a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: January 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tika's Day

We continued our usual vein of one-dagblanged-fault-per-run runs in most cases, although Tika ran fast and paid attention and was a very good girl all weekend in the ring. Even stayed put at the start line, although she did lie down before one run instead of remaining sitting. (I keep thinking I'm going to start just putting her in a down, but then change my mind.)

In Gamblers, I thought I had a pretty good opening, but we had some wide turns, knocked a bar, missed a tunnel entrance and farkled around to get away from there, wasted time doing half a set of weave poles before the whistle blew, so we ended up with I think 28 points in the opening instead of what I thought might have been 39 if we'd been smoother (but still, we needed only 18 minimum, so that was fine). And she did the first 3 obstacles in the gamble itself beautifully. It was onto a teeter parallel to the line, then forward and to the right over a jump about 10 feet away, and back to the right over a tunnel about 15-20 feet away (parallel to the teeter but heading in opposite direction). Watched a lot of people get refusals from the teeter to the jump, but she did it completely smoothly and full speed and dove right into the tunnel.

But we lost it on the last obstacle; out of the tunnel the dog had to veer towards the left and take a jump going away from you, but there was a trap jump straight ahead and I didn't even make a dent in her forward trajectory. Sigh. Not a lot of people got that gamble.

Also, she was stopping at the bottom of the Aframe all the way on the ground rather than two feet on and two off.

Then on to Standard (with the pre-weave-pole bobble I mentioned earlier, but for which we weren't penalized), which was otherwise fast and nice (not mentioning the stop-OFF-the-Aframe again), but we got called for that pesky up contact on the dogwalk again. Crud.

Next came Jumpers, and true to form, she was fast (3rd fastest of all dogs her height, which in USDAA is danged good) and we really had no handling bobbles at all that I remember but she knocked that one bar that she seems obliged to knock in every jumpers run.

Then came Snooker. So Snooker is hard for us in USDAA because Tika is my dog who should easily be getting Super-Qs (top 15% of dogs competing) but I get so stressed about it if I sit and watch that I then blow it when I go into the ring. Once again, for the umpteenth time in a row (I was going to look this up), we were dead last in the 26" jump height, which normally would be an advantage because you COULD watch and see what the minimum was that you needed to do to get the Super-Q. But since I psych myself out, I puttered around trying to do other stuff.

And this was an interesting course, because it was tight with plenty of wraps required to be able to do three 7s in the opening, and the closing was short but had a challenging box of jumps and weaves to get through to completion. Because of all the changes of direction, I wasn't sure that we could easily make time, even assuming that we didn't make any handling mistakes, so I had also walked a 7-7-5 opening just in case. But then of course I wanted to know whether anyone else was making the 7-7-7 opening.

It turns out that people were. Not a lot, but just enough to make it impossible to go for the 7-7-5 and still hope for a Super-Q. Indeed, there were twenty 26" dogs, so there'd be exactly 3 Super-Qs, and by the time we ran, exactly 3 26" dogs had made it through the course with 7-7-7 in the opening. I tried to be calm about it, because in fact Tika usually handles well on a tight course (I have more trouble on a wide-open course where she really gets hauling). I made sure she was plenty far back from the start line so that, if she did skootch, she wouldn't be over the line sucking up the clock time.

The I led out, took a breath, and released her. And she was on and ready to go! I had planned some definitely advanced wraps and threadles and crosses for what I thought was the optimal line for her to get the correct set of obstacles and not knock any bars. She didn't let me down, although the Panic Monster was creeping in on me: About three times during the opening, I started to make a turn and the brain froze about where I was supposed to be going and Tika started to veer in the wrong direction, but I caught myself each time and she responded flawlessly and then we were through the 7-7-7 opening and into the closing.

Because she'd been leaving the Aframe early, and the #4 was an Aframe, I worked the down contact and made her hold it--without really thinking about it, and then started cursing myself because, to beat the other dogs with three 7s, I had to have a better time, and so then I forgot to try to get in the front cross that I needed to make it through that tight box at #6 and almost lost her twice, but managed to steer her through, and then we were out the last weave pole of #7 and the whistle hadn't blown yet and the relief and joy flooded through. We do great Snookers in CPE all the time, where we don't *need* SuperQs (they don't have them there), so I know that we're capable of it, but I just haven't been managing them well in USDAA.

I wasn't sure how we were going to do with our time, considering that the other 3 who had made all 7s were danged good handlers with fast dogs, and we had all those almost-steering-errors and that hold on the Aframe, so I was twitchy for a while, but--oh joy--we not only got the Super-Q, we came in 2nd! In USDAA Masters! This was a fairly small trial, really, but there were still quite a few top-flight dogs competing (as usual), so I'm delighted.

In Pairs Relay, we knocked a bar on a serpentine--I think I started pushing and saying Out for the next jump before she was over that one--but with our partner's clean run and both dogs fast, and with Pairs always scored time-plus-faults, we were able to Q, although not place.

