a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: July 2004

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Added photos--

...to July 22 and July 23 entries.

Where Did That Muscle Come From?

Maybe I'm ready for retirement. About two-thirds of the way through Tika's class this morning, I noticed that my legs had become a bit shaky, sore, and tired, as though I had been working them for hours. It is possible that we got in a few more, and longer, runs than usual; we seemed to be spending less time discussing them and more time doing them fairly successfully. At the beginning of our last run, I noticed that something on my inner thigh felt slightly more weird than my other muscles, although I definitely noticed calf muscles, hip muscles, lower back, shins, and outer thighs. Three obstacles from the end of this nice long run, that inner-thigh muscle sproinged and I couldn't run.

I don't recall ever having had problems with that muscle before. But as I hobbled, several other muscles began sending messages that they were on the verge of doing the same thing.

I don't know what the deal is. I've got ice on my inner thigh (might be my groin muscle but it seems to go from inner thigh across the front of the leg--unless it's 2 separate muscles). I have gotten really bad about stretching any more--used to stretch always before agility but not probably for the last year or more--but I'm usually so active anyway that I always felt warmed up.

This is totally out of character for my fibers. Wonder what they're thinking?

Is Jake Finished?

Interesting thing today in Tika's class. When Tika took off at the end of a run to go posture at the corner of the field where cats and squirrels often lurk, and didn't come back even when called, I escorted her to the car (note, though, that I actually got hold of her without her taking off all over the place to avoid me. Torn between rewarding that and not rewarding it because it's still part of the taking off bit...) and took Jake out instead. I just played with Jake, had him do some tricks for goodies, tossed a frisbee a short way--and every time I'd stop to pet him, he hurried over to the gate to go back out to the car.

Very odd. Like he didn't want to be out there doing stuff. Come to think of it, he was doing some of that in his class last week, too, but I attributed that to my attempts the last few weeks (at intructors' insistence) to get him to play without food rewards at beginning and end of runs.

Maybe he is ready for retirement. How do I know? How do I know?

Jumping Drills

After Tika's bar knocking escapades this weekend, I set up some simple jumping drills yesterday evening. Consisting of only 4 jumps, spaced starting at 8', on a line angling to the left (and, later, to the right). Jumps at various heights starting low. Gradually moved last 2 jumps to wider spacing.

Interesting contrast among dogs.

Tika had no trouble bounce-jumping the 8' up to 12' distances, and very smoothly--*if* her toy was on the ground at the end. If the toy was in my hand or if I left it in a chair behind us, she tended to tick or knock the bars and get an extra stride in the 12' section.

Jake had no interest in jumping when his toy was on the ground at the end--he repeatedly went around jumps to get to it, sometimes the whole line of 4. But if the toy was in my hand or on a chair behind us, he jumped beautifully, although he never did bounce-jump the 10' spread.

Casey is still learning to do sequences, so I backchained him a bit. But with his toy on the ground at the end, he bounce jumped everything perfectly without even a moment's hesitation. He's about the same height at the withers as Jake, although proportionally I think his legs are longer. Goes to show that if you introduce a dog to jumps in an orderly way, they have fewer problems doing excellent jumping.


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Not a Bad Weekend (another NADAC trial)

We all had a reasonably good weekend at The Bay Team's NADAC competition this weekend at Twin Creeks in Sunnyvale.

Had a few cruddy runs and a few lovely surprises (things that I thought we wouldn't be able to handle but did), and we brought home a few more ribbons, so I guess altogether it wasn't too bad.

California Cup
I had hoped (I always hope) to be in the running for the Seventh Annual California Cup, which combines your scores for 6 of the weekend's runs (4 Regular and 2 Jumpers) and the best performance wins the trophy. There were over 110 dogs eligible for the trophy at the beginning of the weekend. Primary filter was how many faults you had overall, and for those 6 runs, after the weekend's carnage cleared, only 2 dogs had zero total faults. Actually it's pretty amazing that *any* had zero faults; that's a difficult thing to do over that many runs, ever.

The tiebreaker was average yards per second for those six runs. The winning dog's avg was 5.68 yps--very wow. The runner-up made only 4.12 yps! There were actually 1st-3rd place awards for big and little dogs at 3 different levels of competition for a total of 18 ribbons (we didn't win any of those, either), and the next fastest dog out of all of those 18 had only 4.93 yps (and 10 faults total, which actually isn't bad--could have been one moderate mistake out of 6 runs, or 2 dropped jump bars).

