a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: May 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

CPE Nationals This Weekend

SUMMARY: We're leaving tomorrow morning for a long weekend of fun in the sun. Both Tika and Jake will be competing.

Well, here it is, that time of year again when we go off to some big event and I try not to choke when it really counts. Have I been concentrating hard on training out our weaknesses? You betcha I haven't!

CPE Nationals was here in Elk Grove 2 years ago and wasn't supposed to be back west coast again for another year, but something happened to their non-west-coast sponsor and here they are. So it'll probably be another 3 years after this before the CPE Nationals again return, and I'm in no hurry to fly or drive great swathes of this great nation for an agility trial that I'm not likely to "win".

There are 3 events each of the 3 days (Fri/Sat/Sun). Tika and Jake are both entered in everything (by default; that was the choice: enter everything or nothing). It's supposed to be up in the low 90s this weekend. A bit warmer than the other weekend when Jake was so happy to run. Today it's only in the upper 70s here and Tika has been lying around panting all day. Actually the weather has been drop-dead gorgeous and my yard looks so nice and I hate to be in here working (well--nominally anyway--really, I was) even with the sliding door wide open and the yard beginning a mere 10 feet from me.

They will be running 3 rings, so one event per ring. I'm not sure whether this will be the grand debut of their brand-new second outdoor ring, but I sure hope so. Two years ago, they ran two rings inside the arena in a space that's usually barely large enough for one ring. You'd never see events in that small space at a USDAA trial. I didn't like it much, but I'll admit that the Full House course was kind of fun because of the small space. In that class, you can take each obstacle up to 2 times for points in your 30-second point-accumulation period. What with the small distance between obstacles and the fact that they had only jumps and tunnels, Tika took everything on the entire course twice with the exception of, I believe, 3 jumps that she took only once, for a very nice high score. But other than that, I don't like those little crowded spaces.

The nice thing about the CPE Nationals is that all the classes are titling classes--that is, you can earn Qualifying scores towards titles just as you can at any run-of-the-mill CPE trial. So here's Tika's updated list of what she needs towards her CPE Agility Team Extraordinaire (C-ATE) title and for an Extr. title in each individual class:
Class extraordinaire  C-ATE
Full House2212+
Jumpers2818+ (do you detect a problem with knocked bars here?)

The "+" is because the CATE requires 3000 points (where each leg is worth from 15-25 points) as listed above plus an additional 2000 points (an average of another 100 legs) in any combination of classes.

Now, what's interesting to note is that it is still possible to Q in Snooker, Jackpot, and Full House at the C level even with knocked bars (depending on which ones are knocked). In Standard, Wildcard, Colors, and Jumpers at the C level you cannot have any bars down--so I'm not sure how we managed to now be ahead of everthing else in Standard when we've had so many bar problems. Of course, jumps make up only about a quarter of the obstacles on a Standard course, compared to most of the obstacles on a Jumpers course.

Two years ago (I think I mentioned recently), Jake was 2nd place C-level dog over the cumulative 3 Standard courses for the weekend. I doubt we'll be anywhere near there this time, considering how consistently he blasts off the dogwalk without bothering to make the contact. And I might pull him if he looks too hot or tired, since I entered the ancient dude only so he'd have something to do for 3 days.

Tika could do it IF ... well, OK, the list is pretty long. One of our "handicaps" is the way that they score for the overall championships. Normally, in Jackpot, Snooker, and Full House, Tika earns more points than almost any other dog competing, and if she's going to keep her bars up, she usually is among the fastest dogs in the other classes. That's good for blue ribbons, which I must admit I enjoy immensely.

But, for the Nationals, "to give all dogs an equal chance at the overall titles", they start by counting ONLY a dog's Qs. This means that Tika, who must run clean (in other words, a near-perfect run) at level C to earn a Q, counts equally with a dog at level 2 or 3 who can have up to 2 different fault types for a total of 10 faults and still earn a Q. Then, in the point-accumulation classes, if multiple dogs Q (which of course they will), they use *time* as a tie-breaker, not points! So, if we go out in Full House, use our full 30 seconds, and score more points than any other dog at the trial, we would get a blue ribbon for that class BUT will place *lower* in the overall standings than a dog who comes out, does the minimum points required for a Q, and leaves the course after 15 seconds (because you're not *required* to continue earning points).

Soooo--if I want to aim for a national championship, I will slow her down in the regular classes to try to avoid having faults so that we can get a Q and forgo pushing our limits to do the best we both possibly can (and possibly forgo blue ribbons), and I will do only a minimal course with little creativity or zest in the point-accumulation rounds in an attempt to have the lowest time (possibly forgoing blue ribbons). But of course if I do that all weekend and then end up missing a Q or two anyway due to knocked bars or whatever, I'll have given up the possibility of winning individual classes for what would prove to be nothing.

I believe someone said that the dogs who have won the national overall awards in the past have *also* been the dogs who've done the best in individual classes, but the *possibility* is there that many dogs who are at the top in the individual classes could be beaten out by many dogs and handlers who never managed to even place in the individual classes.

Wellllllll we shall see what the weekend brings.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Boost Progress

SUMMARY: Boost's training? What training? and lifestyle of the skittery dog.

Once again I don't seem to be progressing very fast with the Booster Baby. So much to do, so little time. Then, on top of it all, Wednesday I woke up with a sore throat and feeling a bit fatigued, so I napped in much of my spare time (and some time that wasn't spare); worse on Thursday, full-fledged obvious cold on Friday and although I got some work done and went out for a while, I didn't have the physical energy to sit up through all of the memorial service I attended that evening and went home early to bed. Saturday and Sunday I was trying to catch up on work *and* get ready for a BBQ here for friends and family, and had to keep sitting down or napping from exhaustion. Fortunately by Monday I was largely better and had more energy than I'd had in about 5 days, so the BBQ went fine.

But all I've really done with Boost during this time is weaving poles--and not very many of those--and a few jumping and tunnel drills. No contact-related work at all since Thursday anyway. And not sure how much I'll get done this week; I have a lot of Work work to cram into 2 days and then I'll be packing and heading off to Elk Grove for the CPE National Championships.

