Saturday, August 18, 2007
Every once in a blue moon I allow my dogs to have pressed rawhide bones. This is a big deal because I generally think rawhides are a waste of money, and also because I have to buy them at Petco which sells rodents and fish. I really don't like pet stores that sell anything living.
Why pressed rawhide? Because it's the only thing that lasts more than 5 minutes in the Jaws of Death (Cala). She can't rip huge chunks off the pressed rawhide like she can the regular stuff, so it's also safer.
So I come home today with 3 bones. I own 3 dogs. One bone per dog, right? Well that lasted about 15 minutes. Jaws of Death settled down with hers immediately out in the living room. Viva, the old gal, had hers on the couch and Zipper brought his to his crate. Ah, all is blissful in the world.
Until Viva decided to bring her bone into the office. There was a blur of darting motion and suddenly Zipper (the 10# dog) was in his crate with two bones, both bigger than he is, and Viva (the 65# dog) was blinking in bemusement at the empty floor in front of her. She looked at the floor, she looked at Zipper, and calmly walked over to take her bone back.
With absolutely no respect for seniority or size, Zipper told her to get her face out of his business. So she mooed at him. Then she looked at me with a pitiful "but I'm old and it was mine and now he has it, do something" look.
So I take the bone away from Zipper and give it to Viva. Who decides she doesn't want her bone back, she wants HIS bone. So I give her bone back to Zipper and give her Zipper's bone, and then she decides she wants her bone back. Meanwhile, the second I let go, he steals both of them again.
This goes on for about 10 minutes. I finally give up trying to equalize things. And Viva takes Zipper's bone, gives him her bone, and bliss descends.
Then Cala comes in with her bone in her mouth, takes both of theirs (I think the Jaws of Death can unhinge her lower jaw somewhat like a snake), and trots back out to the living room with all three.
I give up.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Take one small dog.
Drive to breeder's house and drop off dog for the day, to be summarily popped into a yard with two other dogs who are both friendly and playful.
Add one bitch in season.
Add one other dog, in an adjacent yard, who has sired puppies by said bitch, and who thinks your dog should die, now, for being within a mile of said bitch in season.
Leave to percolate for one entire day.
Pick up said dog about 8:00 p.m.
Guaranteed flop dog. All attempts to awaken from his coma-like sleep are useless. Leave until morning, when he will once again morph into a Miniature Pinscher.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Even my van is lumpy. I somehow picked up a huge wad of heat-softened tar on my left rear wheel and it's proving devilish to remove. It doesn't seem to be hurting anything but I keep thinking my tire is flat.
Very little training this week, it's hot. Blast-furnace hot. I have to teach a class tomorrow night, but other than that I'm staying far, far away from the training building. A martyr I am not.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
We've had good rain this year, so the park is a saturated and glowing green. The path starts out next to the soccer fields bends around to cross the main road then winds into a long hollow, sliding along several small streams. On humid days, mist floats a foot or so above the ground, alternately silver and sunshot gold. Zipper dashes back and forth across the path, scattering dew, leaving tiny min-pin footprints briefly on the pavement, fading quickly away. He huffs in excited pleasure, laughing, with that sheer unbridled enjoyment of each moment only dogs seem to have.
Through the hollow there are beeches, oaks, and a huge gnarled sycamore that has stood sentinel over a fork in the creek for far longer than the park has existed. It's hollow now and squirrels pop in and out of knotholes. The tree doesn't seem to mind, shaking its huge, dinner-plate sized leaves at the merest hint of breeze. Great strips of its thin bark slowly peel from the trunk, leaving a patchwork of white, tan, grey, and pale acid green.
Crossing a road again leads to the lowest part of the path, deep emerald, still, and below the rising sun's rays. To the right is a great tangle of buckbrush, bush honeysuckle, compass plant, sumac, poison ivy, coneflower, black eyed susan, and goldenrod. Deep within the thicket is the trickle of water, but the stream is hidden.
Zipper's favorite part of the track is just ahead, as we wind up and out of the valley. We emerge into an open mowed field dotted with rabbits frozen to immobility by our approach, like brown rocks. But they can never quite stay still long enough; flipping up their white tails as they scatter, driving Zipper into almost spastic motion--which one? which one? This is the only time when he slams against the end of the flexi, trying to drag me forward. When that doesn't work he rears up on his back legs and hops forward in a desperate plea for me to run, please run so he can just have a small taste of bunny.
As the trail turns back on itself, we're now high, with the golf course groundskeeper grooming the greens on our left and tennis courts, then soccer fields on our right. Whispering in the breeze a breath of notes from a flute, its player never seen as his instrument sings the weekend days into existence. The flute weaves through mockingbird, cardinal, and brown thrasher, sometimes clear, sometimes a fading harmony to nature's concert.
Now the park is coming to life. We encounter a marathon runner, older, whipcord lean. He runs this path only once then strikes North, probably to the Bear Creek trail. The past two weekends have seen the Show Me State Games; boys and girls laughing as they run across the groomed fields, their parents and coaches lagging behind looking like draft animals, weighted down with tents, chairs, coolers, balls, extra equipment, team flags.
By the time we've finished our second lap the mist is starting to burn off and Zipper is panting. He pulls, wanting to go a third; maybe he'll get a rabbit this time. But it's time to go home.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Walk the Line is a tool that agility trainers use to help their dog understand rear crosses on the flat, before asking them to do them over jumps.
Am I speaking greek to you? A rear cross on the flat is when the handler (that would be you, or in this case me), crosses behind the dog (behind = rear) on flat ground (no jumps involved).
Walking The Line is a game that helps the dog understand your hand signals and at the same time, helps you develop a consistent set of signals to use with the dog. To do Walk the Line, you first have a small treat in each hand. With the dog walking on your left side in heel position, use your left hand to pull the dog in front of you, then pivot left 180 degrees, using your right hand to signal the cross. The dog should also turn left, and should end up on your right side as you travel back the way you came. Then use your right hand to push the dog forward, pivot right 180 and use your left hand to turn the dog right.
Sounds clear as mud and I can't find a video to illustrate. But try it, it's fun!
Friday, July 06, 2007
And every time she's on the track, she smokes my butt. I mean I'm out there motating along as fast as my stubby little legs can carry me and there she is, talking away to her friend, out for a leisurely stroll, and she blows by me *every* damn time.
Until today. Today, not only did she not catch me, I caught her. I passed them. Now it could be that they were ill, taking it easy, not going their usual pace. I refuse to think it. I've finally outwalked a granny. Thank the Lord and pass the peas.
Okay, it's a petty pleasure, but it's all mine.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I really like the track. I count off laps and watch the other people as I cruise by. The lifeguard climbing into his seat by the lap pool. The two old ladies who use float boards as they slide gracefully back and forth through the water. The woman wearing the "I hate Cancer" shirt who arrives when I do and is still running on the treadmill when I leave. The guy who goes to the strength area but spends more time staring into space than working; is he meditating? Still asleep?
Then there are my fellow track goers. I'm usually the first one on the track but am joined by the two ladies who still kick my butt walking (though you didn't catch up with me yesterday, ha-ha!), and the guy with the headband who I really, truly wish would wear some underwear. Please. I've already written about the young man who is so light on his feet I can barely hear him coming. He always wears a full sweat suit and hat, ipod strapped to his arm. Some days I'll be huffing and puffing along and be the slowest person there, and some days, now, I'm among the fastest.
I decided, though, that I should also do some strengthening exercises. Since I have no freaking clue how, I waited until the ARC had an orientation and went last night. This morning I worked through the Nautilus machines.
Boy was that boring. I think the strength training stuff is going to be something to do briefly, after my walk not before!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Being as they'd been doing so well, when I had some errands to run on Saturday I left them all out.
