Monday, November 23, 2009

Putting on the Big Girl Pants

Cala, taken November 22, 2009

This summer I lost my heart dog. My once-in-a-lifetime dog. The dog who took me places I never thought I'd get to go. Viva was not young, but with a lot of relatives who lived to 14 and a dam who made it to 16, I was looking for more time. Hemangiosarcoma had a different idea, and she went from healthy to her last day in a span of two weeks.

Viva was an overwhelming presence in not just my life, but in our household, on the training field and at shows. She effortlessly and calmly dominated every room she entered. She was solid in her convictions and she was never wrong. Really. I'm not kidding. Not only was she always right, she was quite willing to tell you she was right, why you were wrong, and that you better straighten up, dammit. But she was also totally devoted to me. I never had a moment's doubt that Viva would lay her life down for me any time. Fortunately she was never called to do so, and instead I had to help her leave with grace and dignity. She even told me, in her blunt and uncompromising way, when it was time; not by asking but by demanding I let her go.

Then there was Cala, Viva's daughter. How, I often wondered, could this dog have come from Viva? Not only did Cala have no impulse control at all, she really didn't seem to care much about me, and nothing at all about anything I wanted. She never worked to please me, always herself. If doing something she wanted to do happened to coincide with what I wanted that was great, but if not, well so much for my wishes. From the moment of her birth it seems, Cala and I have done nothing but butt heads. I've often said that Cala is the dog whose primary role is to make me humble as a trainer and to teach me how to deal with tough dogs.

When Viva fell sick, I worried a lot about what would happen to Cala. Though sometimes it seemed that Cala and I were always at cross purposes, Cala really depended on her mother. She leaned on her, literally and figuratively. She often slept on top of a (grumbling and complaining but resigned) Viva. Viva was Cala's anchor. I knew Zipper would be okay; he would miss her but not in the same way. Cala I worried about quite a bit.
Cala and Zipper piled onto poor Viva, 2006

After Viva's death we all kind of reeled as a household. Cala was very subdued the first couple of months. We all grieved; I know I am still grieving. But then a very interesting thing happened. At age seven, Cala grew up and put on her big-girl pants. It was as if no longer having a mother meant she couldn't be the puppy any more. Without Viva to lean on, she had to stand her own four feet and learn to deal with life herself. She has stayed more subdued, but has added focus and maturity and a new willingness to work with me.

I've changed too. It was always hard to look beyond Viva, my perfect dog (not that she was perfect of course, but she was perfect for me). Without Viva to show her up so unfavorably, I've become much more patient with Cala, and more willing to work with her on her own terms, though they are different terms than Viva's. It seems maybe I've put on a pair of big girl pants too.

As a result, Cala and I have made huge progress. She's less hectic and more willing to listen. She's much calmer and easier to deal with around the house. I'm having a lot more fun with her too. I've started showing her a bit in agility again and though we haven't Qd and she's still her screaming self on the course, she's really trying to listen. In APDT Rally this past weekend she cleaned up, earning her Level 1 title with a 205, 209, 210 and then her first to L2 legs with two 210s and two first places. Here's a video of her second Level 2 run.

I will always mourn Viva. But I am also enjoying my new relationship with Cala. It seems it's never too late for old dogs (and old trainers) to learn something new.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Rally can learn from Agility

Rally was originally proposed as a mix between Obedience and Agility. But, most people will say, it really has almost nothing to do with agility. The only agility-like aspects of Rally are the numbered course and the fact that it's timed. Other than that, Rally is very firmly rooted in Obedience. The signs and their performance are all Obedience tasks.

Further, many Rally people have never done agility. They may be new to dog sport, or they may have done obedience or be taking obedience classes. But there is one fundamental way that Rally does relate to agility that many people simply don't think about.

In Obedience, a dog progresses from task to task, with a break in between. Heel on leash. Break. Figure 8. Break. Stand for exam. Break. Heel off leash. Break. Recall. In Obedience, the "between exercises" break time is when the handler can praise the dog, and the dog gets mental and physical time off, even if just for a few seconds. It can be a way to keep the dog relaxed. But it can also signal a mental disconnect, then the need to reconnect as the team moves on to the next segment.

In agility, there are no breaks. You start at the first jump and end at the last, and the rest of the course is a constant flow of multiple tasks. Even on the table, the dog is expected to hold attention and position. In agility, good handlers know to treat the course as a single piece. While novice agility handlers will occasionally handle each jump and obstacle separately, not thinking about the next thing down the line till they get there, that doesn't last long. You quickly learn in agility that if you are not planning two to three obstacles ahead you are not going to be setting an efficient line. And in agility there is certainly no time to stop and see what number you're on, figure out what you're supposed to do there, then do it. In agility, all of the obstacles are well known and trained ahead of time and the handler walks the course until he or she feels confident of what needs to happen to create an overall fluent, fast, efficient, smooth line.

The problem is, too many people treat Rally courses like Obedience with breaks. They heel to a sign, peer at it to make sure they know what it is, sort out the details in their head (reminding themselves that this is the call front with/without a halt, or the spiral with the dog INside), complete the sign, then heel to the next sign and do it all over again. They do not think ahead from one sign to the next, much less about how their speed and line exiting one sign may affect approach and performance of the next. They certainly don't think of the Rally course as a single unit, to be accomplished as one piece. As a result, we see a lot of slow, jerky, and/or hesitant performances. Doing Rally this way is handling piecemeal, and the score and time will reflect it.

In Rally, there are no breaks for praise. The team is supposed to start at the Start sign and keep going until the Finish sign. When you think of it that way, it becomes clear that Rally competitors need to walk and plan their Rally course as they would an agility course. Handling as a single line will produce a much smoother, faster run that is a lot more fun to do and to watch.

The first and perhaps most important thing is to know the Rally rules and signs before entering. Handlers should understand each sign at a glance and have the performance of each sign ingrained so they don't have to actually think about it, and can let their subconscious take over the task. This also means that the dog knows its job. Dog and handler confidence begets smoothness.

If you really know and understand the signs, then your walk through can be focused on pace and smoothness. Walk the course once to make sure you know where everything is and what follows what. Then walk the course with an eye to how the *next* sign affects your line on the sign you are currently performing. How will your exit from the call-front-finish-right carry you to the offset figure 8? How should you pace and angle your jump in order to have a smooth transition to that 270 right? Think ahead. What we learn in agility is that often, a mistake at a jump actually started three jumps prior with a poor cue or a bad line.

Finally, walk the course as many times you can as a complete flowing line. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders back and head up and striding out in a brisk, smooth pace. You have a destination. That destination is not the next sign, it's the finish line.

Like agility, Rally should be a dance between dog and handler moving as a cohesive whole throught the course. Walk and think of your Rally course as you would an agility course, and see how your performance improves.

When you come off the course, ideally you should be able to close your eyes and draw a mental picture of the whole course. Try to see it as a diagram with a continual line from start to finish.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It's not about the Q

I've been sitting on this post for awhile, partly because I wanted to think about it a bit, and partly because I've been busy.

I want to talk a bit about my favorite run of my entire weekend a couple of weeks ago when we went to Glen Carbon for a 3-day agility trial. It's probably my very first time at a trial where I felt like Zipper and I were totally in sync. He was running hard, I was getting my cues out on time and he was just faultless. Everything felt graceful and coordinated. It was one of those runs you will remember forever.

Later in the weekend, I had another Jumpers run I didn't like as much. I had cut my walk through short because Zip was first on the line, and I didn't feel I really knew the course as well. Zipper likes to be out of his crate a good amount of time before running, and he started out a bit sniffy the first couple of jumps. I got his head up, but felt like the rest of the run was a constant battle of pulling irons out of the fire. He was wanting to stress zoom and I kept getting him back last second.

