Saturday, December 27, 2003

What Fun It Is To Run And Chase



Went to the Gopher Hill Park again this morning. Tried to give them plenty to do to tire their little selves out. Twenty minutes of frisbee, then a good walk/run/romp around the hill, then more frisbee, totalling around an hour of activity.

It was cold. Frost covered everything that the sun hadn't yet kissed. But, as it warmed up, the frost turned to huge lurking gobbets of water, which my shoes and socks sucked up with grand delight. After a mere ten minutes, my feet squished as though I had walked through a stream.

The dogs didn't seem to mind.

Note to self: Wet feet suck on a cold morning.

Another note to self: New digital camera does NOT seem to do well on stop-action sports photography. Of course, it was early in the morning on one of the shortest days of the year (read: sun low, light may be dimmer than it appears). And I didn't take my instruction booklet. So perhaps there's a way to force it to do what I want--mwah ha ha haaaaaa! (Force always being a good thing when practicing one's Evil Overlordshipness.)

Both beasts behaved themselves admirably, keeping track of me and racing back periodically to see what I was up to, never getting far out of sight. Tika came when she was called. And, at one point, we rounded the hill and discovered two other dogs playing loose ahead of us. I had the frisbees out, and Tika looked at the other dogs, whined, looked at the frisbee, looked at the other dogs, whined, looked at the frisbee--and decided that playing with me would be much more fun than running off to check out unfamiliar dogs. I was so proud of her, once again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

To Everything There Is A Season

I rarely stray from dog topics here in the Taj MuttHall. But tonight is the night to wander afield.

Earlier, I was slaving away in Santa's Workshop in the attic, wrapping gifts galore for the tremendous gathering of Clan O'Levy tomorrow, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was enjoying myself and indulging apallingly in the spirit of Christmas. It has been a long time.

My ex moved out in May of 2000, then I sold the house (wiith the half-acre agility yard) from which I said I'd never move again. For Christmas of 2000, I was living in the Horrid Rental, rain coming through the roof at every opportunity. I was on disability and could barely function with spinal problems. And it was the first time in 21 years that I hadn't had my significant other around--Needless to say, depression had taken hold in a deep and nasty way. I did set up a half-sized tree at the last minute with only a couple dozen decorations.

In December of 2001, I had just moved into my new home. Boxes occupied every corner of the house and garage. I was trying to do everything myself without reinjuring my back. Every shopping trip reminded me that I had no significant other for whom to shop. I felt more alone than almost any other time in my life. I strung one string of lights on the outside of the house. I did not get a tree.

In December of 2002, Remington was dying of cancer. He was in and out of the veterinary hospital. My bills for operations and treatment were huge. Just before Christmas, x-rays seemed to show remarkable improvement, but on Christmas eve he began internal hemmorhaging again and I spent Christmas day on and off the phone to the vet hospital. I was too stressed and distracted by Remington's fatal illness to enjoy things, and bearing the burden made me realize even more how alone I was. Furthermore, my divorce was final the week before Christmas. I put up about 10 strings of exterior lights. I got a tree but it took me about 3 weeks to gather the enthusiasm to decorate, and even then I put up only perhaps one box of ornaments and then quit.

This year I've shopped with pleasure, put up a couple of dozen strings of exterior lights, set up a lovely tree and decorated it fully, decorated random stuff around the house, wrapped gifts so that I'm not up til midnight Xmas eve--and have discovered that I've almost rekindled my old enthusiasm for the whole holiday season.

It's been a long three and a half years.

Love and Joy Come To You

And this message that I'm sending out, like a telegraph to their souls--if they can receive--you'll always be in our hearts, taken too young as you were: human friends Tina, Betty, Louis; canine companions Remington, Tanith, Sparky, Pippin, Tyler, and so many others this year.

But for all of us still shuffling around that mortal coil:

Dog xmas stockingsHappy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Good With Kids

Jake does not like small children.

He didn't learn that while living with us, I can assure you.

A glob of friends visited last night, including my 3-and-a-half-year-old nephew, Alex. Alex had been warned in the past about avoiding Jake. This is counterintuitive to kids: What they really want is to avoid the dog(s) who loom large over them and look somewhat like coyotes and to snuggle the little cute fluffy dog with floppy ears.

Alex was very good and avoided Jake. He avoided Tika for a while, too, even though she was on her best behavior around him.

The evening progressed, as evenings are wont to do, with various activities, alarums, and excursions, and in various means we ended up here: All of the other adults in the living room, partying down. Me, standing in the kitchen, leaning on the railing overlooking the family room. Alex, standing or lying on the dogs' beds, not quite in hyperactive mode but verging on it.

Jake, bringing his ball and dropping it directly at Alex's feet on the bed for Alex to throw--not grabbing at it when Alex reached for it (which he often does for me and other adults), not snapping it out of Alex's hands when Alex didn't throw it immediately (although you could SEE that he WANTED to quite desperately), just waiting eagerly for the ball to be tossed. And although Jake eventually gets disgusted with me if I just kick or toss a toy a few inches ("OK, if you're not going to be SERIOUS about this serious thing, I'll go obsessively lick my feet for a while."), he picked up Alex's every toss, no matter how short (most were barely off the edge of the dog bed) and immediately returned it for more.

Tika, hanging in the background with a large soft squeaky, mouthing it quietly (not getting bored in a wild and uncontrolled manner like she would for me after about 1.5 milliseconds of inattention), and periodically coming over to Alex. Alex would put his hand on the toy and Tika would immediately let go of it and wait patiently for him to toss it for her.

I believe I was impressed that a child Alex's age was playing nicely with my dogs, but it soitainly impressed the bejeezus out of me how nicely my dogs were playing with Alex!

Alex declared that this was Dog School (my sister later told me that they had been reading a book about a naughty dog who had to go to dog school) and periodically crawled into a hole in the wall to "rest his legs."




I didn't know quite what to do about Casey, because his mom wasn't around for me to ask how he was around small children, so I watched him pretty closely. He seemed cautiously curious. At one point, late in the evening, Alex began running in circles through the kitchen, library, living room, entry, kitchen, library, living room, entry--and Casey trotted right behind him, trying to get a good sniff, tail wagging slightly, for several circuits before it occurred to him to get in FRONT of Alex and try to stop the parade that way. It didn't work for more than a moment, but after that Casey wandered off to steal a toy from Jake.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Those Unwanted Dogs

Someone in my agility club posted a question about who has rescues in their canine families. The stories have been pouring in. Here's my contribution:

NATCH Remington (the late, great) lived alone in a back yard, never played with, never in the house, sometimes no water. A neighbor saw him from her balcony week after week. She finally approached the owner, who said his kid would be heart-broken if he got rid of the dog, but how about if she came over while they weren't home and took the dog? (Great owner/parent, huh?) So she did. She'd have kept him except he had too much energy and she didn't know what to do with him. He came to me through Nike Animal Rescue at 9 months. And boy, he had a lot of energy compared to my previous dogs!

The energetic Jakeymon
ADCH, O-NATCH, ATCH Jake ended up at Nike Animal Rescue somehow, and was adopted by 2 or 3 families who each brought him back because he had too much energy and they didn't know what to do with him. Pam Hartley (dog trainer) fostered him along with her other 7 dogs until she gave it all up for Lent, when Nancy Gyes (another dog trainer) fostered him. He was 7 when we finally teamed up. Sheesh, and I thought *Remington* had a lot of energy!

Champion-to-be (I hope!) Tika arrived at the humane society at 3 months--lady didn't have time for a puppy with so much energy. A family adopted her but returned her 3 months later--she had too much energy and they didn't know what to do with her so they "had to keep her in a crate ALL the time." She was so wild that the humane society couldn't complete her medical exam, so they called North Bay Canine Rescue, who called Gina Campodonico to foster her, who knew I was looking for an agility dog, so she called me--
Oh, man oh man oh man, and I thought *Jake* had a lot of energy!

Friday, December 12, 2003

We've All Got It Bad

No agility weekends. Not attending agility classes every week. Am I obsessing about it? One January trial had an *opening* date: No entries accepted postmarked before Dec. 8. Mine was postmarked december 8, arrived on the 10th, and the trial filled on the 9th.

I refuse to drive to the post office and pay them an ungodly sum for overnighting an agility entry that might not get me in anyway! Aughhhhhh!

Laundry is happenin' in the laundry room, and I just walked in there, where the washer is sweesh-swoshing its load. But it wasn't saying "SWEESH swosh SWEESH swosh." Oh, no. What it was saying was "WEAVE pole WEAVE pole."

Tika has been mooning around me constantly. The normal morning walk-and-play and afternoon play and evening whatever-comes-to-mind aren't enough. She has taken to exhibiting apalling bored dog syndrome: Run to one side of the yard. Bark at something. Run to the other side of the yard. Bark at something. Run back. Bark. Return. Bark.

I've taken them to the park a couple of times this week--much more frequent than usual. That ain't enough, no neither.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Mud, Glorious Mud! Who Cares What It Looks Like?

Mud. Goopy, gloppy, clay-based horrid miserable material. If only I had more of a lawn and less of a mud pit. I suppose I could just throw down grass seed at this time of year and hope that Ma Nature takes care of it--sans proper irrigation or soil preparation.

Or I could do what I think I'm going to do--go buy gorilla hair ("playground shred" AKA shredded redwood bark), looks like 8 cubic yards of it--yikes!--and spread it everywhere.

I'm soooooo tired of muddy feet and floors. Here--24 hours worth of foot & floor rags, drying on the deck.

After viewing this, a frequent reader friend contributes this classic (?):

The Hippopotamus Song
Mud! Mud! Glorious mud!
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
So, follow me, follow,
Down to the hollow.
There let us wallow
In glorious mud!

