a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: September 2005

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tika Laundry List

The training never ends, either. How come, once you get something right, you can't just stop working on it and assume that it'll be correct forever? That's just not right? Here are some things that are proving to be issues that I need to work on:
  • Dogwalk down contact: On virtually every dogwalk this weekend, Tika stopped completely or slowed to a crawl 2/3 of the way down the down-ramp. Why? We never trained like that? A few months ago she was one of the few dogs in class that you could send from behind and who would still press on quickly to the bottom of the ramp without me running beside her. Where did this come from? I haven't had my dogwalk set up in my back yard since a week or two before The Wedding, so it's been 2 months, but, jeez, lots of people don't have dogwalks in their back yards and get practice only in weekly classes. What have I done that's weird?
  • Dropped bars: Actually this was a very good weekend. She dropped no bars for 8 runs in a row, and then on the final Jumpers course, she dropped 2 (hardly any dogs went clean on this course, but our path through the course was actually smooth and fast until I went offcourse somehow right near the end). But bars have been a constant bugaboo, and we just need to keep working on them.
  • Up contacts, particularly dogwalk but also teeter: We had a problem with these early on, then it seemed to slack off, now it has become an almost constant problem. That was our only fault in the Grand Prix on Saturday, for example.
  • Table approach: In the only two occurrences of a table on course this weekend, they were both after a contact obstacle (one Aframe, one Dogwalk) and in both cases she spun back to me right before the table, wuffed, and spun back to get onto the table. On Saturday, that was our only fault in our Standard run, on an extremely difficult course where most dogs were going off course. We got through all of the difficult parts, AND kept all of our bars up, AND didn't get called on any up contacts. Of all the stupid things to lose a Q for! She has done this once before sometime earlier this year--I don't remember which trial. But it's now officially a problem.
  • Getting out ahead of her on contacts: We've had trouble with this in class, where I need to leave her on the contact and take a couple of long strides ahead of her to avoid a very tempting off-course. I keep thinking I'm doing it, and our instructor keeps pointing out that I'm still practically on top of the contact when I release her. In other words, my timing and my awareness of my body's position is just not good in this situation. I was very conscious of this in Sunday's Snooker course, yet once again I thought I was out ahead of her but she managed to pull around in front of me to take the offcourse. Back to the drawing board...
  • Start-line stays: Eternal vigilance required. In at least one class this weekend, when I did a very long, almost 3-obstacle, lead-out, she took off when I raised my arm instead of waiting for my verbal release, and I let her run. But I worked hard on all other runs to be sure that I worked her (extra good girls, moving deliberately with verbal reinforcement--hard to explain, but she was good).
  • Popping out of weaves: I've worked SO hard at her weave entrances and also (thought) I'd worked hard at her staying in them until they were completed, but at 2 of the last 3 trials, she's popped out early when I barely twitched in an unusual manner. Some of it could be that we've been practicing with only 6 poles in the yard, rather than 12, most of the time this summer; part could be that I never did work a lot on distraction training (so what if I suddenly turn my shoulders when she's almost at the end--she shouldn't pop out!). We just started doing a lot more of that over the last couple of weeks, and I set up the 12 poles again, but clearly we need to do more.

Weekend Results

Tika had one of her best USDAA weekends this weekend. In fact, she ran beautifully and we seemed to be very much in sync, so that we got through several very difficult courses without an off course or even a misstep on any of the difficult parts that were knocking a lot of excellent dogs out of the competition. We do have some things to work on, however—I'll post a separate laundry list.

First, the statistics: Tika Qualified in 3 of 9 runs, for a 33% Q rate—all on Saturday, dang; thought it was going to be a GREAT weekend, but Sunday wasn't quite as successful. Still, it's definitely one of our best USDAA Masters-level weekends. For comparison, here's a list of USDAA trials since Tika made it to Masters in all classes:
Labor Day '044 of 11 36% (like Jake, her first all-Masters weekend is her best, and then we go downhill for a lonnng time--)
Sept '04 Woodland1 of 7 14%
Oct Madera1 of 8 13%
Jan '05 Santa Rosa 0 of 6 0%
Feb Turlock2 of 10 20%
Feb Prunedale1 of 7 14%
Apr Dixon3 of 12 25%
Apr Sunnyvale3 of 9 33%
Aug Prunedale2 of 10 20%
Labor Day1 of 10 10%

The best part was that Tika finally earned a Masters Jumpers leg! And it was on one of those very difficult courses that knocked out a lot of dogs, AND she placed 4th! This completes our Master Agility Dog title (MAD), which is a very big thing. A friend took a couple of us out to dinner Saturday night to celebrate, which doesn't happen for just any title. Actually, it was a surprise treat: We were really just going out to dinner to be sociable, and then she announced that she was treating us in celebration. It's nice to have friends.

