Sunday, October 30, 2005

Nationals are A-Comin'

In fewer than 10 days I'll be leaving for the USDAA Nationals. Scary thought. I'm not ready! We haven't fixed Tika's bar knocking! We haven't fixed her up contacts on the dogwalk! We haven't fixed her slow down contacts! Arghhhhhhh!

I finally got the dogwalk set up in the yard again, for the first time since mid-July. It really does occupy a lot of space visually, not to mention physically. And there's still only one place in the yard where I can set it up where it's reasonably out of the way and also has a good run of about 25 feet (in the best case) to one end, anyway. Wish there were a way to vary its location and to be able to have a good run at both ends. But to do that, I'd have to get busy and rip out the old pond and waterfall, the 3rd shed, the patio, rebuild the patio, redo the sprinkler system...

Ehhhh, we're only talking time and money here. Which we know I have tons of.

Anyway--I'll be driving to Scottsdale with the same friend who drove with me last year. It's always nice to find a compatible traveling companion. This year she'll be bringing along her puppy, Elliot, a French Bulldog. About the same age as The Booster.

It looks like it could be an exhausting week because it's so long. Add a 12-hour drive at the beginning and at the end of the 5 days in Scottsdale. First competition class is on Wednesday afternoon. It's not one of the three national championship events, just a for-fun thing. Now I'm regretting having signed up for it, because we need to be there to register Wednesday morning between 10 and noon, then walk the course sometime over the next hour, then run it late afternoon. Meanwhile, all the clever people who realized that it would be a long, exhausting week didn't sign up for the Wednesday class and can tootle in at their whim most anytime Wednesday afternoon to register, then take the rest of the day to relax, set up their crating area, go to the hotel and get settled in, and so on, before the awards dinner Wednesday evening.

Top Ten Award? I'm excited because I believe that Jake will be getting a top-10 award for the year ending August 2004 (?maybe a little later). For Top Ten, you earn points based on your placement and on how many dogs you were competing against. So if you're the only dog in your height class, a first place is worth nothing, even if you actually performed as well as or better than dogs in other height classes who placed first. But it's worth a ton of points if there were 50 other dogs in your height class.

I'm also a little aprehensive because maybe I misinterpreted the whole report and we won't be getting a Top Ten award. I doubt that I'll ever manage a top 10 again. Not only do you have to do very well, but you also have to compete a lot. Jake benefitted from being one of the first experienced Champion USDAA dogs to move into the new Performance program from the regular program. Most dogs at the time were older dogs (as was Jake) but without as much experienc, dogs who couldn't make time on regular courses, dogs who couldn't jump as high as regular dogs. So we were able to place, even take first, quite regularly in our Performance classes.

I'm not even sure that all trials all over the country were required to offer Performance classes at first. In any event, it wasn't heavily participated in and it felt somewhat like a demotion, like you were conceding that you needed to compete against second-class dogs. In truth, there were a few other dogs like Jake, excellent dogs who were getting older but still performed at the top level although they might have trouble getting over the full-height jumps. So there were enough dogs for our placements to count, but not enough top-level dogs to keep us from often placing first, second, third...

Even so, there were few enough dogs competing in Performance in our area that Jake was up near the top in only one of four categories. For example, he actually performed much better in his Snooker classes on an absolute scale than he did in his Jumpers classes, but not as many Performance dogs entered the Snooker classes, so his placements didn't count as much.

Now, however, it's different. People are more used to having the Performance class around. More top-level dogs are still eager to compete and able to do so, but usually it's an issue (as for Jake) where jumping 6" lower allows them to still run and jump full speed without aggravating initial signs of arthritis. So Jake has slowed down some--not all the time, although sometimes he's noticably slower--but now there are very many much faster dogs competing against him, and we're lucky to place at all. And because they're top-level handlers who spend a lot of time competing, they're going to a lot more trials than I'll ever be able to manage.

So even if Tika starts getting consistently better and placing more often, we're just not going to be going to enough trials to get her into the Top Ten ever, I don't think. So this would be a real treat for me. If it is indeed a real treat.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Down Side of Dogs

On the opposite side of dog ownership:

Around 5 this morning, Tika started insisting that she had to go out. I didn't hear any evidence of wildlife in the back yard, which is sometimes her motivation and which is not something that I want to encourage ("Mom! Wake up and get out of bed so I can go chase the raccoon!"). So I dragged myself out of bed and put on my robe and slippers.

Jake woke up this time (often he doesn't--helps being oldish and deafish) but hobbled over all scrunched up like he could barely walk. I tried to rub him gently and he yelped a little, so I got even gentler and just tried to get him to move around a bit. Tika is still saying "MOOOmmmm, I gotta go OUUUUUuuuuutt!" in the background. So I opened Boost's crate, praised her for waiting inside and gave her a goodie, checked that Jake was mobile, and opened the bedroom door.

Tika and Boost raced downstairs, Jake followed briskly but not wildly. I let them out to the yard. Tika raced outside with a Woof! but didn't sound like she was actually chasing anything, it was just the principle of the thing (there MIGHT have been something out there, you just never know). Then I waited for them to come back in, which they did fairly shortly.

Then I headed back upstairs but Jake wouldn't start up the stairs. I urged, I took his collar and tugged gently, I walked up and left him below; nuthin'. Soooooooo I bent at my aching knees to save my aching back and lifted the arthritic dog using my aching shoulder and carried him upstairs. We all crawled back into bed.

