Friday, December 28, 2007

How soon to spay?

This recent post at Doolittler is quite timely for me, as I'm trying to decide when to spay Pinky. Most vets and animal welfare folks will say sterilize at six months, no question, period. In fact, there are some who advocate sterilization at early as 6 to 7 weeks of age. When Lucy and Mr. Gomez were pups, I didn't question any of this and had them altered promptly. (Well, more or less. Literally the day after I made Lucy's appointment at 6 months, she went into heat and I had to postpone the spay. Then after she came out of heat, there was a horrible rat-poison-eating incident, and we had to delay her surgery again until her bloodwork came back normal, so she was almost a year old by the time she was spayed. Still, I had intended to do it at six months).

Over the past few years I've heard of increasing evidence challenging the accepted view that early sterilization confers only benefits and no drawbacks. Chris Zink, a well-known canine sports vet, questions the 6-month rule and advocates that canine athletes not be sterilized before 14 months of age. Also, a lit review cited by Doolittler indicates that sterilization health risks may outweigh benefits, particularly for females. It's enough to make me think ... unfortunately I need to do more than think, I need to decide something.

There's no question that I will spay Pinky at some point. But right now the only two reasons I can think of to do it now rather than waiting are 1) Young dogs generally recover more quickly from the surgery and anaesthesia; and 2) Dealing with a dog in heat is not really my idea of a good time, and I definitely don't want any "oops" litters. Right now it's looking like I may follow Chris Zink's advice and wait.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Everybody wants to be a dog trainer ...

Today in the New York Times (which has been full of dog stories lately): A Chorus of Dog Whisperers. I learned as soon as I started apprenticing as a puppy-class teacher that dealing with humans is the hardest part of dog training. I'll keep my day job, thanks.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fun with CPE

I entered Lucy in our first CPE trial over the weekend. We entered every class, and it's weird to report that we qualified in every single run ... but not so weird when you factor in that the CPE courses are easier than USDAA and even NADAC, and CPE has extremely forgiving rules. For example, I was astonished that we even Q'd on the run where Lucy went off course (I was a lazy handler and didn't pick up eye-contact after a tunnel, so she decided she got to pick where to go next). That just felt like cheating to me, but apparently they get a little more strict the higher you go.

I entered her at Level 3, which is the highest CPE lets you start at. I sort of wish they'd let you enter higher, but it's better than having to start at the very bottom if you're confident you can do the courses. It was a good opportunity for me to try little things I might not have in USDAA, where I care more about actually getting Qs. And hey, if an off-course is no big deal, why not try risker move X instead of safer move Y? In CPE, I could even still get the Q! So it was a lot of fun even though the courses weren't so challenging.

I think CPE is an awesome venue for new handlers--I wish there had been a trial or two around here a few years ago. Their lenience about faults at the lower levels seems like it would be a little liberating and help nervous new handlers build some confidence. Plus it's a great venue for starting a new dog, because they allow so much training in the ring. And the general atmosphere at the trial was very relaxed and laid back.

Although I'm not planning to seriously pursue CPE titles on Lucy, I think I'll enter more of their trials if they're local. The club that put this one on is planning to host more, so maybe they will catch on around here. Besides, one of the club members pestered me all weekend to join and I finally gave in, so I guess I'll be helping put on the CPE trials in the future. I may as well enter them!

In other news, Pinky is doing really well, but I can't wait for those adult teeth to come in because the puppy razors are tearing my hands to shreds! We've pretty much conquered the play biting problem, but she accidentally gets me when going for a toy all the time! I just try to suck up the pain and marvel at what awesome toy-and-tug drive she's got. I must say that the real raccoon tails they sell at Clean Run are like crack. A friend gave me one and Pinky and Lucy both love it. Mr. Gomez is afraid of it, but I expected that.

I'm progressing from basic puppy training (how to live with humans, simple obedience, recall, bite inhibition, playing with humans and dogs) to some easy agility foundation work like moving with me, tunnels, walking a plank to a two-on-two-off contact, walking a ladder, downing on a low table and training the wobble board. She is awesome. I still haven't had time to go buy her a skateboard, but I will get to it, and I'm going to set up a small weave channel and get her started on that.

One issue I'm still having trouble with is stealing and hoarding objects. I'm trying to play trading games and rewarding her for giving things up, but it's hard because when she knows I want something, she tries extra hard not to let me get close. So it's one thing to shove a handful of cheese under her nose and say "drop it,"but quite another when you can't get the cheese close enough to her nose because she's executing evasive maneuvers. Last week Lucy had apparently killed another rat in the yard (go little terrier mix!) and I didn't realize it until Pinky found the corpse. What could I offer that would trump a dead rat? I finally managed to interest her in a handful of food, but it took several minutes. I think it's really a recall problem and I need to really drill that more than anything. But I'm so accustomed to having dogs that heed the "leave it/drop it" commands that I guess I've forgotten what was involved in achieving that. A lot of work, obviously ...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Puppy Daze

First some good news: the little results mix-up I mentioned yesterday is all fixed. It was just a typo, which is was I was hoping. I got the following note today from Tev, the wonderfully patient (and probably overworked) person who handles the posting of event results for USDAA:

Take a breath, it’ll be fine, Lucy has her SQ. You silly goose, it was simply a slip of the finger. J Tucker’s number is 500505 and the data entry person made a mistake which is very easy to do. The thing to do is look at the dog’s number that is listed in place of yours and that should show you where the mistake was. We appreciate you letting us know though because we can use as many eyes as possible to check the data that’s entered.

Yeah, I know I'm a silly goose, but when your dog is 9 years old and your time to earn Super Qs is limited, you get a little stressy when they seem to disappear.

On the puppy front, Pinky is really doing well but ... good grief, whatever possessed me to get a puppy? OK, I didn't "get" her so much as she appeared in my life and I let her stay, but still ... I was fully aware of how labor-intensive puppies can be and determined to resist, and yet I succumbed to a cute face and sweet temperament. What a sucker I am! What a cutie Pinky is!

I'm a little obsessed with her growth rate, because back when I thought my next dog would be acquired fully-grown, I had been determined that he or she would be under 16". I like running a little dog. Now that I have a puppy, the whole question is up in the air ... will we end up in the very crowded 22" height class with all the border collies? Well, there's nothing I can do about it if we do--I'll just have to motivate her to be fast and be a great handler to make sure we stay competitive ... which I was going to try to do anyway. But based on Pinky's growth, there seems to be a very good chance she'll end up somewhere around Lucy's size. I'm being really geeky and charting it (click the chart to see it larger):

Currently, she's very close to the the size Lucy was at 14 weeks, although Lucy was a little leggier. I had to do a little googling to find some basis for comparing Pinky's growth rate with known breeds. The site has a chart that puts Pinky's growth trajectory slightly above "small" but far below "medium." Another chart (from an actual scientific thingie), indicates that Pinky's growth rate is comparable to that of a Cocker Spaniel ... which range from slightly under to slightly over 16". Oh the suspense is killing me!

I've been mostly using weight to track Pinky's growth rate simply because it's easier to measure frequently. I'm trying to teach her to stand still and straight so someday she can be measured with a real wicket, and until then all I can do is get a rough height on her, give or take a quarter of an inch. Right now she's a little over 11 inches. She seems to be growing about an inch every two weeks since I first measured her at 9 weeks. I hope that slows a little, because at that rate she'll hit 16" before she's six months old. If that happens I'll just have to motivate her to be fast as hell so we can kick some border collie butt!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Another USDAA scoring mixup ...

I hear people at trials say "Oh, I'm not anal retentive enough to write down all my results at every trial." Fine, call me anal retentive, but ever since two of my Starters Qs sort of disappeared on me, I not only write down my results, but I then enter my Qs in a spreadsheet and then obsessively double-check my results when they appear on the USDAA site (for which I have to pay--it's weird that they charge me to keep them honest, but whatever) or in the NADAC Yahoo group files (that one's free).

So I'm starting to feel like I give off some sort of magnetic force that screws up results wherever I go. It started with those two starters Qs, and then a few weeks ago I discovered that some of Mr. Gomez's results had been attributed to Lucy (that's been fixed!) Then there was this weekend's Snooker Q that almost wasn't, which was topped by a Gamblers Q that had somehow become an NQ in the trial results that were e-mailed out Sunday night (that was a computer glitch that affected lots of results and it was quickly fixed by the trial secretary).

So now imagine my panic today when I went to the USDAA Subscriber Services area to check some other recently posted results, only to find that Lucy's and my first Snooker Super Q/First Place, earned back in September, was nowhere to be found in her results detail. When I went to the event results to see who had been credited with the SQ, it said Blake Stafford and his sheltie, Tucker. Now had Blake Stafford actually attended that trial, there's a good chance that he and his sheltie could have won that Super Q instead of Lucy and I. But since neither he nor his sheltie were there at all, I'm perplexed as to how they walked off with our Super Q. I mean, I know he's a really great handler and all that, but ... anyway, I'm becoming pals with the USDAA staffer who handles these things (if by "pal" one means "a pain in the ass") and I'm sure it will be straightened out somehow. I hope.

