Friday, December 12, 2008


Yes, I've been a bit absent from this blog, but I've been a busy dog lady. Hi again!

I've been trying to slowly turn Pinky into an agility dog. It's going to be harder than I thought, because she's turned out to be a bit of a shrinking violet when it comes to doing obstacle sequences. She feels no need for speed. She's a quick learner, but when it comes time to actually do some obstacles (outside of my yard at least--at home she gets quite speedy) she gets very slow and deliberate about it all. So as long as the competition takes place in my yard we'll be good to go ...

There is the saying that "you get the dog you need." In other words, you get the dog that will make you grow and develop as a trainer and handler. Well that may be and Pinky is definitely forcing me to learn and try new things, but I'm looking with longing at my friend's border-jacks, who come hard-wired for action and do nothing slowly. I start thinking that maybe I need one of those and that Pinky would be just as happy as a non-agility dog. She absolutely loves my sofa ...

At least Lucy is still happy to run for me. We've have competed a bit lately in NADAC and USDAA, and I'll be doing a local CPE trial this weekend. We do veterans in CPE and NADAC and I've moved her into Performance in USDAA, so she'll be jumping 12" from now until retirement.

Several weeks ago at a NADAC trial I discovered a way to make Hoopers actually fun and challenging: you have to run someone else's dog! So here I am trying to run a dog named Tanner ... if it weren't for an off-course jump at the end we would have Q'd:

I run Tanner in Hoopers from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

And here is Lucy running for Ryan Arnold, a friend's son. He's taken classes with one of their dogs but this is the first time he's run an entire couse in competition with a dog. They Q'd!!

Ryan runs Lucy in Hoopers from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Happy "Gotcha Day" Pinky!

Happy "Gotcha Day" Pinky!

One year ago today a little Puppy McNugget showed up at my house. I didn't think she was staying. I'm glad she did. I'm not sure exactly when she was born (around the end of August as near as I can figure), so at the suggestion of ... oh, I think it was Elayne, I celebrate Pinky's "Gotcha Day."

When I decided to keep her, I really had no idea whether she'd become a good agility dog or not. I just decided to take a risk because she's so damn cute and sweet and I had reached the point where there was no way I could NOT keep her. I'm still not sure how she's going to shape up, but I can report that we're making great progress ... but slowly.

Right now I have her in a class we're just calling "Agility Training Group." It's designed for young dogs with handlers who have already trained an agility dog and don't feel like spending time learning the difference between a front cross and a rear cross with the newbies. Pinky was a little stressy and spooky at first (something that wasn't such a problem with Lucy or Gomey), but she's starting to relax and have fun as the class goes on. I've been worried about speed because she tends to do the obstacles and mini-sequences very slowly, as if she's worried about doing the right thing or seriously considering wandering off to sniff the grass. But as I get her to relax more and more, she's speeding up quite a bit.

She particularly loves the contact trainer. After much mental debate, I decided not to teach running contacts for several reasons, but mostly because I think the amount of drilling and repetition required would be counterproductive at this point. What Pinky needs for motivation right now are extremely short and rewarding working sessions. Training 2o2o contact means the contact trainer has become the source of huge rewards and is very motivating.

She also seems to really love the closed chute. Something about barreling through the fabric seems to get her jazzed. In the house we play a game where I toss a sheet over her and she burrows around under it until she finds her way out, and she loves it so much that she goes nuts when I get a sheet of of the linen closet. I think the chute reminds her of that.

The jumps seem to worry her a little, so I've got to work on making them more motivating. I'm also being careful not to put them too high, because when she knocks bar, or even ticks it without knocking it, she gets rather stressed. This is new for me because Lucy has always loved jumps and rarely knocks bars. I never really had to any special exercises with her because she seems to have come hard-wired for good agility jumping style (it wasn't so great for flyball, however). I guess I need to take the Susan Salo and/or Linda Mecklenburg stuff more seriously now ...

In other news, I'm quite depressed about missing a local USDAA trial this weekend because I have to work. If Lucy and I hadn't got the ADCH already I'd be really heartbroken about missing the trial, but since we reached that goal I'm just a little sad. Really, aside from a health care plan, the main reason I maintain a steady job is to be able to consistently afford dog agility (I try to have a little something left over for housing, transportation and food, of course).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Flyball "pawness" survey

The concept of "pawness" is familiar to people who train flyball dogs: it's the tendency of dogs to seem to prefer turning one way over the other. Many people (myself included) think it's a good idea to determine if a dog is "left-pawed" or "right-pawed" and then teach them to turn on the box in the appropriate direction to get a nice, fast turn. Now some researchers at UC-Davis are looking into the biology of "pawness," according to this e-mail I got from a flyball mailing list:

Dear Flyball Enthusiasts: The Canine Genetics group at the University of California, Davis, is interested in understanding the molecular basis of asymmetry in the context of developmental biology. A potentially elegant model of this is hand preference or "handedness".The insights of trainers and handlers of dogs competing in flyball presents a wonderful opportunity to establish the biology of "pawness" in dogs and to map the gene(s) underlying this asymmetry. We invite you to participate in an online survey informing us of your dogs' turning preference(s). The survey takes only seconds to complete and will be of great use to us in determining if the direction of choice is random or if there is indeed a biological basis for turn preference in mammals (dogs and humans alike).

Please follow the link below to complete the survey:

The survey is only four questions and takes a minute or two to complete.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Who's a good girl?

Yep, Lucy is a good girl! Yesterday she became ADCH Lucy! I got lucky, because I thought the Master's Gamble was really easy for us (although maybe I wouldn't have thought so a couple of years ago when we first got into Masters). I guess I should say that it was exactly the kind of thing we have practiced, which is what made it easy for us. It was out to a jump and then farther to another jump, followed by a 180 over another jump back to me and ending out to another jump that was only a few feet from the line. Some dogs had a hard time turning back in to the handler because they had already locked onto the last jump as they were going over the second one; others turned into the handler but didn't make the 180 jump, and a few didn't go out to the last jump. But good little Lucy executed it beautifully. In addition to being an ADCH run, it was also the first time we ever got two Gamblers Qs in one weekend. Our norm has been to get none.

Unfortunately, upon watching the video I realized that my last verbal to Lucy was "C'mere, out!" Poor Lucy. What the hell kind of instruction is "C'mere, out"? She puts up with so much from her stupid handler! What a good dog. Anyway, you can see it yourself, even though the zoom is a bit close to really see the layout of the gamble:

Lucy USDAA Gamble for the ADCH 09/07/08 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

We also Q'd in our Standard run yesterday, the only other event I entered. And I got to run Derrell Stover's border collie L'il J, although I didn't do a very good job of it.

So now I guess I'll move Lucy into Performance and jump her at 12". She has no problems with the 16" jump height, but she's not getting any younger.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

One down, one to go ...

Lucy and I got a Gamblers Q today! That means if we get tomorrow's, we'll get our ADCH! We also got a Snooker Q and a Jumpers Q, which was a 100% Q rate for the day--all in the stupid sand ring. After I saw the Standard course I wished I had entered it, because it would have been a good one for us. But when I entered the trial I had been thinking of my little 10-year-old dog's energy and joints, so I think it was for the best to limit the day to three runs. We're only entered in two events tomorrow ... I think one is a Standard and the other, of course, is Gamblers. I'm feeling pretty confident right now, but we've never gotten two gamblers Qs in the same weekend before. Well, as the saying goes, there's a first time for everything!

Another DAM fine time

I'm waiting for Tropical Storm Hanna to pass so I can go do some more agility. Today's events were supposed to start at 8 a.m., but Hanna's center is passing almost exactly over the trial site (Teamworks in Youngsville, NC) right now (according to weather radar). So today's start has been delayed until 2 pm. Probably only the craziest agility nuts will bother to go. You know I'll be there.