The first run was an NQ, because it took three tries to get Zipper into the weaves. When I said, after the second run, that I didn't care for it much, I kind of got chastised for being "too hard on myself." "It was a Q! You did a great job!" And indeed it was a Q. But it was not the same as the first run.

The thing is, it's not about the Q. It's about the teamwork and timing and partnership with your dog. I'm as glad as anybody to take the Q and run, but that run is not the one I'll remember. The first run is.

At this same trial, I encountered a friend who has a very stressy young dog that she's having trouble getting to even go around the course. She is incredibly frustrated and thinking about quitting. I feel that if she sticks with it, it will come through for her in the end, but I don't blame her for questioning whether she should go on with a dog who appears to not like it. But the key there is that she says the dog is fast and accurate at home. I hope she does stick with it, and refinds the joy of being in the ring with her dog.

After the trial, I talked to another friend. She told me she has made a big difference with her dog simply by stopping her obsession over the Q. I had told her (in one of my very infrequent moments of brilliance I guess) that it was NOT about the Q. And she had decided to take it to heart. As a result, her dog was running faster and happier at that last trial than I've ever seen him, and she was too.

Yesterday morning, a World Team member lost her dog. The dog simply dropped dead in practice. No warning, no symptoms. Gone in an instant.

So here's the message. It's a simple one, yet so hard for us humans to get through our thick skulls. It's really not about the Q. Ever. It's about being in the moment with your dog and glorying in what you have, when you have it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

She's now gone

I realized I had updated pretty much everyone but readers of this blog. Viva is now gone, and for some of you that is news you've already heard. It's been almost two weeks since I let her go, less than two weeks before that she was fine.

The house is quiet without her. Zipper and Cala and I look at each other, nonplussed. So far Cala is doing okay, she's the one I worried about the most. She and Zipper are starting to play again. But there's a gigantic hole, so large I can't span it with thought or deed.

I'll be getting another Min Pin. Soon Prada, Ch Regatta Devil Wears Prada, will come to live with us thanks to Pam, Zipper's breeder. Zipper will be thrilled to welcome his niece. Not so sure about Cala, but my guess is we'll end up okay after some initial adjustment.

I'm making myself train, and that helps. But it's hard even to do that. Viva was entered in a Rally trial in St. Louis the day I took her to Dr. Wendy to let her go. I knew it was the right thing to do, I knew it was time. She was ready. I was not. I'm still not. But it will get better.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where the MU Vet Hospital Goes Wrong

I have an old dog. Eleven and a half; okay, 11 and 3/4. She is beloved this dog. The best dog I have ever owned or probably ever will. A part of my life and my soul, I have always felt honored and humble that I have been allowed to share her life. And like many old dogs, she has become such a part of me that she is an extension of my thought. We understand each other, though the slightest gesture or flick of the eye.

If you have ever had a beloved dog, maybe you'll understand why I am so angry at the vet school. Maybe not. Nonetheless, I'm furious, and after years of similar stories, both personally and from friends, I'm like that guy on the old movie from the 1970s called "Network." I'm mad a hell and I'm not going to take it any more.

Last weekend, my normally very fit and capable dog, who looks more like she's six than nearing 12, suddenly got very weak and began to look a bit pot-bellied. This morning found me with a 9:45 appointment at the vet school for an abdominal ultrasound. Extensive testing through the week is drawing us toward a probably inescapable cancer diagnosis. I went to MUVTH armed with multiple xrays and extensive bloodwork results from my GP Vet, the capable Dr. Wendy Forbes of Rock Bridge Animal Hospital. She and I had been working on this through the week. The ultrasound was to show us more clearly what's going on in Viva's abdomen. A mass is almost certain, the question being whether it's splenic or kidney or even something else.

And that's really all I want to know. I'm not planning dramatic intervention. She's a dog who has had a fantastic quality of life and to me, quality is far more important than quantity. So the reason I was referred, the only reason I was there, was to get an ultrasound.

I was escorted in fairly quickly by the student, who gave Viva a somewhat cursory exam, then disappeared to get the attending. And we waited. And waited. Me on the hard bench plank, Viva on the ice cold linoleum floor. For an hour. Finally a Resident appeared, and began to give Viva another exam. "Oh honey," she said to Viva, "you're shivering!" And I replied, "Ya think? She's been laying on this cold floor for an hour." I mean, come on. They left an old, sick dog in a breed with very little coat for an hour on a cold floor, why shouldn't she be shivering?

The resident, in her best "I'm the pro and you're an idiot" voice, started to explain to me some of the tests they would like to do.

[ETA: The resident actually told me what they wanted to do before she even looked at Viva. She examined Viva after she outlined what they wanted, then outlined what they wanted again after the exam.]

"Well, we'd like to do another CBC. And of course, depending on what the ultrasound finds, we'd like to do a fine needle aspirate (and I had to stop her from explaining what that is, I *know* what it is), though with her platelets so low that might be a bit iffy, then we'd like to do a bone marrow tap."

"I really just want the ultrasound."

"Oh. Well, okay, let's see. We'll need to take some xrays too."

"You have x-rays." (her hand was on them for God's sake.)

"Well, we may need to take some more."

"Why? You have xrays."

"Xrays would probably be required if you want an ultrasound."

"Then forget it, I won't do the ultrasound."

(she's looking at me like I've sprouted two heads, because I won't go along with her 'Doctor knows best, let's charge everything we possibly can' scenario.)

"Well let me see, let's see what it would be without xrays." (cogitating ensues, in which the student points out they don't have a price structure for ultrasound without xrays, which is ludicrous, because a) they have her xrays and b) you really DON'T need xrays when you do an ultrasound)

"Okay, it'll be about $300."

They wanted $300 freaking dollars to wave a wand around on my dog's belly for a few minutes. Further, I was informed that no, of course I couldn't stay with my dog and it would take two hours "or so." I told them I couldn't afford $300, so they looked at each other again with that look of 'how dare she not fall into line like a sheep' look and said they would consult. They left the room. I promptly called the other place in town that does ultrasounds, which we hadn't chosen first because they couldn't get me in till this afternoon. Their price was almost half less than MU's. So when they came back in and said, brightly, "oh, we can reduce it to $260!" I said thanks, I'm leaving.

"Oh, um, well, we think from her bloods she might have a rectal bleed so we want to test that and see if we can give you some meds for it." (they do a digital exam and say, somewhat regretfully, they can't find anything).

For all that, for having to wait an hour to be seen, and for the privilege of them doing absolutely nothing for my dog, I paid $92.

And maybe I shouldn't be so furious. But let me tell you the things that infuriate me about MUVTH.

First, I should not have to wait an hour to be seen, especially with a sick dog.

Second, I feel the vet school grossly overcharges and deliberately adds on unneeded tests in an attempt to get fees up. In the past, I have been lectured and yelled at for not going with the most expensive treatment possible.

Third, and this is a big one, is not being able to stay with my dog. They take your dog away and do whatever they want. I've had my dogs used as student guinea pigs before, including a dog who came back so bruised from a liver biopsy that his entire belly turned completely black. I think medicine "behind closed doors" is an extremely poor way of doing business. If, indeed, the departments are set up in such a way that there isn't room for owners, then that should be remedied. This is supposed to be a state of the art facility. Owners do deserve to be in on what's going on.

Which brings me to my last point. I never felt (and have never felt when taking any dog to the teaching hospital) that my views or knowledge were in any way respected or even considered. I have always felt condescended to, ignored, and sometimes as if I was just an extra to be gotten away from the dog as soon as possible, so stupid that anything I said was dismissed on its face. It's completely infuriating and always gets my back up so yep, I tend to get surly.

Yes, some owners are pretty clueless. But it doesn't follow that all are, and even those who are deserve respect and someone really listening to what they are saying. Which I never seem to get at MU, where my knowledge in some areas probably way outstrips that of most of the staff.

