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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Bettering" the breeds?

There's a great article in today's New York Times about how dog breeders are having a field day with genetic research that promises to allow them to fine-tune their dogs' traits: As Breeders Test DNA, Dogs Become Guinea Pigs. Quite frankly, I'm terrified. True, advances in DNA screening may allow breeders to decrease the incidence of crippling and fatal genetic disorders in their lines ... never mind that such problems are, as writer Mark Derr points out in the article, of the breeders' own making. (Derr is the author of the excellent book Dog's Best Friend: Annals of the Dog-human Relationship.) But already people in "the fancy" are using the tests to refine their selection for superficial traits that do nothing but win them rosettes and higher puppy prices:
Mary-Jo Winters, a poodle breeder, uses a DNA coat-color test to ensure there are no genes for brown fur lurking beneath her black-and-cream-colored dogs.

“I don’t want brown,” said Ms. Winters. “It’s not my thing.”
So boneheaded breeders following their "fancy" now have a new tool for eliminating even more diversity from already threatened breed gene pools. This is frightening for the future of dogs in an era when the gene pools of many "pure" breeds have been so dangerously narrowed by selection for superficial traits that finding non-carriers of genetic faults is quite difficult (and getting the AKC to allow the infusion of new genes even more so).

I've already gone on a previous little diatribe about the ills of breeding dogs for their looks, so I won't belabor the point further. Well, OK, yeah I probably will in some future post, the next time the topic shows up on my radar ...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Maybe my dog really is smarter than your honor student ...

A Washington Post article reports about a Viennese study that indicates dogs use types of reasoning and logic previously thought to be the sole domain of humans: the ability to decide how to imitate a behavior based on the specific circumstances in which the action takes place.

In the study, researchers trained a border collie named Guinness to push a bar with her paw to obtain a treat. Given their druthers, most dogs will choose to perform such a task with their mouths, and in fact when researchers then taught a group of 14 dogs that pushing the bar delivered a treat, 85% used their mouths. The second group of 21 repeatedly watched Guinness push the bar with her paw while holding a ball in her mouth. When they were taught to use the rod, 80% of them chose to perform the task with their mouths. Then a group of 19 dogs watched Guinness perfom the task with nothin g in her mouth, and most of them (83%) chose to use a paw in imitation of the way Guinness performed the task.

The researchers say their studies suggest that when the dogs saw Guinness perform the task with a ball in her mouth, they assumed she was using her paw because her mouth was busy. The dogs who watched her paw the bar with nothing in her mouth, however, may have thought that there was a compelling reason to perform the task in a non-instinctual way.

While some researchers are rather surprised at these results (" ... we thought this sort of imitation was very sophisticated, something seen only in humans," said Brian Hare, who studies dogs at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "Once again, it ends up dogs are smarter than scientists thought."), it doesn't surprise me that much. I've always known there was more going on in Lucy's head than anyone could prove. Even Mr. Gomez, who prefers a simple life uncluttered by too many pesky thoughts, will occasionally seem brilliant. But some people want proof and I'm really glad to see this kind of research happening.

This reminds me of one of my favorite "Lucy is smart" stories: When she wants to get Mr Gomez out of the room (either because she wants me to play with her without him butting in, or because he's in her favorite spot on the sofa), she will signal that she wants to go outside. When I open the door, however, she steps aside and lets Gomey run out, which he always does, screaming with excitement. It doesn't matter if he's just been outside, he always gets excited about going out again. Then, once he's disposed of, she will either run and get a toy or hop up into the newly vacated prime sofa spot. The fact that Gomey falls for this every time, however, indicates that maybe not all dogs have advanced mental capabilities ...