year's odds and ends and relax. To clear my calendar and not feel guilty about it. To enjoy holiday stuff. With dog friends, of course. While planning for 2013. I’ve got my new organizer-calendar-planner thingie. And I’m already filling in dates. Not going to Mal or Terv nationals next year and don’t have a single seminar on the horizon.

What will I do with all that extra time?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kitty, kitty!

It looks like Phoenix’s wildest dreams are going to come true.

He’s going to get a kitten.

Probably two of them.

It’s not going to happen until spring, though. They will be outdoor farm kitties, albeit spayed, neutered, vaccinated farm kitties, but farm kittens in the winter are not a good idea on any level so he'll have to wait.

Believe it or not, we have no farm cats right now. We just have Winnie, my antique cat. She is 15 or 16. I’m not sure I can really call her a farm cat, although she is a cat and she lives on a farm so technically she meets the requirements. She hangs out on old fleece crate pads in the garage or lays around in the sun and waits for meals to be delivered. Phoenix likes her. She likes Phoenix. This relationship is occasionally strained because Phoenix is sure if he pokes her hard enough, she will eventually run so he can chase. I do not think Winnie has run anywhere since 2008. But hope springs eternal.

The kittens were the Farmer’s idea. Twenty-one years and the man is still full of surprises.

We have been overrun by mice in the house this fall. When you live in a century-old farm house in the middle of thousands of acres of cropland, you’ll have that. But this fall has been worse than normal.

I run a trap line in the basement at this time of the year when it starts getting cold and the mice start trying to migrate indoors. Thankfully, they rarely get beyond the basement. We hardly ever see or trap  one in the upper floors. If we did, I suspect the Farmer might gift me a cat for Christmas. Or Thanksgiving. Or Halloween. Or tomorrow morning.

Every morning after breakfast, I clean up the kitchen and the Farmer goes down to the basement to put on his chore clothes. He checks the traps and calls up the morning’s mouse count: “We got two!” “Just one today!” “Two mice and one snapped trap!”

One morning last week, he went down to the basement and called back up, “We need a cat!”

I am fairly sure he did not mean we need a cat in the house but I could be wrong. Having farm cats prowling around outdoors does have an impact on the number of mice in the house and clearly Winnie feels mouse patrol is beneath her. When we had a large outdoor cat population, the number of mice in the house was much, much lower and we saw them hauling away the occasional rat, another occupational hazard of farm life.

So in the spring I will get a couple of kittens and start what I expect to be a long process of kitten desensitization for Phoenix. He gets along with Winnie because she is slow, quiet and really doesn’t do much besides try to wash his face. I am under no illusions that this gentle acceptance will transfer to bouncing, wrestling, spitting, hissing, leaping kittens.

I foresee kittens living in the safety of a kitty condo in the garage while Phoenix eats huge volumes of treats while remaining calm in their presence and learning they are not the elusive “git ‘em now!” novelty that cats have always been for him. I am the first to admit this is going to be a tight-rope jugging act and I also admit this is something I should have done almost 6 years ago when he was a baby but I didn’t realize the extent of his cat-obsessed prey drive back then.

To tell you the truth, I think all he wants to do is chase. When we DID have lots of farm cats (long story, much illness, many one-way trips to the vet), he DID chase them. For all his chasing he did zero catching and believe me, the opportunities were there repeatedly. I am under no illusion he would not kill a kitten simply by “playing” it to death. Or that he may never be completely trustworthy around small, furry, speedy, prey animals (okay, cats aren’t really prey animals but they are small, furry and speedy and three out of four is good enough for Phoenix.)

I haven’t told Phoenix he is getting kitties yet. By the time they arrive in the spring, he’ll be six years old. I’ve noticed a big decrease in his reactivity to other dogs. He’ll never be a dog who lets strange dogs rush up into his face without showing fang and he’ll never be a canine diplomat like Jamie, but he’s definitely more tolerant than he was even a year ago. I’m hoping this increased tolerance will carry over to cats. Cuz I’m really getting tired of emptying and re-setting mousetraps.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My favorite Rilda story

Looking back at the 15-plus years I knew my friend Rilda, there are hundreds of stories I could tell involving her. She had a wonderful sense of humor and said the most unexpected things. Just when you thought she was a quiet, polite person she’d hit you with a zinger that you never saw coming.