In addition, she Qed in the Grand Prix, but we missed the up on the dogwalk again, dropping us to 8th place and they gave fancy ribbons down only to 6th place, so once again we didn't get a pretty placement ribbon for GP. But it was a beautiful, smooth run that I was proud of.

She ran completely clean in the Pairs Relay; once again, our partner had a bobble for a 5-point fault, but this time we were both plenty fast enough to earn a Q, but not a placement.

So in the next 3 weekends of USDAA competition:
  • A Standard Q earns our Standard Master title
  • A Relay Q earns our Relay Master title
  • We still need 2 Snooker SuperQs, 4 Jumpers, and 4 gamblers (in addition to preceding) for our ADCH. At this rate—one each per year!?—it'll be a very long time!
  • Two grand Prix Qs earns us the right to compete in the GP at the 2006 Nationals
  • One Steeplechase Q earns us the right to compete in the Steeplechase at the 2006 Nationals
The competition never ends!

Oh—runs we DIDN'T qualify?
  • Saturday Standard: Table refusal (see Laundry List) but otherwise beautifully done.
  • Saturday Snooker: Very stupid mom. (Set her up for the wrong first obstacle.)
  • Sunday Standard: Up contact on dogwalk and table refusal. Only 6 of 64 dogs Qed, and we were one of the few who managed to get through it without an offcourse. And then lost it on these stupid things!
  • Sunday Snooker: My wrong position after contact (see laundry list) for an offcourse.
  • Sunday Jumpers: 2 bars followed by an offcourse.
  • Sunday Gamblers: An extraordinarily difficult gamble. Only 6 of 67 dogs got it—and among them, only 4 handlers. Also Tika scootched over the start line, wasting time, and popped out of the weaves in the opening, losing 7 points.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Off To Another Agility Trial

We're off to Turlock for the weekend. Carpooling with a friend and our five dogs. Makes the minivan mighty cozy, but oh! so much better than driving by myself at 4:30 in the morning, in the dark and the tule fog, barely awake. Now we can both be barely awake together. Fortunately her two dogs put together aren't even as big as Jake's head. Or, OK, maybe a little bigger than his head.

Here's what we're doing this weekend:

  • Two jumpers runs, one each day--last thing of the day, of course, so he gets to sit and wait all day. Poor little guy.


  • Two Standards: If we get even one of them, that will give us our Standard Master title, which would be very cool.

  • Two Snookers: If we could Super-Q in both, that would give us our Snooker Master title, which would be VERY cool. But there will be only 3 Super-Qs out of 18 dogs competing, and we've had a history of either knocking a key bar on the last obstacle that we need for the super-Q or mom does something totally stupid like I did the other weekend at SMART that I'm still kicking myself for.

  • Two Jumpers: If we could get even one of them, that would be our MAD (Master Agility Dog) title, which would be extremely cool. It would be our first master Jumpers leg after 2 (?) years of trying. Argh. Maybe only 1 year. A long time anyway.

  • One pairs relay: No title possible here, as we need 2 more legs. We've had a history of either us or our partner going offcourse. Hate when that happens. But the nice thing is that other faults don't matter much because it's time plus faults scoring, so if you're fast, you can make up for a knocked bar. (Unlike in Standard and Jumpers.)

  • One gamblers: Always nice to get these. I'm a lonnng way from earning a title here.

  • One Grand Prix qualifier for THIS year's nationals at some ridiculous entry fee. We're already qualified. I just thought that (a) maybe we could finally repeat our success of her first USDAA trial ever, where she actually earned a GP ribbon, and (b) we need the practice on GP courses before the nationals.

