Thursday, December 28, 2006

Breeding dogs for looks has consequences

There's a good article in today's New York Times about how dog "fads" in Japan have led to a huge increase in crippling and fatal genetic defects including "puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose" or "dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies."

Although the article makes it sound like The American Kennel Club has "rules" that prevent anything of the sort from ever happening here, the truth is that they are not, nor do they claim to be, a regulatory organization. The AKC is merely one of several breed registries through which breeders can register puppies as "purebred," and they only enforce their own definitions and standards of "purity." The NYT aricle cites an AKC "rule" that dogs must conform to a list of acceptable colors for each breed, but these rules really only apply to dogs who compete in AKC show rings. Any breeder can take two AKC-registered dogs of a particular breed, regardless of their genetics, and breed a litter of puppies who are themselves then eligible for AKC registration. All AKC registration means is that the parent dogs were registered, period. Registration itself is not a guarantee or indication of quality, health or genetic soundness. Although the AKC does contribute a money toward genetic research and encourages dog buyers to find breeders who test for genetic problems, they do not enforce any standards of genetic health on breeders. And the truth is, one doesn't have to look very far in most contemporary breeds to find genetically transmitted health problems

The issue of rampant genetic problems in purebred dogs is too complex to dissect in a simple blog entry, but I think much of it can be attributed to the "fancy" of breeding dogs solely for looks--which is what conformation shows are all about. Aficionados of working and sporting dogs have long held that breeding for physical traits results in dogs that can't do the work they were once bred for. It's why some working-dog breed clubs, most notably the American Border Collie Association and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America prohibit dogs in their registries from being registered with the AKC. In fact, the JRTCA was so successful in preventing the AKC from recognizing their breed that the AKC had to make up a new name for the little JRT-like terrier it recognizes, calling it the "Parson Russell Terrier" instead. I predict that in 10 years or so, the Parson Russells will be quite noticeably different from JRTs as various fads in the show ring entice breeders to emphasize one physical trait or another. Quite likely the result will be a little dog that's afraid of rats rather than one willing to go-to-ground after its quarry.

As I said, one blog entry isn't sufficient for a thorough discussion of my views on this topic, so I'll just leave you with a few links I like in case you'd like to read more:
Breeding Frenzy: Why "pure breed" dogs can't fetch: An interview with James Serpell.
Purebred Dog Breeds into the Twenty-First Century: Achieving Genetic Health for Our Dogs by Jeffrey Bragg
The Price of Popularity: Popular Sires and Population Genetics by C.A. Sharp
Population Genetics And Breeding by John Armstrong
Westminster Eugenics Show: Repugnant thinking that’s died out for humans is thriving at the Westminster Kennel Club by Jonah Goldberg

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A quick agility recap ...

OK, so I've been a combination of lazy/busy, and even though I've been dying to blather on about our agility weekend almost two weeks ago, I just haven't done it. But in a luck coincidence, I just happened to get my three favorite runs on video, so I'll just share the highlights.

First, Mr. Gomez had one qualifying run out of four which, considering that he can be such a goofball, is fine with me. It was in P1 standard, and even though I had to fix his weaves (he pooped out before the last pole) and take three tries to get him through the tire, we were still almost two seconds under time (hooray for the USDAA's Performance option--we would not have qualified in Starters!):


Second, Lucy qualified in three runs (Advanced Gamblers, Grand Prix and Masters Jumpers, of which my favorite was the Gamblers run because she really rocked the joker and we won first place (out of 8 dogs). The one mistake was that she didn't take the first jump I asked her to, but since it was Gamblers, it didn't really matter much:


My third favortie run wasn't a Q, but I'm very proud of it nonetheless because it was the hardest course we have ever run (a Masters Standard course by Janet Gauntt), yet our only fault was the table. I wish I could post a course map, because the video doesn't really illustrate how tough the course was--even seasoned masters-level competitors told me they thought it was very difficult. So for our only problem to be at the table felt pretty good to me (and I think Lucy's behavior was a stress reaction from just having had three very quick and slightly confusing lead changes.) My favorite bit was at the end when I counter-hand turned her out of the weaves to the tire--it worked way better than I expected it to:


So now we have a break in showing until the end of February. I've got lots to work on in the meantime ...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another reminder: Unplug that shredder!

This one happened in the UK.

And I'm behind on posting an update about our agility adventures last weekend. The short story is: win some, lose some ...

Friday, December 01, 2006

More agility! (Or: this dog goes up to 11!)

This weekend will be my last agility trial of the "season," which really doesn't mean much because around here the season is pretty much year-round, although the only trial I know of within easy driving distance in January is an AKC trial, and my dogs, being mixes, aren't allowed to compete there (we'd kick some purebred butt if we were, heh heh!). There is a NADAC Toys for Tots benefit trial next weekend that could extend my season one more week, but I decided not to enter.

This weekend's trial is USDAA in Fletcher, NC, and hosted by the Blue Ridge Agility Club, who are known for their well-run trials. The site is fantastic--an indoor horse arena at the Western NC Agricultural Center, and the trial attracts a lot of the "big name" competitors so there's plenty of great agility to watch.

I won't have a lot of time to spectate, since between my two dogs I'll be competing in both rings at all levels (Lucy is in Advanced in some events, Masters in others, plus Grand Prix and Steeplechase; Mr. Gomez is in Performance 1), on Saturday. On Sunday Mr. Gomez gets to go hiking with his dad and I'll just be running Lucy. Both dogs are looking good in practice--sticking their contacts (it's a long standing problem with Lucy!), finding their weave entries from all angles, getting fast table downs, etc., so I'm feeling really good about the whole thing. Hopefully I can stay relaxed enough to have some really fun runs. We'll see, and of course I'll write all about it when I'm back.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gomey!

This is the only video I got over the weekend--it's Mr. Gomez's first run of the weekend (jumpers, and we Q'ed!):



Thanks to my friend Shelly for taking it--she has a lot more agility vids you can watch here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Agility: More NADAC

I spent the weekend competing in another NADAC trial. I entered each dog in four runs per day, both for financial reasons and because remembering how to run two very different dogs is still new enough that I didn't think I could do any more. Results varied. Saturday gave us beautiful weather--sunny and warm. Mr. Gomez qualified in his first run that day (jumpers) but then we had a few runs where he spent a lot of his time looking around at the spectators and ring crew as if he was still trying to comprehend what was going on. So we wasted a little time here and there as I got his attention back and got him back on track through the course. I think he'll start getting over those behaviors the more he gets accustomed to the trial environment. Lucy was enthusiastic and fast all day Saturday ... too much so, in fact, because in each run she got way ahead of me and took an off-course obstacle before I could call her off of it. Still, it was great to see her so fast and confident. Plus, all of the work we have been doing on weave entries and contacts seems to have been paying off because she nailed every one beautifully.

Sunday was a quagmire. It had started raining heavily in the middle of the night, and when I got to the site at about 7:15 it didn't look like it would ever let up. The field, which under normal circumstances drains nicely, was a bog. The once waterproof hiking boots I was wearing were obviously no longer waterproof (fortunately I had brought two extra pairs of shoes and socks ... although once the second pair got completely sodden I just decided to keep them on and save the third pair for post-trial relief). Fortunately, the rain started slacking off by 9 am, but the field remained sodden, and it got worse all day as competitors slowly churned it to mud. Gomey went 1 for 4 all day, Q-ing only in Touch & Go (with a really beautiful run). Lucy took another off-course in T&G, but went on to have fantastic qualifying runs in Tunnelers and Weavers. Then we missed our Jumpers Q by .12 seconds--she had been well on her way toward an off-course jump when I called her off and got her back on course to finish clean, but we burned up too much time in the correction (we're in Open jumpers, where the times can be astonishingly tight).

At any rate, despite the fact that our Q's were sparse, I had a great time. I'm still not a fan of NADAC, however. I find that there is little consistency in the level of difficulty one can expect in the courses (i.e., at one trial they will be laughably easy, while at another almost impossibly hard). The NADAC trials just often feel so random--at one trial a judge may give a full 10 minutes to walk a course while at another trial (i.e. this one) the judge may give 4 minutes. I wonder if it's a coincidence that the only NADAC judge I have respected so far is also a USDAA judge? Too bad there aren't enough USDAA trials within easy driving distance to keep us busy all year--I'd skip NADAC completely. Fortunately we'll get a new option next spring because one of the local clubs will be hosting a CPE trial. I'll give it a try!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A home for Zsa Zsa?

Yesterday I was feeling frazzled and stressed because it seemed that my every waking moment outside of work (and even a few at work) was consumed with the care, exercise and training of little puppy Zsa Zsa. I was wondering how I could continue this for four more weeks (that's how long until her puppy class is over), and then what? What if no one wants to adopt her? Would I be able to keep this up indefinitely without going bonkers? Zsa Zsa is a sweet little dreamboat of a dog, but she's stil a puppy. A very, very busy little puppy.