Boost survived the BBQ preparations and BBQ fairly intact, with only a couple of exceptions. First, last week we moved Mr. Alligator from where he's been for the last 4 years around to the other side of the tree, closer to the pond. (He's solid concrete and 4 feet long, so it takes a bit of effort to move him.) Next evening, Boost went ballistic over something horrific in her yard. When I went out to investigate, sure 'nuff, it was Mr. Gator who had her in a tizzy. When I walked over to him talking calmly, she--as usual--followed me with hesitant bravado and then, finally close enough to sniff, decided he was harmless and worth no more attention.

During the BBQ itself, she survived crowds of animated people and even small children (although she spent a little time sitting just inside a tunnel, barely within reach of a young girl who kept trying to train her--but didn't run away, didn't go completely out of reach, didn't react in a hostile manner, in fact she was very good). But when we lit the BBQ itself and smoke started rising, she panicked. She pulled away from me, tail between her legs, and slunk into the house. She didn't come out again, except briefly, until the BBQ was mostly out an hour or more later.

Meanwhile, I had left my bedroom door upstairs open (usually it's closed to prevent the Dog Sleeping And Shedding On My Pillow syndrome) in case any of the dogs wanted to really escape and hide out. I primarily had Jake in mind, since he often does that and since there were actually 4 small children in attendance this weekend. However, Jake stuck it out very well, while Boost availed herself of the retreat. How do we know? Because a 35-lb. Border Collie made an appearance standing on my bedroom windowsill (yes, the whole dog, all 4 feet), which is above my dresser, which is not a piece of furniture on which dogs are typically permitted to climb (I don't think they typically even THINK about climbing on it). She'd watch for a couple of minutes, then disappear, then reappear periodically. Didn't want to be near Mr. Evil BBQ, but wanted to know what was going on. It was cute because, fortunately, I had nothing particularly fragile or dog-hostile on my dresser or windowsill and because she didn't manage to break through the 2nd-story window and plummet to the patio, for which I was immensely grateful.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Goat's Head or Puncture Vine

SUMMARY: In which Ellen muses about how she encountered the vile thorny weed known to some as "goat's head" and to others as "*#@%&!!".

Someone else's story of thorns in dogs' feet reminded me of how I learned about the malevolent entity known commonly as goat's heat or puncture vine (for those riding bicycles across it).

I learned the common name only about a year ago, when the proprietor of WAG out in Elk Grove was enlisting everyone to keep their eyes down for these monstrosities on his site. But I first became truly aware of them 5 years ago. I was driving back from an agility trial in southern california. It's a long drive for the dogs to be cooped up in the car, especially after being largely in their crates all weekend. At most rest stops, it's safe to have them only on leash because they're too close to traffic and other people. But this particular rest stop had a huge open field, mostly dirt, nothing growing in it but very low, ground-hugging weeds, and it was separate from the landscaped areas of the rest stop, and even better, it was surrounded on 3 sides by chain link fence. So I let my two dogs out, threw both their frisbees full force out into the field, and they took off after them like the blazes. And yet--by the time they had reached maybe 60 or 70 feet out, they had both ground to a halt, in obvious agony, looking as if they were trying to lift all four feet off the ground at the same time. My heart went into my throat and I ran out into the field to the nearest dog to see what was the matter.

Horrific multi-spiked thorns about 3/8" wide were wedged into all the pads of all four feet, and we were surrounded by them, so pulling them out there would do me no good, because the instant the dog's foot would go down, another thorn awaited. So I lifted my 35-pound Jake and carried him all the way across the field to the lawn, where I could pull the thorns from his feet, all the while telling Remington in a soothing voice to Stay where he was (not that he really wanted to move, but he was so obviously miserable). Then I went back out and carried my 55-pound Remington back to the lawn and dethorned him--and of course I had no gloves or any other way to protect my own fingers, so my fingers were miserable as well--and then carefully studied the d*** weeds so that I'd never make that mistake again! I felt terrible!

Since then, I've encountered those sons-of-guns in dry, open, low-growth areas out in the central valley and here in Santa Clara County as well.

For more information on what to look out for:
* Photo of the thorns embedded in a tire (scroll down to the photo)
* Photos of the plants, latin name tribulus terrestris
* More info on the plant's origins

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Last Weekend--Beautiful and Rainy

SUMMARY: In which our heroes and heroines spend the weekend at a CPE trial in Elk Grove, enjoy gorgeouseus weather Saturday, endure record-setting rain Sunday, and Ellen foolishly gives in to a speed-challenge temptation in Colors. Also in which Jake runs 4 runs and Qs 3 times while Tika runs 10 but manages only 6 Qs.

Saturday morning came way too early, as usual, at least according to the alarm, which went off (as instructed) at 3:50. Most of the previous day something had been irritating my innards and it woke me up all (brief) night every time I dozed off. So I was good and ready for a long, tiring day.

Let's Talk About the Weather

The drive out to Elk Grove was lovely, though. With daylight savings time combined with late May sunrise time, only part of the drive was in complete darkness. As I drove over the Altamont Pass, I felt somewhat like Dorothy arriving in Oz: it was night on the Bay side, but cresting the peak and heading into the central valley revealed the glow of approaching morning and the vaguest outlines of hills and mountains beyond. As I drove through the Sacramento River delta area around sunrise, waterfowl rose across or alongside my path from the fields and wetlands all suffused with an amazing golden glow, the remnants of a light Tule mist capturing the early sun's colors. Really beautiful; I don't recall ever seeing such a golden aura to everything for such an extended time. I can't tell the difference among silhouettes of various kinds of geese (graceful, long-necked) or ducks (frantic wing-batting as they fly), even though my field guide to birds shows silhouettes as well as full-color plumage. (Not that I carry my bird guide with me, and of COURSE I'd have never tried looking in it while on the freeway at the break of day.)

We (I and dogs) arrived at Starfleet Arena at Western Agility Group (photos of the facility are on their web site) just early enough to get a decent set-up spot about a third of the way along the outside fence of the outside ring. Enough to give me more than enough walking exercise but not so far that it exhausted me.