Yesterday's DAM tournament was good. My team came in fourth out of ten teams, not necessarily because we did everything really well, but because a lot of people did worse. That's the cool thing about DAM tournaments: because it's scored on a curve (so to speak) your misfortunes on course need only be not quite as bad as other peoples'.

My biggest issue with Lucy was running in the sand ring. We had been scheduled to run the whole thing in the grass ring, but in an effort to get finished before the rains started they decided to alternate between the grass and the sand ring so they could build one course while another was being run. I hate the sand ring at Teamworks. It's not just because it seems to magnify the sun or that it always fills whatever shoes I'm wearing with sand, but because the edges are infested with mice. If I were to pick the one thing Lucy loves above all other things, it would be hunting (and perhaps killing) little critters such as mice. Whenever we're in the sand ring, Lucy gets this half-dazed look and seems to be barely paying attention to me. This is a big improvement over when we first started competing there, when she would just check out and run to the corner of the ring sniffing frantically. These days she knows that she's supposed to do agility, and she's a very good dog who wants to do the right thing, but I think the rodent smell is just too alluring to let her concentrate. So she gets this half-dazed look on her face and really doesn't seem to have her full attention on me. I can't help but think that she's battling that primal urge: "Must .... kill ... little ... critters ..." Or maybe I'm just projecting and it's something entirely different. But our runs in the sand, especially gamblers, are almost always far worse than on grass.

I keep saying that I'm not going to enter Teamworks trials on days when the Masters classes are on sand, but then I go and do it anyway. So today we will be in the sand rig again. I'm hoping that all the rain will dilute the rodent odor a bit and give me at least a fighting chance for a Gamblers Q.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

*shakes fist at sky*

I'm really ticked off at Hanna, the tropical storm/maybe hurricane-to-be that's making a beeline almost right toward the site of the USDAA trial I entered this weekend (Youngsville, NC). Friday's DAM tournament should be safe because the storm isn't supposed to make landfall until early Saturday, but I'm sure Mother Nature is going to rob me of one, if not both, of my chances to get a Gamblers Q, dang it! Why can't the storm deflect into a big land mass to the south of us or something? And yes, in case you don't know me, I'm kidding. I'm always kidding.

Oh well, I'll just go ahead and post some videos. From last weekend. Please note that I am wearing skorts in these videos. I've been inspired by Laura to be a fashion-forward handler. Several other handlers were wearing skorts, and we all exchanged tips on where to find the best skortage (turns out to be Wal-Mart, if you can believe it). I apologize for the fact that my videos are always crappy. Someday I'll get a real video camera and I won't have to rely on my Sony Cybershot for this stuff.

So here's Lucy running the Standard course that would have been a lovely Q had she not suddenly veered away from the teeter:

Lucy USDAA Standard 08/30/08 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Here's Lucy on the DAM turnament Snooker course. She was going sloooww ... but, after the buzzer sounded and I was driving toward the finish line, she conscientiously took the set of weaves that was in front of her, even thought I was way ahead of her and heading away from the weaves. Now why can't she do that in Gamblers?

Lucy USDAA Snooker 08/29/08 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

And here's me running Derrell Stover's dog Envy. Not successfully:

Envy USDAA Snooker 8/29/08 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Monday, September 01, 2008

PBH USDAA Labor Day trial: No ADCH, but more fun with dirt-kissing and DAM team

Lucy and I spent our Labor Day weekend the way we always do, which is doing agility, of course. My big goal, the ADCH, was not even possible to achieve this time around because I need two Gamblers Qs and there was only one Masters Gamblers class offered all weekend. And we blew that gamble, so we still need the two Qs. Next weekend we have two chances, so we'll see ...

All we got as far as individual Qs was one in Jumpers (with a first place finish!) today. We had a really lovely Standard run yesterday except for the part where Lucy refused the teeter which, y'know, sort of spoils things ;-)

I also kissed the dirt again. It was actually running someone else's dog. On Saturday Derrell Stover let me run two of his amazing border collies, Li'l J and Envy, in Masters Snooker so he could devote his complete attention to running his young dog Qwest in the other ring. During Li'l J's run I was in a position that would have been perfectly safe had I been running Lucy, but it was not the right place to be for Li'l J, who's blazing fast. She exited a tunnel and before I could think "Crap, I shouldn't be here" she ran right into me and knocked me down. Fortunately she's accustomed to dealing with falling handlers, so she waited for further instruction while I jumped up and we continued the run. Time ran out before we completed the last obstacle, but apparently we Q'ed and, I'm told (I didn't look to verify) got first place (no Super Q, though--the P16 height class was combined with the 22s, and the first-place 22" dog got the SQ). I'm bummed that I didn't get the fall and my quick recovery on video.

The highlight of the weekend was probably the DAM tournament. Lucy and I were teamed with Janice Jones and Machias, an Akita, and Melanie Miller and her Visla Austin. We called our team "Irving" because, hey, it's a name, and no one thought of anything better. It turned out to be a good combination: Lucy is consistent, usually has decent speed and doesn't drop bars, Machias is no speed demon but she stays on course (the most important thing in DAM) and usually keeps her bars up and Austin is just usually awesome. The number one team, the FReaQs (Melanie's Regan, Derrell's Qwest and Nancy Burnapp's Fling, all great dogs with great handlers), would have been really hard to beat. So we did the next best thing and came in second (out of nine teams).

I have a few videos that I'll probably post this week. Then next weekend I'll do it all again ... DAM team and all.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"We are, in effect, breeding them to death"

Thanks to Terrierman for posting these links:

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the "Pedigree Dogs Exposed" videos have been taken down from YouTube. You can see short promotional snippets of the program at the BBC website here and here. If anyone knows of another link to the entire program, please leave it in the comments.

The BBC program Pedigree Dogs Exposed is available for viewing on YouTube (in 6 parts):
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

I love my mutts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Your warm fuzzy for the day ...

In case you need a small dose of optimism: Today's LA Times has a nice little article about Tim Racer and Donna Reynolds of BAD RAP, one of the groups responsible for re-homing Michael Vick's pit bulls.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Working on it ...

Well, I haven't been writing about it, but I have indeed been training my dogs lately. I'm getting back into a schedule of sorts, trying to get Lucy ready for the Fall trialing season (when I really hope we can get that ADCH!) and making some progress with Pinky so that maybe a year from now she can make her agility debut. It's hard for me to believe she's almost a year old already!

I've also started the ball rolling on acquiring some equipment for my new backyard training space. I started with a couple of jumps (I'll be adding more very soon). My friend Barb made the jumps using the Clean Run jump cup strips and sold me a couple at an amazing price (I think it may have been the "friend" price, so I'm going to keep it secret). She calls them the "Blast 1000" jumps, a play on her border jack's name (Blast) and the fact that she thinks the jumps are much better than the Max 200 ones (I agree). I only had one (not very good) jump before, so it's really great to be able to do more than single jump exercises.

Pinky has made a lot of progress lately. We've been taking a class called "Focus and Motivation Stations" taught by Melanie Miller. It's an interesting format: We pair up with another handler and go to different stations to work through various agility foundation exercises. One person works her dog while the other takes notes and/or helps out. Then a timer beeps (I'm not even sure how much time we spend at each station ... a minute, maybe? It's not a lot, at any rate) and the first handler puts her dog in its crate while the second gets hers out to work at the station. We do this until we get through all the stations (usually six) and then debrief/evaluate at the end of class.

I think Pinky and I both had a hard time adjusting to the crazy class format, and at first I felt like we were not making any progress at all. Pinky tends to be slightly nervous in new or strange situations, and she would get a little stressed in the class and not want to work. But over the last two weeks her stress level has decreased and she seems to be getting into the exercises a lot more. One telltale sign is that she's gone from willingly hopping back into her crate when the exercise is done to not wanting to go in at all. This indicates to me that before she felt weirded out by the situation and wanted the security of her crate, but now she's having a good time in the exercises and would rather not go back to the boring crate. Or maybe she's just suddenly gotten bratty about the crate and I have a whole new problem to work on ...