But my friend Alyssa, who has been of great assistance during this whole endeavor, called last night with some great news: the folks at Annabelle's Second Chance, a pit bull rescue group that listed Zsa Zsa for us, had a potential adopter for us. Alyssa had spoken to them, and thought they sounded very promising--the one drawback being that they don't have a fenced yard. Well, I know a lot of people who are perfectly wonderful dog owners without fenced yards (my own mother, for example). I think the important questions are how much time are these people willing to spend on/with their dog, and do they plan to make the dog a full member of the family? In those respects, it sounds like this family might work for Zsa Zsa.

Alyssa said the family lives near her parents' house, where Alyssa is headed for the weekend, so it will be very convenient for her to take Zsa Zsa to meet them. As soon as she told me this I looked over at adorable Zsa Zsa contentedly chewing her rawhide bone in her x-pen, and thought "Oh, no! What am I going to do without her? She's too precious! I'm going to miss her!" Funny how one's perspective can change so quickly ...

It it true, I will miss her, but I will be so happy if this home works out for her. And Lucy and Mr. Gomez will be happy to have my undivided attention back. Speaking of them, they will both be competing in a NADAC trial at PBH this weekend. I don't feel mentally prepared because I've been focussing so much on the pup, but what the heck--we'll jusy run around and have some fun. It's only NADAC!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Puppies, puppies, puppies!

It's been pouring down rain all day and now I sit here wondering: How on earth am I going to get this puppy tired enough to want to settle nicely in her crate and sleep? It it were a light rain I'd just go ahead and walk her in it, but it's a rather heavy rain--it was hard to get her to want to leave the porch to take care of business. There are also 5-inch deep puddles in the back yard, so I can't really take her out to play ball (plus it's dark so early now--stupid daylight savings time!!) Right now she's cozy in her x-pen chewing a compressed rawhide bone (she loves them and I'm so glad for that!), but she will probably tire of that soon. I wish I was allowed to take her to the mall and walk her there--wouldn't that be wonderful? Instead I suppose I'll have to just play with her in the living room.

In other puppy news, my "senior puppy" class last night was borderline chaos. The smallest dog looked like she was about 35 lbs., the biggest is approaching 50 lbs. and none of them had been in any previous classes, so they were wired and wild and it was hard to maintain control long enough to get through the exercises. I really wonder why people wait until their puppy is big enough to pull them over before getting into a class where they can learn how to control it? Please people, start those classes right when you get the puppy (we accept them as young as 9 weeks old in "puppy primer")! You're doing no one any favors by waiting, least of all yourself. I've heard people say they are putting off puppy classes because they are "too busy right now." In that case, why didn't you wait to get the puppy until you had time to do what's necessary? By waiting, all people are doing is ensuring that they will have more problems to solve when you finally find the time to make it to class.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Puppy!

yes, i am adorable indeed

One of the reasons I haven't posted much lately is the puppy you see above. For some insane reason, I decided to be her foster home. Actually, I know exactly why I'm fostering her: she's absolutely awesome and needs to find an active home that will take full advantage of her awesomeness. I first met the pup--I'm calling her Zsa Zsa--at a flyball tournament in September, and I spent some time walking her, playing with her and trying some basic training (sit, loose-leash walking) with her. Her focus and attention for such a youngster (she was about 12 weeks old at the time--she's about 17-weeks now) just astounded me. She had all the motivations I would want for a sporty dog (tug, ball and food), and she was super handler-attentive even in the presence of lots of dogs and people. If I had been in a position to add a third dog to my household, she would have been it.

One would think that a pup like this would have no problem finding a home quickly, but she has a bit of a reputation to overcome--she's a pit bull. (More after the jump.)


She did briefly have a home, but they turned out not to be the right fit. The truth is that pit bulls--which in my opinion can be absolutely wonderful pets and sport dogs--are not for everyone. They require committed and knowledgeable owners willing to spend a lot of time with their dog. They require consistent and firm but loving training, and they need a lot of exercise. They get a lot of bad press for supposedly being aggressive towards humans, but the real problem to watch out for is aggression towards other dogs (those who know the breed recognize that they are usually extremely loving and devoted to humans, and very tolerant of handling). Proper socialization and supervision with other dogs is essential, and pit bulls may not always be suitable for dog-park-like recreational settings or multi-dog households. But their work ethic, drive and general enthusiasm make them well-suited for many different dog sports and work. A U.S. Customs dog trainer once told me that pit bulls make exceptional drug sniffer dogs, but the agency had to stop using them because anti-pit bull hysteria made people freak out when they saw them. I've even gotten some bad-will over the last few days just walking her around my neighborhood: people ask what she is and I've gotten a few horrified looks when I tell the truth ... as if she's going to eat all the neighborhood toddlers one day (one can only hope ... oh, I'm kidding, lighten up!)

Before she came to my house, Zsa Zsa's home was a boarding kennel. She was surrendered along with her heartworm-positive mother to the kennel owner by a neighbor who could not or would not take proper care of her dogs (the mother was so sick that Zsa Zsa is the only pup from the litter who survived). Although she got a lot of love from the kennel staff and was able to play with other dogs and pups, it really wasn't a great place for her to learn good potty-training or home-life skills and habits, and the kennel staff wasn't doing anything to pubicize her to potential adopters. I couldn't stand the thought that for lack of a little training she could end up being someone's problem--which is usually what happens when high-drive dogs don't get the stimulation and attention they require.

I decided to bring her to my house for a weekend trial period. Wow--even though I teach puppy classes, my dogs are getting old so I've not been required in recent years to practice what I preach! I had forgotten how extraordinarily demanding the little breasts are, and it took me a couple of mistakes to get the potty training rhythm going (once I got my act together Zsa Zsa responded well, and we're almost pros now). I had also forgotten that in the blink of an eye, puppy can go from chewing on authorized toy to unauthorized table leg, rug or pants leg, and when I tell my puppy classes that pup needs to be confined in a crate or x-pen if they aren't actively supervised, I'm not making it up or exaggerating! There is nothing in this world that Zsa Zsa doesn't want to pick up or chew on--or both. I noticed this morning that there's a growing pile of sticks by the front door--she picks them up when we're walking outside, but I make her drop them before we go in. I think that pit bulls can be even "mouthier" than other breeds, and it's likely to be a trait she holds onto past puppyhood. That means whoever adopts her will need to be committed to keeping her in a "dog-proof" place like a crate or x-pen well-into adulthood. Some people think it's cruel to confine a dog, but it's far better than what happens to dogs whose owners allow them to run loose only to decide that the dog "isn't working out" after it destroys expensive furnishings and posessions ...

Anyway, the big problem with having Zsa Zsa in my home is that Mr. Gomez (my big border collie mix) vociferously hates her (or almost any dog guest in our home), and I have to keep them separated, because Zsa Zsa wants nothing more in life than for him to love her. She's doing all the proper submissive things--scrunching down, bowing her head, trying to lick his mouth--but it only gets him more upset. At first, the mere sight of her set him to growling, but now he's cool if she doesn't pay any attention to him ... which doesn't last for long. At any rate, I have to keep them separated (he tolerates her hanging out in an X-pen in the same room as him), and the last thing I want her to learn is how to be hateful toward other dogs. Lucy tolerates her presence but she doesn't actually want to have anything to do with her so I don't really let Zsa Zsa try to play with her at all. The whole situation requires a lot of time and energy to manage, and when people say (as they do say--a lot) when I'm singing Zsa Zsa's praises "Oh, you're going to end up keeping that dog" I know there is no way I could do this permamnently. I had a foster dog several years ago whom I dearly loved (I think he was a lab/pit mix), but the three-dog circus just wasn't working (Mr. Gomez actively hated him, too, and he grew to hate Gomey right back). So when he finally found a home after seven months, I was sorry to part with him but very happy to be back down to two dogs.

The good news is that a fellow dog-training type and her partner may be interested in Zsa Zsa. They are going to meet her tonight. It would be an excellent home for her because they are experienced and active dog people, and they would give Zsa Zsa some training and a job. I really want to see her doing agility if possible, because I think she has the aptitude--I've already got her doing figure-8's around cones, running through tunnels and jumping onto a "tippy board," all of which she does with great enthusiasm. We'll see, and maybe I'll even find the time to keep you posted!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The lazy dog-blogger says hello ...

I swear I've tried to post (twice!) but both times bizarre computer crashes occurred that ate what I had written and I was to ticked off and frustrated to recreate it all. Then I just got busy (doing dog things!) and didn't have the time or energy to write.