I discovered that Boost's brand new dammit soft-crate body has holes dammit in it already from where she throws herself at it in a frenzy when watching other dogs run. And it's been used only one day so far! Crap crap crap. It's because I forgot to cover her once while I was away--or, no, the cover blew off, I think. Anyway, I can't afford to keep replacing those covers, so I decided to leave her in her wire crate. The nice thing about the spot we got that morning was that I could leave Boost and Tika in their crates in the back of the car right next to my canopy. Very convenient!

But, to sleep in my van, they had to come out of the car Saturday evening--at which point I discovered the joys of being able to stack the wire crates, which had two advantages: took up much less room under the canopy (which I was sharing with Arlene) than the regular 2 crates, and I didn't have to bend (crappy back) or kneel (crappy knee) to get to the top dog (Tika, in this case).

So Saturday night I slept onsite in my van and I slept VERY well; it's so nice not to have to drive anywhere at the end of the day, and to get that extra half hour of sleep in the morning. It started to rain just as I was dressing for the morning, so I got to potty the dogs in the liquid sunshine.

We've been enjoying a month of rain-free weather, so naturally on a weekend when I'm doing agility, the weather gods chose to set a new record in rainfall for May 21. This is *May* fer Pete's sake, in *California*! It never rains in California...but girl, don't they warn ya--it pours, man, it pours.

Fortunately, one of the two competition rings was under cover, so we didn't get all that wet. And also fortunately, when we hemmed and hawed Saturday night about whether to bother putting up the rain walls on my canopy (since Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day despite predictions of rain), we decided what the heck, let's do it, so everything was protected and dry when the rain started just as people were arriving Sunday morning.

But it turns out that my old "water-resistant" jacket has apparently decided to do double duty as a sponge and got its assignments mixed up; every drop that hit me absorbed instantly into the first layer, sank through the lining, and went right into my shirt. Time for a little scotchguard, I guess.

I was dreading the drive home with the rain and the end of the weekend (usually lots of traffic with everyone returning to the Bay Area from the Sierras) but in fact it was a very nice drive, almost no backups anywhere, and I was home before dark. Exhausted. Showered and went right to bed without even turning on the computer (gasp!).

OK, Let's Talk Competition

We had fun this weekend but not quite so many ribbons as we sometimes manage at CPE trials. Jake, at 14 1/2, earned qualifying scores in 3 of his 4 runs, and the first run of the weekend we blew only because he decided that he doesn't Stay at the start line any more while I lead out to get into position, and he was so amazingly blazingly fast that I couldn't catch up to make the first turn and so were off course immediately. But the rest of that run was gorgeous and I haven't seen him run that fast on course in a while.

Tika as always blazed around the courses and had a grand time, including grabbing my feet at the end of each run, which always amuses people watching but I'm always listening with half an ear for the judge to call an elimination on us, as a dog biting in the ring is prohibited. Our first two Standard runs of the weekend were lovely--in fact, we were the only ones in our height class to Qualify on the first course--but Tika is suppose to wait at the bottom of the contact zones (the yellow areas on the climbing obstacles) for me to release her, and she wasn't waiting, so I wasted lots of time trying to do an on-course correction without looking like I was correcting her or training in the ring (making her do a Down, for example, but not saying "No!" or anything like that), so our average yards-per-second were way down.

Then on the third run I gave in to competitive temptation. I'm so easy to get going on something like this. Another handler, whose dog is really fast, up just before us, said, "I don't think anyone has broken 12 seconds on this course yet." So we roughly challenged each other, high-fived on feeling the need for speed, and she and her dog went out there and blazed through the course--turns out they made 10.5 seconds but knocked 2 bars in the process. For our personal competition, though, the problem was that this was Colors, which is a "choose path-A or path-B" course, and they ran path A--which had only jumps and open tunnels--and we ran path B, which contained slower obstacles (a chute and a set of weaves). So even though I pushed Tika as hard as I could, we were still over 12 seconds, AND Tika knocked a bar that I think she'd have left up if I hadn't been really driving her hard, which cost us a Q (qualifying score), and then the jinx was on and we didn't Q the next 2 runs or the first run the following morning.

Those 3 runs had a variety of issues. Jumpers Saturday, she didn't even pretend to wait at the start line while I was leading out past the first jump (see? once again it's the jumpers course where she did that! What is it?!), and soared over that jump while I was walking. So I was going to take her off, but as soon as she saw me just shut down and start to walk off, she calmed down immediately and started sniffing the ground. So I just told her to "Sit!" again--and she did!--and so I led out past the next obstacle, and she held her sit, and I released her--and we knocked the second bar. So we had 10 faults for training in the ring (you really can't be making the dog sit and lead out in the middle of a run, and I knew that when I did it, but what can ya do--) and 5 for the bar.

In Jackpot (Gamblers) she was not even pretending to stick her contact obstacles even though I kept trying to wait and be firm about it, so finally I made her lie down on course again and wait, and then when I finally released her, we were headed in the wrong direction when the first gamble whistle blew (actually electronic timer buzzed), so I had to rush weirdly to get into position and then didn't successfully push her up the first obstacle (teeter), and she was so wired at that point that when I spun her around to make another approach, she was just yapping and lunging at my feet, so I spun her around AGAIN, and she just kept yapping and lunging and I spun her around AGAIN and finally managed to get her up the teeter, and she did the whole gamble flawlessly but by then we were 2 seconds over time so didn't get the Q.

In Jumpers the following morning we also dropped a bar and had lots of Tika-turning-back-to-me because I was behind her. All of that, I think, because my crappy knee was really bothering me in the morning and the usual adrenaline rush didn't kick in to allow me to run full out with her. I was a bit worried about the rest of the day, but by our 2nd run the pain and stiffness had receded enough that I didn't have any problems running as usual.