I returned home to disaster. Zipper had gotten into the bathroom cabinet, scattering toilet paper and feminine items everywhere. The toilet paper roll looked like rats had been at it. They'd pulled the mat off of a tea table by the window, and in doing so had broken a vase and yanked down a basket that had felt padding and peanuts in it. Peanuts and broken glass everywhere. I'm amazed nobody had cut pads. All I said was, "Oh no, that's BAD dogs." Ever since then, when I come home from the Gym Zipper is nowhere to be found. A close look finds him well out of reach looking at me tentatively, tail vibrating but clearly waiting for me to make the first move.
In agility, Zipper has been doing very, very well in Jumping. He's a natural jumper with really good form and can easily pop over jumps even from a standstill. Last night we tried something new. Two jumps set very close together at a bit of an angle (like a ">") then a space of about 12 feet, then another set of jumps identical to the first. Zipper took the first two jumps then ran rapidly to the second set, where he jumped the first jump and was going too fast to get the second one. He sent it flying, hitting it pretty hard. After that, he didn't want to jump any more. We went right back to basics, lowered the jumps, and with lots of praise and encouragement had him jumping at a full run again by the end of the class.
Zipper has happy drive. What does that mean? It means that he's got drive--he likes to move fast, he likes to work, he likes to learn things. He loves treats and toys and tugs like a fiend. He has the capability of being a fast and confident agility dog. But that's when things are going well. Zipper hates being wrong, is devastated when he thinks I'm mad at him and he doesn't really want to be surprised. And though he's actually pretty resilient, he certainly doesn't want to be hurt. Zipper is a dog who if pushed too hard, too fast, could turn off to agility all together because it will have become a stressful place for him, and he doesn't like stress, he likes happy.
I'd venture to say that most dogs have happy drive. The dogs who will push through any adversity to get to work, who are both physically and mentally tough, who can take a punishment or accident and get right back up and keep working—those dogs are a minority, a small minority. My two dobermans are that way, so are many border collies. But since that's the sort of thing we all want for our dogs, we tend to try to treat them as if they were all infinitely resilient. They're not.
If your dog has happy drive then enjoy it! You're going to have a tremendous working dog. But don't take it for granted and don't push it too far.
Friday, June 15, 2007
In spite of this swirling tower of Babel, I really think there are three, and only three, things all trainers *must* do to effectively train their dogs. If you have these three elements, you will be able to go as far as you want in training. Do these things right and your dog will want to learn, want to please, and actively seek to help you train him. Do them wrong and you're headed down the road to frustration and maybe even danger.
Commandment 1. Thou Shalt Be A Benevolent Leader
If you want a dog who wants to work with you, then you have to be a leader. You and your dog are a team. Somebody has to be team captain, and that somebody has to be you. There is no choice here. You provide the kibble, you drive the car, you take care of the boo-boos. Dogs evolved to see and depend on us as leaders. If you are not a leader, this throws the dog into confusion and shakes his foundations of understanding of how his world works. If you don't lead him, he'll be forced to try to lead himself and maybe you too—a task he is unsuited for, and one which will cause a range of issues from ignoring you to outright aggression.
But there's another word in that commandment besides "Leader." It's "Benevolent." Some trainers (and television personalities) would have us alpha rolling our dogs, asserting our dominance with tough tactics. Show them who is boss. Make them sorry if they even think about getting out of line. Exercise them till they drop. Let them know that they better do what you want because if they don't well, by golly it's going to be pretty unpleasant.
That's not leadership. That's dictatorship. And certainly it can work. The truth is, dogs can and do put up with an incredible amount of mental and physical abuse from us, and they can even learn how to do things through the abuse. But I do not want to establish leadership through fear and intimidation followed up with physical pain. The thing is, I don't have to, and neither do you. You can be a leader without ever alpha rolling your dog. To be a good leader, a dog owner and trainer must be clear and consistent. He must also respect the dog. Respect is not a one way street. Want your dog to respect you? Respect him back. Don't expect him to be a human in fur clothing. Don't expect him to think and reason like you do. DO take the time to understand him and figure out how he thinks so you can communicate your wishes to him easily. Do not punish him for being a dog. Put as much time and effort into him as you expect him to put into you. Be calm and positive. Show him what you want and invite him to learn. Don't shove it down his throat. A dog who is benevolently lead rather than crushed under the rule of a dictator will be ready and eager to learn anything you want to teach, any time you want to teach it.
Commandment 2: Play With Thy Dog
That's right. Play. And I mean just that, play. I don't mean throwing a ball or fetching the paper, though those are both great trained behaviors. I mean get down on the floor and wrestle and play. Be stupid and silly. Make play growly noises. Let him jump on your head and growl back. Let him bark and spin. Squeal and run away, inviting him to chase. Play for play's sake. Play because it's fun and your dog loves it and you do too.
Play teaches your dog that you're more than a leader, you're FUN. Being with you is exciting! You just might do something silly any time.
Play increases confidence and attention. Play enhances the dog-human bond. Play lets your dog know that he's fun too, that you like playing with HIM. Play lets the dog know that it's okay to get amped up and excited in your presence. And that in turn feeds into a dog who does more than accept training, he attacks it with verve and vigor.
Commandment 3: Let Thy Dog Know He Is Loved
Some trainers caution against giving your dog too much affection. It makes them take you for granted they say. Spoils them. Undermines your leadership. I mean, how dare the dog solicit a pat from you, they should be punished for that. You should be some sort of distant idol, doling out affection only on your own schedule and only after they've done something for you.
What a load of crap.
If you are a benevolent leader, there is no such thing as giving your dog too much attention or affection. Your dog already understands and respects you as his leader, and you already understand and respect your dog. So if he comes up to you wanting some affection, give it to him. To NOT give your dog affection when he solicits it undermines your relationship. If your dog didn't love you and want to please you, if your dog didn't want to interact with you, he would not be soliciting attention. And isn't getting attention and inspiring your dog to want to please you and work with you the very foundation of all training? So do you really want to shut that off? I don't. I never have. I've always given my dogs all the attention and affection they could stand. I even solicit attention from them. Yet my dogs have all done very well in training, obtaining multiple titles and even more importantly, being superb companions that are a joy to live with.
Certainly some dogs can get obnoxious about soliciting attention, and sometimes you will need to say no. But if there's no pressing reason to say no, then say yes. You'll find your training will be better for it.
Follow those three commandments and learned behaviors become not just easy to teach, but fun too. How fun it is to teach a dog who can't wait to get to work, who actively works with you to learn, who revels in being with you. How difficult it is to teach the dog who isn't sure what you'll do that might hurt or scare him, who doesn't know his role, and who approaches all training with trepidation. I know which dog I want.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
But now my feet have flared back up. Dammit. Yesterday morning when I walked they hurt a bit. I had class last night, then went to Bradford with the dogs where I was reduced to a crippled hobble then to just standing and watching them run. This morning I went exactly 2 miles and not a bit farther, and unlike usual the pain didn't warm out.
Poor Viva, she and I are a pair. Years ago now she had to have a tendon removed in her left foot--the major digital flexor of her left inside toe. As a result, that toe doesn't quite work like the others and she's built up a huge callus on the 2nd toe from being rubbed by the affected toenail.
Well the callus has gotten sort of infected, and last night when I was hobbling down the road I noticed we were tandem hobblers and the callus was bloody. So while Cala and Zipper blew through the fescue in wakes of rippling green, the two old ladies hitched and limped slowly back to the car.
Monday, June 11, 2007
This past weekend there was a Rally trial in Moberly. Cala just needed a leg to finish her Advanced title and was pretty close to ready for Excellent. There are a few Excellent signs I was worried about though. I hoped for no broad jump (a low, wide jump) because we haven't practiced one in years. The halt, side-step right, halt was another challenge—it involves the dog sitting at heel, then the human moving one step sideways away from the dog, while the dog (optimally) gets up and moves directly sideways too in a sidepass type motion. Cala tends to bring her front over, but not her rear. I really haven't practiced the honor much, I didn't know if she'd stick it. And finally, the one I really worried about was anything where Cala would have to stand from a sit. She's just been totally blanking on that exercise. She used to know how to do it, but now, I tell her to stand and she just looks at me, confused. We've both been struggling with it for weeks and it's so not like her to not catch on. In Advanced, you can help the dog by physically posing it, so that's not an issue. But in Excellent, you cannot touch the dog at all. Cala seems convinced that if I want her to stand, I'll pose her.