Some of us have been trying to address these pervasive problems with the vet school for years. I could tell you almost a dozen horror stories, all dogs I know or have owned personally. But the administration is patently uninterested in listening to us, and certainly not in making any sort of change to the way it does things. I bet it brings in a lot of money from the unsuspecting dog owners who don't know better. It's sad, and it needs to end.

Meanwhile, my old dog and I are home. She'll have her ultrasound this afternoon, and I'll be right in the room with her so that I too can see what's going on and help keep her calm.

[ETA: Viva had her ultrasound yesterday afternoon at The Pet Center, with Dr. Miller. They got me right in. I was able to stay with Viva, which helped a lot to keep her calm. We looked at her for about 15 minutes while Dr. Miller very patiently explained what he was seeing. I was able to see her organs right along with him which was extremely interesting and educational. This is how veterinary medicine should be practiced. Thank you Pet Center!]

Monday, May 11, 2009

ASCA weekend

Last weekend was ASCA here in town. I really enjoy ASCA, it's my favorite venue besides AKC. On impulse I entered Zipper in everything. Five runs a day over two days. He's in Elite Jumpers and Regular, and I even decided to try Novice Gamblers. Turns out Zipper was one of three 12" dogs entered all weekend, the second being Joan Meyer's Niel, who was in Novice and Open, and Kathy's Kip, who was entered Saturday only and not in all classes. As was typical in small trials, often I had jumps set just for me.

Saturday was two rounds of Gamblers, two of Regular and one Jumpers. And to my astonishment, Zipper actually Qd in his first round of Gamblers. He really doesn't have distance skills, but it was a fairly easy one. You had to flip the dog out over the gamble line to a tunnel, then out of that tunnel to a jump, another tunnel straight ahead, then a bonus jump. He had no trouble at all. The second Gamble was a different story It was a jump out to the aframe, then come back toward the handler and finally flip back away again for a tunnel. And Zip decided he wasn't doing the aframe (a sporadically recurrant problem). Instead, when I told him out he went WAY OUT, past the aframe and to the weaves. Oops.

Next was Regular, and we got one Q there, then in the second round he went around the last jump. In ASCA there are no refusals. But if the dog misses the very last jump and crosses the finish line (which thanks to electronic timing IS the last jump) they are NQ. Rats.

Sunday, we started with Jumpers and Zip was clean both rounds but a second over time. I'd taken the dogs for a run after the show the day before and something had made him itchy so I'd had to give him an allergy pill. Next was Regular again, and in that round he just flat ran out of gas. I pulled him from the rest of the runs and brought him home, and he totally fell out. Poor little kid was tired.

We had a lot of plusses and I'm glad I entered, but I'm not sure I'll enter him that many runs a day again.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mandatory Spay Neuter. Is it a good idea?

A mandatory spay/neuter could force sterilization of dogs like my Zipper, Ch Regatta It's About Time, OA, AXJ, RS-O, JS-O, UAg1. Zipper is the #5 agility Min Pin in the country.

Columbia's Board of Health, along with the Central Missouri Humane Society, are contemplating passing an ordinance which would require all pets in Columbia to be spayed or neutered.

It sounds good on the surface. We have, according to CMHS and the , a pet overpopulation problem. We need to take care of that problem. If everyone would just spay/neuter, the problem would go away, right? No new dogs and cats being born would mean much less burden on Animal Control and CMHS. The sun would shine, and the birds would sing. All would be right in Columbia.

Or would it?

The first and most important question to ask when contemplating a new law is, will it work? Addendums to that question include, how would it be paid for, who, if anyone, would be harmed, who would benefit, and how would it affect the local economy?

Unfortunately, a mandatory spay/neuter law would not work, which is why similar moves by other municipalities all over the U.S. have failed. Why wouldn't it work? Oh let us count the ways.

First, its totally unenforceable. There is no way to ensure that every pet in Columbia is altered. Inspectors would have to go from house to house on a search. And if it's tied into licensing, that won't work either. People simply will not license their dogs. If people who don't want to spay/neuter know that if they go to the vet they'll be required to do so, they will not go to the vet. Thus more animals will become sick and not get treatment and even more will remain unaltered.

There's no way to pay for it. The costs for such a program would far outstrip any license fees gained, because, see above, compliance with licensing would falter. Of course draconian fees could be instituted for those who wish their animals to remain intact, but that too discourages participation. Even worse, it punishes responsible breeders and forces those of us who DO take care of our dogs to pay for the idiots who don't.

A moment to discuss responsible breeders. Responsible breeders are dog lovers who have a hobby, usually showing dogs and also occasionally breeding. Most breed very few litters (I've bred a whopping two litters since I got my first Doberman in 1981). No responsible breeder ever breeds for money. Responsible breeders have a deep passionate admiration for their breed or breeds, and when they do decide to whelp a litter it's always with the mandate of improving the gene pool of the breed as a whole. It's never, ever for money. Responsible breeders have long waiting lists for puppies. Responsible breeders do not have dogs that end up in shelters, because responsible breeders are willing to take back any dog they have produced, at any time, for any reason, no question asked. We want to know *exactly* what happens to each and every life we produce and we are dead serious about it.

Responsible breeders do genetic health tests on their dogs prior to breeding. They show their dogs to ensure they have correct temperament and structure. It's a hobby. And just like Golf or Fishing, you throw money at it. You rarely if ever get money back. Most responsible breeders are far from wealthy. Finally and perhaps most importantly, responsible breeders are just as concerned as anyone else about the problem of unwanted dogs, and a huge majority of them are involved in rescue in some way or another.

Okay, back to why this won't work. On top of not being enforceable and being very expensive you just can't legislate morality. The idiots down the road from me breeding their pit bulls every six months are not going to obey some law. They're going to keep breeding.

And let's talk economic impact. Columbia holds a large conformation dog show as well as several agility trials each year. Mandatory Spay/Neuter could force relocation of those events, which have a multi-million dollar impact on the Columbia economy. It would also hurt dog training businesses such as CCSC who train dogs for show as well as pet companions.

And the question is, what is the problem in Columbia? Is it truly that there are too many pets and too few homes? Or is it that irresponsible owners are not properly taking care of and training their pets? Is it that too many owners think of their pets as disposable commodities, to be discarded at the first hint of inconvenience? I don't have any numbers (and would be glad to see any) but I bet that the number of actual puppy litters turned in to CMHS is fairly small. I bet most dogs turned into CMHS are adolescents to old age. Which means they HAD A HOME. But that home dumped them. If that's true, then it's not that there are too few homes. It's that there are too few responsible homes. And mandatory spay/neuter, even if it worked, would not even begin to address that issue.

So what is the solution? I think it's three-fold.

First, the city should work together with the University of Missouri Veterinary Teaching Hospital to offer free spay/neuter clinics. Not low-cost, free. No questions asked. To pay for it, grants could be applied for and licensing fees could go up a moderate amount (perhaps $2 or $3).

Second, the city should use the internet and other dissemination that's free or very low cost to launch a publicity campaign to help inform the community and encourage participation.

Third, the city and CMHS should work proactively with training centers like CCSC to offer discounted training opportunities for people with pets. A dog that is trained is far less likely to be given up than a dog who is untrained. Many owners give up their dogs because they simply do not have the tools they need to deal with behaviors they don't want.

Positive proactive action will get results. Punitive laws with no teeth and no chance of effectiveness will not.

Friday, April 17, 2009

AKC Adding Mixed Breeds

AKC to accept Mixed Breeds in 2010

The great news of the week is that starting in April 2010, the AKC will allow mixed breeds to participate in Agility, Obedience, and Rally. This is a tremendous opportunity for Mixed Breed owners and their dogs.