Another random factoid:

Vet says that a dog's 4-month weight is almost always half of what they'll weigh full grown. Boost was about 22 pounds. That would make her as big as Tika when she's done growing, which I was hoping wouldn't happen. We'll see--

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Random Thoughts Continue

  • Boost managed to go two days in a row without peeing in the house! Hooray! I hope it continues. I've been trying to make sure that she's outside at frequent intervals but without making it obvious that I'm ushering her out, and trying to wait for her to pee without giving her the cue words ("hurry up" is what I've used for my dogs), and then praising mightily when she does it on her own. Likewise, when she goes outside without me, I try to watch from inside and then praise, so that she doesn't always connect my presence to the peeing operation (what an honor--to have my presence associated with pottying. Sigh.).

  • I've been second guessing my "retirement" of Jake in November of last year ever since. He was so annoyed with me at the first 3 completely retired trials that I went back to entering him in a run a day. But since that time, he often refuses to play in the back yard, one of the things that I think always kept him fast and limber. He is sometimes really fast in class and at other times, like last night, he just sort of bounces through the course (rather than running flat out) and heads for the gate or the far corners of the yard every time I try to set him up for a run. I dunno. If I had kept him in full agility mode all along, would he be doing better physically and mentally? Or worse? I'll never know--

  • Started hacking at my blackberry bramble the last couple of days. Blackberries grow on year-old canes. These start growing at about the time that the current crop is starting to fruit. So, by the time the fruit is done, sometime in July, there are already longish vines to contend with when trimming out the finished canes. However, this year, there was a wedding in my yard at the end of July and trimming out the blackberries was really low priority. But now I've let it go an extra two months--and the new vines are huge and all intertwined with the old ones. And the jillions of tiny thorns on the vines grab and hold each other and the leaves and my sleeves... This will take pretty much forever to get through. Meanwhile, the dogs, who have learned that there are usually tasty treats to find after mom has been rummaging in the area, keep checking the ground carefully to see whether there are any overlooked blackberries. They occasionally pick something up and munch on it. Not sure what they're finding. Not sure I want to know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Random Things Again

  • We're smack dab in the middle of a hotbed of West Nile Virus. One of only two zip codes in the county that they've felt needed spraying for mosquitos. Twice. I've not really noticed mosquitos in my yard, even though I have a Problem Breeding Pit that I've not found a good way to keep drained. Haven't been bitten by anything. Fortunately, dogs apparently don't get (or even carry?) WNV.

  • Look, boom, now it's autumn. All of a sudden, a string of a couple of weeks where temps never got above the mid-70s, and dropped to the low 50s overnight. It feels cold. It feels like winter. I've gone back to putting my slippers on in the morning to keep my toes warm, and closing all but one window, cracked open just a little, overnight in my bedroom. (With three dog bodies and mine in the room, all windows closed is too much.) It's dark now when I drive up the hill for my 8:15 Wednesday night class. That's where I see the change in daylight the most—for a couple of months during the summer, we get a bit of classtime out in the unlit field before the sun goes down, then move into the lighted areas. Then, suddenly, over maybe a 3-week period, the darkness slams in on us and now there's no time in the unlit field at all.

  • Took Boost to the vet yesterday morning for a little swelling around her stitches. Not squishy; firm. Vet said it's the muscles underneath where they're stitched together, rubbing every time the puppy takes a step, a bit inflamed, but only 1 on a scale of 1 to 10 in seriousness. That's why the dog is supposed to be getting rest. She got an antiinflammatory shot and some antii pills to take for 5 days. Will take her in to get the stitches out early next week.

  • Peeing in the house. Not a day has gone by since she came home last Wednesday that she hasn't peed in the house at least once. (Not sure whether there's been a more-than-once day, though.) I've caught her a couple of times, made distressed noises and hustled her out to the back yard, where she finishes peeing and then gets praised. Has peed for the housemate coming home a couple of times. I don't know what he does when she does that; I think I asked once but I've forgotten (the mind is the second thing to go). Is it a result of the operation? A problem with her body in general? Screwed up potty training? (But what?) And the antii-s, the vet said, will make her drink even more. Oh joy.

  • A couple of days ago, Jake was lying in my office, licking his paws obsessively with boredom. When I finally got up to make him stop, I saw that his paws were covered with blood, as was about an 8-inch circle of carpet. At first I thought it must have been a problem with Boost's stiched area, but when I opened Jake's mouth, it was quite bloody. I couldn't tell what it was. So instead I cleaned up his paws and the carpet, and then looked again. No sign of bleeding anywhere that I could find. Thought maybe he'd bitten his tongue really hard. Then I left for the day. When I came home that evening, again about an 8" circle of blood on the carpet. But nohing since then. I hate mysteries like that.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

She's Back

Boost is doing fine after her surgery. On Wednesday, she was a bit subdued; even when off leash in the yard, she mostly stood or lay in one place, although she watched everything intently. She started to break into runs a couple of times and immediately stopped again, so I'm thinking there was a little bit of pain, but she never showed it otherwise.