Read the full lyrics or listen to the chorus in MP3 plus some bio.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Powered by audblogActual genuine ELF voice as heard in real life, powered by audblog

New Toy

However, my Powers of Rationalization said that, because I'm going to end up missing 3 agility trials that I had planned on attending AND won't have to pay for hotel & gas, either, it's a good time to--no, not save money--buy a digital camera!

I found the least-expensive one with 3 megapixels and 3x optical zoom.

Its AA alkaline battery usage sucks, but it works nicely. Here's Casey, demonstrating how nicely it does its own adjustment for taking a photo of an all-black dog, which normally sucks.

I'M GOING STIR CRAZY!!!

It's just not *right*, having no agility competitions to attend! I'm unmotivated to practice, too, although of course this enforced extended absence would be the ideal time to work on fixing various challenges.

I'm guessing that I didn't get into the New Year's weekend trial, either, since the organization that's hosting it hasn't posted my name on their "accepted entries" web site, but I have no clue otherwise. I don't know whether they didn't get it or they haven't been updating their web site or what. That's very frustrating.

I did set up a little practice scenario in the yard yesterday. Decided to take down the A-frame and set it aside--it's been up since I bought it shortly after moving in, and it takes up a huge amount of space, physically and visually. It's so danged heavy that it took me probably 10 minutes to get it off to the side of the yard. It does dismantle into 4 pieces, but I'm not sure that that would have taken me less time.

Then I came to the conclusion once again that that danged lilac shrub is going to have to go. Sure,it's gorgeous--for about 3 weeks in the spring. All winter it's naked and its sticks aren't all that interesting or attractive. And it's RIGHT in the middle of my agility area! I've been trying hard to go around it, but it really does make a mess of things. Argh. So much for the landscape plan--

Anyway, after I finally got my scenario set up, I worked Tika and Jake through it, discovering that *neither* of them are really working their weave pole entries nearly as well as I thought they did (actually discovered that at the seminar in november).

To get Casey out of the way, I shoved him into the house and put a chair in front of the doggie door. Within minutes, he was out in the yard, apparently being small enough to squeeze through the 4" of space under the chair at the bottom of the doggie door.

So then I shoved him out into the front hallway and closed the doors to the kitchen/access to dog door. A couple of minutes later he showed up in the yard again. Doors were still closed, so he must have figured out to go down the 1/3 flight of stairs to my office and jump up through the wrought-iron railing between there and the kitchen.

So I had to take the doggie door out entirely to keep him in the house. Normally I just hook him to a leash next to the porch, but I was using the whole area for running my dogs.

So to make up for it, at the end of my session with my dogs, I worked a little with him on jumps & tunnels. Danged beast has learned how to go into the *left* side of the tunnel but won't go into the *right* side?! Go figure.

Anyway, as I attempted to get him to go through, I shortened up and mostly straighted out the tunnel onto the patio. Then I tossed a toy & shoved him in and started to move to the other side, but he screeched to a halt, turned, and came back out. So I screeched to a halt--and fell on my kiester on the concrete.

This is not a good thing for someone who has had repeated problems with the disks in her lower back. So I ended up attemptng to overdose on antiinflammatories, icing & heating my rearmost part repeatedly while sprawled on the couch.

I *think* the nerves down the backs of my legs are a bit more painful today than yesterday, but I'm not in horrific pain, so perhaps I treated it quickly enough and long enough.

Have I mentioned what a pain dogs are?

Xmas Photo

Just stuck an xmas photo up under Nov 30. Enjoy. Real xmas letters & cards will be along eventually, with an even nicer photo.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Squeaky Toy or What? Wag That Plume Tail--

Jake loves squeaking his squeaky toys. When he's in a complete frenzy, he holds it in his mouth, eyes with a crazed expression, squeezing it rapid fire (in his relative youth, I think we clocked him at a couple hundred squeaks a minute). When he's more relaxed and contented and familiar with the toy, he stands over it, resting it on the ground with his mouth around it, waving his plume tail and doing a more dignified squeak-per-second or so.

Last night, I invited the dogs to join me for a ride to the post office. I opened the door into the garage and Jake ran out and grabbed a squeaky toy that apparently one of the random household dogs had dragged out to the garage and dropped when I wasn't paying attention. While I turned on the light, Jake stood in his relaxed squeaky pose, getting a feeble squeak-a-second or so. Tika lunged forward and tried desperately to get around the bicycle that was between her and Jake to try to take away the squeaky toy.

This was unusual behavior; she's not that wild about squeakies, and seldom actively attempts to steal things from Jake. So I came around behind Jake, trying to see which toy had Tika so excited. Funny, I thought, I don't remember a squeaky toy with a long skinny tail just like a -- real -- rat --

Well, now I know why squeakies have such a natural appeal to the beasts. You could've fooled me that he'd found a squeaky toy, not a careless rodent. I've niether seen nor heard any signs of Vector Invasion in my garage or attic, so I'm not quite sure where this one came from. Maybe came in from the rain last night (how? who knows--they can probably run through the gap under my garage door without ducking).

I guess I'd prefer that the dog catch them than not.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Tika Howling

I take it back, I *have* heard Tika howling.

Imagine waking, in your bed, in the dark, disoriented, your Cro Magnon hindbrain taking control and the hair on your neck that you never knew you had prickling--because filling the room, all around you, a sound so deep and full, so high and round, comes the howl of the wolf--a lonesome, chilling, ghostly sound from the dark and untamed forest.

Yes, I've heard her howling.

On more than one occasion, but only in her sleep.

Where does she go, when she leaves this plane of consciousness?

The Next Generation

When Remington was young, he hated to expose his tummy. It was a chore to teach him to roll over, but that was one of my early training successes in breaking things down into minuscule-enough bits for the dog to get it and want to do it.

As reward--in addition to food--I used to rub his tummy. He decided he liked that, and started to roll onto his back in the morning on the bed. And since he hadn't even been allowed on the bed for the first 2 years we had him, simply being there was a wonderful thing. It was a short step from there to simply doing the Upside Down Dog thing--wriggling around on his back, kind of growling and talking about what a pleasure it was to be upside down.

It evolved into a whole routine. He'd wriggle and kick, and I'd put my hands against his rear feet so he'd have something to really kick into, which got him even more excited. I'd talk about what a wonderful upside-down dog he was in an excited voice, and that was even better.

When Jake came to live with us, the Upside-Down Dog thing seemed to bemuse him at first, but he quickly caught on and would join in in his own exaggerated little-dog way, yelping and jerking and rolling his back and head on the bedspread.

Jake has kept up the tradition since Rem has been gone. Now I even do the rear-feet-kicking thing with him, which he wasn't sure what to do about originally, but now it also seems to get him going.

Tika, who is really quite an independent girl, watches, yet she says nothing. What of that! The closest she's gotten is that sometimes, after Jakes' done rolling around and I've finished saying "What an upside down dog, yes you are!" in a cheery way several dozen times, and I roll over and start trying to exit the bedcovers, Tika pushes right up against me, rolls over onto her back, and lies there, demanding to have attention.

But no rolling around, no chitchatting about the glorious of upside-downness.

I noticed that there's no more howling, either.

Sheba howled sometimes. I don't remember whether she started the howling at sirens, but for sure Remington took up the challenge and made it his responsibility to let the untamed song rise from his soul and emerge in a pure and haunting tone from his pursed lips, nose tipped towards the heavens.

Jake, who is NOT the independent sort (most of the time), took it upon himself to try to copy Remington. He had the most annoying yelp/shriek/bark combo, trying to tilt his head back and do what Remington was doing. It was very cute, but it was not a howl. His wolf ancestors would have been horrified, or maybe moved to hysterical laughter.

Now that Rem's gone, there's no howling at sirens. Jake sometimes notices that they're out there, and whines--quick, sharp, concerned whines, as if he knows that there's something important that needs to be done but he's just not the one to lead the way.

I've never heard Tika howl at all, although she looks like she should have a really good one inside her somewhere. She has also never shown any sign of reacting to sirens.

It's the changing of the dog generations; whole routines and habits go by the wayside.

The Lighter Side: Who's Smart?

Jake does this thing where he decides that, for some reason, he cannot come through the dog door. Perhaps there is a dog lying too close to the other side (say, 3' away...). Perhaps it didn't settle quite right the last time someone went through it. Perhaps he found a lovely dumbbell toy in the yard and it hits the side when he starts trying to go through and he can't figure out what to do with it.

So Jake's sitting outside the dog door, whining, the plastic squeaky dumbbell toy lying at his feet in front of the door. He's whining and staring hopefully at me through the glass sliding door. I am not getting up and going over to open the sliding door because the dog is too dumb to figure out how to get a lightweight plastic dumbbell through the door.

Casey, meanwhile, has been watching intently Jake from *inside* the house, through the sliding glass door. Mind you, he had been carrying the lovely special dumbbell around all morning since he got home from his Tahoe vacation last night but lost interest somewhere along the way.

So Jake's sitting there, whining. I'm ignoring him. Casey sticks his head through the dog door from the inside out, leans way down, grabs the dumbbell, and pulls his head back into the house, leaving Jake sitting there, now looking merely pathetic, but still wanting me to come and let him in since he's been so abused and neglected.

Casey is happy; his butt wiggles and he sings at me through the dumbbell in his mouth.

The Lighter Side: Those are a lot of weave poles ya got there

I've had my weaves separated into 2 sets of 6 for quite a while to practice various entrances and exits and cross-in-fronts and -behinds. Put them all back together into the standard 12 in the middle of the lawn the other day.

My sister, sitting in the hot tub with me, said "Those are a lot of weave poles." I said it's just the normal set. Then I got curious--Tika was bringing her Toy to me at that time for tossing and tugging--so when I gained control of the toy, I pointed my arm in the general direction of the weaves--which were pointing straight away from us, starting about 20 feet away, and said "Weave!"