A decent enough day with a couple of ribbons to take home anyway.

Jake's Last USDAA

Or--at least--that's what I'm claiming again (tried this at the 2004 Nationals but then brought him out of retirement back into semi-pro again). He ran Jumpers fairly smoothly but not superfast. I thought he was looking at me more than he should've had to for direction, but in this case I think I was just late or unclear or who knows what. But we had no bobbles, were under time, and earned a Q and a fourth place in Performance (like Veterans) 16". He just looks sometimes, like this time, as if he's working to get over those jumps.

Then for his very last USDAA run, we teamed with our little black dog (LBR) friend Scully the Princess for Babar Pairs. (Because USDAA didn't make the relay a qualifying event for Performance dogs, our club invented Babar Pairs, making a pun on the Barbour Pairs competition in England with a popular little French Bulldog from our club, Babar.) We both ran clean, again not superfast, but placed third of I think 6 pairs.

So he went out in style.

I was working on not crying before his pairs run. I really do just want him to keep going, but it's so iffy.

About Photos

The world-famous dogwalk-in-a-tree. Also, while the upper part of this apple tree is bulging buds for springtime flowering (in January! Don't you love California?), this one lower sprout has just realized that it missed autumn completely.
The Boost at one year minus one day. Our birthday is tomorrow.

I've been wondering why all my digital photos lately have come out with this weird glowing fuzzy washed-out appearance in the middle lately. Thought my really pricey cheap digital snapshot camera was dying already. Occurred to me just now to look at the lens (duh--you new to cameras?) and--oh my--it explains a lot. I cleaned it (gasp, with a tissue, too lazy to go get the camera bag with the lens cloth) and I'll see what some photos look like tomorrow. Hey--it's a *digital* camera, it's not supposed to *need* any attention! Right?

Meanwhile, I was kicking myself, AGAIN, for not bringing home any photos from my agility Saturday up in Santa Rosa. I could've taken a photo of the covered arena at the fairgrounds. Or of that weave pole entry in the Masters Standard course that were hard to begin with, but were set right in front of a pole-and-wire fence, which was right in front of a building with a lot of vertical structural lines. Tika didn't miss the entry, but that's because I think in retrospect that she didn't see them at all, so after the preceding jump she turned immediately towards me (so it wasn't a refusal), and by the time I got her turned around in the right direction again, she was lined up with a clear view.

Wanted to take a picture of Boost's sister, Bette, who looks so much like her. Lots of things I could've snapped. But do I ever think of it during the day at the trial? Nooooo...

So for the momentyou'll have to be satisfied with photos of mulch and other random things that would hold still long enough to photograph. I'll try to do better this coming weekend at the VAST trial in Turlock.

The Freshly Remulched Back 40

The freshly remulched back 40.
A yard of woodchips is a joy forever--or at least for another couple of years til I have to do this again.

A bevvy of friends arrived from Parts Beyond and moved my mulch into my back yard Sunday, even though it took more than twice as long as the hour I had estimated. Then we all had pizza and then I took most of them out to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. We must be growing up--no one ordered a banana split or a sundae or anything at all like that; it was all single scoops of just ice cream! Someone wanted to order a Zoo, but we reminded him that was Farrell's (remember Farrell's?), not BR.

Anyway, thanks ever so much, Linda, Linda and Paul, Earl and Barbara, Jim, Jim, Ron, and Loren and kids.

Friday, January 27, 2006

USDAA Nationals in Arizona Again

This just in:

USDAA has announced that the USDAA Nationals will be at WestWorld in Scottsdale again this fall. The dates are 1-5 November.

Tika has already qualified in the Grand Prix, but missed our one chance so far in the Steeplechase. Bay Team is hosting a Team qualifier at our March USDAA trial--guess I'd better get my act together in finding a team.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Ghost of Hemangiosarcoma

Really, I'm going to bed any time now. Earlier today (noon PST, to be exact), I was going to post something, but got this message:

Go figure. We seem to be back now, whatever time they think it is.

So—hemangiosarcoma. That was Remington's fatality. I'm thinking about it again because my housemate asked me (in response to something I said) about missing Remington, and the tears just came, even three years later. Then earlier today I got another random email from my web site's info about hemangiosarcoma, someone else's dog diagnosed and agonizing over what to do. Then later today, my friend whose dog went through hemangiosarcoma at the same time that Remington did wrote to me, not about that, but it was already on my mind. Then this evening, another editor on Wikipedia it turns out lost a dog not long ago, very abruptly, to the killer ("What happened to Sophie Marie").