She's obviously feeling better today because she's rarin' to go. We shall see what transpires--

I kept her on leash or confined most of the day. However, today will be different, and tomorrow, because I once again have to make the trek to Foster City for a good solid couple of days of work; that's too long a time to leave her crated at the moment, considering that yesterday she drank gallons and gallons of water, and peed about the same quantities every half hour or so. As a result, I need to leave her unconfined, and I can only hope that she won't be too rambunctious while I'm gone.

The housemate comes home around 3, and I'll probably leave here around 10:30, so it won't be a tremendously long time that she'll be unsupervised, but I am ever so slightly concerned about it. Oh, well, what can ya do?

They broke her crate behavior, though! I spent all day yesterday retraining her to sit and wait when I put my hand on the crate latch. Geez, we've been doing that since the day I brought her home, 4 months ago--never, EVER let her out of the crate if she wasn't sitting and waiting for the release. All it took was one day at the vet's and she wouldn't (a) sit (which admittedly was a little uncomfortable for her yesterday, but not undoable) or (b) wait! Amazing how quickly behaviors can be changed. She's almost back to normal behavior this morning, though, so it wasn't too awful.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

So far so good

Backfill for Tuesday at 4:30:The vet told me this morning that, if I didn't hear from him, everything was fine, but that I could call around 4:30 for a status. So I called at 4:30. He says everything went fine. They trimmed her toenails a little, checked her kidney function (perfect), she was awake and sort of up and moving around and they had moved her into one of the larger outdoor pens for a little while.

I miss my puppy babydog.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


And so, while trying not to think about anesthesia, my mind wanders:

Why do manufacturers insist on putting little tiny satin bows on women's underwear? [1] As one who is about as likely to own, let alone wear, anything with bows or satin as the Pope is likely to poop in the woods, this raises my blood pressure more than you can imagine each time I bring home a new supply of undergarments. Do they think that perhaps it distinguishes men's underwear from women's? As in some Joe, Dick, or Harry picking up a bra and thinking, "Huh, this bra doesn't have a little satin bow on it—perhaps it's my bra rather than Veronica's? Gee, I'll have to see whether it's my size..."

Or do they think that women aren't smart enough to determine whether clothing is underwear rather than outerwear without the little satin bow? Who knows, perhaps if that bow were suddenly made illegal, there would be a pathetic profusion of women wearing their bikinis and undershirts to the office, baffled as to why their fashion is berated?

What's even worse is how thoroughly attached those little bows are. Underwear can be a shoddy thing, even when one pays a nonshoddy price: The elastic breaks, or comes loose; the seams pop open; the fabric tears in just the wrong spot; but, when the garment is so old and frayed and threadbare that it's barely useful as a rag, by Gods, that little satin bow is still attached. I've spent countless hours cursing and fuming, trying to remove those tiny irritants from new purchases. I don't know why it bothers me so much, but it does; I can feel that little satin bow's presence through three layers of clothes like a malevolent spirit, trying to seduce me to the dark side of satin-fabricked, ribbon-bedecked feminine frippery.

But that's not exactly why I called you all here. I really wanted to talk about dog collars. Time was, when you wanted a collar for your dog, you went down to the five and dime (remember five and dimes?), bought a strip of brown leather with a buckle and a loop, put it around your dog's neck, and forgot about it until it eventually got so encrusted with mud and last year's fur that it couldn't be saved with even the most enthused scrubbing, and then you kept using it anyway because, after all, it's just a dog collar.

NOW you can go down to the dog store and there are dozens of styles and hundreds of colors. I've always tried to get nylon collars in gorgeous colors that (a) I like and (b) complement my dog's colors. Or, if there's enough (a), who cares about (b), really, it's just a dog collar and they're not looking in a mirror any time soon. Besides, the fur of half my dogs has been long enough that it completely hides the collar anyway and the only time I see it is when I take it off.