I was mostly awake, so I read for a while. Finally turned off the light and had barely started to doze off when the puppy started vomiting in her crate. So I got up, put on my robe and slippers, opened the crate, praised the puppy for waiting inside and released her. Took her downstairs thru the kitchen and opened the back door and she went right outside.

Went back upstairs with paper towels, the hand-held carpet cleaner, and the organic pet-spot remover. Cleaned out the piles of extraordinarily disgusting-smelling vomit (I believe she had managed to eat Tika's poop again; throwing it up is supposed to discourage dogs from eating the same thing again but it doesn't seem to affect her fondness for T.P. (tika poop)). Went downstairs again and boost was lying hunched up miserably down in my office. Sure enough, gross disgusting vomit on the carpet in the office.

Accompanied the miserable-looking puppy out to the yard, where she vomited almost nothing repeatedly, poor thing. Back inside with a miserable puppy wanting to snuggle, cleaned up the loose stuff, brought down the cleaner and spray from upstairs, cleaned the carpet, accompanying the puppy back outside a couple more times for throwing up nearly nothing.

Closed all the doors, took everything upstairs. Finished cleaning out the crate. Took all the dirty stuff downstairs--where Tika had been throwing up on the kitchen floor. (At least it wasn't on the carpet).

By the time it was all over, it was well into my usual get-up time and I was well awake and, besides, the bedroom stank, so I was up for the day.

Aren't dogs fun?

Progress With Tika--Not Even Agility

I tried many things with Tika over the past 3-plus years to try to get her to leave me (or us) alone while we sat at the table and ate, or to not go into a frenzy when people came into the house to visit, or to leave the people alone after they were in and settled down to chat. One thing I tried to teach her was that the big mat inside the back door was her spot to go to, that on command she should go there and not move her feet off it until told to. I tried. I tried. I really tried. I used the clicker and everything. I could not make it stick. I finally gave up on that.

Well, one thing that Nancy said Tuesday was that I need a place for her to go, like a dog bed or a stool or something. Click! The lightbulb went on. I went ahead and moved the smaller raised bed up into the kitchen eating area (where Boost's crate spent several months until recently--a small room without much extra space at all) and then used the clicker to reward her when she climbed onto it.

She's very "operant" with the clicker--tries things until she gets the click and the reward, and then usually quickly repeats whatever it was. In our first short session yesterday morning, she was already getting onto the bed on command from across the room and staying on it even with excitement like dinnertime. Just having that strong physical delimiter of a raised bed has made it so much easier for her to figure out. By the end of the day, she was going onto the bed by default and didn't want to get off.

We worked at it all day yesterday and all day today. She was doing so well that I invited my sister (whom Tika adores) and spouse over for pizza tonight, and ordered the pizza delivered. She had a very tough time with their arrival; got off the bed maybe 3 or 4 times but with one or two loud (to be heard over the excitement) reminders from me ("Excuse me?!") she got back on. She broke again when the pizzaman rang the doorbell and I opened the door; I had to excuse myself to the pizza guy while I closed the door and waited for her to get back on her bed.

But then she pretty much stayed there the whole time we indulged our pizza fantasy. She even lay down a few times, although it was definitely a full-alert down that didn't last very long. And she perched her front feet right on the very edgy edge of the bed most of the time. But there she stayed like a good girl. No more repeating "go lie down" over and over or having her pace pace pace or sticking her nose all over the place in an annoying manner or having to shut her out of the room away from us and the other dogs or have a big crate in that small room. It was very nice.

So I can teach things fairly well when I know what it is that I'm supposed to be teaching. I just can't always figure out what that is.

I've also been doing recalls over and over and over like Nancy suggested ("a hundred times a day"). Yesterday I still couldn't call her off chasing a squirrel down the fence; today I could, which I've never been able to--progress has been that fast when I heeded the advice to do it hundreds of times. Well--it hasn't been hundreds, but many many times anyway. (I had actually been doing it a lot more since I got Boost and started always having food in my pocket around the house, and she has gotten noticeably better over the last few months, but I wasn't doing it more than a very few times a day, so progress wasn't as quick and it wasn't as solid a result. I needed an expert to tell me how often to do it!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

USDAA Nationals Preview

The running order lists for USDAA Nationals (in 2 weeks! How time flies...) are out.
  • There are 905 dogs entered in one or more classes. No wonder it feels like a zoo/cattle-call/4-ring circus.
  • There are 492 dogs entered in the Steeplechase, which last year was the equivalent of the semifinals; about the top 30 dogs (I think--maybe fewer) in each height category (4 groups) went on to the finals. I'd like to be one of them.
    Last year, we knocked a bar, but if we hadn't, our speed would have put us very close.
  • There are 359 dogs in the Grand Prix quarterfinals. Last year half of them in each height group went on to the semifinals. I'd like to be one of them.
    Last year, Tika knocked a bar but still missed by only 2 dogs (argh!). So if she'd been a second faster, we'd have gone on anyway.
  • There are 200 Dog Agility Master 3-dog teams entered. I believe that something like 20 teams went on to the finals. Sigh. I'm not on a speedy or particularly accurate team this year (well--at least one dog is more reliable than Tika, but is sometimes beaten in speed by Jake. So we'll provide the speed, they'll provide the accuracy...). We'll be there. We'll compete. We'll do OK probably but maybe not even in the top half. That's OK, they're good friends and I'll enjoy spending time with them and comparing notes.
    Last year, Tika and I mucked up repeatedly in the team events. I hope that this year my head is more together.