Based on the couple of Stuart Mah seminars I've been to (there will undoubtedly be more in my future), I really want to work more obstacle focus with Pinky than I did with Lucy. From what I understand of the way Stuart and Pati Mah train their dogs, I need to find ways to get Pinky to think that the obstacles themselves are rewarding and fun, not just something she has to do to get her tug or treat. I'm not sure exactly how to do this, but I've started playing a game ... lets call it "Any obstacle is a winner" ... in which Pinky gets a game of "mom will act like an idiot and tug with you" (one of her favorites) no matter which obstacle she chooses. There are no wrong answers in this game, although Pinky always, always takes whichever obstacle my body is turned toward (I don't indicate an obstacle or even say "go" at this point ... It's very much a shaping game where I wait for her to decide). Right now we're only playing with a few cones and my three jumps, but I'm hoping to add a tunnel to my equipment collection very soon. If nothing else Pinky seems to be having a lot of fun with the game, and so am I.

(Just in case anyone who reads this blog doesn't already read AgilityNerd, Steve recently attended a Stuart Mah seminar and has posted his take here. And also, try out Steve's new Googility search tool if you haven't already. Oh, and the AgilityNerd empire now includes a store. Please help Steve finance his expensive agility habit ;-) I wonder if he'll make me a rubber wristband that says "WWSD" or, "What Would Stuart Do"?)

In other very exciting news, I'm expecting word that my channel weaves will be ready for pickup sometime this week. I really want to work more weave entries at distances and odd angles with Lucy because it's something we almost never do successfully when it comes up in masters gambles.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Please excuse my absence ...

dog habitat

The past few weeks have been filled with packing, moving, unpacking and now painting, so I haven't had much time for dog adventure blogging. My new yard (.59 acres) is doggie heaven compared to my old one (.17 acres), and the girls really like it (as does Mr. Gomez who has come for a few visits). There are thickets of azaleas and other shrubby-type things all along the edges, full of critter scents (bunnies for sure), so Lucy thinks it's heaven. Also I think I may have moles in one part of the yard.

I'm hoping to have some agility equipment in there soon. The first purchase: a set of channel weaves. A friend's husband makes them at a great price, the trouble is I have to wait for him to actually make them. That's supposed to be done this week. I can't wait to start Pinky on a 12-pole channel (I've already started her on 6 using a set of rebar-and-pvc stick-in-the-ground poles).

Pinky is currently in a "Focus and Motivation" class at PBH, taught by Melanie Miller. It's a fun but slightly strange class in which we pair up with another dog/handler team and then take turns spending two minutes at different stations doing various exercises with the dogs. It's a little bit mind-blowing for Pinky at this point, but I think it will help her out. Trouble is I have had so little time for training and practice lately with all of my home-related work, and it's hard to establish a regular schedule when everything is so disorganized.

Lucy is in a "distance" class, which I'm hoping will help us toward those two Gambler's Qs we need for the ADCH. Also maybe I should try to schedule some actual practice time with Lucy. That seems to help somewhat.

On a completely unrelated note: I think I'd like to DNA test Pinky just for fun to see what's in her. But there appear to be a million zillion companies now offering the tests, and I don't know which one i should try. I'd love to hear opinions from people who have tried any of them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Swimming lessons

I spent Thursday and Friday at a Stuart Mah seminar, and I'm probably going to write a post about it when I get around to it, but I wanted to finally get around to posting about Pinky's swim lesson. Complete with photos!

Dogs can pretty much swim on their own; if they find themselves in water they figure out how to keep their heads above water and move themselves toward the shore. But until they try it, a lot of dogs don't know that they know how to swim, and many will avoid getting into the water if they can help it. Some will take the plunge if they see other dogs or people having fun in the water, but Pinky's not one of those. She doesn't even like stepping into a puddle.

When Lucy and Mr. Gomez were pups, we "taught" them to swim, by which I mean we helped them discover they could do it with little swimming lessons. It's pretty simple--you find a place where you can go into the water with your dog (we lived in Chicago at the time so chose a beach on Lake Michigan), then you carry the dog into water and let her swim back to shore by your side while you praise and encourage her. It worked beautifully, and now both dogs really enjoy taking a dip. Mr. Gomez, who has a rather obsessive personality, is nuts about swimming (especially if there is a ball to fetch). He's really the most awesome swimming dog I've ever seen--very fast and smooth, like a great big otter. Lucy's pretty good, too.

Pinky was past due for a swim lesson, so last weekend we headed out to a local swimming hole. Here I am carrying her in:

She's swimming! But she doesn't look like she's having a lot of fun:

All wet!

I did the carry-and-swim about 6 times. At one point, Pinky willingly got in and swam when I tossed a ball, but mostly she just hung out on the bank and watched me, Lucy and Mr. Gomez having a good time. We're going back today for another go.

And now for a few gratuitous photos:

Lucy and me:

Lucy gets the ball:

The two cutest little dogs in the world:

A damn fine dog:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pinky likes contacts

I took Pinky to my friend's Sue's house to meet Sue's Foster dog, Elvis (who needs a home, y'all). We'll be going to a Stuart Mah seminar this week, and I'll be leaving Pinky with Sue's pack and a petsitter. We wanted to make sure she and Elvis were pals first.

Pinky thought Elvis was just fine, but she was initially way more interested in Sue's contact trainer (Sue is teaching Sylvia Trkman-style running contacts to her young border collie). Pinky, apparently remembering how rewarding it can be to walk on a board, immediately started going up and down the ramp:

I was really glad to see that Pinky seemed to choose doing agility stuff over playing with another dog. I mean, I want her to like other dogs, but I don't want her to prefer them over working with me.

But we have a bit of work to do on our contact criteria. Here she is doing a "sitting contact" (while Elvis catches a tossed treat next to her), which probably isn't what I'll want her to do in a trial:

Also, I took Pinky for a swimming lesson on Sunday. I have photos. I'll post them whenever I have a few free minutes. I am packing up to move at the end of June, so of course it's not the best time to be going out of town for a Stuart Mah seminar. Whatever.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bad Roomba!

Wow, BoingBoing has been a fount of doggie info today ... that's where I found a link to this Wall Street Journal article about tensions between pets and robots. It's pretty funny, and be sure to watch the videos. I loved the advice given to people whose dogs feel threatened by a Roomba: scold the Roomba in front of the dog! I guess I've done sillier things. A slice of meat on the Roomba also seems to help achieve détente.

Dogs that know when their owners are coming home, redux

Via BoingBoing I read about a new study to replicate Rupert Sheldrake's experiments into why some dogs appear to know when their owner is coming home. Although I'm skeptical about the hypothesis that there's telepathy going on, I find the experiments quite interesting. I'd participate myself if I weren't so incredibly lazy.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Agility For Dummies

I often bore normal people to tears at parties and such with all my talk about dogs and and agility, but every once and a while I meet someone who's genuinely interested and starts asking me about how to go about training their dog to do agility. Blah, blah, blah, I usually say ... but now I can save my jawbone and just tell them to head on over to YouTube for this little gem, which tells you pretty much all you need to know:

Monday, June 02, 2008

Jonesing for a pic of my cute puppy?

beware of puppy

In case you're wondering Pinky's still adorable.

Oh yeah, and I havent run out of videos yet. Maybe you wish I would ...

This one here was Mr. Gomez' third and final Advanced Jumpers Q. If I were still competing with him, we would be in Masters Jumpers now, which would probably be a complete disaster because he was expert at the art of refusing obstacles.

Mr. Gomez USDAA Jumpers Dec. 2007 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

This one is a Standard run with Lucy from last December. It wasn't one of the smoothest or fastest runs, but maybe we could have qualified if it weren't for that dang off-course tire near the end.