Saturday was a perfect day weather-wise. But I was a bit more nervous than usual, and Cala's performance reflected it. She was often wide, barely looking at me, forging. She sniffed one of the bowls on the figure 8 and was out of position fairly often. I redid one sign because she was so wide she went around the number cone instead of with me inside it. Despite this, not only did she qualify but she got 2nd place with a 96. I felt the judge was far too lenient. Cala did not deserve the score she got; I would have had her in the high 80s or low 90s. One of the big problems with Rally is inconsistency and too much lenience in judging and I felt it here. Nevertheless, I was happy to finish her Advanced title, and we moved up to Excellent for Sunday.
Sunday was rainy, with a constant drumming on the metal roof. Getting my Excellent course map I sighed in dismay. One of the jumps was a broad jump. There was the halt-side step right-halt, and, curses of curses, the dreaded stand from a sit. In this particular sign it was halt-sit, stand, down. Okay. Well, you just do your best. I wasn't nearly as nervous this time, and when we went in I waited for Cala to focus and get eye contact on me before starting. Off into a serpentine, she was right on target and much tighter than Saturday. A lovely 90 degree left pivot, then on to the Broad which she cleared easily (whew!). A left into a nice rapid moving down, then to a halt, call front, finish right. Cala executed an almost straight front and yipped a bit getting back into heel. She was starting to amp up a bit. There was another left turn, a 270 right, then the bar jump.
And then I made a huge mistake. I sent her to the jump the minute she saw it. Instantly she accelerated into a full gallop and sailed over the bar, landing about 6 feet out on the other side. I thought "oh holy shit" as I broke into a dead run to try to catch up. I called "CALA!" hard and she came back to heel but she was starting to yodel. There was a 270 left which she did, still amping up. Just a step or two beyond that left was a schutzhund (left about) turn. I told her "around" and began my spin left. She should go around me to the right as I spin left. Instead, she body slammed me and ran back to do the jump again. I called her back. She was majorly pissed and starting to bark. I tried the schutzhund turn again. Again she tagged me and ran back and jumped the jump. I called her again. By this time she was screaming like a banshee. She ran back to me, body slammed me again, and went back to fly over the jump for the third time. I called her back, she came skidding into a sliding sit, protesting at the top of her lungs. I had to fold my arms, turn my back, and wait. She finally shut up. I sort of got her past that darn schutzhund turn by accident and she (amazingly) pulled herself back together. I got a nice halt, side-step-right halt out of her and on the last sign she actually did it—she stood up from a sit.
As the judge said, "you handled that very well, but, um, that's an NQ."
So how could you not love a dog like this? I mean, what other dog could get SO excited about taking a stupid 16" jump that she has to do it 4 times? There's just no other dog like her. That's my Cala. 110%, all the time, never say die, never do anything once if you can do it 4 times, with volume!
Friday, June 08, 2007
This city doesn't always do such a great job with public buildings. Witness the public library; probably the ugliest building in Missouri both inside and out. Lovely white limestone adorns the back, with interesting architectural details. But they shoved that on the backside, only for patrons parking in the lot. On the street side it's red granite *and* red brick. Not only do the reds differ enough to clash, but the building is too close to the street and it looms with weird slotted vertical windows, secretive and pinched. Then there's the front glass thing. It's sort of indescribable. Made of glass blocks, it's thick and clunky and looks like somebody whacked the top off. And that's not even mentioning the school-bus-orange-brushed- with-flame-red hunks of metal set so close to the building they look like they're going to crush it. Or the 'brilliantly' conceived orange and red carpet inside interspersed with purple and screaming line green POLKA-DOT carpet. I literally cannot stay in that place for more than about 10 minutes, so I tend to fly in, make my selections, and get back out before I puke.
But the ARC is different. The ARC is public building space done right. It's all light, air, and soaring glass. Graceful and efficient. One wall is a vast curve of windows, sweeping across the corner aspect. The ARC sits well back on its property. It rests on the bones of days gone by. The site used to be the Boone County Fairgrounds, and under its foundations lie the hoofprints and bones of generations of Saddlebreds and those who showed them. From the turn of the century on up into the 1980s, the Boone County Horse Show saw the true greats. The ghosts of Art Simmons and Tom Bass are here, along with the horses they rode. Where the ARC sits, a young girl took a bay gelding into the ring and came out with a red ribbon back in 1979. Today I am much older and remember those days and times as I walk the track that circles the second floor, almost seeming to float over the pool and basketball courts.
The morning crew at the ARC tends to be the same people. We're the openers, the ones who are there waiting at the door each morning at 5:30 a.m. The thin woman who within minutes is running full speed on a treadmill and who is still doing it when I leave at 6:10. The couple--father/daughter? May/December? arriving in a huge boat of a town car. The young man who alternately runs and walks, so light on his feet I can barely hear him as he sprints effortlessly. There are also a surprising number of elderly folks, including one gentleman, probably in his 70s, who is there every single day and attacks the equipment with singleminded intensity.
It's starting to become a place I really like to be in the mornings.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
He has a rather startling tendency to stop and sniff the corners of tunnels, though he hasn't actually tried to mark one yet. He *did* mark the agility ladder the other day and almost came out of his skin when I yelled. At least he now knows it's a big no-no.
The thing that's most astonishing is that for the most part he's starting to do nice jump sequences, including letting me rear cross and taking direction. And that's just instinctual--he really doesn't know what he's doing, he's just being very handler compliant.
Goals are to get him more obstacle focused, help him learn to drive forward more, and keep increasing confidence. I think Zipper will be a dog who starts out as a nice medium-speed dog and as he gets more and more sure of what he's doing he'll keep getting faster. That is, IF his owner doesn't screw him up by pushing him too hard too early.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Found out last night that the pond the dogs have been swimming in at Bradford has occasional high levels of toxic blue-green algae. Great. We already sort of knew that and I keep away from it in high summer when the algae blooms are on. But it's frustrating. I used to go to another lovely park, Grindstone, but both the creeks that border it (Hinkson and Grindstone) have been found with high lead and heavy metals as well as medical waste. In summer, it's really nice to have a place where the dogs can cool off on a walk and it's sure getting harder and harder to find a safe place for them to do so.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
This morning I come home (more than 2 miles today but I lost count of laps) and Viva is HOWLING. Loudly. From in the living room. Why? It's beyond me. And Zipper is barking. So Viva's howling, Zipper's barking, and I'm rethinking this whole "dogs loose" thing. Thing is, neither of them were outside, they were just not happy inside.
I'll monitor it and see what happens...
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Right now I'm way too intimidated to try any of the machines, so I'm only using the indoor track. My plan is to start with walking then expand to maybe jogging.
First day, about 1 1/2 miles. Second day, 2 miles, today, 2 miles. I'm walking about a 17 minute mile. Not awful, but not the fastest either.
Today my shin muscles were killing me most of the first mile before they finally warmed up. I think I need to drink more water before going into the gym. But at least my hurting shins took my mind off my feet. I have plantar fasciitis. What the heck is that? Basically it means my feet hurt. I've irritated the big tendons that stretch from my heels to my toes, they're mad at me, and telling me about it. Loudly. The weird thing about PF is that it's not so bad when you're actually moving, it's when you stop for a few minutes then try to walk again that it really hurts. So I'm able to walk 2 miles, but my mid-morning run to the restroom is more like a slow painful hobble.
However, I already am feeling the benefits of increasing my exercise. I've always been a walker but realized that over the past year my evening walks have decreased due to weather or time constraints. An indoor track takes weather out of the equation. Time is solved by moving my wakeup time an hour earlier. So I now get up about 5:15 to get to the gym by their open at 5:30.
