Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No More Guilt About Fewer Training Sessions

SUMMARY: For dogs, once a week may be better than 5 times a week.

Interesting! From a 2007 study:

"Using shaping and clicker training, 18 laboratory Beagles were trained to perform a target response. Nine dogs were trained once a week and nine dogs were trained five times a week. The results of the study show that dogs trained once a week learned the shaping exercise in significantly fewer training sessions than dogs trained five times a week. In addition, weekly trained dogs tended to have higher success rates at the different steps of the shaping exercise than the dogs trained five times a week. The dogs trained five times a week completed the shaping exercise in significantly fewer days than the weekly trained dogs. It is concluded that for dogs learning a given skill, weekly training results in better learning performance than training five times a week, when performance is measured in the number of training sessions required to reach a certain training level."

(c) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Meyer, I., Ladewig, J., The relationship between number of training sessions per week and learning in dogs, Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. (2007), doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2007.06.016

(Download PDF.)

(Thanks, Wishy the Writer, for this info.)

Makes a bit of sense to me. When training one's muscles, you don't use the same muscle group every day; you work hard one day on one thing, then give it at least a day or two of rest while working on a different set of muscles. Apparently this translates to mental "muscle," too!

Remington always did better with only one or two training sessions a week, no matter how long or how intense. My other dogs love doing stuff as often as I want to do it, but it does seem sometimes that progress doesn't necessarily occur daily, but in leaps after several days of stasis.

Anyway, worth pondering!


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Monday, March 08, 2010


SUMMARY: Musings between agilities.

Tika's fur is SO thick that her feet and legs are like sponges, and particularly the thick hairy bits on her behind. I'm thinkin' that makes her Sponge-dog Hairpants. Am I right?

My not-too inspired-photo for week 9 of 52 Weeks for Dogs:

When we go for a walk, and we encounter grassy areas, I play tug of war with Boost and her leash and allow her to run run run a bit with the handle of the leash in her mouth. She runs 20 feet ahead and then comes back for more tug. (She has never ever ever run out into the street, but I'm very careful anyway.) She now gets very excited when we get to grassland! Because we all get to run and play! And so, singing to her as we go, with apologies to Paul Simon:

We're going to grassland
In southern San Jose
We're going to grassland.
Doggies and walkers with leashies
and we are going to grassland!
My walking companion is five years old
She is so bored with simply smells
But soon we'll tug and play
And pretend to run away
in grassland!

(Original lyrics here.)

We've had no class for two weeks; been rained out. Rented the field with a friend and her 3 border collies Saturday afternoon and went up and practiced for a couple of hours. Mostly ran Tika just to run Tika. Tried to set up things with Boost where she's ahead of me or I have to push her out or I have to serp her. Bars were knocked. Speed occurred. Progress might have been made. I think just DOING things like that over and over until we get them right is probably good.

At home, have done some desultory threadles and serps. Today took a different approach: Worked on sending them into gambles where they had to keep going straight ahead of me. Not too bad on just jump jump tunnel, but stick a teeter instead of the 2nd jump and things went all to pot. This was good. Good practice at keeping their focus straight ahead.

Then the skies burst into a sudden downpour, although the sun continued to shine brightly. I retreated to the back porch, but continued to send the dogs down to the lawn area to do obstacles for a thrown reward. Rain didn't bother either of them! And revealed again that Boost doesn't know her left from right except in certain very circumscribed situations. I think this was actually an excellent exercise, because now the dogs do not have my body language (good and/or bad) to guide them, just my commands! So they have to listen! AND pay attention!

Again, I think progress occurred and I think I'll try more of that. That continued until I looked up across my back fence--and had to abandon the dogs to race for my camera:

Meanwhile, I am STILL liking the idea of not doing agility. Of course, after our 4-day mega-event Apr 15-18, in rapid succession there are my own home clubs' USDAA trials April 24-25 and May 1-2. See, this is the problem with trying to spread my agility out over the year: The convenient ones and the highest ROI ones are all glopped exceedingly tightly in just a couple of spots during the year, and the rest of the year is empy (that's empty without the hard-to-pronounce t in the middle).

Sigh. I will be VERY tired after those two and a half weeks are over! And probably ready for no more agility for a very long time.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes I Think I've Had It With Agility

SUMMARY: A whining, self-pitying BUT post, move along now, nothing to see here, I doubt you'll want to read it.

I know that some weekends are better than others. I know that sometimes I'm better than at other times. And believe me after the heartbreaking news about John Nunes after this weekend, I know that there are so many more things in this world that are more important to me than Qs in agility competitions. And yet--but--

This last weekend was not among the best. Not the worst, by any means, but really, as the weekend wore on--23 runs all together--there was not one in which I wasn't disappointed with myself as a handler or as a trainer.

I could gripe about the very few incorrect things that Tika did and blame them on her, but in fact almost all were handling issues this time, and, really, flying off contacts is a training issue.

I acknowledge that her successes were also as a result of my skills as a trainer and a handler, and I know that we do better than many people, and I know that I should just be happy that she's healthy and happy and having a good time (and, believe me, I am happy on all those counts). But--I'm filled with BUTs.

And Boost is a beautiful happy dog who NEVER turns off to doing agility with all her heart and soul, and who loves me dearly, and I know that I should be happy about that (and, believe me, I am). And the fact that she qualified in Steeplechase despite a flaw or two, I know, I can attribute to my skills at training and handling. But--my BUTs just about overwhelmed me this last weekend.


  • Boost Pairs Relay: First run of the weekend, lovely, actually. For 10 whole obstacles on our half. We qualified (teammate had a brief flaw so we BARELY qualified, but at least it's a Q).
  • Tika Pairs Relay: Flew off the Aframe big time [contact training issue] so I made her Down and wait, and she thereby knocked the following bar when I released her. We BARELY qualified but at least it's a Q.
  • Boost Standard: Hit first pole in weaves so hard that she bounced and didn't bother collecting enough to make the turn into the second pole [weave  training], so faults plus time wasted. Knocked a bar [training and/or handling]. Slow down on table [training].
  • Tika Standard: Very fast and happy but WAY flew off the dogwalk. [contact training]
  • Boost Gamblers: In opening, left both Aframes w/out waiting for a release, so made her lie down both times [contact training], which meant that we were on the far side of the field when the whistle blew, so I basically sent her full-speed across the entire field to the jump-tunnel in the gamble, and she knocked the first bar,  [training and/or handling] so no Q although she did the whole gamble beautifully.
  • Tika Gamblers: Very happy and fast, but when I tried to do back-to-back Aframes, I took my eye off her and she ran *past* the second one instead of back up it, costing us 3 points and 1st place [handling]. So it was a Q and a 2nd and top ten points, but, dang it--
  • Boost Steeplechase: Pretty smooth and fast, actually, although she left the 2nd Aframe without waiting for a release, so I made her Down. [contact training]. Even with that delay, she was fast enough and smooth enough to qualify for round 2--by less than 2 seconds, barely.
  • Tika Steeplechase: Two Aframes. Very happy, pretty fast, I thought she had gotten toenails into both Aframe contacts, but the judge didn't think so. [contact training]. She was only .02 seconds slower than the first-place dog in her 22" class, but because there were too few dogs in 22", they combined us with the 16" border collies, whose times knocked us out of qualifying for round 2 because of the Aframe fault.
  • Boost Snooker: In opening, approaching weaves ahead of me, Boost turned back to me instead of going in [training gahhh!] so I ended up on wrong side of weaves from where I wanted to be, so when we exited I had to pull her past an incorrect obstacle but she ignored me and "Boost! Boost! Boost!" [training and/or handling] and that was it. Whistle off after 3 obstacles.
  • Tika Snooker: We had a great run going, but on the last of 4 reds in the opening, I forgot which way I wanted to turn and in my moment of lostness, put her right over an incorrect obstacle [handling], so whistled off. No Q, no top 10 points.
  • Boost Jumpers: Bars bars bars. [training] The run was actually fairly smooth, but, sigh, again no Q.
  • Tika Jumpers: Ran well after dark with OK but not great lighting. Missed some cues [handling] so very wide turns although generally smooth and comfortable. Lucky for us, other dogs were having more trouble with it than we were (I think it's the lighting) and we ended up with a 1st place. OK, happy about that, but you'd think my timing would be good by now. After 16 years of training and 200+ trials.
  • Sunday--