Tika charged over to the poles, made her entrance, wove speedily all the way through, and bounced on the thrown Toy with well-earned delight when she finished. What a good girl!

And what a good trainer, to have taught the dog that doing all that hard stuff is just another fun game!

The Lighter Side: Auto Ball Return

We were sitting in the hot tub the other evening. Jake was out and about in the dark yard, conducting an extensive investigation of some random corner. Tika got her Tika Toy (used to be "The Big Blue Thing"--of various colors--under Remington's dominion) and brought it over for some play. I tossed it for her several times and then I told her that was enough and went back to my conversation.

A little later, Jake came over and detected serious play molecules in the air and realized he'd been left out. He went looking for something to play throw with, and found Tika's Toy lying on the lawn. He growl-wrestled with it a bit, which got Tika's attention, and then he brought it over to me.

Tika stood near him in submissive annoyance (ears turned towards back of head but clearly thinking "This is 'Tika's Toy' he's got! That's as in 'Tika,' that's me!"). Jake looked up at me, wagging his tail, and dropped the toy for me to throw. Whereupon Tika lunged in front of him, grabbed the toy, and trotted out onto the lawn.

Now Jake did the submissive annoyance thing (ears turned towards the back but clearly thinking, "You weren't playing with it! Not fair! Not fair!") and followed her out to the lawn, two steps behind her shoulder.

On the lawn, Tika realized she was bored (no one was throwing the toy for her, after all, nor playing tug of war) and dropped the toy. Jake swooped in, grabbed the toy, and trotted back to the hot tub, tail wagging.

Indignant, Tika followed. Jake dropped the toy for me to throw. Tika swooped in and picked up the toy and trotted out to the lawn, Jake following. Tika dropped the toy. Jake plunged in and grabbed the toy, trotted back to the hot tub and dropped the toy for me to throw. Tika swooped in, picked up the toy, and trotted out to the lawn, Jake following, whereupon she dropped the toy. Jake swooped in--

By this time, I'm in hysterics in the hot tub. My guests have to ask what's going on. I tell them.

Jake brought the toy back and dropped it for me to throw. Tika swooped and ran. Jake followed. Tika dropped the toy on the lawn. Jake swooped and ran. Jake dropped the toy for me to throw.

Repeat. And repeat. And repeat--

Somewhere in there, one of them realized that no progress was actually occurring, and the game stopped. But I enjoyed myself immensely.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Xmas Photos

Backfill: Dec 9 The spouse of a friend is a photographer and they did photo shoots of dogs for the holidays this weekend. Aren't we a lovely bunch of agility nuts?

Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Ghost of Nightmares Past

Last night I dreamed that Remington and I were sitting on the couch, his front end sprawled across my lap as was his usual wont. Suddenly he shot to a sit, his face contorting, and then the seizure started. He thrashed, his limbs stiff and jerking spasmodically, and I just held him as gently as I could so that he wouldn't throw himself off the couch like he threw himself off the bed the night he died.

As the spasms died away and he lay on his side, panting, eyes wide, I gently wiped away the foam and strings of saliva from his mouth and face. I stroked him slowly, comfortingly as my mother wandered in and asked casually what was going on.

"It's siezures," I said, "Just like the night he died. I thought they were done with. I thought they wouldn't happen again."

And I woke up crying.

Monday, November 24, 2003

It's Been A Year--Part III

I feel like I'm reliving the last 4 months of Remington's life all over again. Not as intensely. And I don't think about it all the time. But I'm acutely aware, over and over, that November was the month in which he was diagnosed and had his operation and started chemo.

I'm sure that this will go on and on through March.

Christmas will be odd; last Christmas Eve he went into the emergency room and stayed for 36 hours and I hardly got any sleep and was on the phone to the vet all day Xmas when I wasn't actually leaving my family to go to the hospital to sit with him.

OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was about this time last year that I sat the 3 of my dogs down in front of my Xmas fireplace and took a ton of holiday shots with and without me sitting alongside. So now I'm preparing for it again and am again acutely aware that I have only 2 dogs this time.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

The Release Is As Important As the Stay

Backchaining: The process of teaching a behavior by starting at the end and gradually adding pieces behind it. For example, to teach a dog to go over 3 jumps in a row, you might toss a toy out in front, stand in front of the first jump, and send the dog to get the toy. Then you'd move behind the first jump and send the dog over the first jump to get the toy. Then you'd gradually move back until you're behind the 2nd jump, and so on.

In last week's seminar, Susan Garrett talked about people wanting to train excellent contacts, where the dog (for example) shoots over the Aframe, zooms down the other side and skids to a stop at the bottom, two paws on and two paws off, and waits for your release cue. She pointed out that, in backchaining, you'd have to start with the release, and most people don't even think of that as part of the behavior. Of course, to have a release, the dog first has to have a sit/stay--so actually *that* would be the first part of the backchaining.

In the first day of the seminar--which admittedly had mostly less-experienced dogs--she had us all line up in a row, put the dogs in a sit/stay, and then give the release word with no physical cues (no leaning forward, no nodding, no steps, no hand movements). Tika did a nice sit/stay and then, on my "OK!", got up immediately and came around front of me.

The other dogs didn't release.

Susan said, "Looks like no one's dog here understands the release except Ellen's." I was pleased. OK, I take my successes in some pretty simple things. Fact is that Rachel, our instructor, insisted that we learn that as a separate skill way back at the beginning and continue to practice it over time. For that one moment of glory, I was extremely grateful.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Operant Dogs

One of the topics at the seminar was clicker training. I've been using clicker training a bit for the dogs for 3 or 4 years. Remington picked up the concept very quickly; was doing target nose touches within 15 minutes of trying. Jake would sit and stare up at me, wagging his tail. Tika picked up clicker training instantly and I've used it a lot for her. Jake sits and stares up at me, wagging his tail.

You use the click to reward a behavior that you want. There are two ways to get that behavior: cause it to happen (e.g., leading with food) or wait for the dog to offer something similar to the behavior that you want and then click each time that the dog gets closer to what you're looking for. This is called shaping This generally gets stronger behavior and better learning because the dog is thinking about what he's doing instead of always being shown what to do and blindly repeating it.

A dog who offers behavior is referred to as operant. Tika is reasonably operant; offers behaviors when I whip out the clicker, although I don't do general clicking simply for doing something different often enough, so I have to be patient and wait while she repeatedly offers the tricks she already knows before she starts moving or looking in other kinds of ways.

Jake sits and looks up at me, wagging his tail.

Casey I've not done much with, but he does do a few things (sit, lift his paw, lie down, roll on his side, sit, beg, lie down, roll on his side, sit, lift his paw, lie down....) and I've been occasionally waiting patiently for anything else (e.g., stand, look away from me...) and clicking that. I think he'll shape up nicely into an operant beast with some patience. Guess I ought to explain this to his mom sometime!

During this seminar, I saw many many dogs who were not operant, who simply stood or sat next to or in front of their handlers, doing nothing. Susan advised patience--she said it might seem like forever now, but it will pay off in the long run. So indeed I saw almost all of those dogs eventually do *something*--move a foot, turn the head--even if the handler had to wait 3, 4, or 5 minutes.

So I tried with Jake this evening again. He sat and looked up at me, wagging his tail. I waited for quite a while and clicked him doing ANYthing else, but mostly that involved moving his head or a paw. I did get him to do a brand-new hand-touch (with his nose) several times, but that was after I offered my hand as an obvious target. Then I put some of his toys out on the ground and decided that the goal would be for him to touch one of them. Took about 10 minutes, and each time that he'd get his nose lower to the ground and I'd click, he'd go right back to sitting and looking up at me, wagging his tail. Touched his squeaky maybe 3 times, a couple of minutes apart, with lots of sitting/looking/wagging and occasional slight head dips in between. I finally decided that was enough for both of us and just had him do some things he already knows.

With Tika, I decided to see whether I could get her to pick up the furry snake in the toy basket behind her and bring it to me. It took a bit, but she kept working at it, and it went fine until she dropped it in the water dish while turning her head at one point. Pretty good for not a lot of practice at shaping. I was pleased with myself and with her, since I often seem to shape her into doing completely unintended things.

Examples--when I first started, I wanted to shape her into turning left & right. I succeeded in shaping her to walk sideways. This seminar, I wanted to shape her to walk between two poles. Within 30 seconds I had shaped her into an irreversibly strong behavior of placing the side of her head against a pole and standing there. On the other hand, when I wanted to shape her into walking *around* a jump upright, we succeeded at that in about a minute and a half, much faster than anyone else there. So it has to be something that I have a good understanding of what I'm looking for and luck that she doesn't offer what they call cheap behavior along with the desired behavior.

For example, when she took a step towards the two poles, maybe she turned her head slightly towards one of them and I didn't realize it, so I clicked, thinking I was reinforcing the step, when in fact I was reinforcing the head turn toward the poles.

Interesting stuff.

It's Been A Year--Part II

Those layers of memories again--A year ago yesterday, I took Rem, just recently recovered from his operation, out by himself for a wonderful romp in the big nearby open field to chase squirrels up the walnut trees and gophers down their holes. And he slashed his foot and ankle open on broken glass. I've had mixed feelings about that field ever since, even though I continued to take him over there (closely restrained on a leash and with me leading the way through the tall grass) on a regular basis to dig for gophers.

Now there are 78 new houses built and being built on that lot. The walnut trees are gone. When out for a walk around the periphery, the dogs occasionally find little tiny bones sticking up out of the dirt. Could be chicken bones from a worker's lunch, I suppose, but I wonder what happened to all those gophers when they came through with the bulldozers.

I continue to have mixed feelings: Arghhh--they plowed under that field where Remington had some of his happiest walks the last months of his life! ... and... Thank the gods they've plowed under that field where a quarter of Remington's last days on earth were wasted with stitches and a leg splint and bandages, and now it'll never happen to another dog!