While there are a number of other organizations that allow mixes in agility, including UKC, USDAA, ASCA, NADAC, CPE, and DOCNA, not all of them are available locally. And even the ones who are seen locally are not numerous. In Columbia, each year we have one UKC trial, two ASCA trials and (starting this June) USDAA. You can find more opportunities in Kansas City and St. Louis, but still not that many per year, maybe a total of 10-15 trials for all those venues combined. In contrast, There are many AKC trials available. Not just the two in Columbia, but many in Kansas City, Lawrence Kansas, St. Louis, etc.

For owners of mixed breeds wishing to do Obedience or Rally, the change is even more striking. They will go from having perhaps one or two opportunities per year in a 100 miles radius to many.

AKC's new program will be a particular boon to our local 4H kids, many of whom have mixes. I'm super-excited about the new program and can't wait for it to start!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Do a demo for us!

My van, fully loaded. There are two Dobermans and a Min Pin under there, and you can't even see the other tunnel...

Now that it's out of the van, it looks a bit more organized.

Ginger takes a break in a lull between crowds.

Jura goes after a thrown toy as a reward.

Vegas, Mr. Suave and Persuasive. Do you have a treat for me? I am starving you know.

"Come do a demo for us" they say. "It's for a great cause, and you'll get a lot of exposure."

And they're right of course. It is always for a great cause, and it is super exposure for our training center. And we enjoy doing them. So we usually do at least two or three a year, and yet we also turn down several others each year. Why?

Because holy beejeebus, it's a crapload of work.

Today, we had a demo at the MU Veterinary Teaching Hospital Open House. We were set for three performances of 10-15 minutes each at 10:30, 11:30, and 12:30. For this Open House, we spent several hours copying brochures and locating our other paperwork (enrollment forms, business cards, the form for our new summer camp for kids, etc). Then we went to the training center last night and pulled two sets of 6 weave poles, 8 metal 4' solid-base jumps, two 15' tunnels, 8 tunnel weights, poles and bars, 20 sets of ring gates, feet to go on the ring gates so they'd stand up, the CCSC sign (digging frantically in the closet to find the darn thing), one of our exercise balls, rally signs and stands, cones, and chairs. I also made sure we had sun screen, paperclips and clipboards. For the dogs I had treats and their training bags, but that stays pretty prepped.

Then this morning we had to load it all. Two other people had already loaded the gates, rally stuff, and paperwork. I arrived at our building before 8:00 a.m. and loaded the two tunnels, weights, four of the metal jumps, all of the jump bars and both sets of weave poles. All on top of three dogs. I found I couldn't fit the rest of the metal jumps in, so instead went and pulled four more jumps, our freestanding wing jumps.

Off to breakfast, then we arrived at the site at 9:30. After some confusion about where we actually were supposed to be, we now had to unload everything and set up our rings. We started setting ring gates only to find that one Bachelor's Degree (me) and one PhD (Ginger) can't count for snot. We needed 26 sets of ring gates for the size rings we wanted, not 20. But having learned the hard way that at demos you always gate everything, we made our rings smaller instead of leaving gates out. If you don't gate everything, people try to drag their dogs through tunnels and over jumps willy-nilly, willing or not. Since we don't like to see dogs traumatized for life by well-meaning but naive owners, we gate. Today we also had to deal with high winds, so we ended up using tracking stakes from Steve and Jamie's van to help hold things down.

So after almost another hour of setup, we were finally ready for our first demo. And that's always the fun part. Talking to people, especially kids, about a sport I love to do, one that is accessible to all dogs of all sizes, shapes, and types, is great. The crowds were wonderful, the kids asked funny and perceptive questions. We were a bit shorthanded this demo, with Andrea in Omaha and Kathy in Wichita. Steve and Jamie had a dog, and I worked all three of mine, even 11 1/2 year old Viva. Ginger worked both her adult Springers and the 3 month old puppy had a great time with the crowd. Liz showed up with Standard Schnauzer Vegas and he demonstrated the exercise ball. We talked and explained until my voice was pretty much gone.

Our dogs were, I have to say, amazing. They worked the rings and the crowds, allowed innumerable hands to pet them and lots of chirping children's voices over their heads. Viva, the old Dobe, is a pro at this stuff, but Zipper the Min Pin is still young and I was just so thrilled with his attitude and patience. Ditto the Springers, the Weim Faith who was pretty much always mobbed, and Vegas too.

Finally we were finished with demos, but not at all finished with our day. We had vet student help to break things down, but we still had to repack the cars, then haul it all back to the building, take it all out and put it back. Even though our last show was at 12:30, it was almost 2:30 before I and the dogs finally arrived home. Where they promptly crashed into sound sleeps, exhausted by their day.

We do love to do demos, but now perhaps people may understand why we just don't do that many...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Back in the groove

This week I feel that I'm really able to get back to training for the first time since tearing my calf muscle. While the calf isn't totally healed, I'm at a point where I can run and even jump with it. I just need to be really careful to warm up properly.

After what has been almost a month of very little work or diminished capacity, I felt that on Monday night Zipper was sluggish and very distracted. He was doing a lot of sniffing and watching dogs outside of the ring rather than actually working. He did get all 12 weave poles when he did them, but overall I was pretty discouraged.

Last night was a different story. It seemed as if he really snapped into place again. I was able to do some really nice handling. I worked on calling him down the dogwalk as I ran and being aggressive in my handling to show him his line; watching all those great teams at the AKC National had some influence! Bonus, he did some nice voluntary heeling too. He only got distracted a couple of times and I was able to get him going again. Tonight will probably be a night off, then tomorrow night is our last class of the session. I'm going to re-enroll him in the same class again next session because I had to miss so much of this one.

This weekend will be my first runs on more uneven ground, at the Vet School Open House Demo.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I'm home!

Landed in Columbia MO last night at 9:00. Picked up my well-taken-care-of but happy to see me dogs and went home. This morning it was back to the usual routine, though I confess getting up at 5:00 a.m. was not fun.

Some musings about the National in general.

The show:
The AKC people and the volunteers were incredible. So were the competitors. Everyone was having a great time, and as far as I could tell things were run with a smooth efficiency I wish we could all see every show weekend. It was a lot of dogs and a lot of runs, but they were done each day by 5:00.

The facility:
The arena was very nice, though rings 3 and 4 were cramped and basically had little to no spectator room. The large arena made up for it, it was hard to NOT get a great seat in the arena. I didn't see any dogs slip on the dirt, but it did look awfully packed by the end of the weekend. I was sort of surprised they didn't groom it Sat night for Sunday. Food at the arena was good, but very limited.

The area:
Okay, I confess, not in love with the area. I could NOT find a decent place to eat that wasn't Fried, greasy, or both. My hotel was, frankly, a dump. There are inexpensive hotels then there are cheap hotels, and the Econolodge was cheap. The wireless was a joke, the TV remote didn't work, the clock radio didn't work because the wiring was screwy in the wall plug, and my non-smoking room reeked of old, stale smoke. Even after a specific request to clean it, the smell was only muted by heavy perfume. To cap it off, the mattress had seen better decades and the pillows were more like pancakes. If the National ever goes back to NC, please do not stay at the Econolodge.

The agility:
Lots of spectacular runs this weekend and a few really unfortunate ones. I felt horrible for the dobe gal whose dog, running in the main ring so she was the center of all eyes, had to stop and have diarrhea. There were some runs that fell completely apart. On the other hand, there was some amazing stuff. I saw some handling that worked but that I'd never even want to try to emulate, and some that both worked and was gorgeous.

I watched a lot of running contacts over the weekend. In the Challenge round it was very clear that if you did not have a true running contact you were not going to the finals. On the other hand, quite a few of the dogs missed their contacts, both aframe and dogwalk, thus also not going to the finals. It's sort of a catch 22. If you want to be truly competitive now you have to have one, but a lot of them are still prone to failure. So you either win or are eliminated.

I hope next year I get to go to Tulsa and actually watch the finals. I can drive there, so no plane to catch!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thanks all

Hope you enjoyed the blog. I have to pack up now and get ready to leave. I've really enjoyed my National and am very sad I don't get to see the finals. But I'm also ready to get home to my own dogs.