She was also a planner and a bit of a mother hen. She wanted everyone to be happy and safe. She was soooo worried when I went on that paranormal investigation last year. I told her she watched too many cable television ghost-hunting shows. She gave me The Look and told me to be careful. She meant it. She cared.

She used to send e-mail memos to our group of agility friends before agility trial opening dates so we could all mail our entries for opening day arrival. I damn near missed entering a local trial earlier this fall because she was in hospice care when it opened and she couldn’t remind everyone.

But my favorite Rilda story happened in late February 2007. That was when Michele and I flew to Portland, Ore., to pick up baby Phoenix. Michele’s husband, The Pharmacist, and my husband, The Farmer (hereafter known collectively as The Jeffs), stayed home.

We flew out on a Thursday. The plan was to meet Phoenix’s breeder and spend some time with her, do a little sightseeing and fly home to Iowa on Sunday. Michele had to be back to work on Monday. I remember checking the weather forecast before we left and they were predicting some kind of winter weather event for the weekend, but that was two or three days away and I was too excited about a new puppy to pay much attention.

We got to Portland just fine. Met Catherine. Met Phoenix and his littermates and his mama. Went out to dinner with Catherine and friends. Played with puppies. Catherine generously put us up at her house. We got up the next morning, full of plans for the day.

Shortly after breakfast, Oregon time, Rilda called me.

“There’s a huge storm coming in,” she said. “They’re predicting freezing rain with a half to one inch ice accumulation and 45 mile per hour winds. It’s going to hit Saturday after midnight,” she said. Then she added in her quiet, understated fashion, “You might want to think about changing  your travel plans.”

We were flying back on Sunday morning.

Midwesterners and folks in ice storm-prone regions know that freezing rain plus wind spells disaster. Even minimal ice accumulation can cause tree limbs to snap and rip down power lines as they fall. A half-inch or more of ice, combined with 45 mph wind spelled a large scale, long term train wreck. Power outages would be massive. Highways and interstates would turn into skating rinks. Businesses and schools would shut down. Airports would close.

Airports. Um. Yeah. We had flown from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Minneapolis, Minn., to Portland, Ore. We would be taking the same route back, which at the time of our return would be in the bulls-eye of the ice storm.

The Jeffs had not called us. Our husbands, our life-partners who should be concerned for the welfare of the women they loved who were on the other side of the country and would be flying back into a potentially dangerous situation had pretty much hung us out to dry. They made no attempt to contact us even though we both had cell phones and I’d left Catherine’s contact info with The Farmer. Michele and I figured they were following one of several trains of thought:

1) They were oblivious. (Take this at face value.)

2) They figured we were big girls and could take care of ourselves. (Or possibly that we wouldn’t listen to anything they told us anyway.)

3) They were having so much fun while we were gone they did not care if/when we got back. (I think I have left The Farmer for dog-related travel so many times in our 20-plus years of marriage that he just goes into a different space/time continuum when I am gone. Wife here. Wife not here. She’ll come home eventually. Whatever. No big.)

But Rilda cared enough to call and let us know what was going on. That’s just the kind of person she was, always thinking of others. Michele and I were over a thousand miles from home and she was still concerned about us. Apparently more so than our husbands.
So much for our relaxing trip to Oregon. Michele called the airline and got our tickets changed. Catherine called her vet and we scrambled to get Phoenix’s health certificate. (There’s $50 I’ll never get back. No one at the airport even looked at it. I’m still bitter. )

We got a flight back to Minneapolis that afternoon with no trouble and spent several entertaining hours in the airport with a baby malinois. Our 9 p.m. flight to Cedar Rapids was delayed three times before we finally boarded some time between 11 pm. and midnight.

When we landed in Cedar Rapids, freezing drizzle was falling. We had to be one of the last flights to land before they closed the airport because things got real dicey real fast after that. Michele’s Jeff came to the airport to pick her up. He’d been out driving around, scouting the roads, and told me the highway I would normally take home was a very bad idea, as he’d done a complete 360 spin in his pickup. Okay, that meant the long way home for me on the interstates, adding time but hopefully safer driving conditions as the DOT had been out with the brine trucks all day long.

Phoenix and I skated into our farm lane around 2 in the morning. Ice was already glazing the fences and trees. Our power went out within a matter of hours and stayed out for the next six days. I can still hear the rifle shot sounds of ice-weighted limbs crashing down out of trees.