However, our last 4 runs of the weekend (Standard, Snooker, Wildcard, Colors) got better and better, all earning Qs, and finally the last run of the day (Colors) we managed to (a) run the course I meant to run, (b) run together rather than me falling behind or being out of place, (c) keep our bars up, (d) hit our contacts and stick them, and (d) have no bobbles of any kind, and for the first time of the weekend Tika managed to be the fastest of all 70 dogs who ran the same course. For CPE trials, we usually manage more than that; for USDAA trials, I don't know that we're ever the fastest/highest scorer/whatever. Anyway, it was a nice end to the weekend, AND we won a free day's entry in the worker raffle for a future trial, which always helps.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Flooring For Dogs

Kitchen/hallway flooring (click image to enlarge). Mannington Naturals African Slate.
There's useful info currently being posted on The Bay Team forum about what kind of wood or laminate flooring would be best for dogs. I'm sticking my nose in about sheet vinyl flooring; here's a photo of mine.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tika's CPE Titles Count-Down

Well, we'll be off again this weekend for a CPE trial. 5 runs each day for Tika. I've entered Jake in 2 runs a day. We've hardly been practicing at all, Jake and I, but CPE Nationals is only 2 weekends away after this weekend. Last time we went to CPE Nationals, Jake was Reserve (2nd place) highest C-Level dog. Of course--there were hardly any C-Level dogs back then, as Jake was among the first couple in California to make it that high, AND he was two years younger.

So. CPE.

Our next big title will be the CADE (CPE Agility Dog Extraordinaire). On the way there, we could possibly acquire some Extraordinaire titles for individual classes. Here's how many qualifying scores we need:

Class extraordinaireCADE
Full House2212+

The "+" is because the CADE requires 3000 points (where each leg is worth from 15-25 points) as listed above plus an additional 2000 points (an average of another 100 legs) in any combination of classes.

Boostie Stuff

The puppy baby is coming along nicely, but I'm having to relearn all over again how to work with a fast dog who's doesn't yet have the experience that Tika now has of how to work with a handler at full speed. She seems not to have a low speed, which is wonderful. She flies across jumps flat out and hits the ground running. I don't see any sign of hesitation in her jumping, which I'm hoping that my early work with Susan Salo-type jump drills helped forestall. It's frustrating to see a really fast dog, even Border Collies, have the tiniest hitch in their steps before each jump. You wonder how they'd be doing if they didn't have that hesitation.

We actually managed some serpentines successfully one day last week. This week I'm not managing it at all, so I'm backing way up to having very angled jumps.

What I found particularly intriguing was doing the same exercises with Tika: She consistently knocked the middle bar (I think) of the angled "baby serpentine" setup, over and over. I already knew from classes with Rachel that there's a certain jumping distance that falls into her can't-manage zone; I think Rachel paced it off at about 18 feet but this was much less than that. And even more interesting was that, if I straightened the jumps out into a regular serpentine (not angled to make the approaches easier), she tended to NOT knock the bar. More data to work on.

Boost's weaves are getting to be lovely but in class last week she missed the entry a couple of times and skipped poles a couple of times. Just more practice, more more more. And they're getting smoother and smoother. For quite a while she's looked as if she's rather jerking herself around the poles, not quite getting the flow, although she certainly jerks quickly!

Have been working on a very lowered teeter to run to a 2on-2 off position, barely using a target which is bad of me I know but she seems to want to do it. Hope I don't pay later. Have been working on target nose touches, too, but simultaneously. Huh, go to all those seminars and lectures and agility camps and classes and take careful notes and then go do something else anyway. Cuz I'm lazy.

Tika's Fun To Run--But Those Jumpers--

I'm stealing text that I'm emailing to other people and then realizing I really want to say the same thing here. So:

Tika's favorite class has got to be Jumpers, usually, because she can really let go. Still, keeping all the bars up is a challenge for us. We had 19 Novice/Starters Jumpers runs before we got a clean one (5 were offcourses for Elimination, but the rest pretty much bars)--then got 2 in a row the same weekend to complete our AD; we had already moved up to Advanced in everything else. Then for some reason it took us only 2 Advanced jumpers runs to get that clean one to finish our AAD, then on to Masters--where we had another Qless run of 12 Jumpers runs before finally getting our MAD leg on the 13th. She actually got 2 in a row again this spring and I thought we were on a roll--but noooo-- Anyway, by the time we finally started getting those Novice & Advanced legs, the teamwork really had started to gel. And I always have just a blast running her. "Fun" is the word expecially when we get to actually run full out (not a twisty weirdy course, although she can have amazingly high Yards Per Second times even on those).

Last night in class we did revved up contact drills. They involved sending the dog out over a jump straight into a tunnel that made a 90-degree turn, then back towards you over 2 straight jumps, then pull either onto a contact or into a tunnel on the far side of the contact, in the latter case in which you then repeat the whole loop. So Tika got to really cut loose. Man, she was happy and fast! And didn't miss any of our obstacle discrimination calls, either. We both got a good workout on that set.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Agility Dormitory

All of which reminded me of this entertaining email, sent by Margaret English (whom I don't know) back in 1999:

[This] got me thinking about the different doggie maintenance systems you see at different events.

* At pointer trials, the dogs are staked out on chains, usually with no regard to shelter at all.

* At sheepdog trials, the dogs are usually chained to their owners' vehicles. If they want shade, they lie under the truck.

* At retriever trials, the dogs stay in the trucks.

* At obedience trials, the dogs are usually crated somewhere in the shade.

* Same at conformation shows.

* And at agility trials, they have their own tents.

Why So Early?

Why *do* I get up at 4 a.m. for agility trials? First, that's just an approximation; it depends on how far away the trial site is. I seldom venture more than about 2 hours from home any more because there's more than enough within that driving distance.

Second, it's the start time of the trials. Check-in usually starts around 7:00, and although most clubs make it possible now for you to send in your registration card with your entry so you don't have to check in in person, you still want to be there early enough to get copies of the course maps if they're provided. Although many more copies are usually made than there are competitors in the various levels, they all still seem to disappear rapidly. And the first course walk-through usually starts around 7:30.

But lastly, it takes me about an hour on site to get set up and ready to go in the morning. I don't know how I've managed to come to this. I mean, really, an hour?

