a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: February 2004

Monday, February 23, 2004

Jake at the Vet

Went to the vet today to have various Jake aspects examined.

Vet says his eyelids look somewhat reddish and irritated, the right one perhaps slightly more than the left, but probably nothing serious. Gave me some anti-irritation ointment to apply for a week. He said that the retinas look fine; a little graying in the lenses that's normal for his age and not cataracty. He had an interesting and simple test to check his vision: With his hand about a foot away from Jake's head, he moved it suddenly towards Jake, just a twitch of an inch or so, but Jake blinked each time, with the hand moving quite a ways around the head.

Ears looked OK, but one had a big plug of wax. Vet says that's probably not enough to cause major distortion of hearing, but try applying ear ointment/cleaner for a few days and really massaging it and see whether it makes any difference. He did say that almost all dogs, between 12 & 13 years, start to lose their hearing. And regarding Jake's sometimes-active-response and sometimes-no-response--could be the pitch of the sound as much as the volume. (Like my dad's hearing, for example.)

Any other testing of vision and hearing is much more expensive and can probably be done only at the vet school at Davis. Don't know that I want to know that badly what's going on ....

Chasing the Top 200

Thousands of dogs compete in agility; thousands of others have competed since it was introduced to the U.S. in the late 1980s. USDAA, the first agility organization in the States, tracks the top 200 lifetime qualifying-score earners at various times. I believe that they give an official award to any dog in that list at the end of each year. Last year, the cut-off to make it into the top 200 was 89 and Jake had 86, putting him only 6 dogs out of the top 200.

I just checked the USDAA web site, and they've got top-200 totals as of Feb 18. Takes 93 Qs at the moment to get into the top 200. They have individual counts as of Jan 29; they list Jake with 89 Qs as of that date. Since Jan 29 (including this last weekend), Jake has earned 5 more Qs. That should push him into that group, at least briefly! But of course other people have probably been earning Qs, too--hate when that happens.

The other problem is that USDAA lists 2 more Masters Std, 1 more Masters Snooker, and 1 fewer P3 Standard legs than I've got. I've sent them email asking how I can reconcile the lists.

Anyway, argh, I'd love to be up there, but I don't know that I can stay there even if we pick up a bunch more at Madera, because I don't go to all those SoCal shows and all. And I keep saying--Jake might need to retire at any time, at which point he'll just fall by the wayside.

Another Day At The Races

Jake at agility trial when he knows I've got goodies in my hand
Picture from address labels
I'm currently using

Day 2:

  • It drizzled most of the morning Sunday but began to clear up by noon.

  • Still no tornados except metaphorically on the agility course.

  • Tika did 4 dogwalks over the course of the weekend and got all of the up contacts. Go figure.

  • Jake remained looking very healthy. Ran wonderfully.

  • Again, Tika stayed nicely at the start line for all 3 classes.

  • Ellen was more awake and alert than on Saturday, but at the end of the day more droopy.

  • Tika did not leave all the bars up on her Jumpers run; knocked one in the middle somewhere. Good thing she got her Standard leg Saturday, though, because Sunday she knocked the bar on the first jump. And she knocked the bar on the first jump in Snooker, too. Only one tiny little bar each run standing between us and success--her Standard and Jumpers runs were beautiful otherwise. She was within half a second of the winning Jumpers time.

  • Jake earned a total of 4 qualifying scores for the weekend, adding another Standard and a Jumpers. Haven't checked the USDAA site still to see whether they have more recent top-200 standings.

  • Ellen mostly forgot to eat breakfast and ate only part of her lunch but she had a nice dinner with a friend on the way home at the Black Bear restaurant in Gilroy.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

A Day At The Races

Day 1:
  • It drizzled most of the day except for a few brief hours midday where the sun actually almost came out. But the dogs prefer overcast days, and a light drizzle is bearable.

  • No tornadoes spotted.

  • Tika got the up contacts on her dogwalks (by a nose on a hair) and finally got that last annoying novice standard leg!