So I've been meaning to talk about agility, spcifically a NADAC trial I entered a couple of weeks ago. It went pretty well--two Qs for Gomey and three for Lucy. I only entered three events per dog per day because I'm saving my money for USDAA, which is what I really like. NADAC can be fun (I love the jumpers and tunnelers courses!) but I have some problems with the organization and the way it's all run (I'll rant a little about that below).
I like to enter Lucy in a few NADAC classes now and then for motivation--she gets really jazzed on the wide-open, easy courses (and for the most part the courses are extremely easy). Of course, that doesn't stop her from taking an occasional off-course, as you can see in the video below (the part where I say "here, here, here, here here! I was being a bit lackadaisical because ... well it's just NADAC):



My favorite runs were the tunnelers, because Lucy feels really confident (as if she's thinking "yay tunnels--so easy!). Here's one run (our other one was way better and faster but I didn't get it on video):



Gomey is still a goofball, but he's much better than he used to be (he's learning that if he keeps an eye on me he may find out what I want him to do next). But more importantly, I'm starting to figure out how to run him--he's so different from Lucy. Here's a video of a Regular class run--we didn't Q here (he missed the dogwalk contact and then even though I made him sit to regain control, I had to cross the "distance" line to get him into the weaves ... and then he still didn't complete them before I gave up):



This brings up one of the rants I have about NADAC: The way they have reconfigured their classes to include a distance challenge in Regular plus a Chances class, which is a less-fun version of "gamblers," is just backward. For one thing, why can't they have a Regular class without a distance challenge, now that they have the Chances class? My friend Louis says it's because they have to do something to make the courses a bit challenging, because otherwise they are laughably easy. He's got a point, but then wouldn't it make sense to put the really difficult distance challenges in the Chances class, where people specifically expect something a bit tough, as opposed in the Regular class, which people enter when they just want to do ... well, you know, REGULAR agility?

Instead, the distance work in the Chances class was laughably easy and I was kicking myself for not entering: it was just a line of jumps across a tape line (the distance between line and jumps increased at each level). meanwhile, in the Regular class--and I'm talking about NOVICE here--the distance challenges both days included either a set of six weaves or a dog walk. These two obstacles never appear in a starters gamble course in USDAA--and USDAA is designed to be much more rigorous and demanding that NADAC. Getting a dog to hit a weave entry or stick a dog walk contact with the handler 6 feet away is--or should be--an advanced skill. All I can think is that NADAC, which is entirely run by a single (seemingly insane) woman somewhere out in Idaho, has decided that dogs were advancing too quickly out of Novice competition, so they (she) decided to keep them there as long as possible.

Or maybe, like me, people will just think of NADAC as a place to practice for the real competition in USDAA. They do allow training in the ring, after all ...

OK, enough ranting. Coming soon (really!) I'm going to talk about sunshine, rainbows and PUPPIES!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dog park!



I've been lax in posting lately because I've been busy with lots of agility training and flyball. But a trip to my mom's this past weekend reminded me of a topic that I've been meaning to discuss: the dog park, specifically good dog park etiquette.

My mom lives in Myrtle Beach, SC, which is home to the best dog park I've ever seen (see photo above). Normally I don't like dog parks because they often function more as fight pits--they are way too small and the dogs get crowded together, and because a lot of owners have no idea how to properly supervise dog play things can get dangerous and out-of-hand rather quickly. But the Myrtle Beach dog park is huge (11 acres!), with two areas, each with its own entrance. it's got plenty of room for the dogs not to feel crowded, which helps keep down the level of nervousness or grouchiness some dogs feel. There's also a large pond in the middle for dogs who like to splash about or swim (my own dogs love that part!, and there is a wooded area with a few intrepid squirrels to be chased. I look forward to to this dog park every time I visit Myrtle Beach.

But even in a wonderful, huge dog park, owners need to supervise their dogs' play, not just for safety but out of consideration for others. What gets me every time are the people who congrate and chat, drinking coffee while completely ignoring their dogs. Of course, these are usually the same dogs who end up rushing the entrances when new dogs show up--making it difficult for some dogs to get into the park safely because they immediately feel defensive. I always run interference as I'm opening the gate, backing off the dogs who have gathered so my own dogs can feel comfortable entering the park. Allowing your dog to crowd and intimidate new arrivals is just downright inconsiderate, as is allowing your dogs to gang up on or bully another dog ... even though its just play to the bully it can be terrifying and traumatizing for the bullied, who may feel defensive enough to bite back.

Because a lot of people don't know how to recognize the difference between normal play and unsafe play, Val Olszyk, owner and training director of Pet Behavior Help (where I train and teach), has written a guide to using a dog park. Her advice can help dog owners not only protect their own dogs, but also avoid being the ones everyone else tries to avoid! I think the next time I go to the Myrtle Beach dog park I may print and laminate a few copies of here guide and attach them to the fence.

If you're going to Myrtle Beach and you'd like to visit the dog park, it's located on the former air force base at the south end of Myrtle Beach. To get there turn into the former AFB from Kings Highway and take a left at "Mallard Lake Drive." The park is the fenced in area on your left about 200 yards after you turn. (Here's the location marked on Yahoo maps ... anyone who knows how I can add an interactice Yahoo or Google map to this entry let me know. I know there's got to be a way, but I'm not geeky enough to try figuring it out.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Still more Qs for Gomey (and Lucy)!

Give Mr. Gomez a giant dog treat and he's likely to swallow it whole. (See this photo).

Anyway, I'm exhausted from day 2 of agility--but exhilarated! Lucy won first place in the Steeplechase. Strange, because she came in at the bottom of the pack of qualifiers yesterday. But we just had a really nice run. She still wasn't going as fast as she might have when it's not blazingly hot outside, but other than an inelegant front cross by me at one point, the run was as close to flawless as one can ever hope for in agility. After it was done I thought "That's why I do this sport!"

But Gomey had some glory, too. After a debacle of a gamblers run, in which he ran amok completely, he went on to have a really beautiful qualifying jumpers run. It was as if a little lightbulb went on in his head, and he realized that if he kept an eye on me he would always know what I wanted him to do next. He stayed with me, and except for missing the tire on the first pass (we really need to work more on that obstacle), he took everything perfectly.

Then we had another success on the Snooker course. I was worried because the number 7 obstacle was weaves plus a jump, and we don't weave yet, so we would have to skip it. The number 6 obstacle was the teeter, and even though we practiced the heck out of it all week, I didn't want to ask him to take it more than once just in case it spooked him (he still has trouble distinguishing between the dogwalk and the teeter at first, even though I call them different things on his approach). I did some calculations and I realized that by taking the number five twice and the four once in the opening, and assuming that he would successfuly complete the teeter in the closing, we could just reach 37 points, the minimum required for a Q. It also made for an opening with a bit of "flow," which is often hard to get in a Snooker opening (but with a "green" dog you really need it). The hitch is that the number 5 obstacle was a tire, which Gomey still tries to skip a lot. But it seemed to be the best plan of any, so we went for it. Sure enough, he ran right by the tire the first time (he looked like he had his sights set on the teeter), but fortunately it was bi-directional in the opening so I just turned him around and he took it. Then everything else sort of fell into place ... I lagged a bit in one spot and he started barking at me ("Dammit woman, I need some direction here! Hel-lo!"), but we made it through, with time to spare. I just ran him past the weaves and to the finish. That was another "This is why I do it" moment.

I got that snooker run on video and I'll upload it sometime this week (when I'm less exhausted!)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Agility: Gomey's first Q


Mr. Gomez got his first agility Q today in Snooker. It was actually a very hideous but highly amusing run, in which Gomey ran in almost every direction except where I was heading, and lamentably I didn't get it on video. The important thing is that he eventually took enough obstacles in the correct order to get 42 points before time ran out (putting us in third place). He did a lovely Gamblers run but we missed our Q by a fraction of a second because he ran out past the last jump and I had to bring him back around. We also ran a jumpers course in which he took an off-course tunnel. It was pretty funny--I got that one on video and I'll upload it later.

I only entered Lucy in Grand Prix and Steeplechase (this is Gomey's trial!), and she qualified in Steeplechase, so we'll run the final tomorrow. We missed our Grand Prix Q by .16--of the seven faults allowed, 5 were eaten by a popped weave pole, and two more (plus .16!) by the time it took me to pull her back and get her through the last pole. I also got that run on video and will post later.

I'm exhausted, and we do it again tomorrow ...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Coalition to Unchain Dogs Update

I'm a little tardy in reporting this (too much agility on my mind!), but the Coalition to Unchain Dogs now has it's own blog at unchainourdogs.blogspot.com. So if you're a local and want to participate, or if you're somewhere else and want to keep tabs on our progress here in NC, that's the place to go for info. I'm signed up as a contributor to the blog, although I've yet to make a post.

The next coalition meeting will be Wednesday, September 27th at 7:00 PM at Carrboro Town Hall, 301 East Main Street Room 110, Carrboro, NC.

Now back to thinking about agility!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Our agility weekend: Could've been better ...