Jake blew me off the second round of the first day (it's a long odd story as to why--and I can't remember when, if ever, he has done that before) and earned an elimination, so it put him out of the running right away. He's not that fast on average, anyway. For the other five rounds, he had two 10-point faults and an average course time of 4.03 yps.

Tika didn't eliminate in any round, which is above average (out of the original 110 qualified dogs, 50 had eliminations in at least one round), but she just kept knocking bars left and right, and those 5-pointers add up. It's a problem that we're working on, but not very consistently (because I'm too lazy to keep setting up the working equipment).

Tika is very fast, except that on the contact obstacles (places where she has to make contact with her paws rather than jumping over the contact zone), I make her stop completely and touch her nose to the ground, tell her she's good, and then let her go. That adds probably 10 seconds to our course time for each of those courses. I'm saving up on accuracy for the day when I finally decide that it's time to release her the instant she stops to try to win, oh, say, the $150 steeplechase or some such. If we ever get to that point and stop knocking bars... At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

ANYway, blah blah, she accrued 45 faults over those 6 runs, almost all knocked bars (sighhhhhh), and averaged 4.42 yps even including those long holds on the contact points. If I'm right about the 10 seconds per course for those four courses, and had released her immediately, then we'd have been at, hmm, let's see, add this, divide by, hmmm... 5.34 yps (oh, wait, we did have one off-course through an extra tunnel and she had to come back and do the correct obstacle... oh, well, never mind, I can't really keep guesstimating the "what ifs").

Over her two Jumpers courses, which have no contact obstacles, only jumps and tunnels, and where we made no mistakes (other than knocked bars), she averaged 6.35 yps, whereas the dog who won averaged only 6.30 over those two courses. But then, that Cal Cup winner didn't knock any bars. (Tika knocked only one of 20 and two of 20... really...)

The fastest of all dogs competing made 6.95 yps, and also knocked one bar; all the other dogs were at least 0.3 yps slower. Fortunately this dog is one of our partners for the upcoming Labor Day Dog Agility Masters Team Regional Qualifier. So if we can keep up the speed and keep on not eliminating and not knock those dagnab cornswaggled bars, we could do good...

OK, was that really interesting?

You can see that speed isn't particularly helpful if you're not accurate in your performance of the course or the obstacles.
Ghosts of Competitions Future
But what's really interesting (OK, from my POV) is that most of the top dogs in the area weren't at this weekend's trial. We face some *really* tough competition at September's trial. And at our two August trials. Many national champions and dogs who have earned their championship titles multiple times over. And who are also really fast--and tend to be a little less bar knocky.

Tedious Details: Regular (2 runs each day each dog)
Jake blew off almost all of his dogwalks all weekend, and I'm referring to nuclear holocaust kind of blowing off, where he's not even in the blast zone distance of the contact zone when he makes a leap for freedom. The only round that was different was Sunday's first round, where I walked onto the field with one thought in my mind: "If he blows off the dogwalk contact, by gum I'm going to blow off the whole round and we're going to train in the ring until he gets it right." And--dash it all--he did it very nicely, and stopped and looked up at me as pretty as you please!

That was the only Regular round in which he qualified, because in the next round I did not go in with that thought in mind, and he just flew right off that little downramp and I just kept on going (after a stop to tell him that I didn't think very much of his performance, and he didn't look like he cared a whit).

Tika had lovely contacts, although she was working hard at leaving the teeter before receiving the "OK" release. But she didn't take off, either--stopped as soon as she realized that I wasn't giving her the everything's OK cues.

She knocked 1 bar the first round, 1 bar the second round, and on Sunday in the first round we had a tough patterning situation where I didn't realize that I needed to give her a big push out and she went off course--and two bars down--and then, in the final Regular round, she saved my butt on some very difficult turns (for a fast, long-strided dog) and left up all the bars and, with her lovely speed, took first place. Wahoo! (She was 2nd and 3rd in her rounds with one bar down.)
Tedious Details: Jumpers (1 run each day each dog)
Jake ran nicely and smoothly both days, with only a couple of veers away from me on challenging cross-behinds, which I had been expecting with his recent hearing and/or seeing problems, and often at the Elite level in NADAC that's enough to have time faults, but he managed to Q both runs, although just barely (0.7 seconds under on Saturday, actually 3 seconds under on Sunday, which surprised me). Sunday's run was good enough for 2nd place; Saturday's only for 6th (of 9 dogs).