Tika's Tuesday Training

Not only do I have a lot of work to do with the puppy, and work on known agility issues with Tika, but when I got together with Nancy G. yesterday to talk about contacts primarily--
  • Tika wouldn't play with me much at all, only with tremendous effort on my part and then only half-heartedly.
  • Tika wouldn't stay in a sit for me to lead out to the start line
  • When Nancy tried a sit-stay with her to demonstrate technique, Tika acted as if she'd never encountered the concept before.
  • After an obstacle release, she'd run off after something and not come back immediately when I called her.
  • When with me and I was trying to reward her or pay attention to Nancy or whatever, she'd immediately turn her head and go off in search of something interesting to do.
All issues that I know about, and a couple of which were on my list for Nancy to help with, but I just wasn't thinking about dealing with them right now, and I wasn't thinking that they were that bad.

Freedom to do what?We did pass one test with flying colors. During the whole session, Nancy kept asking questions like, "Does she have a reliable sit at the start line?" And I'd provide answers like, "Uh, yes, well, kind of, well, usually, well, OK, I guess that means no it's not reliable, but it's pretty good except sometimes she stands up and takes a step forward." I was so glad when we got to "Does she understand her release word?" and I could comfortably and immediately say "Yes!" So I put her in a sit at my side and without moving or twitching or looking at her, I firmly said "OK!" and Tika immediately got up and moved off--towards Nancy, who had food in her hand. Nancy I think was somewhat amused that Tika understood so well that she knew when it was OK to go off scrounging.

However, of course, Rachel and Susan Garrett and others all point out that the release shouldn't necessarily be for the dog to leave you, just to release it from its current behavior, and for best results the dog should check in with you, even excitedly, to see what's going to happen next. Nancy didn't say that, but I was thinking it.

Anyway, we did take a look at her up contacts and a little on her down contacts, but spent most of our time on basics!

Who's my trainer? Nancy was concerned about taking me for a session (or more) because I guess she thinks of me as Rachel's student. Yes, we trained with Rachel from day 1 until she moved out of town. And Rachel could've helped me with these things, too, and would've if I'd asked. But Rachel's been gone 7 months now, I've been down to see her once for a session, and it's a 2-plus-hour trip each way. I just don't have that kind of time and energy in my routine.

And Nancy's a fine trainer, too. It's a weird thing because it's good to have continuity in your training--you don't want to confuse yourself or your dog by switching methods or strategies every month--but it's also good to have a fresh perspective, a different eye, the benefit of a different set of experiences and expertises. Rachel will always be my trainer. I'll always enjoy going down to see her and getting assistance. But Power Paws have never stopped being my trainers, either, at least in my eye.

The Training Notes

Herewith my notes for the day:
(Note: Italic is text I added after sending confirmation email to Nancy.)
Up contacts (dogwalk only)
  • On straight-on tests, she missed the contact about 4 out of 6 pre-pipe, with one a near miss--got one foot in at bottom and one foot barely in at top, which judges might miss.
  • Can put powder (talcum etc) on up contact to see where she places her feet, or make sure her feet get wet on the way up, etc. This is important if we're trying to change her stride.
  • In competition, try to propel her slightly ahead of me onto and across dogwalk rather than being way ahead of her (right?).
  • Possible solutions include:
    - putting a pipe, board, etc. on the dogwalk to force her to shorten her stride (currently she mostly adjusted stride to go over it, so try larger one like 4" speed bump or 4x4). We'll go for this pre-Nationals and then decide what to do longer-term afterwards.
    (Eventually can paint it the color of the board to start fading it or make it less obvious)
    - placing bar/etc. on ground in front of dogwalk to get her to change stride
    - using plain board or clicker board & teach her to run across it
  • could use a ground board with bump(s) on it & teach her to run those smoothly so she's not trying so hard to propel across the bump on the up.

    Down contacts
  • During tests, was not speedy but accurate on 2-on/2-off.
  • Need to focus on rewarding first hit at bottom rather than asking for it again and then rewarding (although can also reward additional ones if i want)
  • Consider not asking for nose-touch at all for her, just reward asap
  • In competition, try not to stop behind her on down contact, keep pushing.
  • When she's doing obstacle, offer verbal encouragement and excitement.
  • In class make sure I do random rewards (but not too few or she may lose focus) and sometimes do an entire run w/out rewards on contacts.
  • If I'm giving "touch" command, make sure I do it way before she gets there (jeez, I always think I am, but who knows what I do in real life).
  • Practice doing contacts fast, particularly backchaining:
    - Learn to have her leap/run onto down contact (for backchaining) and go straight to end of board instead of having her wait or stop on the board.
    - Make sure I vary where I stand in relation to her during backchaining.
    - Make sure she starts in different places during backchaining.
    - Go back to ground board, get her blasting across that to 2on/2off.
  • Re: rewarding a slow contact--if I withhold too many, she's more likely to lose interest rather than figure out that she needs to go faster.
  • This means I have to set up my dogwalk again. Sigh. There goes 36 feet of my yard again. >>sigh<<
  • Goals in working on backchaining are both to focus on understanding the race to the finish and on not exhausting or boring her by doing the dogwalk every time.