I'm a bit late in posting the account of our Labor Day USDAA agility weekend, partially because I was a bit worn out yesterday and partially because it was a tiny bit depressing. (Oh, and by the way, I didn't get into the Stuart Mah seminar--it filled too quickly! So I won't be reporting on that. maybe it's a good thing because Lucy needed some rest yesterday.) Well, depressing is a strong word--we did end up with three Qs, one of which brought us our Advanced Standard title. And I did have fun--mostly. There were just a few things that made it a less-than-wonderful event for us ... more and a few videos after the jump.
Things started out well enough on Saturday--Lucy was reasonably fast in the morning for our first two Performance Versatility Pairs events (Jumpers and Gamblers--we had small problems on both courses). Then as we were waiting to go into the ring for the third (Standard), something apparently stung Lucy on the foot. I didn't see what it was, but she began licking her foot and wouldn't put it down to walk. It very quickly started swelling up. I didn't have any Benadryl on me so we decided the best thing was just to take her to the vet. They shot her up with Benadryl and some ketoprophen for the pain and sent us on our way. Needless to say, Lucy's agility day was over and she went home with her dad to relax while I went back, thoroughly depressed, to finish my volunteer duties at the trial (it was at my home facilty and I'm a die-hard). The rest of the day I helped out and watched everyone else having lots of fun with their dogs (my PVP partner got to run the pairs even with an unpaired dog) while my little dog snoozed off the Benedryl and (I hoped!) recovered from her sting.

When I got home the swelling in her paw was almost gone and she wasn't favoring it any more, and although she was subdued she seemed to be comfortable and content. On Sunday morning the swelling was gone and she showed no signs of any trouble, but I gave her a Benedryl and a Rimadyl just in case. I figured I'd take her with and walk her around before making a decision whether she should run or not. I had to be at the trial all day regardless because I was the chief builder for one of the rings, and even if Lucy didn't run her favorite thing is to be with me. Her first event wasn't slated to come up until halfway through the day anyway, so I'd be able to observe her throughout the morning before deciding.

She continued to seem fine so I went for it. Our first event was Gamblers, and other than being slow and a little hesitant (understandable considering she was on Benedryl and had a very stressful day the day before!), we did pretty well. We qualified ... although there was a very iffy A-frame contact in there:



She continued being slow the rest of the day ... and then on Monday as well. Usually if we run clean we qualify, but it was a real struggle on Sunday. We qualified in Advanced Standard by a tiny fraction of a second but missed our Masters Jumpers Q by .04. We went a second and a half over time in Steeplechase (but for some arcane reason having to do with the number of dogs in the 12- and 16-inch classes we were allowed to run in the Steeplechase finals on Monday):



Monday morning Lucy had a little pep in her step but she still was slower than normal. I often choose rear crosses because I usually can't make it to a front cross in time, but all day long I flubbed the rear crosses because I had a hard time keeping her ahead of me (Rule number one of rear crosses: the dog has to be in front of you if you want to cross behind it!). She was, however, fast enough in Masters Jumpers to zip off and take an off-course obstacle before I could call her off! In the Steeplechase finals she did something she had never done before: stopped in her tracks partway through the first set of weaves. I couldn't get her going again, so I said "Let's just go have fun!" and took off toward the next obstacle. She got enthusiastic again and we did a nice job on the rest of the course, including the second set of weaves, which she ran like a pro. Then we had had a reasonably nice, but very slow, Standard run (Note the flubbed rear cross after the weaves--I shoul have realized she wouldn't be ahead of me and done a front cross instead):



In the Grand Prix she once again stopped cold in the middle of the weaves--and I honestly have no clue why. After several seconds of trying to get her started again I realized that we had just eaten any time cushion we may have had and weren't likely to Q at that point. So instead of allowing Lucy to get any more de-motivated, I said "let's go!" and ran to the next obstacle. We managed to work up a decent bit of speed and i was feeling great, when Lucy again raced off and took an off-course jump. D'oh! Still, I felt like I had successfully motivated her and that she had some fun.

Our last course was Snooker. I decided that I'd find the quickest path through the opening because otherwise we had no chance of making it timewise. It all went smoothly--but slowly--until we finished the opening. Then in a complete brain meltdown, I led her straight to the #3 obstacle to start the closing ... I completely forgot #2! It was a crappy feeling to end the day with.

But, we'll have another chance for some more fun this weekend at another trial in Youngsville, NC. I've only entered Lucy in Steeplechase and grand Prix, though, because it's going to be Mr. Gomez's big weekend. I've entered him in Performance I Jumpers, Gamblers and Snooker--pretty much everything we could possibly Q in without having to do weaves. (It's very unlikely that a judge will put weaves in a Starters/P1 gamble, and the only time I saw weaves in Starters/P1 Snooker, they were always the #7 obstacle and if you plan your opening right you can Q without getting that one). I'm hoping that next Monday I'll be writing a post about how much fun it all was!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Agility Nerd does it again!

Steve, aka Agility Nerd has come up with another techie tool for agility fanatics: a tool that lets you search Clean Run Magazine's article index.

Meanwhile, I'll be back later to post about my three-day agility weekend, once I'm a bit less catatonic.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

New group in town



A friend's blog alerted me to a new group that has formed locally called the Coalition to Unchain Dogs. I won't be able to make their meeting because I've got an agility trial this weekend, but I'm hoping someone I know goes and can let me know what the group is planning. The effort and the meeting was also mentioned in this Chapel Hill News article. Chained dogs are quite common around here, but unfortunately, so are loose dogs, as the article notes:
We have a lot of other work to do," said John Sauls, Chatham County's animal control manager. "We've got to raise our rabies vaccination compliance. We need to get people to stop letting their dogs run loose."

Durham County Animal Control Director Cindy Bailey agreed.

"I see a lot of animals that are just as abused in a 10-by-10 dog pen as on a chain," she said.
I definitely agree on the last point--it's just as heartbreaking to see a dog sitting forlornly in a small chain-link kennel enclosure in the beating sun or the pouring rain with nothing but a "dogloo" for protection. Why have a dog if you're just going to condemn it to a lonely, miserable existence out in the heat or cold with hardly any interaction? I really don't understand the point.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Counteracting the counter surfing habit

guard buffalo
Almost all dog people develop some funny "workarounds" to deal with our dog training mistakes. The photo above shows one of ours: We have a toy buffalo (and a similar toy mountain goat) that for some unknown reason scares our big dog, Mr. Gomez. So we put the toys to work for us as guards. Mr. Gomez is a dedicated "counter surfer," that is, he opportunistically patrols high surfaces for bits of food (or paper towels and tissues, which he seems to crave). The mountain goat guards the cat food, which resides on my desk, and the buffalo is deployed in and around the kitchen if needed. It's hilarious, but it also works very well.

Of course, it would be much better if we had never allowed Gomey to develop a counter-surfing habit to begin with. The best way to prevent a counter-surfing habit is to keep a dog from ever being rewarded for it. Ideally, people should have their pups under supervision at all times until they've matured with good habits, but that rarely happens in real life. So the best counter-surfing prevention tool is to keep counters and tabletops clear of anything that could look at all attractive to the puppy so that exploratory surfing is not ever rewarded (and "attractive" is in the eyes of the beholder--Gomey was fond of wooden rolling pins when he was a pup, and a friend's pup once ate $16). Since behaviors that are not rewarded become less likely to be repeated, a dog who learns that counters and tabletops never yield anything interesting or tasty will soon bore of checking them out and look elsewhere for food or fun.

But we dog owners are far less perfect than we expect our dogs to be, and thanks to our inattention and inconsitency, our dogs often develop bad habits like counter-surfing. The trouble with trying to break such a habit by yelling at a dog or using a startle noise (like a shaker can) is that the dog just learns the sport is best attempted when no humans are around. But even if you don't have a scary buffalo to protect your counters when you're not present, sometimes its possible to break a counter-surfing habit after it starts. You have to set up a "punishment from God," in other words, something startling and frightening that happens even though there's not a human in sight. A great way to arrange this is to build a precarious contraption of cookie sheets and clattery serving spoons that will tip and fall noisily when the dog goes for the tasty treat you placed as bait. You should be lurking nearby after baiting the contraption to be the "good guy"--the comfort and solace after the scary countertop experience. You will have to set up such a trap several times so the dog will learn it wasn't just an isolated occurence, and you should probably make the contraption look different every time. A lot of dogs are smart enough to figure out that the punishment only occurs when the contraption is present.

Another important caveat is to make sure the contraption is made of items that will only scare the dog--you don't want to actully hurt him!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dogs & discs


IMG_4802web
Originally uploaded by baddog988yh.
Check out baddog988yh's fun Flickr set from the 2006 Indiana Canine Disc State Championships.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some flyball videos just for fun ...