Lucy USDAA Masters Standard Dec. 2007 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lucy gets the thumbs-up

I'm really happy to report that Dr. Sherman at VetHab found no physical concerns in his examination of Lucy. He said that she is in great shape for a 10-year-old dog. So I still don't know why she was refusing the teeter, but I feel a huge sense of relief that it's probably not physical. (She didn't refuse the teeter a single time this weekend, leading me to believe that it's something about unfamiliar teeters she doesn't trust). I will continue to limit her runs and still plan to move her to Performance after her ADCH (I already enter her in NADAC Veteran's class), but at least I know that she's sound enough to stay in Championship until I manage to get those last two Gamblers Qs.

Dr. Sherman did tell me I need to expand my pre-run warm-up routine to include a few minutes of walk/trot/canter/gallop in addition to the stuff I already do, and I need to make sure I do it no more than ten minutes before a run. I've already been feeding Lucy joint supplements for years (glucosamine/chondroitin, MSM, fish oil and vitamin E), and he said to keep it up. In reference to Pinky, I asked him at what age he recommends starting a pup on supplements and he said 4 years or after the first incident/problem.

He also told me that if Lucy has another bout of "mystery lameness" like she had a couple months ago to call him immediately and they will fit us in as soon as possible.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sunday's Jumpers and Standard runs on video

My friend Barb posted video she took of our Sunday Jumpers and Standard runs.

The Standard run was the one where I thought we had qualified only to find out we were 1.22 seconds over time. From the video I can see that maybe she wasn't running quite as fast she could have been, and there were a few other places where we lost a little time: a pause on top of the A-frame, pokey weaves, bit of delay as I RFP'd her before the dogwalk (had to avoid the off-course tunnel!), and a wide turn where I front-crossed after the fourth-to-last jump. Still, I think the yardage may have been figured a bit tight on this course.

The Jumpers run was qualifying. Not blazingly fast, but fast enough and clean. That's all that counts. Plus Lucy is darn cute.

A Standard Q, another Super Q, and more video

Monday was a good day at the USDAA trial. We started the day with a really awesome Standard run--clean and well under time. I never seem to get these kinds of runs on video; I end up getting to see my embarrassing mistakes but not my triumphs. I would love to see if this one looked as good as it felt. I got lots of "Great Run!" comments from fellow competitors afterward, so my guess is it looked pretty good. This leaves us lacking only those two darn Gamblers Qs for the ADCH.

Our Pairs run went really well, except that Lucy leapt the dogwalk contact. The score sheet showed another five faults, but I don't know what they were or which of us was responsible. I don't really care, though. It was a fun run and I don't really need the Q for anything.

We went on to get yet another Snooker Super Q. I wasn't actually trying for it, and in fact I was hoping my friend Barb would get it, but it so happened that the easiest path through this course was a 1-7/1-7/1-7 opening, and all of the 16" and 12" teams did the same thing. Lucy and I just went a tiny bit faster, and we made it all the way through the closing (by a nose!) while everyone else got the horn part way through #7. It's funny that when I first started USDAA, Snooker always filled me with dread, probably because I didn't really understand the strategy. Now I love it, and several of the Starters handlers I train with it have actually come up to me saying something like "I hear you're a Snooker expert, and I need help planning my course." That makes me chuckle because they obviously haven't seen all the Snooker runs where we got whistled off after the third or fourth obstacle.

No one would ever confuse me with a Gamblers expert, but I think I need to become one if Lucy and I are going to finish the ADCH before she's too old to run Championship. I'm already getting concerned that she can't do quite as much agility in a day as she did just a year ago, and in fact I didn't enter the tournament events this weekend just because I wanted to limit her runs. On Monday after our third run she seemed a little stiff, slow and tired, so I decided to pull her from Jumpers. I figured I'd feel horrible if I let her get injured for a Q I don't particularly need.

Tomorrow we're going to get checked out at VetHab (it was supposed to be last week but then I had a work conflict with the appointment), and I'm hoping he says she's in fabulous shape for a 10-year-old sport dog. I still plan to start taking it easier with her at trials, and I'll probably move her to Performance after getting the ADCH just for the lower jump heights.

And speaking of getting whistled off Snooker courses, here's a video of a run with Mr. Gomez last December in which nothing really went the way I planned. In the opening, he ended up taking a jump that was part of #6 when I wanted him to take a tunnel that was part of #7. I was able to salvage that and get him over the other part of #6, but then I was out of position and had to sort of make up a new strategy as I went along. Then in the closing he decided to take the #7 tunnel instead of the correct #6 jump. D'oh!

Mr. Gomez USDAA Advanced Snooker Dec. 2007 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Still no progress toward the ADCH ... and a couple more videos

I had been full of hope this morning that we would manage to knock out one and maybe even two of the three remaining legs we need for our ADCH but, alas, it was not to be. We did start the day right with a nice Jumpers Q, which we followed up with a Pairs Q. It was our partners' first time in Masters Pairs, and the guy really wanted a Q. So I told him we would do our part to make sure he got it. And we did. The only real challenge on either half of the course was a difficult weave pole entry, but our class two weeks ago was devoted to that very problem, and it turned out to be not so much of a problem for us.

Our Standard run felt great--squeaky clean and (I thought) reasonably fast. I was sure we had Q'd. But when I checked the results, we had gotten first place in the 16" class, but we were 1.22 seconds over time. It just didn't seem right. There's a possibility Lucy ran a little wide in a few spots, but it felt like she was turning tightly enough. Only two dogs out of the entire Masters class qualified on that course, and time was an issue for a lot of people, so there was speculation that perhaps the judge wheeled the course incorrectly, leaving out a jump at some point. Oh well, there's nothing to be done about it; as folks like to say, "The agility gods giveth and the agility gods taketh away."

I had huge hopes for our Gamblers run because the gamble looked like one we could actually get. But Lucy, instead of taking the easy and correct end of a tunnel going under an A-frame, actually swerved right and went around the A-frame to the much more difficult, but incorrect, entrance. I couldn't have gotten her to do that if I had tried, but nonetheless I'm sure it was something I did. In fact, I know that as soon as I thought she was committed to the correct entrance, I made a move to get in position for the next part of the gamble. I think she saw my motion out of the corner of her eye and she moved accordingly. Oh well. She was trying to do the right thing.

Maybe we'll get that Standard Q tomorrow. In the meantime, here are a couple more videos. The first one is a happy one--the DAM team run that pushed "Will Work For Food" up from 11th place to a 7th place (qualifying) finish a couple of weeks ago.

"Will Work For Food" USDAA DAM Team Relay May 2008 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

The second is a Steeplechase run from last December. A fumbled weave cost us too much time and we didn't Q, but otherwise it was a nice little run.

Lucy USDAA Steeplechase Dec. 2007 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A decent day at USDAA and a couple more agility videos ...

I had a reasonably good day today at the USDAA trial. Lucy and I only ran three courses because I had decided to take it easy and not enter Grand Prix. Our Gamblers run was great except for the part where we didn't get the gamble. Our Standard run would have been flawless except for one little popped weave pole. I decided not to fix it because we would have NQ'd anyway and Lucy gets demotivated sometimes when I restart her weaves; aside from being eliminated we had a super run. Then we managed to squeak out our fourth Snooker Super Q, simply because I managed to get us across the finish line slightly faster than other dogs who scored the same.

Now, as threatened previously, I'm posting a couple more videos from previous events.

The first one is Mr. Gomez doing an Advanced Gamblers run more than a year ago. If this had been Masters we would have NQ'd because we had two refusals on the three-obstacle gamble, but as it was Advanced we actually Q'd because I eventually managed to get him over the darn jumps before the finish horn sounded.