Anyway, I started thinking about all those dogs out there and all their owners in shock, despair, and grief. And out of all of this, one tiny thing for me, that with all of Remington's information posted on the web, I get email after email from people, like me, bursting with the agony of their own story, wanting to share it, wanting confirmation that they're doing the right thing, whatever that thing might be, and finding some small comfort in Remington's story or some small tidbit of information to help them come to a decision they're comfortable with, or finding another voice in the wilderness who has gone through the same thing that they're enduring or have endured. My thoughts go out to all of them, and although I don't intend to provide a depressing experience, I do want to share some of those people who have reached out to Remington in their times of need or contemplation:
  • Feb 25, 2003: Tess, agility dog, 10; sudden illness, tumor on heart, put to sleep the same day.

  • March 1, 2003: Black Lab, 9 1/2, tumor on spleen diagnosed 2 months ago, gradually getting worse and worse.

  • March 3, 2003: Sydney, breed not specified, tumor removed from elbow, wondering what to do next.

  • March 17, 2003: Maggie, 9; ill, just deciding to try chemo even though prognosis is poor. March 31, Maggie not tolerating chemo well, tumor as large as the heart itself, thinking the end is close.

  • April 7, 2003: Alex, sheltie, 12; sudden coughing fits, tumor on heart, decided not to treat and wait for the right time.

  • May 9, 2003: Cedar, 11, and Zack, 10, golden retrievers, one died last month after 4 months on chemo, one 6 years ago 2 weeks after diagnosis.

  • July 1, 2003: Stacy, cocker spaniel, 13; kidney removed with h. tumor; struggling with what to do next.

  • Sept. 20, 2003: Kai, Boykin spaniel, large tumor on spleen, waiting for surgery and final diagnosis.

  • Jan 15, 2004: Puppy, Lab mix, 8 yrs old, sudden drastic illness, ruptured spleen tumor, put to sleep the same day.

  • Feb 28, 2004: Jose, Bichon, 15; subcutaneous h. removed; waiting for further test results.

  • Jan 11, 2005: Chamois, Golden Retriever, 11; whole story very similar to Rem's and just lost him a month ago.

  • Jan 20, 2005: Sunshine, Golden Retriever, older than 9; just found huge tumor on heart, nearest vet 3 hours away; diagnosis not confirmed h. but indications all match, agonizing over what to do next. Feb 7, decided not to treat, dog passed away at home.

  • April 7, 2005: Spencer, German Shep/Dobie mix, just diagnosed; shocked and looking for information

  • June 7, 2005: Max, Labrador; diagnosed Friday after sudden seizures; put to sleep Monday after reading Rem's site and reassured that being with him at the end was the right thing.

  • June 19, 2005: Sadie Rottweiler/Akita mix, 12; mass on spleen, putting to sleep tomorrow.

  • June 19, 2005: Buddy, Terrier, 14; healthy one day and then sick the next; just had splenectomy but not doing chemo. July 27, seemed to have recovered fine, then suddenly very ill and just had him put to sleep.

  • Aug 9, 2005: Akira, 8, just diagnosed but no symptoms; have decided to let him live it out without surgery or chemo, looking for info that'll help determine when the time has come.

  • Aug 12, 2005: Eddy, female yellow lab, 9; just had splenectomy and starting chemo.

  • Dec 6, 2005: Dog had h. 2 years ago, did surgery & chemo & put to sleep then. After reading Rem's site, reassured that she had done the right thing.

  • Jan. 26, 2006: 10-yr-old, sudden illness, surgery which found tumor on kidney, agonizing over what to do.

All these dogs, so loved. And, as always, all I can think to say is that the fact that they were so loved speaks well of the lives they had. There are so many other dogs out there whose people don't care, or wouldn't notice--or who don't have people. How lucky they all were to live in a place where they were cared for and spoiled in their last days and given a peacful ending with ones they loved.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

But Speaking of Agility (Were We?)

Agility season is really starting up, although I'm trying so hard to cut back from last year's 20 weekends because (a) I need time for a regular life, (b) I need time to do billable work to pay for my regular life AND for agility, and (c) uh--maybe there's no c.

I was going to be all ready to go after the month of December and most of January off (except for that one CPE trial at the beginning of the month), but have I worked on anything significant? Noooo...


We're doing a one-day Masters-only USDAA trial this Saturday, and I'm claiming that this is the last trial I'll enter him jumping 16". He just works too hard at it. This means no more USDAA for him. I can't begin to express how many minds I have mixed about this. But at 14 he's the oldest dog in the area competing, and that lower back (hmmm, on a dog, is it *lower*? His backer back?) is just not what it used to be.

I stopped doing regular agility classes with him this month, for good, I guess. It's going to be very weird not having regular practices with him and still doing CPE trials (1 or 2 runs a day at 12"--he could probably do more but I just don't want to push it). I vowed that that meant I would just tie up Tika and Boost for at least 15 minutes at least twice a week to work with Jake in the yard, but I've done that only once or twice all month.