I was at a flyball tournament hosted by New River Express in Blacksburg, VA last weekend. It was actually two one-day tournaments instead of the usual two-day single tournament, but that turned out to be ideal because the lineups we ran sort of fell apart on Saturday and we had to do a little bit of rearranging for Sunday. A couple of the dogs just stopped wanting to do the pattern correctly, and the best thing to do with a dog like that is to pull it out of competition and then work on re-training later. So on Sunday we ended up running our multibreed team "FEO" (For Exhibition Only) with only three dogs, but it gave us a chance to try two "green" dogs who had never run an actual race in a tournament. They both did really well and will probably be debuted at our fall tournament

Anyway, I took tons of video at the tournament with my little digital camera and I haven't even had a chance to look at all of it yet. I have posted several online so far, however.
First up: Lucy's team. She's the "anchor dog," running last because she had a bit of a collision years ago that makes her dislike having a dog run out past her (although on Sunday we had to arrange her lineup so she was third, and she did very well if we gave her a wide pass). She's not the fastest flyball dog, but I think she's adorable (and she's very consistent and dependable). The lineup here was Kazul (a labby-looking mix), Basil (English Springer Spaniel), Reesie (Dutch Shepherd) and Lucy (mix):



I really like seeing "non-traditional" breeds doing flyball--everyone knows that border collies, Aussies and Jack Russell Terriers rock this sport, but I like to tell people that the best dog to do flyball with may be the very one snoozing at your feet right now (assuming no physical limitations, of course). Here's a New River Express lineup that includs an Afghan hound and a mini poodle:



There was a really awesome shar-pei running on another team and I think I got some decent video of it as well--I'll try to post it later. That's definitely not a breed you see often in flyball.

And here's a flyball "blooper"--Spyn, a Jack Russell owned by Mike and Beckie Randall of Blockade Runners, lives up to his name:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another post-Katrina custody battle

An article in yesterday's Washington Post, Fangs Are Bared Over Md. Group's Katrina Dog Rescues, describes yet another custody battle over dogs rescued after Hurrican Katrina. Although I'm of the opinion that in all cases the dogs should be returned to their previous owners, I'm afraid this is going to cast a pall over future post-diaster rescue efforts. There is no question that the animals needed to be removed from the Gulf area and provided with foster homes, but it has become clear that the waiting period before permanent adoptions were allowed was too short in most cases. So many lives were so completely disrupted after Katrina that many people took a lot longer than expected to re-connect with the pets they had to leave behind.

Of course, in my opinion a better solution would be to make provisions for pets a part of all future disaster evacuation plans. Come to think of it, it would have been nice if there had been adequate evacuation plans for the people in Katrina's path, not to mention their beloved pets, but I digress ...

In North Carolina, Hurricane Floyd in 1999 resulted in the loss of 3 million pets and farm animals. As a result the state started SART, the State Animal Response Team to plan and prepare for future animal emergencies. Several other states have also intituted their own SART programs; contact information can be found here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A not-so-obvious danger

Today a flyball teammate posted on a link on our e-mail list to a very sad story about a puppy licking an ordinary home paper shredder with tragic results (Here's the link, but please do not read the story if you are very sensitive--take my word for it. I'll save you some wondering and tell you that the dog had to be euthanized.) Another teammate followed up with a story about a well-known, older agility dog who also had such an accident years ago. That dog survived, but he had to be taught to eat and drink all over again and was unable to be active or go out into the heat because the tongue is a dog's way of cooling itself. That dog had apparently been around the paper shredder many times before without incident, and for some reason one day he licked it. And if all that isn't enough, a veterinarian on our team said she has heard many such stories involving puppies and adult dogs alike.

To be honest, I had never thought of our paper shredder as a dog hazard before. Needless to say, I will be making sure that it is never left in "auto" mode when we are not actively using it, and preferably left unplugged as well. I'm imagining I'm not the only one who has overlooked this potential home hazard when "dog-proofing" a home. So if you've never thought of it, please do. And pass the tip along--I'm going to mention it tonight in my puppy class.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Agility: Exciting times ahead!

The place where I train, PBH, is hosting a three-day USDAA trial over Memorial Day Weekend that will feature the first Dog Agility Masters (DAM) team qualifier to be held locally. More exciting is that this is going to draw some of the top USDAA competititors to the trial, including Stuart Mah, who is really amazing to watch (and presumably Pati Mah,who is equally watch-worthy, will be there as well). I believe they will also be competing in the Sept. 8-10 trial at Teamworks in Youngsville, NC.

But the really exciting thing is that I won't just be watching Stuart Mah--he will be leading seminars the week after the PBH trial at Bon-Clyde Learning Center in Sanford, NC. So (for a fee), he will be watching me ... and presumably helping me to improve my handling skills. I sent in my registration yesterday to participate in the Excellent level session with Lucy. If I had more money (and less work--these are weekday seminars) I'd take the Novice level one with Mr. Gomez as well, but instead I'll have to just try to apply what I've learned with Lucy to my handling of Gomey (although handling a great big BC mix is much different that handling a little terrier mix!)

Although I still don't feel at all ready to enter the DAM event at this trial, there will also be a non-qualifying event called Performance Versatility Pairs that's open to all competitors not entered in the DAM qualifier. In the PVP, each individual in the pair competes in four classes of competition – standard, snooker, jumpers, and gamblers. All pairs then compete in a versatility two-dog relay class. One of my training pals, who runs an American foxhound, wanted to participate, so we decided to pair up. Since it's non-qualifying, it will essentially amount to a day of practice runs (at the lower Performance jump heights) for Lucy and me, but it will be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Agility and Flyball record books

When competing in flyball and agility, it's always a good idea to keep records of your results at trials or tournaments so you can plan your training or see correlations between different conditions or venues and your dog's performance. (Some people just like to look back and remember those crazy early days when everything seemed to go wrong!) It's also a great way to find discrepancies in official databases after they are posted (That's how I found that USDAA failed to record two of Lucy's Starters titles and now I watch them like a hawk.)

Some industrious people put together their own record systems, but for the rest of us there are ready-made alternatives, the best of which, in my opinion, are Marty Warner's loose-leaf record books, available at mydogstitles.com. The agility record book has pages to record titles for AAC, AKC, AMBOR, ASCA, CKC, CPE, DOCNA, NADAC, TDAA, UKC, and USDAA, as well as pages to record the particulars of each event you enter. The flyball record book has pages for NAFA and U-FLI titles as well as pages for tracking starts, splits and other heat and race information from each tournament you enter. Both books have a removable/customizable cover insert and ziplock pouches so you can carry height cards and other loose items. The loose-leaf design makes it easy to add pages, update as titles/requirements change and organize records for multiple dogs (the biggest advantage over other record books, in my opinion.)

At this point ordering is still done the paper-and-check way, but if you live near NC you can probably pick one up from Marty at one of the local events at PBH, Teamworks, or at my club's upcoming flyball tournament. (Contact Marty first to make sure she can get a book to the event).

UPDATE! You can now use PayPal to purchase one of Marty's record books!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gomey eats his vegetables

Tonight was Mr. Gomez's first agility class on his food allergy trial diet. I was worried that The carrots and broccoli I took weren't going to be very motivating for him, but I needn't have worried. If anything, he seemed to like them more than any other food reward I've ever given him--he was really jazzed. The really strange thing is that he would drop his ball for a carrot--he never, ever drops his ball for food! The ball is his favorite thing in the world, and getting him to drop it just to let us throw it again has taken years. Food usually isn't enough--only the certainty that dropping it will lead to more play ever works. But he was spitting that ball out left and right in exchange for carrot discs. The boy ain't right!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Orphan dogs need loving homes

I got some very sad news earlier this week: a woman who had taken my flyball classes with one of her dogs and was continuing training with my team had died in her home. Sue was a sweet, soft-spoken and caring soul who fostered lots of cats for a local rescue group and had two very sweet dogs. Now her dogs Ava (below top) and Samantha (bottom) need new homes, as do the cats she was fostering. According to a family friend, the animals went through a very rough time--police believe that Ava was in a crate for 5 days while Samantha was without food guarding her owner, and the cats were without food and water as well.

Ava
Sam

Ava is an aussie mix (I always thought she may have some golden retriever in her), about two years old (or so--I believe Sue got her as a rescue). The photo above does not do her justice--because I had always seen her with a sunny, happy expression on her face (no one would ever ask "Do dogs smile?" if they saw a happy Ava!) She loved going over the flyball jumps (she was still working on the box part), and really seemed to enjoy just being out and about, but her favorite pastimes also include snuggling and laying in the sun.

I didn't know Samantha personally, but according to Sue's family and friends she is an 11-year-old white German Shepard, cancer survivor and very sedate. She enjoys long walks in the parks and has a sweet spot for cats ... in fact she would probably like a home with cats more than a home with other dogs.

I wish I had more details to share about both dogs, but if you or someone you know is looking to adopt a great companion, email vdoucette22 (at) aol (dot) com. The cat adoptions are being handled by Snowflake Animal Rescue--I have no information at all about them.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

More belly rashes ...

Mr. Gomez has another nasty belly rash, so I schlepped him to the vet yet again today. I'm fairly positive this is NOT poison ivy! In addition to giving him shots (ampicillin trihydrate and dexamethasone) and pills (cephalexin and prednisone) to vanquish the crud creeping across his belly, the vet recommended that we start a food trial to determine if there is an allergy involved. (I'm increasingly convinced that there is.)