It's a really nice facility. As I walk along one curve of the raised track I can watch the sun rise over the whole wall of glass. I can also discreetly scope out the other exercisers and the machines. I circle them warily, perhaps someday to ascend.
The dogs aren't really quite sure what to do. I've been experimenting with just leaving them all loose in the house for the hour I'm gone. I think Cala is going back to her crate, not sure what Zip is doing. I'm going to have to ask the neighbor if they run outside and bark. But they watch me leave, Zipper and Cala perched in the front window. So far no house damage at all evident. We'll see how things progress...
Sunday, May 06, 2007
A half-hour later I passed my bedroom door and saw white stuffing on top of my bedspread. Somebody had chewed a quarter-sized hole in the coverlet and had pulled stuffing out. Now who could that be? Nobody was anywhere near it...
In other news I'm just really, really happy with the way Zipper's training is going. I use a harness for his agility class so I can work with him on drive and resistance training without choking him and when he sees the harness come out he's starting to become all business. Far less acting like a vibrating phone when he sees other dogs!
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Our first week I saw Josie and didn't realize she was a littermate but noticed she was a very nice bitch. I confirmed with Eddie and Pam that yes, it's Zip's sister. The last time I had seen Josie had been at a show, when she was being an absolute terror to all of her brothers. After all, with two girls and four boys, she needed to put those guys in their places!
Last week I walked up to Josie's owner and introduced myself. She was holding Josie and I picked up Zipper who, immeditately on seeing Josie went into total vibrate-and-hum-with-joy mode. Josie's owner was telling me how much she loved her and how she got along so well with everybody and her own dogs. Meanwhile Josie was going beady eyed on Zipper. There was no doubt she recognized him--one of pesky little brothers. To her owner's horror, Josie started snarling at Zip. I started laughing, and Zipper was just ecstatic with joy. "It really is you!" Josie was saying, "yeah, it really is and I can still whip your butt."
We did not allow them to get together. Poor Zipper would have been like he was when he was a baby, accepting all of her punishment as his due.
Friday, April 27, 2007
So here I am, with NO PHONE and NO INTERNET for the entire weekend. I'm glad I'm doing a trial and not trying to work, because I can't work. No blog updates either. Grrr.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Cala, in case you haven't figured out, is a bit weird.
And thus arises the game of shower ball. I'll be in the shower when suddenly, "PTUI!" a ball comes flying in under the shower curtain, rolling around the tub floor. "Flump." I hear her collapse into a down. A peek out the corner inevitably shows her in her signature down, stubby tail straight in the air, intently watching the curtain. So I pick up the ball, pitch out over the top of the curtain. Much thumping ensues as she explodes into action to catch the ball. Silence, punctuated by "skwok, skwok, skwok" chewing sounds. Then "PTUI!"
This is pretty much a daily ritual. Except today. Because today there was no ball. Why was there no ball you ask? Because she ate it. See, Cala loves balls but she's really, really hard on them. Even the toughest balls succumb to her Jaws Of Doom. Her latest ball, a supposedly indestructible Orbee, lasted a week. She chews them until she gets small chunks off, then chunks them all up, sometimes spitting out remains, sometimes swallowing them. Fortunately she chews small pieces. But I do have to watch Zipper, who thinks these small rubbery bits are just for him.
Today, with no ball, I got out of the shower to see Cala in her down, sulkily facing AWAY from me. Obviously it's completely my fault that there's no ball. It's my job to be a constant ball supply. I must be hiding one somewhere! Unfortunately there's no ball, and not likely to be a ball for awhile, at least not until payday. How ever will she survive?
Friday, April 20, 2007
I think we will never know the true number of dogs and cats killed. It now turns out that Chinese manufacturers may have been deliberately adding Melamine to food to boost apparent protein levels. And it's just a matter of time before people start getting sick. Melamine-laced foods were fed to pigs being fattened for the human market.
Even if you aren't sickened by all this on behalf of the dogs and cats who have died (and acute kidney failure is a very ugly way to go), think of the Melamine case as a barometer of our food supply as a whole. In the past year alone we've dealt with tainted spinach, tainted lettuce, tainted peanut butter. And of course there's bovine spongiform (mad cow), which came about when economical farmers decided that churing up their bretheren's brains in food was a great way to increase weight in an herbivore.
It's simply a matter of time before something hits the human population due to poor food controls and kills not a few here and there, but thousands as has happened in pets. The inability of the FDA to adequately monitor our food supply is apparent.
For the dogs, I've switched to Innova Evo, which is grain free and from domestic animals and vegetables raised organically with no extra horomones given. I can't quite afford to go entirely organic myself, but I will certainly spend even more time this year at local Farmers Markets...
And when Zipper wants to do something really bad, he shimmies and emits a hummy buzz. Sort of like a cell phone on a glass table set to vibrate.
But I've instituted a rule. No playing with other dogs in the training building. Ever. Some of the other trainers let their dogs romp in the building, let them play and interact. I can do that with Cala, but Zipper is too dog-centric. I just don't want him thinking that the building is where he plays with other dogs. I want him to think the building is where we do cool stuff together.
It did seem to work last night. At the start of the agility class he was focused on everything but me. By the end of class he was focused on me and having a good time. He's actually done this class before, but he was just a puppy then and didn't have enough attention span to be ready to move on. Besides, that was last summer. So he is taking the class again and already I can see that his 18 month old brain is far more settled than his 8 month old brain was. I really see some potential in this little guy, let's hope it stays that way!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
At first it didn't seem that hard. I mean, positive something had to be good and negative something had to be bad, right? And clicker dogs were trained using Operant conditioning, right?
Well, no. Not exactly. And I do think it helps to really understand these terms as they apply to dog training Correct terminology and understanding how the methods work is one of the keys to effectively teaching your dog. So here goes.
Classical Conditioning is best described by the studies done by Pavlov. In Classical conditioning, a dog is conditioned to recognize that a certain event will always predict another event. In Pavlov's experiments, the ringing of a bell was always associated with food, so that the dogs began to salivate purely from the sound of the bell. Replace "bell" with "clicker" and you know how the clicker works. We teach the dog that the clicker always means a treat, therefore the dog begins to feel reinforced by the sound of the clicker itself and automatically anticipates food.
Operant Conditioning, first described by B.F. Skinner, is more complex. Basically, Operant Conditioning says "behaviors have consequences." The terms used in Operant Conditioning are Positive, Negative, Reinforcement, and Punishment. But these terms have some different definitions than we normally think of. It helps if you decide that scientists don't live in the real world and don't speak the same language we do even when it sounds the same. In science-speak:
Positive means Add Negative means Subtract or take away
Reinforcement means that a behavior *increases*
Punishment means that a behavior *decreases*
Extinguish means the behavior disappears
Please note that there are no emotional connotations to these terms. Positive is not inherently good. Negative is not bad, and nor is punishment. It's merely a science geek's way of saying add, subtract, increase, decrease. And all methods of dog training, from clicker to Koehler, use Operant techniques. It is incorrect to say that clicker training is operant training and other training is not. Clicker training is operant training, but so is smacking the dog in the head for not sitting promply.
There are four main ways to train a dog Operantly
1. Positive Reinforcement
2. Negative Reinforcement
3. Positive Punishment
4. Negative Punishment
So taking the science-geek definitions, what do these mean?
1. Positive Reinforcement = ADDing something to INCREASE a behavior
2. Negative Reinforcement = SUBTRACTING something to INCREASE a behavior
3. Positive Punishment = ADDing something to DECREASE a behavior
4. Negative Punishment = SUBTRACTING something to DECREASE a behavior
So I don't know if anybody is reading this so I'll ask a few questions and see if I get any comments or answers. Try to guess what each of the following is.
1. A dog gets out of heel position, and the owner pops the collar to bring him back.
2. A dog gets very excited about his ball and accidently bites the owner, the owner takes the ball away.
3. A dog is not fed if he does not track a scent trail.
4. A dog is given a treat for sitting.
The simplest explanation of what clicker training is, is that it uses a click--a noise--to mark a desired behavior. That behavior is then rewarded with a treat. For any reader new to the method, that's the one, real, basic tenet. The commandment written in stone.