  • Boost Steeplechase Round 2: OMG what a disaster. [training mostly, maybe handling]. Well, we didn't "E", but that's mostly all I can say about it.
  • Tika Jumpers: I rather yelled as she was going over a jump and she knocked the bar.  [handling and probably some training] Otherwise smooth and happy, 2nd fastest time but this course was SO EASY that we were the ONLY 22" dog not to qualify! Argh!
  • Boost Jumpers: Two bars, including the first one, two runout attempts that I barely blocked, wide turns and calloffs--[handling, training, I dunno]
  • Tika Standard: On one 180-turn, I forgot how far out the 2nd jump was and pulled her past it for runout faults. [handling] Two very wide turns that were almost off courses when I didn't remember where I was going soon enough. She still was fast enough that she would've placed 3rd [of 13 dogs] if not for the fault. 
  • Boost Standard: Knocked a bar early. [Training] A major disaster on the table [apparently training--to give you a clue, our course time on this run was 76 seconds, compared to a Standard Course Time [max allowed] of 58 and a winning time of 43]. However, the closing sequence of 9 obstacles after the table flummoxed many handlers including some top ones whose dogs made wide turns or turned the wrong way etc--and Boost and I got through that sequence perfectly. I mean, PERFECTLY. I liked that. But still, would be nice to Q once in a while.
  • Tika Gamblers: I guess I got greedy in the opening after yesterday's mess. I knew that trying for one more Aframe might put us out of time, but I knew that tika was fast enough and good enough that we could still make it so worth trying even though there was a safer path. Except 1: The whistle blew as she jumped from the ground to the Aframe before she even hit it, so wasting about 3 of our 16 seconds. We STILL could have made it except 2: I left her on the Aframe and ran towards the gamble instead of collecting her, so she ran in the opposite direction at first. We STILL could have made it except that when I reversed myself and gathered her up, I proceeded to put her over the wrong lead-in jump to the gamble, so after the first gamble jump she didn't see the tunnel, so turned back to me, and I kept saying "through!" and she turned around, saw it, did the whole thing perfectly--but .98 seconds over time. [ALL handling crap, multiple times in one run]
  • Boost Gamblers: Didn't stick either Aframe in opening so made her down each time [training], so doing 2 dogwalks after that I held her for a long time on each contact, so we were wayyyyy out of position when the whistle blew. Even so, I managed to threadle her around the aframe and to the other side of the course where she did the gamble spot-on perfectly--but .49 seconds over time. Gah!  [Not often in one weekend where your dogs get all 4 gambles but you have only one Q to show for it]
  • Tika Grand Prix: Sent her to a jump and moved away too soon, pulling her off the jump for another runout fault. [handling] So I turned it into a contact training run and made her "down" or held her on all contacts, and even going back for that jump and those long contacts, she was 4th fastest, but no Q of course.
  • Boost Grand Prix: Good lord. Yikes. Got killed when she didn't come in to me on a 180 so ran past a jump despite me trying to stand in her way and to the next obstacle for off course/E. [training]
  • Tika Snooker: A speed course that was going to require 51 points for a Super-Q or even to place. She did everything I asked her to except once again I forgot which way I was going to turn, so spun suddenly to do as wrap as she was going over a jump and she knocked a bar.  [handling] We got all the way through the course with 44 points (that one 7-pointer short of 51). We  completely lucked out on this one--in all other heights, "everyone" was getting 51, but in our height, everyone else crapped out more than we did so only one dog got 51 so we ended up 2nd with a Super-Q and top ten points.
  • Boost Snooker: Didn't come in to me on a 180-turn and didn't respond to "Boost! Boost!  Boost!" [training and handling both] and once again off course after 3 obstacles.


For the weekend, out of 11 runs, Tika got one 1st/Q, two 2nd/Qs, and one Q no placement. Out of 12 runs, Boost got two Qs, no placements, no $ in steeplechase.

It was Boost's 15th Pairs Q, so now she's got her RCh-Bronze.

I have had worse weekends. But--

And so--

I have come away from the weekend realizing deeply that I need to change something, in my attitude or my schedule or my approach towards training or probably all of those interconnected things, or I will spend many more weekends regretting the things I haven't done and the mistakes I've made and the money I've spent to make the same mistakes again and again rather than reaping the rewards that my dogs are capable of and that I *think* I'm capable of (although at times I wonder). I haven't entirely decided what that means, but I have pretty much decided that I'm not going to trial in March at all, scratching 2 of the only 3 CPE trials I was planning on for the year. Beyond that--I dunno.

Maybe monthly private lessons instead of regular weekly classes. Maybe get back to a disciplined list of specific skills to work on each day during each week, like when I was first training each dog--it's so clear then what you need to work on. Like, from class, you'd come home with an assignment to work very certain exercises with, say, 4 weave poles, or two jumps, or a target and a clicker. Small, easily identifiable pieces.

The difference there is that progress seemed to happen so fast, I was always going forward, but now, it's like backing up two steps and trying again, over and over.

Hey, yeah, Boost hasn't popped out of the weaves early in two whole trials now, I'm so happy about that. But now we have to work on table issues again and contacts again and bars always.

I'm tired of not being a better handler, I'm tired of my dogs making mistakes, I'm tired of trying to be circumspect about the fact that I don't train enough or correctly to fix the problems and so I should accept the consequences and not bemoan them. But. But. But.

Funny side note

Rereading this, I note that I'm still saying "whistle blew" to start the gamble--since we started using electronic timers all the time a few years ago, it has been a buzzer and never a whistle, yet I still think of it as "whistle blew," not "buzzer buzzed". Sort of like "dialing" a telephone, I guess.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

This Training Thing Is Hard!

SUMMARY: Thanks to my friend Sarah for these photos from Sunday's fun match.

Boost is so intent on watching me as I start lining her up at my side at the start line. She'd probably be a great heeler in obedience.

Boost waiting as I lead out. Is this an intense dog or what?

Tika saves her energy at the start line for more important things.

...Like blasting her way up the dogwalk. Too bad that she slows on the down ramp. She's so fast going down at home when I get her revved up. This training thing is hard!

...Or like blasting away from the teeter. She's not superfast on the teeter; jumps to a comfortable tilting point, rides it down gently, then takes off. Always in the yellow zone, 2o2o not needed, but not the fastest ride down. This training thing is hard!

...Or like blasting away from the Aframe after correctly getting her 2o2o. Again, fast 2o2o at home and in class, just trots down to it in competition or flies off way high. This--er--yes--training thing is hard!

Boost sails over the top of the Aframe. She doesn't usually catch some air doing it, but keeps her center of gravity low and wastes no steps. (Here you can really see that streak of gray in my hair above my ear. Good thing I'm blonde and it doesn't show that easily. Yet. In some light.)