Of course I've known forever how badly his dogwalk contacts were trained; they've been a bugaboo since I got him 8 years ago (really that long?! Wow...). But with Tika's weave poles being so excellent (yes, I trained them myself, thank yew), I see how awful his weave entries are, and he misses more and more of them because I'm starting to *expect* him to do as well as Tika does, but he doesn't, and really with a mostly deaf, 14-year old dog, do I want to work on entries at all except just guided as always?


We need gambling work. Do I practice even my outs with one or 2 obstacles? No. What a lazy mom. We need Susan Salo jump work. Do I lay out the exercises and do them? Almost never. Maybe a couple of times a month. Jeez, why do I think I'm justified in pouting when she knocks bars? OK, I do continue to work on stunning weave pole entries (because it's easy to do) and drive on the teeter and sometimes even on the dogwalk (because they're easy to do), but not a lot on challenging handling things that I know we need to do a zillion times so they're like habits.

The scary thing is she's going to be five in a couple of weeks! This should be the prime of her agility career, and I'm letting it slide! And she's SUCH a good dog, so fast, so driven, really enjoys doing it. Makes me wonder what I'm really going to do with...

My Expensive Dog Boost

If one is going to spend money that one doesn't have on a pricey dog with proven parents, one ought to work hard on that dog's training. Argh. I am just LAZY, really, let's face it. I work on the sit-stay in front of a line of jumps, trying to remember that at least half the time I do *not* release her over the jumps but instead release her behind or to the side or return to her and release to play. But it's so hard when I really want to practice Salo jump chutes!

She is SO fast. She just sails over those jumps and through those tunnels. With a Salo-type setup, she bounce jumps up to about 12 feet (at 8" and 12") but I don't do it often enough to start stretching those distances. And in fact it's been so long since we'd last done them that, this week when I set it up, we had to go back to backchaining and/or forward chaining so that she'd remember to go over the whole line of 5 jumps instead of going around. I tried raising the last bar (at 12( ?) feet) to 16", and it really threw her off her stride, slowed her momentum by about half and put in an extra hop. So I need to figure out how to adjust things to allow her some better success. She got at 16" jump in the middle, at about 9(?) feet, ok.

And we're supposed to be working on target nose touches, which I taught Rem and Tika so easily (Jake wasn't easy, but nothing ever was with him, poor little one-brain-cell dog.), and I'm just not quite getting it with boost. She touches nice and firmly until it's down on the ground, then starts swiping. I'm trying so hard to get my click and treats in the right times & locations. We'll never get to doing contacts at this rate, and she'll be a year old on Tuesday!

I haven't progressed in the 2-by-2 weaves beyond just 2, but that's OK for now, and she's getting better at it--and I'm tryin to always toss the toy so that she has to turn around the pole instead of just going through, and she's doing it more and more.

Differences Among Three Dogs

So there I was, out in the front yard, pitchforking another one of the 13 cartloads of woodchips that I hauled today, when suddenly there was this cute (grown-up) border collie puppy wandering towards me to see what I was up to. I thought I had closed the gate carefully. The puppy said hi when I called her over, then followed me cheerily as I rushed towards the side yard to get to the presumably open gate before Tika could get there.

It was indeed open. And Jake was standing there, not setting a foot outside, waiting for permission like a good boy.

Tika, thank goodness, hadn't figured out yet that the gate was open. She might have waited briefly but, after noticing that I wasn't in range, would have taken off like a missile down the street, legs a-blur, ignoring my entreaties to return.

She did appear as I started mucking with the gate. Turns out that the little string that goes through the fence to lift the latch had somehow become tangled in a dangling fir branch, which kept the latch from closing quite completely even though it had sounded like it when I pulled it to.

So today, for our lessons, Tika and I worked on the eternally challenging Tika-on-a-20-foot-lead partial freedom and recalls and paying attention to me when she came back longer than just to snatch a reward from my hand.

This will never happen, never in a million years. Boost's a year old and she doesn't do that. Jake never did that. Both of them (and the late lamented Remington and Amber) would never take off except maybe after an obvious cat or squirrel, which was scary enough, but they all mostly just hung out to check out the yard, see what I was doing, watch the world go by. Oh, well, there was Sheba, too--there are several reasons I occasionally call Tika "Sheba"--but I blame her behavior on her not-so-distant wolf ancestors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Day 2...Working in the Coal Mines...

Day 1, after maybe 5 cartloads
Day 2, after 25 cart loads yesterday and 5 today and I don't think I'm going to do any more today...
Day 1, no cartloads taken from this end yet
Day 2, what 30 cartloads looks like from the other end. Hmmm, I think I see signs of progress on both ends, but not a whole lot!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Woodchips to End All Woodchips

Woodchips to end all woodchips

The problem with having dogs in the yard is that they (a) have 4 feet each, which (b) they use to tear up the grass and spew any mulch on ungrassy areas off to the four corners of the yard and then (c) proceed to cover all 4 (each dog) with mud from the aforementioned locations.