Tika was quite fast and oh, so smooth. We had no bobbles in either course, and she carried out on her own over the final jump beautifully. Her average yards per second (yps) over these two courses was 6.35. She seemed slower to me on Sunday than on Saturday, but then it was danged hot and she had been going all weekend (OK, yup, Saturday's was 6.64 yps; sunday's only 6.10, and I think it was a more open course; only the one additional run (Weavers) an hour or so later seemed slower). So she can and does slow down--I need to start considering that.
Tedious Details: Gamblers (1 run each day each dog)
Saturday's Elite Gamble looked like a complete giveaway. The dog went over a jump on the gamble line, angled directly towards a tunnel that veered slightly away from the gamble line; blasting out of the straight tunnel, there was a jump ahead of the dog and slightly towards the handler (who has now encountered the end of the handler area, even with the end of the tunnel), which should be a giveaway for a dog to go straight out and over; then the dog had to continue to bear left and come back in over another jump towards the handler. Piece of cake. I don't know how many full serpentines Jake has done in gambles, and blasting through a tunnel and continuing out over a jump is *so* easy.

However--Jake jogged out of the tunnel, turned towards me, stopped, looked mystified, looked around a bit, and finally went back into the tunnel.

Tika blasted out of the tunnel, glanced at me to see what I was doing, and was over the first jump in a trice, stayed out nicely and came back in quite smoothly over the final jump for a Q. Didn't even have to think about it, and *she's* the one who's still figuring out this gambling thing while *Jake* is supposed to be the old pro. Sigh.

Sunday's gamble was a different matter. There were 3 jumps more or less parallel to the gamble line--the third one was slightly further out. The fourth obstacle was an Aframe, much further back from the gamble line and whose entrance was more or less even with a line between the second and third jumps. So you had to either turn the dog away from you over the 3rd jump and keep him pushed out to the Aframe, or have the dog turn towards you over the 3rd jump, then send him straight out away from you between the 2nd and 3rd jumps to take the Aframe at a sharp angle. Most people were opting for the second choice, and some (not many) were making it. Both of my dogs are perfectly capable of doing turns away from me, but I haven't done a lot of them with Tika at a distance, so I wasn't convinced that she'd really do it.

Jake rather made up his own opening--we weren't communicating well--and he wasn't all that fast, but apparently faster than I thought, because I ended up skipping the final dogwalk/tunnel that I had planned because I thought he was too slow and we were almost out of time, but the whistle didn't blow and I had nowhere to send him except away from me over a couple of jumps, which is dangerous these days because he keeps going rather than looking back at me, which is what he did, and he finally turned and headed back towards me and then the whistle blew, so our timing was excellent to start the gamble (although we didn't get as many opening points as we might have) but our position was at a bad angle (and that was all one sentence). He veered away from me after the first jump rather than continuing on to the second because of that bad angle entry, but somehow figured out what was going on and came back in the correct direction, went over the 2nd and 3rd jumps, turned much more nicely than I had thought possibly away from me over the third jump, looked as if he was about to start wandering aimlessly as he sometimes does lately, but saw the Aframe, went up it, GOT the contact (which he almost never does on Aframes in gambles--something weird about the distance), AND despite the hesitations, managed to even get over the bonus jump for an extra 10 points, putting him in first place out of 7 dogs in his class.