I like this one because you can see the wood chips flying behind her, and those wide-open eyes show that she is having the hyper time of her life out there.

Boost's teeter is blazing. She doesn't ride it down out at the end like some dogs; near as I can tell, she rides it down her and uses the momentum of the slam-down to slide to the end as it hits. Some times faster than others. Wish I could get the fastest version all the time. This, sigh, training thing is hard. BUT her teeter is blazing even when it's slow, so of course I don't work on improving it.

Oh, good lord, who trained that dogwalk? Why is she not driving to the end looking forward? That is SUCH a problem that she's looking back at me instead of driving to the end. Training is... well... you know...

At least this time she actually got one foot in the correct zone (ground at end of board) rather than popping off halfway into the yellow to come back and meet me. I was *warned* that if I didn't keep up my drive-to-nose-touch-at-end criteria, I'd pay for it eventually. I hate when they're right and I'm lazy.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Trkman Masters Handling Seminar

SUMMARY: Good personalized help and some nice pointers.

Boost and I participated in Silvia Trkman's Master Handling Seminar on Monday. Goal is to identify and execute the tightest lines through a course.

Silvia is so good at watching your run and remembering everything about it, then giving you intelligent suggestions in a manner as if she's talking to a peer (not to an idiot or a beginning or a pathetic handler who'll never be as awesome as she is). I loved it.

(If you're not familiar with Silvia's name, she's a multiple-time world champion and one of the most interesting dog-trick trainers around: Go to Youtube and search for "silvia trkman tricks" and see some of what she does.)

She didn't have a detailed bulleted-point agenda or system. She said that every dog and handler has to choose the handling system that's best for them. For example, she disliked blind crosses "for 15 years" until she recently got a Border Collie who is too soft for both front and rear crosses, and blind crosses work great.

She looks SO young. I poked around a bit: She *is* young. Best as I can find so far, she's either 27 or 29. Just barely more than half my age, and she has been a top European competitor since the late 1980s. Think about it!

Her primary suggestions weren't any that I hadn't heard before in one form or another, but she was able to help each of us use and prove the strategies on 5 different courses:

Dog must know where she's going, not just the next obstacle but the one after that, so cue cue cue with body language and voice.

You HAVE to be there. Hustle. Be clear in what you want the dog to do (e.g., don't gesture at a tunnel that the dog has to take at a weird angle while you're running; you have to be right there and take a litttle step/push to get the dog in. Hard to explain without a drawing, sorry. Just--hustle!)

Use voice cues particularly for turns. Have to cue before the turn, not over the bar or after the dog has landed. She has different verbal cues for turn left, turn right, wrap tightly left, and wrap tightly right. (How to teach those was Tuesday's seminar, which we didn't attend.)

Dogs must must must have independent weave entries & completions and dogwalk & Aframe contacts if you want to play with the big dogs (so to speak), and often just to be able to get around a course successfully. And that's from any oddball angle. Not so much the teeter, because you've usually got plenty of time to run with the dog and still get to where you need to be.

Don't stop moving! If you hustle to get there and then are standing there waiting, that's TOO much hustle and it'll slow the dog down. Move fast and the dog will, too.

Sometimes you just have to trust your dog. (She managed to set up at least one scenario where all of us checked back on our dogs and they all then either hesitated or took the wrong obstacle, where if we ran looking straight ahead, the dogs ran, too.

At the end of the day, she said that she was impressed with how well we all did and how fast and accurate our contacts were. We said "flatterer" or to that effect, and she looked taken aback and said, no, really, I mean it. And it's likely true: Among other excellent participants were Rob and Wings (winner of this year's Steeplechase championship and often a finalist) and Rachel Sanders (winner of various prior national championships & often a finalist), and those are the people we're competing against every day, so we know where we need to be.

(Thanks to Laura Hartwick for first 2 photos and thanks--I think--to Vici Whisner for 3rd.)

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

And While Being Not At the Nationals--

SUMMARY: I *was* at the nationals! After a nice dogwalk--er, walk with the dogs.

This afternoon, took the dogs out to a park we sometimes go to where people don't seem to yell at you if you have your dogs off leash if they're under control. Lots of people with their dogs off leash. Huge flat lawn where there can be a soccer game and still lots of room to do frisbee with the dogs and no one will even notice. Trail over a nice steep hill with undomesticated vegetation that the dogs can sniff around plus gopher holes galore. Fun.

So about that "if they're under control" thing. I took a pocketful of smelly Zukes with me to practice calling Tika back to me, rewarding, and releasing. She was good on the flat as long as there was no distraction, but she blew me off repeatedly on the hill, or came reluctantly along a path somewhat akin to what you'd see in Family Circus. And then finally she didn't come back at all, and I ended up pursuing her all the way around the hill and back down and halfway into the park before she turned around and I grabbed her and told her what for.

Then when I needed the "come", when she saw a couple of small dogs running and decided to charge over to investigate, I could see her step falter briefly at my call and then she just decided to ignore me again.

Back to remedial recalls. I've done this with her so often--but not often enough.

Fortunately she's good with other dogs, it's just that she often scares the *owners* because she charges in so fast. These were Yorkies or Skyes or some small terrier like that, and when she got near, one of them charged at HER barking ferociously, and Tika put her ears back, skidded to a halt, and turned to come right back to me.

We got in about 45 minutes of frisbee and hiking, and then 15 minutes later when we got home, they wanted to play in the yard, too.

However, I had other plans: Made a huge bowl of popcorn and sat in my office with the USDAA Steeplechase National [World] Championships final rounds playing in live stream on BOTH of the computers in my office (because the live streaming would freeze periodically while catching up on the download and this way one or the other computer was always showing action because they'd download at different times) set to full-screen display.

And also had facebook up to the USDAA page and my own page, posting comments and reading other people's comments as we went along, so it was almost like being in a crowd of agility people sitting in the bleachers watching the show! The next best thing to being there!

All the excitement once again; super-fast runs, amazing over-the-top handling, no holds barred full-out competition with some of the best dogs in the world (there were several World Team dogs in the assorted finals tonight, along with plenty of past champions of various sorts).

A lot of Bay Teamers just missed being in the Steeplechase finals--by fractions of seconds in a few cases. Dang! But my club still had a great showing. And not merely Bay Teamers but people I know fairly well--

Ashley Deacon and Luka (classmates) won the 16" Steeplechase for I believe the 4th time!

In 22", Nancy Gyes/Ace and Jim Basic/Sweep (our long-time instructors) were 1st and 2nd for the longest time but got barely edged out and ended up 3rd and 5th, pretty fine work for the hundreds of 22" dogs entered! And Diana Wilson and Cassidy (traveled to nationals with them 2 years ago), who won the semifinals(!) made what I believe is their first appearance in the finals as first seed, but they had bobbles in the final round, although you could still see the speed of that team. Silvina Bruera and Maja (classmates) also had bobbles but looked pretty darned good.

And in 26", an all-border-collie-except-one-terv group, Rob Michalski and Wings the Tervuren WON (have been involved in bay team together for a very long time & tika & his other dog are doing DAM teammates in december)! And Channan Fosty with Icon had a lovely smooth run to just get edged out and into 3rd place! TWO bay teamers on the podium!

It was exciting and exhausting. I love watching the finals at nationals; that's always one of my favorite parts of going. This wasn't quite as good as being there, but it was still pretty darned good. Thanks to USDAA for working out the kinks in their live feed.

So now I'm worn out physically and emotionallly and headed for bed. Yeehah agility fans!

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

He Whispers So Quietly, No One Knows What He's Doing

SUMMARY: A review of Cesar Milan's book.