Meanwhile, I've taught Pinky to walk along a board on the ground, go through a tunnel and lie down on a very low table. I'm going to go get her a skateboard this weekend. Seriously.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Congratulations Amanda and Weaver!

My agility buddy (and Odd Dogs DAM teammate) Amanda Stipe and her Foxhound Weaver got five perfect 100 scores to take 5th place overall in the 20-inch class at the AKC Invitational agility tournament. Way to go Amanda and Weaver!

Also, I had a fun weekend doing USDAA at the Blue Ridge Agility Club trial in Fletcher, NC. I had a couple of exciting successes with Lucy, but first the bad news: our DAM team came in dead last. All three of us contributed our share to the failure, but I was really disheartened that Lucy and I did so poorly. I blame it on my mental management--I'd had a stressful week and I wasn't feeling up to snuff on Friday, so I really don't think I was being sharp at all. Too bad it had to happen on a day when my bad performance helped pull down my team.

I spent most of Friday evening trying to get myself in a more positive frame of mind so I didn't blow the whole weekend (and I made sure I got a really good night's sleep). It paid off on Saturday morning when first Gomey and I got a Gamblers Q and then Lucy and I managed to squeak out a Snooker Super Q! Since the Blue Ridge trial attracts some of the top dogs and handlers in the South, I'm particularly proud of this one because we had to do better than some really awesome teams. Even though there were enough dogs in the class for three super Qs, it was still a big (and very pleasant) surprise.

I must say a word here for checking your results carefully, because we almost missed out on the "Super" part of the Q due to a scribe error--my final point tally didn't add up. So I went to the secretary and sure enough, the scribe sheet showed only 3 red+obstacle combos when we had actually done 4. The difference was only 3 points, but it tied us with the lowest SQ winner, and our time was faster than hers (always, always RUN for the finish line and stop that clock!). The judge clearly remembered my run (because it almost wasn't a Q at all but I managed to dramatically save myself from my own stupidity) and corrected the scribe sheet. Unfortunately I had to go tell another competitor, whom I had just congratulated on her Super Q, that I had yanked it out from under her. She was a gracious good sport about it and we decided we'd have a re-match at a future trial.

Lucy and I also earned a Gamblers Q on Saturday, and that was it, but I'm really happy about the rest of our runs despite whatever little thing NQ'd (or E'd!) us. We missed the qualifying cutoff in the Steeplechase by .28 seconds, mostly because she missed one of the weave entries and I had to re-start her (plus she just wasn't going her fastest, probably because the class was at the end of the day). Her Grand Prix run on Sunday was just beautiful ... except for the little off-course tire she did ... but she was fast, happy and really responsive to my handling (which is why I'm sure it was something I did that sent her off course!)

Gomey was a wild boy. In addition to his Gamblers Q on Saturday we got a Jumpers Q on Sunday, but all weekend running him felt like roping a rodeo calf. He was fast and he was happy, but he really, really wanted to make up his own course. So I spent most of my time reining him back to MY course ... with only moderate success! Still, he made me smile so much that I can't possibly care about whether or not we Q'd. I think we were very entertaining for the spectators, and every time I caught a glimpse of the judge's face she had a big smile, so I'm happy we were spreading joy in the arena. There are worse ways to spend a weekend.

A friend of mine got video of some of our runs, so I may be able to post them sometime soon. The Gomey videos are bound to be a real hoot.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

She's certainly feisty enough ...

funny face

Everywhere I take Pinky people ask, "What is she?" I always want to say "She's a dog, duh," but I can't bring myself to be rude to people (darn my upbringing!). I just say I have no idea and then politely endure people's speculation. I wish I had a dollar for every time people said "I bet she has Lab in her," because so many people say it, although I'm pretty darn there's no lab whatsoever in this pup. People just want her to fit into their taxonomy of known dog breeds, and everyone knows "lab." It's starting to look like terrier is definitely the dominant component of Pinky's mix. She's likely going to be compact: At 12 weeks she weighs 9.6 lbs (contrast that to the 20-25 lbs. a lab would weigh at 12 weeks).

Although assigning a label to Pinky doesn't concern me too much, a couple of weeks ago I began to suspect that maybe Pinky does fit a category: she's starting to seem a lot like a feist. They're very common here in NC (and throughout the South), they show up a lot in shelters and rescues, and it's not unheard of them for people to give them away (an agility friend's boyfriend got a great little "free to good home" feist puppy a few months ago). I believe my mom's little dog, Edy, who had been found wandering the streets of Eden, NC, is a feist or feist mix.

It's sort of hard to say Pinky "looks" like a feist because there is a huge variation in feist looks--most people breed them to hunt squirrels or raccoons, not to win beauty contests, so who really cares exactly how the ears are set or how wide the muzzle is? The breed is UKC recognized, however, just in case someone is itching to prance one around the ring, but the standard is very broad: all colors are acceptable, height ranges between 10 to 18 inches and weight ranges between 12 and 30 pounds. I've recently spent way too much time online looking at photos of feists and feist puppies, comparing and contrasting Pinky to the pups in the pictures. Along the way I hit on the mother lode of feist photos: Galla Creek Feist--Squirrel Hunting Dog Photo Gallery. I see lots of resemblance (coloring notwithstanding) between Pinky and pups like Snap, Jessie, Lil Bit (especially here ) and Mississippi Saddie Bell, among others.

I've always liked the feists I've met (and I absolutely love the name "feist"!), and I had often considered looking for a feist when I was "ready" for my next dog (back when I actually thought I was going to "plan" my next dog acquisition as opposed to having it be something that just happened. Ha!). So maybe thinking Pinky is a feist is really just wishful thinking or my imagination running away with me. And now I'm wondering, if she ends up being feistlike as an adult, should I just say that's what she is? I know someone who has her Missisippi shelter dog registered in agility as a feist because, hey, it looks like a feist! It's not like NAFA, USDAA, NADAC, etc. want proof. Or should I go ahead and register her with the various venues as a mixed-breed, in the hopes that whatever greatness we managed to achieve in the future will be a testament to the fact that MUTTS RULE? (For the record I should note that in the eyes of the hard-core AKC stiffs a feist IS just a mutt ... unless someday they figure they can make some much needed cash off of feist registrations, of course, in which case the feist will suddenly become a noble and venerable old breed with a proud history.)

Anyway, what I'm really hoping is that Pinky will end up being under 16", because I don't want to play with the Border Collies in USDAA. At 12 weeks she's 10" tall, which seems to be putting her around medium-sized sheltie range, according to these charts.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Feel better about your agility handling!

Watch lots of competitors at the 2007 FCI Agility World Championships send their dogs off course in the Smooth Moves Agility "Bloopers" video. While I watched I was thinking to myself, "Hey, even the world-class competitors sometimes bend over when they should stand up straight!" Not that it will make me feel like less of a dork next time I do it ...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Odds & Ends: A puppy in a coat, NADAC fun, Gomey video

my puppy is cuter than your honors studentuh oh

I took Pinky to a NADAC trial Saturday, all decked out in a homemade sweater. (Pink, of course!) I made it out of the sleeve of a fleece pullover. It worked well enough, although she still shivered a bit if I didn't keep her moving. I thought it was darn cute. The outing was good for Pinky--she can be a little tentative in new situations, but she really started to relax after a little while and seemed to be having a great time. I've got to admit it's really fun to have people ooh and ahh over my cute puppy! (For more Puppy cuteness, check out this great shot of Pinky that Mark took.)

As for the trial itself, Lucy rocked it. Running her just felt terrific, and we got 10 out of 12 Qs. One of our Tunnelers runs was a minor heartbreak as our only fault was going .02 seconds over time, and it was all because I pulled away from a tunnel entrance too early and Lucy came with me. It was a small mistake, but at the Elite level the times are so tight that even a small thing will put you over.

Gomey only ran on Sunday, and ended up with just one Q (Jumpers). He was leaping contacts left and right, and we had a few off-courses as well. In our Regular run we racked up 75 course faults ... I don't even remember what they all were. Still, he had better focus than we usually have on our home turf at PBH.

I rarely get videos of our runs anymore because I get tired of figuring out which of my friends aren't busy with their own dogs right when I'm about to run and asking them to video us, but two weeks ago at the ASCA trial someone got a few of Gomey's runs for me. Here's one:

And in other agility news: Apparently AMBOR closed up shop abruptly last week, with no announcement or fanfare. According to Sharon Nelson of NADAC (which has owned AMBOR for more than a year), the person who had been running AMBOR just decided she didn't want to do it anymore. According to Sharon, all that is necessary to keep it going is for someone to step up and take over the duties, as she has no interest in maintaining it herself. (I never bothered to register with AMBOR myself.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Uh oh ... I'm going to be one of those people who puts a sweater on her dog ...

