Friday, April 29, 2005

Confining Puppies

Well, thought I, now that I know a lot about crates and crate training, managing a new puppy will be easy, thought I.

Puppies are a lot of work.

They're fast and unpredictable, near as I can tell. One moment she's sniffing in one corner of the room, and I turn around to adjust a door or gate, and she's across the room, pouncing on an electric cord, just that fast. Puppies, even more than human babies, explore the world with their mouths. That means that everything from harmless items like blades of grass to doubtful things like small pebbles to harmful things like perhaps a mushroom that sprang up overnight can end up in their mouths in an instant. I'm constantly scoping the floor and ground around her, inside and out, for things that might be attractive to her and detrimental to her health.

Crates

On the first day, I started off with a small plastic crate that I thought would be plenty large enough for a "puppy". OK, yeah, maybe an 8-week-old puppy, but not a 12-week-old Border Collie puppy. Boost fit, but barely--had to stoop her head to sit up, and her legs didn't quite fit when she lay over on her side against one side of the crate. When trying to nap, she was constantly shifting and grumbling and lying with her feet in the air.

She was already familiar with crates from her breeder, because they went to a variety of agility trials with the puppies in crates in the car, and they slept in large crates at night. But she wasn't in love with the idea of running into her crate, nor doing it on command. So, for the first day, I lured her into the crate by tossing a goodie in ahead of her or simply picked her up and placed her in the crate. She didn't fight me, but it wasn't elegant.

I moved the crate from my office to the kitchen and back again all day, depending on where I was spending more time. And hauled it upstairs at night and downstairs in the morning. Sure, it's small, but I'm inherently lazy and that's a pain in the butt.

Jake in his trial crate (Dec '04)
After the first night, I realized that she wasn't going to sleep comfortably in that tiny crate, even if I could use it for short periods during the day until I could arrange a larger replacement. So the second night I set up Jake's trial crate in my bedroom for sleeping. This was risky, because it's a fabric crate and so is very vulnerable to dogs chewing and ripping, which seemed like a strong possibility if the puppy decided that she wanted to get out.

But it was a good size for her--roomy enough to stretch out and have space left over. For house-breaking, they suggest that there not be enough room in the crate for the dog to make a mess and then curl up away from it on the other end, but by this time I'd already established that she was pretty good about starting to fuss when she needed to go, and her breeder said that she had been sleeping through the night for a while. So far, this has worked well. Plus then I don't have to move the crate upstairs and downstairs night and morning.

On the fifth day, I borrowed a slightly larger crate from a friend nearby. Even this one was noticeably heavier and more awkward for moving around, so we voted to just leave it in my office and rely on other confinement methods in the kitchen area.

Drinking from the spill-resistant bowl.
Boost playing energetically with a toy in her x-pen for over half an hour
Boost fiercely kicking her toy and her bowl behind her—hence the plastic protection

X-pen

Short for "exercise pen", these are the folding wire pens that one sees so often for confining puppies or dogs with room to move around. I bought a large one for Remington when I started doing agility because I couldn't imagine confining my boy to a crate. (Not to mention that a large x-pen was less expensive than a large-enough crate.) But what I discovered was that Rem would stand up all day, leaning against one side of the x-pen. He didn't start relaxing and lying down until I covered the sides of the pen to shut out more of the distractions & views of nearby dogs. And then mostly he lay down against one side of the crate and napped off and on all day. For this I was taking up 16 square feet of floor space and hauling a large heavy wire thing around!

When I got Jake and added him to the x-pen, 16 square feet were not enough for him and Rem to avoid having knock-down fights, so I had to buy a crate shortly thereafter for Jake. It was so much smaller, lighter, and more convenient, that I then bought Rem a crate and relegated the folded x-pen to the corner of the garage, whence it came only occasionally to keep dogs out from underfoot at crucial times in the yard.

Now--for a puppy--the "exercise" goes back into the x-pen. I wanted room for Boost to move around and play with toys, but still not have to watch her like a hawk. In my office, it was critical, because there are too many wires and papers and books and plants for her to get at, so confining her to the area with a gate wasn't the answer.

My office is carpeted. So, on the first day, I laid down a double layer of 4-mil (heavy) plastic sheeting covered with newspapers, both to protect the carpet from puppy accidents. Tossed in some toys, and that worked great--for about a day. Then she discovered that she could pick up the newspapers and shake them around and tear them to shreds. Then she discovered that she could get a grip on the plastic and start pulling it around, with considerable effort, but none-the-less it was an entertaining challenge.

After a couple of days, it was becoming clear that the paper was there only to absorb spills when she knocked over her waterbowl (even the spill-resistant one still slops) and as playtoys--scattered bits of newspaper were everywhere. And the plastic was there to protect my carpet--not from puppy accidents, but from puppy teeth! Once again, in an instant--after I discouraged her from tugging on the plastic, not really thinking about the fact that a tiny bit of carpeting was now visible within the x-pen boundaries--I turned away from her back to my computer, realized abruptly that the sound she was making was NOT of plastic or of newspaper, and turned around to find her pulling tufts of carpet out of the side of the carpeting.

Fortunately the damage is very mild and I think won't even be noticeable, but now I have a problem--can't have the puppy in the crate *all* the time, but what to do about the floor? I contemplated going out and buying a 4x4 piece of plywood to go under the crate. Thought about that for a few days; meanwhile, my decision for office control was to either have her in her crate--where she spent a lot of time over the last few days--or confined to a very small section of my office right next to my desk where I could keep an eye on her while she chewed rawhide. But that was very distracting for working conditions.

And everything had gotten to be very crowded in here.

This morning I rethunk the layout. Moved the rocking chair (the only other chair in here, which almost never gets used here any more--I used to try to destress in it periodically, but I've given up on that, too) up to the living room. Removed all the newspaper, as that was just horrible to look at and wasn't doing much. Relaid the plastic smoothly out along one side of the room (but not too close to the bookcases) and set the x-pen firmly down on it so that it was once again holding the edges smoothly with no wrinkles in the middle for easy grabbing.

It's very noisy with the puppy moving around on it, but it keeps those little pointy teeth away from my carpet.

So far this morning it has worked very well. Gave the puppy a pile of toys of various sizes, shapes, materials, and sounds, and she played very happily after breakfast for maybe half an hour, then has settled down for a nap. But I know that i'll have to keep an eye on her to see when she starts getting in the mood to pull at the plastic and then find something else to do with her for a while. ...And this could easily go on for months.

Later (I have to get to work now), I'll talk about leashes and gates and how I'm using them for confinement.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Border Collie Hips and Growth

Border Collies, like many larger breeds of dogs, are prone to hip dysplasia. This is a painful and sometimes crippling problem in which the bones in the hips don't move together properly. There is some evidence that it is genetic; there is apparently more and more evidence that environment plays a significant part in whether the dog develops the problem. There is corrective surgery that can sometimes be done, but we don't want to go there.

The real challenge is that there's no way to tell whether a dog is going to get it until either they get it or until fairly definitive x-rays at 2 years old reveal a problem. Earlier than that, and the dogs' bones are still growing and changing, and it's impossible to tell reliably what the future holds.

At two years of age, when the dog can be certified by the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA), it receives an OFA rating of excellent, good, or fair for nondysplastic joints, borderline for iffy joints, and mild, moderate, or severe for dysplastic joints. Boost's mother is rated Excellent; her father Fair. But, since environment is believed to be such a large part of it, this is only a foundation on which to build.

This article talks about some of the research and evidence for the causes of hip dysplasia in border collies. There's lots more info out there, too. Everyone I've talked to and everything I've read (in the last month or so--never was relevant to me before) emphasizes keeping the puppy thin but not scrawny; this is OK because that's what I try to do with my other dogs, anyway, like you'd do with any running and jumping athlete. It also emphasizes not overexercising the dogs. Like, don't do any serious athletic training until the dog is at least a year old. Like, if you play tug-of-war, do it gently, don't let the dog really put all its energy into it.