Challenger's round

They're walking 8, 12, and 26 right now and will then run those dogs, then walk and run 16 and 20. I'll try to give some updates as they happen, refresh your screen often if you're following me.

The course starts with a 180 to a difficult offside entry to the weaves, with some expected tough angles.

ETA: Carla Boudrot is judge. The walkthrough is finished...looks like they're doing split times with 3 sets of timers on the course.

Finally starting with 8"...first dog 37 seconds with a flyoff.

Only one clean so far...

Our 8" challenge is Darlene and I can't hear the rest...

Melissa Ganning and Savvy 32.287 win the 12" class.

Now for the 16" dogs

32.015 for Maggie the ACD, and the Rat Terrier just got 30.3. Wow.

Dylan the Rat Terrier does it! He's in the final.

Now it's 26" dogs, after which they'll walk 20s and 24s.

32.75 is the time to beat so far by Jace and Lisa ??. Gerry brown and Raptor just had an unfortunate run.

Gerry Hernandez and Focus 30.610, but Olga Chaiko and Yankee made it in 29.725 to take the class. wow.

A break, they will walk 20" and 24".

Okay, here we go with 20" dogs.

First dog is Golden Skye with 32.1.

30.69 with Toby the BC wins the class. Lauren Mitchell handler.

Now there are 24" dogs, and two handlers haven't checked in. Oops. This is the last height.

Still not a single dog clean!

Anne Brau and Scream finally clean in 30.32.

Denise Thomas and 30.16 with Zippity wins it, only two clean rounds!

We're still on 12" and 16"

Because of the delay due to the fire alarm, I probably won't be able to see ANY of the finals. But I'll be watching the challenger's round. Don't know if I'll get that course up, but I'll try to blog. I already have my spot picked out!

ETA: 12" and 16" are finished, they're building Challengers and have announced finalists for 8" and 26"

12" dog video

Not the best quality because I took it with the new camera, and no sound, but watch part of one run and an entire other run. I'm sorry I don't know the handler of either dog.

An interruption in the proceedings....

We just had a fire alarm and the entire facility had to evacuate. This is the second time in a row this has happened to me at a big show. At least this time we weren't standing outside in zero degree windchills for 20 minutes.

Agility competitors are a very unflappable bunch. Everybody just got up and left, then came back when told.

What IS that???

That thing. Up in the sky. Why, it's the sun! And the sky is blue, not grey and spitting things at me. I can hardly believe it.

Hybrid course

Here's the hybrid course. So far, trouble spots seem to be 3 to the 4 tunnel, and pushing out to 5. Most handlers are doing well on the push from the aframe to the triple, beating their dogs over the aframe with the dog on the left then pushing.

Olka Chaiko just ran a 24.80 with Yankee, and is currently leading.

ETA: The aframe is a bit of a tricky issue. If the handler stays close, they risk the dog flipping into the tunnel. If they go past to set the line to the triple and the dog doesn't have a good contact, the dog blows off the aframe to get to the handler.

12s just started. The 16" ring is currently stalled while a chute problem is deal with, looks like the judge thinks dogs are slipping in the tunnel.

The final day begins

Here we are again. As I sit here, Andy is in the ring thanking the stewards and now Gail is briefing everyone for the day.

The Hybrid course is first. Then Challengers and finally Finals. I will not be able to watch much of the finals, so I will probably shut this blog (and my display) down to watch what I can of Challengers round. I'll be working on getting that course up for you soon.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Isn't there supposed to be a drought?

There has been nothing but rain, fog, drizzle, rain, downpour and, oh, rain. Since we arrived.

Guess what tonight's forecast is? Severe storms and rain.

Hello? Isn't North Carolina in a terrible drought?

Guess not.

I think it's supposed to clear a bit tomorrow, just in time for me to go home. At least we aren't getting the snow here that they're apparently getting in Missouri.

Our day is done, I'm getting ready to pack up and go get some supper. Back bright and early tomorrow, when the rings start at 7:30 a.m.

the day wears on...

Poodles in a blur of ecstasy.

8" still running. I'm not sure who is announcing, but holy cow her throat must be sore. She's been doing an almost unending stream for hours, and this is the second day. Wow.

For those of you like me who have never been to a National before, there is one ring that is announced. Each dog submits a small bio, and as they run in the main ring, the announcer not only gives their full name and all titles, but any tidbits the owner has added. It's a nice feature, and the way they have structured the rings, ALL dogs will get announced once during the weekend. It's great for JQP.

Another feature I've discovered today (okay, I'm a bit slow, sue me) is that after one dog finishes, the next dog's number is flashed up on the timer screen and stays there until they break the start beams. A huge help in figuring out where the ring is.

Looks like they're finishing up 8".

ETA: The announcer's name is Anna Johnson (please forgive if not spelled correctly). Pam Manaton told me she announces each year, and is able to announce for the entire weekend, but won't be able to speak Monday. I'm incredibly impressed.

I've been told to mention...

that it's official. The Border Collies have taken over the 16" class. So out of six jump heights, it's BCs in 16, 20, 24, and 26, Shelties in 12", and 8" is the lone refuge of variety. :)

JWW course

This one may be hard to read, sorry, I did the best I could. Fast times are about 24-25 on this course. Right now dropped bars seem to be a real issue as dogs try to cut corners and turn in midair.

ETA: What's running right now are 12" and 24". In 12s, I got to see a really fast Min Pin run, unfortunately he paused right in front of a jump to bark at his handler and I think got a refusal. In 24" Marcus and Juice currently have the time to beat at 24.265

A bit of news for the locals

Our midwest contingent is doing well. Paul Young and Bit just had a nice clean run for 31 seconds. Nancy Lauremann was in 3rd place overall in the 16s last I heard, with 28 and change from her sheltie Pilot.

It makes me muse on the table. Even very moderate-speed dogs are doing these very tough courses in 35-40 seconds with no table. The fastest teams are doing sub-30 times. That's a good 10-15 seconds faster than a usual agility trial. Granted, the National is the best of the best. But not every dog here is a speed demon by any means.

If the table was eliminated from Excellent, think how much time would be saved....

Another little note about the National. There are a huge number of dogs here who are over 10 years old. Listening to the announcer of the 16" dogs, dog after dog is 10+, with a good number being 12 or 13. Goes to show that the experience of years really counts, and that agility does a lot to keep dogs young.

non-sequiter...the sacred and the profane

Was driving home yesterday, very tired, when I saw a sign.

Easter Trinity. He died. He was buried. He got it up.

Wait. What???

Oh. Drop the word "it"....

Random Photos

Just for Eddie, Beagle fix! This is Abby, a top ranked Agility Beagle.

Rings 3 and 4 have no seating, so competitors and spectators crowd around to watch runs.

In depth consultation over the run order.

Chic Stall Decor

Sat Standard Course

As always, green numbers are behind the obstacle and coming toward you, black going away.

So far most of the teams seem to be doing pretty well on this course. Trouble spots are the turn into the tunnel before the dogwalk, and the weave/chute discrimination.

I'm also seeing a fair number of "failed" running contacts this weekend.

Our day begins

We have Standard in rings one and two, starting with 20" and 26". I'll have pictures soon. It's even busier today than yesterday, and I'm seeing more locals (to me anyway) which is very cool.

Today will be my shopping day, need to pick up a little something for the kind saints keeping my dogs while I'm gone; Zipper, i.e., Buns of Steel, who doesn't like to poop on strange ground (he held it 36 hours again) Cala, couch thief, and Viva, who wailed for hours in despair after I left.

ETA: The early 26" runs have been marked by a scorching run by Olga Chaiko and her dog at 27 seconds and change. Average is more like 30 seconds for even the fastest dogs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Armchair Quarterback

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State team finals

Getting ready for State Team finals. They just finished walking. It's Wisconsin, Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania and the Northwest states. So far Wisconsin is winning the yelling game!