Mr. Gomez USDAA Gamblers May '07 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

The second one is Mr. Gomez on an Advanced Standard run from last December. He didn't finish his weaves and I generally don't make more than two tries, so we would have NQ'd, but then he also took an off-course jump so we were eliminated. Still, in light of the fact that he's a Very Special Dog, I considered it a pretty good run. I love the commentary by my friend Cindy when she notes that Gomey is like her youngest dog: "This is the dog I have. I have seen the future and it's not pretty!"

Mr. Gomez USDAA Advanced Standard Dec. 2007 from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dog agility video overload!

I'll be spending the holiday weekend doing three full days of USDAA agility with Lucy. There's always that chance we'll get the two Gamblers and one Standard Q we need for the ADCH. Really. It could happen.

Anyway, some friends of mine occasionally took video of me running Lucy and Mr. Gomez at various trials over the past year, and yesterday they gave me a disk jam packed with action. So over the next week I'll be posting way more video than anyone ever wanted to see of me running my dogs in agility.

The first one is a NADAC Touch & Go course, and there's a lesson here: too much RFP pulls a dog off of BOTH obstacles in a discrimination. Watch and learn:

Lucy NADAC Touch & Go (or: Too Much RFP!) from bunchofpants on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spay/neuter questions hit the mainstream press

Folks with performance/working dogs have been discussing for years the wisdom of early spay/neuter in regard to the health and structural soundness of dogs (I recently weighed my options for Pinky and decided to wait). Now an an article at MSNBC raises some of the questions as many states and municipalities consider mandatory spay/neuter laws. (Thanks to Pet Connection for the link).

There are many good reasons to spay or neuter, but I think mandatory spay/neuter laws have far more downside than upside (that is, supposedly our shelters wouldn't be so full with these laws). Diane Blackman at DogPlay has a fairly comprehensive list of arguments against such laws. I personally think that the administrative costs involved with enforcing such laws would be much better spent to make it easier and cheaper for the average pet owner to spay/neuter than on the sisyphean task of enforcing laws that have been shown to be less-than effective in the long run (see this Animal Law Coalition paper, for example).

As for Pinky, I do actually plan to spay her, if for no other reason than I can't see myself dealing with the required vigilance and mess of heat cycles twice a year for something like the next 15 years (or more, I hope!). I have no interest in breeding dogs, even though I think Pinky is one awesome little dog.

I've linked to these articles before, but what the heck, I'll link to them again. So for more about the health implications of spay/neuter, see:
Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete
Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs
Determining the optimal age for gonadectomy of dogs and cats

Friday, May 16, 2008

Contact questions

This post at the Team Fernadezlopez blog was of great interest to me, because I'm currently waffling back and forth on the question of what kind of contacts I should teach Pinky. With Lucy and Mr. Gomez I just accepted that I should strive for 2o2o (for non-agility folks, that means "two on, two off," which is how we describe the contact criterion where the dog stops with its back paws on the contact and its front paws off). I think it's probably easiest way for a brand-new handler to train and enforce some consistency.

But I have a few problems with the 2o2o. The biggest is that in order to make them reliable in a trial one must be prepared to clearly mark their absence as incorrect even if the dog actually touched the contact enough to satisfy the judge. That means you have to do something that could potentially interrupt what might have been a qualifying run just because the dog didn't stop and hold at the bottom of a contact. Some people go so far as to end a run and carry the dog off the field if he doesn't stop, others just use a verbal mark or pause. If you don't consistently mark an incorrect performance, what happens is that a dog can learn two ways of doing contacts: one for practice and another for trials. That's what my dogs did (my own damn fault, of course). Because I wasn't the greatest contact trainer, I ended up with leaping contacts in trials (and eventually in practice, too) for a while. Through a lot of re-training and practice, Lucy and I have worked out a "moving contact" compromise wherein I signal her to slow down and shorten her stride enough to get a foot or two on the yellow before commencing her leap.

This isn't a great system, of course. For starters, it's really hard to front cross her coming off the A-frame, and that's occasionally been a bit inconvenient. But the worst part is that even though I've gotten to where I can signal the slowdown from about 15 feet away, I'm still stuck babysitting her contacts all the time. If I were to keep running forward or turn away slightly, odds are she would either leap the contact or come off the side. This has been a big disadvantage to me many times on the Masters Level courses, especially in Gamblers.

But even if I had done all the necessary work to get reliable 2o2o contacts, I sort of doubt they would be independent of any action by me. I rarely ever see a dog that will reliably stop in 2o2o and await the release no matter where the handler is or what she is doing. Getting a 2o2o that doesn't require at least a little "babysitting," takes months of repetitions and reinforcement ... as do most methods of teaching running contacts (like Sylvia Trkman's, for example). So if I'm going to put in all that work, why not use it to at least have FAST independent contacts?

I'm really interested to know what other people think about the pros and cons of running contacts, so if you have an opinion, please comment.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Third time's a charm and the trouble with teeters

I'm quite happy to announce that, were I the type of person who puts her dogs' names and titles in the signature of her emails, I would now have two more letters to put next to Lucy's name: TM. Last weekend at the Blue Ridge Agility Club USDAA trial we finally got the second DAM team leg we needed to complete the Tournament Master title. It was our third try for that second leg, and we made it by the skin of our teeth. In fact, I was flabbergasted when I heard our team name ("Will Work For Food") announced as the 7th place finisher (the lowest placement that qualified,) because up until the team relay we had been floundering down around 11th place. But all three of us rocked the relay course, which constitutes a huge portion of the points, while many other higher-ranked teams sustained one or more eliminations. So I guess the moral of this story is not to give up or get discouraged or something or other.

Lucy ran really well for me all weekend, and we had some really nice runs, two of which actually qualified: one in Masters Pairs (our fifth, which means we got that title as well), and one in Masters Standard. Those knocked out two of the five legs we need for the ADCH, which means now all we need in one more Standard and two Gamblers. I think ... I need to double-check these things because I've gotten it wrong in the past

Two of our runs were really awesome except for one problem: Lucy was shying away from the teeter. The first time was in Snooker on Saturday, when she hopped off the teeter in the opening. I was able to get her to complete it, but when we came around to it in the closing, she hopped off again and since in the closing that becomes a refusal, our run ended two points short. She ran the teeter correctly in Standard later Saturday and again Sunday morning, but then during the Grand Prix she ran right past it. I circled her around and got her on it, but then she jumped right off again. Knowing I wasn't going to fix whatever it was right there at the trial, I just decided to keep going, and she really smoked the rest of our course. If it hadn't been for the teeter I would have counted that as one of our best runs ever.

So now I'm wondering: whats up with Lucy's teeter? She had some issues at another trial last month, but in practice and trials at our "home" field she's been fine. So I was thinking that perhaps there's something about "away" teeters that feels or looks different to her, making her a little spooked by them. But then after I got home from the trial I read this interview with Lis' Kristoff at the USDAA site (if you haven't read it already, be warned: it's sort of a tear-jerker), and she mentioned that her dog Diva, who had knee problems, had some issues from the jarring of the teeter. So now I'm wondering if perhaps the teeter is sometimes painful for Lucy. The times she's had problems with it have been on packed dirt and sand, which are probably a little less shock-absorbing than our grassy training field.

So I made an appointment for Lucy to get an evaluation by Dr. John Sherman at VetHab. I'm hoping that it will rule out my hypothesis because he'll say "Oh, she's in fine shape," but considering that she just turned 10 years old, that might not be the case. Whatever it is I won't find out for another week because he can't see her until next Wednesday.

In Pinky news, she has gone into heat. I hope that as I write this her little hormones are sending cease and desist signals to her growth plates. I made great strides in getting her to hang out next to the measuring wicket over the weekend, but I didn't want to undo all my hard work by actually bringing the wicket arm all the way down to her withers. So the only thing I can say at this point is that she's definitely under 17 inches tall ... she may actually be under 16, but I can't say for sure. She looks shorter than a friend's dog who measures exactly 16 inches, so I'm still holding out hope that I'll end up with a 16" jumper.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It's called a leash ...

