Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Olio a la Canine

SUMMARY: Dog Day, rats, computers, lawns, cameras, ballet, agility, and anything else I remember to stick in here.

Ballet: Canine freestyle keeps advancing in wonderful ways. Plus this is a blue merle working border collie. Let's see your jumping horses do this.

National Dog Day: Who knew? Check it out.

Rats: Returned to my attic shortly after we thought that they were eradicated and sealed out. Apparently gnawed a new hole. Didn't I vow live traps after my last trauma? There's a reason why you wire the traps to something large or immobile when you set them: Yesterday, a young rat caught just his rear leg. Dragged the trap as far as the wire let him. Tika is an avid rodent hunter and slayer, so I figured, take it out to the yard, release it, and Tika will make quick work of it. Boost was intrigued, especially at the squeaky-toy squeaking. Tika? Turned tail and ran into the house. Came out when I insisted but wouldn't come within 5 feet of the rat and backed off as quickly as possible. Boost, who apparently has a soft mouth, thought it was a great toy--picking it up, carrying it around, tossing it in the air. This was a cruel way to treat the poor injured thing, and when neither dog showed any interest in completing the task that I really didn't want to do, I got a shovel and dispatched it with one quick slice. Sorry. It was traumatic for me, too. I am definitely in the market for a live-capture trap. I have no idea how effective they are. Dang dogs. Dang rats.

Camera: Still haven't decided for sure what to get. But it might be postponed even longer. Because--

Computer: Have been putting off buying a new Mac for as long as possible. Bought this one in January 2001. Invested in an upgrade processor a year ago, plus new internal disk drives. The processor died back in April, but it cost me a goodly sum of service dollars to get to the root of the problem. Went through 2 replacements under warranty until we got a 3rd one that finally worked. This week--all the symptoms are starting to reappear. I am close to not having a working Mac anyway. Jeez, I hate computers. I would really LIKE to get a new one, but it's all about the $. However, I'm starting to get into a negative time & $ flow on the existing one. Sort of like having an old car--when you start paying more on repairs than you'd pay monthly for a new car, it's time to switch. Sighhhhhhhhh--

Lawns: Mine. Infested by grubs. Last year they killed a small section of grass before I figured it out. This year lots being killed, but I kept checking and didn't find any grubs until last week, when suddenly all very visible. Applied grub poison yesterday. Labeling is very scary. Kept dogs off lawn all day yesterday until it had been watered in twice & dried (label says once/dried is enough). But can't afford to keep resodding lawn, either. Maybe too late. Much dead grass.

Agility practice for this weekend: Ha.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why Agility?

SUMMARY: My sport of choice, but why?

Many Muddy Paws passed along this topic from another blogger and made her own post on the subject.

What got you into your sport of choice...why that one, why not another type of dog sport? What else have you tried, but don't care for? What haven't you tried but would like to?

Sometime in my teens, I decided that I wanted to train an Obedience Champion dog someday. When I got my first dog, Amber, I taught her come, sit, heel--but I had no real concept at all of how demanding obedience standards were.
Not that it mattered; when I signed up my mixed-breed dog with an AKC obedience class, they told me essentially that, if I wanted an obedience champion, I should get a purebred dog. I gave up on that idea for many years.

When Remington came along, I took up the competitive obedience thing again; Mixed Breed Dog Club of America and UKC (and others?) provided same titles with same rules for non-AKC dogs. Learned a lot. Took private lessons from an instructor with a lot of successful students. Remington did very well. But I didn't find it exciting, really, or particularly active, although the ideas for training intrigued me. Practice was dull dull dull. And, the more I found out about the rigid SUBJECTIVE performance standards, the less thrilled I became. But I kept with the training with that "obedience champion" goal in mind until I broke my foot in early 1997.

I loved teaching him tricks; taught him everything I could think of, bought books and taught him more; tested out of "acting" level 1 and went into level 2 where we already knew several of the tricks. Tricks are a great crowd pleaser and turned out to be handy when he had to spend a lot of time at the doggie hospital for his cancer. Made him popular there and gave him something to do besides worry.

We took a couple of 6-week sessions in scent tracking. Oh, mannnnn talk about dull practice! Although it's fun to see the dog start to get the idea and follow a track through a field, practice was: Find a seldom-used field (around here? tough). Spend about 10 minutes setting up a track. A couple of minutes following the track. Now, if the field is big enough, spend 10 minutes setting up another track. A minute or two following it. And then you're out of field. And not supposed to use the same field again for a week. Bleah.