Because I've always bought breed-specific books when I've had a breed-specific dog, I bought a very recently published book on Border Collies. This recommends, among other things, that you not let your puppy play with your adult dogs until it's at least a year old so that it doesnt' run or wrestle or play too hard, and--here's where I'm thinking I'm drawing the line--don't let your puppy go up and down stairs until it's at least a year old! Ha! We have to go up and down stairs to get to the yard, to get to the car, to get to the bedroom, to get between my office and the kitchen, which are the main places the puppy is allowed.

The puppy has put on 2.5 pounds in a week and is now 17 pounds--they've got to be kidding that I should be carrying this dog up and down staircases several times a day from now until next January! You know this crate that I borrowed from a friend 2 days ago in which she could easily sit up and also lie down spread out--I could swear that she's already starting to stoop when sitting up and her feet are hitting the far side of the crate when she lies down!

I've read that it has been demonstrated that human teens and preteens really do indeed grow an inch or two literally overnight--everyone always joked about it, but apparently it's true, accounting for why teenagers often feel so gangly and uncoordinated as if they haven't gotten used to their body: they haven't! If Boost is really supposed to double in size in the next month, she's got a lot of growing to do every day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Today's Exciting Newses

Or perhaps not that exciting.
  • Jake came outside while the puppy was offleash and stayed outside, puttering around the yard. Also, at breakfast, when I set his food bowl down and released him, Boost swooped in and shoved her face into his bowl. He looked very startled but didn't tear her head off. What a good boy!
  • Puppy played with Tika this morning rather than acting worried; ran a mad game of catch-me back and forth around the yard, mostly *behind* the shrubbery along the long fence, with Tika racing back and forth outside, then perhaps through a tunnel or two (with Tika racing to the other end to catch her there), and so on until they were both panting quite thoroughly. Tika is being *so* good about this puppy.
  • Puppy peed in her crate for the first time and it's my fault. I feel so bad about that. Boost was napping soundly and I thought I could sneak outside and have a nice game of fetch with the older dogs. She started sounding off with very loud yaps, barks, and squeals, and I figured she could just learn to deal with being in a crate while I did stuff with the other dogs. When I came back in eventually to let her out--what a mess! Poor puppy.
  • Stopped by a friend's house to borrow a slightly larger plastic crate. Now she can fully sit up in the crate and lie down stretched out. Whew! Friend, who is a dog trainer and dog rescuer and does a work with the humane society, too, I believe, so knows quite a bit, says to expect the puppy to double in size between 3 months and 4 months. Holy cow--
  • Boost's name recognition is already excellent, as long as she's not watching Tika race around the yard, in which case I'm irrelevant.
  • Puppy is learning that the sitting position gets you lots of good things--and I never showed it to her, just waited for her to do it in a few situations and rewarded. I hope this keeps expanding.
  • I'm tired.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Tunnels and Names and Dogs

Breeder confirmed that the puppies had an old tunnel to play in, on, and around for quite a while, so she was very familiar with tunnels. You should see her in the morning when she's loosening her bowels--she blasts into one U-shaped tunnel and blasts out and across the lawn without stopping and into another tunnel--

This is going to be one fast agility dog if I can get her to do the tunnels at the same speed and level of comfort with *me* making the decisions rather than her. The biggest flaw at the moment is that she often blasts to a halt inside the end of the tunnel to look around before taking off again. So when she goes in, I've been taking off running and calling her name, working to get her to follow me. I think it's working.

And she's having pretty good name recognition, too. I must've said it to her only fifty thousand times in the last few days, and I'll keep doing it, too.

Jake actually came outside briefly this afternoon while I had the puppy in the yard. That's progress for him.

Crate Training and Sharp Dewclaws

The crate-training games proceed apace. Not only will Boost sit if she's standing when I put my hand on the crate, but she's getting to where she'll actually sit up if she's lying down (a tougher concept) --and it works for the plastic/wire crate, the zippered fabric crate, and the wire x-pen! So she has generalized well. I'm proofing long & longer times with her sitting there, and me being in different positions. I'm afraid maybe I'm moving too quickly, as she's starting to stand up and head for the door before the release. So I'll have to take it easy.

I started to introduce her to the Dremel tool for doing her nails. It went reasonably well the first night but somehow we jumped from one instance where she was quietly accepting of the vibrating tool touching her toenail (not the tool part yet, just the handle) to her yelping and grabbing violently at it. So the next night I worked very very very slowly and was at the point where I could hold her toenail and touch it with the vibrating handle and immediately give her a goodie without her struggling, but it took dozens and dozens of doggie junk food to get there. And in the early struggle, she slashed my wrist with one of the very dewclaws I need to trim down--they are *very* sharp puppy dewclaws, like miniature scythes.

Then yesterday there was a work crew here all day working on my yard and I never had a chance to move to the next step. Dangerous little doggie feet!

Sad Corgi News

Both of the Corgis from our Wednesday night class died this week. There was a brief flash of hope for the older Corgi when another clinic thought that cancer might be a misdiagnosis, but his condition worsened overnight and he died quickly. The second Corgi's cancer was requiring more and more frequent transfusions and she wasn't generally a happy dog except immediately after the transfusion; she was put to sleep this weekend.

What a couple of shockers. And it makes me look at every little thing that my dogs do or don't do, wondering: Will s/he be next?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What We're Learning

Thurs--Day 1 a.m.: Stairs are interesting. When we first arrived home, I put Boost on her leash and walked her into the house. The first thing we encountered was the five steps leading up from the bottom floor to the kitchen. She stopped dead. With a little urging, tentatively put one foot onto the first step. Very cautiously pulled herself up. Very cautiously scaled the remaining steps. Her breeder lives in a slab-foundation one-story house, so I'm not sure whether she had ever encountered steps before. On the way out to the back yard, there were the five steps going down from the deck. Down is a whole different thing, but she negotiated them cautiously. By the end of the day, she was blasting up and down the stairs as if she'd been doing them every day her whole life.

Day 1 p.m.: Tunnels are fun. While walking on her leash to go potty, Boost stuck her head into one of the C-shaped tunnels, ears perked, and then trotted in to the middle. I leaned down and peered into the other end, where I could see her just peeking around the corner at me. Like a toddler playing hide and seek, she pulled back and *raced* back out the way she had come.

Day 1 p.m.: Tika is fun to chase. Tika is being very good about the puppy. Not immediately friends, still cautiously accepting, but not hostile. Boost likes nothing so much as to chase Tika around the yard as Tika flushes out all possible offending wildlife from nearby fences and trees. So I let Boost loose (with leash dragging) while I played with Tika and her toy and did a little agility. At one point, Tika blasted through one of the tunnels, and Boost blasted through right behind her.

Day 2 a.m.: Jake is an unpleasant experience. Tika abruptly decided she was done playing and raced into the house, Boost hot on her heels. I followed, thinking it was OK--but no. As I reached the kitchen door, I could see that Tika had completely vanished and Boost was racing straight towards Jake who had remained cicumspectly in the front hall. Jake landed on her, snarling, and she started shrieking like she was dying. I hauled Jake off by the scruff of his neck; he just doesn't seem to get it about letting up on a puppy who cries uncle. While I told him off, Boost fled back out the door to the deck, wailing and shrieking as though the entire universe had abandoned her. I went out and held her and comforted her (usually I don't like to "comfort" my dogs--let them figure out what the world is about and they're less likely to be neurotic about it, IMHO, but this seemed like a special case). Eventually she stopped crying, but she really nestled miserably into my arms and lap. I found absolutely no sign of damage.

After that, she became quite concerned about Tika, too. Every time Tika turned in her direction, she ran and hid behind me. It's 24 hours later as I write this, with lots and lots of Tika interaction, and she's only now getting over being worried about Tika. (Although it didn't take her much time at all to get over *chasing* Tika.)