Tika had a lovely opening, but because Jake had had so much extra time (even though he got 45 seconds instead of Tika's 40 seconds, I thought he was wayyyy slow), I inserted an extra two obstacles into Tika's opening, and then, dagnabbit, I sent her up the dogwalk at the instant that the whistle blew. I didn't want to pull her off it, so I let her get to the end and stop, but immediately told her to go and aimed towards the first gamble jump--the entry from the dogwalk was a perfect angle--but instead she came around in front of me, barking and snarfing, which is the old thing she had been doing when I wasn't giving clear signals or some other confusing thing. I *thought* I couldn't have been clearer, but I haven't watched the video, and Gina says she thinks that I was NOT clear and did it while standing still. So she had to spin and circle a couple of times before I got her to successfully do a BEhind and then go over the first jump. So we wasted all the time on the dogwalk (probably 3 seconds of our 15-second gamble time) and then with the chitcatting (probably another 5 seconds). She sent beautifully over the first 3 jumps and started to slightly turn away and I started yelling "left left left!" which we've only barely started practicing with agility obstacles (rather than simply standing and turning), and then she turned crisply, saw the Aframe, went straight up it--and the whistle blew, so we didn't complete the gamble in time. But she *did* do it, even waiting on the contact, and continued gracefully over what would have been the bonus jump.

Not one dog in Tika's class of 6 got the gamble, and so she easily placed 1st with all of her opening points.
Tedious Details: Weavers (Sun) and TouchNGo (Sat)
Weavers consists of only weave poles and tunnels. Jake usually has trouble making the Elite course time for these, as he doesn't generally weave quickly in competition. Never figured out why--he can do them quite rapidly in practice. It was the last run of the weekend on a miserably warm and muggy day, and both dogs were hot and tired. But it was a good weavers course for Jake--I could cross in front of him on all of the crucial turns so that he never had a chance to turn away from me or drift away from the correct path. He actually made time by a second and a hair. Good thing I've spent a lot of time combing out all of his shedding fur the last couple of weeks: I think those 30 or 40 fewer pounds made the difference.

Tika is doing simply beautifully in weave poles, hasn't missed an entrance in quite a while. But she was noticeably slower in this run than in any of the others, and I commented to someone about it at the end of the run. Sure enough, she was ten seconds (30.34) under course time (40.18) but yet 3 or 4 seconds slower than the absolutely fastest dogs, which I wouldn't normally expect. Still , in her class, it was good enough for first.

Touch'N'Go is all tunnels and contacts. It was the last run of the day Saturday, and Tika was the last dog. When I put her into a sit stay, the timer and scribe (whom I knew) and judge were in a sort of it's-almost-over relieved jokey mood, and so I had to actually ask whether they were ready for me to go, and when we got that cleared up, I think I said "OK" to them, and poor Tika took off to the wrong obstacle because I hadn't gotten into position, then I was kind of behind her and flustered and partway through the course I ended up giving her insufficient direction and again she went off course, but I tried to finish the rest correctly. She was a very good girl. And then the judge came by and said it wa their fault that we had messed up and they'd like to give us another chance to run. How often does that happen? So I said yes, but I hadn't given Tika any good-run goodies, and it was danged hot, and she was panting like crazy, and we had no way of hosing the dogs down-- But I decided to run it again right away. Tika was noticeably slower the second time through, but we executed the whole thing perfectly for a Q. She was so good. Again, she was 9 seconds under course time but 2 whole seconds slower than the first place dog, so good for a 2nd place. If only she hadn't slowed down so much the 2nd time-- but of course this is *Tika* slow.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Irish Wolfhound in England

The Irish Wolfhound is the mascot of the Irish Guards, who are the bright red chaps with tall black furry mounds of fur upon their heads whom you can view parading around in front of Buckingham Palace at 11:30 every morning of the week.

In browsing around the internet for more information, I found this delightfully written bit of prose (read more here):
It is with a certain amount of diffidence that this essay is entered upon, as there is a widely spread impression that the breed to be treated of is extinct. That we are in possession of the breed in its original integrity is not pretended; at the same time it is confidently believed that there are strains now existing tracing back, more or less clearly, to the original breed; and it also appears to be tolerably certain that our modern Deerhound is descended from that noble animal, and gives us a very fair idea of what he was, though undoubtedly considerably his inferior in size and power.
Had it not been for these facts, the courage to write this article might have been wanting; but they appear to be so clear to the writer, that he can proceed, with the feeling that most of his readers will perceive that he is amply justified in undertaking a history and description of this very magnificent example of the canine race-that, indeed, may be said to have been its king.