I love a chance to let my dogs do a little off-leash roaming. It can be fun for them to get to sniff around and maybe chase a small critter or two without me telling them "leave it" or "let's go" constantly. But I try to be very aware of when it's appropriate for them to be off leash and when it's not. It goes without saying that I don't let them roam near vehicle traffic, but the number one guideline in my mind is: Will having my dog off-leash be inconsiderate to anyone else in the area? Even though my dogs have really good recall and I always carry treats and reward them for coming back to me, I never want to take the chance that one of my dogs will have an interaction that's not welcomed by another person or dog. So if we're on a quiet, secluded trail, I'll let them off leash but be prepared to call them to me and hook them up when I see or hear someone else. If we're on a busy path, I just keep them on-leash to be considerate of other people, especially those with dogs.

Unfortunately, some people are oblivious to the needs of other people. I'm not sure what they think--maybe they think their dogs are a free spirits and need to run through he world unencumbered. Maybe they never bothered to teach their dogs to behave on a leash so it's easier to walk without one. Maybe they think their dogs are so special that every other person and dog in the world will welcome them with open arms. The funny thing is ... OK, its not so funny, these people are often the last people in the world who should be out in public with their unleashed dogs--they usually have no control over them whatsoever.

Or worse, they don't think they need to control the dog. I wish I had money for everytime I've had a dog racing toward me and my dogs, and the owner calls "He's friendly!" So I call out "Mine aren't!" This is an exaggeration. Pinky is actually fine with other dogs (so far ... I'm well aware that this could change after just one bad incident), but Lucy can have some issues. Under most circumstances she'd rather mind her business and doesn't pay much attention to other dogs. But she has rules. She dislikes dogs that are overly forward and insist on face-to-face greeting before proper bum-sniffing has been completed. She dislikes dogs who stare at her too intensely. She's wary of bigger dogs in general, especially if the dog at all resembles a Rhodesian ridgeback. None of these problems is insurmountable, and with proper introductions she will eventually get along with anyone, but without proper introductions she can be a snarky little bitch. Basically, she postures big, and even though I know she will stop short of actual contact with the other dog, I can never predict the response of the other dogs. Most dogs just act like "Oh, well I guess I'll just leave you alone then." But what about the one dog who will say "Oh no you didn't just grouch in my face ..." and decide to escalate?

Anyway, the reason I'm thinking of this is that we had another incident Sunday. I live a couple of blocks from a nice walking path around Duke University's East Campus, which is very popular and I would never think of walking the dogs off-leash there. We were halfway around the path and I saw a guy with a golden retriever who looked a little high-energy. I thought the guy had the dog on a flexi-lead, so I veered off the path to allow some distance between us. It wasn't until I realized the dog was running toward us at full speed that he wasn't on a leash at all. I yelled "get your dog!!" to the guy, and he started calling the dog but of course the dog had gone selectively deaf and had his eyes on Lucy. I have no doubts that he only wanted to say hello, but Lucy doesn't care about a dog's intentions. I kept yelling at the guy to get his dog, but of course he couldn't.

Thankfully, Lucy's snark was relatively mild, but enough to let the golden know she didn't want to meet. He backed off and by that time the owner had caught up, and was scolding Bruno: "You know you're not supposed to do that!" Uh, no dude, I don't think he really knows because it doesn't appear that you've taught him. My guess is that the dog gets to be off-leash a lot, and he's learned that he's pretty much free as a bird do do as he pleases. No matter how much he gets yelled at after the fact, he's already been rewarded by getting to take off running whenever he feels like it. In fact, scolding him now is teaching him that it's more fun to run away from his person than to go back or let his person catch up.

Which brings me to another point about a leash: it's a great tool for teaching a dog "you're with me." If a dog can't learn to curb its impulses (running up to people or other dogs, chasing cats and squirrels, following a delicious scent trail) while on the leash, there's no chance of teaching him when he's off. The acts of seeking and pursuing are innately rewarding to most dogs. Unless you've already conditioned another reward (i.e., turning around and coming back to me = delicious treats), letting your dog off leash is really a way to build bad habits by getting to engage in the self-rewarding behavior of running off. If you condition a recall, however, and richly reward it every time, you may eventually be able to call your dog off something as fabulous as a squirrel or rabbit.* (I wrote a post on training recall a while back, FYI). (Also, Steve at Agility Nerd recently posted about a similar experience his partner had with a dog "greeting.")

Unfortunately, the people who need to know this stuff probably aren't the ones who read my blog ;-)

*Results may vary. I have been both successful and unsuccessful in calling Lucy off of critters in mid-chase.

UPDATE: Elayne has her own two bits to add to this discussion!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Britain's Got Talent=way better than American Idol!

What bugs me a little is that they go on and on about how talented the dog is but neglect to notice what a great trainer the girl is. It takes a lot of time and patience to train all of these things, even with a border collie! has a good intro article about getting started in canine freestyle, as well as a page of links for more info.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pinky flashback

Originally uploaded by Mr. Gomez
I just wanted to post this picture of Pinky, taken the day she first showed up at my house last October. She was about six weeks old. The boy holding her is Carlos, who had gotten her from a guy giving away puppies. He brought her to us when his parents said he couldn't keep her. (Also pictured are Carlos' friend Lupe on the left, and my neighbor Melissa with her daughter Nina.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pinky is a big girl now

From that photo it looks like Pinky is a lot bigger than Lucy, but really it's not that much (perspective, y'know--Pinky's in the foreground). But she is indeed a teensy bit taller. Which means she's officially in the danger zone--it's very possible that she could get over 16". She's eight months old, and it's clear she's going to be medium-sized, so I'm hoping she'll stop growing any day now. I was trying to measure her this weekend, but she's really spooked by the wicket and it's hard to get her to stand up under it. So I'm not positive of her true height at this point. I just keep saying "Don't grow big, Pinky, don't grow big!"

At any rate, people love to try to guess what her mix could be. A lot of people insist that she has some smooth-coat border collie in her. Could be ... if so it's not so dominant in her behavior. I think that her personality is a lot more terrier. What do you think she is? Here are three photos I took the other day, trying to capture her at various angles (click the photos to see them larger):

I think she's probably a three-or four-way mix and there's not really any way to know for sure ... except maybe a DNA test. But in a way it's sort of good not knowing--I really have no preconceived notions about how she is supposed to behave. Still, it would be fun to have something to say other than "no idea" when people ask "what is she?" If you make up a breed, a lot of people will say "Oh really?" and just accept that you're serious. I met a guy who would say his dog was a "Wizenheimer" whenever people asked, and he said only a few people ever got it. Maybe I'll say Pinky's a Smooth-Coated Andean Shepherd, a breed developed by indigenous people on the western slopes of the Andes to herd guinea pigs.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Meh, it could have been better ...

My USDAA agility weekend was not so hot. On Friday our DAM team didn't Q, although we didn't completely suck. Lucy and I did passably well in most classes (we E'd in Standard), but our very young teammate dogs had a few oopses. I expected them both to E a few times, and I had been hoping I could run Lucy strong enough to make up for it. But I just didn't have a great day because I was feeling a bit weak and fatigued. When my day is not great, Lucy's isn't either. Her mistakes are really my mistakes. I went home Friday thinking that maybe I should just sleep late on Saturday and then take the dogs to a park.

Instead, I got up and went back out for more agility. I still wasn't feeling great, and consequently we had bad runs.