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

One of the nice things about dog agility is that you typically have 8 or more chances for each dog each weekend to come away with ribbons. In each class in which you compete, you can place (which is nice and a lot of fun), but that's not the most important part; you can also meet the standards required to earn points ("legs") towards your agility titles, and you get a Qualifying ribbon for each class in which you do that, too. So if you had a *really perfect* weekend with 2 dogs and 8 runs each, you could come home with 32 ribbons!

This pretty much never happens to us--but we do usually come away with more than our statistical share. This feels nice. I know we're supposed to be in it for the fun, and I do enjoy it, but frankly I enjoy it even more when we earn our Qs.

Makes you look really studly to your visiting friends who don't know how many ribbons an agility addict can accrue in a few dozen weekends! Here's our ribbon wall with Remington's, Jake's, and Tika's ribbons from 2002 and 2003.

Backposting Photos

Have added lovely modern color photos to several pages: Nov 18, Nov 16, Nov 4, Aug 5.

That Ribbon of Highway

There are times when I truly appreciate what agility had brought to my life.

Waking to an alarm clock at 5 in the morning is not one of those times.

Here is one of them: Dawn on a cold nearly-winter's morning. Driving east on 80, watching the soft glow of the rising sun gradually spread across the sky, reflecting off the lingering fingers of the Tule fog along the Central Valley wetlands. The clouds form a washboard of pale bronze cotton, sunlight streaming between them. The remnants of mist spread a pastel tint upon the landscape. The sun is so low on the horizon that the shadows cast by the roadside trees seem to extend forever, throwing charcoal bands and stripes across a soft gray highway.

The gold of the sky reflects in the spreading acres of wetlands, not like a sea of glass because the rushes and reeds and field stubble interrupt, but glimmering like sheets and smears of pastel metals. In fact, everything is soft and pastel in the mist and the early morning glow. Only the shocking red and yellow foliage of a string of surprising trees along the freeway near Vacaville interrupts the muted colors. Many of these trees have not yet reached full fall foliage, wearing red or yellow still tinged with green. But in California, land of green or brown, the color is a rare and stunning delight.

Here is one of my least favorite times: Evening, after dark. Exhausted from 2 days of agility. Driving west on 80. Coming towards me, an endless stream of identical pairs of glaring headlights. Ahead of me, an endless stream of identical pairs of glowing red taillights. Their combined radiance blinds me to everything except an endless oncoming pair of white dotted lines, shooting away behind me and converging ahead of me until they are consumed by the taillights. Hour after hour. Nothing else to look at. Nothing else to keep me awake except the occasional glaring billboard rising from the darkness and shouting its commercial. I think I'll just run off the side of the road so that something *different* happens! Guess it's time to take a roadside break and walk the dogs in the freezing wind, when I'd rather be hurrying home to bed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Success Is Sweet

Because our instructor has been out of town, we last had class 3 weeks ago. Tika did great today (except for some of the usual standing up at the start line stuff). Rachel (instructor) said she's looking wonderful. And she is! It still doesn't seem all that long ago that she was Trouble Incarnate in class. She even had reasonably fast down contacts today. I couldn't do a threadle for a million dollars, but she stuck with me instead of getting frustrated and tootling off somewhere. I let her run loose a bit with the other dogs and she came right back when called.

Of course we haven't seen the Devil Squirrels in the training yard in months--

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

More Agility a la Water?

I'm going to a Susan Garrett seminar Thursday and Friday. Depending on whose meteorologist you believe, it won't be rainy, it will have a couple of showers, or it will be rainy. Figures--last agility was Nov 8-9 and it rained; has been clear ever since and now I'm going to do agility 20-21 and it's supposed to rain again. Gah.

Agility a la Water

Nov 8-9 was the Bay Team's first CPE trial and I was its chairperson and it rained. Saturday wasn't bad, but Saturday evening and all night it poured, and the entire field splorched when you walked on it by Sunday morning.

It was an adventure. Fortunately everyone was cheerful and upbeat and cooperative and helpful and flexible and it went really well, all things considered. The Livermore Parks folks shut down the field because of growing muddy areas and we could do our Jumpers runs, but we were lucky to get most of it in, since a few days before they had said they weren't going to let us run in the rain at all.

For the first run of the weekend, Tika didn't stay at the start line and I took her off the course. We didn't have that problem the rest of the weekend, and she earned Qualifying scores 7 out of the 8 remaining runs, with 6 of those 1st places and one 2nd place, including her runs at Level 4 Standard (competing against dogs who've either worked their way up for Level 1 or have at least their MAD in USDAA or their NATCH in NADAC-- in other words, tough competition). It is such a thrill running her when things are working well.


Jake and I had our good moments and our bad. He Qed 6 out of 9, missing a gamble because he was so fast that he got too far ahead of me and I couldn't push him Out--it was a gamble where a "Right" command would have been extremely helpful. Missed a snooker run because he locked onto an obstacle in front of him and didn't respond to Jake Jake! Jake!! JAKE! **JAKE**!!!!! Never even turned his head. And I thought we had gotten the other one--but when I checked the scores, we were listed with a fault that was probably a missed contact. I was sure he had actually gotten them all on that run, but apparently the judge didn't think so. Sigh. Still, he was a good boy, taking a few firsts himself.

All in all, it was a good weekend.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Trouble in Paradise

After enjoying Tika's maturity and training yesterday, what a blow to go for our usual walk this morning and realize that in 2 days she hasn't miraculously learned to walk on a leash without yanking.

Sigh. I might have to go back to those early months of walking in circles for hours, trying to see whether now perhaps we can at least get to the point of walking around the court without yanking repeatedly. I just got sooooo tired of that, with so little progress to show for it--if I'm going to be frustrated constantly, might as well walk over more interesting territory while being frustrated constantly.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Backfilling history

I saved all of my email about Tika from the time that I got her and, when I started this blog, it was primarily with the intention of talking about my experiences training and learning to love a new dog, and I was going to plonk all of those old emails into the appropriate dates in this Blog.

Shortly after I started, though, it became a forum for Rem's cancer. And during that time it gradually evolved into just discussions and observations about dogs, my dogs, agility, my agility, my emotional relationship with my dogs--

And I'm just now getting around to backposting some of those old emails. I just put up all the ones through the point where Tika has become her name. You'll see that there's now an archive for January 2002--it's all in there. Enjoy. (Boy, you think I type a lot NOW some days!)

Dogs' Names and Attention

Now here's the thing.

Tika has figured out that I'm walking around with a pocket of goodies and when I say "Jake!", SHE runs over to see what's going on.

Seems to me I remember something like that between Remington and Sheba, or maybe Sheba and Amber--that there was something in particular that the one dog would do and so we'd say their name there, and the smart dog always figured that out, so when we'd say the other dog's name, the smart dog would go dashing over to see what fun was afoot.

Jake's not as fast a learner, but food is somewhat more powerful than the opiates released by licking one's feet, so I have hope.

Don't Yell, I Ain't Deef!

OK, I think I have it figured out. Jake is definitely tuning me out.

See, he has this obsessive habit of licking his paws or biting at himself which makes this horrible sucky sound as he works up steam and starts panting. So picture this:
  • You're working at your desk, concentrating on whether the pages options file is the only one that allows the special category Pages to control the conversion of mixed JPEG and BMP files programmatically to PDF. The house is quiet. You're trying to focus. Lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick Augghhh! "Jake!" you say. The dog keeps licking. "Jake!" lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick lick "JAKE!" now it gets faster so you know he's trying to get in all his licks before you make him stop licklicklicklicklicklicklicklicklicklick "JAKE CUT IT OUT!" licklicklicklicklicklicklicklicklicklick Then you go over and give him a nudge and he looks up, indignant.
  • You're nestled all snug in your bed, while visions of agility courses dance through your head. You're warm. Your eyes are closed. The room is dark and silent. Bite bite bite bite bite snorffff bite bite bite bite bite bite snorffff bite bite bit bite bite snorffff bite bite bite bite snorffff bite bite bite bite snorffff bite bite bite bite bite bite bite snorffff "Jake!" you say. The dog keeps biting. "Jake!" bite bite bite bite bite bite bite bite (the snorffs have stopped because now it's clear that there's limited time with no room for actual inhaling bite bite bite bite bite bite bite bite bite bite bite bite "JAKE! CUT IT OUT!" bitebitebitebitebitebitebitebite and of course now the bed is jiggling furiously so you have to emerge from your cozy covers and give him a nudge, whereupon he looks up, heaves a huge sigh (from not having breathed for 30 seconds) and sets to panting, glaring at you in an indignant way.
  • Repeat ad infinitum.

Now picture this. You're somewhere else, anywhere, and you want the dog's attention. "Jake!" you say.

Huh. No response.

You're on an agility course and there's a jump straight in front of the dog but you want him to turn right but he has just blasted through a completely straight 20-foot tunnel (which is like a missile launcher for dogs) and if he takes that jump, you've just faulted out of that run that you want very much. While he's still in the tunnel, you yell "Jake!" (This used to work. Worked for Rem. Works for Tika.) As he emerges, you yell "Jake!" again. Then you yell "Jake! JAKE! ***JAKE***!!!" and he starts to hesitate and falters slightly, but he never ever looks at you, because he has locked onto that jump and after all you'll come over and nudge him when you really want something. Boom. You've faulted out.

That could very well be what's going on.

So today I've been walking around with a pocket of goodies and trying to get him in any manner at all to look at me the first time I say his name, and I'm TRYING to simply walk over and nudge him the first time rather than using his name in vain.

This requires actual work on my part, which just isn't fair (stomp feet, whine a bit).

But I think we're making progress.

Back to the Gopher Park

Took Jake and Tika to The Gopher Park bright and early this morning. It's been a long time. Used to take the dogs fairly often--at least once a month, sometimes once a week, before Rem got sick. Took Rem there alone when I thought he was dying, although he recovered and came back for another week or so after that. Has been hard to go there since.