Two years ago (I think it was 2 years), I paid a ridiculous sum of money to a yard-supply vendor for a dumptruck full of "contractor shred" wood chips. What that meant, apparently, was that you also got thousands of bits of plastic, metal, foam, paper, painted wood, and so on. It took about a hundred faithful friends a couple of hours to haul it around to the back yard, but it caused an immediate and tremendous reduction in the quantity of mud morsels transported into my house.

However, the wood chips, being organic in that woodchippy way, have gradually decayed away, and have gradually mingled with the mud beneath, and even though I've spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks scraping bucketsfull of extra chips from out-of-the-way places, there's just not enough.

So today they took out a couple of trees next door. The sign on the side of the chipper truck said something about free chips. "What do I need to do to get free chips?" I asked the worker next door after climbing onto a bench to peer over the fence. "Just ask," he said, grinning in an encouraging manner. "Hey," said I, "May I have some free wood chips?"

The catch was that I had to take everything in the full truck if I wanted it right then. What I could see looked very woodchippy, not much in the way of leaves and pine needles (which decay much faster and also cause the wood to break down faster and, aesthetically, don't look as good IMHO). So I said OK.

Turns out that the top 1/3 is wonderful, nearly all wood. The next third has a ton of pine needles, some places almost entirely pine needles and no wood. The last third seems to be about a half-and-half mix of leaves and wood chips. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to haul a bunch of it out to the street to be picked up by the free yard-waste pickup rather than putting it in my yard, but that's probably OK for the price I paid.

Today, in 3 separate sessions, I hauled a total of 25 cartloads of chips to the back yard. It hardly made a dent in the pile. (I think the photo shows it after about 5 cartloads have gone.) But the muddy-mulchy part of the yard is starting to look more mulchy and less muddy.

You realize, of course, that if I just had a nice, couch-potatoey kind of companion dog, I wouldn't need to do all this. But nooooo, I had to have *agility* dogs...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why You Should Always Carry A Camera In Your Car

It was raining. It was dreary. I had no dogs with me at the time. I was stuck in traffic. I edged around the turn from soutbound 17 to eastbound 85, and there it was, the most stunning double rainbow I've seen in a very long time. Sadly the 2nd rainbow just doesn't show up that well in the photos. But you get the idea...

It hit me suddenly what an amazing thing a rainbow is, in appearance. The world is not a well-ordered place; clouds, trees, hills, all exhibit randomness in shape and size. Colors are sometimes intense in nature, but only in very small doses (Golden Poppies) or very large, nebulous swaths (sunsets). During a rainstorm, everything's got about the same grayish hue--earth, sky, cars, road. Then, suddenly, like a bolt from another world, there's a slash of perfectly arc-shaped, perfectly tinted color through the sky, and it's not small or vague; it's taller than the tallest mountain, longer than the longest cloud, the colors explode into your eyes, and one begins to wonder at the wonder that man must have felt upon experiencing such a sight, long before we could identify a rational, physical cause for such a phenomena.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Bedtime is a ritualized thing.

First I remove the doggie door from the sliding door (so that I can lock up) and tell the dogs "Time for the last hurry-up," hurry-up being the keyword for pee. And I've been adding the "bedtime!" keyword to distinguish it from just ordinary every-day hurry-up, so that when we're in a strange location, both "time for the last hurry-up" and "bedtime" can give the dogs a strong signal that if they don't do it now, they're going to be holding it for a long time.

This has turned into Tika's signal to get up from whereever she's been snoozing, run out to the far side yard where I can't see her or get to her easily, and start barking furiously. If I had *wanted* to train that behavior, I'd have never figured out how to do it. I'm not quite sure how I did it even so. But there you have it.

Jake often goes out to establish his place on the side of a shrub or, more likely, a piece of agility equipment. Sigh. But more often, he walks to the open sliding door, sticks his nose out, stands there while I hold the door open, and ponders whether it smells like a good time to go out and pee, then waits for me to point out that if he doesn't have to go, he should come back in so I can close the door.

Boost is pretty good (now) about going out, doing what she needs to do, and coming back in. At least I have *one* normal dog. (Now.)

Then I yell at Tika for bothering the neighbors by making all that noise and she comes back around into the house and trots inside.

Diredogs waiting for their mommy to come upstairs to bed. Mommy cursing the cruddy cheap digital camera.
Then they all gather at the stairs while I lock the doors and turn off the lights. When I approach, Tika usually goes up first. Boost usually hangs out near the bottom and watches Jake to see what he's going to do. If she thinks he's not going to notice, she'll follow Tika upstairs, but more often, she waits for him to go first.

Then I follow the lot of them, all draggy, wondering how they have so much energy as to spring up the stairs at this time of night. Sure, they've got 4 legs each instead of two, and the Merle Girls collectively aren't even half my age in dog years, but still. It's late. They might all have been taking a nice nap starting around 9 or 9:30ish, in preparation for a hard night's sleep.