This was written over a century ago, which would explain some of the stylistic difference. Aren't you glad you live now?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Various Notes and Random Bits

  • Backfill: July 23 a.m.That Lovely London Scent: Somewhere in the past I mentioned that Tika gets catnip-style pleasure out of my used washcloths. Don't ask me, I'm not a dog. Or a cat. I got home very last Monday night--essentially Tuesday, in fact--washed my face and hands, and crawled into bed. When I dragged out of bed Tuesday morning and turned on the sink faucet to warm up water for morning face-scrubbing, Tika followed me into the bathroom, which is not unusual.
  • What is unusual is that she stopped abruptly below the towel bar, whereupon a slightly stunned or startled look crossed her face. She reared up onto her hind legs and stood there for a few moments with her superb sense of balance, examining the towel bar. Then, ever so gingerly, she took one corner of my washcloth in her frontmost teeth and pulled it, ever so fastidiously, off of the towel bar. She then carried it gently up onto my bed, where she shook it shortly twice, laid it carefully onto the bed, and rubbed her cheeks into it repeatedly for about 30 seconds. Then she was done.
    I was so stunned that I didn't scold her for taking my things from my purview. I wonder what odd or unusual odors I imported from London on the skin of my face? Perhaps it was the London Fog altogether, because when I opened my luggage to slowly begin unpacking, Jake put his nose right in there and analyzed every square inch of clothing and imported product. They usually exhibit no interest at all in my luggage or its contents.

  • Baths: I never bathes my dogs no more. Amber had very oily skin that attracted dirt like--um--dirt to an oily dog coat. Plus horrid flea allergies (this was in the days before those nifty one-spot once-a-month flea repellents). She needed bathing constantly. Sheba's pure white chest and underbelly and legs became grimy often, partly from the metal of her dangling dog tags, partly I'm sure from crawling out from under assorted fences. Remington got occasional baths, usually when Sheba needed one.
  • But I never tried just hosing Sheba down regularly. Rem, Tika, and Jake have all been hosed off frequently, because on warm days in agility it seems like the proper thing to do. In fact, I don't believe that I've ever bathed Tika, and probably hardly ever bathed Jake. I certainly don't think I've done doggie bathing since moving in here nearly 3 years ago.

    But Tika and Jake are shedding miserably, and Jake has started scratching again, so I gave them both baths yesterday in my shower stall--yes, with actualy doggie shampoo. It helped to clump and loosen the fur, and they both look particularly clean and cuddly in the aftermath. Neither were pleased about the process, but they survived admirably.

    Afterwards, I combed them each for about 10 minutes. Which removed about three mattress loads of fur but otherwise hardly seemed to make a difference.
  • Jake's legs: Once again this morning, Jake yelped just after waking up when I briskly scritched his thigh. Often when he's standing or walking slowly, I see his hind legs wobble and slew side-to-side a bit. Something I've seen with my other elderly dogs. How he can be having problems with his legs and still blitzkreig his squeakie in the yard or haul over jumps (although they're all 16" now, not the 22" to 24" he jumped in his prime) is beyond me. What a guy. But I'm cautiously concerned. Pull him from agility or not?
What I'll probably do is not enter him in everything at every trial. Maybe. If I can convince myself to not do so--
Kensington Palace and its front lawn. Think of the agility
you could do in your own front yard if you lived here!
  • Dogs in London: Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens simply seethed with dogs. All cheerful. All well-behaved. All off leash. Playing frisbee or tennis ball, running with their owners, encountering other dogs of similar size and ambition and playing wild games of chase across the verdant expanses-- And British owners are no better (maybe worse) than American owners about picking up after their dogs (saw 3 violators out of 3 observed poops!) despite the parks having their own special private privileged waste containers for doggy poo and nothing else! (Photo forthcoming.)
  • Dogs without me: Housemate reports that, while I was gone, Tika got out the front door once and (as usual) took off full speed across the nearest street. And, as usual, Casey and Jake decided it looked like fun and took off after her. Fortunately they were retrieved still alive. I don't know what to do about this problem. It's a serious problem. I need to do something. I've rambled about this problem before.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Catching Up