I have a coat for Lucy but she hates it. I've only made her wear it when it's really cold, and only because I can't stand to watch her shiver. She'd rather shiver, I think.

But it looks like Pinky Laverne is going to be a short-haired dog, and if I ever want her to wear a coat I should get her accustomed to it now. I'll have a great opportunity on Saturday because she'll be spending the day at a NADAC trial with Lucy and I and I think it's going to be really chilly, at least in the morning.

Still, I hate to go out and buy her a little coat when she will just outgrow it very quickly, so I think I'll see if this tip from the Make blog works: How to make a dog sweater from a sock. Pinky weighed in at a whopping 7.3 lbs. Tuesday (she's about 10 weeks now), so I may have to steal a big sock from Mark to make sure it fits. I'll post the results here, of course!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

USDAA: Something for everyone (to gripe about)

A lot of people are upset with USDAA lately because they were a bit tardy in posting the Nationals results on their web site. There have also been many complaints on the USDAA e-mail list that the formula for awarding Top Ten points and Snooker Super Qs is unfair to small dogs because it's based on the number of dogs in a class and the mini classes are often very small (I disagree that it's unfair but I don't feel like going into it right now). But I have a grouse that's a lot closer to home: I was checking some recently posted results for a trial in September, and they attributed most of Mr. Gomez's results from that trial to Lucy!

I was flabbergasted--how can it make sense to have a dog entered in 16" Championship classes at the Masters level and also running in 22" Performance I and II classes at the very same trial? Is anyone paying attention? But wait, that's not all--in one class, PI Relay, they have Mr. Gomez and Lucy as partners! Yes, I apparently ran my dogs together in a relay! (OK, so I could have conceivably gotten another handler to run one of them and pulled it off, but still ...)

This isn't the first time USDAA has screwed up our results--they "lost" two of Lucy's Qs a couple of years ago. In all fairness to USDAA, I'm quite willing to believe that the host club screwed up all the results and someone at USDAA just entered the data without questioning it. But I'm a little concerned that my e-mail to USDAA requesting that they fix the errors has gone gone unacknowledged. I understand that they are busy with the Nationals aftermath, but couldn't they at least send some sort of form e-mail acknowledging receipt of my e-mail and promising to follow up? How long should I wait before sending another e-mail asking them to fix the errors? This means a lot more to me than how long it took them to post the results for Nationals--I couldn't care less about that.

Gratuitous Gomey blogging ...

Originally uploaded by Mr. Gomez
I have nothing useful to say; I just wanted to post this great photo of Mr. Gomez that Mark took. Here's another. And another.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Baby steps for puppy

pinky laverne

Pinky Laverne went to her first Puppy Primer class last night. She's way smaller and younger than the other puppies and they frighten her a bit. So far her only real socialization has been playing with a few adult dogs because they don't barrel toward her like gangbusters they way puppies do. She's only about 10 weeks old, and last week she weighed 6.1 lbs. (she's due for another weigh-in tonight). I'd really love to find her some appropriately sized puppy playmates.

She's also a bit afraid of humans sometimes. We did an exercise in class where each of us went in turn to the other people's puppies and fed them treats while handling their paws, ears and tails (to accustom them to human handling and help them accept things like vets and groomers). Pinky was reluctant to be close enough to the people for the handling part, so we just had people feed her treats. It's weird because sometimes she'll run right up to people and other times she's afraid. I think being in the class environment with all that puppy energy for the first time was stressful for her. She will probably improve over the next few weeks. I think that when we're done with this session I'll repeat Puppy Primer again instead of moving her up to Senior Puppy right away in the hopes that next time around, being older and a bit bigger, Pinky will be able to actually interact with the other pups.

As far as her general training, we're taking baby steps. Potty training is going really well because we have established a system and a schedule and we (the humans) have been diligent about sticking to it. We've had only a few accidents and they were all human error. Pinky seems to be trying her best to accommodate our desire that she do her business outdoors. I think she shares that goal.

I'm doing a lot more "play training" than anything else--encouraging her to play tug, having her fetch a ball and return to a game of tug (foundation for flyball!), and getting her to bite toys instead of hands. As far as control behaviors, we're doing attention to name, sit and down, but I'm taking it slowly and patiently because she's only 10 weeks old and has a rather short attention span.

Lucy and Mr. Gomez aren't exactly thrilled with the new addition, but they're slowly accepting her. She's never allowed unsupervised access to them, and so far all the time they spend together is limited to short sessions in the backyard, where the dogs have some room to escape from the pestering little midget. We're trying to keep all the interactions between the dogs as positive as possible, both to help the dogs accept Pinky and so that she doesn't learn grouchiness from them. Lucy is much more accepting than Mr. Gomez, who is just a big old grump sometimes. We call him the "fun police" because he can't stand it when someone besides himself is having a good time.

So I know it sounds like I've really decided for reals to keep Pinky, and I think that's probably true, but I'm leaving the "official" decision until she's been through puppy primer. I figure that will let me really get an idea of how she will fit the family and my dog-sport goals, but she'll still be at a cute and very adoptable age (with the bonus of having gotten lots of training) if it seems like it's not going to work. But so far everything seems to feel right.

The one big question that can't be really answered right now is her adult size. We have no idea what's in her mix, so we can only guess based on her growth rate so far. I've been trying to find as much information as possible about growth rates of various breeds so I can make a comparison. Right now I'm guessing she's on track to be about cocker spaniel size, which would be great.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

When dogs attack .. or no good deed goes unpunished

Ugh, what an awful morning I had today. I was driving to the grocery store when I saw a big brown dog running full-speed across an intersection ahead of me with no owner in sight. My instinct was to go after him and see if I could catch up to him and look for tags. I turned onto the street he was on, and immediately saw why the dog had been going so fast--it was on the attack. A woman was screaming "Get off my dog! Get off my dog!" while the brown dog attempted to maul her akita. I pulled over and jumped out of my car as a guy with a wide-eyed confused look on his face came out of the closest house.

All I knew to do was to avoid putting my hands anywhere near the dogs' mouths. Even a dog that's not human-aggressive is likely to bite--hard--at whatever is close during a fight. The only thing I could think of is something Val Olszyk once mentioned about breaking up dogfights: If there's a tail, use it. So I grabbed the attacking dog's tail, and pulled. The neighbor guy saw what I was up to and also grabbed the tail, so I told him to hold it while I grabbed the dog's rear haunches and pulled. We managed to pull him off the other dog, and I told the guy to keep hold of the tail while I reached into my car and got a slip lead (handy things, slip-leads). Unfortunately, the dog turned and snapped at him so he dropped the tail and it launched another attack on the akita.

At this point the woman started screaming, in a really nasty tone, at us "Get this dog off my dog NOW! It's going to kill him! Get him off!" I wanted to yell back "What the *%&@ do you think I'm doing here, lady?" I mean, why be bitchy to people who are trying to help you? We were putting ourselves at personal risk to help this woman, and she was being really nasty. Seriously, if I hadn't been thinking of her poor dog, I would have saved myself a lot of risk (and, as it turned out, about an hour of my time) by getting back in my car and driving off. OK, I know I couldn't have actually done that, but she really pissed me off.

At any rate, we successfully separated the dogs and I got a slip-lead around the brown dog's neck. I told the neighbor guy to hold it tight while I got my cell phone and called 911 for animal control. While I was calling, the woman with the dog left, staring over her shoulder at us--actually it looked more like glaring than staring--but saying nothing. I wanted to say "Oh, and you're welcome, by the way ... saving your dog's life was nothing, really!" but I was busy talking to the dispatcher.

So the dispatcher said they'd send animal control right out. Ha, I thought, Durham Animal Control never gets "right out" anywhere. I figured I'd be lucky if they showed up at all. After I got off the phone a guy pulls up in his car and said "So what just happened here?"

"This dog just attacked some lady's dog," I said. "She left. I've called 911 and they're sending Animal Control--the dog's got no collar or tags."

"Oh, it's not your dog?" he said.

"No, I just stopped to help," I said.

"Oh--that was my girlfriend whose dog was attacked," he said, and it dawned on me that she must have thought it was my dog, which might explain why she was such a bitch to me. She never bothered to ask, though, did she?

Anyway, boyfriend dude left (probably the prospect of waiting and waiting for Durham Animal Control didn't appeal to him, either). After a half-hour, during which the nice and helpful neighbor guy waited with me even though he was late to meet a friend), I called 911 again. They said an officer was on his way. I didn't really believe them, but I told the neighbor guy that he should go meet his friend and I'd just hang out in his yard.