Sunday morning, I again considered skipping the trial, but then I realized that I actually felt pretty darn good. So I decided I would just leave the trial the moment I felt at all tired or stupid. We didn't Q in everything (just Jumpers and Snooker), but we had five really decent runs. I guess I do have a brag of sorts, although it seems too amazing to be true: little Lucy posted a jumpers time of 22.36 (on a 141 yard course). What's really flabbergasting is that I looked at all of the Masters dogs' times, and no one posted anything faster. Now Lucy's run was pretty darn fast and her turns were tight (and I saw a lot of wide turning and a few slips in the dewy grass by the bigger dogs), but I really have a hard time believing she was THAT fast! Her previous fastest Jumpers time (on a 140 yard course) was 27.60. So either Lucy was on fire Sunday morning and beat the feathers off a bunch of border collies, or the electronic timer made a mistake. I hope it was the former!

Friday, April 11, 2008

NADAC mudgility

I started this post on Monday, but I've been so busy I didn't finish until Friday ... maybe by next Friday I will have written about this weekend's USDAA trial. I'll announce in advance that we got a DAM team Q to finish our Tournament Master title in the hopes that positive thinking will pay off ...

I ran Lucy in a NADAC trial last weekend. I had been grumpy and tired all week, and I had thought on Friday that if the weather was crummy on Saturday I'd just stay home. But of course I couldn't. Even though we've had record rainfall lately and they were calling for terrible, furious storms on Saturday, I got up early and schlepped my gear and dogs out to the trial. It was rainy and hella muddy, but the terrible furious storms never materialized. I had on all my waterproof gear (including contact lenses instead of glasses--glasses don't work so well in the rain) and I managed to have a great time even though the field was a foot-sucking quagmire that was very hard to run in.

I qualified in some stuff and not in others ... I don't really remember what exactly, except one of the Qs was in Chances, which means we'll finally move up to Elite in that. We don't have such a good record in NADAC Chances, and I really didn't think we'd get this one because it involved turning Lucy away from me and then out pretty far onto a tunnel, after which she had to do a dogwalk and a jump while I remained what felt like a few miles away (OK, it was more like 18 feet or so). I figured that even if she made the tunnel, she was going to come off the side of the dogwalk before she hit the contact, because that's what she often does when I'm too far away. So I figured I would just run the course as if I knew my dog would do her part correctly if I did mine. It worked. She looked like one of those dogs who always gets the distance challenge. It was sweet.

And even thought I've dissed Hoopers before, I decided to try the "new" Hoopers, which is sort of like a strategy game. But not really a strategy game because you don't accumulate points for doing some things over others, so there's not a lot of incentive for going going beyond the easiest possible thing you've gotta do to Q. So I guess the strategy is "what's our safest bet here?" Unless you want to try to get a 15-point Q, in which case there's a distance line on one of the tests, but I don't do enough NADAC to understand the advantage of a 15-point Q. Does it get you your NATCH sooner or something? I dunno, and I don't really care. I just wanted to be able to say first-hand whether the "new" Hoopers is fun or lame.

Since NADAC doesn't have any description of the Hoopers rules on their website (probably so they can change the rules a few more times), I'll try to describe it here: There is a series of "tests," which I think (but don't quote me) must include a serpentine, a pinwheel and a crossing pattern (or "x-box," as one person called it), and may include others (one of the courses this weekend had a little threadle test.) Then there is a set of "non-test" hoops in a row along one side of the course. So you do three non-test hoops, and then a test, then three non-tests, then a test. At the novice level you only have to do two tests, at Open three and at Elite ... well I don't know because I actually wasn't paying complete attention during the briefing. If you screw up a test, you get something like three tries to get it right, after which you ... well sorry, I wasn't paying complete attention. I think you go do some non-test hoops or something. Then there is the bonus distance challenge on one of the test, but don't worry about it because you're not going to get it, unless your dog can distinguish between two hoops right next to each other about 8 feet from you and decide that the farther one really is the "out" hoop. Lucy couldn't (I only tried it on one of my runs).

So was it fun or lame? A little of both. I always like any game where you get to plan your own route so that part was fun, especially because they don't design the course to make anything convenient, so you have to invent some flow. But I think it would be a lot more fun if there was an incentive to do the more difficult tests, sort of like there is in USDAA Snooker, where you have to accumulate a certain number of points (and eventually, when you get to Masters, you have to actually beat just about everyone elseto get a Super Q). As it is, there would have been no reason for me to pick the harder tests other than the fact that the easy ones would have bored me. I did earn a special commendation from the judge on Saturday for being the only one to try the two hardest tests.

Also, even though NADAC calls the hoop a "ground speed obstacle," it's really not an obstacle. It's more like a target, something you need to point your dog toward, but except for maybe the miniest of mini dogs there is nothing obstacular (OK, probably not an actual word) about it. There's nothing to fault, except for maybe not going through the hoop or "back-hooping" it. I think it might be more fun to do hoopers with a young dog as a way of practicing some handling without much stress over obstacle performance. With an experienced dog it's not all that exciting.

As I mentioned above, I'll be doing a USDAA trial this weekend. Today is DAM team. My team is sort of a last-minute thing because my original team fell through, and I have no idea what to expect. At any rate, I will endeavor not to let my team come in dead last again. The charm of that wears off rather quickly.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I love it when people hate on Jon Katz ...

After reading some of his columns in Slate, I have never been able to bring myself to actually read one of Jon Katz's books, because his columns have made me think he must be a supercilious imbecile. Pretty much everyone I know who does any sort of dog training agrees with me, and I don't have enough spare time to read his books to confirm or deny. So thanks to Luisa at Lassie Get Help for this post, affirming my gut instinct that I can put off reading Jon Katz until I'm stuck in a body cast or something and have run completely out of other things to read.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Update-a-rama ...

I haven't been blogging a lot because I'm obsessed with houses: a) selling one, which involves lots of constant vacuuming up dog hair and snippets of chewed toys, wiping muddy paws and paw prints and picking up dogs toys and beds (only to put them back out later when the coast in clear; and b) buying one, which is anxiety-inducing because I can't afford anything decent, so my mind is engrossed in mulling over all the compromises I will have to make.

Anywho, the dogs ...

First Lucy: She's no longer lame. I have no idea what it was. We're going to the doggie chiropractor this week--if Lucy jammed a toe or something she might find it.

Also, I could have entered a local NADAC trial last weekend, but I've been so busy and exhausted I decided to skip it. I'm glad I didn't enter, because I would have been worried about Lucy's lameness returning in the middle of the trial, and then I would have felt awful. So instead she got to go to the park many times (every time I have to vacate the house for a showing, the dogs and I go to a park for a while) and we both took it easy.

Pinky: Still appears to be under 16 inches tall, but she now weighs slightly more than Lucy. She's a little rock--skinny as a rail but very muscular. After a couple of months of very sporadic training due to my life circumstances, I'm getting myself back into the mode of teaching her some foundation skills. A few friends and I all have young dogs, and we've started getting together once a week to help each other with foundation training. Well, we've only actually met once, but we plan for it to be a weekly thing. I really like training with others, because it gives me some direction. Left to myself, I have a hard time deciding what to teach or try next. I've never trained an agility dog from puppyhood before (Lucy and Mr. Gomez were both 6 years old when I started them), and there are endless possibilities. It's fun and intimidating.

I've decided to teach running contacts, because the two-on-two-off thing just never worked out so well for me, and I hate it. Lucky for me several of my friends went to a local Sylvia Trkman seminar and are going to teach their dogs using her methods. So I'll just let them help me train Pinky ;-) I missed Sylvia's seminar because 1) busy getting the house ready to sell; 2) poor; and 3) I want people I know to try out the person first, and if they report back favorably then I'll spend my money on them. So far I've heard mostly good things about Sylvia, so If I get another chance I'll take one of her seminars. Until then I'll just siphon her knowledge second-hand from my friends.