Boost sleeps in a crate in my bedroom. She goes right in there automatically when we all trundle upstairs to bed, and I usually give her a treatie and then I zip up the door. (Well--I zip down, over, and up the door. Why is it that we "zip up" something to close it but don't "zip down" it to open it? A future topic for Word Whirled.)

Tika sleeps at the foot of the left side of the bed. Except that when we first come upstairs, she usually leaps onto my side of the bed, quickly finds a spot right dab smack in the middle of the area that my body is supposed to occupy, and curls up quickly so as to establish her working position. But she watches me with her head slightly up and her ears slightly back, as if to say, "You're not REALLY going to make me move from this lovely spot, I got here first you know, and I'm SUCH an abused dog and I'll probably FREEZE to death if I can't sleep on your down comforter."

If Tika accidentally ends up curling up on her corner of the bed instead, then Jake is right in there on my side of the bed, doing his bed-excavation thing. I've given him a nice large plush cushy glob of fabric in his spot, which is the head of the left side of the bed, but excavating and rearranging that apparently doesn't give as much satisfaction as really shoving his head down into my comforter so as to balance himself so he can dig at it enthusiastically with both front feet. He makes cheerful, industrious noises and snorks as he works at it, then finally stands up to see where I am, wags his tail, pants, waits for me to admire his handiwork, then plunges into it for a nice lie-down.

Occupancy, dog's side of bed: 0. Occupancy, Mom's side of bed: 2.
Sometimes they both manage to end up on my side of the bed. Lately Jake has gotten good at pretending that he is so sound asleep and/or so deaf that he can't even feel me shoving at him and shaking him to get him to move to his side of the bed. But he does, eventually, move, because I insist on it. Tika tries rolling over to expose her soft, white underbelly for a rub because she knows I can't resist. So I give her a rub (yes, I do), and then she moves because I insist on it. It took a while to get there--I remember many many nights the first few months--or even longer--when I had to physically drag her from her chosen spot to her assigned location, before she understood that I always followed through when I told her to "move". Sometimes now I have to escalate to "move your butt!" but it's been a long time since I've had to actually move her.

The other night, dark of the middle of the wee hours, 3:30 in the morning, there was some gentle restlessness on Jake's part of the bed, enough to rouse me from my slumber. It kept up, a little moving around on the bed in a way unlike Jake's normal mid-night motions, which often involve standing up, turning around one, or two, or 18 times, then lying down again with a grunt. And then a little dog nose stuck itself cautiously and curiously into my face and I realized that Boostie was on the bed, wondering what was going on and what she should do about it.

Boostie goes right into her crate like a good sweet little puppy girlie.
I popped on the light to see what was the matter--sure enough, the zipper door was still flipped up on top of the Booster's crate and I had neglected to ever close it. So she had gone about 5 hours before discovering that her door was open and deciding to do something about it. I don't know how she knew that Jake had moved down towards Tika's end of the bed and Tika had moved over towards my side of the bed, so Jake's whole area was free and clear for occupancy. Glad I wasn't woken by Mr. Grumpy Pants spatting and snarling all over a shrieking puppy.

I looked at the time, moaned miserably, turned off the light, and muttered some sort of command at the Puppy like "oh, god, it's 3:30 in the morning, lie down and go to sleep." And she did, and I did, and we all lived happily ever after until the *real* morning when I woke up in daylight, when I remembered one reason why having only 2 dogs on the bed is good: Only 2 hands with which to meet and greet snuggly dogs.

That night Boost went just as happily into her crate as she usually does. I zipped it up. And I chased Tika and Jake off my down comforter and everything was as it should be.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Age in Dog Years

It's a common myth that 7 years in a human life is equivalent to about 1 year in a dog's life. In fact, dogs are essentially teenagers at the age of 1, and their life expectancy—depending on the breed, of course—is about 13.2 years (according to The New Encyclopedia of the Dog, Bruce Fogle, 2000). According to this nifty age calculator, the dog's first year puts them at roughly the age of a 10.5-year-old human, and each additional year after that adds 4 years. So Jake, at 14 (last Nov 1), is in fact the equivalent of a 69-year-old human. Tika, at 5 (next month) is the equivalent of a hyperactive 33-year-old.

I started taking agility classes with Remington when I was 39. It's hard to believe that so many years have passed. 39 seems so young now. I'm about to turn 50, which is far more scary to me than turning 30 or 40 ever were (read: those weren't scary at all, and this is). That would make me 9.25 in dog years. Many people start retiring their dogs after age 7, which was also traditionally the age at which dogs could start entering the Veterans division.

I hope I'm still dashing around the agility course at a goodly speed when I hit 69. Meanwhile, I think I might skip an agility trial or two and celebrate my 50th by visiting Disneyland for its 50th. And they don't allow dogs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Thoughts and Results

Fog Allowance

All I can say is that it's a good thing that I got up 20-30 minutes early to allow for heavy fog. I just didn't realize that it would be in my head instead of covering the road. When I woke and took the dogs out to the yard, a light drizzle slightly dampened my shoulders and hair, and a vague hint of fog gently spread distant lights. We got on the road in good time, right after 4:00, varying windshield wiper speed from intermittent to low.