When I broke my foot, a friend arranged the loan of a sled-racing training cart with wheels. Remington was less than thrilled and preferred to have someone else do the pulling.

The year before my broken foot, I had started competing in agility. Just 6 trials that year. As my foot healed, I discovered that I wanted to spend time doing agility. Never went back for more obedience lessons, tracking lessons, or "acting" lessons.

I like agility because it involves both of us acting as a team at all times on the course, it's exciting, it's physically active and calorie-burning for both of us, it's mentally challenging for both of us, I can practice in my yard (now that I have enough equipment and almost enough space), judging is largely objective, not subjective, and all of my dogs have seemed more than eager to do it any time, anywhere.

I've watched flyball, dock diving, freestyle (dance), rally-O, disc dog, herding, and lure coursing, and have read up quite a bit on all of these sports.

* Obedience and rally-O work you as a team and you can practice in your yard, but none of the rest (for me and my dogs, anyway).
* Tricks fill several of the items but not the physically active or calorie-burning bit, and "judging" is very subjective if you enter any kind of contest.
* Dock diving and flyball are all about the dog; all the handler does is get the dog excited and then watch him go. (Sorry, fans of these sports, I know there's training involved, but really--the handlers are watchers, not participants.)
* Scent tracking--nothing there for me.
* Lure coursing: Boost will do it sometimes but sometimes not; it terrifies Tika; and it's VERY expensive for what you get IMHO. And no teamwork, no training, nuthin' except fast running for the dog.
* Disc dog: Maybe if I thought I could throw a frisbee worth beans, it would be OK, but physically it's still more about the dog and performance standards are largely subjective.
* Freestyle: Just doesn't appeal to me.
* Herding: Have had Boost on goats/sheep a few times. It is a complete blast watching the instincts guide her. If I had a lot more time and money, I'd probably pursue this just because of that. But--can't do it in my yard, not even in my city--too urban, there's just nowhere available!

The mentally challenging part of agility is important for me; every course is different, so you're designing strategies during the walkthrough even for numbered courses. And the execution is done with your partner moving at 5 yards per second and you have to adjust on the fly as Things Happen.

And one big thing: even after all these years, when I walk up and see an agility course with its brilliantly painted equipment in glowing rainbow colors spread out across the bright green lawn, it gives me the same Disneyland thrill and awe that hit me the first time that i ever saw an agility course, that night at Power Paws when I drove up to see what it was all about.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

We Live In A Fascinating World

SUMMARY: Full of dogs and hills and grass and trees and light and colors and coyote poop.

Wednesday night, rather than join the Sierra Club group for our weekly brisk 5-mile strenuous hike, I struck out on my own closer to home. I wanted to take the dogs. I wanted to be able to stop and browse upon the scenery with my camera. I wanted to prove to myself that I can and will do a strenuous 5-mile hike all on my own. I wanted to sweat.

But not too much.

So, although the day wasn't particularly warm, I waited until 6:00 to head to Santa Teresa County park, a 1700-acre park just a 15-minute drive from home whose open hillside trails on steep terrain can be a bear in any kind of warmth. The bonus would be that I could catch the sunset from up in the hills.

We started at 200 feet above sea level at the foot of the hills, passing by the historic Bernal-Gulnac-Joice Ranch, where Tika announced a fierce interest in the chickens in their coop. We decided not to linger. Later in the hike, when a startled California quail directly in our path flapped noisily into a nearby shrub, Tika suddenly became suddenly intrigued by their distinctive clicking call coming from the undergrowth we passed.

I carried only my little point-and-shoot; didn't want the weight of the borrowed SLR, hadn't actually familiarized myself with it yet anyway, and besides, hiking with the dogs and any kind of electronic equipment is always risky. So I have no bird photos to share, and few photos with the dogs (who move too much for the P&S's personal tastes).

Boost bravely streeeeetched wayyyy out to investigate some ancient farm equipment left on the hillside to moulder away. I have no idea why that was classified as one of the many Potentially Scary Evil Things in the world--looked pretty innocuous to me, but then I'm not a sensitive Border Collie.

Most of what I saw on my hike looked pretty much like this.