I knew a bit about Cesar Milan even before someone gave me his book-- from reading & hearing descriptions; had seen a couple of his shows. I knew that most Dog People I know--trainers and behaviorists especially-- think that he's the worst thing to happen to dog training in decades. I wasn't impressed with what I saw; I felt sorry for the dogs, sorry for the owners.

I read his book. There are some things that he says that I like. Dogs need exercise. You must be firm with your dog. OK. That about sums up what I agree with in the whole book. The rest seemed like smoke and mirrors--OK, THAT example seemed to work for him, but really what went on behind the scenes? What happened after he left the room? What happened on the days he DIDN'T write about?--or like just appalling lack of understanding or engaging in all the progress that's been made in companion animal training in recent decades, reverting to I Am The Bigger, Stronger Beast method.

But I'm not an official dog trainer--although I've studied in that direction. I'm not a behaviorist--although I've learned so much by working with people who are, and interacting with so many people and their dogs (and my own six, too).

Here's a review by a professional; it's the most clearly thought-out explanation of why it's a bad book at the very least. (It's near the bottom of this page, which also lists brief reviews of other fairly well-known training books.)

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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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Friday, August 14, 2009

Just Another Day

SUMMARY: A little sore, a little agility, no conditioning hikes whatsoever.

Work deadlines. Trying to take a 3-day weekend; not going to make it. No walkies at all.

After yesterday's hike, my hip muscles are sore, of all things. Legs and knee are fine. No recurrence of toe blister from last weekend.

Today they cancelled our usual evening class in lieu of world team coaching & practice. Invited us to an earlier class, but I was too determined to try to get this document update done before bed, so didn't want to go early.

Did a little bit of agility in the yard: A little bit of "out"/gamble work with Boost, and stopping FORWARD on the teeter instead of slued around to face me. Both dogs--blasting in a huge oval between 2 tunnels & trying not to knock the jump in between. Man, it's only at 20" and both dogs are bringing it down! Lead-out pivots, start-line stays, send-and-runs, sharp angles over jumps... Sounds like a lot, but did only a little of each with each dog. Plus the usual weave games.

Might or might not be on the web this weekend. Annual 3-day party! Dogs will go stir crazy here without me. Renter plays with them a bit, but not much. And I still need to get out every morning on my own & get in a couple of miles.

Live, love, laugh.

Sleep seems like a better plan at the moment.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Weave pole fakeout

SUMMARY: Who's doing the weaves well is not whom I expected.

Tika is a pretty good weave pole dog; has been since she started competing. Finds the entry. Stays in all the way through. Recently she's missed some entries and has popped out some.

Boost, of course, if you've been riding along with TMH, has had an ongoing weave pole disaster. Misses entries. Pops out. Not so bad lately (again--hope it stays fixed) but still not as reliable as Tika.

So we've been doing weave entry and pop-out drills. Guess whom I can't get to pop out for nuthin'? Boost! Most I got was when I ran alongside her, turned abruptly in the opposite direction, and threw the toy next to her. She slowed wayyyy down but stayed in the poles to the end! So how come she pops in competition?! And guess who *is* popping out in several cases? Tika! Dang! What's with that?

OK, so who's been making even difficult weave entries from the right over a jump aimed in various directions alongside the poles? Boost again! While Tika shleps into the nearest pole the FIRST time in a drill and then does her usual good work the SECOND time.

Bah. Will never figure out dogs.

Some things I'm doing to try pop-outs:
*Drop toy next to dog
*Throw toy ahead
*Wiggle toy next to dog invitingly
*Run with dog then dart off to side.
*Run with dog then stop suddenly.
* " then drift slowly to side
* " then slowly come to halt
* " then do a pirouette and keep going
* " then turn in opposite direction
* Put dog into weaves then run to far side of yard.
* " then run to far side of a jump, tunnel, etc.
* Stop suddenly and say "Yayyy! Good dog!"
* Anything else I can think of.
* Here are more ideas I posted last year, also read in the comments.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

We're Ready

SUMMARY: Friday night thoughts for the weekend.

It was still 88F outside at 7:00 Friday evening. Strawberries & whipped cream for dinner.

Reports from early arrivals at the trial site, Quail Lodge in Carmel, report that the site is gorgeous and the temp was 65 and slighty foggy. Awesome.

Both dogs did some bar-knocking drills and some serpentine drills. Too hot to do much else, or for very long.

Tika seems fine in most respects today, except that certain things make her yelp. :-( Still, she's running full out, jumping cleanly, tugging of war in her most fervent manner. More rimadyl, more massaging.

My showerhead just broke. Aughhh! In a heat wave on a friday night before an agility weekend! Sheesh. I have a hand-held sprayer alternative, but I have just learned that one must be coordinated to avoid continually spraying oneself in the face. Sputttppfff!

Tomorrow: Gamblers, Standard, Jumpers (both dogs need Qs! Really!), Steeplechase round 1 and 2, and Pairs.

Sunday: Snooker, Grand Prix, and Standard. And home early? One can dream.

It's 8 p.m. as I write this, and I need to be in bed *now* for that 4 a.m. arising. It will be to *#&@ hot for me to get to sleep right now. I would be lying there, oozing sweat into my sheets. Eh, sleep is overrated.

Boost's ears occasionally start to stand up, giving her a puppyish charm. Never lasts long. Maybe the heat makes them rise.

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Training Progress

SUMMARY: As usual, some things get better and some get worse.

Yesterday morning, we went for a long walk, played frisbee in the park, and did our usual chase-the-toy games in the yard. More of the same in the late afternoon, with some running/jumping exercises.

Because we're doing USDAA this weekend, and because Tika needs Jumpers legs #24 and #25 at 26" (while everything else she's in is a Performance 22"), she ran last night in class mostly at 26". I warmed her up pretty good, got her pretty excited. We've been doing the same bar-knocking drills as for Boost, and she's been just about perfect. Last night in class, she knocked several bars and seemed slow to me (but maybe that's in comparison to Boost).

We got home, had dinner, relaxed a bit--and when I got out the prunes for their evening treats, she grabbed one, hunched over, and exited rapidly upstairs to the bedroom. Zounds! (a) Tika never leaves the vicinity of food except in dire straits. (b) the sign of not feeling well or being in pain is beelining for the bedroom.

So she got some rimadyl and a nice massage.

As for Boost, who desperately needs Jumpers leg #1 (!!! still !!!), she knocked bars but not so badly (I know, I know, a knocked bar is a knocked bar), BUT (a) instructor said, wow, she's really working to avoid knocking them, and they're mostly because you're talking to her when she's right on top of the obstacle, and she didn't knock any with her hock (which was the main perceived "lazy" problem); and (b) she was really running, not doing runouts and refusals while looking at me the whole time, continuing the trend from last weekend's trial.

Our biggest remaining runout issue is coming in to me on *#&@ serpentines! Back to work on those, too.

This weekend: Should be near 90s in San Jose. Should be near mid-70s at the coast in Carmel, which is where the trial is. Whew! It's a 75-minute drive (per mapquest; I've never been there before), and I'm going to hoof it home overnight rather than spending the night there. So: Up at 4 a.m. or thereabouts once again Saturday morning, an hour later Sunday.

Better pack! And get some real work in! And one final bar-knocking practice!

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Heart My Dog Heads and Fruit

SUMMARY: All the misappropriated lyrics you could want at K-TMH, plus fruit news.

Remember when you used to see "I heart my dog head" on everything? Yeah, like this notepad, which I got because at the time I had a Siberian Husky a long long time ago, like, she's been dead for 12 years, which shows you how long a fad pad can last: Even today, when I'm expressing affection for my dogs, I say "I heart my dog heads!" It's such a catchy phrase.