At this point, the dog was nice and calm, and behaving like a real sweetheart. It was obvious he was someone's pet because he looked well-taken care of (except that he was obviously overfed, but I rarely see a pet dog that isn't.) I tried to guess his mix--he looked part bull mastiff, but they aren't actually all that common so it must have been something else. His head was shaped like a Rottweiler's, but he had the coloring of a fawn boxer. A boxweiler, maybe? He seemed happy to be hanging out with us there, and I started to feel bad that he was going to be crammed in the animal control truck (if they ever showed up, that is). But he was so dog-aggressive he definitely had to be taken off the street and I certainly wasn't bringing him home with me. I wondered if his people even realized their dog had escaped.

So roughly an hour after the whole thing started, the animal control guy showed up, put the dog in his truck. I went on to the store, etcetera, and when I got home there was an e-mail to the neighborhood list from someone whose neighbors were missing a dog fitting the description of the I apprehended. I wrote back and told them what happened and that animal control has the dog.

For more info on ways to break up a dogfight that might be better than the ones I used, see this web page. (You have to scroll down about 5 screens past ads for the guys DVDs. I don't know if I agree with any of the guy's other dog-training advice because I haven't read it, but his fight-breaking advice looks like it would work).

Oh, and I'm going to make sure I always have a slip-lead in my car. Although I hope I don't run into to many more dogfights.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Agility: ASCA fun and I need a DAM teammate

I've got tons to write about little Pinky puppy (whose registered name will be Pinky Laverne Del Fuego), but it'll take a while because she keeps me too busy to write. But I thought I'd nip in to say that Lucy, Gomey and I had a lot of fun running FEO at the ASCA trial on Sunday. Both dogs looked awesome. Gomey ran like a focused, seasoned agility dog, confirming my suspicions that there's something about running on our home turf at PBH that confuses him and makes him run around like a doofus. I think it has something to do with the fact that I use his ball and ball-on-a-tug while training there, and he's looking for the ball while he runs. He's extremely obsessive and pattern-oriented, and once you play ball once in a location, he expects to play ball there every time you go back. Or if you just drive by. Or if you are walking vaguely in that direction. We'll have to come up with some ways to work through it.

I'm planning to enter another USDAA DAM tournament on Nov. 30, but I need a team. I connected with one teammate through the trial secretary, but we need a third (26" or 16"). I've asked on local lists to no avail, and now I'm wondering if I should post to a couple of the national agility lists. For some reason I'm intimidated by those lists, because some of the people seem a little too intense and obsessive. I want to Q but I also want to enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007



The cute puppy I mentioned in my previous entry is still with us. The home I had lined up for her fell through when the woman, who really, really wanted the pup, came to the realization that her husband really did not. To preserve her domestic tranquility, the woman backed out of the adoption. We're sort of considering keeping the pup now, which means we need to call her something for real. The first thing I thought of was Pinky Tuscadero (after the TV character, not the Australian band that named themselves after the TV character). Then Mark (aka Mr. Dogliness) and I kicked around other names and we both liked Laverne (again, after the TV character, although personality-wise the pup seems more like a Shirley). So we tried out Laverne, and that's what our vet thinks her name is. But Pinky is a better name for getting a dog's attention, so at the moment the pup is called Pinky Laverne. But I really want to own a dog called She-Ra, Princess of Power, although I don't think Mark shares that desire. I might try to talk him into it.

Still, in the back of my mind I'm wondering if we shouldn't go ahead and keep looking for a terrific home for her. Keeping her pretty much breaks all the rules I had carefully crafted to guide myself when I decide the time is right for my next dog. My dogs are 8 and 9 years old, and the time will come when I can't keep asking them to do so much agility. But I will want an agility/flyball dog, won't I? So I've started considering what my next dog will be. Rule Number One: No puppies! I want to know exactly the adult size (under 16"!), drive level and temperament of my dog from the get-go. With a puppy (even a purebred), there's no way to know if it will become the dog you were dreaming of. That's double-true when you don't even have any idea what breed or mix the puppy is to begin with.

Pinky Laverne is a real question mark. Here she is at seven weeks. It's hard to get a good "representative" photo because she doesn't really want to stand still. I'll keep trying. Some people say she looks like she's got pit bull in her, and she could very well have. Others say lab, some say border collie (any time you see black and white with speckles people always guess border collie). She could have any of those things in her, but she's too teensy not to have something small mixed in. She was 3.2 lbs. at (estimated) six weeks and 4.7 lbs. at eight weeks. That makes me think that her "finished" size may be close to Lucy's (15" at the shoulder, 21 lbs). Or maybe it's wishful thinking because my ideal next dog would be exactly Lucy's size. At any rate, I'm calling her a "pithuahua" if anyone asks.

And yeah, you should expect to read more puppy business here soon ... when I actually have time to write!

Oh, and I've entered Lucy and Gomey in one day of a local ASCA trial this weekend. I'm running FEO (for exhibition only) because I'm not registered with ASCA and don't feel like spending the money to register them right now. I'm only doing it because a) agility is so much fun! and b) I want to try and support anyone who has any kind of local agility trial. (Except for AKC, of course. Even if they one day decided to allow mutts I wouldn't bother with them.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

A foster puppy and a great agility dog

Once again I've fallen behind on my goal to blog often. I worked overtime all last week, plus we are again hosting a foster puppy. I also ran my dogs in agility trials the past two weekends, so I'm a bit exhausted.

The puppy was a surprise, brought to us by the boy down the street. Someone was giving away puppies, he brought one home and his parents said no way. So of course he brought it to the "dog people" on the block. He was very sad to have to give up his puppy. She is very young--the vet estimated last week that she was only 6 weeks old, and we have no idea what breed or mix she is. Our local shelter is under parvo quarantine, which means she would have almost certainly gotten the needle after 5 days if she went in. What else could we do? We had potential adopters for the pup who were supposed to pick her up yesterday, but they backed out at the last minute when they realized having a puppy would be a lot of work. Tell me about it. I'm glad they thought of it BEFORE taking her home, though--a lot of people don't. But that still leaves us with a puppy on our hands. She's cute as a button and sweet as pie, so I'm hoping it won't be long. She needs more attention than we really have for her right now.

Anyway, I really want to talk about agility because I just had two great trials in a row: USDAA this past weekend, and NADAC the previous weekend. I couldn't be happier with the way Lucy and I are doing. I really think focusing on my mental game has made a huge difference, because I haven't had time to do much extra training. It's as if Lucy were just waiting for me to get my act together before she showed me how really awesome she could be.

In NADAC, Lucy and I racked up two Qs each in Chances and Tunnelers and one each in Touch & Go, Weavers and Regular. I was really pleased with the way we worked together. Pleased to distraction, in fact: during our Jumpers run first thing Sunday morning, I was so caught up with thinking about how awesome Lucy was that I sort of forgot to pay attention to the course and didn't realize it until we'd taken two off-course jumps. Oops!

In USDAA we far exceeded my expectations, getting two Jumpers Qs, and one each in Gamblers, Snooker, Grand Prix and Standard. (We now need only one more Standard Q for our MAD title!) I felt really good about every run--like I'm actually becoming the handler my awesome dog deserves. I think she's noticing, too, because she was fast, as if she's thinking "Finally, I can open up and run and trust that you're actually telling me what you really want me to do." And the only thing I've really changed since the awful trial a month ago is my attitude.

With Gomey, things aren't quite as wonderful. We did well together in NADAC, earning two tunnelers Qs and one each in Regular, Jumpers and Chances, and I felt like he was really clicking with this whole agility thing. Then the USDAA trial was a disaster. It was as if he'd completely left his brain at home and had no idea why we were out there. It's like that every time we run at our "home" facility, so something about trialing there just confuses the heck out of him and makes him silly. The funniest monent was in our Snooker run, when I ran him to the opening of a tunnel that ran under an A-frame, perpendicular to it (i.e., there was no discrimination involved). I said "TUNNEL!" and pointed directly at it, and even though he was about a foot from the opening, Gomey turned away, ran a big circle all the way around the tunnel and A-frame and then decided to actually go in the tunnel. It was just crazy and inexplicable. Maybe I'll just stop trialing him at PBH because it's starting to get a little frustrating.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I heart Terrierman

If you've never checked out the blog Terrierman's Daily Dose, today is a perfect time to dive in. No matter that you don't own a terrier--Terrierman (aka Patrick Burns) is a fan of all working dogs. Today's post is called Border Collie Owners Battle What Doesn't Work, and it's about the struggle of working border collie enthusiasts against the ruination of theor working breed by the AKC (and kennel clubs in general). It also serves as a review of a new book on that topic: The Dog Wars: How the Border Collie Battled the American Kennel Club by Donald McCaig.

If you have a little time, you should check out the entirety of Terrierman's writings on the AKC. I think he he's got the raw materials there for a book that's sorely needed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Agility euphoria

Lucy and I had the opposite of the crummy weekend we had a few weeks ago. No, we didn't Q on every run, but we were four for eight, which is better than we've done in USDAA for a while. But there's more, something even better: we got our first Snooker Super Q! That alone would have made my whole weekend. We also got Qs in Jumpers, Grand Prix and Pairs (and then ran as an accommodating dog to help someone else Q). In the Pairs, Jumpers and Snooker runs we also finished in first place.