ETA: course coming soon. Barb Davis will be first and last because she has two dogs. Rocket with a Clean Run and 37 seconds. I won't report everyone, but that's the start.

ETA: Terry Elger, in the middle of a great run for Wisc. just knocked over a jump wing himself. Too bad. The next dog, a Terv, has a missed contact.

ETA: So far, only NW states has had 3 clear runs. Just MA and CA to go.

MA missed contact with first dog. Second dog some really nice turns, 33 econds and change.

ETA: NW States is still only clean state. CA is getting ready to start.

ETA: CA still not clean, unfortunately Terry Smorch and Remy were an accident that did happen, with an Off course and and not finishing the course.

ETA, the winners are: Northwest States!

A very few results

Halfway through, Massachusetts is in the lead in State competition with California second. Nancy Gyes won the 24" ISC Std class with ??Ace?? We're about halfway through the 16s and 20s. Nancy Lauermann from St. Louis had some really gorgeous tight turns with Pilot but he unexpectedly took the broad jump instead of the aframe, the first time I've seen that today (but remember, I can't watch all the time!)

Moving on

16s in one ring 20s in the other. Paul Young and Bit, a great team from St. Louis, had an unfortunate run and pulled up early. Too bad because when they're on it's amazing. Paul is 74 and has Parkinsons and Bit is one of the fastest labs in the U.S. Hopefully better tomorrow. Still waiting for Nancy Lauermann and Pilot to go. Ashley and Luka the Pyr Shep had a blazing run and 30 seconds and change (wonder how many times I've typed the word blazing today??)

ISC Standard Course

20" dogs are running now. The biggest problems seem to be from 8 to 9, the pull through at the dogwalk, and the turn to the teeter 14-15.

ISC Standard running

26" ISC Standard just started. Fastest times seem to be around 31 seconds, with the fastest I've seen so far by Brigit McNight and her BC Kestrel, who just beat out Linda Mecklinburg and Stellar. My friend Yvonne and her great Dobe Flare did a more than respectable 35, Flare letting everybody know how much she loves this stuff.

I'll get the course up as soon as I can.

ISC Jumpers course Friday

I hope this is legible. This is Friday's ISC course. Green numbers are behind the jump; as an example, 13 to 14 was a threadle, then from 14 to 15 a 180. Click on the image to enlarge.

Biggest issues on this course were the push from 6 to 7 and the threadle. The angles demanded a very efficient turning dog. Dogs who could turn tight to the jump while maintaining speed had a definite advantage.


Part of the Mini Schnauzer Fan Club, about 20 people who cheer like maniacs every time a Mini runs.

But I don't want my picture taken. Leave me alone!

We've finished 24" and 12" dogs in ISC. From my vendor booth I can't keep track to know who has placed where. We're now running 14" and 8". In 14" it was nice to see two "locals," Joan Myer with Neil and Tammi Gigstad with her great little PRT Buzz. I think Buzz might have the time to beat, at 23 sesconds and change to Neil's 24+.

Oh and by the way please forgive the blurriness of some of these photos. Without the flash, my new little camera has to resort to a slower shutter speed and thus movement = blur.

Early morning

We're off. The ISC jumpers course comes complete with a very tight threadle that a lot of dogs, especially small dogs, are having trouble with. Times are averaging around 25 seconds, but Jean Levally just laid down a smoking run in 12" with Spec at 23.05. Chris Parker and Wow! had a lovely run in 24" but, unfortunately, she started on the wrong side of jump 1!

Friday morning

Nothing like waking up at 3:00 a.m. (2 a.m. Missouri time) and not being able to get back to sleep. Then IHOP was closed, even though the sign said "open 24 hours Friday and Saturday." Hmmmm. It's Friday everywhere except IHOP I guess.

But it's exciting too. Bustling, and ISC is walking. Rings 1 and 2 will be 12" and 24" so maybe I'll be able to sneak some peeks.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few more pictures

My guess is this person has Yorkies. And does agility. What do you think?

I'm ready. You?

The main discussion; which will be the party stalls?

Mad shopping frenzy

Running order not complicated. Not complicated at ALL.


Okay, I realize I'm in the South, I'm FROM the south. But geez-o-pete things are slow here. Lights? I sat at a traffic light last night for one solid minute with all lanes, all sides, showing red. We all just looked at each other. What's with that? My hotel wireless connection is so slow I'm amazed it even functions at all, sometimes it's running at a max of 28k. I didn't know wireless came that slow. Traffic is slow too, with the startling exception of the few Dale Jr. Wannabees who slice in and out of traffic at about 95mph.

My most boggling experience so far? The lady on the moped in the 45 degrees of fog and rain, complete with flapping trench coat and, get this, flip-flops. What's with that?

Where the heck am I???

Pea soup fog this morning, and I got lost on the way down from the hotel to the arena, almost ended up back in Charlotte. But I did get a tiny glimpse of Lowe's Motor Speedway, basically a wall looming out of the fog.

The display is setup and ready for tomorrow and looks good. The arenas are getting groomed and prepped. No exhibitor checkin until 3:00 this afternoon, then the real deal starts tomorrow. There's already a sense of excitement and electricity.

I'm here

Tried to post this last night but the wireless here at the hotel was so slow I had to give up. Now now it's 6:30 a.m. on Thursday. Feeling kind of groggy, my room is supposed to be non-smoking but obviously a lot of people have smoked in here, it reeks of stale smoke. They did promise to clean it today so hopefully it will be better.

Viva apparently wailed in anguish for *hours* after I left yesterday, but managed to get over her self-pity well enough to snarf her food at her usual pace. The rest of my guys are doing fine in their temporary digs.

I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with myself today. I need to go set up the display, which will take, oh, 30 minutes max. After that I'll probably drive into Charlotte from Cabarrus just to get the lay of the land and see where I can drop off the display on Sunday, etc. But that's it. We don't actually start until tomorrow. I did buy a new camera (bad me!) and hopefully will have lots of pictures later on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Off to North Carolina

I'm off! Well not quite yet, but soon. To North Carolina and the AKC Agility National. I do so wish I had a camera and could take pictures. But I'll at least try to keep the blog updated with reports. I hope to be able to see some Min Pins and some Dobes running. There will actually be quite a few Dobes there, I can't wait!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Back to work

I'm so excited. I'm going back to class tonight! It's 3 weeks to the day since I tore my calf muscle at the very start of agility class. I had to leave that night. I came back the next week but could not run at all, and Zipper's performance reflected it. Last week I was still very sore and it was cold. I didn't even go. But this week I'm there. I won't be able to run full-out, but I think I'll be able to at least jog IF I'm careful and I warm up properly.

My calf is not yet back 100% and it will probably be at least another 2-3 weeks before I can really begin to push it. My goal is to be able to run Zip at Lake St. Louis the weekend of April 10. Meanwhile this class is pretty much a wash. Tonight is the 4th week and I've only managed part of one week. Next week I'll be gone to NC for the Agility National, leaving only one week left when I return. So I'll retake the entire class next session!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Is it show nerves? Or what?

I know this is a Min Pin blog, but I'm going to talk Dobes a bit. So sue me if you don't like it.

Last weekend, I entered Cala the Doberman in the Columbia Kennel Club show both days. She has her Rally Excellent title and I decided to try for her RAE, which is the highest level title you can currently get in Rally Obedience. It requires you to qualify in both Advanced and Excellent on the same day (double Q or QQ) 10 different times under at least 3 judges. On the surface, the outcome seems good. She QQd both days, so got her first two legs and only needs 8 more for the title. Sounds great, right?