    Sit stay (and same for down)
  • Go back to basic proofing and rewarding.
  • Wait for duration to reward, not immediately on plopping butt down, especially if she's moved.
  • *No* movement of feet.
  • Use verbal reminder (some uh-oh noise but not The Dread Ahhhhhhh) the instant she moves.
  • Try to wait for her to fix herself rather than repositioning her.
  • Consider using a separate Stay command.
  • If I repeat a command (e.g., sit) that should mean to her that she'd better try again--move in some way to try to correct her position

    Positioning on either side of me
  • Need to get back to working on commands for lining up on either side of me, particularly for sit at start line, also for snooker etc.

    Playing
  • Work on getting her to play with me anywhere, any time, for any duration.
  • Less talking to her?
  • Make a list of places where she won't play with me.
  • Start small, a second or two, and reward, and work up to longer times.
  • Could use clicker and treat as reward.
  • Try keeping me and toy lower, play around her feet, trip her with it, like that.
  • Reminder to not feed from tug'n'treat.

    Attention
  • Rewards for sticking around and looking at me.
  • Try to keep hands off.
  • Try working around class and at trials and at home without handling her.
  • Use verbal uh-oh noises if she wanders off; try to let her correct herself into coming back.
  • Need to work on this in different places & distractions, too.

    Recall
  • Continue rewarding when she comes.
  • If I think she's going to make a break for it, keep string or something less obvious than leash (?) on her to hold if needed.
  • Just practice more with various distractions.

    Around the house
  • Need a clear place where I can send her and she has to remain--open crate, bed, etc. (rug I've occasionally been trying to use probably isn't obvious enough, I'm realizing).

    Notes after training plus regular class, following: Seems to me that Tika was already getting much better at her sit-stays and down-stays and attention on me, just after the small amount of work in Nancy's presence, her reminders and pointers on my technique, and more practice in my remaining hour of regular class.
  • Thursday, October 20, 2005

    Tika's Teeters

    And one more thing. (Busy day at the Taj Mutt Hall.) I've been trying to speed up Tika's contacts. She's fast going up, but slows noticeably on the way down. She's not super slow, just doesn't blast down to the end. For example, she does the first 2/3 of the dogwalk in about 2 seconds but may take as long as another 2 to get to the bottom. This is a severe handicap with the quality of competition out there these days.

    Sometimes in competition she's somewhat faster, when she's very excited, but I'd like to have her running all the way to the end and skidding to a stop. Now, you think, what about the teeter, since if she runs to the end full speed, it'll still be in the air?

    Darned tootin'! Just watch those fast dogs go--they'll be hanging ten (well, eight actually) over the front of the teeter before it has descended past the point where the board is level. You can usually tell when a dog has done a truly fast teeter because the board bounces up under their rear feet as they hit the ground and the skid their front feet off onto the turf.

    Tika has always stopped at the point where her forward momentum starts the board moving down, a couple of feet from the end, and then she trots the last couple of steps when it hits the ground. This isn't nearly good enough.

    I've been working on motivating it by getting her as revved as possible before the teeter with my hand in her collar, whacking the end of the teeter (in the air) with the toy and shrieking about how exiting that is and does she want it, then sending her into a tunnel before the teeter and running like crazy towards the teeter myself. When she hits the end, I slap the toy at her feet the instant that the end hits the ground and play enthusiastically. By this, I mean hollaring and bellowing and tugging and whacking her face and her butt (it's not so bad--we do this all the time to get her riled up) and halfway down on the ground wrestling with her. Then without pausing I release her from the teeter and continue wild and enthusiastic tug afterwards.

    I'll tell ya, done right, this is exhausting. I can do 3, maybe 4 of these before I'm too out-of-breath and hot to do any more. But it seems to be paying off--today, she did three teeters in a row where she barely hesitated only about one step from the end, and the teeter slammed to the ground and bounced under her back feet as she rushed her front feet off to the ground. Wahooooooeeeeee! This is agility training at its most exciting.

    Now if only we could fix those knocked bars...

    New Feature! Complete List of Posts!

    You'll notice that there's now a Complete List of Posts link on the right-side navigation bar. Now you can get to any page (up to the date when I last updated the list) by title. Not that the titles always mean all that much...

    Potty Training in the House Brief

    Forgot to mention--after another long spell of no wet spots in the house, Boost broke it on Sunday after we got home from the trial. I took her out to the back yard. She was too excited to want to pee, but she finally did, briefly. We stayed outside for a while, and few minutes later, she peed again. We all went inside and the dogs got dinner and we mucked around for about 15 minutes, when I walked into the bathroom to wash my hands. Door was open, mind you, but I couldn't really see right outside to the tile entry area--upon which there was a large puddle when I emerged. I don't know what the deal is there.

    She often stands up and starts walking while still peeing, almost as if she's not aware that it's still happening, although when it hits her legs or feet, she slows down to almost a stop and waits for a moment or two until it stops. I'm still not sure whether that's a learning issue, a physical issue, or something like a bacterial issue. We'll just continue to monitor the situation.

    More Details About the Past Sunday

    (From email to a friend:)
    Even though they got the snooker and jumpers started around 1:30 (nearly simultaneously, in same running order, which was quite a controversy in itself), lots of people packed it in early and headed home. The whole thing was done just after 3, I think.