But even the non-qualifying runs were mostly really good, except for whatever little thing got us NQ'd, of course. Lucy was weaving beautifully, making her contacts (she missed one in the gamblers opening) and even downing quickly on the table. I hate to say it, but I think I need to give some credit to the self-help book! I've read about half of the Lanny Bassham book my friend lent me, and I decided to try practicing the stuff I'd read so far. So I set goals, focused on "rehearsing success" and not focusing on what could go wrong and generally tried to stay positive. I feel like it helped both of us--I know Lucy is very tuned-in to my mental state.

I did flub one run (standard on Sunday) because of stupid sloppiness (I caused Lucy to refuse a jump), and I was very angry with myself afterward. I kept thinking, and saying out loud to a friend, "Why am I suck a dork? I know better," etc. It took me a half an hour to talk myself out of that mindset and get back to the positive, but after I did we went on to have our two best runs of the weekend (including the Super Q!)

Next weekend I'll do it all again, but with both dogs, and in NADAC, which I treat as a training/motivational venue. Maybe I'll read the rest of the Bassham book before then and really put it all together. Then the following weekend is more USDAA--two more chances to get those Standard Qs I need for Lucy's MAD title. At the rate we are going it seems we'll get our Tournament Master's title before we get the MAD, but who cares? Either one would be cool.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Short bits ...

This weekend Lucy and I will be competing at a USDAA trial in Chesterfield VA, sponsored by the Central Virginia Agility Club. I'm hoping I will feel nice and relaxed about the whole thing, and get myself to focus on the runs, not the Qs. That's when we seem to do best. She's been awesome in class and practice, so I'm hoping a good time will be had by all this weekend.

In other news:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gratuitous cute puppy blogging (again!)

hercules with locopup
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants
This is Hercules, my friend Jackie's 6-month-old Chihuahua pup (seen here with his littermate, Samson). He's eating a "Locopup," which is the doggie version of the gourmet popsicles sold at Locopops, our local gourmet paleta shop. All proceeds from the sale of Locopups go to the Durham County Animal Protection Society.

Agility videos available for rent at

I've long wondered whether some of the agility instruction videos available would help my training, but they're not cheap and I'm often reluctant to part with my cash unless I'm convinced it's something that will work for me. So I'm very happy to report that, a DVD rental site for instructional videos, has added some dog agility titles to their offerings. Among the new DVDs available are:
Most videos at are $9.99 for a one week rental. You can check out the rest of the dog training DVDs available here

Friday, September 14, 2007

The riddle of Gomey ... solved, maybe?

I mentioned the other day that Mr. Gomez will sort of blow right past an obstacle sometimes, even when it is directly in his path (and it's usually the only logical next obstacle). Well last night in class I got a few suggestions as to why:
  1. Val said I have "Lucyitis," i.e., I'm very accustomed to the way Lucy takes direction from me. Lucy is very attentive will pick up on very subtle movements--this is a good thing if my subtle movement is correct, a bad thing if I accidentally flick an arm or point myself towards an off-course obstacle. On Gomey, however, subtlety is entirely lost. If I want him to really understand which obstacle to take, I need to be make my indication very obvious. So running directly toward the teeter, for example, isn't quite enough for Gomey. I need to remember to clearly point toward it, and it probably wouldn't hurt to remember to say "teeter." (With Lucy, I often only call the obstacle if I'm at a distance or there is a discrimination involved).

  2. I have trouble sending Gomey ahead with my usual send-ahead command ("Go!"). I've always figured it was just because I haven't practiced it enough with him. But a classmate wisely pointed out that "Go" is the first syllable of his name (duh! never thought of that before!) That would explain why instead of going, he usually looks at me ... so I need to think of another send-ahead command. I like "Andale!" just because it would be fun to yell it while running a course, but I'm afraid it's too many syllables. I like the idea of using Spanish ... maybe "Vaya!" would work, although properly conjugated I guess the correct form would be "Ve" because I would use "tú" and not "usted" with Gomey. Anyway, I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lucy update

I went to class with Lucy last night ... it's true, I'm too addicted to agility to quit or even miss one single class. Before class I did some weaves, contacts and tables with Lucy, and she did them all beautifully (well, her table downs could be a teensy bit faster). Not only was she weaving well and very quickly, but when we finished a set, unless I directed her to another obstacle, she'd flip herself around and head back towards the weaves right after getting her reward. She seemed like she was enjoying them. So hopefully there's nothing physically wrong with her, although I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to get her an athletic evaluation at VetHab just to be sure.

So our off-kilter weekend could have been because of any of the following: it was really hot (mid-to-high 90s); she wasn't fully recovered from the three-day trial the previous weekend; I'm a dorky handler; I was feeling a bit tired and cranky; I was running two dogs and their runs and walkthroughs kept coming up at the same time (which really stresses me out); and I need to master the "mental game" as much as I need to hone my handling. I think it was all of the above.

My friend Barb just lent me her copy of With Winning in Mind by Lanny Basham, who was an Olympic gold medalist and world champion in shooting. I'm not a big fan of self-help books in general, but I'll give this a try. Barb never finished it, and she wants me to report back to her on it--in other words, I think she wants me to read it so she doesn't have to. I've flipped through it a bit and saw one bad sign: it involves affirmations. I'm sorry, but I've actually tried affirmations before, and nothing ever made me feel like a bigger loser than sitting there telling myself what a winner I was. But what the hell, I can at least read the guy's book before I form a judgement of it. For all I know affirmations are just what I need.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For the birds ...

Our dogs love a nice hike in woods, where they get to smell the world and all its critters. And I'm quite fond of birds, although I'm not really a birdwatcher--I can't get the hang of using binoculars and I couldn't imagine keeping lists of what I've see--I still think they're cool to watch and fun to hear. My husband's quite fond of photographing them. So I was rather distressed to see this article in the NY Times about research indicating that even leashed dogs in a forest reduce the number and diversity of birds present, at least in the short run.
The researchers chose trails in places where dogs were banned and in other areas where dog walking was common, expecting different results in each. “We thought that where there was regular dog walking birds would get used to it,” Dr. Banks said. “Well, they didn’t.”

Regardless of the type of area, dog walking led to a 35 percent reduction in the number of bird species and a 41 percent reduction in overall bird numbers, compared with the control. (People walking alone caused some disturbance, but less than half that caused by people with dogs.)

That's a bit of a bummer.

Awful, thanks for asking

This weekend was not the most fun I've ever had at an agility trial. In fact, it may have been my worst trial ever. It was the kind of weekend that leaves one wondering why one spends all of one's time, energy and money doing dog agility.

I know I should feel a lot better about the weekend than I do, because Mr. Gomez qualified in 6 out of 8 runs, despite being somewhat of a goofball. But we're still in PI and PII (We finished PI Gamblers and Pairs this weekend, so we'll now be in PII everything), and the lower-level courses are relatively easy. More importantly, refusals aren't counted yet. Once we hit PIII I have a feeling we will tank a lot of runs because Gomey often blows right by obstacles in his hurry to get ... well I have no idea where he's going sometimes. He's just going. He comes right back when I call him and takes whatever obstacle I want him to, but it often seems as if he still doesn't get the point of this whole agility thing. He completely gets the point of the game where I throw the ball over and over and over again and he runs and gets it and brings it back every time. Now there's a game! He's clearly a very pattern-oriented dog, and agility throws up a brand-new configuration every time. I think the poor boy will never get over the confusion.

Lucy's the dog who really "gets" agility, and she and I have become reasonably successful over the past year. So not getting a single Q all weekend felt rotten. A few of the problems were simply my handling, but some of the issues were things I thought I could trust Lucy to take care of. Weaves, for example. I'd spent a lot of time making sure she understood how to find the correct entry from all angles, and had gotten good deal of independent performance and distance with her. She was becoming an excellent weaver. But this weekend, she was missing entries and popping out over and over again. Now I've completely lost confidence in her weaves to the point that I plan to go back and start re-training her in an open channel. There's no way one can succeed in Masters level without trustworthy weaves.

Another issue is the table. She has become slower and slower to down on the table as time goes by. In practice she's great--I say "Splat" and she goes splat. It's one of the first things I ever taught her, and since we don't do AKC, the table only ever means "down," never "sit." But in a trial she just doesn't want to lie down. It's completely infuriating. I'm not sure what to do in training to fix it, because in training she's fine. Maybe I need to borrow a friend's table and feed Lucy her dinner every night in the "down" position. Or, (I don't really like this idea and doubt it will even work), I could sacrifice my runs to her training by picking her up and carrying her off the course if she doesn't immediately down on the table. She hates being picked up and carried. Problem is I can't take her to her crate because she loves it in there. So I'd have to just carry her around for a while. But the big problem with this is that I've spent too much time building her motivation to risk shutting it down by stopping a run in such a way. Still, I don't know what else to do.