OK, let's see:
  • Upon arrival, one wanders around the site with a mat under one's arm, looking for an appropriate place to set up. You want to be where you can see some of the action from your set-up; you ideally want to be close to the entrances to the ring(s) in which you'll be competing; you want to be near friends maybe (not that any of you will ever spend any time in your crating area). You don't want to be in a puddle or right next to the portapotties or, if you have a dog who's easily stirred to barkness by the close presence of other dogs, too near a major traffic pattern. You chat with a few people as you pass each other in your quests for an honest spot. You find the spot; you lay out your mat.
  • Now it's hauling all the crap from the car. I have one friend with a corgi who has one small plastic crate in which she can fit her small water bottle (for the dog), small drink cooler, leash, and treats or toys. She carries that in one hand and sometimes a chair in the other, although she's another person who's never at her crating area so she hardly needs one. Me--I have 3 largeish dogs and a regular Barnum and Bailey type arrangement with a big top, bleachers, clown car, the works. It takes me usually 3 trips with a fully loaded dolly.
  • So: Unfold the dolly. Pile up and strap on: The canopy frame. The canopy top, stakes, sides, and sunshades. Bag of clips for the sides and sunshade. Hammer for the stakes. Three mats because not one of them is big enough to cover the entire ground beneath my canopy. Three folding crates. Three crate mats to collect dirt and give the dogs something soft to lie on. Three water buckets . Two gallon bottles of water so I don't have to look for faucets all weekend. A folding chair. A folding table on which to put my breakfast and lunch and drinks. My breakfast (fruit & a breakfast bar usually). A cooler with my drinks and ice for the weekend and a couple of bags of chopped-up dog goodies. A dog-gear bag with some minor first-aid stuff for me and dogs, frisbees, slip leads for competition, whistle and earplugs if I'm the timer, extra special toys for the dogs, sunscreen, timer for timing snooker and gambler courses (and spare batteries), extra poop bags, blah blah. A small bag with the "competition goodies"--the toy we play with before & after going into the ring, a bait bag with a belt clip, a target for practicing nose touches, a clicker. My competition shoes. Spare socks. Sunglasses. Jacket (or 2 for layers if it's cold). Hat. Rags for feet if it's likely to be damp or muddy. Large beach towels usually for covering my chair to protect it or backup mats for crates for emergencies. Sheet for Boost's crate because otherwise she goes nuts thowing herself at the sides when dogs are actively running in the area. Bag with my dogs' history of competition, rule books, info about this trial. Tiny clips for displaying any ribbons we might earn. Bag for safely storing those ribbons on the way home. Pens, highlighters, nametags with photos for dogs' crates. Video camera (which I constantly forget to ask someone to use for filming our runs). Small digital cheapie camera. Sometimes my regular camera bag with lenses if I think I'll have time to experiment with action photography, but not too often.
  • Remove canopy frame from its bag. Add the cover. Unfold the whole thing (takes longer with 1 person than with 2). Raise the legs to the proper height. Stake all 4 legs in place.
  • Spread out the 3 mats to cover the ground beneath the canopy. If it's already sunny and warm, clip up the first shade fabric to the side of the morning sun. If rainy and windy, clip up solid side or 2 or 3.
  • Unfold and assemble the crates. Put the crate mats in the crates. Pour water into the buckets and clip inside the crates. Drape the sheet over Boost's crate and clip in place. Clip nametags with photos to the crates.
  • Unfold the chair. Drape towel over chair. Unfold and assemble the table.
  • Make sure the competition leash and toy and timer and shoes are out and ready to go.
  • Get the dogs out of the car. If it's been a long drive, make sure they've got plenty of time to potty. A bit of frisbee with all of them if they'll play--Tika to warm her up and loosen her muscles, Boost to burn of some energy, Jake to give some exercise and attention. Used to be able to do Jake and Tika at the same time, but now the 3 all have different needs and I do them one at a time if I possibly can, only a couple or few minutes each.
  • Potty me. Pick up course maps. Break out breakfast and drink and take a bite and a sip.
  • Did I get everything done? Sheesh, hope so.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Random Image to Start the Agility Day

For agility competitions, I often roll out of bed at the godless hour of 4 a.m., bleary and grumbling at the alarm, and ease out onto the road in numbing darkness. But then come those magical twenty minutes as the sun eases towards the horizon, and silhouettes of trees and buildings coalesce in absolute silence along the highway. Mountains form around me where before there was empty blackness. It *is* like magic. Details are obscured and everything is so sharply defined, so clear, it looks so clean and pure, and you feel as if you've just watched the world reborn from nothing. It almost makes the early alarm clock worthwhile. Almost. Bleaaaahhhhh---just another 15 minutes of sleep, pleeeeeezzzee? ("I'm doing this for FUN, I'm doing this for FUN, I'm doing this...")

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dogs on a 90-Degree Day

SUMMARY: Unseasonably warm for mid-May in San Jose. Should be mid-70s. But noooo. The dogs hang out.

Tika lounging on the cold tiles with a good view of possible invasion of the agility equipment by squirrel sabateurs.Jake. Asleep. He lies like this a lot and then won't wake up even if I yell and shove him repeatedly with my foot. It's scary. I think, "He's 14 and a half and he just went somewhere else fun and left his body here for me to deal with," and then he wakes up and wants food. I hope my life is this easy when I get to be his age. And that people bring me food.
Boost. Does this look normal to you? (Do you hear strains of The Exorcist jangling in the background?)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

An Exercise in Obstacle Discrimination

Whereas in the real world, discrimination is frowned upon, in agility, obstacle discrimination can be critical on a course where obstacles are placed next to each other or sometimes in a gamble or other distance work where the handler can't be right with the dog to force his path.

As I've been learning lessons for Boost, I've tried some of them out on Tika (and, to a lesser extent, Jake). The results are often intriguing.

Take the basic obstacle discrimination lessons that we started in Boost's class this week. The goal of the exercises are first to ensure that the dog really knows the names of obstacles and secondly that the dog can apply that name to a choice. Nancy has us set up with the dog next to us facing an obstacle. We make sure that our body language is correct--that is, our feet, shoulders, head, are all aimed at the correct obstacle. We then send the dog to the obstacle--this is important--using only the obstacle's name. Not be revving them up and shooting them forward, not by pointing with our arm or stepping forward. Just stand there, calmly, and say the name of the obstacle.