If Rilda hadn’t called to tell us about the storm, who knows when we would have gotten home. If we’d stuck to our original travel plan, I’m not sure if we would have been able to fly into Minneapolis on Sunday, let alone back to Cedar Rapids.

If we’d made it to Minneapolis, there was no way we could have even rented a car and driven home - it’s a five-hour drive when the weather is NICE. Now the roads were basically impassable.

We could have ended up being stuck indefinitely at Catherine’s in Oregon or stuck indefinitely at the airport in Minneapolis. Either way would have ranged from inconvenient to unpleasant.

Granted, thanks to Rilda’s heads-up call, I got home just in time to start a six-day siege in a house with no heat or running water in February, but at least I was home with The Farmer and all the dogs.

Whenever I think about that crazy whirlwind trip to Oregon and back in slightly over 24 hours, I always think of Rilda.

Friends look out for each other.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Odds and ends Wednesday

Yet another Orbee ball has been carefully un-texted.
You-know-who does this.
He is an Orbee purist.
No words shall mar his ball.

Green and red.
Color us ready for the holidays.

Jamie on a good minimal-tilt day.
He's the happiest dog.
Just plain happy.

Coming soon: my favorite Rilda story of all time (not easy, there are a LOT of Rilda stories.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Rilda Fish
March 16, 1950 - October 12, 2012

I miss you.
Your sense of humor.
The brownies for breakfast.
The post-trial margaritas.
Giving me crap about the Cyclones.
Giving you crap about the Hawkeyes.
Giving Jamie treats because he was chewing on your pants.
You videoing my agility runs.
And apologizing for it.
They weren't that bad.
Well, okay, sometimes they were.
Counting all the cigarettes you didn't smoke.
Playing "snap-snap" and "git yer tail" with Phoenix.
The "happy ass" story.
Camping at Saylorville and dog races in the tent.
That stupid deer you hit on the way to Ames.
Laughing at our handling mistakes.
Telling Phoenix to stay out of tunnels.
The year you bought beers for the team judges at Des Moines,
right before we went into the ring.
All the cookies you brought to trials.

Always encouraging me.
Always listening.
You were an awesome friend.
I love you.
I miss you very much.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good night, sleep tight . . . or not

Do you know how much noise a disgruntled Tervuren can make when he’s confined to a crate at night?

This is not a rhetorical question.

Since  Jamie’s “spell” last week, I’ve started crating him at night. The reasons are threefold:

1) He is still occasionally a menace to himself and thinks he can do things that are not a very good idea. Leaping for the bed and crashing backward when he doesn’t make it fall into this category. This is not appreciated by anyone involved.

2) He has become oddly nocturnal - prowling and pacing. His constant motion and difficulty settling down at night tends to disturb the other residents of our house who are firm believers in getting their 8 hours. This nocturnal-ity (is that even a word?) has brought with it the arbitrary Belgian decision that all residents should rise and shine at 4 a.m.  We’re early risers at our house but we’re not dairy farmers. Even Phoenix doesn’t want to get up that early.

3) It’s in his own best interest. Morning routines since Phoenix’s arrival 5 1/2 years ago are as such: clock radio clicks on, Belgians leap up and greet the day with a series of chest bumps, ruff biting, growling and ricocheting off the walls and furniture while racing through the house. That was all fine and good when Jamie could keep all four feet under him. He gave as good as he got and it ensured that no one ever slept through the alarm.

While I refuse to call him frail or elderly, at age 13 it’s clear that those rough-and-tumble mornings need to be behind him. Since neither he nor Phoenix see it that way, I’m left in the role of enforcer. An ounce of prevention is worth a trip to the emergency vet.

Hence, Jamie is sleeping (or not) in a crate at night. He’s still loose in the house during the day so really, his life isn’t that awful. I gate him out of the bedroom so he’s not tempted to try flying/crashing bed leaps. He can safely get onto “his” couch, which is where he spends 98 percent of his day. And Phoenix is crated during the day so the Belgian demo derby is not taking place.

Jamie has not been crated at night since he was 2. He thinks this is one of the worse ideas I’ve ever had (other bad ideas included Halloween costumes and handing him off to a friend for veterans class group stays). I swear he deliberately tries to see how much noise he can make at night. He grumbled, panted, turned in circles, barked, dug at the bedding and lashed his tail against the crate sides. Who knew a dog could make so much noise just laying down!