And there are those pesky contacts. I've trained, re-trained, and re-re-trained. She just loves sailing over them. She's perfectly capable of a two-on, two-off or a nice controlled, moving contact--she does them in practice ... well, not all of the time, but lots. But she loves to fly in a trial. It's faster that way. And I'm just not willing to end a run for a missed contact. I don't think it's really very effective (I know people who have done it and it hasn't really helped them at all and, again, I don't want to mess with her motivation). But now I'm stuck babysitting her contacts saying all kinds of things ("easy wait easy bottom easy!") hoping to just slow her down enough to at least scratch yellow with one tiny claw. You can't succeed at the Masters level that way (especially in Gamblers).

So right now I need something to build my own motivation. I don't even feel like going to class this week. What's the point? It just a Sisyphean exercise if I have to keep training my dog to do the same things over and over and over again. Of course, it's all probably something I've done anyway, in which case the whole thing is really hopeless.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Agility geekiness: More fun with blind crosses

A while back I wrote about playing with blind crosses and discovering their potential to get Lucy to turn on the afterburners. I mentioned that I couldn't imagine them working well anywhere but after a tunnel, but then at the trial last weekend I saw several people successfully execute them after a jump. That made me want to try it in practice sometime, and I got the chance during Lucy's class Wednesday night.

Val had set up a very NADAC-y arc of 5 jumps leading into a tunnel, with a line of jumps coming out of the tunnel. The object of the exercise was that we were to run it once staying ahead of the dog and then again staying behind the dog to see which way was faster (Val timed us, and in every case having the handler ahead was faster, which didn't surprise me). Then were to run it again ahead of the dog using every trick we could think of to beat our fastest time. I added my own wrinkle to the exercise, however: the path looked like it might be a good place to to try the blind cross after a jump, so I decided to give it a go. I knew very well that, if successful, it would really make Lucy go faster. I just didn't know if I could pull it off.

I tried it at two different places. In the first run, I did a lead-out to just beside the third obstacle (a triple), where I could make eye contact with her over the first two jumps. If it were a different dog (Mr. Gomez, for example), I might not have tried blind-crossing after a triple because of bar-knocking danger, but Lucy rarely knocks bars and can often slice triples at amazing angles, so I figured I'd take the risk:*

The important thing was to make sure I got moving (and quickly--she really does get speedy if I'm in front of her!) as soon as she committed to the first jump so that I was well out of her path as she attempted the triple, and to remember to look back and make eye contact with her as soon as I had completed the cross. It worked like a charm, except that in my haste to make the cross I went to wide and ended up pulling her away from the tunnel entrance rather than driving her toward it. I got to re-run so we got an accurate time, and I fixed that problem but paying closer attention to my path.

I decided to try leading out further the second time and trying the cross between jumps 4 and 5:

I don't usually take such long lead-outs with Lucy, not because she doesn't have a good start-line stay, but just out of a superstition that I shouldn't tempt fate if I don't have to. But this run worked better--I had a little more time to makethe blind cross and pay attention to my path coming out of it. The scary thing about a blind cross is that you have to turn your back of the dog, and you definitely want to have enough time to make sure your paths aren't on a collision course before you do.

I may or may not get an opportunity to try a blind cross at the trial this weekend--it's likely I won't because they really only work under a small set of circumstances. One must be ahead of one's dog--even farther ahead than a normal front cross. The intended path must also be very clear to the dog--you are turning your back on the dog, after all--so a blind cross may be called for when you want to keep the dog in obstacle focus. If a sharp change of direction is needed, a front cross, rear cross or counter-hand turn would be more appropriate.

*This post represents my first attempt at using the Clean Run Course Designer software. I decided to take advantage of their 30-day trial to see if it was a toy worth paying for. I must say it's quite fun! I may have to bite the bullet and give them some money.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Odd Dogs qualify, take fifth place

The Odd Dogs' astonishing third place standing didn't hold, and I take the blame. During today's relay event, Amanda/Weaver and Janice/Machias were reliable and turned in respectable runs, while Lucy and I went off-course after the second obstacle. It was that stupid dogwalk/tunnel discrimination, again. I'm starting to think that the best way to get Lucy to take the one I want is to aim for the other one. She didn't actually take the dog walk, just touched it with a paw--a rear paw, at that. Don't ask me what she was thinking or what I did to get that result. At any rate, in the DAM relay if you're eliminated, you're supposed to immediately run to the finish (and pass the baton to a teammate if applicable), so that ended my portion of the run.

Fortunately, a lot of teams did way worse than we did--some had two E's, and I was fortunate that mine came so early in the run that it didn't waste too much of the team's time. And the important thing was that we got our Q, which means I've completed all the tournament requirements for my ADCH. However, in individual competition this weekend I failed to get either of the Standard titles I needed for my MAD. In fact, all I got was one Snooker Q (it was a very nice run). Oh well, I'll be trialing again next weekend, and a couple of weekends after that, and a couple of more after that. Sooner or later we'll manage to pull together a Standard run or two.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

DAM team update

I'm slightly flabbergasted. With only the Relay left to run tomorrow, The Odd Dogs are currently in third place (out of 13 teams) in the DAM team tournament! We ended yesterday in sixth place, which was partly my fault because Lucy took an off-course in Standard and we were eliminated, although Weaver and Machias did pretty well. (We all did well in Snooker, though, and I was very proud of my run with Lucy).

Then first thing this morning, our oddness really paid off on the jumpers course, which was devilishly tricky. The really zippy fast gonzo dogs were going off-course, knocking bars and spinning into refusals left and right--the course was eating them for breakfast, it seemed. But Weaver the Foxhound and Machias the Akita made good use of their slower but steadier pace. Lucy and I managed to rock that course; aside from a fleeting moment when I almost lost her over an off-course obstacle, it felt perfect. It was one of those runs that reminds you why you run yourself ragged building courses, gate stewarding, timing, scribing, setting bars, etc. so an agility trial can happen. We vaulted into second place after Jumpers.

In Gamblers the border collies got a little revenge, because the amount of ground they can cover so quickly made it easier to rack up the points without the danger of off courses and refusals (except in the gambles, of course, but they were optional for bonuses). But we Odds were tenacious and managed to only slip down to third place. Obviously anything can happen in the Relay tomorrow, but so far I'm very pleasantly surprised.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Small bites

I had been meaning to post something about a rather crummy dog instructors' seminar I attended a few weeks back--in which I did actually learn a few useful things, but then I decided I just didn't feel like being negative. The biggest problem with the seminar was that it was disorganized and chaotic, which made it rather excruciating, but I still caught a few bits that will help me improve my puppy classes. I will try them out this session and if I find them useful, maybe I'll write something then. Otherwise, I found myself disagreeing with a lot of the trainers' methods and thinking Ï would never do that in my class," but it was still interesting to hear how other people do things.

In other news, I have a three-day USDAA trial this weekend at my home turf, and I can't wait. I had planned to go to a trial in August, but as the closing date approached I found myself a bit lean on funds, so I decided to pass. So now I'm itching to compete, and I hope Lucy feels the same. After several weeks of record high temps here, we're actually looking forward to three days in the high 80s/low 90s. It will feel refreshing to us.

This weekend will be my first DAM team tournament. My pal Amanda and I have resurrected the Odd Dogs (a team name we used for an ill-fated PVP attempt last fall) with a third member. Our lineup is Lucy, my little speckled mix, Weaver, an American Foxhound and Machias, an Akita. We figure the "Odd Dog" moniker is fitting considering that two of the three dogs are definitely not your usual agility types. We have shirts and hats and are hoping that even if we don't Q, we can at least take the "Team Spirit" award that's being offered. I just hope Lucy doesn't step on a bee, as she did last year.

And on a completely different topic, Blogger has fixed whatever bug had made it impossible to edit my template, which means I can update my list of blogs over on the right when I get a few more minutes. Until then--and I promise it will happen because some of my few readers have great blogs--I'd like to give a shout-out and thank you to Terrierman for posting this highly entertaining vid of a Jack Russel doing Schutzhund.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gratuitous cute puppy blogging ...

every office needs one ...
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants
Someone brought a pup to work today--a little rescued chihuahua, about 7 weeks old, who had been near death when he was rescued along with his sister. The sister dog apparently still needs a home. Hmmm, I was thinking, I've seen a few nifty little agility chihuahuas ... and they're so small it would be a barely detectable increase in my household doggage ... But really, I don't think a chihuahua is really the dog for me.