So in the morning we will start transitioning him to a prescription "allergen-free" food, which we will feed him for 8 weeks. That part seems easy enough, but then the vet pointed to my little baggie of chicken bits (I always take food to the vet--it makes it so much easier on me and the dogs!) and said "That means no more of those." Egads--what about agility? Gomey loves tugs and balls, but he's food motivated enough that a toy alone isn't enough of a reward ... what am I supposed to feed him? Her answer: baby carrots ... or actually anything that's not a protein source (so nothing with eggs, dairy, any kind of meat, or peanuts.) The good thing is that Mr. Gomez isn't so picky about his treats--he loves fruits and vegetables (Lucy is a bit more demanding--she's a meat and cheese girl). Mr. Gomez seems to like the act of receiving a treat more than he cares what the treat is, and he seems to like getting fruits and vegetables as much as any other food. So I've got a fresh supply of baby carrots and broccoli, and I can supplement that with apples to keep it interesting for him. I can also use the prescription kibble as a treat ... but it's so expensive I think I'll hold out and see how long I can keep him interested in fruits and vegetables first.

After the eight weeks, if he remains rash-free, we can decide to introduce other protein sources one at a time to see what, if anything, triggers a reaction. Or we can just decide to keep him on the prescription food. At this point I'm hoping it's a food allergy--if our food trial doesn't turn up any answers the next step would be to take him to the vet school at NC State for allergy skin tests. I don't even want to think about the cost involved. This is a good antidote to all my inclinations toward getting a third dog!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Agility: Weave update

I recently wrote about my efforts to get Lucy to nail her weave pole entries using three poles, promising an update on our progress. Recent intense heat has made it harder to get in as much practice as we like, but I've been able to get in several sessions of training with the three-pole setup, and it seems to have helped Lucy somewhat. I've decided that the three-pole practice needs to be interspersed with sets of six and 12 poles, because it's potentially confusing. When I first tried the three poles, Lucy seemed to think it a bit strange that there weren't more poles. She adapted quickly, however, but then when I ran her through six poles, she popped out after three poles! So I think the secret is to intersperse practice on varying numbers of poles, to reinforce the notion that no matter how many poles there are, it's still a weave obstacle.

This all reminded me of something I learned earlier in her training: I had initially taught her exclusively on a 12-pole setup, thinking that if she could do 12 poles then six would never be a problem. I was mistaken: the first time we ran in a NADAC weavers class, she blew right by the six-weave sets! I was able to bring her back to the entry and she completed them, but it was clear that she just didn't recognize them at first as an obstacle she needed to perform. So I have since made it a point to practice on both six- and 12-pole sets regularly.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Disney takes steps to counteract "101 Dalmations" effect

DVDs of two Disney movies that feature dogs are going to include inserts warning people that the breeds featured may not be ideal pets for everyone. According to this LA Times article, DVDs for the movie Eight Below, which features Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, and The Shaggy Dog, which features a bearded collie, will contain information developed in conjunction with the American Kennel Club designed to prevent impulse purchases of those breeds.
The American Kennel Club and Walt Disney Co., aware of the potential for popular films about dogs to inspire not just love at first sight but also spontaneous purchasing, joined forces last month to head off what could be called the "101 Dalmatians" effect, when the "Eight Below" DVD went on sale. For the first time, an insert was packaged inside each DVD warning wannabe Maya owners that "The Siberian Husky is a beautiful and intelligent dog, but not right for everyone." When "The Shaggy Dog" is released Tuesday, it will contain a similar informational insert on bearded collies.

Part of the AKC's mission is to educate the public about the qualities of purebred dogs. Daisy Okas, an AKC spokeswoman, says, "People spend more time researching the kind of car they're going to buy than the kind of dog. A dog shouldn't be an impulse purchase. It's a huge commitment."

Many people enamored with the spotted puppy stars of Disney's 1996 live action "101 Dalmatians" learned the hard way about living with a big screen beauty. Dalmatians are cute, but they're also a high-energy breed with great endurance. Like many active breeds, their frustration can turn into destructive, neurotic behavior if they don't get enough exercise. The Dalmatian that chews up the furniture because it's been left alone all day often winds up in a shelter, or worse, abandoned.
I think it's a step in the right direction, but it would be more effective if the warning were filmed and included before the movie with the FBI anti-piracy warning. The young (often spoiled) children who will pester their parents for a dog just like they saw in the movie may ignore the insert or not be able to read it, and many parents don't bother to do more than insert the DVD and park their children in front of it. Also, the insert is unlikely to be included in copies of the movie rented from video stores or Netflix, and will probably go unseen by a majority of viewers.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Make way for Rally-O!

Several years ago when I had a lot more time on my hands, I was really keen to try a dogsport called Rally Obedience. Essentially, it's an obedience competition, except that competitors follow a course without direction from a judge, performing various obedience exercises as indicated by signs at points throughout the course. All dogs, including mixes, are allowed to compete in APDT and CARO competition, other organizations limit participation to registered purebreds. Rally-O is generally considered to be a more relaxed and--dare I say?--more fun alternative to formal obedience competition.

My problem at the time was finding a class to take--nobody offered it, as it was a very new sport at the time. Now that I have no time whatsoever between teaching three classes a week and having two dogs in agility and one in flyball (all in addition to my day job), there are plenty of local opportunities to take Rally-O--PBH offers it every session, and the APS of Orange County also has occasional classes. But another problem has been that no one has hosted any Rally-O trials locally ... until now! Carolina Canine Pet and Performance (C2P2), will be hosting an APDT Rally-O trial Saturday, Sept. 23 at the (air-conditioned!) Durham Kennel Club. (Premium available here.)

This brings up another problem with trying to get involved in a lot of dogsports: what if you want to go to two events on the same day? Which is the case here: I won't even be able to go watch the Rally-O trial because it coincides with my flyball club's fall tournament (Sept. 23-24 in the Holshouser Building at the NC State Fairgrounds).

Shameless self-promotion: In my day job life I'm a graphic designer, and once upon a time I designed a little Rally-O logo for those few, proud enthusiasts who want to wear their Rally-O obsession on a T-shirt, sweatshirt, coffee mug, etc. Surprisingly, people have bought them. Go figure. I did one for flyball, too.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Little dog update

I think Lucy is recovering well from her mystery pain nicely, after having a visit to the chiropractor on Saturday and a visit from a massage therapist Sunday. I think there is a "You know you're a crazy dog lady when ..." T-shirt in there somewhere (although it all cost much less than travel, hotel and entry fees for the flyball tournament I was supposed to go to over the weekend.)

I go to a chiropractor myself, and while I'm skeptical of the more metaphysical aspects of chiropractic principles, I know that my back feels much better if I get it cracked periodically. I also know that problems with the spine can result in aches and pains elsewhere, because the spine is the nervous system's central conduit. In Lucy's case, I felt it was possible that her pain could be related to a spinal misalignment of some sort. So I took her to see Dr. Elizabeth Engel, a Durham DVM who also does horse and amall animal chiropractic. She found a few problem areas and made adjustments, which Lucy tolerated very well (I though she might be a little freaked out by this woman manipulating her spine, but she didn't seem to mind much at all--once she realized there was no dreaded thermometer involved). We will have a follow-up visit in three weeks, and then I will take her in for periodic checks.

Interestingly, Lucy seemed a little more wary of the massage, done by Sue King of Companion Chi. She's not the type of dog who seeks out lots of handling, particularly from strangers, and usually when she's had enough petting she just gets up and moves away. On top of that, she wasn't eager for attention to the area of her mystery pain, so several times during the session she got up, walked a few feet away, and lay down again. Usually if we asked her she came right back, but if not Sue just went over and gently continued.

I'd like to say that Lucy appeared to be a brand new dog after her various therapies, but all I can say is that she seems to be feeling much better, and I don't know if it was the prednisone, the chiropractic, the massages or just the ability to rest up (the only activities was done have been regular leash walks). Tonight would be an agaility class night, but I think I will just do some low-impact exercises with tunnels and maybe dogwalks to gauge her energy and enthusiasm, and we'll start back with classes on Thursday.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Wishing my little dog could talk ...

The other day I got home from work to find my little dog Lucy not herself at all. Instead of rushing up to greet me and zipping about happily, she was--I don't know of a better way to put this--dragging ass and looking generally pathetic. She at her dinner very slowly and just generally acted as if walking, sitting, lying down and getting back up were a great effort or perhaps painful. She seemed to be hunching her back slightly and holding her body a little crooked. My first fear was that she, too, had contracted a tick disease, but it seemed a bit more like she had a specific pain--either on her abdomen, back or side--that was making her miserable. So we went to the vet, and on the way I as thinking through all the questions I knew they would ask in an attempt to narrow down the problem:

Eating normally? Yes, but slowly. Any diarrhea? Not that I can tell. Is there a chance she could have eaten anything different, toxic or non-food that could have made her sick or cause a blockage? Not to my knowledge--she's not an eater of plants or non-food items, but she will gladly snarf down things like rat poison or children's vitamins if given the chance, and she's always finding and eating random disgusting things on our walks before I can stop her. Did she take a fall off of anything or do anything physical that could cause an injury? Again, not to my knowledge.