As I was saying the other week--memories layered on memories--

The morning is gorgeous. Sunny, yet cool enough for me to wear a light fleece jacket even while frisbeeing and climbing the hill. Quiet at the park; a couple of other people with dogs here and there, but only briefly. We stayed about 45 minutes.

Frisbee games: First we did 15 minutes or more of frisbee. Jake will play forever! And he certainly hasn't slowed down for these games, although he doesn't seem to take flying leaps of quite the same old caliber trying to catch the frisbee. Makes me realize that he's *not* running full/flat out in agility most of the time, seeing him stretch out his body, lower his center of gravity, and move his little legs so fast that he becomes merely a low line of red fur burning across the grass.

Tika likes chasing things. She is so much better about returning the thing she's chasing (not when she's chasing Jake, thank goodness) than she used to be. Used to chase the frisbee, catch it, then drop it. She still loses interest in returning it all the way when she starts to get tired and hot, but she doesn't lose interest in chasing it. Maybe that's her way of getting some breathing room, when I give up and go out to fetch it myself. But as I approach it, she reels in her panting tongue; her eyes get wide; she crouches into a ready stance, paws twitching impatiently, and blasts full speed after it when I throw it again.

She doesn't know how to run at half speed, I think!

My Little Girl Grows Up: Realized how much Tika has learned and matured, though. During our initial frisbee session, someone else brought a dog on leash onto the field with a ball-thrower (think Jai Alai). I called Tika to me and she came straight away. (In fact she's usually quite focused on me while playing frisbee, which is a wonderful thing. Not quite as focused as Jake, but that would be hard for any dog but the most obsessive-compulsive border collie.) I held onto Tika while I discussed over a great distance whether the lady's dog was OK with other dogs. Responses were something like "I think it'll be OK" and "Your dogs aren't agressive, are they? It should be all right--". Not the most enthusiastic I've ever seen, but I went back to playing frisbee anyway. Still, she kept the dog at her side on a leash.

On the next throw or so, Tika dropped the frisbee while I was playing with Jake and veered off towards the other dog, picking up speed as she went. "Teek!" I yelled. "Teek!" She slowed, made a wide curved turn, and came right back to me! Who'd'a thunk I'd see the day? What a lovely girl. We just moved further off down the park with our frisbees.

The first year I had her--and I think even the last couple of times we went to the park--I put her on a 20' long lead and let it trail behind her so that if (or, rather, WHEN) she'd decide she didn't have to come when called, I could eventually catch up to her and stomp/grab the line. I needed to do it, too.

This time, I didn't even think about the long line until we'd been out at the park for quite a while. I let them both out of the car off leash, even though we were on a residential street. In the old days I'd have walked Tika on leash to the park entrance because otherwise she'd have been all over the place. I pointed them in the direction of the entrance and let them go, and both raced in and then turned and waited for me (or, more likely, the frisbees) to catch up.

This Way and That Way: After the initial frisbeeing, we went walking up in the wild, hilly part of the park--you know, The Gopher Hill and The Squirrel Trees. They'd both run, then Tika would veer back to check where I was. Every time I changed direction, I'd yell "Dogs, this way!" which Remington used to respond to so well but Tika used to be oblivious to. This time, she turned and changed her bearing promptly every time, not deciding to make her own decision about which way This Way should be. She came every time I explicitly called her, too. (I did have goodies in my pocket; sometimes she came without me calling just to see whether I was a good person to visit--and half the time I was, giving her a goodie just for that respect.)

Jake was a butthead, or else he realy is going deaf. He didn't respond to "Jake, Come!" at all unless he was within about 10 feet of me. Didn't respond to "Jake!" at all unless I really yelled it, which I hesitated to do much, as the park backs up against residences and it was early on Sunday (before 9). But he would occasionally lift his head from whatever fascinating Element of Nature he had discovered to see what Tika and I were up to, and then would come flying across the field or up the hill, his wonderful floppy ears soaring alongside his head.

Life Might Be Good: The third time I went up across the hill, I stopped and looked at the view. I realized that in all the times I've been to the park and gone up and down that hill, I've never really looked at the view. Why? Always worried about where the dogs were, because Rem would get it in his head that he was in control of the situation and the fact that *I* was worried because I couldn't see him and was yelling his name didn't affect that, because *he* knew where he was and he knew where *I* was so why should he worry? -- and Jake would follow Rem -- and Tika would get it into her head to blast away in the opposite direction and try to go out one of the park exits--

And the dogs were SO good today and Tika was keeping track of *me* and Jake was generally keeping track of *both* of us, so I could actually stop and relax and lift my eyes to the horizon and see all of Santa Clara Valley spread out before me to my Heart's Delight. It was wonderful.

Who's the wimp? After some good hill climbing and gopher-ghost chasing (didn't actually see any gophers or squirrels this time), we did more frisbee. Tika was really getting warm. As we headed in the general direction of the car, I tossed the frisbee, she grabbed it, veered off to the side where the shadow of a tree fell across the dew-soaked lawn, and shlumped down to the ground to wait for me to come.

Jake was still going--and going--and going--

There's the difference between a 12-year-old dog and a 2-and-a-half-year-old dog. Huh. Former has endless energy and reserves; latter wimps out!

Took them both back to the car off leash. Risky, if there had been a cat around, but it was a quiet residential street with no cars or people in sight.

Tika HAS come such a long way in so many ways!

But she gets so much hotter than Jake, so much faster, and lasting so much longer. Jake is one studly little exerciser. Most of the way home in the car, Tika was still panting full out while Jake had completely relaxed and settled in, gazing around in boredom.

A ten-minute ride home, then Tika--still panting full out from her ordeal at the park--raced out to the back yard full tilt, careered from end to end a dozen times in case there might be invasive species, and leaped back to the deck, bypassing most of the steps, to see whether I was offering breakfast yet. An interesting study in overheating versus basic underlying energy level, perhaps.

It's Been A Year--Part I

I've been very conscious that it's been a year this month since Remington's cancer diagnosis. It's hard to believe. I realize, in rereading my dog_diary entries, that the details are becoming fuzzy. But the emotions are still nearly as fresh as the days they were formed--feeling that my life had collapsed around me, wishing it were a nightmare I'd wake up from.

I was sorting through my Visa bills from last winter, which for some reason I never reconciled with the statements (gee--subconscious mind games?), and it was bad enough having receipt after receipt after receipt, often 2 or 3 a week, with the cancer clinic's name or the emergency clinic name--but then they stopped abruptly after March 8, and that's almost as jarring now as it was then.

And I've been finding that it's just as hard this month to find words for what I'm feeling as it was right after Rem died.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Scattered Reflections

Casey needs to Think Pink. Mucking around in the garage, turn and step into a shadow--which turns out to be a little black dog with sensitive teeny feet. Toss a t-shirt into the pile of dark laundry--and the shirt rises from the pile in bewilderment. Gaze around the back yard, trying to figure out where the LBD has gone--Ah! There's his toy on the ground, but where--Oh, yeah, standing right over it, but blending into the shadows in the background. How about a Little Pink Dog instead?

Are you deef? Jake's been failing to respond to his name. Unless it's pronounced in a particular way, something akin to this: "Jake. Jake! *Jake!* JAAAAKE!!!!" Is he getting hard of hearing? Some dogs do. (MY ears ring when he squeaks that squeakie a zillion times 5 feet away from me. Rock stars go deaf from all the loud music they create; do dogs go deaf from squeakie concerts?) Or have I discovered yet another trick that I have inadvertently taught my dog--Ya don't hafta respond the first time because she'll yell when she gets serious? Will have to test--

Layers upon layers. Went over to The New Improved Westfield Shoppingtown Oakridge Mall (commonly referred to by locals and oldtimers by the fond name "NIWSOM") (OK, not really, I made that up) yesterday with the dogs. They weren't interested in bathrobes at Macy's, so instead we went for a walk around the lovely new grassy landscaping they've installed along the back side of the block. A nice brisk walk on a crisp fall morning. Except that it's right across the street from the cancer clinic where Remington was treated, and where I walked all the dogs each time Rem came in for an appointment, or walked the other dogs while Rem was in the hospital, or--lump in throat--walked Rem by himself for the very last time, scared to go very far or very long because what would I do if he again went into those horrific convulsions out on a deserted street at 2 in the morning, and what if it killed him right there?
Many, many, many walks, all emotionally laden.
So I can avoid walking the dogs anywhere in that area for the rest of my life, or I can start trying to layer on memories that don't involve Rem's fatal illness, so that that corner of the world is once again safe to walk in. Or am I layering on memories like "I walked here last time because I want to forget about Rem's last illness--I'm walking here this time to forget that last time I walked here to forget Rem's last illness--"?

Poop. What *is* it with people who don't pick up after their dogs? Yeah, it's gross, smelly, disgusting stuff. So why would you think that someone *else* would want to pick it up? Or step in it? Whoever you are, I hope you walk right down the street and step in someone else's dog's poop and that that starts your little pea brain thinking. You bought the dog; you bought the dogfood; you're responsible for the results.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Jake is Top Dog! --Almost--

While looking up something else, I went to the USDAA list of top 200 lifetime agility dogs. The qualifying scores over a lifetime ranged from 89 at the low end (yow! That's a lot of work! And a lot of success!) up to the seemingly unreachable 551.

I decided to find Jake's name on the list of ALL competitors and see how pitiably far behind he was. Much to my surprise--he was listed as having 86 qualifying scores! So I double-checked my own database: Yow! That's a lot of work! And a lot of success! And sure enough, he's got 86! (Is that enough ! for the moment?)

I searched for other dogs in the 88-86 range. He's one of only 4 dogs with 86 points, and there are andother 4 with 87 or 88 points--which means he's currently somewhere between 205th and 208th on the top lifetime achievement list. My heart has flip-flopped.