So I moved him to a soft-side crate. I resurrected his old Doggonegood crate (the original classic style - how old is that!), the one with the worn out zipper that I would never trust at a trial site but is good enough for nightly incarceration. He made up for the lack of metal-induced noise by trying to scratch a nest in the canvas floor from 1 to 3 a.m.

Yep. Poster child for disgruntled. I tried explaining it to him. IF you would lie down and go to sleep. IF you would not try ill-advised nighttime acrobatics. IF you would quit with the endless prowling. IF you would please NOT stand at the side of the bed, staring and poking me from 4 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. IF you and Phoenix would try NOT killing each other every morning. THEN you could sleep loose again.

This met with one of Jamie’s very calm, very patient stares. It’s The Look he’s given me for 13 years. The one that says “Yeah whatever, Mom. Get over it.” I love that look. Silly old dog.

My next idea is an ex-pen. I’ll probably have to re-arrange the bedroom furniture first.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jamie update, agility pics

 It's been 7 days since Jamie's vestibular episode and I'd say he's back to about 90 percent normal. He still loses control of his hind end very easily (slick floors, sudden turns) and the hardest part of his recovery has been convincing Phoenix he can't play crash and run games with his brother any more.

Over the weekend, the boys had "spa day," and I needed to put Jamie on the grooming table. I envisioned him putting his front paws on the table and letting me boost his hind end up. He was having no part of that. I finally got him up there but think we'll just groom on the floor from now on, We're going to have to practice getting in and out of the van, though, because he HAS to let me help him do that or he'll fall on his head.

Even though Jamie is back to eating meals out of his bowl off the floor, I'm checking into an elevated feeder for him. He still has to "aim" his mouth at his bowl and really, meals just shouldn't be that much work.

Here's Phoenix in all his glory from a September agility trial (photos by Nieder Arts Photography).

I love it when his paws are going in 4 different directions.

This would be the rare, short-legged malinois variety.

I really think gravity does not apply to this dog.

Love my Skinny Little Dog. He is a gift in so many ways.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jamie update - happy day

It's been about 72 hours since Jamie's vestibular episode (attack? spell? event? I really don't know what to call it). He continues to make steady, positive progress. From everything I've read, sounds like "recovery" can take up to a month, so I'm pretty happy.

He's moving much better today. Still occasionally wobbles in the back end but that can probably be said for many of us. The only thing I'm seeing is he's no longer as sure footed on the kitchen vinyl as he was before. He also loses his balance and tips over when he tries to spin and keep up with Phoenix, regardless of the footing.

The head tilt is still there and he may just keep it for awhile. Happy to report he ate breakfast (yay!) out of a bowl (yay!) on the floor (triple yay!) this a.m. He still has not regained all his fine motor control and it takes him a bit to approach the bowl and size it up to get his muzzle in it but this was the first morning he was able to eat without it being elevated. If this proves difficult in the future, I'll go back to holding his bowl up for him. It doesn't take him that long to eat, believe me. He was raised by shelties.

He's also getting on and off "his" couch again, something that was out of the question for the first couple of days.

Thanks, everyone, for your concern and positive thoughts. They're very much appreciated.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Crisis du jour

Jamie had an idiopathic vestibular episode Wednesday. He’s shown slow but steady improvement over the last 48 hours. He’s still a little wobbly but can walk without falling. The head tilt comes and goes. He can’t access his food or water bowls when they are on the floor but can eat and drink when they’re elevated.

When I got home from work Wednesday, he was staggering and disoriented, barely able to walk and clearly in a panic, trembling and panting. I recognized the symptoms immediately, as several friends have had this happen to their dogs.

The vet said there’s no specific treatment, give Benadryl to calm and sedate and keep him from being a hazard to himself, which he was. He’s been crated in a dark room (our bedroom), which seemed to help with the loss of equilibrium and subsequent nausea.

By Thursday morning, he wanted to eat but when I put his bowl on the floor, he didn’t have the eye-mouth-head coordination to do it. I hand-fed him, matching my hand position to his head tilt. We spilled a lot of food but he ate with enthusiasm.

His motor skills improved visibly within 24 hours. He could walk without falling but circled constantly to the right. When I tried to gently turn him to the left to guide him back into the crate, he toppled over. We had to take a convoluted route through the house, always turning right, to get him aimed in the correct direction to get into his crate.