    Jake had one of his slow days Sunday. I don't know whether he tweaked something playing frisbee first thing in the morning or whether I didn't give him enough warm-up or what, but he barely moved during his Jumpers run and I found myself nearly doing scully handling (running around the outside of the dog's path instead of the inside) because I was expecting him to carry out while I moved off in another direction but he wasn't moving fast enough. Last weekend he was 10 seconds under SCT on his jumpers run; this weekend he was half a second over. I don't know whether he's ever been over time on a USDAA jumpers before. Tika wasn't all that fast in her Jumpers run, either, but then she had just run a full snooker course less than 5 minutes before and the weather and she were both pretty warm. We continued the tradition of knocking a single bar.

    After about 5 snooker classes in a row where Tika was the last or next-to-last dog so I could know exactly how many points I needed for a Super-Q, and then proceeded to do totally stupid brain-hiccup things, I realized that I needed to go back to ignoring everyone else and not watching the snooker class and not checking the scores and just running. Although now I believe it's 8 snookers in a row where we've been last or next-to-last dog! Wouldn't some people just die for that? And I can't seem to make use of it without choking! So we've done much better in these last 3, Qing in 2 of 3, although missing hard but not impossible entries to #7 in the closing on both of them. One would've been a superQ; the other would've been enough points but probably slower on time than another dog so not a superQ anyway. But much closer than, say, 0 points because I forgot the first red!

    Budgets Are Difficult Things

    This is the week for True Personal Confessions, I guess.
    At the beginning of 2005, I sat down and calculated to the dollar the budget that I needed to follow to avoid going bankrupt, or at least to avoid deep debt. One assumption at the time was that Jake was retired and would no longer be competing. Another assumption was that I would restrict myself to an average of one trial a month for the year, or at least go to several fewer trials than I did last year. And the last assumption was that, since Jake was retired, he wouldn't need to go to class any more.

    So: Jake remained retired for exactly 3 trials, and he was so annoyed about it that I went back to entering him in (usually) one run each day for every trial we attended. I never did pull him out of class because he seemed to enjoy going, and just the two of us could spend time together without Merle Girl interruptions. And as the year wraps up, I DID indeed attend fewer trials this year than last; last year we did 21. By the time the Thanksgiving trial is over, this year we'll have attended...20.

    I did earn or win several free trial entries or one-day free entries, either by working at all times when I wasn't running or by getting lucky in the worker-reward raffles at various trials. But I don't think it's equivalent to 8 trials (to get down to the 1/month average). And of course it's not just the entry fees; it's hotel or camping fees, gasoline, and the occasional meal out. And what's driving me nuts is it's also time away from the rest of my life and goals and interests.

    Meal costs at trials aren't bad. I usually take breakfast bars and fruit, but most clubs offer free muffins, fruit, (and coffee and juice, which I don't usually have) and sometimes hardboiled eggs for competitors, so if I wanted their free breakfasts, I could have them. Most clubs provide free lunches for people who work at least part of the day, and since I'm usually antsy if I'm not doing something at a trial, I can always avail myself of that. It's usually only Saturday dinner that I need to shell out for, and if I'm too tired to go out to a sit-down meal with friends, I just pick up a taco at Taco Bell and maybe a tiny carton of milk at the grocery store (and maybe more fruit if I'm really hungry), so the expense isn't too bad.

    But anyway. I'm over budget. (Agility isn't the only reason, but it's a large part.) So I need to decide NOW which trials I'm going to next year to stay in budget. This is challenging because Tika loves doing agility and I love doing it with her and she'll be 5 at the beginning of next year, so probably in the prime of her agility career. And budgeting will still be tough because, although Jake is having off days, I'm still not sure whether he'll be wanting to quit entirely. And, schedule and determination willing, Boost would be able to start competing along about August.

    I'll try to pick only 12 trials for the year. I'll start with those where I don't have to stay overnight somewhere. I'll add CPE Nationals, since I'm sure we've qualified or will qualify and they're in Elk Grove (near Sacramento) this year, so we can attend. I doubt that USDAA Nationals will be west coast again next year, so even though we're qualified, unless we start qualifying much more regularly and placing regularly at regular trials, I can't see taking off nearly 2 weeks to make a drive like that.

    Then we'll see how it goes... If you want to see why it's hard for me to decide on only 12 weekends, look at my weekends calendar.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    Being Fit and Lithe for Agility

    Running agility is hard work. Especially if you have a fast dog with whom you can barely keep up. And training is work. Usually involves lots of tug of war and quite a bit of running. Making sure your dog is pumped before each run is physical and mental exertion (well, you need to make sure that *you're* pumped, too). Walking courses in class and in competition, several times each to get the lay of the land, is work.

    It surely helps if one is a healthy weight. What with various stresses in my life and a back injury that kept me pretty much immobile for months on end back around 2000-2001, my weight--always a challenge to manage anyway--zoomed up. When I finally had the mental and emotional energy for it, I started going to Weight Watchers meetings again and it really helped in keeping my focus on eating properly.

    I mean, I do like to eat fruits and vegetables. And I've cut out so much from my diet over the years already--drink nonfat milk, diet sodas, avoid 1000-calorie frozen dinners, stuff like that. And I usually watch my portions and have always measured or weighed most of my food since I first started with weight watchers back in 1990. The challenge for me are things like the bag of mellowcreme pumpkins at Halloween; they won't last more than a couple of hours. The bag of candy hearts at Valentine's Day. Those wonderful candy-coated marshmallow eggs at Easter. A lovely bag of orange-flavored-and-shaped gel candies. A bag of dinner mints. I have, I've always admitted, a sweet tooth. And if I can't keep those out of my life, things go all to pieces.

