Monday, August 22, 2011

How important are you?

For the past few days I've been struggling with the death of friends. The first was Karen Kahler, fitness instructor extraordinare, beautiful, sunny, intelligent woman who was murdered by her estranged husband over Thanksgiving weekend 2009, along with her two daughters and her 91 year old Grandmother. Kraig Kahler's capital murder trial began last Monday, so the wound has been fresh.

Then this past weekend my long time friend Laura Hulke was killed by her husband, who then killed himself. Laura and I hadn't been in constant touch over the past few years, but I still considered her a close friend.

Such memories I have of Laura. We used to see each other all the time at various agility trials in the Kansas and Iowa area. She with Rocket, one of the first Top 20 agility Dobermans and me with Viva, Rocket's half sister. That was in the early 2000s and already seems so long ago. To me it was the exited anticipatory time of early agility days, when it was all fun and new. Occasionally we would share a hotel room, and I remember us each laying in our beds, giggling and whooping like 13 year olds over silly stories and our personal grades on handsome men (and ones who only thought they were handsome) in the Doberman world. The kind of laughter that leaves tears on your cheeks and an aching stomach. Laura had an incredible dry and deprecating sense of humor and her laugh was completely infectious. I'm just having a hard time thinking that she will no longer wander up to me at a show, give me a huge hug, and say, "So. What's goin' on." in that soft voice with its strong Minnesota accent.

Laura was like a lot of dog people. She adored her dogs, she was connected to her friends, and she helped where she could. I'm not sure anybody really knew how much she did until she was gone. Did you know she made me two fleece coats just for Viva and Cala and sent them to me for no other reason than because she wanted to? And she gave me an old copy of the William Sidney Schmitt Doberman book because she knew I loved the history of our breed. But beyond those personal kindnesses, Laura was very active in rescue in the Minnesota area, finding many dogs loving homes. She was Vice President of the United Doberman Club, and was helping get the UDC Focus (the club magazine) back on track after delays and mismanagement threatened to kill it all together.

Laura was like so many of us and some would say, a fairly ordinary dog person. But she was so important. And now, in the wake of this tragedy, everyone is scrambling. She had the Focus almost ready to go. Now it has come to me, and I am starting it over from scratch, because nobody can get to Laura's computer. Her own beloved dogs are being taken in by a wonderful agility family, the Hougs, who had shown Ava in breed and knew Laura well. The UDC is scrambling desperately to compensate for the hole she left. It's a small club. This is a huge blow.

So how important are you? I bet you are more important than you think. Laura certainly was. She touched hundreds of lives in and out of the dog world and she will be terribly missed.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Summer training

We are heading back into summer here in Missouri, which means high humidity and high temperatures. And this year, a massive invasion of periodic (13 year in this case) cicadas. I have thousands and thousands of them in my yard. Who knows, maybe hundreds of thousands. They coat every tree, reside on every branch, and are deafeningly loud. The dogs think they are candy.

All this coincides with my attempts to teach Prada to weave. At the beginning stages, I like to train weaves at least 5 times a week, preferably daily. And I have weaves right here at home. But they are mostly useless, covered in cicadas. So this morning I drove all the way across town, snapped all the weave wires on a set at the building, then trained her for about 3 minutes. Then took all the wires back off so the next person who might need the set wouldn't have to deal with it. And left. It took a lot longer to set up than to actually do the training; typical in agility. At least I have a building to go to!

I am aiming Prada for a debut in ASCA at the end of August. She's taking to agility like a duck to water and has a natural running contact (thank God!). She does far prefer rubber to non-rubber; I hope more clubs switch over soon. Our biggest challenge, as is common with Min Pins, is focus. In her case she's not quite as glued to the floor as Zipper is, but she IS very motion sensitive and thinks she is tougher than any dog out there. She does not want to fight with other dogs, but she does want to dash over to them, see who they are, and pose, all 9 pounds of her up on her teeny tiny tip toes, so they can see how superior she is. Problem is, she's gonna get hurt if she keeps it up. Her recall is coming very nicely, but I am hoping that once we really start more sequencing she will find that so self-rewarding she will quit looking around for other stuff to go see.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vent from an Unmarried Woman

Some of my friends got to hear this back when there was controversy over Elena Kagan's bid for the Supreme Court. She was accused of being a lesbian because she has never married. It's back on my mind again due to Kraig Kahler's sleazy attempt to justify his murder of his wife Karen, their two daughters and Karen's 94 year old Grandmother because she was allegedly having an affair with her female friend Sunny Reese. And I'm absolutely furious. So listen up.