  • Jake gave me a bit of a scare when I got him out of his crate for his final run of the day and gave him a big rub-down: He yelped loudly, shoved his tail between his legs, and plonked his backside to the ground and refused to get up. When I tried hugging him and petting him and saying "are you OK?", he was trembling horribly. Taking a different tack, I whipped out some doggie junk food and offered him some. Oh--OK--feeling just fine now! He ran nicely. He jumped nicely.

  • Jake got his gamble this morning! Only one gamble to go!

  • Tika stayed at the start line every run. She didn't even stand up!

  • Ellen was awake and didn't make too many stupid handler errors but boy was she tired.

  • NEITHER dog qualified in the Grand Prix. Sigh. Tika's run was gorgeous all the way through until nearly the end when her overconfident handler sent her through an incorrect tunnel. Jake was just so fast that he got ahead of me early on and took an incorrect obstacle that I hadn't even considered would be a problem. Let that be a lesson to me.

  • No word from USDAA on where the Nationals will be.

  • We haven't done Jumpers yet. Tomorrow.

  • Jake got 2 Qs today. (So did Tika. Better than 2 weekends ago where each got only 1 the whole weekend.) That's probably not enough to push him into the top 200.

  • Ellen remembered to take her lunch, but almost forgot to eat it. Feeling weak and near death around 1:30, she finally remembered. Tuna salad never tasted so good.

Back again tomorrow!

Friday, February 20, 2004

Off to the Races

Here come another two days of USDAA competition. Our last was 2 weeks ago, when both dogs managed only one qualifying score each. The crowd is going wild with anticipation:
  • Will it rain all weekend?

  • Will there be minitornados? (weather service issued a warning today for Salinas area)

  • Will Tika get the up contacts on her dogwalks and finally get that last annoying novice standard leg?

  • Is Jake healthy? Will he run? Will he jump?

  • Will Jake get another of the only 2 gambles remaining for his Performance "championship"?

  • Will Tika stay at the start line every run? Even if she merely stands up but doesn't move forward?

  • Will Ellen be awake and alert?

  • Will either dog earn a Grand Prix qualifying score towards getting into the Nationals this year? (Both got the required 2 last year but so far this year both are 0/2--or is that 0/1? I'm losing track--)

  • Will USDAA ever get its act together and decide to announce whether the Nationals will be in TX or AZ? (Makes a big difference to those of us CAers who can't get to Texas.)

  • Will Tika leave all the bars up in her Jumpers run?

  • Will Jake get a whole bunch of Q legs and manage to squeeze up into the top-200-lifetime-points earners? (I haven't double-checked to see whether there are new titles posted--he was 206 in September but probably other dogs have been out competing and earning points and we haven't been.)

  • Will Ellen die of starvation after forgetting to take a lunch because this is the first trial in over 100 trials and 8 years of competition that is not making food available on site at all?

Stay tuned, same dog time, same dog channel.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Remmie, Remmie, Remmie

A year ago in Feb., we were up in the Oregon forests at Crystalwood Lodge, Remington feeling worse by the hour, although his first morning there he was absolutely delighted.

Oh, Rem, how I wish I had taken you places to swim! Hope you've found a lovely lake somewhere.

Jakey Jakey Jakey

There's no doubt that Jake is getting older. He's already been sidelined for 6 weeks, twice, because the arthritis in his back acted up badly enough--2 years and over 3 years ago! But he still keeps going. He runs all out after frisbees and squeakies--you'd never guess he's over 12.

But at the last trial where I tried to jump him at 22" (he's been jumping 16 in the veterans class) in October, he went around a couple of jumps. For a dog who was capable of clearing 48" a few years back, and who completed his USDAA championship (ADCH) jumping 24", that's a bit worrisome.

Then there's been the question whether he's going deaf or what.

Eye problems?