But here's the rest of the story. She was very stressed, especially in her first run of the day each day (Excellent). Disconnected, not giving me attention. I had to redo a station in Excellent on Saturday and she ended up with a 94 from a very lenient judge (100 is perfect, you lose 3 points when you retry a station, so she only got 3 other single points off but it should have been more). In Advanced on Saturday she was much more relaxed and we had a very nice run for a 98.

Sunday morning's Excellent run was pretty much a disaster. My dog who normally loves this sport actually left the ring. Okay, it was a poorly designed ring, with a jump heading directly toward the gate. But she went out and I had to call her back! We had to repeat two stations, we *missed* a station (which should have been a non-qualifying score but the judge failed to see it and wouldn't change her book). She ended up with an 86, by far her lowest score ever. Advanced was marginally better, but she was still very low for what she is capable of, a 92. All together a rather upsetting day.

See, here's the thing. Some people do dog sports because the person is totally addicted, and if the dog doesn't like it that much, well, as long as they're Qing and the dog isn't completely miserable or being hurt or abused it's not that big a deal. In fact, sometimes dogs start out not real thrilled but end up really enjoying what they are doing. So I actually understand that point of view but I'm not one of those people. For me, if a dog sport is not fun for the dog, why do it? It's not about me, it's about us as a team. And if Cala has decided that showing in Rally is stressful and unfun, I'll quit with her. Not worth the money and time to trial a dog who is not having fun.

But then again, could there have been other factors affecting her performance? She had her yearly shots earlier that week, and she was a bit loose stool-wise. She seemed really flat all weekend, not her usual screaming self. I was limping from my torn calf, unable to maintain my usual speed and flow on the course, and concentrating on keeping my balance. So I couldn't commit totally to her mentally or physically. The show site is hectic and noisy.

Not long ago, Linda Baschnagel came to give a tracking seminar at CCSC, and she said something profound. She said never give up on something based on one bad experience. Before changing your training, try something at least twice. If you get the same bad results on two different days, then you can start reassessing what you're doing and modifying your program. But dogs, just like people, are allowed to have bad days or even bad weekends. So maybe Cala has decided that actually showing in Rally isn't fun. Or maybe one of the reasons I've cited affected her. I'll try her again at a different show. If she shows the same level of stress and upset, I will probably drop her from Rally competition. But I'm not going to do it based on one single weekend.

Oh and as a postscript, I also had Viva, the 11 1/2 year old, there acting as courtesy dog. The courtesy dog facilitates the flow of the Excellent class by doing an honor down for the first entered team to work, then doing the Rally course itself for the last team, while that last team does an honor down. She is on a new series of joint supplements to help with her spondylosis and she did so spectacularly well and had SO much fun that I'm thinking of bringing her out of retirement to try for her Rally Excellent title. In her case I have no reservations except physical ones. She LOVES to work and hates being retired.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Startline stays and leadouts

Last night I took Zipper to class. I'm still limping and I cannot take any running steps. I can now walk faster than I could even a couple of days ago, but I am nowhere near my usual speed.

Fortunately Barb, the instructor, decided that my disability gave her a good chance to help us work on startline stays and startline sequences. We worked on whether to run or lead out, and if we did lead out, how certain sequences are best handled through a lead out.

Dogs who need motivation rarely benefit from a leadout and usually do better when you run with them. Dogs who are ballistic often need you to be able to lead out, so you can properly position yourself to help the dog get instruction on where he needs to go. But many people lead out incorrectly. If you lead out past a jump, particularly a spread jump, the dog is going to be accelerating and extending over that jump. If you then have a sharp turn, you may jam the dog or even cause the dog to go around your back. At the very least you're likely to get a wide, inefficient turn. A lead out should always help inform the dog of any change in direction and help shape his line.

In all of our sequences, we practiced both doing a lead out and not doing a lead out, and handling the sequence both ways. Or, at least most people did. I only did lead outs because I am really unable to run.

Zipper is just starting to learn the startline stay. For him, I will usually drop and go, but I want the startline stay as an option. With me leaving him on a stay and leading out, he was a bit sluggish off the line. So we practiced sending him to a bait plate. But I learned very quickly that lack of motion on my part means lack of motion on his part. He was wandering and slow and did not want to move out ahead of me on his own. This is bad news in the short term, as I continue to recover from this calf-muscle tear. But it's great news in the long term, because it indicates he's learned to key his speed and momentum to my speed. That means I can use acceleration and deceleration to shape his line and get sharper turns. But it also means that later, if I want to do FAST and Gamblers, I'll need to teach a cue to have him move out ahead of me at speed.

After working on his startline stay in that first sequence, I decided I didn't want to press him on that, so I had Barb hold his collar while I led out. She whispered revving words to him while I led out, and he rocketed off the line. So I've also learned that for now, restrained recalls are great, and I need to start playing the ready-set-go game with him.

It was great to be able to work even if just a little bit.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

When Aft goes Agley

The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
--Robert Burns, To a Mouse, on Turning up Her Nest with the Plow

Yes, my Aft did indeed gang agley last Thursday, as I've already moaned about. Now, four days later, I'm walking, but slowly. I missed all three days of my agility trial last weekend.

The question is, how do you train when you can't move adequately? Tonight I did six poles with Zipper and he was beating me to the end, which is just wrong. But bless his heart he did move ahead of me and do them, good boy! I then tried some heeling with Cala. She's entered for the RAE for the first time, which means I'm supposed to be showing her in both Advanced and Excellent Rally on the same day.

Heeling was actually pretty comical. I was moving so slowly, she was anticipating that I was going to halt at any moment, so basically we had the boot-scooting boogie going on. "What? Am I sitting now? Okay, now?" But she was actually amazingly patient with me.

I've decided to borrow a cane again for Saturday. Since I'll be off leash, hopefully I'll be able to do the cane and move out a bit, but I'll need to practice with it so Cala can do her left-about turn and her right finishes without being bothered by it.

Being hurt sux.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Getting hurt

I'm talking about the human being injured, not the dog.

Around the end of the year we had a fun match at the building. It was cold in there, and about halfway through my first run I felt my right calf pop. I'd pulled a muscle. It wasn't too bad, in fact I went ahead and ran on it. It felt fine a couple of days later when I went to a New Year's day exercise class, until it popped again halfway through. I sort of muddled through the rest of that and, once again, it was perfectly fine within a couple of days; until I popped it AGAIN the next week in Aerobics class.

So I scaled back dramatically on my exercise and seriously began to rehab it. And it worked. I've been back to full-intensity exercise for six weeks.

The other night I was once again at our building, getting ready to start a new class with a new instructor. It was brisk but not terrible in the building. I was the first to try the sequence, and she wanted me to run with Zipper. I put him down, took three running steps, and felt excruciating pain in my right calf. I'd torn the calf muscle. I could not continue on, in fact I could barely hobble off the floor.

I was entered all three days at Lake St. Louis this weekend and, of course, that was impossible. My calf isn't surgical, and I can walk on it, carefully, but I can't do anything else. Nothing like watching over $100 in entry fees go down the drain.

Looking back, it's obvious to me that I am not warming up my calf muscles adequately. I *had* done some warmups, but obviously not the right kind or enough. If my muscle hadn't been cold, I wouldn't have torn it. I'm sharing my tale of woe to remind you all to warm *yourselves* up, to solicit ideas on good warmups that can be done at shows, and to share that I've decided to go with a Personal Trainer for awhile and I will share any ideas he/she comes up with.

It occurs to me that stretching at shows, for humans, can be difficult. Static stretching is bad for you before exercise, dynamic stretching is best. But the recommended dynamic stretching of jogging, etc. requires more room than you may have ringside. And ring delays can make things difficult as well. Getting the timing down can be problematic.

Anyway, it's been sort of a bummer of a weekend. Please be careful out there and warm yourself up as well as your dog!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New article on Total MinPin

I've added a new article on Total Min Pin on the Working Min Pin. Go check it out!