In other news, I went to a really awful instructors' seminar this weekend ... I'll post more about it later.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The "dog days of summer": a misnomer, plus a word about retractable leashes

I've been remiss in my dog-blogging, partly because I haven't been doing a lot of training, thanks to a recent heat wave here in NC. Temps weren't so bad last week, but they were still warm enough to keep my training time to a minimum, and this week temps have been at or above 100F, with high humidity that has pushed the heat index up to 110 on some days. It's so oppressive that all classes have been canceled this week at my training facility, even the ones in the covered arena, which at least has the benefit of providing shade.

I have been trying to at least get my dogs out for regular walks in the mornings or late evenings, because the exercise is essential for all of us. I'm also a firm believer that being stuck in the same old house every day, even if there's frequent backyard access, makes a dog bored, frustrated and even neurotic. A dog has to get out and smell the world, I think, to be happy.

This brings to mind a great topic that Christie Keith, one of the bloggers at Pet Connection wrote about yesterday in her San Francisco Chronicle column: retractable leashes. Some people love 'em, some not so much. On the first night of every puppy class session, I always tell my students that they should not use a retractable leash until they get their dog under control on a 6-foot leash. But then I never really incorporate any lessons on using retractable leashes because there's just not enough time in my 6-week puppy class (and frankly, most of the students still haven't mastered the control issue in that period--most need to advance through the pet obedience class before they can get and maintain control on-leash).

As for my own dogs, I only use a retractable with one--Lucy--because Mr. Gomez never seems to be able to get the distinction between being on a retractable and being off-leash. Once he gets past the 6 feet he's used to getting on his regular leash, his brain jumps to "off-leash" mode and he rushes ahead, only to get pulled short at the end of the retractable. I think with careful training and practice I could get him accustomed to it, but it's just fine with me to keep him on a regular leash. He's a bit reactive around other dogs and small children, so it's probably easier for us to stay out of trouble on a 6-foot leash. When I've only got Lucy, however, we do quite well with a retractable.

At any rate, I'm very happy to see Keith's article, because she very nicely explains the ins and outs of retractable leash use. I think I'll add copies of it to the materials I keep handy for students who want more info than we can cover in class. In fact, maybe I should carry copies on my walks and hand them out to people who seem like they could use it ... we usually run into several of them along the way, and I usually end up crossing the street to avoid them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A great dog-centric flyball weekend

Lucy and I had an interesting and fun road-trip weekend. We headed out Thursday afternoon to Woodstock, GA, along with my friend Barb and her dogs Twyst and Stetson (a border collie and a Jack Russell terrier, respectively) and stayed the night at the home of Laura Moretz. Laura is a talented dog trainer, disc dog handler and flyball enthusiast, and Friday morning it was like Barb and I were at "Laura's Dog Camp." She gave Barb a frisbee-throwing lesson and showed her some exercises to advance Twyst's disc-dog training. For me, she demonstrated ways to teach Lucy a few things, including getting her to stand on the soles of my feet. It's the kind of trick that requires two people in the initial stages, one to be the platform and the other to lure and reward the dog. Getting Lucy up there was no problem because she's always game to try new things, but keeping my feet stable and level so she she didn't mind staying there was the hard part. It requires muscles I don't always use.

Saturday and Sunday we had a great time at the Athens Dawg Derby flyball tournament. The local paper had a writeup on the tournament, so there were lots of spectators on Sunday. The article, along with a little video, is available at OnlineAthens. It's a reasonably accurate article, except that they call the box a "backstop," which is actually what we call the barrier behind the box.

As I mentioned before, Lucy ran in the veteran's division with the Fur Fun club. I had a blast, not just because the Fur Fun crew is indeed very fun, but because our team was competitive in the division and the racing was quite close. We were doing very well Saturday and thought we were on tract to get first or second place, but a few blown heats put us down to third. Since the format was two one-day tournaments, we were able to make a slight change to the roster for Sunday, and heading into the last race we had a shot at first place--if we won all four heats. The first two went well, but in the third one of the dogs had a bit of a ball-bobble at the box (she didn't catch the ball and had to fumble on the ground to get it) which put us too far behind to catch up. That put us in second place. The exact same thing happened in the fourth heat, and to be honest, I don't know if that put us into third or not ... I have so many second- and third-place ribbons from years of racing that I lose interest in the results when there's no possibility of getting first. So the final result was that Lucy ran well and I had a great time, which is really all that matters.

I really like competing in the Veteran's Division with Lucy. She was staring to slow down a little over her regular jump height (11"), but is running about as fast as her younger days over 7". There are also fewer heats per day (never more than 16), so I don't feel like I'm pushing her too hard. Plus, since the vet dogs tend to be very experienced, the danger of crossers (dogs who run into the opposing team's lane) is reduced. (I think crossing is the biggest risk to dogs in flyball competition. Here's a little article that addresses the subject and how to "proof" a dog in preparation for competition.) Aside from slowing down a little, vet dogs are often very consistent; most of our team's errors over the weekend were in passing, which is all the human's fault. So there's still plenty of room to rack up more points and titles, if that's what people are concerned with (I stopped worrying about that after Lucy got her Onyx award).

I was talking to another competitor who has a little mix dog about the same size and age as Lucy, and she said she would really like to get the remaining 3,000 points her dog needs for the FGDCh-30 title, but she is afraid her dog just can't race as hard as she did when she was younger. I asked if she had ever tried the vet's division, and she said she hadn't because she didn't think one got many points in vet's. I disabused her of that notion--in vet's you're allowed to run with dogs from other clubs, so it's possible to put together a "dream team" for whatever purpose--whether it's winning first place, racking up points or just racing with a really fun group of people. I think I convinced her.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is pet insurance worth it?

There is an interesting post at (one of my fave daily reads) about pet insurance (particularly a company called VPI) and whether it's a rip-off or not. I had been thinking about whether I would try such a thing with future dogs (my current dogs are old enough that the premiums would be exorbitant), but now after the article, and especially the comments, I'm thinking maybe not. It seems like people are very unhappy with the rates of reimbursement they get from pet insurance.

Currently we are on a plan at our vet that completely covers certain routine vaccinations, diagnostics and teeth cleanings and gives us a discount on most other things. It's worked out well for us, but if we were to need a specialty vet for rehab or a serious illness, that would all be out-of-pocket. (Currently I supplement their regular vet care with chriopractic, which has fortunately been affordable so far.) So I was very interested in one of the ideas that came up a few times of "self-insuring," that is putting aside a monthly amount to cover catastrophic costs. That amount could be earning interest until one needs it, which is one advantage over giving the money to an insurance company that seems reluctant to pay it back out, if the anecdotes at Consumerist are any indication.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone (other than a pet-insurance-industry flack) who's had a good experience with pet insurance.

Flyball weekend

I'm off to Athens, GA, this weekend for the Double Dog Dare Athens Dawg Derby flyball tournament. I've started running Lucy in the veterans' division, which is for dogs 7 years and older, which means her team will jump the minimum height (7"; Lucy's normal height would be 11"), have no false-start re-runs, and all races will be only three heats. What's more, in vets' division they allow dogs to run with other clubs, which makes it easier to field vets' teams in cases where a club doesn't have enough vet dogs of it's own. So this and Lucy and I will be running with a team called Fur Fun, who are known known for wacky antics and fielding fast teams (I hope Lucy's not the weakest link--she's not nearly as fast in flyball as she can be in agility).

A teammate and I are going down a day early to spend a day with Laura Moretz, a disc dog competitor and a member of the 2007 Purina Incredible Dog Team (as well as a member of the Dogsmack flyball club. I don't have a disc dog (Lucy won't catch them and although Mr. Gomez loves frisbees, we don't play because of his bad hip), but maybe I'll "interview" Laura for a blog post about disc dog training. The most I know now is that first and foremost, one must learn to properly toss the disc ... actually I think that's a great deal of the challenge in disc dog competition, because even a lightning-fast dog can't do well if its handler keeps bungling all the tosses!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Stuart Mah seminar recap (of sorts)

I thoroughly enjoyed the Stuart Mah seminar on Wednesday, although I think my brain got a little bloated with too much food for thought. The seminar didn't have a title, but if I had to pick one I'd call it "Obstacle Focus is Your Friend (or can be if you learn how to use it and train your dog to do its job)." The point being that a) obstacle focus is where the speed is, handler focus always slows a dog down; b) yes, you can actually steer a dog in obstacle focus but c) you need to communicate well and your dog needs to know its job. Of course all of this involves getting rid of some bad habits, bad instincts and trying a few things that seem downright counterintuitive ...

The course and exercises we did made us put the dog in obstacle focus and transition between obstacle focus and handler focus. I hadn't really thought before about how much I rely on handler focus (and consequently have trained Lucy to mostly stay in handler focus), but now I can see how it's slowing me down. Well, not just me--Lucy, too. Stuart made a comment about how he could tell that Lucy really wanted to let loose and go faster (in obstacle focus, of course!) but that I was holding her in handler focus (without really thinking about what I was doing). So basically I need to let my dog go be dynamite. (Whilst incorporating the stuff we learned about steering--I'm not going to describe it all in depth her because it would take hours. Go take one of Stuart's seminars.)