Day 2 a.m.: Herding is in my genes. The baby Border Collie does the Eye, the half-crouch, the circling of Tika as Tika gets ready to run because I have a toy in my hands. When she's not running full out to catch up with Tika, she's doing the herding moves on her. Wow. Tika definitely has Aussie herding behavior, which is the heeling thing rather than the heading thing. She loves to chase Jake and slam against his sides; she poises with rapt anticipation to catch his every dodge and move as he runs. I thought that the heeling herding move was going to cost me a dog Wednesday night. We were up at the Woodside horsepark, in an area where dogs can run loose. Someone came up the hill behind the cars with a large (draft-looking) horse, and I didn't see them until they came around the vehicles, right in front of Tika. Tika ignored my frantic call and went right in behind the horse and started barking and dashing at his heels. One of my agility friends lost an agility dog to a solid equine kick in the head, and I saw my agility life flash before my eyes before I got Tika away from her. Thank the gods that it was a mellow, experienced horse more interested in going to a new pasture than in any boring barking dog. Jeez.

Day 2: Ready...get it! One of the motivational things that many of us do with our dogs is restrain them (e.g., holding collar or hands around neck) while we do something to get the dog excited in front of them, then realease them. We often use "Readyyyyyyyy..." as a cue word that itself will become an exciting thing. Boost definitely has toy drive. I'd hold her collar, toss a toy across the floor, say "Readyyyy... get it!" and release her, and she'd fly across the room to get the toy. I don't think we'll have any problems with toy motivation with this dog.

Day 2 and 3: There are many scary things in this world but they mostly turn out to be OK. If you throw a toy against the kitchen door, and the puppy crashes into the door because it's not very coordinated yet, the door makes a loud booming sound about which one must then be very cautious the next few times the toy is thrown. If you throw a toy against the baby gate, and the baby gate isn't as securely fastened as you thought it was, the baby gate crashes to the ground with quite a clatter as the puppy bumps it. (No comforting here; just moving calmly to the gate and carrying on the "Wow, that was interesting, huh? What was that? What it a big noise?" conversation. Sometimes when it's dark outside, another puppy that you don't know suddenly appears in the sliding glass door and if you bark a scared/warning bark at it, the other dogs leap to their feet and join in the warning to the perceived threat. The puppy seems to go away when mom opens the sliding door. Same puppy appears sometimes behind the mirrored closet door in mom's bedroom. Fortunately, following mom (safely behind her legs) over to the door and looking carefully around it seems to make it go away.

Day 2 and 3: Crates are your friend. I've been too tired to think clearly about crate training in an energetic and positive way. Just pick her up and put her in and reach in and praise her. She's accepting but it's not something she'd do on her own. I *finally* found my notes from Susan Garrett's lecture last year at Power Paws Camp on crate training. The idea behind most training is to try to get the dog to make choices and reward them for the correct choices--of course it's good if you can limit the availablility of wrong choices so that they can succeed.

So I plopped Boost down in front of the open door of the small crate and waited for her to go in, holding her on a very short leash. She was having nothing of it. After a couple of minutes, I limited her choices more: Supported her in a standing position facing the crate, just a few inches in front of it. She couldn't sit because she'd get caught halfway down and readjusted; certainly couldn't go left or right; tried to go *over* the crate but mom got wise to that, too. Couldn't lean on mom or get onto her lap, either. Might have taken 5 minutes before she decided to try going forward into the crate, at which point she received lavish praise and dog goodies. Door closes.

Now--to associate the sound of the door opening with a treat (a pleasant feeling) *without* the dog surging forward. So, open the door and toss a treat into the back of the crate, then close the door. Repeat several times. So now, when the door is opened, the puppy's first thought is *not* to rush forward, but to wait and see what happens. So you can treat & praise the dog for staying there, and close the door. Repeat several times.

Decided that the goal would be for the puppy to sit when I open the door and not move forward out of the crate. If the puppy lies down, I can toss a treat into the back again to get her to get up. If the puppy stands up, I just have to wait for her to sit, pop open the door, treat and praise.

I decided to try to use the release word "Break" for Boost; "OK" has been a problem for me all along with Remington and Jake (you don't realize how often you say "OK!" when you don't mean it as a release for the dogs).

So, after she has stayed in the crate a few times, I can leave the door open and then say "Break!" At this point, she likes being in the crate so much that I have to pat my knees and encourage her to come out.

OK, it's not even 24 hours since I started this. The puppy goes into the crate when I open the door and put her in front of it. She stays in the crate when I open the door. She waits until I say "Break!" and then comes out. Crud. Another too-smart dog.

Day 2 and 3: Sit for your supper. It's so easy to get a dog to sit when she's focused on the bowl of food in your hand and you move it over her head. Then, as you move it down, praising, if she stands up, you just repeat the maneuver. Then "break!" when the bowl is on the ground and it's OK for her to get it. This puppy is only 3 months old and is learning all this stuff instantly! Well--OK, we're just scratching the surface of these things, but what a joy.

Day 3: Lie down while mom fills the dog bowls. This is fairly easy because I kneel on the deck to scoop food from the bin into the bowls. I put a kibble in my fist, show it to the dog just enough so she can smell it and lick it but can't take it. Put my hand on the ground. As soon as she lies down to get at it (which she does eventually), she gets the treat. I quickly scoop some dog food. Repeat the actions; she goes down much more quikcly the second time. I scoop more; she stands. The third time, she drops almost immediately and stays there (with me feeding her a kibble every several seconds as reward).

All days: I have no excuse. This dog learns everything so quickly when it is presented to her properly. Bad behavior won't be blameable on anything but my incompetence as a trainer. Sheesh.

Day 3: Fleas and baths. Boost has been biting enthusiastically from time to time since I got her home. Yup, I finally saw a flea this morning. She got a bath--which she needed anyway because she was quite dusty from her previous life--and about which she was not tremendously happy. Other dogs got their doses of FrontLine. I've been switching the dog bedding back and forth to try to get all the dogs accustomed to each others' scents more, so I had to wash all the bedding--this probably also means they've been sharing Boost's fleas. Tomorrow I can put some Advantage on the baby, too. We should be fine.

Day 3: Vets: You seen one adventure, you've seen 'em all. Boost was most mellow on her first trip ever to the vet. Vet said her heart rate was completely calm, not at all elevated. She just lounged on the table during the exam. I fed her a few treats here and there, but she hardly needed them. I hope she stays like this. Tika, on the other hand, is so overwrought when we go to the vet that she couldn't care less whether I have a treat in my hand. If she ever has to stay overnight at the hospital, she might have to be sedated. Terrible. The vet tried to torture her alive several times, e.g., by taking her temperature, giving her a couple of shots, and other appalling human behaviors.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Holy Cow

I knew that having a puppy would be exhausting, but I had no idea that doing almost nothing could be so exhausting.

At the breeder's: Drove down to Morgan Hill Thursday morning. Played with the puppies just a little bit to be sure--she looked so beautiful when I saw her, I really wanted to take her home with me. Funny, I didn't notice until yesterday morning that she has different-colored eyes, just like her mom.

Signed the papers and asked a bunch more questions about all the things I have no experience with. Puppy got her current shot from the breeder. Then we introduced her to my dogs in the front yard. Now, I walked my dogs past their puppy pen last Thursday and Friday at the agility trial; Jake avoided the pen, the puppies crowded all over each other to try to get at Tika, and Tika walked around the pen a little stiffly, sniffing carefully and examining cautiously. A couple of times made nearly a play bow.

This time, the breeder had Boost on a leash and I got Tika out on a leash. Tika was much more interested in greeting the breeder and checking out the yard than she was in investigating the puppy. Not that she avoided it; more as if it was an insignificant blot that wasn't really worth her trouble. But they did eventually sniff at each other. Boost likes Tika.

Then I put Tika away and opened Jake's door--where he can sit and look out the window. He was trembling. He didn't want to get out of the car. Eventually I convinced him to come out. We kept him and the puppy firmly apart from each other, although it didn't take much effort: Jake refused to look in the puppy's direction, pulled to the opposite end on his leash, very deliberately ignoring the puppy, and tried very hard to keep me between him and it.

I had a crate for the puppy--small one borrowed from previous housemate. It was too small for Casey by a little bit, which is why she left it. I figured it would be a good size for a puppy for a little while. Well, turns out that this 11-week-old puppy is already getting to be a decent-sized dog. The crate is big enough...today. I'm going to have to go buy a full-sized crate in the next couple of days.