However, when you can see it, the color fades so rapidly that you might as well have just gotten a plain leather collar; it would look better even in its coat of felted dog fur after a couple of years. Besides, I'm not really a solid-color kind of person; you could tell that if you examined the sheets in my linen closet. I like patterns, the more intricate, the better. But, and here's where I prove that I really don't ramble quite as far afield as you might think, why do manufacturers think that dog collars can only have stereotypical dog designs? If I see another collar with bones or little puppies on it, I think I'll bark.

Do they think that dogs won't wear a collar if it doesn't have little bones on it? Omigod, they'll think, that collar has mice on it—obviously it's a cat collar and my mom has gone crazy and I refuse to wear that thing! For that matter, why don't they have pictures of cats on dog collars? If they're trying to appeal to the dogs' hobbies and extracirricular activities, I can't think of anything that Tika, for example, is more thrilled about than seeing a cat or two outside the window.

How about fresh fruit? Jake used to walk an extra mile for a banana. He once broke into Jim's gym bag to get at one. But do you ever see dog collars with bananas? No, it's little white bones. And think about it, it's not the little white bones that dogs really like anyway; it's the big malshaped juicy brownish ones with tendrils of flesh still attached. You don't see that on dog collars.

Oh, sometimes you can find collars with pictures of a specific dog breed instead of little wussy bones.[2] But you know that there are probably 700 or more breeds of dogs that at least SOMEONE can identify as a breed out there in the world—so, really do you think you can find a collar with, say, Mudhol Hound pictures? And what if you have a Remington or Amber or Jake or Tika, who really don't look like any of those 700 dang breeds, much to one's dismay?

There are also really gorgeous sparkly dog collars, covered with rhinestones—as long as your dog doesn't weigh more than 10 and a half pounds. You don't think Tika would love to wear one of those as she throws herself at the window trying to get the cat's attention?

I say, let's see more little satin bows on those dog collars! And marching rows of tiny white bones on women's underwear! The world would be a better place.

It's Done a Million Times a Day

It's done a million times a day, but it's different when it's your puppy. This morning I dropped Boost off at the vet's to be spayed. The operation will be done around noon and I'm supposed to call around 4:30, when she should be reasonably woken up, to check how things went.

One of the benefits of being so immersed in the World Of Dogs is that I get tremendous amounts of information about dog training, behavior, feeding, health, activities, genetics...you name it. One of the disadvantages is that I get enough information sometimes to be frightening. I've heard so many stories in recent years about dogs who do badly under anesthesia, and particularly about performance dogs. So the stories say that it has to do with the type of anesthesia, or the overuse of anesthesia, or the "pre-anesthesia" that the dogs get before they go into the operating room, or the quantity (or lack) of body fat, or the breed of the dog, or who knows what.

We had a big email discussion two weeks ago on this topic among my dog-agility club members—about 170 well-educated, dog-experienced, worldly, knowledgeable people. And what it came down to was that everyone had a horror story about themselves or about someone they could specifically identify by name (including someone who uses my same vet), and could identify trends that many people seem to be aware of, but no one could cite published articles or specific recommendations by vets (although some apparently avoid certain anasthesias but not for any well-researched reasons).

One lady runs a blood bank for dogs—the only one in CA, one of the few in the country (and one that contributed to Remington's well-being during his last months whenever he needed transfusions); they won't use Border Collies at all as donors because of problems they've had with the breed. I meant to grill her this weekend for details, as she was my partner for Team Relay, but I just didn't even think of it at the right time all weekend.

I asked so many more questions of my vet this time around than I ever did with my first puppy, back in 1978. We had quite a long discussion about "old wives' anesthesia tales" and about modern techniques for administering anesthesia and so on. And yet, when I walked out of the vet's office this morning after leaving Boost there, I was shaking and on the verge of tears.

I don't know how much of my concern is the "little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing" syndrome, and how much is the German Shepherd who lived across the street from us when I was in about 3rd grade who died while being spayed. Of course that was (gasp) almost 40 years ago, which probably put it in the stone age of dog medical care, but that has remained such a sharp and frightening memory all these years. Still, I don't remember feeling this way when Amber was spayed (ack—yes—over 25 years ago?!).

One of my club members commented to me this weekend that she's a vet tech and has helped put hundreds or thousands of dogs under anesthesia and never thinks twice about it and things work out fine—but, when it's her dog, it scares the heck out of her. So I'm not alone...