a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: July 2006

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Whoooooeeeee It's Actually Cool!

SUMMARY: Overnight: Well below 70.

I've always been one to sleep with plenty of covers over me. It's a rare, exceedingly hot night when I sleep with only a sheet draped over part of me. So--for at least 6 nights running--I have slept with *nothing* over me at all. Hot.

Sometime during the early morning hours this morning, I half woke to the realization that I was getting cold. Pulled my duvet cover over me (2 sheets thick). Rewoke around sunrise curled in a ball feeling actually honest-to-goodness cold! Wahoooo! It's something akin to a miracle. Not only did it drop plenty below 70, it allowed me to get the whole house cooled significantly, so that the kitchen thermometer read 69 when I finally closed everything up today. (Compared to, oh, say, 78, 85, or 89 as it has read for so many days now first thing in the morning.) I'm a happy camper! At least, for the moment--

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sunday: Hot

SUMMARY: Sunday: Very very hot. Still working at the trial, mostly in the shade.

Backfill: Tuesday, July 25 5:30 pm
Wow, was it hot. I never wanted to live in Phoenix. This is reminding me why.

Above: Outside (my back porch) maximum on Sunday and minimum overnight Saturday night. Hot.Above: Inside (kitchen--warmer than living room but much cooler than upstairs) maximum on Sunday and minimum overnight Saturday (well--maybe not--I think it's a little confused).
Above: Sunday evening 9:30 p.m. temperatures outside and inside. I'm tired. I want to sleep. Any guess what the temperature upstairs was? Don't ask, don't tell. Slept on the couch Saturday and Sunday nights.
SUMMARY: It was hot this weekend. It's still hot. How hot is it?

Above: Temperature out on back porch and inside kitchen at 5:00 p.m. today.
I'm SO glad you asked. It was supposed to be finally only in the mid-80s today. It was supposed to be below 70 overnight last night for a change. Arrrghhh!

San Jose (well--lots of places--but that's where I live, and work--in an unairconditioned, poorly insulated house) has set an all-time record for number of days with temperatures over 90. And I believe an all-time record for nights that don't drop below, I dunno, 70 or so--no one talks about that, but that's what makes the days so miserable: you can't cool the house down at night, you can't sleep, and the house starts out 10 degrees warmer in the morning than the outside temperature and goes up from there.

Even as the temperature cools in the evening, you realize that you're doomed. Open a cupboard in the kitchen--hot air rushes out. You pick up the phone--it's very warm to the touch. Everything in the house is holding the heat in. Even if you're lucky enough to get cooler air blowing through for a couple of hours (hard to do when temps don't drop), it's not nearly enough to overcome 20 hours of heat absorption.

The dogs are alternatively bright and idiotic about the whole thing. If I head outside for whatever foolish human reason I have, they'll all follow me out there, but within 3 minutes, it's even odds on whether any one of them will (a) have retreated into the house to lie on the cool tile on the slab floor or (b) be lying--not in any of the many shady areas of the yard--but in the middle of the patio, which is so hot that I can't walk on it barefoot, in the full sun, panting his or her brains out.

Above: Slightly more normal temperatures and humidity the week of July 6. But then:Above: Week of July 16. Hot and not quitting, day or night. And then:
Above: This week so far. And I'll tell ya, I never saw it go below 70 in *my* yard overnight last night, let alone 66.Above: California ISO chart for electricity demand vs. supply today. Status:Critical.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

No Running and Hot

SUMMARY: Scratched all my runs, left dogs at home, worked in the heat at the trial.

Wellllll, after I walked across the lawn (slowly) yesterday evening and managed to retorque my ankle to great complaints from the pain-processing parts of my anatomy, and after considering how hot and humid and miserable it's been, I scratched all my runs Friday night and left the dogs at home today to stew in a familiar surrounding instead of in their crates at the trial site.

I worked the score table all day, and it was hot and humid. Quite a few dogs had scratched by the end of the day, but how much was heat and how much that we weren't done until 6ish, hard to tell. Heard on the radio on the way home that San Jose set a record for the date of 102 today. What makes these temperatures worse is not only the unusual humidity (this *is* a semiarid region, fer cryin' out loud), but also that it's not cooling down much overnight, which is also exceedingly rare for this area. So, now, it's 9:45 in the evening and it's still around 90 outside. Argh.

I had my ankle wrapped all day today, but no elevation or ice at the trial. It didn't bother me much at all. Late in the day, I even sprinted 50 feet from the score table to where my camera was stashed when a bunch of people broke out in dance to "Low Rider" playing on the loudspeaker, and thought, "Hey! I could've been running!" But, as I stood there changing lenses on this "new" digital SLR that it looks like I'm buying from a friend who upgraded, those pain tendrils crept up the side of my leg and down around the side of the foot. So maybe not.

Hope it's better enough by next weekend when I'm supposed to go hiking, which I've been looking forward to like crazy (more without the dogs! Halleluia!) and then weeks and weeks and weeks of USDAA dog agility leading up to the nationals...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Don't Try This At Home

SUMMARY: Ouch. And Ouch again.

The Setup

First. It's been miserably hot and humid here. Upper 90s, which isn't a killer, but it's been much muggier than we're used to. In fact, I have been perspiring (or is that "glowing"?) so much that I have resorted to actually wearing shorts at home the last 2 days. Last time I remember doing that? Not since I moved to this house 5 years ago, at least, and probably longer. In fact, while edging the lawn earlier in the afternoon, I almost went into the house to switch back to my usual jeans, but didn't.