I put the crate in the other back seat facing Jake so that Jake could see and smell her all the way home. At first I thought he was going to face the door the whole way home rather than lying down where he can see me, but he fairly quickly adjusted himself and lay down in the usual position.

And she dozed off, too, fairly quickly.

She *has* been around quite a bit in her short life, since her breeders and parents compete a lot in agility. So a car trip was no big deal.

Pet store stop: Puppy has been on a raw diet; breeder gave me a supply for a day or two to mix in with kibble, but I had to get a bag of puppy kibble. My sister came with me to pick up the puppy, so she stayed with the puppy in the car while I took Rem and Jake into the store for yet another episode of Smell the Packages.

Got some small knotted rawhide chews and a solid rubber chew toy; got a long but thin/lightweight leash. (How can I have so many leashes already and none of them be suitable?!)

I forgot to get an ID tag.

As I was starting to look for puppy chow, a nice man with a badge asked whether he could help me and I told him I was looking for puppy chow. He asked what kind; I said that I have been feeding my dogs Nutro Natural Choice and so would probably want to do the same for the puppy. So he led me directly to the Nutro puppy chow and we had a nice discussion about the various types. That's when I noticed that he was wearing a Nutro company badge, not a Pet Club badge. I commented that I apparently had said the right brand, but he assured me that he would have helped me with whatever brand I would have wanted.

He then helped me pick out an appropriate puppy chew toy.

Why on earth is a nice Nutro man being helpful in Pet Club? Maybe he was trying to show them how to do their jobs?

Home again. It's already getting a little foggy. I pottied the puppy. She went very quickly. I fed all the dogs. I was already quite tired, and I hadn't done anything! But I had to go to Foster City for an interview for a contract. Decided to take Boost with me rather than leave h er at home in a crate for more than 3 hours.

On the road again.
Once again, she settled right down and dozed off. It was about a 45-minute trip, with good traffic, but when I got to the job site, there wasn't a spot of shade to be seen. Huge, fairly new parking lot with lots of little trees. Nearby streets were all no parking. I ended up driving into a nearby condo complex, where I found one single Visitor parking spot deep in shade. I stopped the car and glanced at Boost; she half opened her eyes and glanced at me. So I locked up the car and scurried off to my interview, hoping that no Neighborhood Watch resident would call me on it.

All through the interview, I had images of the puppy having woken up and started screeching while I was gone. I ran back to the car afterwards, where a snoozy-looking puppy barely raised her head to see who it was and then dozed off again. I figured I'd potty her when I stopped for gas (running on empty), but she barely twitched at the gas station, so I drove all the way back to Mountain View and my company's offices, where I wandered her around until she pottied.

Later, on the way home, I stopped at my parents' house, where my mom took pictures. She explored the back yard a little bit, but she seemed quite subdued still. Dozed off again as I drove home.

Home again again. Pottied the puppy. Played with my dogs. Gave the dogs dinner. I dunno. Did some other stuff, interspersed with doing dog stuff. Exhausted. Went to bed early. Puppy was restless and occasionally whiney for about 3 hours, waking me half up periodically. Finally, about 12:30, I woke up when Tika jumped off the bed, panting dramatically, and realized that I was sweating, too. How can it be so cool outside and so hot inside? I figured I'd take the puppy out while I let Tika out--but after I put on my robe and slippers and got out the puppy, Tika jumped back onto the bed and closed her eyes.

So I staggered outside, set the puppy down on the lawn (already gone: my resolve to teach her to pee only on the mulch, not the grass), and she had a little tiny puppy pee almost immediately.

Then we went back to bed and everyone slept solidly until nearly 7, when either I or Tika was the first to stir. (Hard to tell, because she always gets up and starts snuggling if I show the faintest signs of consciousness OR if she needs to potty.)

I was still exhausted.

Today: Puppy has been mostly subdued all day. I threw in a trip--by myself--to Mountain View again (so tired ysterday that I forgot to pick something up for owrk). But around 3:00 she started being a bit rowdy. Tore up most of the newspapers in the x-pen that I have set up for her. Tried pottying her several times and she wasn't really interested. Finally she settled down and has been napping (restlessly) for 45 minutes or so.

Herding dog: She is exhibiting classic Border Collie herding behavior with Tika. She lies down with the Eye on Tika, or gets into that half-stalking lowered stance. When I'm playing tug-of-war with Tika, Boost is doing the circling thing, watching her legs carefully. Yikes.

I'm exhausted again. And I haven't accomplished anything useful in 2 days. But I still havent' *done* anything!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Introducing--Boost--


Pending the vet check on Saturday morning, here she is to stay (held by her breeder).

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Things Will Change

I was just out in the yard scritching my other dogs and pondering how my life will be evn more chaotic than it already is.

Tika is still not really a well-trained household dog. Don't know whether she ever will be. In the last recent few months I've been making more and more of a push all the time because I'm just tired of it:

- Rewarding lying down behavior all the time. (For example, this weekend, she got treats whenever she was out of her crate and lay down.)

- Demanding lying down behavior when I'm eating.

- Demanding lying down behavior when I'm getting dressed, instead of the usual play-intermingled-with-yanking-on-clothes routine. I've kept a stash of goodies hidden up there for occasional random rewards. I think she's getting better & better.

- Being more aggressive about nose-checking-the-table behavior. I need to be even more aggressive on that front. This week I got out a spray bottle and used it a few times but probably just need to keep one at the table all the time.

- Being more aggressive about not accepting leaping 40 feet into the air repeatedly while I get out the leashes for a walk--demanding a sit before I open the closet door. That used to be impossible to achieve but there are hints that it's taking this time.

- More determinedly pursuing behaving on leash when there are other dogs shouting obscenities at her from nearby yards or from leashes in the near vicinity. I have been very good about taking goodies & clicker with me. We sometimes spend more time just in waiting and practicing good/calm behavior than we do walking.

- Working to decide what to do about Tika's wildness when people step through the front door. Thrusting her into the yard or living room behind the gate is a stop-gap; sooner or later she will occupy the same general real estate as the person who has come in. I'm trying various things--again, more aggressively.

- And we've been successfully demanding and getting a lie-down behavior while filling the dog bowls for months now.

It's coming along, but SO slowly on some fronts. (Interestingly, she seems to be catching on very quickly to the relaxing while I'm dressing thing, which I was completely unsuccessful at when I used to work at it--oh, say, 2-3 years ago. So maybe a little maturity is helping.)

What I just don't need is to have her teaching a puppy the wrong things.

I Think It's Going To Be a Girl

Looks like I'm going to go pick myself up a border collie tomorrow morning.

Let's just say I negotiated a long-term debt.

The only problem is--I've been willing to consider a puppy because, after all, I work at home virtually always and would be here to manage & train & deal with a puppy. And then--after I made the offer last weekend and have been waiting with bated breath, my company sent me email late last night (like 10:30 or so) sending me on an interview for an interesting-sounding job--full time onsite in Foster City! Just about the first time in 10 years (11 years?) at ESI that I'll have had to work onsite. And certainly the first time I'll have had to commute 40 minutes each way (if I can avoid traffic) on top of working full time.

Of course I have to get through the interview tomorrow, first.

What a big crappy mess. I never thought I'd say this, but--I hope it's a short gig if I get it.

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....

Monday, April 18, 2005

Read from the 13th Up

If you're just checking in, be sure to start reading at the 13th and proceed in chronological order.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Dog Cancer (sadly) Redux

Backfill: April 18 Waiting at home is an email from another friend from my Wednesday night class (in which the Corgi I mentioned a few days ago was diagnosed with cancer). Her dog--also a Pembroke--suddenly lost energy and appetite and she took him in for tests. Sure enough, he has cancer in his prostate that has spread to his lungs. Apparently this type of cancer doesn't respond to chemo, but it might respond to basic antiinflammatories, at least for a while. He's been among the top 12" dogs in the country from time to time, and has been running just beautifully in class, belying his age (11, perhaps?--well, a spring chicken compared to Jake's 13 1/2). This week is getting depressing.