By this morning, Jamie was able to turn both his head and body left and right. He shook and stretched when coming out of the crate, two behaviors I’d not seen him do for 48 hours. His rear legs occasionally operate independently of his front legs but he was able to eat breakfast out of a bowl when I held it at his head level. His head carriage is normal when he’s moving but if he stop, sits or lays down, it tilts.

I’m optimistic about a full or close to full recovery. I don’t know if he’ll have another “spell.” Hope not. It was scary enough for both of us the first time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Success, failure and expectations of fun

I do obedience and agility with my dogs.

I have friends who do obedience but not agility.

I have friends who do agility but not obedience.

I have friends who do both obedience and agility.

We all find the games we play with our dogs highly rewarding for a variety of reasons - sharing a relationship with another species, the physical and mental challenges of training and competing, the delight in problem solving, overcoming obstacles, the sense of achievement, the simple joy of spending time with an animal we love. The list can go on and on. Winning ribbons and prizes might be on that list but I’d guess the childish fascination with ribbons and trophies has passed for most of the folks I show with.

It’s not about the ribbons but frequently it IS about what they represent - a level of achievement. Whether or not we are able to achieve our perception of success often impacts our perception of fun. Repeated failure is generally not considered fun.

Exhibitors in any venue whose dogs fail repeatedly usually take one of two routes: they change something in their training so they can succeed or they leave the sport. It’s human nature to want to feel successful at anything we do. Even though you may not care about winning the NOI or being on the agility world team, most people have a minimum level of expectation for themselves and their dogs.

Either of the above choices is totally acceptable. No matter how much you love your dog, it’s not written anywhere that you have to love agility or that you have to love obedience (or tracking, nosework, herding, earthdog, freestyle, protection or anything else) because others proclaim these activities to be “fun.” You will naturally gravitate to the sport(s) you genuinely love and once you’re there, you’ll be willing to work through whatever training issues might stand between you and your goals because you DO find most aspects of that sport fun and rewarding.

Most of us would agree we have chosen to participate in our selected dog sports because they are fun. They appeal to us on a level we find hard to explain to “non-dog” people. Having said that, “fun” is highly subjective.

The Farmer is convinced that getting up before dawn to drive two hours, dragging crates and chairs through the snow into a semi-heated horse arena in March and sitting around in that arena for the next 7 hours, during which time you get to “play” for less than 2 minutes is not what a normal person would consider “fun.” He is quite sure he is normal. He is quite sure I am not.

So, “fun” is largely in the eye of the beholder. It’s probably safe to say none of us would do ANY sport if we didn’t think it was fun.

Right now, Phoenix and I are a bit of a mess when it comes to obedience. Although we’ve had occasional moments of brilliance, showing him in obedience this year has not been a lot of fun. So we’re taking (another) temporary break from showing.

But training him is a riot! Our ring issues have reflected training issues and as I’ve accepted a few inconvenient truths and looked for ways to change our training, that training has become more and more rewarding. I hope eventually it will pay off in the ring, where it will allow us to have genuine fun together.

I’ve thought obedience was fun since I showed my Novice A dog when I was 9 years old. If I didn’t find it fun, I would have abandoned Phoenix’s obedience career a long time ago and pursued other activities with him. I can’t explain why I think I love obedience any more than I can explain why I love strawberries and hate plums.

While I wish I could have avoided the issues that have caused our ring time not to be fun, I know this whole experience with Phoenix is invaluable. The last couple of years with this dog have been part of a priceless (and ongoing) journey.

Obviously, this business of having fun is a very complicated thing. Finding a balance between dreams, goals, reality and the whims of the obedience and agility fates is vital to finding the true fun in your chosen sport. The “we’re having fun no matter what” attitude is a nice way to recognize there’s more to life with dogs than getting titles but sometimes it’s a false pretense that does more harm than good. I see people come out of the ring disappointed, frustrated and angry. They are obviously not having fun “no matter what.”

It’s okay to make mistakes and hit rough spots and be disappointed and admit you’re not having fun. It helps us grow as trainers and in our relationships with our dogs. It’s part of life. The fun is out there, sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Just a few pics from harvesting soybeans at our place over the weekend. Yeah, it was as dusty as it looks.