    And I did indeed lose almost 40 pounds. To celebrate, I took a couple of packs filled with 40 pounds of flour up to my agility class and challenged classmates to run a loop around the course carrying the extra weight. Really opens everyone's eyes to realize how much extra weight that really is.

    But things go to pieces gradually, so you always feel as if you're really almost in control and can get it back together at any time. Here's a graph showing how much control I've been in for the last 4 years.
    Goal weight range is roughly between 140 and 145.

    You can see that I wrestle with it constantly. Sometimes make progress. The bad thing, though, is that one's body tends to have set points that you can adjust only slowly. So after you lose weight, you work carefully to try to maintain it at exactly that weight for at least 6 weeks because your body kind of gets comfortable in that range and stops panicking about losing weight and thinking that it has to reserve fat. I've found that, after that, it's a little bit harder to gain or lose weight unconsciously.

    But you have the same problem when you gradually gain weight--body is never feeling like it's overfed or has too much weight on because it's always within a comfortable range from where it was yesterday or last week or last month. So when you've put on 5 pounds gradually, even if you manage to have a couple of really good weeks where you cut back a bit to a weight-losing amount of food and drop some pounds, it seems to go back on really easily when you let up again. (OK, when you start cramming down those mellowcreme pumpkins.)

    I mention this because I am trying very hard again to drop those nasty extra 10 pounds that have crept on gradually over the last 3 and a half years. I'm about halfway there. I'm at the lowest weight I've been since the end of '03 (with a couple of brief exceptions).

    I figure that if I'm going off to Nationals with Tika and I want to run and feel my best, I don't need to be hauling an extra 10-pound bag of flour around with me everywhere I go.

    And, after 3 weeks on my carefully controlled food intake, I don't have those hourly cravings for sugar that I had to beat back with a large stick the first week or so. Now maybe only daily. If only I can keep at it, I know from experience that it'll drop back even more.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Over Pacheco and Into the Hills...

    We were done fairly early on Sunday. I was packed by about 3:30, but didn't actually get on the road until nearly 4. It was a lovely afternoon for traveling, until traffic came to a near standstill in Pacheco Pass as we came around the first curve next to the reservoir. Took 15 minutes to go a mile; I guess that wasn't bad compared to what it might have been, and in fact I was pretty lucky, as I think that this is the only time I've been caught behind an accident on that road.

    Driving straight into the sun AND in nearly stopped traffic.Finally we could see the accident ahead on the right, blocking one lane of Highway 152, and then we were past it and on our way again.



    Reservoir. The guy in the lane next to me was keeping wayyyyy back.

    On the other hand, it was a lovely clear day to be up in the hills and checking out the water level in the San Luis Reservoir.

    Some People Are Never Satisfied

    After last weekend's disaster, you'd think I'd be delighted with Tika earning 4 Qs in a single weekend. OK, I guess I'm glad, but two of them are, at the moment, essentially useless Qs because I don't need them for any title.

    Tika did Qualify in the Grand Prix, which makes 2 for the '06 season, so we can go to next years' nationals in that event if we want to and if it's somewhere that I can get to with my dogs. Still need to Q in Team and Steeplechase.

    Tika and her partner Qualified in Pairs Relay, which earned her Relay Master title, which I'm pleased about.

    And she earned Qs in 2 Snooker runs. Considering that for several previous my brain had simply frozen and I had done idiotic things that are probably stranger than fiction, I'm pleased that I was able to function like a normal human agility competitor on the Snooker course again. Of course, I don't need regular Snooker Qs; I need Super-Qs (top 15% of competitors). In both runs, I mishandled the entry to the final 7-point obstacle, which cost us a Super-Q on Saturday and on Sunday although we'd have had enough points, I think we were a couple seconds slower than another dog who got that same number of points. So I'm not being perfect, but I'm much better than I was.

    Tika had absolutely no clean runs all weekend, which is quite discouraging, and I think that's the main reason I'm feeling dissatisifed. (So we qualified only where it's possible to have some kind of error and still Q--but don't place as high.)
    • Pairs relay: Knocked a bar
    • Standard saturday: knocked a bar.
    • Snooker Saturday: Mishandled dogwalk/tunnel discrimination on final obstacle
    • Gamble Saturday: Let her get ahead of me on the gamble and she pulled away from the final obstacle--I probably also wasn't yelling "out!" or "left!" which is what I should've been yelling.
    • Grand Prix: Refusal on a long series of jumps where she got ahead of me and spun back to tell me to hurry up
    • Snooker Sunday: Mishandled weave entry on final obstacle
    • Standard Sunday: A beautiful run and then when I called her on a sharp turn I thought she wasnt going to make it so I called again--and pulled her off the correct obstacle that she was heading for
    • Gamble Sunday: Thought she was turning the right way but she wasn't and backjumped when I moved
    • Jumpers: Knocked a bar.

    And she is running SO nicely. She's SO fast. Sighhhhh.

    Jake Qed in his Snooker run and then, interestingly, just barely cracked into a run in his Jumpers run on Sunday; he was so slow that I found myself running past him in weird places and then trying to figure out how to get back on track. We were clean, but he was half a second over time, which is extremely unusual for him. Oh--we did compete in Performance (veterans) Relay on Saturday, which is not a qualifying class, it's just for fun, and we and our partner took 2nd place, so that was fun.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Exhaustion

    I'm trying to spend some time this week doing some actual useful training related to the problems that Tika and I have been having at trials. I've gotten in exactly one session so far, and tomorrow already it's time to repack the car and get ready for another weekend.