There are around 5,000 dogs on that list. But that's not all: Those 5,000 are merely the dogs who have made it to the master's level and have managed to earn at least one qualifying score at that level. That doesn't include the thousands of other dogs who never make it (or have not yet made it) past the novice and intermediate levels.

I never feel that successful or that skilled. This is a complete surprise to me and I'm just about crying with delight.

You can't imagine the pressure I feel when my friends, colleagues, classmates, and instructors just about own the top-10, top-lifetime, and top-200 list, and then I come home from a cruddy weekend with no--none--zilch--nada--qualifying scores. Not that I'm competitive--

I'm both very lucky and very challenged to be doing agility in the SF Bay area, where there are so many top-notch competitors and instructors.

Now I have a reason to live! Maybe I should throw myself at a few more USDAA trials, even if they are in SoCal, to try to make it officially onto that 200 list! It's very doable--not all of the dogs in that range are competiting any longer (sadly, one of the 89-Q handlers died just last week).

By comparison, Remington and I had accrued only 24.

By another comparison--Jim Basic's swift has 87 *Gamblers Qs alone*. Now THAT's a Yow.

A Gamblin' Hound

Tika and I took a one-day gambling seminar Sunday up at Power Paws Agility. Our instructor, Jim Basic (who's one of our regular instructors anyway) probably has more gamblers legs in USDAA than all other dogs combined.

OK--I exaggerate--but it'll be amazing if anyone ever catches up to his combined scores for Mick and Swift. [This link shows the top 22" and 26" dogs Master Gambler (MG) lifetime points; previous page shows top 12" and 16" MG lifetime points.] [Our other regular instructors are Nancy Gyes and Rachel Sanders, whom you'll also see featured in these lists.]

It was supposedly for masters dogs (all the other dogs are at the masters level, working on their championships, and Tika's still just a babydog, really). She did *great*. True, she's my third dog and I have practiced some gambling maneuvers with her, but she was no worse than any of the other dogs there and sometimes even better.

We still have some problems: She went off to investigate the sheep or llama a couple of times; went in search of food on the ground a couple of times; ran off wantonly a couple of times; stood up at the start line almost EVERY bloody time--I don't know what I'm going to do with that! But she ran so well and worked so nicely at a distance, and her Turn command response was gorgeous.

Now if only we can get those pesky up contacts on the dogwalk--

Hoping to deal with that in a couple of weeks. We've signed up for a Susan Garrett seminar focusing on weaves and contacts and I'm hoping that we can come up with a plan both for that up contact and for speeding up her down contacts. Rachel has suggestions, but it will be nice also to work with the acknowledged master.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

A Throng of Dogs

I believe that the household dogs have achieved thronghood. Pack doesn't seem like quite the right word--this implies some order among and ordering of beasts. I no longer have 2 individual identifiable dogs. With the addition of Casey, now when the three of them are on the move, it seems like multitudes. An amorphous mass of canininity. There might be three; there might be thirty; it's hard to tell. I suspect that they are moving in and out of alternate space-time continuums, so that it's impossible to count the true quantity in this here and this now.

With Jake, Tika, and Remington, we seldom achieved this oneness of togetherness; Rem was too stand-offish, Jake was too snappity around him, and Tika was too cautious of the Old Boy Network. There were rare occasions when they bounced off of each other with impunity, but this new threesome has achieved a Brownian activity level that's stunning in its complexity.

And I thought that Tika and Jake were way too noisy when greeting guests--Casey outdoes them with a shrieking, wavering yowl that sets one's ears to ringing. We're working on that, too... If they weren't all so damned cute, I'd become a cat person.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Progress Does Happen

It doesn't seem that long ago that Tika wouldn't stay at the start line, flew off her contacts, ran off during class to chase squirrels--she has been a delight last week and this week in class. Again, she started to dash away from me a couple of times but came back almost immediately when I called her. I was having some rough times with my body language on some interesting rear crosses in class today and kept mucking up, and she was very patient with me. Kept coming back for more instead of starting to sniff (displacement) or heading off after squirrels. What an excellent beast.

She's still standing up at the start line, though. Instructor pointed out that she's done it just after I've given her a treat for sitting, and also suggested that I might try walking around behind her first and then walking away. So the last two runs I didn't give her a goodie just before leaving her, and one time I walked behind her and the other time I stepped away from her laterally before going forward, and both times she stayed in the sit. So that might help.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Foot Space

And in our Where Should I Put My Feet department, things are changing with Casey around.

I often have a dog (Jake or Tika or, in the old days, Remington) lying at, around, on, or under my feet under my desk. Usually when they want something, but often just because they can. In the last week, I often discover that there's a dog under there but Jake and Tika are spread flat out in other parts of the room or house. So Casey's not even my dog and he's taking over that spot when his mom's not around.

Much to my surprise, earlier this evening BOTH Tika and Casey ended up lying under my desk, fortunately without snarging and hackling. I turned to Jake, who was lying alongside my desk just about under the wheels of my chair, and asked, "Why is it that I now have *two* dogs under my desk?"

"Clearly," he said clearly, "because there isn't room for *three.*"

Fur Mat's Last Theorum

It occurred to me in a flash of brilliance today that, for dog quantities greater than 2, there is no number of grooming sessions that will remove sufficient fur to prevent either matting that requires trimming out with scissors or the gross distribution of fur particles across every point in a plane consisting of the concatenation of all vertical and horizontal surfaces in the house including dark-colored clothing.

I can prove it, too, and I'd scribble the proof in the margin here except that blogs don't seem to have margins.

For more information, go here.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Dogfood Savings Time

I think I know what's going on.

For months, my dogs have started pestering me around 4:30 or 5:00, hinting none-to-subtley (chin on lap, heavily panting moist air and drooling, for example) that surely it must be dinnertime. This is odd because I've usually fed them at 6:00 or later, and they're usually quite talented at figuring out these oddly willful habits of mine.

But now it's starting around 3:30 or 4:00. There can be only one reason: Dogs have decided that they're all for Spring Forward One Hour--food comes an hour sooner, as does playtime, walktime, and all the good things in life. But they have elected not to honor Fall Back One Hour. Imagine the audacity of we human-like beings, thinking it would be satisfactory to *delay* the onset of dinnertime.

So I'm pretty sure the Spring Forwards are becoming cumulative, with no Fall Backs to offset them.

I'll think about this more, after I've fed the dogs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

All's Quiet and Rowdy on the Western Front

After we got home from class, all dogs got their breakfast and ate it cheerfully. Tika and Casey started cavorting in the house, getting Jake revved up with mixed feelings. I chased them outside and the 2 youngsters went out on the lawn to play enthusiastically. First time I've really seen them let loose with each other. (Jake stayed under my desk, licking his paws in a sedate and self-satisfied manner.)

A while later, when the playing revved up again, Jake looked like he wanted to join in but didn't know how. After Tika collapsed in the hallway for a breather, Jake started whining at Casey, wagging his tail, sniffing; Casey tried bouncing into a playful chase once or twice but Jake, as usual, turned half away and seemed annoyed--yeah, like he doesn't know *how* to play. We'll see where this goes. I've never seen Jake play with another dog in all the 5 (?) years I've had him, although his previous foster-mom said he used to play with her other dogs, playing keep-away anyway and leading them on a merry chase.

Later, Tika and Jake goaded Casey into digging around in the greenhouse, where a large shallow planter dish was apparently clogged and not draining, converting its content into mud soup. I don't know what he did in there--digging, I suppose--I saw Jake and Tika standing to either side of him, watching intently, so I gather it was some kind of hazing ritual. Because, when the phone rang just as I was going out to investigate, I was distracted long enough for the little black dog to get smothered with muck. When I hung up, the dogs came charging into the house through the sliding door in the office, across the carpet, up the stairs, into the dining area and around the corner into the kitchen. To my great dismay, Casey was not only leaving huge gloppy muddy footprints across the carpet and floor, but he was so covered with drippy muddy goop, that, when he ran, every step sprayed muddy globules in every direction.

What a cleanup! I hosed him down outside first (another learning experience for the little guy), Jake and Tika (both perfectly clean) grinning at him from the sidelines, and then I wiped him down with a towel. However, by that time Jake decided he didn't like all the attention that I was giving Casey, so he pushed in and a little bit of snarling and a not-quite-fight ensued until I could push Jake away.

What a mess. Sheesh.

Tika's A Good Girl In Class

Wow! A successful morning! I'm still learning and relearning how to handle tight turns, serpentines, threadles, but Tika was an excellent girl today. Started to move away from me twice, but came back immediately when I called her, rather than running off to explore or to rouse imaginary squirrels. What a good girl! Jeez, it's been months since she hasn't gone off at least once during class, it seems.

Got all her contacts. Sat at the start line and stayed every time, even when another dog who was playing tug-o-war with his handler backed into her. What a gal!

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Casey Fits In

Monday night, after Jake & Casey had done some posturing, we went to bed. Tika as usual hogged my side of the bed while I brushed my teeth and all; Jake as usual settled into Tika's usual spot while Tika was busy homesteading my side of the bed. When I stuck my feet under the covers, usually Tika moves, then Jake moves, and the Natural Order is restored. However, this time as Tika stepped over Jake (his back was to her), he jumped up and attacked her.

I know that this is because he's on edge because of the new dog. He hasn't done that to her since the first month or two she was here (a year and a half ago) and she was doing big-puppy-annoying sorts of things in his face.

She didn't want to get back on the bed after that; kept going into the small closet near the bed instead. (Note that Tika's twice Jake's size and quite a brazen hussy, normally.) Sooooooo I got up, put on my bathrobe, went downstairs, let both dogs out; they charged out into the yard in their usual perimeter-clearing mode, and eventually came back in.