I really need to get another dog in training soon.

The more I see of this little blue merle BC, the more I like her. I shouldn't have gone and looked before I knew the asking price. Now I'll be disappointed if I can't get her, but I just don't see how I can do it.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Saturday at the Big Agility Trial

Backfill: April 18 Well, crud. I didn't really want to do a 4-day event, nor take Thurs-Fri off for it, when I'm already planning multiple days off for USDAA Nationals in November. The reason for doing it this year was because the club lost its weekend site to some AKC trial, so they combined with another club to host this event. At the last minute I gritted my teeth and decided to do Thurs-fri-sat because that's when all of the National qualifiers were taking place (Team thurs/fri, Grand Prix and Steeplechase sat). The crud part is because they announced that, since this was so successful, they're going to do it again next year. I find myself resenting agility that takes away even more of my vacation. I didn't go to Power Paws Agility Camp this year because I couldn't afford the time off. Grumble grumble grumble.

Last night was enough warmer (well--less cold anyway) to be quite comfortable all night. No long underwear in the morning, and the one layer of fleece jacket came off shortly after getting up (at 6 a.m.). Wore a short-sleeved shirt. Slathered sun lotion on my face but not my arms because--yeah you remember--they get plenty of sun anyway so they're more tanned plus I'll stay in the shade all day.

Master Gamblers: Since I'm entering Jake only in events that I have a good chance of running all the way through (thereby eliminating Snooker and the short Pairs, if they even offer the latter for veteran dogs) and that I can avoid ever having to do a dogwalk in since he pops the contact with depressing predictability (thereby eliminating Standard), I entered him only in Gamblers and Jumpers this weekend. Great. An impossible Gamble on Thursday and--guess what--for possibly the first time in my 9 years of agility competition, there was a *#&(@ dogwalk IN the gamble itself! Jake performed all the gamble obstacles with no problem at all, and in plenty of time, but he took off about halfway down the dogwalk ramp, missing his contact by a mile.

I apparently chose the wrong handling position for Tika and ended up trying to push her up the dogwalk, which failed miserably (worked for Jake, though). Instead, she came straight at me, and apparently I let up the pressure enough that she lunged at my shoes and started grabbing them, something she's lately been doing only at the finish--or when I really let up pressure or give really confusing instructions on course. I found out later that, not only did we not get what seemed like a pretty simple gamble, but we didn't even get credit for our opening points because the judge Eed us for biting in the ring. That hasn't happened in probably 2 years.

To get to her MAD title (first major stop on the way to an ADCH), we need ONE gamble (didn't get EITHER this weekend), one jumpers (missed yesterday's), and two Standards (well--ok, we got one of those yesterday. Maybe we'll get the 2nd one today).

Altogether put me in quite a foul mood to start.

Grand Prix nationals qualifier: We need 2 of these to compete at Nationals. Last competition-year, she Qed in all of the last 3 GPs in which we competed. You can do it with 7 or fewer faults--knocked bar is 5, refusal is 5, missed contact is 5 I believe. So you can do ONE of them. This competition-year, she missed the first one--bad handling move partway through for a refusal and then knocked the last bar--Qed on the second one, then missed the third one--beautiful run but over-handling at the next-to-last obstacle caused an off-course. We don't seem to get many off-courses any more--usually it's knocked bars or refusals for stupid handling moves. Sigh.

I really wanted to get this over with so I don't have to keep pursuing the elusive Q.

It wasn't a hard-looking course. Tika's start-line stays have been beautiful lately, after being so bad by the end of last year, so I led out quite a bit. The first obstacle was a tire, so she couldn't knock the bar on the first jump, sometimes a problem when I lead way out. But--she knocked the 2nd bar. So I've just barely started, and already I'm at my fault limit. On about the 8th obstacle (of 20), I overhandled a tunnel entrance (DANG this is sounding familiar) and she side-stepped and hesitated on the approach, earning a refusal, and just like that, we're out of the Grand Prix.

Oh, well, at least there's the Steeplechase later in the day, which she has done very well at the last few times. Competition's much stiffer here, but she's very fast and easily capable of Qualifying (top 30%).

Masters Standard: I've been overhandling tunnels all weekend, and there's yet another C-shaped tunnel that you have to get the dog into the near side. I decide to just pull slightly with my body and not say much else--and, guess what, OK, that's UNDERhandling, as she went into the wrong end of the tunnel. A quick E and there goes *that* run.

Steeplechase: A very fast course--which is what the Steeplechase is supposed to be. And they've got TWO turn-into-the weave entries, one even harder than yesterday's. If Tika can do a fast Aframe like she did a fast dogwalk last night, we have a good chance of placing well on this course because I'm confident that she can get that weave entry. The only other hard part is a push OUT to come in over the back side of a jump that's perpendicular to the dog's path.

I watch lots of very excellent dogs miss that weave entry again. And then we're up. However, once again the brain fails to engage properly. There's a place where I want to do a front cross to prevent an awkward approach to the Aframe, but for some obscure reason when I get there, I do NOT do the front cross (even though I walked it a billion times the correct way), pulling her off the Aframe and having to spin her around to make the entry. Lost a second or maybe 2. But she does a very fast Aframe and I release her immediately. She nails the first, slightly easier, weave entry.

There are some very fast get-ahead-and-front-cross moves required, and I nail them without tripping over my feet. We approach the perpendicular jump and I tell her out. She moves a little bit but I'm thinking she's still going to miss it, so I give her a big "Out!" command--and she spins right away from me out towards the outside of the course, dagnabbit, it's SUCH a good out but it's not what I wanted! Wasted another second or maybe 2 recovering.

We nail the really hard second weave pole entry as beautifully as we did last night. We are hauling. I make the final get-ahead-front-cross with aplomb, just 2 jumps to go straight ahead to the finish--and she knocks a bar.

Auuuuuuughhhhhh!

I guess we go home and work on not-knocking-bar exercises.

The fastest dog's time among all those stunning Border Collies is 31.08 seconds. We did it in 35.58 WITHOUT a running contact (which many of these fastest dogs have) and WITH two bobbles costing us probably 2-4 seconds. I'm pretty happy with the time--it would place us at about 8th, with 18 dogs Qualifying and going to the second round. HOWEVER--with the 5-point fault, our total score drops to 40.58, placing us 20th, so missing the cutoff by 2 dogs. (Note to self--beat Hobbes' time again but I didn't see his run so I don't know how smooth it was.)

I'm bummed in some ways, but (a) that means I have to make no stupid decisions about coming back tomorrow just to be in round 2 (where there's a chance of earning $ if you're in the top 8 dogs); and (b) I think it's pretty darned good to earn a 5-point fault and still have such an excellent time that we're that close, and (c) I think it's pretty darned good that we had obvious wasted time on the course and were still fast enough to rate in the top 10 in speed in this field of dogs. It's small compensation, but what the heck.

I have only one chance left to Q--Masters Pairs--and it's based on time plus faults, and we're plenty fast enough to overcome at least one course fault and maybe even 2 and still qualify (if we don't go offcourse like we did on Thursday, but we really haven't been going off course that often...until this weekend...)

Master Pairs: It is dinnertime. It is *past* dinnertime. I'm looking at driving home in the dark, even with daylight savings time. We are one of the last pairs up. But at least that gives me lots and lots of time to finish tearing down camp, and it's cool enough now that I can put the dogs in the car, so we're ready to leave as soon as we're done running.

Our partner says her dog hates to wait and doesn't do as well if she has to sit, so she takes the first half, which is OK because it's got some ugly u-turns in it and she's an experienced handler/dog. The second half is (IMHO) a piece of cake. It's wide open and easy to move the dog around without any real off-course opportunities. And the flow for the handler is smooth and simple.