    I'm still commuting too much to Foster City (it'll be 3 times this week). Hour drive each way is exhausting. Worrying about my next project is exhausting. Not having enough time is exhausting. Not having enough money is exhausting. I seem to live in a constant state of too-much-to-do, but this week I'm feeling particularly stressed.

    Tuesday morning towards the end of Tika's class I started feeling a bit more tired (than usual) and figured it was perhaps a lack of sleep. (Have been doing very well, actually, since I finished insomnia school last winter, but the last week or two have been iffy again.) Last night by the end of Jake's class, I was having trouble merely moving my legs fast enough to catch up to Jake on the dogwalk. Felt like muscle fatigue was setting in, as though I had used my legs beyond endurance. But this has just been a normal week, normal classes.

    I just strolled over to my sister's house and back, about .3 miles each way. Do it a lot. It's a quick breezy 5-minute walk. I had hardly started before my legs felt draggy. By the time I had headed home again, my thighs and calves were hardly functioning, extremely achey and weak.

    I don't know what's doing it. I'm tired. I'm going to bed.

    --No, I'm going to have a small piece of angel food cake with blackberries and go to bed. THAT should help SOMETHING.

    Randomness Rules

    The old sad chair she ain't what she used to be.

    Merle Girls are Trouble: When Boost and Tika wrestle and play wildly together in the house, they both start pulling and yanking and tearing at the dog beds. Tika never did that on her own; never. I finally hauled Jim's old (old old) comfy chair out to the to-be-trashed waiting area because Boost was rapidly reducing it to nothing more than a frame. Not only was it annoying to come home every day and have to pick up scattered bits of upholstery and padding, but it was all held together with staples, which I also had to pick up or remove pointy ends from the frame with pliers. It's a miracle that Boost never got badly jabbed. Or maybe she did and I don't know it. Maybe she has a collection of staples in her stomach and will never be able to get through an airport metal detector. The last straw, though, was the exposed metal supports in the chair back that I was afraid Boost or someone would catch her foot in and break it or worse. Now I worry whether she'll start tearing apart the regular dog beds, since her favorite destructo toy has been removed.
    Dog beds as they should be, neatly arrayed.Post-merle-girl fracas.


    Jake's Getting Old--Maybe: He used to fly down the stairs at breakneck speed, sort of half falling or skiiing down the last few steps in his excitement. For a couple of years now, he's been going down more and more cautiously. Lately, though, he's started doing it again--but after descending cautiously the first half of the stairway, then almost literally falling the rest of the way down, somehow controlling himself and staying upright and looking quite pleased at the bottom of the stairs. This is in comparison to when he starts up the stairs, looses control of his back feet, starts to slide, and nearly panics. Then he doesn't want to try again unless I put a supporting hand in his collar. So is he deliberately falling down the end of the stairs?

    Fast Is As Fast Does: Last weekend's Jumpers course was one of the fastest I've seen in a while. Particularly true for dogs who will send out over a couple of jumps to a tunnel full speed because then they drive under their own power to the tunnel, and then you could get ahead of them and they'd drive forward from the tunnel to catch you. Tika hit one of her fastest-ever yards-per-second times, 6.54 yps. The real way to tell how well you're doing, though, is in comparison to other dogs, because some courses just aren't laid out to be super-fast. Tika was only a second behind the first-place dog, whose run I watched and who looked super-fast. This is also the dog who won the super-fast Steeplechase nationals last year, so that *is* super-fast. Sometimes I think that Tika doesn't look that fast because her stride is more efficient than other dogs. But maybe I'm making that up. Here's the thing, though--on that course, that one-second difference pushed the other dog up to 6.9 yps. That's more than an extra foot per second, if you think about it. At that Nationals these days, that's a lot of difference. So on a 23-second course, that could be viewed as the other dog finishing 23 feet ahead of Tika. Yikes. (Photo of Tika doing dogwalk contact from this weekend; coming out of chute.)

    Jake the Old Guy: I keep trying to figure out whether Jake is slowing down. He used to occasionally get over 5 yps on Jumpers courses, but hasn't in a while. He actually did 4.92 on the same course, but I'm sure he used to be faster. For example, nowadays he slows to a trot in curved tunnels. Here's why: If you've ever watched agility on TV, they often put a tunnel cam inside one of the curved tunnels so you can see the dogs go through it. Picture a marble rolling through a curved tube at a high speed, or a bobsled taking a fast curve: they don't stick to the floor of the tunnel, they actually run almost horizontally along the back of the tunnel. I think that Jake's legs don't support him that well any more. He slipped a couple of times a year or so ago and he never wanted to take curved tunnels quickly any more. ANYway, is he slowing down or not? This run felt like a good, solid, fast-for-Jake-these days run. But compare his 4.92 to the fastest dog in his height and class at 6.43 yps. Now take a run from 5 years ago, where he hit 4.62 yps. Interesting--the fastest dog in his class was 6.44. So he was actually faster in comparison this time! So what would he have done if he had been running full speed all the way through. It's a puzzle. (Photo of Jake doing weave poles from this weekend.)

    Dry House: There have been no Boostie accidents in the house since that one day a couple of weeks ago. She's even starting to take herself outside, at least when I get home, to go pee, not waiting for me to tell her. But I'm also still being very cautious in my bedroom, keeping her in her crate when I can't watch her every move.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Backsliding and Frustrated.