Then everything was set right, and we could go back upstairs as normal and go to bed as normal and no feelings were permanently hurt.

This morning, Tika continued to sneak into Casey's room and eat his food. His mom said, hmm, maybe Casey needs to learn to eat at a fixed time, so I said I'd feed him when I fed my dogs.

I warned her that dogs who are slow, picky eaters and who've been allowed to free feed sometimes won't eat for 2 or 3 times but then would eat when they got hungry enough.

For breakfast I gave my dogs their food; made Casey sit and wait for his food just like my dogs do. When I told him OK, he sniffed at it, walked around a little bit (not going too far), thought about it for about 30 seconds, and then carefully ate it all, one dainty morsel at a time. Surprised everyone except, probably, himself, who undoubtedly deliberately had us all going on what a delicate flower of doghood he was.

Jake the Snookering Man

On Sunday, Jake had a lovely 51-point snooker run, with a time that beat the only other Open dog (combined heights) with 51 pts, for a Super-Q, which was that annoyingly elusive 3rd Super-Q that he needed for his Performance Snooker (PS) title.

Imagine my suprise when his Performance Snooker certificate arrived in the mail on Monday! You seldom see service SO fast!

Of course what that meant was that one of his earlier 1sts, which I thought wasn't a superQ because of combining jump hts, was in fact the top score even after combining (I checked w/USDAA), so we really earned the title back at the Bay Team Labor Day weekend trial.

Now it's back to those pesky gambles, which we can't get for heck or high water since we finished our CH's... Still need 2 to finish our Performance Dog Championship-equivalent.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Bad Saturday, Good Sunday

USDAA trial in Madera. We could've stayed home Saturday. We all did crappy. I felt so tired, as if my legs weighed 400 pounds each. As if I'd gone suddenly from sea level to 8000 feet and was trying to get around. It was hard to keep my own energy up, let alone keep my dogs focused and enthused. Don't know why. Did get up at 4 a.m. but I also went to bed & to sleep not long after 8 Friday night.

Jake's Saturday: Jake had a decent gamblers opening sequence, our timing was perfect (unlike last weekend where i called him off the gamble both times) but then I did a stupid cross-behind as he was approaching the first obstacle and pulled him off it.

He was very slow in his standard course and I think I ran him on an off-course early on.

In the Grand Prix national qualifier, he was slow and also started going around jumps. This is not like Jake. I entered him at standard 22", but I haven't been practicing much at 22"--just occasional jumping sequences in the yard. Mostly in training and competition he's been doing 16". Maybe it really is time to give up and not try him at 22" in these qualifiers any more. He *is* going to be 12 next month.

Tika's Saturday:

Sat. Pairs: missed up contact on dogwalk and knocked the preceding bar (a turn). But fast. And good contacts. Fast enough, along with her fast partner, to make up for the errors and take 2nd out of 10 teams.

Sat. Gamblers: Same opening as pairs, didn't knock bar, apparently got *2* up contacts on DW OK because we got points for both. A very nice run, good contacts (2 dogwalks & 2 Aframes), but knocked a bar in the gamble so didn't get credit for it. Dang.

Sat. Std: Same opening again, didn't knock bar, missed up on on the dogwalk, took an off course, and then flew off the Aframe. That ended THAT run.

Grand Prix: Stood up at start line to investigate a bunch of food that she had found in the grass while we were waiting to go in. Left teeter and Afr early and I made her come back each time--for 2 refusals (at least I think that's what the 10 faults were for--I think my watchers said that she wasn't called for the up on the DW).

Jake's Sunday: MUCH better.

Standard: Fairly fast although not super-zippy; looked like he popped his dogwalk but judge didn't call it, so we got a Q and a 2nd place.

Jumpers: A nice fast run--could've been tighter on a couple of turns but I was happy with it. Couldn't beat a very fast border collie, but we took 2nd place again.

Snooker: I've been desperate to get that third super-Q to finish our Performance Snooker title. This particular course lent itself to doing all three 7s in the opening, so I knew it would be a speed course rather than a handling course, and we have trouble beating others on speed because he's at the short end of his height range. But we executed perfectly and it turns out that almost everyone else messed up, so he earned a first and the lovely Super-Q. Happy mom.

Tika's Sunday:

Sun Std: Missed up on dogwalk but otherwise an excellent run. Sigh. I really want that third Novice qualifying leg so we can move up to Advanced, but it looks like, unless we can fix this up-dogwalk-contact problem, we're not going to get there quickly. At least I now have 2 solid weekends of videos, so hopefully our instructor can analyze what she's doing and we can come up with a plan. On the other hand--lots of other dogs messed up, too, and again she was fast enough that she took 3rd out of about 10 dogs.

Sun Jumpers: Knocked a bar that I had been worried about but mostly smooth and, again, very fast--still fast enough for 2nd place. Had she been half a second faster, she'd have taken 1st--making up for the 5-point fault by beating the first-place dog by 5 seconds.

Sun Snooker: Dagnabbit, went AROUND first jump at an angled lead-out pivot attempt. I need to work on this-- I had planned 2 DWs in that run for more opportunities for filming, but, oh, well. Another 0-point snooker run.

STANDING UP AT STARTLINE: Man, I've been practicing this for 2 weeks. Tossing food. Running jake in front of her. Sometimes doing obstacles, sometimes not. Me running, me stopping. Tossing her favorite toy. Sitting while I get dressed, while I pick up dog messes in the yard, while I sweep the floor, anything I can think of. She mostly holds that little start very nicely. But in class & at competition, she stands up. Sits down again when I tell her to, or else instead of standing up, lies down. We'll see how she does Wed. in class.


Sunday, October 19, 2003

New Roommate/Dogmate

We have a new dog in the house--oh, yeah, and the lady who comes with the dog and is also now sharing our house. Casey is a little black dog. Very sweet.

When we got home from the USDAA trial late Sunday afternoon, Casey met us at the door from the garage. He greeted me with delight but there was much consternation among the various dogs about the change in canine counts. They had already met twice before, briefly, but this was the first time that Casey had actually moved in.

As I was unloading, I realized that my two beasties had vanished from the scene. Back out to the garage--Jake (who likes to follow me around so he knows where I am) had jumped back up into the van seat in which he travels; Tika (who'd always rather be checking out the universe than in the crate in the back of the van) was in the crate in the back of the van. "OK, mom," they said, "you obviously don't understand the Correct World Order. Let's get back in the car and try coming home again--"

I encouraged them to come into the house, where they then hid up in the bedroom for a while.

Jake and Casey had a spat at the top of the stairs while we were standing at the top and Casey & his mom were coming up. I couldn't tell who started it, but we separated them fairly easily, with Tika yelling "get 'im! get 'im!" and jumping around in the background.

Another brief snarling bit when Casey & mom went out the front door and came back in shortly thereafter, and Jake and Tika had their noses right at the door while they tried to come in.

Casey's food is left out for him all the time. Tika has availed herself of this feature, going into their bedroom to snarf the kibble. Casey isn't getting much to eat.

Friday, October 17, 2003

A Gimble Gamble

Jake and I got a difficult gamble last weekend that stymied all but 3 Elite and 1 Open dog (and we were over time due to stuff *before* the gamble, but that wasn't Jake's fault, and we GOT it).

Here's the situation: Handler has to stay outside the dotted line. Dog has to take the teeter-totter (#1), into the right side of the tunnel, then out over jumps #3 and 4.


When we all walked it ahead of time, we thought that the thing to do would be to hang back (A1) as the dog went up the teeter, take one step out (A2) as the dog got to the bottom of the teeter, giving a good strong "out" command, then back up a step and start running (A3) as the dog came out of the tunnel.

The problem with this was that the dog was looking back over its left shoulder at you as he did the teeter, so giving an "out" from that position (pushing the dog away from you) simply pushed him into the left side of the tunnel.

We already knew that going out to B1 to give the "out" might get the dog into the tunnel, but the dogs would come out of the tunnel so fast that they'd catch us running back along the diagonal line and we wouldn't be in a position to push them to the remaining jumps, although a couple of people tried it anyway.

The only solution that worked (Jake & I did it, but only after watching the other successful 2 gamblers) was to go out to B1 to give the "out" to the far side of the tunnel, then step further in to give the dog ANOTHER "out" to the first jump as he came out of the tunnel.

Most dogs who have been trained to take obstacles straight out away from their handlers have learned to do more than one jump in a row that way, although we almost never see a situation where that's necessary on the course with the handler standing completely still.

So after the dog turned and headed toward the jump, you had to keep your hand and arm pressure out, and continue giving your "go on/jump" commands, "go jump!" in our case.

This is the second time I've seen a gamble like this, where that was pretty much the only solution to getting the dog through it (and oddly enough 2 of the 3 dogs that did it this time were the same ones who did it then, if I remember correctly--my Jake and Ron's Meg).

Clarifying the Gobbledygook

I'm working on adding some links at the top of the page to give background info for all of my agility ramblings. Might take a while to find or create what I want.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Tika and Jake. Very much here.

Hard to write about a loss and a success in the same heartbeats. But they're both on my mind.

This most recent weekend, we competed in a NADAC trial at Laguna Seca, with racecars growling along the hills on either side of us. Each dog had 10 runs for the weekend. I walked--according to my trusty sidekick Ped-O-Meter--10 miles each day. It was a small, fairly quiet, pleasant site, so I'm surprised at the mileage.

Tika weavingTika Summary: Tika is like a brand-new dog, at the previous competition and at this one, but this time I didn't make quite so many Stupid Handler Tricks. Contacts were great (She left an Aframe contact early once (after Good Girl but before OK), and I made her come back and do a Behind before going on--). Weaves were great. She grabbed towards my feet only twice, only after the finish, and backed off immediately.

She earned qualifying scores in 7 of them, including (dag-nab it) all 4 Standard runs (clean, 1st place) when all she needed for her Open title was 1/2 Q and they weren't doing move-ups!