Click = Treat
If you remember nothing else about this training, remember the above. You click the dog, the dog gets a treat. Every time. And dogs are pretty literal critters. Pretty darn soon, they understand that every time you click that clicker they've done something right and they get a reward.
Rewarded Behavior Is Repeated
Dogs are pretty much like us. If a particular behavior is rewarded, they want to repeat it. If a behavior is ignored while they're working for that reward, they tend not to repeat it. The click marks a behavior that the trainer wants repeated. In this, the clicker is incredibly precise.
Why is the clicker better than voice?
The clicker is better than voice for a couple of important reasons. The click is both faster than the voice and the click is unemotional and therefore unambiguous. Let's go into a bit of detail about that.
The clicker is faster than your voice. Studies have been done which show that the human body can twitch a finger/thumb much faster than it can say a word. In other words, it takes longer for the brain to go find a word, send it to the voice box, and for the mouth to express that word than it does for the nerve impulses to go to the finger for a click. And how many of you are like me? You'll look at your own sister Susan and say, "Jamie, Laura, Jenn, um, YOU!" we forget words all the time. On the agility course I'm likely to call a table a dogwalk and not remember my dog's name at all! Clicker is far easier. Just push a button. And being faster is better. The faster the clicker is, the more likely you are to catch a behavior at just the right moment and mark it. The more accurate you are at marking the behavior you want to keep, the faster the dog will learn and the more complex tasks you can teach.
The clicker is also totally unemotional. This is really, really important. The clicker is a marker. It is not praise and does not take the place of praise. But nor can praise take the place of the clicker. I hear many trainers say, "I just say the word "yes" as my marker." And that can work. Sort of. It will work but it's slower (see above) and it is not as unambiguous. See there's this weird thing. Dogs have developed over the past 15-100,000 years (depending on what scientist you talk to) to be exquisitely sensitive to our emotions. They are especially sensitive to our faces, our body posture, and our voices. They use those cues to "learn human." And they are masters at it. They know when we're mad just by our tone of voice and our face. And no matter how much you try, the "yes" you say to a dog when you are tired and have had an awful training session and are just trying to salvage something without punting Rover into the nearest wall is far, far different than the "yes" you say when the sky is blue, the grass is green, and Rover is doing everything perfectly with sparkle and verve the first time you ask. Your voice is different, your body posture is different.
The clicker overrides that. Dogs are very literal and so is the clicker. It says, "I don't care what my body posture says, you did that RIGHT and you get a TREAT.
Thus lies the awesome power of the click. And that's enough for this post!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
But it's done now. The Cathedral Of Dog. http://www.columbiak9sportscenter.com. Columbia Canine Sports Center. The fabric building is light, airy, open. Over 50 feet high at the apex, 120' x 240' of clearspan space, sunbrightened by day, glowing at night. All on 3/4" recycled rubber flooring over 6 feet of crushed lime. A full sized agility ring, a 100 x 60 agility ring, a rally ring, and 2 Obedience rings with room for more.
In the old building, which had a 60 x 90 agility space and two obedience rings, the first night of classes was always chaos, with at least one near-escape dog fight and lots of tension. But something about all this soaring light decompresses dogs and owners. We had 3 rings full of dogs last night, all running simultaneously, and even the greenest of the green pet dogs were relaxed and happy.
And oh, how great it is to be training again. Cala the dobe, in her first Rally 2 class, did so well considering I haven't trained at all since last fall. She was tired by the end of the hour, but not too tired to run once on the agility course in Masters class. Where she did each of her contacts perfectly, which has been a big problem for us lately.
Zipper's first class is Thursday, but I brought him to start absorbing building noises and to get comfortable. Besides barking at dogs going by his crate (which I put an end to by covering it), he did really well. I took him out a few times and simply clicked him for attention on me, then took him to an empty agility ring and clicked him around the dogwalk. Zipper had an agility class last summer but definitely needs a refresher, so he'll start all over again.
We all came home tired, happy, and satisfied.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Well tonight it happened again! I took the dogs for a run then loaded everyone back up and went to dinner. This time I looked at the little shit to make sure I'd remembered to put him in his crate. There he was, curled up sleeping. After a nice dinner I got back out to the car, unlocked it, and there was Zipper, happily playing in the heap of toys he'd pulled out of the training bag and most certainly NOT in his still-latched crate!
WTF? I mean, how on earth is this dog getting out of his crate and relatching it????
Then I figured it out. This little wire crate has a top hatch. And darn if it wasn't unlatched. He's waiting until I'm gone, and popping out the top of the crate like a Jack-in-the-box.
He had taken out only his favoritest toys--both rabbit skins, both racoon tails, the rabbit fur tug. He was so proud.
Back in the crate he went, and I latched the top too. NOW let's see if the little snot can get out.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The weather is still crap, we're getting snow. On the 14th of April. The dogs are all curled up next to various registers, waiting, like me, for Spring to show back up.
Friday, April 13, 2007
This went on for a good 15-20 minutes. Very cute, but not at 4:00 a.m.! Finally he decided playtime was over and curled back up.
Today we're going to go for a walk, even if it's raining!
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Many of my plants are dead, frozen. Even the Missouri natives like columbine. My honeysuckle vine is gone. Irises? greyish brown. That's what more than a week of below-freezing temps will do when plants are already budded out. Last weekend we had 3 straight days of temps in the low 20s. In April for God's sake! This week has been raw and brutal, more like February than April. We're going to get SNOW Saturday. On April 14. Which will be a record. Here in Missouri the peach and wine crop is gone along with all of the other fruiting tree crops and things like strawberries.
The dogs are not happy either. Zipper has gone back to floating from register to register, sometimes standing like a little bronze statue, sometimes curling right on top of the vent in a tiny ball. Viva's arthritis is back, now she's limping on the left front *and* the left rear, which is a trick let me tell you--she looks like a cow standing sideways on a hill. Cala is impatient with the cold, wanting to go run.
Climate change is interesting isn't it? We're moving into a time that man has never dealt with before, and the corresponding wild fluctuations in weather are part of it. Hopefully spring will come back some day!
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
In Operant Conditioning, Negative Punishment is taking something away to decrease a behavior. I want to *decrease* Cala's vocalizing. I also want to *decrease* her obstacle focus. She's too focused on obstacles and not focused enough on me. So I simultaneously want to *increase* handler focus.
I started out by crating her, putting a jump up to 24", and bringing her out. As we approached the ring, I kept her on a 6 foot leash and said nothing. As is usual, she immediately went to the end of the leash and began to pull to the ring. I backed up. She backed up too and glanced at me. Click/treat. It took 5 minutes to get to the ring on a loose leash with attention. Then she saw the jump. She zeroed in and began to move forward. Each time she looked at the jump, I either backed up or turned around and left the area. I never jerked her, she always came with me. I never said a word, and I kept my body posture and face calm and positive/smiling. She began to yodel in frustration. Each time she yodeled *or* took her eyes off me, I simply left the area of the jump she so desired. Sometimes I turned left, into her, sometimes I turned right, away from her, sometimes I simply backed up. Once or twice I clicked her for returning to heel position but I didn't want the game to become "I look at the jump and bark then return to heel and get a click." I was still completely silent. I was letting her figure out the problem with no input or anger from me.
It took another 5 minutes or so, but Cala learned that looking at the jump or barking at me or the jump got her removed from the jump. Looking at me and being quiet let her approach the jump. Once she was heeling to within a foot of a jump with total attention on me, I began to occasionally click and treat at the jump. And then I began to release her TO the jump. So now I've added positive reinforcement to the negative punishment. When I look at the jump or bark, it goes away. So I don't want to look at the jump or bark. (negative punishment). When I look at Mom and am quiet, I get a click and treat. When I look at Mom and be quiet, I may get to jump. Positive reinforcement--adding something to increase a behavior. In this case, adding the reward of getting to jump to increase the behavior of holding attention on me before the jump.