I've noticed that his right eye seems to be weepy and oddly shiny a lot--maybe for weeks, not sure whether it's up to "for months" yet. Maybe his problem with turning the wrong way or not responding to me isn't that he's deaf, it's that he's having vision problems? When he's on the sidelines in class while I'm walking a course, he watches me with the strangest fixed intensity--something about the way he hold his head that I can't put my finger on. And there was the trial 2 weeks ago, where he blasted out of a tunnel and ran towards the judge (clearly thinking it was me) although I was way in the opposite direction, right where I'd been when he went in, calling his name.

Body problems?

Then yesterday I thought there was something odd about his body language. After playing squeakie-fetch, while just rather trotting around the yard, a couple of times it looked like his rear feet were tripping over each other. We went to agility class, but I annouced at the beginning of class that I wanted to run him for only half a class. Near the middle of class, when he was in a sit-stay in front of a jump that was angled about 45 degrees in front of him, he went around the jump when I released him--3 times straight. This is so unlike an experienced hand (paw?) like him.

I finally set him up so that the jump looked straight on to him, and he went over it fine. So I started thinking about that--an angled jump presents a very wide area for the dog to jump over; picture standing in front of a raised bar that's close to you on the left but farther away on the right--you have to either step farther or start farther if you go over the leftmost part--but what if you're going over it with 4 feet in stride? One side of your body has to handle it a little differently from your other side, so if you're uncomfortable with it at all, it suddenly becomes a difficult jump.

If he's having vision problems so he has trouble judging the depth, or if his jumping stride is painful, he might want to avoid a difficult jump.

To the vet

Anyway, I have a vet's appointment for him on Monday.

Please gods let him be able to continue

I so don't want to retire him from agility. He loves being out there (you should've seen his "face" when I put him back in the car and got Tika out). He loves running on the course and playing with me. OK, probably he loves playing with me is the baseline. So the other truth is that he's SO close to making the top-200-lifetime-point-earners in USDAA and I'd love to just squeeze him over the top if I could--AND he's only 2 gambles away from his Performance (like veterans) championship in USDAA--AND he's only 5 legs away from his CPE championship (CATCH) (we could get 4 of them at the trial at the end of March--won't have another stab at finishing until May) and depending on when he'd finish them, he could be only the 2nd dog in CA to earn that title. So *I* want him to keep going.

I know it has to end someday--but I see him racing across the park at top speed after a frisbee, and doing so for quite a long while without exhausting himself, and I still see an active, healthy dog.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Obsessive Dogs

Remember my rant of November 16 (does the word "licklicklicklicklicklicklick" ring a bell)? Guess we're not the only ones dealing with the issue:

For Better or For Worse, Feb 9, 2004

Paws or baseballs... Paws or baseballs...

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Who Needs (P)Article Accelerators?

Ever want to know how a baseball is constructed? Simply apply our patented JakeyNoodleOoo to your problem and your specified article is disassembled as thoroughly as subatomic particles smashed in a particle accelerator.

No charge. I'm positive.

(I just want to point out, in case you think he's got nothing else to do with his time, that there are five--count them, five--other toys within pouncing distance in this very photo.)

Monday, February 09, 2004

USDAA Weekend Report

So this was not one of our best agility weekends.

Out of Tika's 7 runs:
  • Two runs she didn't stay at the start line so I left the ring (an old problem from last summer that I thought was pretty much fixed)

  • Three runs she knocked bars (an existing problem that I'm working on figuring out whether it's her jumping technique or my handling technique)

  • (And one of those 3 I handled badly, too--)

  • One of her standard runs she missed the up contact on the dogwalk (an extremely persistent problem for us in USDAA and we've just started a new technique to try to get her to change her stride there)

  • Pairs relay, where neither of messed up and neither did our partner, so at least we got ONE Q for the weekend. (And a second place.)

But she did run nicely most of the time, it was just those little things haunting us... Except for the first run of the weekend (gamblers), where I let her get away with little or no wait on the contacts, she had lovely contacts. In 3 runs, she came in at me to snarf and discuss my handling (where last year she'd have grabbed my feet) but we were able to continue onward fairly quickly. Except for those 2 runs, she stayed nicely at the start line. She got all the weave entries but one (one of the snarfs), where she didn't even try but came towards me instead. And she was certainly fast.