And with that comes today's song, developed after many long seconds out in the yard playing tunnel/fetch, sung to the tune of "Fish Heads":
Dog heads, dog heads, Fluffy woofy dog heads,
Dog heads, dog heads, I heart them!

In the morning, happy waggy dog heads.
In the evening, dog hair in my soup!

Dog heads, dog heads [etc.]

Ask your dog head anything you want to
When they answer, they will bark!

Dog heads, dog heads [etc.]

Sent my dog heads out to do a tunnel
Didn't have to yell to get them in!

Dog heads, dog heads [etc.]

OK, but enough of operatic tension; it's time for a non sequitur, so let's talk about fruit. Jake was the consummate fruit dog, if I may make a tiny pun; would do anything to get a banana; ate figs until he'd put on about 15-20% of additional weight within a few short weeks; pigged out on apples faster than I could pick up the fallen ones daily; even ate oranges from time to time. He particularly used to eat plums until he had pretty much a steady stream going in one end and out the other, if you know what I mean. Wish Tika would eat more plums, because her anal glands have gone bad a couple of times (May 2007, July 2008), and one simple advice was to feed her 3 prunes a couple of times a week or daily or whenever I remember. Have been doing that--she likes prunes--and so far, so good.

Neither of my current dogs seem interested in oranges, apples, or plums, but they are apparently into pears. I have been finding pear stems lying in the oddest places in the house; apparently, they are not an edible part. Here's the culprit, nibbling off the last minuscule portions of actual fruit:
Tika apparently likes them enough to not merely wait for some to fall to the ground (or disdains those because they're now soiled--after all, who knows what those other dogs have been doing on the ground around that tree), but leaps at the tree to pull fresh ones off. Sadly I have not been able to get to a camera fast enough to record this.
This year, the usually profuse plums were small and nonprofuse; usually we make at least a couple of batches of plum sorbet, but not this year. We rescued barely enough to eat a few a day for a couple of weeks, and that's it. Hardly any went into the compost pile.

The blackberries were disappointing, too. Again, normally I haul in a quart or two a day during the time that they're ripe, but this year the beast depredation was awful, the berries were small and sparse, and a lot of them ripened oddly--half ripe and the other half not ripe, staying red and hard and tart. Very disappointing; I think I had enough for about 4 bowls of morning cereal, and that was it. No blackberry ice cream or sorbet this year, either. Sighhhh

However, the lemon tree, which last year had few, teeny, dry lemons, this year is back to its profusity, as are the orange trees. But check out this orange: Looks like someone neatly sliced a quarter out of it and grafted in part of a lemon, which grew right into place. I wonder if it's possible for a quarter of an orange blossom to be pollinated with lemon-tree pollen and produce this oddity? (I didn't cut it open to see what it was like inside.)

Meanwhile, I've been practicing the "find the obstacle" game. Play tug, take toy away, point body in general direction of the agility obstacle I want them to take, say name of obstacle, praise if they take the correct one. It seems to be very true that, for my dogs, "any noun will do" for whatever the nearest obstacle is. I need to do much much more of training by obstacle name.

And for now, farewell.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Ooooh Noooo!

SUMMARY: Agility trial angst.

Wait--how is it possible that I'm already almost at this weekend's 3-day USDAA trial in Prunedale? Starting FRIDAY morning! Ack! Have we practiced ANYTHING that we need to practice? No! None! Nothing!

And I just realized that of COURSE we're not having class Thursday night this week because half the class will already be down there camping out and the rest of us will be going to bed very early.

Need to practice Tika jumping at 26"! Need to work on Boost's bar-knocking exercises! Ack! No time! Too hot! Boring! [wait--subtract that last one--one is supposed to MAKE the things that you have to do FUN so that you do them. ... OK, BORING!]

Ack ack ack!

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Brutalizing Your Dog Teaches Him the Wrong Lesson

SUMMARY: Old dog-training methods are out. Dominance is out. Communication and learning are in.
In the 30 years since I took my first obedience class and read my first dog-training book, dog-training methods have changed dramatically--in many, but not all, places and for many, but not all, people. And it continues to change, year after year, as dogs have become more and more members of the family sharing people's homes rather than working animals snoozing in the barn or a doghouse. Because of these trends, more and more time and money has been devoted to understanding how dogs learn and socialize.

In my first class, we were told to never use treats because the dog was supposed to do the work for the reward of you paying attention to it. At home, I'd sneak my dog treats when training. If dogs didn't do what you wanted, you forced them to or you scolded them for it. If they were fearful, you dragged them into situations that frightened them and wouldn't let them go. The memory of a collie, terrified of other dogs, being hauled around the ring to every single dog, his tail between his legs, his ears back, struggling to get away, is my most indelible memory of evil dog trainers and a huge reason why I decided that I would do it on my own from then on. (Ten years after that, a fortunate referral to a trainer relieved me of the "all trainers are evil" belief.)

For years now, I've been reading about, and hearing about from trainers I respect, the idea that "dominance theory" of dog training is a bunch of hooey. Here's a new study from the University of Bristolís Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences that confirms that this strategy has probably caused more damage than good: Article: Using 'Dominance' To Explain Dog Behavior Is Old Hat; Study abstract.

Among the assorted common dog-training nonsense that I get from The Person On The Street who engages me in a discussion about dogs is "it worked for my father/grandfather/first dog 50 years ago so it's good enough for me." An example of a thoroughly debunked ancient training strategy: when a puppy pees on the carpet, hit him with a rolled-up newspaper and rub his nose in it. Doesn't communicate the right thing to the dog--in fact may communicate entirely the wrong thing, may make the problem worse, probably takes longer to achieve the results you want.

Knowledge about, and strategies for, many things change through the years; don't know why some people think that dog training methods should be frozen in time when there's plenty of solid, more recent information about how dogs think, act, and learn.

Cesar Milan is a controversial figure in one large part because he uses dominance theory. Most trainers I know think he's singularly done more damage to the science of dog training than anyone else in recent history. I think he makes some good points; like: if your dog is getting enough exercise and mental exertion, he won't develop bad habits through boredom or pent-up energy. But there are a lot of things that he talks about in his book that raise my suspicions about what's really going on behind the scenes and after the cameras have left the building.

If you're here reading this blog, I'm probably preaching to the choir, so,OK, that's my soapbox for the day.

Here are additional links on the same topic:


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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knock Off That Bar Knocking and Check Out That View

SUMMARY: Working on Boost's main issue (of --um-- 2 or 3 main issues).

Spent an hour yesterday with WTC ("world team coach", yeah surely one of these days I'll make an extra page for all of my associate's aliases used here) with Boost analyzing some of her bar-knocking issues and coming up with ways to address them.

WTC watched her jump several times and she jumped nicely. Jumping when I'm moving out ahead of her, though? She's taking off early. I'd already identified that one of her bar-knocking issues (and refusals & runouts) is that she spends too much time looking at me rather than figuring out the course. Several things I've done on my own are devoted to getting her to look at obstacles instead of me. So this reinforces that issue.

We also identified that, when rewarded promptly and "punished" promptly--very promptly--after hitting the bar, she starts doing better, so she's at least somewhat aware of what she's doing with her back legs. The punishment is to immediately make her down (but in a gentle but firm voice, not scolding) and turn my back on her for at least a few seconds. That means that the instant she hits the bar--certainly by the time she's landing--I have to be telling her "lie down" or it's too long after hitting the bar for her to get it.