There were a few more questions at the vet's, and she determined that Lucy definitely did not appreciate pressure on the right side near one of her ribs. So we did blood tests, which were all normal, and x-rays, which showed nothing amiss. So the less-than-certain diagnosis was that she dad some sort of soft-tissue injury. The vet gave her an injection of dexamethasone for the pain, and gave me some prednisone for her to take. I figured that our plans to run in the Philadelphia Barking Authority flyball tournament this weekend were right out, but I went ahead and asked the vet what she thought: definitely no flyball, she said. We also skipped agility class last night, although we did take a walk and Lucy seemed very happy to be out walking. She seems to be feeling much better this morning.

So instead of driving to Philadelphia today, I decided to go ahead and take the day off work as planned (I was looking forward to it!) and try to arrange an appointment at a doggie chiropractor. Everyone I know who as tried it with their dogs reports wonderful results. I go to a chiropractor myself, and it helps a great deal with a place on my back that frequently gets quite stiff and painful, so why not try it on my dog? She is getting up in years--she turned eight in May--and I think that even if her spine is not the root of the current problem it will still do her good. (And Mr. Gomez would probably benefit as well--I'll ask about multi-dog discounts!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bad Owner!

What do you do when your dog chews up your brand-new Nintendo DS Lite? Take a rolled up newspaper, hit yourself over the head and say "Why did I leave my expensive toy where the dog could reach it?"

Fortunately for this guy, Nintendo agreed to repair the unit for only $50. but beyond the cost of the toy, he's lucky his dog didn't swallow any of it. Bits of ingested Nintendo DS Lite (or remote control, shoe, barbie doll, etc.) can wreak dangerous havoc with a dog's insides. So remember to pup-proof your home and confine your dog to a safe area while you're away. (Thanks to Consumerist for the link and Jacobian.org for the lesson.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Two-legged stray dog needs a home in Ohio

Via the Dogster: For the Love of Dog blog I read about a two-legged dog that was turned in to an Ohio shelter as a stray, covered in mange. The mange is now almost gone, and the shelter is seeking an adoptive home for the dog as well as donations to help cover his mange treatments. They also would like to find an engineer who can design a set of front wheels for the dog. Currently he gets around by hopping on his back legs, but dogs bodies weren't designed to do that so he could develop problems later in life if he continues.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Farewell to an incredible dog

Mr. Peabody, the dog that introduced Lucy and me to flyball*, has died. I haven't seen him in person (or is that "in dog?") for six years, but I still feel like I'm going to miss him because I've been keeping up with him in blogdom. He really was an exceptional dog.

*I know it's not entirely correct to say that Mr. Peabody introduced us to flyball--it was his mom, Nancy. She saw us playing fetch at Montrose Beach in Chicago, and she came up and asked if I'd ever heard of flyball. She invited me to the practices of Black Sheep Squadron, where she, Steve Schwarz and the other team members patiently coached us in the ways of this funny little sport. We only ran two tournaments with the team before moving to North Carolina and joining DogGoneFast.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Family struggles to get dog back after Katrina

Via a blog called Doggie News, I learned about Eric's Dog Blog, by a guy who has been involved with efforts to rescue animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His latest entry is a great rant about a heart-wrenching case of a New Orleans family desperately trying to get back their dog, who was adopted out after Katrina (even though the dog's papers stated that he had known owners). The adopter, Hillsborough County prosecutor and TV news "celebrity" lawyer Pam Bondi, is refusing to allow the dog to go back to its family, claiming she is giving it a better life. The story has attracted international news attention and Bondi has enlisted her own high-profile lawyer in her fight to keep someone else's dog because she would rather win than do the right thing and give the dog back to its family.

In other news, another "Katrina dog" that had been adopted out is being returned to its family. The adopter was going to keep the dog until talking to staff of TV celebrity Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer."

“What the Dog Whisperer said is that unless (the animal) is beaten or abused, it’s better to (send it back),” Welsh said. “My hope is that other families who have adopted pets (from hurricane-ravaged areas) give them back.”
Well, I'm no TV star, but I could have told her that ...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How much is that doggie in the window?

Whilst rummaging around the internets looking for something else, I found this article about puppymills over at Consumeraffairs.com (which is just a great website in general). I love to see articles written on this topic, because there are several things people who want to buy a puppy generally do not know. For example, pet stores take great pains to convince people that their dogs are not from puppymills when they really are. They say they don't buy from puppymills, which is usually--true: they buy from brokers who get the dogs from puppymills (If you're wondering whether your pet store dog came from a puppymill, you can try using the research features at Petshoppuppies.com.) Also, a USDA license most definitely does NOT mean that the puppies or parent dogs are bred, transported and kept under humane conditions. The USDA regulations are loose and a bit vague in spots and enforcement is a sham (Read more about the USDA Animal Welfare Act here. The USDA also does not license pet stores, which usually fall under state and local regulation or licensing--which can also be a bit of a farce (as I found out when I tried to get a local pet store cited a few years ago--I was told by the nice but overworked official that the state did not have any resources to pursue the court battles that always result from any attempts to enforce the standards, so they only acted in the most egregious cases. Fortunately, the pet store ended up going out of business.)

One quibble I have with the article is that it implies that "genetic defects" (and behavioral problems) are a unique problem of puppymill dogs. This is not true at all--genetic problems are astoundingly common in almost every "pure" breed as a result of decades of "closed registry" breeding that has narrowed gene pools. Even purebreds from "reputable" breeders stand a good chance of harboring a genetic problem or two. Alas, this falls in the category of "Don't get me started"--I could go on for hours on the topic. Perhaps it will be fodder for another post, another day ... (although I'm sure, if this blog were very widely read at all, that what I've just written would be enough to spur a barrage of indignant comments from purebred "fanciers" along the lines of "you're not a breeder so can't possibly have any idea what you are talking about!")

At any rate, I'd like to encourage anyone looking for a dog to consider adopting a mixed breed. Or, if you have your heart (and mind!) set on a particular breed, consider consider going to a breed rescue group. You may have to wait, and they don't usually have puppies available, but good rescue groups will usually help you find the best "fit" with your household and they often provide lots of post-adoption advice and support should you have any problems. Also, don't assume that they only way to go is to get a puppy--often a better choice is adopting a young adult or adult dog, because you can get a much better idea of their personality and energy level than you can with a puppy (Oh, there are lots more reasons, too!). I also like to joke a lot about how silly it is to pay money for a dog when you can find a perfectly good on by the side of the road, but I'm not really joking. I wish I'd counted the number of times I've asked people where they got such an awesome dog and the answer has been "I found him wandering out on Highway 98" or "He just showed up at the house one day." (Be sure to check for a microchip, try to find the owner and follow all local laws if you find a dog!)

NOTE: If you are researching breeders, pet stores, animal welfare or rescue groups and you stumble across anything by the NAIA (National Animal Interest Alliance), please be aware that this is an organization of animal breeders, companies that perform animal experimentation, hunters and others with a business or "recreational interest in keeping animal welfare laws as loose as possible. One of their missions is to discredit animal shelters and rescue groups and paint anyone advocating humane treatment of animals as a wacked-out extremist. They are a business mouthpiece disguising themselves as an animal advocacy organization and they seem to have very deep pockets. Take whatever they have to say with the appripriate grain of salt.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

On the "dominance paradigm"

I've never been a big fan of the view that domestic dog behavior and training issues can be seen in terms of (human interpretations of) wild wolf behavior, i.e. as some sort of "dominance vs. submission" continuum. This view is central to the "master trainer" approach (i.e. training by punishing undesireable behavior as opposed to rewarding desired behavior), but a lot of positive dog trainers place much stock in it as well. Nonetheless, I've never been really comfortable with the idea that to teach a dog to live in harmony with humans we need to try to act like wolves. First of all, dogs aren't wolves, and furthermore, even if they were, our understanding of wolf "dominance" behaviors is quite likely flawed.

Anyway, via The Austin Dog Trainer--Positive Dog Training Blog, I found a short article called Some Thoughts on Letting go of the Dominance Paradigm in Training Dogs. There isn't any "about the author" info listed, but I gather from the article that she is a "wolf educator" and may have some connection to Wolf Park, a nonprofit wolf education and research facility in Indiana.

At any rate, if anyone has interesting links they would like to share on this topic, please leave them in the comments.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Agility run-throughs: Lucy on a Practice Snooker course

Every Friday night at my training facility we have agility course run-throughs, rotating through the various types of USDAA courses (standard, jumpers, gamblers, snooker and steeplechase). This week it was a USDAA Advanced Snooker course. Here's a video of Lucy and I on the course:



Had this been an actual trial, our little off-course weave entry (which, ironically considering the weave-entry problems I've been having, was lovely) would have ended our run. That reminded me of something I've been meaning to practice especially for snooker: keeping Lucy in handler focus while I pass by obstacles which, to her, seem like perfectly logical choices. It's one of the many difficulties one may face in snooker. I'm planning an entry very soon on the joys and perils of snooker, but meanwhile, if you're not familiar with it, you can lear about it here, and you can see a snooker course map here. (Several older snooker courses can be found at the archives of the Dogpatch Agility Course of The Week.)