Passing downtown San Jose in a barely existing fog gave the tops of the taller buildings—all 13 stories or so—an unfinished quality, the lights on their roofs and higher windows dissipating into the air, making it hard to determine whether the buildings really ended. Almost dreamlike, but I was plenty wide awake, as I usually am on the drive out to a trial.

Because the roads were wet, I concentrated particularly on my driving, on the few other vehicles out and about before 5:00 on a Saturday morning, and on the road conditions. I thought about stuff;I usually do; but nothing in particular. At some point, I glanced at the clock, feeling as if I had been on the road rather a long time. Sure enough, it was 4:50. The complete drive is just under 2 hours, and I hadn't yet made the turn from 680 onto 580 east, which is about 40 minutes from home. In fact—where the blankety blanket was I? The road sign for the next exit had an unfamiliar name. The barely visible silhouettes of small mountains hemmed me in on either side. This was definitely NOT my normal route. I had to wait another couple of signs to discover that I had driven all the way to Alamo, a good deal north of the 580 turnoff.

Where had my mind been? How could I have missed an entire 8-lane freeway? I don't know, but I turned back and timed it: It was a 30-mile round-trip detour, taking all of the time I had allotted for fog in the central valley. Fortunately for our heroes, there was no fog in the central valley, we arrived plenty early at the site, and picked a lovely spot inside right near the score table, so I never even set up my canopy for the weekend.

Thank goodness for the fog allowance.

Jake is Retiring...or Is He?

It's that same old question again. It was fairly cool this weekend; not below freezing, but on Sunday cold enough for a few hours that I actually resorted to wearing gloves and occasionally even pulling the hood of my coat up over my head. (Gasp.) Not quite as cold on Saturday. But there were many conversations about the benefits of long underwear and the various materials in which it comes and were currently being worn.

Jake had only one run Saturday, fairly early, a Jumpers run. He seemed quite perkey and bouncy when he came out of his crate, but in fact barely broke into a run. We also had one bobble where I assumed he was heading into the correct tunnel, so yelled cheerfully and turned and ran, pulling him away from it after all. Managed to get him turned around and back in, but even with CPE's generous time allowances, he was over time by a quarter of a second. Fortunately, CPE drops fractional seconds for determining Qualification. What happened, though, is that any faster dogs in his group had faults, so he actually managed a first-place finish. Still, I was thinking that this was starting to show signs of being a Retiring Dog.

On Sunday, he was entered in two classes, Snooker and another Jumpers. He surprised me with his speed and enthusiasm in the ring. He still wasn't old-time-Jakey fast, but pretty darned fast; I was not able to rest on my laurels for those runs. Once again I assumed he was going into a tunnel that he wasn't quite committed to and I pulled him off, but again we made good (after a few fur-raising almost-wrong-end efforts). These were signs of being a Not Retired Yet, You Can't Make Me, Dog. And just as happy as an agility clam before, during, and after.

Ironically, on his very fast runs, the other dogs didn't crap out, so he didn't manage another first place. But he qualified in all 3 of his runs, for a first, second, and third place among 5 dogs in his height and level. Pretty darned good, I'd say.

Tika's Excellent Weekend

Here's the thing. Tika has never had a "perfect" weekend--that is, Qs in every class. Even in CPE, where you can have certain faults and still Q, we always managed to have *two* faults in at least one class, or even (gasp) go offcourse, or miss a gamble, or something. However, now that Tika has earned her C-ATCH, she cannot have any faults and still Q.

So, this weekend, of 8 runs, she had 6 almost flawless runs for Qs, 5 firsts and a second. And the other two--one bar down each, which at Level 5 (which she just moved out of) would have also been Qs! Dang. Is it fair that the better you get, the harder the challenge?
...Oh, wait, yeah I guess it is.

ANYWAY, in her bar-down jumpers course, I overcalled her and pulled her off a jump, then had to get her to spin around to take it and that made it an awkward turn to the next jump, which she knocked. Even so, she was the 2nd-fastest dog of 53 dogs running that same course, and many other dogs who didn't Q did so because they went offcourse on this moderately challenging, twisty course. Incidentally, Jake, who was running danged fast for old Jake, did this same course 5 seconds slower than Tika, and he had NO bobbles where I had to go back and retake a missed obstacle.

In her bar-down standard course, she had a tremendously fast and flowing run on a course that everyone else seemed to be moaning about it being too difficult. It had interesting challenges, but nothing that I didn't feel confident about handling, and indeed she handled like a dream through the hard parts. But she slowed wayyy down on the dogwalk down contact, stopped, stepped, stopped, stepped (dagnabbit it we never had this problem), then as soon as she hit the ground with her front feet, she took off instead of waiting for a release, and I stopped moving, but she was already taking off for the following jump and when she responded to me, she knocked the bar. Cruddybubbles. But it was *such* a nice run otherwise. Only 14 of 59 dogs Qed on this course, but in looking at the scores, quite a few were for offcourses, which we DIDN'T do. Sigh.

