a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: October 2003

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Progress Does Happen

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Foot Space

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

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

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

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

Fur Mat's Last Theorum

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

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

For more information, go here.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Dogfood Savings Time

I think I know what's going on.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

All's Quiet and Rowdy on the Western Front

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

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

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

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

What a mess. Sheesh.

Tika's A Good Girl In Class

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Casey Fits In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jake the Snookering Man

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2003

Bad Saturday, Good Sunday

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

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

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

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

Tika's Saturday:

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

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

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

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

Jake's Sunday: MUCH better.

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

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

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

Tika's Sunday:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2003

New Roommate/Dogmate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2003

A Gimble Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clarifying the Gobbledygook

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Tika and Jake. Very much here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remington. Still Gone. Still Here.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Feet-Free Weekend

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

Hurrah hurrah hurrah!

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

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

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

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

How depressing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Better or For Worse

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

I suppose there are exceptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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