I said with grand confidence that I could send Boost to a tunnel from maybe 30 feet away but probably not to a jump. However, I realized as the lesson went on that I always do it with excitement and motion and multiple body signals.

We started out very close to the obstacle--Boost and I started about 5 feet away, I think, but a couple of people had to be only a foot or two away with their dogs. We then moved away gradually, still with a straight approach to the obstacle. We click as the dog successfully does the obstacle and throw a treat or a toy near the obstacle as the dog completes it.

The reward part was interesting, too. Nancy made the point that you don't want to train the dog to always come back to you after doing every obstacle for a reward, which I knew, but likewise you don't want to always throw it staight out away from you beyond the obstacle, particularly with tunnels, because you also don't want to teach the dog to blast out of tunnels away from you without having some idea of where you are and what you're doing.

For speed of the exercise and of the reward and for the dog's speed, she suggested using a chute barrel for the tunnel obstacle (or a scrunched up short tunnel). We also used lower jumps to get going.

So Boost wasn't quite sure what I was talking about to start with, but she picked up the idea pretty quickly. We started with the tunnel ahead of us and a jump to our left. So Boost sat on my right side (away from the jump so it presumably takes the jump out of the picture), I aimed myself at the tunnel, and sent her with our command, "Through!" Our instructions were to do several repetitions at each obstacle before moving to another obstacle and then do several repetitions there, and so on. That takes away some of the doubt and confusion about what obstacle to do for dogs just learning their discrimination.

Over time, we'll gradually move further and further away, and also move laterally to the left and right, and also move the obstacles closer and closer to each other, and of course work the dog on both sides as much as possible. Eventually, as an example, we should be able to stand 10 feet away from and to the right of a tunnel that also has a jump to its right, with the dog on my right, aim my body at the tunnel, give the "Through" command, and the dog will go past me, past the jump, and into the tunnel.

With Boost, I discovered that as another obstacle simply came into view beyond my body as we moved further and further from the intended obstacle (as in my first set-up, as I moved further back from the tunnel, the jump on my left became visible to her even when she sat on my right), Boost was inclined to take the closer obstacle even though she had to cross my path to do it. Very interesting.

So we tried it at home with Tika. Wow. Like she had no clue at all what I wanted. She'd just sit there. Or take an uncertain step toward the obstacle and stop, or turn back to me. I finally gave her some help with a slight step forward and/or an arm gesture, and she hesitantly did the obstacle. But we had to be very close to the obstacle and she remained slow and unsure about it all. So I have a dog who can send to obstacles and who (appears to) have decent obstacle discrimination skills on course, but apparently she's been relying on my body language more than anything and understands her work only at top speed, not when it slows down.

In fact, it was hard to keep her interested and focused, even though I tried goodies, which she'll usually do almost anything for, and even though I made an extra effort to play tons of tug of war fast & happy after each success. She really just likes to run full out!

So this will be even more interesting as time goes by to see what effect it has on our competition.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sunday A Little Better

SUMMARY: 3 out of 5 runs were Qs

Tika's Title Countdown
(number of legs needed after this weekend for:)
*Tournament Master: 1 DAM
*Tournament Bronze: 2 DAM
*Qualify for '06 nationals in all events: 1 DAM
*Gamblers Master: 1
*Jumpers Master: 2
*Snooker Master: 1 Snooker Super-Q
*Snooker Champion: 1 Snooker Super-Q
*(Pairs) Relay Champion: 1
*ADCH: 1 gamble, 2 jumpers, 1 Snooker Super-Q

Yes, we continued our inexorably slow march towards the ADCH with another Gamblers Q this weekend (placed 5th and they had ribbons only to 4th...this seems to be a trend...) and two other Qs (Pairs Relay and regular Snooker) that didn't do anything for us except put us closer to future possible I-Have-Lots-Of-Legs titles.

Today's Standard run was really nice, no bobbles worth noting except that I did a cross on the wrong side of a jump (where does the brain go?) and ended up not giving her a good line to the teeter, so she missed the up contact (same as last weekend, I believe), for our only fault. Kept all her bars up!

In Gamblers, she did very nicely; hmm, might have knocked the first bar in the opening, but that's just one point that we didn't earn.

In Snooker, dang, for some reason we were back in yesterday's "crap!" mode where we weren't communicating clearly, she spent too much of the run turning back to me and yapping about what a crappy job I was doing of telling her what to do, we missed the weave entry in the opening and had to go back for it, more yapping about one of the jumps, and THEN crap crap we were out of time as we were finishing obstacle #6 in the closing. We needed to get all the way through 7 to have a chance at the Super-Q and even then--well, there were 3 Super-Qs available for the 26" this time, and there were 3 dogs with 51 points. If Tika had made it through 7, she'd have been the 4th dog with 51 and then it would've been a matter of which 3 were faster, so we could still have missed it, who knows. But she kept all her bars up!

Today's Jumpers run felt slow to me, but I think that in this case a slightly calmer dog enabled us to have super-neat, tight turns on a very twisty course, and her time per yard was actually very good, and her overall time was good enough to have beaten the 1st-place 22" dog and to have come in 2nd in 26"...except that we (sighhhhh) knocked a bar.

In Pairs Relay, our partner was a not super speedy but fast-enough and steady, reliable dog. Tika knocked a bar, dang, but our partner was clean and smooth and, between us, we made up for the 5-point fault in having a good time and managed to Q (but not place).

Friday, May 05, 2006

It's Agility Again

SUMMARY: Another USDAA trial this weekend, local (Sunnyvale). Saturday is all DAM team--5 runs adding up to hopefully one Q to finish our Nationals qualifications. Sunday is all titling--5 runs, and I still need the Snooker Super-Q, Gamblers, and Jumpers. Small trial so if I can keep my head, Super-Q is doable.

Hmm, OK, now that I'm experimenting with adding a summary to my (sometimes) long posts--not sure how much more there is to say about this one. Weather should be nice, not too hot, not rainy (yayyyyyy!). I've been practicing don't-knock-the-bar drills with Tika (and with Boost, who has a phenomenally high bar-knocking ratio so far, crud) and I think they're helping, at least in practice in my back yard.