My plan is to work Cala up to being able to heel completely around an entire course with total attention on me and none on the obstacles. I've started with the jump. I'll add jumps into a jump grid, then begin working in other obstacles one at a time. My goal is not to shut down her drive or totally eliminate her obstacle focus (which wouldn't happen anyway, she's too obstacle driven) but to help her learn that taking cues from me is her route to the big goodies she loves so much. During our session, which lasted a total of about 10-15 minutes she never lost attitude, never lost drive, and was totally into the game even if sometimes a bit frustrated. And she's learning.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
What's the news today? What has changed since we were here last night? What bugs have passed? Any rabbit scent? Say, there's a piece of paper!
Two bluejays flutter down in a corner of the chainlink at the far end of the yard. Their feathers are brilliant sky, cerulean, lapis. One hops a step forward.
Both dogs flick their heads up and freeze. The black one's docked tail rises. The red one oh, so slowly pulls a front foot into the air.
Haunches tense and lower just a little. A blue jay walks a step. Muscles begin to quiver. The heads are absolutely motionless.
A blue jay takes a hop. Two dogs, one large one very small, leap forward in concert, from zero to full speed in a single stride.
The jays indignantly flutter up to a branch. The dogs slow to a stop, watch, then lower their heads. Hey, what's the news today? What else has gone on in the yard since last night? Look! A leaf!
Monday, April 02, 2007
This person has bought into the religion of "inbreeding is evil." According to these people, inbreeding should be avoided at all costs, all dog breeding should be based on inbreeding coefficients, and only by outcrossing can we avoid breed extinction through inbreeding depression. This theory, popularized in part by the late John Armstrong, blames all of the woes of the purebred dog world on those oh-so-shortsighted breeders who dared to breed close relatives, thus bringing bad recessives to the front and "ruining" breeds.
I've read the information, and in fact have been a member of the canine genetics email list for years, including several years before John Armstrong died, when there was debate between several big-name people, including author Don McCaig (IMO he's a far better author than geneticist). In those days the list was high traffic and the debate hot. After Dr. Armstrong's death the list went pretty much dead and though it still exists, it has very few messages.
In spite of it all, I have never been convinced that inbreeding is bad. Certainly inbreeding has risks. And by inbreeding I mean what most breeders call linebreeding (which geneticists call inbreeding). I think these days very few people do brother/sister sire/daughter dam/son breedings.
The question is, is inbreeding the ruination of a breed? No. How can it be when we have evidence of very inbred breeds who do well, like Portuguese Water Dogs?
Does inbreeding cause inbreeding depression and eventual breed extinction? No...otherwise how do you explain Greyhounds and Salukis, in existance for thousands of years, relatively unchanged, and relatively hardy and healthy? For that matter the Min Pin, a very old breed, is pretty darn healthy and hardy.
Does inbreeding make a breed more susceptible to genetic disease? According to George Padgett (foremost authority on genetic disease in dogs), the breed with the most known genetic diseases is the Cocker Spaniel, with 52 different genetic diseases. But this is drawfed by the mixed breed, with the potential for over 120 different genetic diseases.
Is homozygosity bad? It can be. But it isn't always. Homozygosity can increase the chance for expression of some genetic diseases, but insulates from infiltration of others. If you have a homozygous population that has an extremely low incidence of hip dysplasia, don't you want to keep it that way?
Is outcrossing a solution? IMO no. Outcrossing to what? Dogs are an artificial construct. They've been bred selectively by humans for thousands (some say 100s of thousands) of years. They are a homozygous population. Which is why they are so extremely useful in researching human diseases. It's far easier to find a dog model than a human model because dogs are so darn homozygous. Cross breeding between breeds only provides hybrid vigor protection to the first (F1) generation, and then only for diseases both parent breeds don't share. So breeding a Yorkie to a Min Pin wouldn't do a thing to prevent Legg-Calve-Perthes. And within a certain breed there really, honestly is no such thing as an "outcross" unless you have a pariah or feral population somewhere that has been isolated from the main population for some time.
Such is the case in Basenjis, where the parent club has been able to go to Africa and find some native dogs and thus battle Fanconi Syndrome. Unfortunately there are no feral populations of Min Pins or Dobermans or German Shepherds.
What ruins breeds are bad breeders. Any breeder who breeds for only one thing--such as a perfect head, or hard grip on a sleeve, great herding ability, or even just genetic health or the least amount of inbreeding in the bloodline is not serving the breed well. Good breeders know you have to look at multiple factors and juggle. It's not easy being a good breeder. You have tons of factors to weigh when making breeding decisions. Being too narrow focused on any one issue will end up doing a disservice to the breed.
As for inbreeding--like it or not, we're all doing it, every time we breed. The question is, how do you make it work for you and not against you?
Saturday, March 31, 2007
By 5:30, the storms had dissolved to high scudding clouds and the dogs and I headed to Bradford. Being several hundred acres of very gently rolling open ground, Bradford tends to be a wind and weather attractor. I got out of the car into straight-line winds of 35-40 mph. The grass was tipped in silver as it bent to the gusts, rippling stiffly, an almost undiscernable hiss below the full-throated roar in my ears. Our way out, we were pushed by the pressure out of the Southwest, the dogs springing up dashes of water as they ran.
I headed straight north, then East on one of the farm roads. Zipper, in front of me, nosed, stopped dead, and jumped back a foot, then ran forward again. He'd found a mostly-dead vole. He dispatched it then took off with it. He wasn't quite sure what to do with it though. He dropped it in a nearby field then stood over it. I praised him highly and picked him up with it in his mouth. Fortunately he dropped it soon after. We turned and came back. Walking west into the wind meant leaning forward and gasping a bit. I turned the corner South and Zipper was off again, this time at a field edge. He hunted then started digging--a mouse nest!
So though Zipper may never get an AKC Earthdog title, he's proven he can hunt vermin, even in a roaring gale. He can dig out mice nests too. He was very proud of himself!
First, I'm still updating TotalMinPin. Check it out! I've added a great new link to a canine genetics predictor and an article on housebreaking. I've also added a big article on Min Pin coat color genetics.
I've decided to try a different food. It's not a decision made lightly. I've fed Eukanuba Premium Performance for years and have had excellent results with it. And no, I don't think the Euk is poisoned. I think it's a really good premium food. But having to check Zipper for kidney function since he did have some of the tainted food was something that really made me want to start looking around. I have decided to try Innova Evo, partly because they use very tight quality control on the ingredients in the food. I'm not sure if I'll stick with it—I'll let you know. The Evo is basically raw diet in kibble form (or I should probably say cooked, because I'm sure it's heated). There are no grains. I don't actually have a problem with grains, and didn't choose it because of its lack of grains but because of the overall very high quality of the ingredient list.
The dogs are fighting over pressed rawhides. Cala is chewing one, Zipper and Viva both have one available just for them but only want the one Cala has, and Cala is not about to let them have it. Dogs.
Friday, March 30, 2007
I grew up with a succession of dogs, mostly mixed breeds with the exception of one psychotic Scottish Terrier. The last dog we had before all of us went off to college was a dachshund/whatever mix named Polly who resembled a small coffee table with legs. And I always wanted big dogs. We never had one.
When I got my first Doberman I was graduating college and moving out on my own. I wanted a dog that would make me feel safe. This was in the early 1980s and Dobermans were at the height of their popularity. I was very lucky with Blue. He was the product of a puppy mill (I didn't know any better). But he was truly a great dog. I fell in love with the breed and have had them ever since. And the size of Dobermans has always been something I've liked. I liked having a bigger dog. I like their heft and presence, their gravitas. In all these years, sometimes living in very marginal neighborhoods (a crack addict killed 3 people less than half a mile from where I lived once) I've never had any problems. A Doberman looks like no other breed and is unmistakable. People cross to the other side of the street when they see you.