The only Q non-first was Snooker. Man, she ran fine. ...In fact, she ran fast and smooth all weekend. She was a joy to be out there with. We completed the maximum possible number of obstacles in 34.90 seconds, which would have been 51 points and a first, BUT she knocked the very last bar, I suspect because I relaxed because we were through it and stopped to call her to the clock-stopping table instead of working the last jump. The closest time to hers of other dogs who got through all the obstacles was 37.4 seconds.

Yes, I like comparing Tika's speed. It's such a pleasure to have a fast dog, even if she's barely up at National caliber. Remington was almost never in the super-fast category; Jake was pretty fast but could never compete against the fast border collies, really. So I wallow in her rapidity, especially in CPE:
  • In Wildcard, she was 5th fastest of 52 dogs (turned into me after the Aframe instead of going straigt, probably wasting 1-2 seconds; she was 18.38, others were at 18.31, 18.30, 18.15, and ...16.89!
  • In Jumpers Saturday, she was 19.05 (Jake on the same course, for 1st place at his height but barely running, was 29.36); fastest time of 46 dogs.
  • Colors, 13.92 seconds; this is a tough one to compare because there are different course options. In this case, there were only 2 options--go right-to-left and take the teeter, or go left-to-right and take the Aframe. We took the teeter because I think she's faster at that than at the Aframe, but we can't really compete against fast dogs with running contacts--namely, 12.67 and 12.34 seconds beat us of 45 dogs.
  • Standard Saturday: This was the bar-down one. Even after that slow dogwalk and coming back towards me after the knocked bar, she was the fastest of 59 dogs on the same course.
  • Standard Round 1 Sunday, a really lovely run but I held her on her contacts slightly and she did the slow-dogwalk-down thing again. Five dogs of 64 beat her time, and it pissed me off because she was running so nicely. Especially after watching Brenn, a border collie belonging to an agility friend, beat us by .7 of a second with a bobble, I just wanted to beat Brenn's time for once. So--
  • Standard round 2 Sunday, I really pumped her up and yelled & hollared on the contacts & she did them all pretty fast, including the dogwalk, and I released her the instant her front feet hit the ground, and we blasted through that course like no one's business with only one wide turn. We got lots of compliments on our run afterwards. And this time only two dogs beat our time--one with running contacts, who beat us by .6 seconds, and dagnabbit Brenn, who had the same wide turn we did, beat us by .22 seconds.

More later...really...probably tomorrow.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Just Busy

I'll have to describe my initial experiences with the Treat'N'Train remote goodie dispenser--good so far--but haven't set fingers to keyboard yet on that score.

We're going to leave at O-dark-hundred tomorrow morning for our first agility trial of the year, and our first since Thanksgiving. Lots of time between then and now to work on all the things that needed working on--right? But nooooo... have hardly touched an agility obstacle. With Boost, just a little bit of sequencing with jumps and tunnels and more 2-pole work in anticipation of weave poling it. With Tika--well, pretty much just a few random weave entries and occasional fast-contact practice on all 3 contact obstacles. With Jake, hmm, nothing really except a tunnel here and there. I think we've had only about 2 classes per dog since Thanksgiving, what with rain and holidays and all.

It's not like they're not exercising. Still get out into the yard once or twice a day and let them chase a toy (or Tika chase Jake chasing a toy or Boost chase Tika chasing a toy) until the tongues are falling out of the mouths. And a little work on recalls and sit stays and such for both Merle Girls.

This weekend is CPE out in Elk Grove. We've gotten email from the hosts that (a) everything was under a foot of water a week ago and it's not all dried out yet, and (b) fog has been denser than 10W oil in January so drive slowly and carefully. So I wonder how long my 2-hour drive is really going to be tomorrow morning? Guess I should plan on leaving at 4 instead of 4:30. Argh. At least the car is gassed up and I even bought ice for the cooler already this evening, so I can just get up, dress, potty the beasts, and go.

This should be a fairly relaxed weekend, since Tika finished her CATCH at that Thanksgiving trial and we're a very very very long way from our CADE. Just collecting hundreds of legs now. And Jake will never get there unless I go back to entering him in everything all the time--nahh, I think he'd still never get there. And Boost is nowhere near ready to compete yet, even if she were 15 months instead of only 11.

So we'll have fun (I hope), see our friends, hang out, run, play, and maybe come home with more ribbons.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Still Here--

Yup yup yup I'm still around, just a bit distracted, I suppose. The annual barely-holiday letter (I finished it on New Year's Day, does that count?) is done; now it's just printing and addressing and stamping and... like that.

Happy 2006, y'all.