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.