One of the things we talked about sort of destroyed a previous notion I'd had. I was always been under the impression that my verbal cues were the least important aspect of communicating with my dogs on course, with motion and body positioning being much more crucial. So I'd been concentrating on really using my body to direct Lucy and downplaying the verbal stuff (I mentioned my progress towards that goal in my last post. But Stuart said that's valid enough in handler focus, but in obstacle focus the verbal cues become much more important. Duh, makes sense now that I think of it--if I'm trying to get my dog to drive away from me toward, say, a tunnel in obstacle focus, making her look at me to pick up a signal will necessarily slow her down and probably bring her towards me, back into handler focus. What if I need her to stay out? So there are some good reasons to make sure you have some good verbal cues (like right and left, which Lucy knows and Gomey ... well sort of). The trick is to actually deliver them in time for the dog to use them successfully. He compared the way a lot of us give cues to having a passenger in your car who screeches "Turn right here" after you've already entered the intersection going straight in the left lane. (He used a lot of driving a car analogies.)

Anyway, there was way more to the seminar than I can possibly do justice too (or even remember--I could very easily take the same seminar over again and still benefit). So now I'm itching to get to runthroughs tonight because it's a Steeplechase course--a perfect opportunity for a little obstacle focus work.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Quick agility update

I didn't have time to blog about the Midnight Madness NADAC trial last week, but it was quite fun. It's a great way to have a trial in a place where it gets oppressively hot in the summer. After darkness fell, it almost felt like summer camp and the atmosphere was very relaxed. Plus, as much as I grouse about NADAC's silliness as an agility organization, I must admit that NADAC trials are generally always fun, and I do like the Tunnelers, Weavers and Touch & Go games.

I did very well with both dogs, but I got tripped up several times by a discrimination (dogwalk/tunnel) that I've worked and worked on. I guess I'll just have to work and work on it some more. (Maybe Stuart Mah can help me at the seminar tomorrow!) But mostly, my dogs ran like champs and I didn't do so badly as a handler. The highlight of the whole weekend was Weavers on Friday night when both of my dogs ran the course so near to perfectly I couldn't think of anything at all to criticize about either run. Those are the moments that make me think "THIS is why I love agility!!"

Generally, when she wasn't taking the wrong obstacle in a discrimination, Lucy ran as if she were tuned in to my very thoughts. We're becoming quite a solid team and it's exhilarating to run with her. I also am able to keep my mouth shut a lot more on course, because my body communication is improving. So I usually only spoke when I needed her in handler focus, with an occasional "yes" for reinforcement and to keep her confidence up. Now if we can maintain this teamwork for the upcoming USDAA trials I'll be ecstatic.

As mentioned, I'll be at a Stuart Mah seminar in Hampton, VA, tomorrow. I'm so excited I keep hoping today will fly by--what a geek I am!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Great googely-moogely: NADAC Hoopers "Phase II" rules

I don't even know what to think after reading this post at the Elite Forces of Fuzzy Destruction blog about the "Phase II" rules for NADAC Hoopers. May I please apologize for having called it lame before? Because lame is better than ... words are failing me, but I think "stupidly insane" is apropos.

OK, maybe I'm overstating it a bit, because honestly, it seems like Sharon Nelson is trying to come up with something to rival USDAA's Snooker game, which is incredibly fun and not at all lame. But really, is it too much to ask to have a few actual obstacles on a agility course? I mean, if I ever get to the point where my dog is too old or too lame to do anything but step through a hula-hoop an inch off the ground I really hope I'll have the good sense to save my money, stay home and rub my dog's belly as he or she snuggles next to me on the sofa.

But then again, if I had a novice dog who wasn't weaving yet, I suppose I'd be glad for yet one more game I could do at a trial. But once that dog gained full skills, I think that I'd be a little less excited about the whole Hoopers thing. If Sharon decides to make it a requirement for a NATCH I'll have one more reason to treat NADAC as only a training venue and not care about the titles. Not that I even really have any idea what's involved in getting a NATCH because the NADAC titles and awards chart has been offline for "important revisions" for months and I never bothered to look it up before the chart disappeared.

More discussion on the new Hoopers rules can be found at the NADAC Yahoo group. Well, "discussion" only if you define the word to mean "everyone tells Sharon how great they think Hoopers will be and maybe asks a clarifying question or two"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Agility: Fun with blind crosses

First, Blogger doesn't think this is a spam blog anymore. I still can't edit my template but ... baby steps, I guess.

Anyway, last night in class Val came up a cool game designed to make us explore every possible way of handling a sequence. She had us draw numbers for running order, and then gave us a 10-obstacle sequence rife with handling possibilities, with the caveat that we each had to do something different than everyone who went before us. Then after the first round, we each had to run it changing at least two things from our first run, and then a third time changing two things yet again. It was great fun and extremely instructive, and it made us try to go beyond the familiar, comfortable tactics that we all tend to fall back on.

At one point, trying to come up with ways to do things differently, I decided to substitute a blind cross after a tunnel instead of the front cross I had previously used. (The jump before and the two jumps immediately after the tunnel were arranged much like the ones in this discussion of rear crosses at Stuart and Pati Mah's website.) I've used blind crosses a couple of times in trials with Lucy, never after actually planning one in my walkthrough but rather as a spur-of-the-moment decision while running--both times I suddenly realized that a front cross would seriously break our flow and I just changed my plan on the fly. It worked well, but as I never had any basis for comparison I didn't realize how much it makes Lucy turn on the afterburners. I had a direct comparison last night, however, as I'd just run the same sequence with a front cross in that same spot. The difference between it and the blind cross was astounding--not only did the blind cross speed Lucy up through that section, she stayed quite speedy through the remaining 7 obstacles.

It makes sense that a blind cross would speed up my dog. It's called for, to quote Stuart and Pati Mah "if we wish to maintain the dog's impulsion. Because the handler is not attracting the dog's attention by facing the dog, the dog can continue in obstacle focus, resulting in a faster time." Plus, I already knew that being ahead of Lucy speeds her up--I've used that tactic when she seems to be less than fully motivated. But the rear cross seemed to give her a special urgency, and I think it had something to do with me turning my back on her and the fact that I also had to really pour on my own speed. I'm totally anthropomorphizing, but I felt as if Lucy was thinking "Oh no you didn't just try to outrun me ... sucker!"

At any rate, I think I will keep my eyes open for opportunities to put blind crosses to work for me. They won't work just anywhere. (In fact, has anyone ever tried one anyplace but after a tunnel? I can't imagine it.) Also, as the Mahs' discussion points out, they aren't advised when one would need to quickly get the dog into handler-focus, such as for a sharp directional change. Blind crosses also require a lot of hustle, or a dog that's not going so fast, or both. The people I see doing them the most are some of the mini-dog handlers who have an easier time staying ahead for most of the course, and who really need to keep the flow going to make time. I would think a blind cross would be more difficult with some a zippity-gonzo dogs ... maybe even a recipe for "Agility Bloopers."

In related news, that is, speaking of Stuart Mah, I just learned this week that he will be giving a seminar a couple of hours from here (Hampton, VA) on July 4. I can't think of a better way to spend a holiday! I had signed up for one of his seminars last fall, but it filled too quickly and I didn't get to go. So now I get another chance--maybe. There is still some unresolved issue with the venue that could put the kibosh on the whole thin, but if that gets resolved I have a reserved spot.

Also, I'll be doing a bit of NADAC this weekend. There's a nighttime trial Friday and Saturday nights (it's too hot here to have them during the day), and I've got both dogs entered. For the first time, I've got them entered at Veterans. I figured what the heck--they're not getting any younger, and since I'm really only doing NADAC for motivation, confidence-building and practice, why not have lower jump heights and save their joints for USDAA?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Busted Blogger thinks I'm a spammer

I've been wanting to update my links over on the sidebar to include some dog and agility blogs that I've added to my reading lists lately, but Blogger is apparently busted and won't allow me to make changes to the template. I notified them, and they said thanks for bringing it to our attention, we'll work on it. Honestly, what's to work on? My other Blogger blog is working just fine ... why not this one?

Meanwhile, Blogger also thinks this blog is a "spam" blog and is making me use word verification on each post. Since that started, I'm unable to save draft posts--I can either publish what I'm working on or lose it when I close my browser--no saving drafts for me. My other blog hasn't been marked as "spam," however, so I don't know what Blogger's stupid problem is.

I try very hard not to use salty language in this blog--I save the swearing like a sailor for my other blog. But honestly, Blogger is making me really &%#@*!% angry right now. maybe I should follow the advice of many others and decamp for another blog host ... even if it costs a little money. After almost four years with Blogger I think maybe I'm sick of their constant ups and downs.