However, on the standard course that she completed, she was 15 seconds slower than Rachel's babydog, Fable. Fifteen! That's a chasm! Of course, Fable has running contacts (and missed the *down* on the dogwalk), but I'm wondering whether I'm really losing that much time to Tika slowing on the contact descents and in the pause at the bottom. I didn't tape that run, so I can't time those bits.

Out of Jake's 5 runs:
  • one nice standard run for a Q and a first place

  • 4 runs where an ongoing, and getting worse, problem in communication really hosed us. (We've been discussing in class whether he's losing his hearing; we're now wondering whether maybe he's losing some vision rather than (or in addition to?) his hearing-- it's been very odd...)

Weather was cold with an icy wind on Saturday; cold Sunday morning with frost on the equipment (in at least one ring they poured hot water over the ramps to melt it) but warmed up nicely Sunday afternoon.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Jumpin' Hound

Attended a 2-day Susan Salo seminar up at Power Paws Friday and Saturday.

She's from the world of champion jumping horses and was stunned to see that agility people take their dogs and immediately start training them on challenging handling techniques over jumps. In horse jumping, they start with merely jumping--in straight lines, over low jumps, and very slowly increasing the complexity as the horse learns more and more how to stride comfortably over longer and shorter distances, balancing properly, extending properly, developing muscle strength and muscle memory. The horses never are introduced to tricky handling things until they're already excellent jumpers.

Yes, many dogs jump very badly. You don't have to know anything about jumping, or dogs, to see it in some cases. There are stutter-steppers, and dogs who take off way too early, and dogs who jump way higher than they need to, and dogs whose feet go all akimbo instead of looking smooth and effortless, and dogs who knock bars willy nilly, and many other things too horrific to mention on a family page.

She pointed out that a dog who is striding over jumps correctly should look effortless (picture Olympic hurdlers hurdling--you can hardly tell there's a change in their stride as they take those hurdles). And you should barely be able to hear the dog's feet on the ground.

Indeed, there were some dogs in the seminar who, going over a line of jumps, made nearly no noise, and others who clomped and thudded their way down the line. And it didn't seem to have much to do with the size or weight of the dog.

Salo's not the first person we've been exposed to who knows a lot about horse jumping and is attempting to come up with methods that apply to dogs and agility. Certainly, of all the jumping experts I've heard from or read about, she's definitely the most recent.

(That's a joke, son, that's a joke.)

She had a lot of good information and some good jumping drills (performed on geometric jump layouts typically called "grids" by everyone who works on jumping skills or skills at handling jumping dogs) and on what a jumping, striding dog should do, but she left most of us behind in being able to watch a dog run and decide whether its head was working properly, whether its shoulders were going out to the sides instead of to the front, whether it was pushing off with its rear instead of pulling forward with its front, whether it was underconfident or merely inexperienced, whether its focus point was too low or too high, and so on, all of which she used as explanations for adjusting the grid in various ways for each dog.

She said that we could all develop the proper eye over time but that it's hard because the dogs move so darned fast (most of them, anyway).

Tika knocks more bars than I like, and our instructor had already suggested that we do some grid work. Our drills confirmed that she seems to know where to place her strides but that she might not be pushing off with her back legs quite as much as she should; she was fairly quiet when she went, but not as quiet as some.

So I'll try to make use of some of the drills--Salo suggests 3 times a week for no more than 15 minutes? Or was it 5? Dang, back to my notes.

Gone to the Birds

Tika, growing more bored by the day as I try (and mostly fail) to work more hours and get more nondog stuff done and do it offsite (meaning not at home), has taken to inventing things to bark at. I don't recall previously that crows floating on the wind in a circle above our yard were objects of barkification. Apparently now they are, as are their brethren hunkered down on the antenna atop the chimney atop the peak of the roof of the 2nd story of the house. She was leaping into the air to bark at, and attempt to reach, the birdie birds.

This can be annoying.