We also worked on ways to get her to think about the jump and looking forward instead of looking at me for a reward. We experimented with the treat-n-train for dispensing a reward after she's done a jump correctly. It's not bad, but there is a bit of a delay in dispensing the treat after the beep. I'll have to reaccustom her to that delay.

Mainly I'm going to be focusing on tossing high-value treats on the ground in front of her when she does jumps successfully. I could be standing, or sitting in a chair as motionless as possible so she's not looking at me so much for the reward. Which also means I have to be quick with the toss so she doesn't have time to look at me, but not so quick that I accidentally reward a ticked bar. Timing is everything!

So we're going to work on one jump for now with me sitting and tossing treats, or with treat-n-train at one end and a low table or phone book or something at the other end for me to toss the treat to, anything so she's looking ahead instead of at me. And no sit-stay or anything, just telling her "hup" from where she's picked up the last goodie. She was doing very very well at not touching the bar by the end of yesterday's session.

And we'll also work on 2-jump bounce jumps, full height (actually 26"; her competition height is 22"), 7' apart. And gradually adding me standing in different places, them me moving a little bit, then both of us running at them, and so on.

So for her--and the issue may be different for other dogs--the idea is to teach her that the JUMP is the important thing, not me, and that looking FORWARD is the important thing, not looking at me. And we'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile--Just going up to Power Paws is a pleasure. I mean, the company's good, but the view is ever-changing and always beautiful.

In this photo, I believe that PP is the level area just above the stoplight on the left side. (So hard to pick it out from down below.)

The downside to living up there is that you're always looking for smoke, always hypersensitive to the scent of burning. This is a bad thing to see in the foothills below you as the fire season begins.
But--back to the upside--look slightly more to your left at sunset, and this is what you might see:

And this is what class on Thursday evening is like--looking still further to your left-- (those are neighbors' houses you see):
Gazing out over San Jose:

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Remembering Weaving Poles, Flowers, Birds, and What Else Anyway?

SUMMARY: A little yardwork, a little practice, new neighbors.

Yesterday I didn't go for a hike, didn't go for a walk, didn't even really practice any agility. I did split, plant, and/or repot some hostas, mondo grass, western bleeding heart, redwood sorrel, impatiens, begonias, lobelia...and some other stuff that I've already forgotten.

Also trimmed dead or rangy bits from some lettuce, pothos, ferns, more mondo grass, irises, mint, and those large white daisy things that come back every year. Plus some other stuff that I've already forgotten.

In between, Boost lay next to The Toy, off on the lawn in the shade somewhere, and waited for me to offer to throw it. So I did, sometimes. And sometimes we played the Find The Weavepole Game. Don't recall where I learned it. Basically, you play with the dog like crazy, get her all het up, then take the toy away and say "Weave!" and let the dog find the weave entry.

You start out easy, in a location close to an easy entry with the dog alongside you and you're both facing it. The you move to various distances and various angles away from it, with the dog maybe facing you when you take the toy away.

The idea is that my job is to identify the obstacle. The dog's job is to find the correct obstacle and correct entry and do it. Boost does OK if it's not too hard. I should do more of that; used to do quite a bit of it but it's just one of lots and lots of clever agility training stuff that over time I've already forgotten.

I'm just tired of Tika having pretty dagnabbed good weave entries--and always has--and Boost just dagnabbed doesn't, and she's well over 4 now, what's her excuse? Plus I'm tired of having raggety looking plants lounging around like reprobate rejects from the plant factory. Plus tired of empty or half-empty pots. It's almost summer, fer crying out loud!

Plus I had to avoid the TWO birds who now think that nesting in my potted plants, which I water regularly, are ideal places to raise a family. The mourning dove conveniently took the apartment that I filled with soil but left unplanted specifically for mourning dove nesting; how clever is that bird? How clever am I?

But until I watered the last litter of finch teenagers (see here and here), I didn't realize that finches had moved in down the hall from the dove. Apparently the complaints about the overzealous shower caused mom to move one pot down the hall this time to raise the next litter. Both pots contain plants. Hope they can go a while without water.

What was I talking about? I'm afraid I've already forgotten.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Puppy Blog by Nancy Gyes

SUMMARY: Enjoy puppy-training thoughts with a real pro.

Our instructor, Nancy Gyes, has a brand-new Border Collie puppy and a brand-new blog about training a future agility champion to go along with it. (I helped with some of the technical set-up so I feel a tiny bit of ownership. ;-)).

Follow along and see how a new puppy's training is approached by someone who has been training other people and her own dogs (at least a couple dozen by now I'm guessing) in obedience, behavior, and particularly agility, for many years; who has been national agility champion in various venues with multiple dogs; who has been on the agility world team multiple times and won; who is now world-team coach; and who has many current and former students who are national and world champions and team members (at least three this year on world team).

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

History Reappears

SUMMARY: Comparing 2002 to now.

I've saved emails about my life with my dogs since 1994, and occasionally I go back and post them to this blog, dated as they actually occurred (you can do that in Blogger; very cool) and flagged with "Backfill" and the date I really posted it.

Just posted a couple from the first few weeks I had Tika.

Here's a good one for comparison from February 2002.

How are things 7 years later? Tika definitely does NOT sit quietly and wait for her leash to be put on before going out for a walk. She leaps, shouts, runs in circles, jumps, shrieks...

I used the gentle leader with her for a long time but started getting worried about how much pressure it was putting on her neck every time she pulled on it--which was often--so a year or two back (after I had spent the $$$ to get one for Boost, too) I just stopped using them. Tika now has a nonpull harness that works very well. It's not perfect but I think it works better than the gentle leader (AKA haltie)--made by the same company.

And we have NOT fixed the screeching and barking and leaping and yanking when on leash and she sees other dogs. We have times where I think I'm making progress, and times when I realize that I'll never fix it.

And as for those "Down" commands--which we taught the dogs in two different ways to put their front ends down first because it makes for a faster, more direct down? I've noticed that, recently, Tika is always sitting first before going down. I never taught that or encouraged that; never! Funny.

Tricks--she Shakes just fine, with either paw, and does a high 5, too. Never continued teaching her the Crawl. And she can catch treats tossed to her fairly well; her main failing here is that she always leaps and snaps at it in a frenzy and often it just bounces off her nose or teeth and ricochets into some odd place where we have to hunt for it.

And, of course, I gave up within a year on the idea of having her sleep on the floor and only the old dogs sleep on the bed. Tried it with Boost, too, but noooo--all dogs sleep on the bed with mom. Sigh. Dog hair central.

And that was then, and this is now.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


SUMMARY: OK! Time to get serious about agility training!

Bring it on, human trainer person!

After everyone seemed light on the concept of Correct Contact Performance this last weekend--how did I manage to ruin Boost's Perfect Contacts? Really, they were the best I've ever had on a dog!?--I have vowed that we're all going to do 50 contacts a day here in the yard all week so we'll be prepared for this coming weekend's USDAA trial.

Although I don't know what it's worth--does Boost EVER leave a contact early here in the yard before being released? Not in the memory of humankind.

But what the heck, maybe if I do it often enough then it will overwrite the neural pathways that she has developed that say it's ok to leave the contact as soon as you feel like it. Research has shown that you can do that. That's kind of how you develop habits in your brain--do it over and over and your brain rewires itself. That's what neuro-linguistic programming is all about. Can one do NLP if one is a canine and doesn't have so much of the same linguistic capabilities? Can dogs do daily affirmations? Look in the mirror and say "I will do contacts correctly this weekend"?

"Every day, in every way, I am doing contacts better and better."

"Touch! Touch! Touch! Yes I can!"

