a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: November 2003

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Xmas Photos

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

Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Ghost of Nightmares Past

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

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

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

And I woke up crying.

Monday, November 24, 2003

It's Been A Year--Part III

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

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

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

OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2003

The Release Is As Important As the Stay

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

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

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

The other dogs didn't release.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Operant Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting stuff.

It's Been A Year--Part II

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

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

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

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

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

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

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

Backposting Photos

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

That Ribbon of Highway

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Success Is Sweet

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

More Agility a la Water?

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

Agility a la Water

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

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

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

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

All in all, it was a good weekend.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Trouble in Paradise

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Backfilling history

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

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

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

Dogs' Names and Attention

Now here's the thing.

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

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

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

Don't Yell, I Ain't Deef!

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

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

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

Huh. No response.

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

That could very well be what's going on.

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

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

But I think we're making progress.

Back to the Gopher Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's Been A Year--Part I

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

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

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

Friday, November 07, 2003

Scattered Reflections

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Jake is Top Dog! --Almost--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By comparison, Remington and I had accrued only 24.

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

A Gamblin' Hound

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 01, 2003

A Throng of Dogs

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

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

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