We had no puppy class this week, but I finally knuckled down and worked really hard on Boost's nose touch for contacts...once, yesterday. But she's getting better. Really.

Tika was a pill in class Wednesday night, stopping constantly in the middle of a run to sniff around the grass. I am SO glad that she never does this in competition. But she also did her usual "what does sit at the start line mean?" routine from class--thank goodness she's better at *that* in competition, too, although certainly not perfect. In reviewing the last 2 years worth of runs, I see that I've taken her off the course 3 times for not even pretending to wait at the start line--and they've all been jumpers courses. Surely that's her favorite kind of run. But is she that savant about the kind of course? Or am I conveying more excitement in some way? Just another interesting data point that I'm not sure helps me in any way.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Musky Toes

SUMMARY: Dogs like drinking from and wading in my two ponds. We live in West Nile Virus territory. Mosquito control is complicated by wanting to allow the dogs to drink and wade.

The Big Pond in which the dogs like to stand (and drink).

This one's good only for drinking from.
Aren't I lucky to be living in a hotbed of Vile Insect activity in Santa Clara County? Last year my area (by zip code?) was the prime area both for West Nile Virus infected mosquitos but also for, I believe, the infamous Medfly. I swear it's not my water features or my fruit trees causing the problem, really it isn't, and I'm sticking to that story.

I have at least two Water Features in my yard (that is to say, I have two intentional water features in my yard. Who knows how many nooks and crannies that I'm not thinking about are harboring ponds of fugitive mosquito larvae).
The most-commonly cited methods of control are to eliminate standing water, use mosquito fish, and use a mosquitocide such as Bti.

My dogs happen to like the water in my 2 ponds. They mostly just drink from the waterfall, but Tika and Boost in particular like to actually get into the bigger pond, even though I keep it not all that deep. (Used to try to keep it empty, which was impossible in the rainy season and challenging during irrigation system, but now that I know that they like it, I'll try to keep some water there.)

So using mosquito fish doesn't seem practical; I'm sure they'd be a game for the dogs until the dogs had managed to do them all in. Bti is supposed to be pretty much harmless for mammals (I'm not sure I'm fully confident about the "pretty much" part, but then chlorine, which is used all over the place, doesn't even pretend to be pretty much harmless) but it's a bacterial agent that lasts only 24-48 hours per application, and sure, like I'm going to do that all the time. I don't know how much it costs per dose.

I contacted Santa Clara County Vector Control and the woman to whom I spoke confirmed that actually having the water move even a little bit every day is an effective control. But pumps and spouts enough for a pond of the big one's size can be over a hundred bucks, not entirely in my budget. The smaller one's waterfall runs for an hour every evening, and she said that's way more than sufficient.

But she also said that simply using a swimming-pool net to scoop out the mosquito wigglies is quite effective. And since I do that on a semiregular basis to keep out the leaves and other debris, I'll just be a bit more diligent. If the pond were much deeper, it wouldn't be practical, but at probably 6 to 8 inches or less, this can be accomplished.

But I also apply a wee bit of cholorine to try to keep the algae and stagnant odors down. I don't know how harmful that could be. I suppose I ought to research that, too. I tried some organic stuff that's suppposed to be safe for wildlife and keep the pond clear, but it didn't appear to do anything for me at all.

All to keep the doggies happy!

Monday, May 01, 2006

No More Rain!

Muddy muddy muddy
The other two mats after a bit of scrubbing.

It is my esteemed opinion that there will be no more rain worth mentioning this season. Huzzah! I am so ready for it to be nice. As happy as it makes my garden, I think that having both a March and an April that tie or set the record for the number of rainiest days on record is a bit much.

So today I dared to drag out all three of the mats that I haul around to agility trials to put on the ground under my canopy. They are muddy muddy muddy. (Hmmm, that reminds me of an Eloise bit, but I can't remember the exact classic lines any more--)

I don't usually clean my mats; after all, their purpose is to lie on the ground and protect me, my gear, and my dogs from ground crud. However, when the tops as well as the bottoms are filthy, the time has come.

I currently have three mats, all woven plastic, the same general kind that 95% of the agility world takes to trials with it ("the agility world"...). My original one has dogs and bones woven in a clever way so that, on one side, it has white dogs and bones on a purplish background (actually blue and red woven together) and, when you flip it, it has purplish dogs and bones on a white background. My newest one has large purple and white squares and, when you turn it over, cleverly it has large white and purple squares.

I have three because none of them are large enough to cover the ground beneath my canopy. There are 10'x10' mats out there, but I don't see them often and I've never seen them in purple or teal and purple.

Another Agility Blog

Here's another agility blog (Training Journal for Devon and Jaime), from New Jersey, who found us and said hi.

And I've been tracking Flirt's Agility Page, too, whose writer just had heart surgery for the same thing I was diagnosed with 5 years back, mitral valve prolapse, although hers was (I hope obviously) more serious. Interestingly--also in New Jersey, I believe. I wonder whether they know each other?

Those Crepuscular Beasts Again

SUMMARY: What gorgeous weather! Play play play, rest a bit, have a big dinner, then play play play some more. Dang herding dogs and their energy reserves!

Because of my score table activities, Jake and Boost spent most of the weekend in crates at the trial site. But we finished very early on Sunday, probably by 2:00, and my car was packed and ready to go by 3:30, so I took all three out to the now-empty field with a couple of frisbees. Even Jake wanted to play--he's been turning me down rather a lot lately--but he was good for only about four tosses and then instead of coming back he jetted off to the side of the field to drop the frisbee in the weeds and start sniffing his way to the far end of the field ("If I don't look at you, I can't hear you, remember I'm deaf!"). So Tika played frisbee and tug all the way down to the other end, with Boost chasing her, until I caught up to Jake.

Then Jake pooped and was interested in playing again, then we played frisbee most of the way back up the field, with Tika's ADD (which kicks in when she's starting to get tired) starting to show, where she chases the frisbee full out, catches it, runs a few yard, drops it, and then comes back to me to see whether anything interesting is happening. Then when I started to collect my dogs, Tika and Jake ran off and lay down in the shade of someone's truck parked on the field, and Boost took off after a puppy who was off leash, and the two of them chased each other in delerious circles, BOTH ignoring their owners' calls to come, until we each managed to corral our beasts. At which point Boost thought that lying in the shade was agood thing, too.