Then my partner gets a refusal on one of the u-turns. Then...she gets another refusal on another one of the turns. So we have to be completely perfect probably to qualify. So it's our turn. Tika takes off without knocking the first bars, even though I have to call her sharply for the next tunnel--no over or underhandling, she nails it withoug a backward glance. And THEN the brain disengages AGAIN and a place where I absoultely did NOT want to do a front cross to avoid pulling her off the dogwalk--I did a dagnabbed front cross, pulling her off the dogwalk, for a runout error AND a wasted second or two and now I'm pretty sure no matter how fast we go, we can't make up for 3 5-point faults.

The rest of our run is gorgeous. She is nailing her weave entries so beautifully.

It turns out that the course was either a cinch or killer. About 1/3 of the teams E, which surprised me. All the rest earn Qs. Except there are a unique set of 4 teams that just barely drop below the Q line--most of them with faults AND slow times. We've got a really fast time but too many faults, and we miss qualifying by 2 seconds. Sighhhh.

I might as well have not even come on Saturday. Gone home early. Did I learn anything today that I didn't already know? I'm not feeling good about things.

Driving home: A long drive is a good thing sometimes. Gives me time to think about things and put them in perspective. One friend had to scratch her dog from the rest of the weekend after he came up with a swollen knee on Friday, and they had been in 10th place in the Team event. My dogs are healthy. I'm very happy to get the Team qualifier out of the way--that would be an expensive even to keep trying and failing at. I'm very happy to get a Master Stanard Q AND place 3rd in this crowd. And the weather was generally quite lovely, and there were a lot of nice people around over the weekend.

I can ignore the fact that my arms are quite sunburned.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday at the Big Agility Event

Backfill: April 17 Thursday night was not quite as cold, but still plenty chilly. I was quite warm and snug in my down cocoon. Wore my long underwear and one layer of fleece until around noon; lost the fleece then and, shortly thereafter, disappeared into my tent to get out of the long underwear. I slathered sunscreen on my face first thing in the morning but the damage had already been done the day before.

Didn't put any lotion on my arms--they get quite a bit of sun normally, plus I'll just try to stay in the shade most of the day.

Regular Classes


Masters Standard: Started the day very well indeed by placing 3rd and Qualifying in Masters Standard. Given that the competitors at this event have come from several states around and even Canada, and there are many familiar top-level dogs here, this is quite an accomplishment. In some ways it doesn't feel like it--Tika crept down her contacts (I'd been standing still & waiting a few seconds yesterday because she was not waiting for the Release from the contacts, which can really screw up my handling). She ticked a couple of bars but fortunately didn't knock any. I almost managed a refusal at one tunnel entrance by overhandling (ack) but came away without a fault. To my surprise, all but half a dozen of these 40 spectacular 26" masters dogs had faults or Eed completely, leaving us in 3rd place. We were 6 seconds off the pace of the first-place dog, but the contacts easily accounted for that. I have *got* to work on fast contacts. (I *have* been working on speeding up--and respeeding--and respeeding--our contacts.)

Masters Snooker: A speed course with an option of 3 or 4 reds in the opening (no, I'm not going to explain snooker again today; someday I'll add links back to the earlier explanations). The 7-pointer was two paralell tunnels with a 6-pointer set of weaves between and the four reds around the outside four corners of the course. We gave four 7s a good try but it pushed the limits of things that we had trained for (such as crossing behind straight tunnels and turning the opposite way) and we had a lot of wide turns and confusions that wasted us a lot of time. Made it through four 7s in the opening and then through #5 in the closing, where we knocked a bar, but then the timer ran out immediately after that, so we wouldn't have made it thru #7 anyway. It's a Q, which is nice, but not a Super-Q... even if we had made it through #6, we'd have still been out of the Super-Qs. Four 6s in the opening and then getting through the closing, it turns out, would have been enough for a Super-Q. I had guessed that it would have had to be four 7s, but apparently that process was just challenging enough to knock out a lot of people.

Master Jumpers: Almost the last event of the day. Jake, in his only appearance of the day, ran fast but I lost him on a front cross and he took an off-course. I attributed that to his being deaf and not hearing me call him at the same time I did the cross, although I had thought he'd be able to see me. An hour or so later, Tika--on the same course--went offcourse in the same place on the same front cross. So the handler was doing *something* wrong there. Sigh.

Team Competition, 2nd and final day


Started the day with Team Snooker. Now, Tika is a fine Snooker dog. Sticks with me well. Isn't at all disconcerted by sharp turns and calloffs. Still, I decided to do what I felt was a conservative opening course because this was, after all, Team Snooker and the important part was to get *reasonable* points, not to get *as many points as possible* (at least to earn a Q). So I lined her up to run forward and wrap tightly around the first red jump. I positioned myself for a lead-out pivot--and she went right past me and over a 2nd red, for an offcourse right away. A bloody 1-point Snooker run.

I was not the only handler to do this--I watched rather a lot of very fine world-class handlers take 1-point runs in this particular Snooker set-up (there were 5 reds arranged in a circle fairly close together in the very middle, so a long-strided dog could easily take 2 reds almost with a bounce-jump). Still--that hurt us. Fortunately my partners hung in there, placing in the top halves of their height groups. But we dropped precipitously to 24th place. At this rate, we'll slip off the top 30 Qing teams by the end of the day. Arghh. I kick myself all day.

Team Jumpers: OK, this is another event in which it's important simply to not E. Speed helps, but not nearly as much as staying on course helps. I watch my partners both run clean runs--not super fast, but clean. The pressure is on. I hate Team. In regular Jumpers, if I screw up, well, I've just screwed up one Jumpers run and just for me. In Team, if I screw up, I've screwed up potentially 5 whole classes for the weekend, making it necessary for 3 different people to try all 5 classes again on another weekend to try all over again to place in the top 50%. Arghhh.

We somewhat hope that a lot of the really fast dogs will end up with offcourses, giving us a better chance with dogs who aren't super fast, but--guess what--no one is Eing! Only a very few dogs are taking off courses. It turns out to be an easy-enough course to do. So suddenly it becomes about speed again, almost as much as about staying on course. That's the other thing I hate about Team--you hope for other teams to do worse than you so that you can qualify. That's not what most of agility is like.

And then--we run. And then--we knock a bar. And then--we're at the finish line after a mighty fast run and have STAYED ON COURSE! Hooray! That knocked bar drops us to 24th out of 50 in our height, but still above average.

When the results are posted, we have moved back up to 21st! Whew! Now, to get through the Relay--

Team Relay: The Relay is rough. Each dog has a maximum of 150 points for this class. An off-course (E) loses you all 150 points. Each dog has to perform about 10 obstacles and stay on course. This turns out to be noticeably harder than the Jumpers course. One dog offcourse could still possibly lose the whole weekend for us: The top team has 886 points after four rounds; we have 706 points and are in 21st place. The 31st place team has 652. Only 50 points separates us. With 150 points PER DOG at risk, we could still lose it in the relay (assuming that the other teams in the middle all do well and don't E--it's not likely, but it's certainly possible).


I have a choice of two parts of the course; I end up with the one with the really ugly weave pole entry. Missing it is merely faults and wasted time to go back and fix it; it's not an E but it'll lose you several points anyway. Tika and I have been working and working and working on her weave entries and she has nailed even tough weave entries for quite some time in competition.

We are team number 37, so we get to (have to) watch 36 other teams ahead of us. I watch dog after dog after dog miss that weave entry. Those fast dogs whip around the far side, trying to make that 90-degree turn, and take the 2nd pole instead of the first. Nancy, with multiple national championships and international championships under her belt, misses the weave entry. Our instructor, Rachel, who has been on our (all of our) cases about being more methodical in training weave entries and whose dogs have wonderful weave entries, misses the weave entry. And then we're up.

But there's a problem. When I take Tika out of her crate, she's still panting from the Jumpers run more than half an hour ago. I walk down the road towards the starting area, and she is walking calmly by my side. This never happens. I set her up in front of a practice jump to do some don't-knock-the-bar drills--and she goes around the jump. I set her up again--and she goes around it. I set her up a little farther off the jump--and she goes *under* it. Three times.

This is almost scary. She doesn't seem to be limping. She doesn't seem to be drooping. But I've never seen her do this before.