But having Dobermans comes with burdens too. People have sometimes unreasonable fears. It can be hard to get insurance. I encounter breed prejudice even in agility and obedience judges. Sometimes young toughs think it would be funny to bark and lunge at my Dobermans. I have to keep them inside when I'm not home even though I have a dog door and fenced yard, because I've caught people shooting at them with bb guns and throwing rocks at them. Dobermans don't live long enough and have some really serious health issues.
I'd been contemplating a smaller breed for quite awhile when I was offered Zipper. I actually didn't want a toy dog. Too small, too fragile. I'm not light and I live with two Dobermans, one of which has more drive than a Ferrari and who is not at all cat safe. I had settled on a Rat Terrier as my perfect smaller breed--sturdy, not as driven or dog-aggressive as a lot of the Jacks, and generally does well in agility. But Pam and Eddie (Eddie really) convinced me to come out and look at their litter.
I walked into the kennel room and there they were. Six 3-month-old puppies. All I could see at first were blurs that looked like little brown pieces of popcorn. Boing-bing-boing. I sat on the floor and was swarmed by tiny puppies. I was offered the choice of two males. One I decided was just a bit more reserved than I wanted. I still wasn't sure I wanted one at all. But I realized this was a great opportunity to get a really, really nice puppy. So Zipper entered m y life and the rest, as they say, is history.
Okay, I guess I've wandered all over the place with this post without ever addressing the title, which is that he's just so darn CUTE. After all these years of having big dogs, his very smallness is just totally fascinating to me. I love having a dog I can carry. I love having little crates, little food, little poops. But most of all, I'm totally fascinated with how much of a dog he is, just in a very small package. Which sounds stupid, but I think in my mind anything that little should be a cat. Not a dog. His feet are no bigger than my thumb for Lord's sake. Yet he is all dog and all boy-dog at that. Last night I gave him a rub down before I went to sleep. He stood there and hummed with pleasure. And yep, he was just so darn CUTE.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I'm not one of those women. Really. I decided long ago to embrace being a bad housekeeper. If that means I rarely have company over, so be it. I'm clean, my clothes are clean, the dogs are clean and the dishes get done. What more do you want!
I'm also really bad about picking up the dog yard. It's a pretty good sized yard, and in the summer mother nature takes care of the messes pretty well. I have a dog door in my basement, and the dogs let themselves out and well, life is good.
Now Viva is pica. If you don't know what that means, it means that she eats things. In her case, cloth. Anything she can get ahold of. It's gotten worse through the years. So now all blankets, coverlets, and throws will be eaten. And digested. She's getting old, her bones hurt some, and I don't like leaving her in a bare crate--but it's that or have her eat whatever bedding I put in there. And at night, she eats anything I leave on the couch, down to the cushions.
Cala isn't as bad, though she too will indulge in some cloth eating. But woe betide the stuffed toy, which gets devoured with relish.
And of course everything that goes in must come out. Which is why I looked out my kitchen window the other day and realized my back yard looked like an explosion at a carpet factory. It's been a bad winter, which has meant Viva doesn't take a step into the yard she doesn't have to--so the effect was especially bad nearer the house. And I've got a guy coming to Mow. So there I was last night, picking up poop. And more poop, and lots and lots of poop-impregnated-with-cloth. Not fun. But my yard looks much better today!
Except I looked out there the other day and it looked like an explosion at a carpet factory
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
But green? What a nondescript word. Which is probably why we have so many different kinds of green. Forest. Celery. Sage. Chartreuse. Kelly. Emerald. Spring. Grass. I'm sure there are more I'm leaving out. And even with those, the words just aren't right. Take Grass Green. Visualize it. Now, really. Does that look at all like green grass? Not in my part of the world. Not right now.
A little less than a week ago I posted about Spring being Spranging, and I could tell because it was warm and the trees were starting to bud. That was last Wednesday. This is Tuesday. Last week the grass was still mostly dead and spring was weather, not color.
Well there's been some explodiating going on. BOOM. Five days. Friday no trees were blooming and no daffodils were out. Today yards and woods are still a sculpture of grey branches, but glowing in absolute full bloom is every tree that puts out flowers. Cherry, crabapple, bradford pear, wild plum, redbud, pink magnolia, dogwood. Wham. Here it is folks!
And today the grass is green. No, it wasn't green yesterday. Swear to God, yesterday it was still mostly brown. Today it's green. And it's not grass green either. It's throbbing, pulsing, almost hard-to-look at. It's shades of neon down to deepest black. If you are so unfortunate as to live in the west or Southwest, you have never seen this green. Today, here in central Missouri, you walk out a door, any door, and you gasp. The eye has been resigned these past months to a muted subtle palate of sedge, tan, grey, and brown overlaid at times with blue white snow. At first, the eye isn't quite sure what to DO with this color. It blinks and tears up a little. A painful green this, for just a moment until the brilliance of it stabs into your soul and you gasp with the exiliration of its glory.
Today, grass is the star. The blooming trees serve a complimentary color to its lushness, but they cannot draw the eye from the green, even in their glory.
Tomorrow or the next day the other greens will show up, building a symphony of harmonics. The acid green of walnut and elm tree leaves. The pinkish beige with the barest hint of sage that is the tiny new leaf of hundred year old whiteoaks.
Today however, has only one green.
Monday, March 26, 2007
She always was a good actress.
Tough, driven, determined. Screams through life at 90 miles an hour and lord help anybody who gets in the way. Hardest dog I've ever trained. I sometimes say that Cala is the dog that makes me look like a bad dog trainer.
I think the honest truth is that Cala is the dog that proves I still have a long way to go as a dog trainer. The truth is she really does care about pleasing me and hates when I get mad at her but she just always forgets that until she's in the middle of what she wanted to do.
Cala is probably the smartest dog I've ever owned, and I've never owned a dumb one. Clicker trained and shaped, given the opportunity to think and problem solve, she demonstrates both the best and worst qualities of that technique. Seeing a conundrum she will actively work to solve it, trying the most obvious course first, then puzzling through all other permutations. And "give up" is just not in her vocabulary. Unfortunately a lot of her effort goes into things like stealing kleenex, eating paper (she ate, entirely, one of Zipper's show photos), and endless permutations of "get Mom to throw the toy." This dog would probably die happy if I just threw a toy for her 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Well I take that back. If I threw the ball 6 hours and did agility the other 6 hours.
No one who has watched Cala on an agility course ever forgets her. Yodeling and screaming with each step, her motto is "more is better." She once racked up 15 faults on an Open Jumpers course, completing her own version of the course twice and within course time. The judge told me she got carpal tunnel from raising her hands so much.
So baby girl, happy birthday. May we enjoy each day we have together. If you keep showing me that life is something to be attacked at full speed with a yell, maybe I'll finally learn the lesson myself.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Saturday, March 24, 2007
It was Errand Afternoon. I loaded all three dogs in the car. I needed to run by the store, get gas, go by Vicki's house and let out her dogs for her since she was at a wedding in Kansas City today. I then went to the new building, checked to make sure it was secure and to see if mail had come, and worked Cala on some of the agility equipment. Then we headed to Bradford.
Had a great walk at Bradford though I had to haul Zipper's little stub tail out of a hole when he decided he could do earthdog for real and tried to go down something ominously large--groundhog? Badger? (and yes, we saw a badger out there last year and it scared the beejaysus out of all of us). Loaded dogs back in the car. Got everybody water.
I guess now is a good time to describe my van. I have a Windstar. The two Dobe crates face the back tailgate. Behind Viva's crate, facing the passenger side sliding door, is Zipper's little crate. And at the moment, the rest of the van is pretty much a mess. Extra coats and beds, blankets, training stuff, toys from past agility trials, leads, collars, bumpers, dumbbells, harnesses, tracking line, flags--it's a huge muddled pile that I need to conquer sometime soon, because something tells me there are some treats-gone-bad somewhere in the pile. Got the picture in your head? Okay.