Everything felt SO smooth and SO connected and, oh my, wow, it was exhilarating.

Tika Feels The Need For Speed: She was faster than all 25-or-so Open (intermediate) dogs in both of her Jumpers courses--by 2 seconds or more (with times of 18.79, 19.3--that's about 10% faster than any other dog. Whoooo.) She was faster than all Open dogs in all 4 of her Standard courses by 4 to 7 seconds (with only a couple of exceptions); with times in the 37-to-39-second range, that's 10-15% faster than any other dog.

In Tunnelers--where *all* dogs, all levels, use the same course--we had 2 slight bobbles but she was still 7th fastest of all 94 dogs at the trial--at a blazing speed of 7.03 yards per second, the fastest that any of my dogs have ever achieved on an agility course. Of course, that's a course with nothing but tunnels, so except for turns and some lowering of the body, they're basically running straight out.

In Weavers (only tunnels and sets of weave poles), I made one of my weekend's rare bobbles and she ran past the entry to the first set of weaves--but even so, she was 5th fastest of all 60 dogs, *all* levels, *all* heights running the same course. Yowza. For comparison to tunnelers, her blazing-fast weavers time was a mere 4.17 yards per second.

Jake jumpingJake's Weekend: He got most of his dogwalk contacts this time like a good boy. Ran nicely with only one noticeable disconnect between him and his handler. Won several of his classes.

Looking at this photo, you'd be hard-pressed to guess that Jake never knocks bars when jumping. He's such a talented jumper. He could jump as high, or higher, than Remington could--well over 40" when pushed to the limits one day.

Results Here's an experiment: Table of results from last weekend's trial, for my dogs only.


...More in a bit...postus interruptus...

Remington. Still Gone. Still Here.

7 months and a week. I wonder and wonder when the sharp pain will fade to comfortable memories. I think about Amber, now, and find only quiet, warm, increasingly spare recollections. (If my mind's lens zooms in onto the morning she died, I can still cry.) But it was 2 years--two!--after she died before I could get around the untidy emotional lump that filled my available dog-loving spaces to think about getting another dog. And it was months after Remington came home before I managed to stop comparing him at every misbehavior to beautiful Amber.

So I know that I have a long way to go. One is supposed to learn such things from history.

dog in stream At a stationery shop, browsing through greeting cards. A big yellow dog stands alone, quietly gazing at the invitation offered by a half-frozen stream meandering into the distance among misty trees. Just like Remington, standing on the edge of the path plowed through the Oregon forest, its surface hidden beneath February's winter water and ice, crowded on either side by the forest's understory. Gazing into the distance, wanting as always to explore strange new worlds but not at the cost of walking through icy slush, quiet, perhaps gazing farther than I can possibly see, around the bend, just three weeks further on and an infinite distance beyond where I can walk--I, suspecting that his tumor had again begun to hemorrhage but not yet knowing for sure, wanting to take him walking and walking forever, never stopping, but stymied by the deep and freezing waters.

Now it's a week later and I had to go back and buy that photo. I took none in those frosty Klamath woods while we were there. Photo by Keith Carter

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Feet-Free Weekend

And, oh yeah, Tika didn't grab at my feet in the ring even *once*! After the finish line she's still making a little lunge for them, but isn't insistent, and backs off after I get her to offer a Paw.

Hurrah hurrah hurrah!

A Disappointing Weekend. But Fun. Yes. Fun. Yes. Keep Saying It--

This last weekend we stayed home. Probably just as well. My ravaged soul needed a respite from the slings and arrows of outrageous agility.

Two weekends ago--USDAA--Woodland (near Davis). Two dogs. No Qualifying runs. Not one. Not all weekend. In the 102 weekends of agility since I started, when I've had 2 dogs competing, this has happened exactly--um, was going to say 1 other time. But there also came 2 weekends last fall while Jake was injured, Rem was running very badly and I didn't know why yet (would find out in a matter of days), and Tika was entered in only1 run a day, where we also came home with no Qs. But I'm not counting those as *real* weekends.

But this isn't supposed to happen! Not to an experienced handler and an experienced dog AND the new/fast/wunderhundkind, all in the same weekend.

How depressing.

Repeat the mantra: "We're doing this for FUN. We're doing this for FUN."

Tika actually ran very nicely, except for one round where she discovered that Horses Inhabit The Earth and went off to tell them that they'd better not THINK about leaving their corral on her shift. At least 2 other rounds I just did stupid handler things. Maybe 3 other rounds. A couple of rounds she knocked a bar, which I'm not blaming her for yet--we just need lots and lots and lots of practice in different situations. Rem & Jake virtually never knocked bars, ever, so this is new for me, too. And she paid attention and got all her contacts and ran like the wind (but with more agile turns and less dust).

Jake, on the other hand, was a puzzle. I've been saying this more and more--we just weren't in synch. He did things that I never would have expected--and didn't do things that I'd have taken for granted he'd do. And he was often slow (never is in class--this is starting to look like a mid-career-Remington syndrome--am I putting too much pressure on the boy?). And he didn't get hardly a single contact correctly (he's doing them in class SOOOOO PERFECTLY! It's SOOOOOO frustrating).

We did have a couple of runs that were pretty nice most of the way through but got bobbled one way or another. he got really turned on in one of the gamblers courses and had a spectacular opening sequence--and then missed a pretty easy gamble ( (a) I probably could have handled it better but (b) he slowed and stopped and came back to me instead of carrying out, and he carries out GREAT normally). Argh.

So I sat in my van and cried for 10 minutes before heading home.

By that evening, I couldn't quite grasp why I had been so completely devastated. I have such good, clever, cute, funny, smart dogs, so what's a sucky weekend or 2? And Jake has earned 3 championships (many many dogs will never earn even one) AND he'll be 12 in a month and many dogs are retired from agility at 8 or 9, so... count those blessings.

But I'd really like to not do that again.

For Better or For Worse

No matter how bad you've got it, someone else has it worse. No matter how bad you've got it, you've also probably got something better than everyone else, too.

I suppose there are exceptions.

But I'm thinking of one of my agility instructors. One of the top competitors in the country and, in fact, in the world. Has been a national agility champion repeatedly with multiple dogs--and that's *hard*. Has placed first in the world in at least one category and has made the U.S. World Cup team with two of her dogs at different times. She works hard for her success.

Her first and favorite border collie, with whom she first won the Nationals and with whom she first placed higher than any other U.S. dog at the Worlds up to that time, was diagnosed with lymphoma 4 years ago. They've worked just as hard at beating that, but between that and a neck injury in the dog, he had to retire from agility much earlier than he might have otherwise. Meanwhile, she's trained 3 other dogs.

Her 2nd World Cup dog has been on the team for 3 years, I think. This is also amazing. Only 5? large dogs from the U.S. are chosen to compete, and you've got to work hard and be extremely successful each year to be chosen for the team each time. The only way to guarantee yourself a spot on the team is to win the AKC Invitational. This year, they won the Invitational--and the dog started showing signs of discomfort. They got a wrong diagnosis, and by the time they got the correct diagnosis (because the problem wasn't getting better), it was too late for rehabilitation in time to go to the World Championships. It's a soft-tissue injury and fully recoverable, but she won't compete with him if he's not in perfect shape.

Then, in the same week that she had to make the hard decision to withdraw from the World Cup team, her first dog succumbed to the lymphoma.

I can just barely grasp how she must feel. In the same week that Rem was diagnosed with fatal cancer, Jake came up in pain and I had to put him on 6 weeks' rest and rehabilitation. I went suddenly from having 2 dogs competing at the top levels of agility to facing the possibility of no dogs (until Tika became ready). But even this seems to pale in comparison.

She's probably a stronger person than I am. But I'd guess that when you're on the top of the world the fall is a lot harder--

There are so many tragedies, when your companions have a life expectancy of barely more than a dozen years to begin with. But there are also so many success stories. So many dogs and handlers out there have a story of odds they've overcome, and I find myself relating those stories whenever someone new comes to watch a competition.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Everybody Ought To Have A Webmaster--Fiddling About--

Redid archives by month rather than by week. Playing with format. Haven't decided I like the new format yet. If only I were a genius of Web-page design.

If only I were so wealthy that I couldn't even understand how much money I had. If only I didn't gain weight when I ate all the peppermintstick ice cream with chocolate sprinkles that I wanted. If only Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden took a disliking to each other at a cocktail party and focused their disaffections one upon the other. If only dogs came in purple. If only I didn't need to sleep and could fiddle about all night.

Hours at the keyboard, and I'm still not happy with it. Dogs think I'm boring. I tell them, "I am doing this for YOU," as I have told them many times before. They express dubiousness.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Catching Up. Or Not.

Things have not been slow, no no. Meant to describe our successes (many) and failures (not too many) at our Sunnyvale Labor Day Weekend agility trial. 31 runs in one weekend! And I didn't enter Jake in everything--

But I'm tired and busy, so instead I think I'll take a nap.

Meanwhile, so you have something to do while I'm snoozing rather than wandering into traffic or playing in the gutter, you can admire these photos of Jake and Tika, taken by Richard Todd Photography at an August trial.
Jake getting his feet in that Dogwalk contact zone--for a change--but he's about to take a flying leap rather than waiting for instructions from the pilot.

Flying Semidachshundman

I would guess I was trying to get her to go in the direction *I'm* facing, not the direction *she's* facing. But, whatever she's doing, she's sure doing it fast--look how she's leaning into that turn.

An excellent sticky contact. Why am I standing there looking at her? Aren't I supposed to be getting ready to go somewhere?
In fact, I'm undoubtedly saying "Goooooood girrrrrrrrl!" and making sure that she *does* wait for instructions from the pilot.


Don't let the look fool you--this ain't no bored beast. And you wouldn't be, either, if you had to think--and move--faster than she runs!