Thursday, June 28, 2007

Strength training....blech

I've been walking every week day now at the ARC for, oh, 5 weeks? Now that I have decent shoes the plantar fasciitis and shin splints have improved and I'm working up to 3 miles in 45 minutes. Not quite there yet, but getting close.

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

Happy drive

I've been leaving the dogs out in the mornings when I go to the gym. And mostly it's worked out really well. They haven't gotten into much and since they're crated all day, I like to leave them out during this time.

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

The Three Commandments of Training

My life pretty much revolves around my dogs, as do the lives of many of my friends. And if you're a dog person, training discussions are endless. Training methods vary wildly, so much so that people have come to blows over training methods. Friendships have been lost, feelings have been hurt. Clicker trainers get called clickeroos and dismissed as "cookie pushers"; traditional trainers are called brutal thugs and dog abusers. And even among trainers who have like-minded methodologies, there are just so many things to train that we sometimes get bogged down. Stays, recalls, front crosses, contacts. Collected jumping, shoulder dropping, voice and hand signals, about turns.

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

Christ I'm old

I finally have the shin splints under control. Two days off last weekend and not pushing too hard this week have put me in much better shape.

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

I love this dog

Really, honest, I do. Cala keeps me humble. She teaches me things every day. She keeps me guessing, she pushes all my buttons, and sometimes I truly want to strangle her. She's 60 pounds of beautiful sleek black-coated grace. Sharp as glass, too smart for her own good, impatient and intolerant of my mistakes. And lordy does she love life. Everything about it. She attacks her world head on, no-holds-barred, a black sledge hammer of determination and speed.

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

Morning ARC

Today I finished my third week of walking daily at the ARC. What's the ARC? It's the Columbia Activity Recreation Center (

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

Zipper, agility dog

He's scaring me. Really. All of a sudden, within a period of 3 or 4 weeks, I seem to have an agility dog on my hands. He went from no practice since last summer to a Foundations class. And from there to doing all the equipment happily and confidently at full height (which he was doing last year but it's been a year!) and sequencing, off leash!

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.

The DDGraphix store!