Today it's cold, again. Zip and Cala just came in from outside and he immediately jumped into his sun chair so he could warm up. The old gal, Viva, is not at all interested in stirring from the couch; I'll have to kick her out later to go potty. Otherwise she'll just try to hold it forever.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Crates and well trained dogs

Last night, on my way home from taking the dogs for a run, the thing happened that none of us want to happen. While driving down I-70 (the busiest interstate in the U.S.) my right rear tire blew. I managed to get off onto the shoulder then limped, very slowly, toward the next exit ramp.

None of us wants something like this to happen. But if it does, it sure is nice to have well-behaved, trained dogs who are used to crates. I called my friend Kathy, then I called Triple A. Kathy came and helped me offload dogs from my car to hers. If my dogs had not been crated, if they were not well-trained, the chances of them making it even from my car to hers would have been small. Traffic was roaring by at well over 70 mph mere feet away. But everyone was under control, and because they were crated we were able to move one at a time.

The dogs then went to the training building and put into their crates there, and they then waited, quietly, for me to get back to them after the car was fixed.

Good dogs!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Startline Stay (SLS). Is it essential?

In agility these days, pretty much everyone strives for a startline stay. They can be very difficult to maintain though, because breaking them is SOOO rewarding. And often handlers inadvertently teach the dog to break through body cues.

This weekend I was talking to a gal who runs a lightning-fast Whippet. She said, "I just figured out how I'm cueing the release for my startline!" It turns out that though she thought the release was a word, "OK," the dog had figured out that after she looked away to see where she was going, the moment she looked back, even the merest glance, he could leave.


I know of OTCH dogs who have broken startlines. I know one dog who was so keyed to go that even when he got pulled for breaking, he'd still have the reward for that one jump. So his owner had a friend pull the bar down from the jump if he broke, so he couldn't jump it. It worked, sort of. Then there's Cala. I had a startline stay on her as a young dog, but then she started fudging it. So I pulled her at a couple of trials. Her solution? Break faster so she could take off and do more agility before I yanked her off the course. Try fixing THAT one.

But do you really, honestly have to have a startline stay? Will dogs without them be doomed to certain failure? Well, no. You don't. In fact, with some slower dogs a SLS can be demotivating. And a bad leadout is just as likely to result in failure as no leadout at all. My "favorite" is the leadout of two jumps to a sharp turn. Often the handler cues late, crunching the dog as he tries to stand on his head and turn at the same time. If it's a high drive dog you sometimes hear justified verbal protest from the dog at this treatment.

If you can get a startline stay, it can be very beneficial. In some courses, being able to lead out and draw a line can really help with efficiency and eliminate traps. Some judges design courses specifically to punish those with no leadout. It's a tool you should add to your toolbox. And for really drivey dogs, it can help reinforce that you're team captain, you get to say when to go, not your dog.

Now Min Pins aren't that big, and some of them aren't that motivated. For our breed, I think it is beneficial to experiment and see what works best. If your dog is faster doing a running start, then do it. If it likes to be called to you, try that. Zipper seems to like both the "drop and run" and the startline stay. So I think I'll be able to use both.

If you aren't able to get a stay, here are some tips.

If there are two jumps pretty much straight out to a turn, consider setting up well behind the line and doing a cross between one and two. Be sure to angle the dog the direction you are facing, so you are using the rear cross as a V set. As an example, one of my jumpers courses had 2 jumps out to a right hand turn, with a trap on the left. I actually kept Zipper on my right, set him down a good distance from the bar so he could get up speed, then rear crossed him between one and 2, which turned him nicely to get to three. An alternative to this would have been to set him up on my left, but come into the pocket between 1 and 2 and wrap him around me in a V set, sending him over 2 at an angle to the right.

If there is a jump and a sharp turn with a trap jump straight ahead, set up closer to the bar so the dog has a bit more collection and is less likely to wildly run straight forward. But be sure you leave plenty of room to get yourself by the jump without having to dodge a wing.

There are ways to manage without a startline stay, but if you can get a reliable one, it's a formidable tool.

Monday, February 02, 2009

3 days in St. Louis

This past weekend I showed Zipper 3 days in a row at Lake St. Louis. It's indoors, on dirt. I do like the surface, it's safe and they had it well watered. Unfortunately this facility is dirt outside the rings as well as inside. Which means that we had dust and dirt *everywhere*. Usually at shows I can get at least a couple of days out of a pair of jeans, but not here. Everything had to be shed into the laundry basket each night, it was filthy. Zipper was a bit snorty all weekend and his eyes were teary from the dirt.

No Qs, but he's getting a lot closer! I'm still not happy with his weaves. He's doing them well at the building now, but not so much at trials. I think that in retrospect, I will not ever again teach a dog using anything but channels. He just doesn't really drive through poles, and under stress it's the first thing to break down.

On the other hand, Zipper would have Qd each day in Jumpers if not for the weaves. He took direction beautifully, had some super lines. He did miss one front cross, but he demonstrated he's more than ready to tackle Excellent level courses.

In Standard, he was completely distracted Friday, looking like he did in Massachusetts. My heart sank. But he got better and better. Yesterday's run was very focused. He got his weave entry then skipped out and I kept going, then I pulled him off not one but two jumps. But I got a lead-out in! Yay!

So my plan is to work him on weaves every day until they're so ingrained he's doing them in his sleep. :)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Off to St. Louis

Off to our first trial since Thanksgiving, at Lake St. Louis this weekend. It's weird to be in Excellent. In fact, when I think about it, it's been years since I've been in Excellent. Cala, love her crazy little heart, showed maybe 3 or 4 times in Ex Standard without even a hint of Qing. She has been stuck in Open Jumpers for years and at this point it's doubtful she'll do much more agility.

So I guess the last time I was in Excellent Jumpers was before Viva retired, 4 years ago now. And Zip has a Jumpers leg. Weird.

Anyway, weather here has been brutal and I've been recovering from a pretty bad calf muscle pull. So training has been spotty to say the least. Weaves are still tricky, but other than that Zipper's really pulling together, at least in practice. I'll give a report on the trial next week!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pete and Repeat

Weaves are still an issue with Zipper. I discovered that Saturday when I went to the building to train and he was missing poles. Again. For the eleventy-billionth time.

It reminds me that he's still a green dog and that weaves have always been slow to come. He isn't ready for me to be cavalier about weave training. But I've had excuses. This darn calf-muscle pull h has been slow to mend and the weather has been awful. I am not, will not, refuse to, train a 10# dog with no hair in an unheated building with temperatures ranging from 1 to 10 degrees F. Not going to happen.

Thank goodness the weather is letting up a bit this week. Not enough for me to really want to go tracking, but enough to get into the building a few times.

Goal? Me totally healed and Zipper 100% on weaves by our St. Louis trial the end of this month.

Meanwhile I ponder funds for the UKC trial. Upside? Probably easy titles. UAg2 for Zip, Rally for Cala. Downside? $$$. What to do...what to do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Temp is 18F and falling. Our windchill tomorrow is supposed to be -10 to -25. Holy cow that's cold. So no walks, no training at the building (which is unheated). I have the thermostat here at the house turned down to 60 to try to save my gas bill. All the dogs are in coats.

As for me, I'm looking over April trials and trying to decide what to enter. Zip's already entered in a late Feb trial and there's nothing in March, but April is jammed! And there are two trials at Purina Farms this spring, when there haven't been any outdoor trials there for the past couple of years. My tent broke. Do I dare a trial in April outdoors? With a Min Pin? Hmmmm.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

And what have I been doing since August 2007?

Whoa. Lots. Zipper is now UAg1 Ch Regatta It's About Time, OA, OAJ, RS-O, JS-O. Right now he's really the only dog I'm training. I need to brush Cala-the-dobe up on heeling, etc. to do some Rally this spring, but the big focus is on Zip.

Things I'm working on right now are tracking, still brushing up on weaves.

The DDGraphix store!