We're third in the relay. I put her in a down stay, and she relaxes by leaning over onto her hip and casually sniffing the ground. Good lord, we're supposed to be the fast team, and my dog has died. What do I do if she won't run? My two partners run clean--but the 2nd dog has high prey drive and the handler warned me not to take off until the dog is on leash. He thrusts the baton into my hand, grabs his dog, and starts fumbling, trying to get the leash on. It's taking forever. I decide that the dog is under control, cross my fingers, and take a few steps of lead-out. Tika is still kicked over in a relaxed state, sniffing the ground.

I give the release command--and BAM! a rocket goes past me at about 500 miles per hour. I worried that she'd come into me after the initial tunnel and end up going onto the side of the dogwalk again, which is the 2nd obstacle for us, but she blasts straight ahead and slams across that dogwalk like there's no agility-tomorrow. No slow contact here; I'm pumping like crazy to catch up to her.

My plan is to hang off to the left of the end of the dogwalk so that I can be out ahead of her as she blasts from there across the jump and the tire and I can run straight at the back ring rope so that she doesn't pull in too sharply to the weaves. So--I am indeed off the end of the dogwalk, and she sticks her contact despite the speed, and I release her--and there is NO WAY I am going to beat her to the tire. All I can do is yell "weave!", and she hits that entry like it's the easiest thing in the universe. I don't have time to pump my arm and shout "Yes!" because she's through those weaves like a shot, and then I just have to spin her around through a tight wrap and a circle in the opposite direction, then into the tunnel, and we're done--and she drops a bar. Then I think she's about to go off course and I panic, but in the nick of time realize that we're actually THERE at the END and that's the CORRECT TUNNEL and I send her in--and we're done!

My partners are grinning up at me. "We did it!" Gwen says quietly, and we take our dogs out of the ring and start celebrating--cautiously.

Then there are another 23 teams to run, and then all the long calculations and data entry before the results are finally posted.

We placed 24th in the Relay, which is good enough to allow us to finish the Team event in 19th place! A good solid qualifier. We had a total of 1053 points--compared to the first-place team with 1263; the 31st-place with 924; and the last-place team with 231 (but there were a few teams who lost dogs for one reason or another and couldn't actually complete all the events).

I am very happy.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Puppy Puppy Puppy

Backfill: April 17AND I looked at the Border Collie puppy again. And again. I'd love to take her home, but I just don't think I can afford her. I mentioned what I thought I could afford; now I wait to see whether they are willing to go anywhere near that. I think they won't. Sigh. The initial response was to let me pay the full price but on a payment schedule of however long I wanted. The issue isn't not having the money *now*--the issue is not having the money.

I could drop still more agility events for the year, I suppose, than I'm already planning on dropping... but that wouldn't be fun and I'd resent it. I'm already working on paying off money borrowed (against my home equity) for a few necessary expenses this year, and I really don't want to add more to my debt load. I could, um, make *all* of my meals from scratch for about 6 months rather than eating frozen dinners as often as I do--I'm fairly certain I'd save enough money by doing that, but I'm also absolutely certain that I wouldn't manage the time and effort, certainly not for that long. I've already cancelled my earthquake insurance to allow me to keep doing agility, which I'm also not happy about. I'm pretty much out of things to do without.

I hadn't budgeted for an expensive dog. Just training and vet bills and such were enough to make me squeak when pondering a new dog.

Life is hard when you haven't won the lottery yet. Maybe buying a ticket would help.

Very Sad Doggie News

Backfill: April 17 On the very down side, another friend lost a young dog this week. She likes French Bulldogs, which are cute in a gremlinish sort of way, but can have a lot of problems common to short-faced dog breeds. Her first Frenchie is still going strong at a fairly ripe age. She got a new puppy about 4 years ago and lost him within the first year in a swimming pool accident (among other things, this breed can't swim).

She got another puppy, whom she had been training to be what would likely be a speedy and enthusiastic agility dog. The training has been interrupted by two operations on the palate (too long to fit in the mouth--affects breathing and swallowing, I believe), several bouts of pneumonia, another operation for another problem caused by the short-facedness, and recently persistent pneumonia. Tests revealed that parts of the dog's larnynx (?) were growing into the throat, yet another defect related to the head and face shape. The operation to remove them this week didn't seem to ease his breathing and he wasn't doing well at all. The next step was another operation to perform a tracheotomy--probably would have to be permanent. So she decided--wisely--to let the dog go.

An active and enthusiastic dog who can't breathe is not likely to be a happy, comfortable, or pain-free dog, even if he were to recover from the various operations and bad pneumonia. What a heartbreak. Especially when all the other dogs in the litter seem to be healthy--poor Felix got all the problems.

Thursday at the Big Agility Event

Backfill: April 17 To save money (vs. motels) and frustration (driving from hotel to agility site in a.m.), I tent camp at agility trials whenever I can. The weather reports said that this lonnng weekend would be clear, although on the cool side, so I drove out Wednesday evening and set up my tent in the near-dark.

The event drew so many people that they had to measure the entire fairgrounds and number well over a hundred separate spots for campers, motor homes, trailers, vans, and tents. They did a great job, I thought. It was nice to simply drive in and have a spot rather than dealing with the usual wandering-around-looking-for-a-space-to-squeeze-into dance.

It was very cold overnight. I had to wrap my down comforter (itself in a comforter cover) under me as well as over me, like a down sleeping bag, to even come close to being warm. Also under me: air mattress, old thin ensulite pad, mattress pad, two flannel sheets. Also over me: wool blanket.

The wind blew hard and cold during the night and on into the following day. It was cold enough in the morning that I dreaded getting out from between the covers, even with a full bladder (and a large furry dog with a full bladder) egging me on. The wind lasted all day; the sun came out for most of the afternoon but I remained glad the entire day for my long underwear and double-layer fleece jackets plus windbreaker.

As a result, I never really thought about sun lotion and my face became a bit red.

Competition

We competed in three regular events and two Team events (for the national qualifier) on Thursday.

gamble course mapGamble: The day started poorly, with a Master Gamble that only about 5% of the dogs were able to complete. Neither Tika nor Jake (in his one appearance of the day) even came close. It was an interesting set-up, in which you shot the dog through a tunnel to the far side of a dogwalk--thereby leaving you and the dog separated by a large agility obstacle. We have practiced gambles in class on the far side of a dogwalk, but usually parallel to the dogwalk. This one not only started perpendicular to the dogwalk, but then sent the dog parallel away from you with a gamble line preventing you from moving in that direction.

Standard: We also did a Standard run--in USDAA Masters level, you have to be perfect and they fault refusals (dog hesitates or turns away from obstacle before taking it) and run-outs (dog passes entry to obstacle and then comes back to take it). Those alone make it hard to earn a Q. Tika managed to both knock a bar and (I guess) earn a refusal on an over-handled tunnel entrance.

Pairs: Then, in the Pairs Relay, we went off course for a complete E(limination). We've been so good lately about not going off-course that it was a bit of a shock to me. And depressing, too.

A brief interlude on Team scoring: The Dog Agility Masters Team Tournament consists of four individual events and one 3-dog relay. For each individual event, a maximum number of points is given to each dog and then points are subtracted for things like how much time you take or faults that you have--or else, in point-accumulating events such as Gamblers, they multiply the number of points by a predetermined factor to determine each dog's score. For example:
  • In Team Standard, each dog starts with 130 points. If you go off course, you lose all 130 points. Otherwise, your course time and your faults are simply subtracted from the 130 (knocked bars are 5 pts each, e.g.). So it's not possible for a team to earn 390 points because at the very least their times are subtracted from the total. Jumpers is similar.
  • In Team Gamblers, each dog's total score is multiplied by a factor (say, 1.5). So, in this example, if we earned 30 points in the opening and got a 25-point bonus gamble, we'd end up with 55*1.5 = 82.5 points. Snooker is similar.

All the individual scores for the 3 dogs on a team are added together to come up with a total that determines overall team winners and those 50% of the top teams who qualify to go to the Nationals.