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Agility: getting the weave pole entry

I'm between agility class sessions right now, and normally this would mean I'd be getting in extra practice sessions because the training fields are free every evening. I've been a bit lax, though, because it's been either thunderstorming or oppressively hot and humid. But I went out last night with both dogs because I have some summer training goals that I need to work on. The first is to get Mr. Gomez proficient at the weave poles, and the second is to work on Lucy's weave-pole entries.

Weaves are often the most time-consuming aspect of basic agility training, because it's the only obstacle that's not based on any "natural" dog behavior. I taught both of my dogs using the channel method, in which the dog is first taught to run a straight "chute" between the poles, which are moved closer together over time, introducing a gradual "weave" action as the dog tries to navigate a straight course (For a complete how-to on this, see Val Olszyk's Guide to Training the Weave Poles Using the Channel Method.) The advantage of this method is that the dog learns to do the weaving behavior independently of the handler (i.e., the handler should not have to "babysit" the dog and cue him to move in and out of the poles.) The disadvantage is that it requires a specially designed set of weave poles.

Mr Gomez still isn't quite able to do a "closed" channel yet, so I did drills with him last night with the poles about 2-1/2 inches apart, moving them about 1/4 inch closer for a second set. Lucy has been doing closed weaves for a a long time now, but we have some problems making the "entry" (i.e., she doesn't always start to the right of the first pole unless I "babysit" her, instead she often chooses to go in at the second pole), so I decided to start trying a weave-entry drill that Val Olszyk suggested.
Val's suggestion was to practice the entry using just three poles. She has several sets of weaves at PBH, some of which can be broken down into smaller units of six or three. The advantage of breaking down the behavior to just three poles is that it allows me to repeatedly mark and reward the correct entry without having to worry about properly marking and rewarding the whole obstacle. I used a target at the end of the three weaves so Lucy had something to drive toward (Lucy's target is a plastic easter egg with a treat inside. She knows there is a treat in there, but I have to open the egg and give it to her, so there's no incentive to cheat by running around the obstacle to get to the target more quickly). Here's a little diagram of the three-pole setup, with the dashed line representing Lucy's path:

For the first step of this training, I just got Lucy accustomed to the idea of only three weave poles. The first two times she hesistated and looked up at me, as if she was thinking "Really? Weave? Three poles?" After a few more repetitions she she got more confident about it, so I started angling the entry a little, and handling her from the right and left. I plan to go back over the weekend and add the next step, which will be to add a jump before the three-pole set, varying the position of the jump to the weave entry in a rough arc, somewhat like the rather bizarre-looking diagram below:


As we get more reliable entries from all angles, I will also start trying to keep more distance between myself and the weave poles, so that Lucy gets accustomed to finding the correct entry on her own without relying on the visual cues of my trajectory. This will come in very handy when we move up to Master's level (which could be soon if I manage to get that third qualifying score in Advanced Standard). I'll publish an update on our progress with this method, and whether I run into any pitfalls along the way. Meanwhile, I'll be interspersing some three-pole entry practice into Mr. Gomez's weave training now, because it's better to start off with solid entries that to have to go back and retrain later.

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Would you work longer hours if your dog were with you?

According to an online survey cited in a New York Daily News article, two-thirds of dog owners would put in more time at the office, while 55% would commute a greater distance to a dog-friendly company. Others said they would switch jobs or take a salary reduction to work at a dog-friendly company. The article also links to a dog-friendly job search site.

I think my employer would have to offer an on-site agility training facility to get me to want to stay longer, because the days I have to leave right on time are when I need to make it to classes or course run-throughs.

Besides, who's really looking for ways to spend more time at work, anyway? That's just sick.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Farewell to Moose, a.k.a. Frasier's "Eddie"

Moose, the Jack Russell terrier who played "Eddie" on the TV series Frasier, has died at the age of 16. I've always loved his story, because it's a classic tail, er, tale, of what a little training can do for a dog. Moose was way more than his first family could handle, because he "was destructive, barked a lot, refused to be house-trained and even killed a neighbor's cat." But trainer Mathilde DeCagny Halberg gave him a second chance, and after only six months of training he scored the role of Eddie. The part of the story I like best is that Moose was a full two and a half years old before he got any of his training. A lot of people still believe the old (and completely false) axiom that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Well Moose's story is a high-profile example to the contrary.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What is Flyball?

When I tell people I do dog agility, I often don't have to do a lot of explaining about what it is. Many people have seen it at least in passing on TV, and if I say "It's like an obstacle course for dogs" they know what I'm talking about. Not so with flyball--most people need a bit more of an explanation because it doesn't get as much exposure and, well, it is a bit strange, I suppose. A couple of years ago I made up a little web page that explained flyball as simply as I could (with helpful photos!), and I decided to put it up here because I figure it just belongs here in a blog about dogs and dogsports.

flyball border collieFlyball is a four-dog relay race in which each dog must outrun over four hurdles, trigger a spring-loaded box that releases a ball, retrieve the ball and bring it back past the finish line. It was first introduced to the world by Herbert Wagner on the Tonight Show in the early 1970s, and is an offshoot of scent hurdling. There are two separate santioning bodies for flyball competition in the United States and Canada, the North American Flyball Association and United Flyball League International. There are also flyball associations in Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, Finland, and Italy.
flyball yorkieWho can play Flyball?
Any dog breed or mix can play flyball. Dogs of all sizes can compete in flyball, and because the jump height for each team is determined by the size of the smallest dog on the team (referred to as the “height dog”), most clubs try to have at least one small dog in each racing lineup. Dogs must be registered with a sanctioning organization in order to compete in that organizations events. Dogs must be 1 year of age to compete. Dogs deemed by a judge to be aggressive may be banned from competition.

flyball viszlaWhat equipment is needed?
For flyball training, you will need at least 4 jumps (most teams make their own out of plywood or sintra, a strong synthetic material), and a flyball box. In addition, many clubs use a substitute for the box, such as a “chute” or a “target board” to teach safe and fast box turns before the ball is introduced to training. The flyball course is 51 feet long. The first jump is 6 feet beyond the start line, with three more jumps at 10-foot intervals. The box is 15 feet beyond the fourth jump (The NAFA Official Rules of Racing document provides diagrams and exact dimensions for equipment and the course). For competition, each club must provide its own flyball box and balls. The host club provides jumps, matting, ring gating, etc.

flyball judgeHow is flyball scored?
Each race consists of 3-5 heats, depending on the tournament format. To win a heat, a team must post the fastest time in which each dog runs “clean,” or successfully completes the course. To achieve a clean run, each dog must jump all four hurdles on the way to and from the box, trigger the ball-release mechanism on the box, and return over all four hurdles, carrying the ball all the way across the finish line. In addition, dogs may not false start (cross the start line before the timing light turns green) or pass illegally (crossing the start line before a returning dog crosses the finish line). A failure on any of these rules will result in the dog being “flagged” by the judge, in which case the dog must re-run the course after the original lineup has finished. If the team fails to successfully complete the course, they receive a “No Finish” for the heat and the win is credited to the opposing team (provided they successfully complete the course.) Teams receive points for winning heats, and additional points for winning the majority of the heats in a race. These points are then used to determine tournament placement. Complete NAFA rules are availble for download at the NAFA web site. U-FLI rules are available at the U-FLI site.

How do dogs earn titles in flyball?
In NAFA racing, points towards titles are awarded per heat on the basis of a team’s speed. If the team posts a time under 24 seconds, each dog that ran in that particular heat receives 25 points. For a time under 28 seconds, each dog receives 5 points and an under-32-second time earns each dog 1 point. If the team fails to run clean or come in under 32 seconds, no dog receives points for the run.

See the U-FLI site for their title schedule.

flyball teamHow do I get involved in flyball?
Many flyball clubs and dog training facilities offer flyball classes. To compete, it is necessary to be part of a club, which means either joining an existing club or starting your own, A list of clubs can be found at the NAFA website. Starting your own club is a matter of obtaining equipment and practice space and registering your club with NAFA (or with U-FLI--clubs may register with both organizations). There are no rules regarding how your club must be structured or how decisions must be made. You and/or your members can decide that. Other area clubs are usually very happy to offer advice and assistance to new clubs.

Links:
North American Flyball Association
United
Flyball League International

Unofficial “Flyball home page”

Equipment:
Jump plans

Target board plans

Norm Glover boxes
Key Products boxes
Willoughby Workshop boxes
Patriot Flyball boxes
Premier Flyball boxes

North Carolina Flyball links
Pet Behavior Help (flyball classes in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina)
DogGoneFast Flyball Club
Go Dog Go Flyball Club
Blockade Runners Flyball Club

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