Let me tell you something that may shock some of you. Just because a woman is not currently married, never married, is not currently dating/pursuing/angling for a man and/or has close friendships with other women, IT DOES NOT MEAN SHE IS A LESBIAN! Maybe men are incapable of being really close friends with anyone without it involving the pelvic rhumba. I kind of doubt that's true (I sure hope not, how impoverished a life that would be) but I'm not a guy. I have, however, been female for 50 years now. And I can tell you with absolute 100% truth that women can and do have really close friendships with other women without being sexually involved/turned on/tempted/curious or any other such thing. We can do it with men too! Imagine that.

I am sick and tired of the attitude that our entire female lives must rotate around getting/keeping a man. And that any woman who doesn't buy into that antiquated stereotype must be mentally challenged, horribly ugly, a complete social loser, or a lesbian. Because, gee, there could never be any other reason why a woman might choose to not either be clinging to a guy or desperately seeking one, right? We couldn't possibly have our own fulfilled lives, our own social circles, and God forbid, we couldn't possibly be <gasp> well-adjusted and happy and single and straight. Right?

For some reason the idea of a well-adjusted totally normal woman who doesn't have a man in her life is bizarre and weird. Elena Kagan couldn't possibly be single for any reason other than being a lesbian. Karen couldn't possibly be leaving her husband because he was an abusive dickhead who beat her; she must have been having an affair with another woman. I think it has its roots in our straightlaced Victorian past, where any woman who did not marry was a failure, destined to be a miserable "old maid." Or the 1950s, when the little woman was supposed to stay home and keep the house pristine, have her man's paper and slippers and a highball ready for him when he stepped in the door. The marginalization and dumbification (okay I made that word up) of women. This is just an extension of the "no normal woman can survive without a man" crap we've been hearing for hundreds of years. And in spite of the womens liberation movement of the 1960s, it is still here, lurking darkly in the corners.

Maybe some hetero single women didn't marry (or aren't dating) because the right man hasn't shown up, or did show up but left again, or time caught them by surprise or they just plain flat have other priorities that came first. Who knows. Who cares! It's not important.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing at all against homosexuality. Some of my friends are gay/lesbian, most are not, but neither status means a hill of beans to me. It's not how I identify them as friends. What pisses me off is the attitude that I can't be a successful woman who likes men yet who manages to survive happily without one actively in my life.

How is this dog related? It's really not, except that I am lucky enough to have a large community of mostly female dog training friends who are incredibly talented, smart, socially and financially successful.... and single. We are tied together by our love of dogs, we are close and would do anything for each other. We are no one's cripple or loser. Most of us are hetero. None of us are married. Yet gee, we manage to live productive lives and for the most part we are happy. Happier, in many cases, than our married friends.

So next time you see a single woman hug or kiss another single woman, next time you wonder why someone hasn't married, don't stereotype or judge. Maybe they are lesbian. Maybe they are not. And who the hell cares anyway?

ETA: In reading this, I think it may be taken by some as an inadvertent slam against marriage. That is not at all intended. I do believe in marriage and loving relationships. I believe in loving relationships of all sorts; platonic and not, marital and not, hetero, homo, bi, whatever. Life is short. be happy!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Oppose Proposition B.

In November, Missourians will get a chance to vote on Proposition B, the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.”

For most of us, “puppy mill” conjures images of shivering, emaciated, matted dogs standing in their own filth, terrified of people, bereft of the most basic necessities, socialization and care. None of us want puppy mills in Missouri, and for those of us involved in dogs, as I have been for over 25 years as a trainer, exhibitor, local and national club member and instructor, it’s a passion and a vocation to try to eliminate them. So why would I oppose this bill?

There are several reasons.

Our existing laws are better. Misssouri’s Animal Care Facilities Act (ACFA) is more clear, detailed, specific and typically more stringent than Proposition B. Prop B covers only breeders. ACFA covers “any person or organization operating an animal shelter, boarding kennel, commercial kennel, contract kennel, pet shop, pound or dog pound, or acting as a dealer, commercial breeder, intermediate handler or exhibitor in Missouri.” Violating Prop B will be a Class C Misdemeanor. ACFA starts right out with a Class A Misdemeanor, which is up to a year in jail and up to $20,000 fine. To see a detailed side-by-side comparison, go to

Proposition B punishes legitimate breeders. Prop B caps at 50 the total of intact dogs to be owned by any breeder. The inference being that no one can adequately care for more than 50 dogs. I mean, that’s a lot, right? Who has the time and energy to take care of all those animals? But the bill sponsor, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is confining their proposed legislation to breeders. What about kennels, rescues, shelters, humane societies and pet shops? If you’re going to say that 50 is too many dogs, it should apply to them too, right? So this really isn’t about numbers of dogs, it’s about punishing breeders.