I went to a nice leisurely (and cheep!) supper at Tequila's with a friend. I left the back vents open on the van and the windows gapped about 6". Locked it and left. The dogs are so used to being in the car that it's pretty much just like home.
Finished supper and gossip (a bit thin on the gossip since a lot of people are out of town this weekend), wandered back to the car, got in, and started home. Windows were still open and when I heard a rustling sound right behind my seat I assume it's the wind. I came to a stoplight. I heard another rustle. A LOUD one. Craned my head around, and spotted a little red nose, very definitely not in his crate. Scares the crap out of me! How did he get out of his crate? Did somebody try to steal him? Snapped my head the other direction, looked at his crate. The door isn't open, but it could be unlatched, I couldn't tell and the light had turned green.
I called the little snot and reached my hand back. He came to my hand and I lifted him into my lap. I found a lead in the ball-o-crap behind the seats and clipped it on him. Zipper got to ride the rest of the way home in rare style, being a REAL dog, hanging his head out the window. Back legs on my legs, front legs on the door sill. He thought it was the coolest thing evah. I hate to tell him it's very unlikely to happen again!
When I got home, the first thing I did was check where he was rustling around and see if he'd eaten anything. Looks like maybe a mint. Then I walked around and looked at his crate.
Shut and latched.
Now there are a few things that could have happened.
a) Somebody broke into my car, let Zipper out of his crate, relatched the crate, left him in the ball-o-crap, relocked my car, and left. Without causing Viva and Cala to go ape-shit and alert half the county.
b) Zipper figured out how to unlatch his crate. Let himself out, re-latched his crate, and had fun in the ball-o-crap till I got back.
c) When I put Zipper in the car and got water for him, I poured him water, put it in his crate, latched his crate, and FORGOT TO PUT THE DOG IN THE CRATE.
Gee. Wonder which one it was?
I mean, this is really sad. I got the other dogs in their crates, I put water in his crate. It's a wire crate for Lord's sake. You'd think I'd notice that the dog wasn't in there!!
I think I need a brain transplant.
The vet tech at my new vet is, um, interesting. Out here in the boonies (i.e., so way not California) we don't see tons of heavily tattoed people in everyday life. Bars, yes. Bikers, yes. Gas stations, yes. Vet tech with flames running up his arm, a thin goatee, and big bolts in his ears? Hmmmm. That's a bit startling.
First time I saw him I'm sure I gaped a bit. But here's the thing. He's got a great hand with the dogs and Zipper adores him. All the dogs do. So here's to tattooes!
Friday, March 23, 2007
We all know about the pet food recall. Or at least if you don't know, you must have been on Mars or something. And though of course I, like everyone, was sympathetic at first I didn't think it touched me. After all, I feed dry food, not wet.
Except that last year I did feed some wet food. And some of it was pouched slices in gravy food that I picked up trying to find stuff that Zipper would eat. And there were a couple of times in the past few months that Zipper got sick. He'd be fine, then he'd have a night where he'd throw up and seem to feel awful, then 24 hours later he'd seem fine again. And at times he was drinking a lot of water. I thought maybe it was a little dog thing.
Now my memory isn't the greatest. Am I sure I fed one of the affected brands? No. Am I sure it happened during the period of time the food was known to be poisoned? No. Am I sure that's what made him sick? No. But it sure is a lot of coincidence.
So tomorrow it's off to the vet with Mr. Zip for a blood test for kidney function. He seems fine--he can make it through the night without any trouble at all, he doesn't drink excessively. But I'm worried about my little guy. I do know that even when I fed it, I fed small amounts on top of his existing food. Let's hope I'm wrong, let's hope he's fine and will continue to be fine.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
If he was human he'd be the one that retired to the bathroom for an hour at precisely 9:00 a.m. and lord forfend nature not be as prompt.
The current schedule includes: I get up. I go sit on the bathroom register until Mom gets in the shower. I go to my crate before she gets out. Always. Do I go out the doggie door during that time? Mom doesn't know. I play on the bed while Mom gets dressed, then torture the Dobermans while the food is being poured. As for my food? I am a warrior, I like to be challenged. So I don't eat until the 60 pound dog with a head as big as me comes and looms over me, threatning to take it all for herself. Then I eat.very.slowly. Just to spite her.
After I eat, I go into my clubhouse crate and go back to sleep. Do not disturb me. No, I do NOT want to go out before you go to work. Leave me alone. I'll wait till lunch.
Lunchtime. I go outside, I smell the news, I putter around. Here? No, that's not quite the right spot today. How about over here? Hmmmm, not sure, let me check this spot first. (fifteen minutes later), oh, hey, perfect spot!
When Mom gets home it's time to play. Yes, you have to. No, not playing is not an option. Play, play, play and if you really love me you'll take me to Bradford. Short of that, you better entertain me.
8:30. Time for my last walk. No, I'll let myself out thank you.
9:00. Time for bed. I don't care if you're ready, I'm ready. I expect you up here, providing me with a custom person-cushion.
Thank you for your cooperation. Set in my ways? No, not at all!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
But the trees and birds are saying it's time to be spring DAMMIT and sure enough, here it comes. Last night Zipper and I both levitated about a foot out of bed with a huge BOOM of thunder. The first spring storms are starting to roll through.
Tonight it was time for Bradford. What's Bradford you say? Oh, about 400 acres of open cropland and field. Drive down the farm road, lift the van gate, unlatch the crates, and two Dobermans explode out, hitting the ground at a dead run, then curvetting to bark, growl, wrestle. One Min Pin is screeching from the side door--let me out! let me out! Open his crate and he arcs straight out, a dark red blur in full cry.
Cala takes the lead in a big, full speed circle. In her prime, she flattens and reaches, eating ground at a tremendous rate, a sleek, black, dangerous bullet. Her mother, nearing 10, comes behind, yalping her displeasure that she is no longer as fleet of foot as she used to be. Slow down! slow down! And in a high staccato, Zipper is double forte picatta; legs pumping so fast they blur, spine flexing.
Five minutes of chaos resolves into a sort of order. Cala scalloping back and forth, now a canter, now a full-out gallop, just because it feels good. Viva hunting corn cobs, Zipper weaving in counterpoint to Cala, ever on the alert for vole-holes. He has managed to seduce Cala to the lure of warm, furry rodent and it's a rare walk where they don't pause, she digging furiously, he alternately getting in her way, chasing her dirt clods, or mimicing her with his far less powerful feet.
Tonight is a good night for me--they didn't roll in anything dead! And a disappointing one for them--nothing dead to roll in! Zipper ranges far, but always comes to my call. It's the first night they've been hot since December, and I regret not having water with me, so we curve slowly back to the car. The fields roil with migrating shorebirds who flip into the strong wind and curl away in waves.
More storms moving in on the south wind's gale, this will be the last walk for a few days.
Mostly this is a place for me to talk about dog stuff, Min Pin stuff, and the little red rat himself. Why name it the Pink Pin? Figure it out.
Fair warning. I cuss sometimes. And I'm blunt. Sometimes too blunt. I have a rather boring tendency to lecture, pontificate, and generally come across as a know-it-all though I don't mean to. I also gush embarrassingly about my dogs, and you'll have to listen to Doberman stuff on top of Pin stuff. Oh the torture!
I'm sure I'll gracelessly blunder around a lot in the Min Pin world. I've been a dobe person for the last 25 years and we tend to pretty much run over anything that's in our way at the best of times. I'm stepping into the Min Pin world with no knowledge of any of the inside politics, who is who, what should never-be-said, and who has a deathless hate for what other breeder because of some slight over 20 years ago. Okay, maybe that's just the Dobe people! Boy, in that club things can get ugly in a hurry.
So to all my future enemies, let me just say "I'm sorry, I didn't know" right in advance. Get it out of the way. I honestly never mean to hurt anybody's feelings or get myself in trouble, it just sort of happens sometimes.
As for the little red guy, well he thinks he's a Doberman too.