But I also enjoyed looking at the views of the valley and up to the observatory on Mount Hamilton, the lurking dark peak in the distance--near the right, to the left of the cloud.

Dogs also enjoyed checking out coyote poop.

As the sun sank, everything glowed amazing golden colors, and our shadows threw themselves longer and longer before us.

Plus there was coyote poop.

We passed the Norred Stables, where apparently during the day some REALLY BIG DOGS do some agility in the arena. (My sister has one of those really big kinds of dogs.)

The dogs particularly wanted to analyze Every. Single. Coyote. Poop. On. The Trail.

Human Mom wanted to take pictures of Every. Single. Scenic. View. On. The. Trail.

We accommodated each other. It worked. The highest point on the trail was about 930 feet, but we did quite a bit of upping and downing, so cumulative elevation gain might have approached 1000 feet. Distance covered: Somewhere between 4 and 5 miles. Walked it briskly, trying to emulate the Crazed Wednesday Night Hikers Pace, but stopped often for various reasons human or canine.

We lingered on the last high hillside trail until the sun had vanished from the sky, then dashed down the trail--literally--about 450 foot drop in half a mile. Felt good! Got photos! Sweated! And successfully kept all members of the expedition from rolling in coyote poop.

These are about half the photos I took; you can see the rest of the bunch on my usual photo site (along with these) with captions. I think there are a few particularly nice ones in the bunch. Enjoy. Love your dogs. Love your dear ones. Love life.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Goals and the Iditarod

SUMMARY: A former Bay Teamer completes the 2008 Iditarod.

In my earlier days of agility, there were three Jakes competing in the same jump height and the same level of competition: My Jake, Bill Cuthbertson's Border Collie Jake, and Liz Parrish's Aussie Jake. About 10 years ago, Liz and Jake and the rest of their crew moved to southern Oregon to run a dog-friendly bed and breakfast with acres and acres of land on Klamath Lake. (I've mentioned Crystalwood Lodge before, in August and in 2003 and my photos here.)

While there, she traded agility and flyball and all that for dogsled racing, and has been pursing the singular goal of running the Iditarod for her 50th birthday. She succeeded, running and finishing the 2008 Iditarod. She gave a talk here Tuesday night about her training, her determination to reach the goal, her dogs, the Iditarod itself, and her first lead dog, Briar, after whom her kennel (Briar's Patch) is named.

Of the roughly 98 teams who started the race, 78 finished, and she was among them. It is interesting to note that, in 2008, 290 people summited on Mount Everest, but only 78 finished the Iditarod. It's a grueling, extremely challenging experience through harsh wilderness. And she's not a big burly gal whom one could imagine wrestling a moose; she's more than petite and had to overcome tremendous physical challenges to achieve this goal.

But she trained and conditioned her dogs well for this, knew what they could handle, and monitored every one of them carefully for signs of problems. In a sport that is sometimes criticized for how hard it is on dogs, she has won awards for best-cared-for teams in some of her races, and she finished the Iditarod with 14 of her original 16 dogs, one of only two competitors to do so well. And the only dogs whom she sent back simply had sore muscles--and she knew that the same way that we agility people know immediately if something's wrong with our dogs: They don't leap to their feet immediately, they start out a little slowly, they might be completely willing to work and go all out once they've loosened up, but you know that there's something going on under that fur.

My post on the world's most expensive polo shirt makes it seem like a complete bargain compared to what she called "the world's most expensive belt buckle" and the 6 solid months a year she spent training for years, and driving to and from Minnesota and Alaska and everywhere else they needed to go. Just the equipment and gear and fees and travel for the Iditarod alone she estimated at $50,000. She did find some sponsors, but still-- Wow.

She printed a ton of really nice t-shirts with a picture of her team running around Crater Lake
and I bought myself one on a green background, although it was hard to pass up the purple one, which also looked great. If you're in the mood for a mushing t-shirt, short- or long-sleeved, I'll bet that you can still order one.

And then go back to being glad that agility is such an inexpensive sport that requires only one dog!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Freestyle - Canine and Equine Versions

SUMMARY: For a break from agility, watch some inspired--and inspiring--"dancing" with your favorite species:

Carolyn Scott & Rookie the Golden Retriever (this one has been circulating for a couple of years so you might have already seen it).

Andreas Helgstrand and Mattie Mae(?), Dressage (thanks, Cedarfield, for the link).


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