  • Rodents: For about 2 weeks, there, the dogs were ridding the world of either giant mice or young roof rats at the rate of one every day or two. There were 6 or 7 that we know about, little damp ex-rodent corpses left in some funny spot in the yard (or, once, in some funny spot in the middle of my carpet). A couple of times, only parts of a damp ex-rodent, which I don't really want to think about. And then there was the evening that Jake had something unidentifiable in his mouth that he was carrying around obsessively and wouldn't let me pry from his jaws despite a suspiciously long thin sort of tail-looking thing hanging from between his lips. But it was dark under the table where I had crawled in an attempt to get it from him, and I couldn't tell, so I gave up. Then he crunched it and swallowed it. Erg. Try not to think about it. Better rodent-hunting dogs than live rodents anywhere in my boudoir (or elsewhere), I suppose. I don't know where they were finding them all!
  • Jake has been yelping on more and more occasions. Can't figure it out. Something to do with his legs? Or not? Once when I was merely petting him, lying in bed. Couple of times when he sat. Sometimes on my lap when I try to adjust him slightly. Sometimes scratching. Arthritis? Something else? Should I take him to the chiropractor, as all my agility pals are recommending?
  • Tika jumping lessons: We've taken a couple more of Susan Salo's private jumping lessons, which I can't afford. But she (Tika, I mean) seems to be getting the idea of handling different stride lengths in a consistent style, and of using her left lead as well as her right lead. I'd really like to solve the knocking-bars problem. Which, I suppose, if you figure it at $12 a run, and if she blows 4 runs in a weekend because of a knocked bar, I've almost paid for a Salo lesson--

The Global Economy

I call Cingular to ask about cell phone access from England. Yes, they do have an agreement with a company over there.

Me: Can you tell me what the rates would be from England to the U.S.?

C: Certainly. Hold on one moment-- OK, would England be considered Eastern Europe or Western Europe?

Have Camera, Will Abuse

See a page with thumnails of all of the dog-breed photos I've taken for the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. And a few other random photos, too.

Meanwhile, I'm about to head off for London for 5 days, camera and film in hand.

What will the dogs do while I'm gone? With whom will they do it? So many questions. So few answers. I hope the answer isn't "they will bark all day long and piss off the neighbors."

Monday, July 05, 2004

Hiking Sans Dogs

Yesterday morning, took a lovely stroll through Alum Rock Park (go there to see some of my photos and a description of the park). Didn't take the dogs.

Without the dogs, our conversations revolved around such topics as:
  • Why isn't "iron" pronounced "EYE-ron" instead of "EYE-ern"?

  • If something made of metal is metallic, why isn't something made of iron considered to be ironic?

  • If we got poison oak despite being very careful, would it be ironic or just stupid?

  • Did Poe write The Raven in idyllic pedometer or some other form?

With the dogs, the conversations would have revolved around:
  • Watch out for the poison oak.

  • C'mon, that's enough sniffing.

  • No! Leave it!

  • Watch out for the poison oak!

  • Stop pulling! It's only a mountain lion!

  • Hang on, I have to pick up the dog's deposits.

  • Don't--DON'T--Oh, dagnabbit, that was poison oak!

In any event, this particular park doesn't allow dogs. Just as well. Single-file, we could barely avoid the poison oak on parts of the trail. But the view of the valley from the South Rim Trail was lovely, the weather was beautiful between 9 and 11 in the morning, and we certainly got our exercise.

Dogs are going stir crazy, though. Can hardly wait to see what they'll be like after I get back from London--

In the evening, I joined a group of agiliholics up at Power Paws Agility above Alum Rock Park for a big picnic. Most stayed for viewing the fireworks--from there, you can see every fireworks show from the south valley up the peninsula almost to San Francisco--but it was already 9:00 and I was tired and last year after the fireworks getting down the hill was a traffic nightmare. So I left early, just as the fireworks were starting. Caught glimpses of them around my as I tooled along the freeways.

And I got a lot of tooling in, because I forgot to take 101 south from 680, and parts of 87 were closed (which is why I should've taken 101) because in years past tons of dorks apparently started stopping along the freeway shoulders to watch fireworks. So there was a tremendous traffic jam at 87, which I wriggled past and went all the way out to 17 south to 85 south to home.

Tika was dashing in circles around the yard, barking pointedly at I'm not sure what. I'm wondering whether she was after the fireworks or the popping and rumbling noises; didn't look quite like chase-the-roof-rat-along-the-fence style barking. She does sometimes run around the yard barking at birds flying overhead, so who knows. Just needs something, anything, to do.