Proposition B redefines “pet.” Prop B defines a pet as “any domesticated animal normally maintained in or near the household of the owner thereof.” So according to Prop B, all domesticated animals, including livestock, are pets. This wording is a large foot in the door toward the HSUS’ animal rights agenda of ending all use of domestic livestock.  Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS has stated, “We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding ...One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding.” — Animal People News, May 1993. (More information about the HSUS and its enrollment in the Annimal Rights Movement can be found at, and

Proposition B is an unfunded mandate. Estimated to cost around $650,000 the first year. We can’t fund our existing law. We don’t have the funds for this one either.

What is the answer?

Unfortunately we do have a problem with bad breeding operations in Missouri. How can we better enforce existing laws and statutes?

We need more inspectors. We have 12 inspectors to cover over 3,000 facilities. They are hopelessly overwhelmed.

We need to educate judges. Too often when these cases do come to trial, charges are dismissed or plea bargained. We need to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law.

We need to educate Missourians on why eliminating bad breeders is worth spending state money on.
In addition to many agricultural and rural interest groups, The Columbia (MO) Kennel Club, the Show Me Canines dog club and the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association have all taken positions in opposition to this bill. Proposition B will not solve our problem with substandard dog breeding facilities in Missouri. Please vote no on Proposition B.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

System fail

I haven't trialled all summer. Well I have, but in AKC Rally and at the UKC Premier. So this weekend was my first weekend back to AKC agility since April. And Thank God, it's the last weekend of a position on a table. Next weekend, no position!

The weekend coincided with some discussion on the Clean Run list on systems, and which system is the best to follow. Of course there was lots of chiming in; Linda's (Mecklenburg) system, Greg's (Derrett) system, Susan's (Garrett or Salo) system. Even Jane Simmons Moake's system. But what struck me this weekend was not anyone's specific system but rather how insistence on adhering to a certain style was failing dogs.

There is the group who insists on putting a front cross wherever one can fit. I watched handler after handler drive for a front cross and push their dogs off course or jam their dogs. In one instance, the turn was just before the very last jump. One spectacularly fast dog took three extra strides, two of which were trying to screech to a halt and get out of the way of his handler's front cross. Less flashy handlers just turned their shoulder and pulled their dogs to the jump; far smoother and much faster. There was NO reason to put a front cross there. But for that handler, that was the system.

There is the group with all the hand and shoulder motion. Both arms going, one pulling, one pushing, wrists turning, fingers pointing. You know, dogs don't see that well. A single pointing finger just isn't that useful. And if you're pulling with one hand and pushing with the other, what is that telling the dog? If it's a small dog, you're probably telling it nothing. I have a dear and beloved friend who uses this system and loves it. But every time I see her run her small dog, he's looking at her feet. He doesn't care what's going on up there in the air, he isn't looking that high! Yet the person she trains with has great success with it; it works for her dog.

Some systems do not allow certain moves. In some you are never allowed to use an off arm. Or blind cross. And frankly I think it's just kind of dumb. Don't want to use a blind cross? Fine, don't do it. But you can't say a blind cross is always bad when there are World Team handlers using them successfully all the time.

For every system out there, there are dogs who do spectacularly well with that system. So they definitely work. For some dogs and handlers. But I also see far too many dogs stuffed into a system that just doesn't work for them. If you really don't have a lot of send distance on your dog and/or are not a track star, why insist on jamming your dog with a front cross when a rear, or even no cross works even better? If your dog is watching your feet, why waste all that motion up top? If your dog is motivated by blind crosses, why not use them?

At its heart, a system is a consistent set of cues. And consistency is critical. But IMO adherence to only one single system's rules is not. Me, I want to use whatever works for my dog. What worked for Viva, a high drive but very sticky dog who despised front crosses, does not work at all for Cala, a dog with huge speed and distance who needs directionals and me the heck out of the way. And that in turn doesn't work for Zipper, who is moderately fast, watches my feet, wants me to run with him and is very sensitive to acceleration and deceleration. I run, he runs. I stop, so does he!

Consistency is key, but so is the ability and willingness to change the system to suit the dog, instead of trying to shove the dog into the system willy-nilly. I'd rather know about each system then pick and choose the parts that work best for the dog I have. And judging by what I saw this weekend, I wish a few other people would do that as well.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Yet another "Goals" post

Goals. We all have them. Or at least we're told we should have them. We're pestered to have them. And not just to have a goal but a GOAL. A worthy target.

I'm as guilty as anybody else about lecturing students (and on lists, and whoever is reading this) about how to set goals and what kind of goals to set. The right goals help you and your dog progress. The wrong goals may not only keep you from being successful, they might actually damage your relationship with your dog and your attitude towards whatever dog sport you participate in.

My big thing is setting performance goals instead of outcome goals. What's the difference? Well an Outcome goal is dependent on an outcome. "I want to Q." "I want an AXJ by this date." "I want a perfect score." A performance goal, in contrast, is task oriented. "I want a smooth front cross." "I want faster weaves." "I want a nice startline stay." Outcome goals can be poison. Because if you set an outcome goal and fail to meet it, then you feel a failure. Even if many parts of your run or performance have been fabulous, if you set your heart (and goal) on getting a Q and your dog dropped a bar, then you've failed. But if you have set a good performance goal and you reach that goal, then even if you don't Q you can still feel successful and good about your team.