All three dog tongues were lolling out the sides of their mouths about three feet. Pant pant pant. I walked them slowly and tenderly back to the car to cool them down a wee bit, loaded them in, chatted with some friends (fortunately I have many :-) ) for a while, drove home (including slow traffic for a ways plus a stop at the Gilroy Outlet Center for fudge that I didn't need but really wanted), got home maybe 5:30.

It was so lovely outside! I just sat on the porch for a few minutes, enjoying it. Then showered and finally fed the dogs. 6:00. They now have full stomachs. They had a really nice probably 20-minute full-out running jag only about 2 hours ago. And what did they want to do when I strolled out to the yard for some casual, light-weight yardwork (checking spa chlorine and such) on this gorgeous spring evening? Play ball! Even Jake hung around looking hopeful, wagging his tail and glacing meaningfully at the Toy Bin.

I told them, "you just had dinner, you're going to throw up if you start running!" but they didn't care. So I threw toys for them, just not as intensely as normally; maybe 10 or 15 feet each time instead of hauling all the way across the yard. And lots of gentle ground-level tug-of-war and play in between. Still, they all wanted to keep going til their tongues were hanging out, and then I made them quit. Never did throw up so far's I know.

So tell me, does having a full stomach make YOU want to go outside on a warm evening and run as fast as you can around the yard? Dang crepuscular beings.

Slowly We Earn, Step By Step

("Slowly I turn..." reference)
SUMMARY: We had only 3 runs Sunday: Standard, Gamblers, and Pairs. We really needed a Gamblers Q and we did really well in this one. We really need to work on not dropping bars. Our per-trial average of Qs towards our ADCH is pitifully low.

Slowly we earn--those Masters legs towards Tika's ADCH.

Yesterday turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous spring day after the morning Prunedale fog cleared. We had only three runs, having once again missed qualifying for Round 2 in the Steeplechase:

*Standard: A really nice driven run--I've been playing for speed and continuing to release her the instant she hits her contacts, which I know I'm going to pay for--and I revved her up beforehand (which I don't always do because it really just gives a tiny edge), and...one tight u-turn was spectacularly tight, she nearly wrapped her body around the jump stanchion, but knocked the bar. Our only fault.

A friend reminded me of Nancy's (Linda's?) strategy of "50 jumps a day", just setting the dog up right close to the jump, as we have been, and clicking and rewarding if she gets over without ticking or knocking the bar (I haven't been clicking--could do so), and trying everything you can think of to get her to knock it--calling her name, turning suddenly, front crosses, everything. GET TO WORK YOU LAZY TRAINER!

*Gamblers: One of my friends earned high opening points (30 points in a 1-2-3-5 system (dogwalk 5 pts, 30 seconds) in her Advanced class, which used the same course layout, with her Border Collie "baby", Savanna! So she told me what her course was, and I liked it except for two things--it had two dogwalks, and we do have issues with dogwalk up contacts, and although that was the high-point obstacle for that round, it takes the longest for us to execute. But still--she'd been fast on her contacts all weekend, and I was really craving some placements along with earning the gamble. And the other thing was Savanna's course ended up on the far side of the field from the gamble start, and I wanted to reduce the chances of losing Tika or mishandling on the approach, so I swooped right instead of left at the end of the opening, skipping 2 tunnels and a jump. This meant that I sacrificed 5 points, but hoped to add them back at the far end with an Aframe and two jumps.

So what the heck, we tried it. It worked beautifully! Tika blasted across the dogwalks, hit her contacts both up and down both ways, hit two weave entries perfectly as usual...BUT... knocked two bars in the process, and then coming off the Aframe, she didn't wait for my release "OK" (I knew it would come back to haunt me) and so got between me and the last two jumps so we had some chit-chat before I got her over them, and the whistle blew just as she started those two jumps. So we didn't get those 2 points and we didn't get the 2 for the knocked bars. I believe that of all the masters and advanced dogs, 3 or 4 got 31 points, one got 32, and then there were dribbles from there on down. We had 27 and a good time on the gamble because we were in a good position and SHE DID IT! I didn't mess up, she didn't knock a bar, she didn't miss the up on the teeter, she pushed out to the final obstacle like a good girl, WAHOOOO! Which was good for 6th place, but they placed only down to 5 places in that round. ArghhhH! ONE MORE POINT would've been 4th, TWO MORE would've been 3rd, THREE more would've been 2nd, but I don't know whether we'd have beaten the time on the first place dog with ALL FOUR of those missing points. But I'm VERY happy about finally getting another gamble.
Note: Actual course layout as of May 2, 2006, thanks Gwen! (Savanna's mom)

*Pairs relay. Teamed with yet another friend (thank goodness I have so many), who unfortunately went off course in the first half, which loses our team the chance to Qualify, so I just blasted Tika through our half to see what we could do, and she was FAST and kept all her bars up despite a fast straightawy to a tunnel and then a 180-degree turn--but man, did she ever fly off that Aframe! I KNEW it would come back to bite me! Anyway, it was fun--

So anyway, back to earning ADCH legs--here's what we've done the last 10 USDAA trials on Qs that we actually need for our ADCH:

This weekend: 1 (gamblers)
Last time: 1 (jumpers)
mid-March: 2 (Gamblers, Standard--last one we need for ADCH)
early Feb: 2 (jumpers)
Jan: 1 (Snooker Super-Q)
mid-Oct: 1 (pairs relay--last one we need)
early Oct: 0
late Sept: 0
mid-Sept: 2 (jumpers, pairs relay)
early Sept: 1 (gamblers)

So we STILL need 2 gamblers, 2 jumpers, and the dang Super-Q...I guess, if we continue to average one needed leg per trial, we'll be done in 5 more trials, but I also know that these are the ones we've been having trouble getting, so I don't expect it to get any easier. Sighhhhhhhhhhhh again.