Anyway, what appeals to me about Sylvia's method is that aside from taking a lot of time, repetitions and patience, it's fairly simple. I don't mind spending a lot of time on something (I spent what seemed like ages running Lucy and Mr. G. through weave channels before starting to close them), but I hate really complicated methods. The way Sylvia trains, it's really doing the same thing over and over--she runs her dogs full speed across a board, and then gradually increasing the angle as the dog progresses.

I'm hoping that very soon I will have lots more time to train my dogs and write blog entries about it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mystery malady

Lucy came up lame last night, and I have no idea what happened. We had done some agility practice and then a little off-leash running around, and she was fine. We came home, she had dinner, went outside ... still fine. Then she relaxed on one of her cushy beds for about and hour or so while I checked e-mail, and I decided Pinky should go out again. Lucy got up to come with us and she was limping severely--she didn't want to put her rear right foot on the ground. I checked for the obvious stuff--torn pads, thorns, anything stuck between her pads--and there was nothing. I gently felt her feet and legs to see if one particular spot made her wince--still nothing. Nothing felt swollen or out of place (not that I really know the proper places of all a dog's foot innards, but the hurt leg felt just like the other one).

Mr. Gomez came up lame a lot. Sometimes it was a torn pad, sometimes it was who knows what--he does everything with such an overabundance of enthusiasm that he's always hurting something. It got to the point with him that I would just automatically decide to wait and see if he was still limping in the morning before I took him in to be checked, because it almost always was temporary. Buy Lucy is different--she's very careful and doesn't fling herself around the way Gomey does, so she's hardly ever lame. When she is it's usually been a thorn, something stuck between her pads, or a bee sting. So I didn't even think twice before calling the emergency vet. Right before I took her in, I decided to let her hobble outside to take a whiz, and as soon as she got out the door she shot across the yard chasing a squirrel. Hmmm ... can it be that bad if she's rocketing after squirrels? But as soon as the squirrel was gone, she was back to limping severely . So even though the pain wasn't bad enough to keep her from chasing a squirrel, I was still really worried. So I took her in anyway.

But them two hours later, when I was trying to keep from falling asleep in the waiting room (I'd had a long a tiring day), I decided that maybe I'd rather just monitor her and then bring her back this morning if she was still limping. But she wasn't--we got up this morning and she was fine. We went to a park where she likes to hunt voles, and she was fine. We went to another park later (there was an open house at my place today and I had to be gone) and she was still fine ... until we got home and she got out of the car. She was limping again. But now, a few hours later, she's not limping anymore.

So now I guess I'll just run her into the vet tomorrow and have them look at it. My bet is that they will find nothing, but it will make me feel better. At least a vet has a better idea of what to feel for than I do. I'll also call the doggie chiropractor, because I'm thinking maybe she jammed a toe or something, and the chiropractor will be able to feel it. I hope it's nothing worse than that.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Getting bigger ...

my girls
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants
The nail-biting has officially commenced ... Pinky has reached 15" at the shoulders and she's only six months old. Yikes. There are two things buoying my hopes: 1) Smaller dogs reach their adult height at an earlier age than bigger dogs. Lucy was very close to her full height at 6 months, and the rest of her growth was mostly filling out--her chest expanded a bit so she didn't look so gangly; and 2) Pinky's growth has definitely leveled off over the past two months. I now find myself wishing she would hurry up and go into heat so her growth plates will close sooner rather than later (Lucy had her first heat right at 6 months).

I know it won't be the end of the world if Pinky exceeds 16" because she is incredibly athletic and I think she will easily jump 22" (Lucy has no problem clearing 22" ... she actually went over a 26" triple once). I just like being in the 16" height class. It's not dominated by border collies. In fact, around here there is no single breed that dominates. The shelties are always very good, and there's that one mini--er, I mean very, very small--aussie that completely kicks butt, but I feel like Lucy can compete with all of them and I'm confident Pinky would be able to as well.

But border collies are the intimidators of agility--they seem unbeatable sometimes. Now I know perfectly well that they aren't, because the very speed and alacrity that makes them win spectacularly also very often sends them hurtling off course or causes them to obliterate jumps, miss up-contacts, etc. And who's to say that Pinky won't have speed and alacrity? She's got plenty of enthusiasm and loves to play and learn new stuff (she thinks tunnels are awesome!), so maybe I'll have the kind of nutso dog who can't be beat when she stays on course and keeps her bars up. I'd just rather she do it in the 16" class against the shelties and very tiny aussies ;-)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

MAD dog Lucy!!

I had a great agility weekend at a USDAA trial on my home turf at PBH. The best part: we finally got that Standard Q we needed for Lucy's Masters Agility Dog title. W00t! The run wasn't perfect--there was a hair-raising dogwalk down contact and an almost-refusal involved, but we got the job done.

Other highlights:
  • Another Snooker Super Q! This makes three, which is the magic number, so I don't ever need to stress about Super Q's ever again (unless I decide to bother pursuing titles when I move Lucy into Performance). It also got us our Snooker Master title. Everyone tells me that once they stopped worrying about Super Qs they started getting them left and right. As with our first SQ, we got this one by a few hundredths of a second, so my advice remains that when the buzzer sounds, run like hell for the finish line to stop that clock!

  • A Steeplechase Q and second-place finish. That won us $11.09. I think I'll spend it on bully sticks.

  • A Grand Prix Q. We're getting pretty good at that one. Since it's basically just a Standard course with no table, I'm mystified at how we can do so well in Grand Prix and so badly in Standard. I'm sure it's a mental problem on my part.

  • A Gamblers Q. Next to Standard this is probably the hardest class for us. I usually mess up the opening so much that I end up flopping and flailing at the gamble line and Lucy is thoroughly confused. Not this time. I don't know what my trick was--maybe I did well because it was the last run of the weekend and I was too exhausted to stress out about it.

  • A Pairs Q. I don't get terribly excited about these, and in fact if money is tight or I don't feel like entering every event at a trial this is the first one I ditch. But we still needed 2 Qs in Pairs toward our ADCh, so this knocked one off.

But the best part of the weekend was that Lucy seemed happy to be running with me the whole time and I didn't do anything to stress her out (or seriously confuse her). There was one "lowlight" of the weekend, and that was when I got a refusal on the first jump of a Jumpers run. It was due to a really stupid oversight on my part--I didn't pay close enough attention to how I was setting her up on the start line, which made her assume that the second jump was really where I wanted to go. The really sad part is that the rest of the run was fabulous. Oh well, live and learn.

Now the countdown toward the ADCh begins in earnest: we need two Standard Qs, two Gamblers and one one Pairs. And we still need a DAM team Q for the Tournament Master title. I have a team lined up--a couple who have two good little mini poodles agreed to run with me in April (and they each need one more DAM for the TM as well). We'll have two 16" dogs and one 12". I think we should call the team "Small Dogs Rule, Big Dogs Drool."

Monday, February 18, 2008

The dogs and their car

all dogged up
Originally uploaded by bunchofpants
I've had both dogs in the new Honda Fit a few times, and I'm quite happy with the space. I've decided to put the crates toward the rear, which leaves me plenty of space forward of them for trial gear. I could even fit in another crate if I wanted and still have a little room to spare--not that I'm planning the acquisition of another dog, but it's still good to know.

There are cargo tie-down rings that I will use to anchor the crates with bungees in the future. In the photo above they're not anchored--I was just taking the dogs to a nearby park, but I realized after I set out that if I had to slam on the brakes both crates would slide forward with no gear in the way to stop them.

I could probably free up some more space by putting both dogs in one crate--they would both fit in Lucy's wire crate, or I could use the bigger one that I used for Gomey. Lucy has shared a crate with a friend's dog before, but in general I think she prefers solitude. Perhaps when Pinky gets older and more settled it will work, but right now I think she would pester Lucy too much. I'm still considering other options for space arrangement, like using a removable platform for the crates or getting some 3-door crates and moving them forward.

So far, I'm loving the new dogmobile!