The trick to setting Performance goals is to make them fair and doable while still pushing your skills a bit. It's not fair to set a goal to have 2 second weaves if you never have gotten close in practice, or to have a perfect call front if you haven't trained for one. I tell my students that it's best to do three. One for the dog (a good get-out, nice attention, etc.) one for the handler (keep shoulders back, execute a good turn) and one for both of you (work a correct contact or smooth transitions).

Even with my lectures and preaching about goal setting, I realized a couple of months ago that I rarely speak about my primary goal in dog sports. It's a goal I feel very strongly about, but it's a goal that many people seem to rank fairly far down their list. Some people don't think about this goal at all, it is completely immaterial to them.

My absolute NUMBER ONE goal in all of my dog training in dog sport is simple. THE DOG MUST HAVE FUN. If my dog is not enjoying training, if he is stressed and shut down and hating it, then I am doing something wrong. And if I can't fix it, if I can't work the dog through it or if I feel the dog really isn't going to get to a spot where he can truly enjoy the task and the game we play together, then I'm just not going to do that sport with that dog. It's as simple as that.

Now I can hear the cries of protest already. I'm not saying that no dog should ever be trained if they have stress issues or have to work to find that place of joy. Some dogs need time, patience and understanding to learn how to loosen up and have fun. Some dogs express happiness differently than others. Not every happy dog is a screaming speed demon. Some are quietly happy. Sometimes it takes years to help a dog bloom.

I'm also not saying that no dog should ever be forced to do something he doesn't want to do. I force my dogs to have baths and get nail trims. The come command is not optional at my house either. But to me there's a big difference between the things my dogs need to learn in order to be civilized and orderly canine companions, and doing a dog sport for fun.

That "for fun" part should go both ways, not just one. It is a goal we all should have for our dogs. And that in some cases that goal is sorely lacking. I have heard, more times than I can even remember, "I don't care if he likes it. He's going to do it anyway." and "This is his job. I want to do this, so he has to." And let's not even go into some of the marginal to truly brutal training methods used to ensure "perfect" performance in some events.

Dog sports should not be a "job" your dog is forced to do in order to satisfy your want and need to compete. If it really doesn't matter to you whether the dog is having fun, perhaps it's time to reevaluate why you do dog sport. Dog sports are, to me, about teamwork and about a game we play TOGETHER. If I can't make it fun and I know it's not ever going to be fun, then I find something else the dog can do that he enjoys, even if it's just lazing all day on the couch.

To me, a score or a title is nothing compared to having a dog who loves playing that game. We have our dogs for such a short time. Is it really worth it to set your love of a game above theirs?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ranty Mc Rant-a-thon

The other day, I happened upon a site where a woman was slamming AKC, AKC breeders and AKC dogs. She went on about Aryan nations, about "real" dogs versus "foo-foo show dogs." She declaimed about how HER dogs were real dogs. And gee, why did we need all these purebreds anyway. Who needs a Dalmatian? she asked.

She got lots of responses from disciples who worship at the altar of Pomposity and Sanctimony. "We need fewer breeds." "These dogs don't work any more, their jobs are gone, so why have them?" "These aren't even real dogs!"

Today several of us posted a gorgeous photo of the Dobe who was in the BIS ring last night. It's a fabulous shot, showing a stunning dog in a perfect self-stack and an obviously delighted owner. "Shows are crap" said one person. "gee, like it's real challenging to stare at liver" said another. "Those aren't REAL working dogs!"

You know what I say? Shut the hell up.

Guess what. YOU do not get to decide what someone else loves to do with their dogs. YOU are not the world's expert on what does or does not define "work" for a dog. What makes you arbiter of whether people should own or have a certain breed or type of dog? Where do you get off saying that these dogs aren't worthy to even be born?

Owning and showing (and working) dogs is a challenge and a privilege and a pleasure. We all choose what we do and do not like to do with our dogs. For most of us, it means dedication, persistence, and hours, months, and years of training. For most of us, it is a passion. I'm not sure when and where some people decided that it was okay to deride and mock other people's choices when they don't fit with their own personal views, but I'm tired of it.

Good for Carissa and CJ. Good for Sadie, who won. Good for all those superbly bred, conditioned, and trained dogs on the green carpet the past couple of days. Good for the people who spend a year getting their mix to not be afraid of the teeter. Good for anybody who has a love for a breed, no matter what it is. Good for those who adhere to tradition by training their dog to do useful things around the house or farm or battlefield.

And for those of you who sneer and judge and point? I'll say it again. Shut the hell up.

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