I think perhaps we can do the equivalent with lots of repetition and reward.

So I will be a dog-brain rewiring specialist this week.

Yesterday we first revisited nose touches to a target. Ah, indeed, it's ok to just brush your nose past the surface of the target? Or swipe it along the target? Really? Did I ever teach them that? So instead of 50 contacts, we did 50 attempts to get them to >>ponk!<< their nose straight down on the target, not swipe, not push, not lower to their elbows first, not put a paw on it also. Just >>ponk!<< straight down and up. It's really lovely as long as I hold it in my hand at ground level or lean it against the toe of my shoe. Do you suppose the judge would mind if I stood at the end of the contact with a clear plastic target leaning on my shoe?

But there is something evil about the target lying flat on the ground. Really, once upon a time I could swear that we all did this correctly.

Actually, here in the yard, even without the target, Boost will bob her head up and down as if she were thinking about maybe ponking the target if it were there. I tried that this weekend in the ring after many many, shall we say hundreds, of leaving the contact earlies. She just stared at me. Stared. Like, "'Touch?' What is this noise you make?"

OK, so we will also do 50 jumps a day to learn once and for all that knocking the bars isn't an OK thing. Yesterday we probably didn't do 50 each. Might have done 20 each. If I were a Four Star Trainer, I would be logging these things so I'd know exactly how many I actually do. We all seemed to be getting the idea. Until we'd throw in a sequence, then we'd go back to whack-a-bar.

I'm jumping them both at 28" or so this week because we have a USDAA trial this weekend. I think Tika can handle a week of that. And Boost usually jumps 22", so maybe if I get her used to thinking higher and working harder at it, she'll pay attention.

But I also know that I need to work on her just *doing the obstacles in front of her* for crying out loud instead of looking at me. Or, officially, doing obstacles between me and her. Like, say, on a straight line to a turn where I'm calling her and have done the front cross and she's still blasting straight ahead full speed, looking at me and not bothering looking to see whether there's an actual obstacle there to take.

Oh, yes, we have lots of info on how to fix these things.

I just have to do it.

Mwah ha ha haaa! TMH and the Merle Girls (Boost, Tika, and MooMoo) will take over the agility world!!

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dog Health and Hiking

SUMMARY: Both dogs seem fine. Did some nice hiking with dogs and wildflowers today.

Tika's still taking rimadyl twice a day per vet's suggestion. Haven't heard a yelp or whine of pain out of her since maybe Monday last week. Boost of course has never indicated that she's in pain. Dang dogs.

I've been doing some of the Pilates for Pooches exercises and some additional ones that the physical therapist suggested. The DVD is interesting and useful. At least, it'll be useful if I can stick with the exercise program. Like I'm good at that. Hah.

It's weird to be surrounded by agility equipment and not be using any of it.

So today we went for a nice off-leash hike instead. (Also suggested by two or three dog-medical-type people as being excellent for both dogs.) Challenge is that we have to drive 45 minutes one way to get to such a place, then $5 parking plus $2 per dog. Not something I'd do every day, or even every week. Sigh.

Friends who live up in that area constantly post notes on facebook about all the cool offleash hiking they do with their dogs. If I ever had any urge to move again, I'd consider moving more up thataway for that reason. So we met today at Sunol Regional Wilderness to go trekking.

The dogs loved it. The people hiked maybe 3 miles; the dogs must've covered three times that.

And how long did the energy burn-off last? For the whole 45-minute drive home, at which point they were well rested and ready to play. It didn't last NEARLY as long as the horse and/or cow manure in which they both rolled enthusiastically. We did a lot of hosing off when we got home.

I've got some photos almost ready for viewing but there are some issues with my photo site. Will post the link when they're ready.

Hope everyone who's going to the 4-day Haute TRACS extravaganza trial enjoy it without me. [sniffle] I'm sure it'll be difficult for them.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Ribbons and Choices

SUMMARY: Tika does well but is sore; Boost runs a lot; TMH can't make up its mind.

These March winter mornings in Turlock started with frost on the grass but the sun rising bright and clear. By early afternoon, people had stripped off their coats and some had started hosing down their dogs to keep them cool. But when the sun set--Brr!

With Boost's agility career on hiatus while I figure out whether she has a physical problem, all my hopes for the weekend rested on Tika. If Tika can keep her bars up, she usually excels in CPE events. This is good, because I'd like to eventually earn enough Qs for her C-ATE (250 about), and she has a long way to go. We do few CPE trials any more, so every run counts because Tika is 8 and comes up sore more and more often.

We had 10 runs this weekend, and I promised myself that I would take Boost out after every one of Tika's runs and do something physically and mentally stimulating with her in lieu of a run.

First thing in the morning, we always play a bit of frisbee to loosen up the dogs and burn off the edge so that they'll relax in their crates. We did so Saturday. Then, on our way off the field, a friend with border collies that Boost loves to chase headed out to the playing field, so we went back out and ran a bunch more.

I try to keep the frisbee low so that the dogs aren't leaping and torquing their backs, but a couple of times I missed and I cringed seeing Tika's leaps.

Tika Sore? About 2 hours later, when I took Tika out of her crate for her first run, she emerged hunchy and stiff. Well, crap! I've driven all this way, paid my entry fees for the weekend (which are now nonrefundable), have only one dog to run, and this is one of the few CPEs for us this year. Plus when I've scratched Tika in the past, she often then goes blasting around the field full speed after squirrels, so how sore can she be? She is a known drama queen when it comes to injuries, too, so I have to take that into account.

I massage her, stretch her a bit, try to get her spine and shoulders mobile the way I was shown. (I'm not very good at this.) First run is Colors, only 11 obstacles, so what the heck. She runs fairly well, keeps all her bars up, but I can see that she's catching herself roughly when landing after each jump. But she's bright-eyed and eager and fast. Ends up 3rd fastest of all 58 dogs, all heights/levels, on the same course.

She's the ONLY dog in her level and height--24"--so she's guaranteed first place every time unless she eliminates, and there's not much chance of that. But I'll take the ribbons only if we've earned them.

She gets a doggie aspirin, more rubbing, and then I take Boost out for some running and training.

Boost Play and Training. I manage to keep my promise to Boost 8 out of the 10 runs for the weekend. I start and end every session just as if we were going into competition, using the right leash, the right toy, the right warm-up, then the right back-to-the-crate routine with treats and all. While she's out, we practice a variety of things:
* Sit-stay and down-stay, including with lots of excitement and toy throws. Even did a little out-of-sight stays, which we've never worked on before. Only 5 seconds, but she held it.
* Down from a distance while she's moving. Took her a couple of tries to realize what was going on, but then she got it and did very well. None of my other dogs have been able to do that without a lot of work, and even then reluctantly. But Boost has a super-fast down and seems comfortable doing it.
* Lateral lead-outs. Goal was to ensure that she was looking at the jump, not me, before I released her. We've done these before, but obviously not enough. It took her a very long time the first couple of times before she stopped staring at me and looked in the general direction of the jump inadvertently, at which point I released her and threw the toy. What a quick study she is!--By the end of the weekend, she was back to doing it pretty reliably.
* Sends to a jump from various directions (just a jump frame with a bar on the ground).
* Lateral "out" commands (around garbage cans) while we're moving together.
* Sitting up on her rear legs.
* Rolling over.
* "Close"--command for running next to me instead of ahead, until I say "go".
* Various running and moving ground exercises.

She seemed to enjoy it and didn't look disappointed or confused when I put her back in her crate, since I was following the same competition routine. (Unlike Jake who was quite disturbed and sulky about doing the agility that he expected.)