It doesn't matter what height you are--all teams of all heights compete against each other. There were 60 teams entered this weekend (180 dogs). I tend to compare my scores against other dogs in our height, but actually the important comparison is against all the dogs. You'll just have to extrapolate.

So the trick to qualifying for the Nationals in the Team event is: Don't "E"! (Or the equivalent. Like--not getting any gamble points, or not getting any Snooker points.) It's very stressful. Two or three Es among your three team members over the various events almost undoubtedly drops you to the unqualifying 50%, unless you do astoundingly well in the remaining events.

Team Standard: We all started stressing immediately about not going off-course. That took first place against any other possible criteria--which becomes an obsession. My team did well in the Standard event--none of us "E"ed. Tika knocked a bar, which dropped us to 27th of 50 in our height; one partner was right behind us at 29th; the other partner ran clean and was 25th of 83 in his group. Tika is very fast; partner number 2 is "fast enough" and #3 I'd say is "reasonably fast". But I'd also say that the other two are more consistent than we are (sigh)--e.g., we might be able to do more obstacles in a given time period but we might knock more bars or miss more contacts or whatever. We'd never win on combined speed; it would have to be accuracy and simply trying to stay in the top 30 teams.

We were delighted to discover that we were in 17th place after the first round! Huzzah!

Team Gamblers: Things brightened up a bit in the Team events. The gamble was nontraditional--no distance work, and after the first whistle blew you could accumulate various quantities of bonus points by completing certain combinations of obstacles. The trick was that, if you didn't thereafter cross the finish line before the 2nd whistle blew, you lost all bonus points.

Tika was a very good girl and I also ended up exactly where I wanted to be to try for a 25-point gamble (three contact obstacles) and we crossed the finish line barely in time. Some dogs managed to complete both a 25-pt AND a 15-pt gamble within that time--this was a case where fast dogs with fast running contacts have an advantage over fast dogs with stop-and-wait contacts, like I trained Tika with, even if the wait is almost instantaneously released.

We completed a 7-pointer in the opening that we didn't get credit for because someone's bad handling (the theme for the weekend) pulled Tika around the up contact on the dogwalk. AND we almost completed another 5-pointer before the whistle blew, but didn't quite get credit for it. Even so, we were 15th overall out of about 50 dogs in our height--probably about 40th (?) out of 180 dogs in the team event. I'm not displeased with that.

In theory, this particular gamblers event had no top score possible. As it turned out, the highest-scoring dog earned 91 points (!) compared to Tika's 57 (dang, wish we'd gotten those extra 7 plus maybe 5 more pts). Then multiply by 1.5 (or whatever the exact factor was)...

One of my three teammates didn't get any bonus gamble points, which was a bad thing. But at least he got a reasonable number of opening points so he wasn't dead last in his group. The other did well enough, placing in the top half of her height class.

Still, the lack of bonus points for one dog dropped us to 20th place for the day. We'd have to hang on tomorrow...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Qualifying for the Nationals

Well, we're about to take off for a long weekend of agility.

For various arcane scheduling reasons, two clubs joined their usually-separate agility weekends into a single, long 4-day weekend of agility, which is turning out to be a very large event, stretching the limits of their site (Dixon May Fairgrounds in Dixon, west of Sacramento).

They're running three qualifying events for the USDAA nationals, which will once again be held in Phoenix in November, and Tika's doing good enough that I'm inclined to go again--there goes all my vacation for *this* year, too. BUT we have to qualify to get there!

There are three National Champion events at the USDAA nationals (really International championships--top teams come from several countries):
  • Steeplechase: Designed to have the dogs moving at a great rate of speed over a course with no dogwalk, table, or teeter but including one or two Aframes and one or two sets of 12 weaves. Dogs must be in the top 30% of those competing in at least one Steeplechase to qualify for the Nationals. Remington and Jake almost never Qed. Tika has Qed the last 2 Steeplechases we've been in, which is quite a thrill for me.

  • Grand Prix: This is what people usually mean when they talk about the "USDAA National Championship". It's a standard course--all obstacles (except no table anymore)--designed to be somewhat challenging but not overwhelmingly so. To qualify for the nationals, the dog must have 7 or fewer faults at two separate qualifying events. A knocked bar is 5. An offcourse is an elimination. Tika has one Q so far this year; at the last 2, she had an offcourse on the next-to-last obstacle (my fault) and then some other stupid thing also my fault...

  • Dog Agility Masters Team Tournament: A bit more complicated. You need only one Q to go to nationals; you must be among the top 50% of teams at a qualifying Team event. You team up with 2 other dog/handler teams. You compete over 2-3 days in four individual events and then, if you're doing well as a team, you also compete in a 3-dog relay at the end of the weekend. The teams' scores are cumulative over all 5 events to determine who qualifies. The trick to qualifying is primarily NOT earning an elimination (off-course usually). This is indeed tricky with 3 dogs over 4 individual events PLUS the relay. Tika has only ever been in one DAM team event; one of our teammates was clean all weekend but we Eed once and the other teammate Eed twice (hmm, or maybe only once--for some reason I don't have that info), and that was one too many Es to allow us to qualify.

The other thing about earning Qs in these three Tournament classes is that you now need to earn one of each (I believe) to earn your ADCH (Agility Dog Championship), and even more to earn your Tournament titles.

Which leaves me with the question: Should I go to Camarillo in May, where they're having another Grand Prix and another DAM Tournament, to try to pick up more Qs? (Even if we should be lucky enough to complete our Qs this weekend for nationals, I'll still eventually want those Qs for Tika's titles.)

The problem with southern CA is that it's a long drive--I have to take another day off work to get down there, and then coming home I usually arrive after midnight, completely wiped out to start my work week.

The problem with all of these tournament classes is that they're EXPENSIVE to enter. USDAA is making quite a profit off of us. I can see why people want to start their own agility organizations... Regular events in USDAA have now inflated to as much as $12 per run, but (for example for this weekend) Steeplechase is $15, Grand Prix is $18, and Team runs from $50 to as much as $70. I don't have that big a budget all the time...

Compare this to CPE trials, where fees are more typically $10 a run.

Dog Cancer

It just never ends. There are so many dogs with cancer. I get email on a fairly regular basis from people whose dogs are diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma and who thereafter find Remington's pages with all the details of his illness.

Another friend's Aussie was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma a couple of months ago. I haven't heard lately how it's going or what the prognosis is.

Another friend's Pembroke Welsh Corgi, who is nine, has been on-again, off-again in agility for a while, then developed a limp; in the process of trying to figure out what the limp was, the friend (also "Ellen") had a thorough exam done including internal scans and discovered nodules on the spleen, which they removed and sent out for testing. The news is now even worse; it indeed looks like it's cancerous. I'm hoping that perhaps there's something they've missed or, if indeed cancer, it's nonmalignant, or if malignant, then slow-growing and/or treatable... You can also read Cali's Health Diary.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

No Decision Yet

I haven't decided about the puppy! I'm so swamped with stuff to do (seems to be my permanent state of affairs any more) and I'm sort of hoping that the decision will make itself somehow. Like--someone else will take the puppy before I make up my mind. Or I'll wake up one morning and realize that I HAVE TO HAVE THAT PUPPY RIGHT NOW. Or who knows. I haven't even thought about it much since the first day after seeing the litter, when I went through all kinds of what-ifs and what-am-I-willing-to-sacrifices.

I'll definitely want another dog soon. But I think in fact I'm more excited about the idea of finding yet another rescue with tremendous potential than I am about "selling out" and getting a border collie. Although I've liked Border Collies for many years, since way before I'd ever heard of agility. AND this would be a *blue merle* BC, which is I think the only kind I'd take. AND I really like the mom (as an agility dog, anyway) and the Dad's pretty good, too.

But am I willing to give up several agility weekends to cover the cost? ...That's a tough one, since I'm already giving up several agility weekends to (a) meet my budget and (b) have more time at home--when I really want to be doing agility. Such inner turmoil! Where will it end! (?)

Sigh. Who knows.