    Well, we had one really excellent weekend with 4 Qs and only one run with knocked bars, and then it got worse again.

    At our second trial in September, Tika managed a Q in only one thing, the Grand Prix qualifier for 2006. Which is good, because it's the first of the year and we need 2 to qualify for the '06 Nationals. But no other Qs.

    This past weekend we didn't Q in anything. Zilch. Nada.

    Tika had a simply beautiful jumper's run, 3rd fasted among her height (first fastest was last year's steeplechase national champ, so we're in good company). But a bar down. Saturday's gamble, a not-too-tough one but tough for some people, she did beautifully. But had a bar down. Sunday's standard run was fast and tight, even drove to the table and slammed into a down. But had a bar down.

    I managed to do a not-too-bright handling error in both the Grand Prix Qualifier and the Steeplechase qualifier for offcourses in both cases, but the rest of those courses were wonderfully smooth and had no bars down, dagnabbit.

    Sunday's Gamblers was, once again, one where only about 5 dogs out of 70 or more qualified. These rates on gamble Qs lately are way too low and USDAA should be hearing about it.

    Saturday's Snooker, Tika knocked the first bar, and although I had a plan for recovery, I didn't execute it very well and we were off course almost immediately. Sunday's snooker was a monster, and actually Tika did very well through 4 complicated obstacles before we missed a truly challenging 180-degree turn and pull-through, but I didn't feel as bad about that as in past weeks where I was just doing stupid things.

    Tika was clean in her half of the Pairs run but her partner was offcourse, which we actually had almost expected, since he's been out of commission for a while for injuries and a bit rusty. So no big deal, and I was happy with Tika's run, but still no Q.

    Argh.

    Jake, on the other hand, whom I'm running only because he was annoyed if I didn't run him and who is presumably mostly retired, earned Qs in both of his runs. Not even close to placements, although he ran fairly well. The dogs he's competing against in the "Performance" class (mostly veterans) are and always have been faster than him, and he has slowed down so much in curved tunnels. But he was a good boy.

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Another Agility Weekend Arrives--

    This weekend we're off to Dixon and next weekend we'll be in Madera, both for USDAA trials. Tika's situation is this:
    • Pairs relay: Needs one more leg for her master's title.

    • Standard: Needs one more leg for her master's title.

    • Grand Prix: Needs one more leg to qualify in GP for 2006 nationals.

    • Snooker: Needs 2 Super-Qs for her master's title

    • Steeplechase: Needs only one leg to Q in St for 2006 nationals.

    • Jumpers and Gamblers: Need zillions for master's titles (well, OK, 4 each).


    Our opportunities are as follows over the next 2 weekends, which will be our last USDAA titling opportunities until the end of January:
    • Pairs: 1+1

    • Standard: 2+2

    • GP: 1+1

    • Steeplechase: 1+0

    • Snooker: 2+2

    • Jumpers and Gamblers: 1+1, 2+2

    You'd think that, with all those opportunities, we could get it. But those pesky knocked bars and those pesky missed up contacts are a real hindrance to our getting anywhere.

    So what have I done in recent weeks to improve our jumping? Nothing. To improve our up contacts? Nothing. THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME IN MY LIFE!

    Boost is doing OK again on not peeing in the house, but then we've been going out of our way to prevent it. (Actually I'll have to check with my housemate and make sure that he's telling me if she house-pees when he's around. He might be holding out on me.)

    Jake, while a little limpy at the trial 2 weekends ago, has perked up and has been looking great for at least a week now. Again he's entered in only 2 things for the weekend. I just have to make sure to get him out and get him moving and excited between times.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    There's Always So Much To Say--

    --so I never come here because I know I'll be here for hours typing stuff and I have other things to which I must attend. But then I get over here and I can't remember everything. Or anything. I think it's time to randomly ramble again.

    Potty training: Thought we were doing so well. Went for a couple of weeks without peeing in the house (I'm referring to Boost, mind you). Then last Wednesday night I came rushing home after an hour and a half commute, concerned about being late to agility class. As part of the prevent-peeing-in-the-house campaign, I try to get Boost out to the back yard ASAP and wait for her to do it, giving the keywords if needed. So out we went. Would she pee? She would not. (Now I feel as if I'm in a Dr. Seuss story...) I finally gave up and went upstairs.

    As another part of the PPITH campaign, I've been putting her in her crate any time we're upstairs in my bedroom. But this time I didn't; I had my eyes right on her. She followed me into the bathroom while I was in there; she got out ahead of me but she was in the hallway watching Tika chew on something; I frantically changed my clothes and she was watching very carefully; I turned around to close the drapes or open the windows or whatever, and I turned around and the puppy jumped up onto the bed and wiggled as if to say hi. So I gave her a little hug--and the inside of her thighs were damp. So I looked--sure enough, a trail of pee all across my bed but NOT where she had just been, it had to have been done sometime before. This time went thru the cover, thru the "don't wash except in emergency" allergy cover, AND down to the comforter itself. Well, I can't afford to keep having it washed, so it's just airing out in the closet for a while.

    Turns out that the same afternoon when the housemate got home from work--he's been going around through the side gate every day instead of coming straight into the house as part of the PPITH campaign, poor guy--he tried to convince Boost to pee in the yard. She wouldn't and wouldn't and wouldn't some more. So they went into the house, Boost rolled over on the kitchen floor to get her tummy rubbed, and when he leaned down to touch her--splorsh.

    Jeez. I don't know what the deal is, I don't.