Plus she got to Run With The Border Collies for about half an hour at the end of the weekend while I packed my car.

Tika Still Sore--Or Not?
Tika came out of her crate with the same hunchy look for almost every run, although she always perked up completely when i presented treats. Did lots more massaging and stretching than I usually do with her. She loves the attention.

I couldn't decide whether to scratch her from the rest of the weekend. I really didn't want to, for my own sake, which is not how you're supposed to make decisions for your dog. On the other hand, she was always excited about running, enough so that we were having troubles with our start-line stays, and she always did the over-the-top grab-mom's-feet thing at the end of every run. And this is a known issue, not some mysterious malady.

Tika not looking at all wonky:

So I ran her all weekend, although she was landing heavily and grunting after her jumps and turning wide the whole time (except for one run), not her usual effortless flowing jumping and tight turns.

That Dang Snooker. The only run of the weekend where she didn't come out of the crate looking sore--and didn't keep her bars up--was the last run on Saturday, Snooker. The sun had already disappeared and it was much cooler. Maybe she liked the coolth.

Snooker in CPE is different from USDAA Snooker, in that you MUST successfully complete three reds to be able to earn a qualifying score (if you then go on and earn enough points in the closing). There is a fourth red on the course, but you can (must) take it ONLY if you knock one of the other reds. I explained this to a few people during the briefing.

Tika was the last dog to run of the class and of the day, so we ran a couple of hours after the briefing. I put her in a down stay and started my long lead-out to get into position. Next thing I know, there she is right next to me, bright eyed and bushy nubbered.

I set her up about 12 feet off the first jump to give her the right strides to get over the jump without knocking it. What she does when she decides she's going to self start is to stand up, slowly creep forward until she's right up before the jump, then takes off without enough space.

I looked back and, sure enough, the bar was down. I had hoped for a 51-point (perfect) run, but that was out of the question. And then my 12 years of USDAA experience kicked in: If I did just the two additional reds and the closing, I'd still have enough points to qualify. So that's what we did, and we did it quickly and smoothly. And we got to the end, and the judge comes over and says, "Did you realize that you could have taken the fourth red and still earned a qualifying score?" Oh--well--crud. I can't even remember my own advice for two hours! So we got no points for the closing at all and no Q.

You Know What Happens When You Assume. Our only other non-Q for the weekend was the preceding Standard run, which Tika did nicely all the way to the 2nd to last obstacle, which was a dogwalk-tunnel discrimination. I yelled "Climb!" and raced ahead, assuming that she'd do it because her arc from the previous obstacle led there--but Nooooo! Silly mom, tunnel much easier when mom's ahead. Body language takes precedence over voice commands.

Tika--Yes--Still Sore, But Happy.
In Snooker first thing Sunday morning, we had short weaves in the opening for for 7 points. Every time, Tika--my superb weaving dog--either went into the weaves on the wrong side because it was closer or went into the correct place and came right back out again. Wasted a tremendous amount of time in the opening, so we missed our perfect 51 points by less than one second! Argh! It was a qualifying score, but still, I didn't understand.

Until, before the next run, I had her do figure-8s around my legs, and the first time, she yelped and stopped! OK, sore side-to-side, too. So we added additional manipulations and stretchings and bendings, and she was decent after that, although still slower in the weaves than usual. And I didn't try pushing her speed during our runs, which I usually would do, to get her more excited and driving.

Qing and Firsts.
In all, Tika earned 8 of 10 Qs. It's always better for me (I feel better about my first places) if there are other 24"-jumping dogs in my height and level. But the two catahoulas weren't there, the BCs Annie and Django who sometimes jump 24" weren't there, and BC Brenn has moved down to 20".

As a result, to make me feel that we've earned our first places, I compare our scores and times to every other dog, all heights/all levels, who have done the same course. This time, Tika was never the top dog, but out of 50-60 dogs, she was still between the 3nd and 10th fastest or highest-scoring dog, so I felt that the 1st were earned.

Note that, in USDAA, if we weren't feeling well and were making mistakes on the course, we'd be wayyyy down in the rankings somewhere, but here in CPE, Tika is still near the top.

The only two dogs who beat us consistently all weekend were a fast little sheltie who has running A-frames and--in point accumulation classes--5 more seconds than we do, and a Border Collie in the 20" group.

The Horns of Height Dilemmas. Now, Tika is eligible to run 20" in CPE. I do 24" because she has to jump 26" in USDAA. So I could move her down to 20" for future trials to see whether that's better. Here's my personal dilemma: Because the 20" BC made no mistakes this weekend, and is also at Level C, if Tika had been running at 20", 7 or 8 of those 8 pretty blues would have been pretty reds. As much as I like competition, I must admit that a guarantee of not getting 1st is rough.

When Tika is 100%, we can almost never beat those other dogs on speed, so in timed courses, we usually win only if they make mistakes. In points courses, we can win when we create a cleverer, more efficient way of collecting points than the others, which is possible sometimes but not always.

Here's the second dilemma: in USDAA, I could move Tika to Performance and jump her at 22" instead of 26". But: I've already signed her up for the next two DAM Team events with 3-dog teams, with Tika at 26". And they'd be fun teams. We already have our team names (not always easy) and one even has a logo already. And I'd like to run with them. But if I go to performance, I'd have to find different teams. And closing is only a week away for one of them, which would leave that team stuck without a 3rd. But I want to do these teams!

So I'll probably stay at 26" at least for those. Maybe move her to Performance in some other things. And stay higher in Steeplechase and Grand Prix until she earns her 50th tournament leg.

I hate this. Dogs shouldn't get older and sorer.

But I Had Fun. In all, though, it was a good weekend. So I wasn't even particularly annoyed when I left the grounds around 7:30(!) Sunday evening. Especially because Boost got to romp with a ton of other Border Collies the whole time I packed.

Here's Bump, Dig, Boost's half-sister Quas ("Kass"), and Boost--who always just watches and outruns the other BCs:

Never thought I'd be able to tell one black & white BC from another, but over time, I've gotten to know some reasonably well. Here are housemates Bump, Dig, and Styx (with Cattle Dog Skeeter in the back), then blue merles Boost, sister Bette, and Quas.

It seemed like a lot of dogs milling and dashing around! (Easier to count when they're in a snapshot.) So sometimes we hardly noticed when other random dogs joined the crowd.

Skeeter is largely blind due to glaucoma; has only one eye left. But her Human Mom can get her to leap and play by shrieking and doing monstery things with her arms. It's very cute. While Boost sits, poised, waiting intently for a border collie to start running.

Tika kept rushing back to the van and looking hopeful. That's because they usually get dinner right before we go home. And we know who's the chow hound.

And I wasn't even annoyed when, while heading to the freeway, the car felt funny handling, and I wondered whether I had a tire problem, and then the tire-pressure light came on. I pulled into the Jack-in-the-Box, and sure enough, one tire's pressure was 5 lbs lower than the others, and it had this little ding.

Safe to drive? Dunno. Don't want to have blow-out on the way home; that WOULD annoy me. So I called AAA to have them look at the tire. Took less than half an hour to get there, but it gave me plenty of time to enjoy my healthy french fries...

to watch the moon come up over JITB...

to take endless sunset photos...

Here's a scenic one of the sunset reflected in my minivan's window. Glamorous, huh?

Then AAA arrived. He said: Dunno, but he'd replace the tire to be safe rather than sorry. He had the right tools to do it in about 3 minutes. Amazing.

Got home VERY late and slept VERY well for many, many hours.

Had These Photos And What To Do With Them? But lastly--just for you, gratuitous barking grassy Bump photos:

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