Second. I've been working the Booster on weave poles--over and over and over (that's what it takes to get consistent and comfortable and to work on different angles of entry and to get used to me working ahead, behind, crossing, and other weird stuff).

For two or three weeks, I've had two sets of 6 poles more-or-less lined up with each other but at gradually decreasing distances apart. This was a training suggestion because she was doing worse at 12 poles after starting out so well ("the weaving honeymoon's over", Nancy said, or words to that effect). The idea is that, if she's doing 6 well, you just move them closer and closer until eventually you reconnect them into one set of 12. It's been working pretty good, I think.

A week or so ago, I offset one weave from the other a little bit, which meant that the angle of approach from the first to the second is no longer a straight line. So we get to practice both doing 12 poles and taking two different entries with each set of 12. Tricky, huh? She's been getting better and better. We must've done hundreds of these double sets, I'm guessing.

The Punchline

This evening, after practicing some teeters (I'm up to the 3rd hole on the adjustable teeter and she's doing *great*! Just in a week, she seems to have gotten the concept), we did a few more sets of back & forth on the weaves. Then I decided to make it just a little more challenging. So I angled the first set of weaves rather than having them in a parallel direction (see diagrams). It should be a little more challenging, but not too much, because now she just KNOWS to go to the 2nd set of poles--in fact, at times, when I've tried to get her to do just one set, she's already in the 2nd set before I can change it. It SHOULD be a cakewalk. Right? right?

Now, what I did was to send her to the entrance of the weaves in the lower left from where I could run on the right parallel to the second set of weaves--or, from a different perspective, converging on the end of the first set of weaves. Now, she's getting very fast in the weaves, plus that first set has wobbly poles, which makes it much easier for the dogs to blast through them. I mean, if I'm hauling butt, I have trouble keeping ahead of her in the set of 6.

The first time, I didn't manage to stay ahead of her, so when I kept moving forward towards the second set of poles (with left hand pointing and left foot forward and giving the "weave" command), she shot right in front of me and into the tunnel to my right. Well, OK, I laughed; I could see how that could happen, so I just had to make sure that I got there first so that the instant her nose is coming out of the first set of weaves, I'm already pushing in to the second set of weaves.

So I send her out and haul a** and I'm right in the perfect position and I step and gesture and give the command--and she blasts through my right leg and into the tunnel, tripping me full face forward (remember I'm running fast forward) down onto the wood chips with my ankle, badly torqued, shooting pain. If I had had a little yellow flag handy and my wits about me, I'd have signalled for clipping and given her a 10-yard penalty. But no--

I just lie there, face down, elbows embedded in the woodchips, sucking air through my teeth and yelling "ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!" when I exhale because it feels good to do so. Boost is hovering anxiously. It doesn't take long for the intial major pain to subside and I decide that the ankle isn't broken. I push myself into a sitting position and look at the ankle. No visible sign of damage. This is good. But it still hurts.

The Denouement

Woodchip collateral
I do have crappy ankles. I've been doing strengthening exercises a couple of minutes a day (while I brush my teeth--it's a handy time for this sort of thing), but still I have crappy ankles. This is why I carry Ace slip-on ankle wraps in my purse. It's not uncommon for me to yank something in an ankle while walking the dogs around pottying them. But pretty much never while running--go figure. But I haven't done one that hurts this much in a long time, several years.

After the first RICEing, I took a nice shower to wash off all of my "glow" and all of the dirt and sawdust covering my front, toe to shoulder. The hot water stung my *other* leg. Why why why? Because that's the leg that was forward when I took my dive into the wood chips. Wood chips are not the friendliest surface into which to plow.

So this is my evening: RICEing my ankle and cursing and fuming and wondering whether I'm going to be out of competition this weekend--now that I've sent email to all my local friends and family telling them to come watch us run! Guess I'll have to see how it shapes up over the next 24 hours.

Crap crap crap.

The real problem is that I forget that I have a dog who is still learning how to take direction from Mom rather than to drive-drive-drive to the next thing in sight. I need to remember this.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Dogs 4 Rats 0

SUMMARY: Someone's hunting down those varmints in my yard.

Here's something I won't post a photo of--the ex-rats that I've been finding in my yard lately. They're small rats, really--roof rats--I'm wondering whether it's juveniles that they're catching. Definitely bigger than mice, though--but they're such a force hereabouts (too much nice landscaping to hide in and lots of fruit trees) that it's nice to see some of them removed without human intervention.

Yesterday there was one on the lawn; this morning there was one on the lawn. I don't know who the successful hunter is, but a couple of weeks ago on two separate days, Boost appeared carrying deceased rats. I traded some dog goodies for them and tried to tell her that she was an excellent girl. But I don't really know whether she did them in or someone else did and she just found them.

I have been told by some of my Border Collie-owning friends that BCs are good ratters.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ellen's Dog-Book Bibliography

SUMMARY: I have a lot of dog books

By popular request on Wikipedia, I posted a bibliography of the nonfiction dog books from my personal library.


SUMMARY: Experimenting with tricks. Note to self: Should do more often.

I used to have a blast teaching Remington new tricks. It was always a challenge both to come up with new trick ideas and to figure out how to get him to do them. I had to keep a list of all the tricks we had worked on--there were so many, so I couldn't remember them all.

Mostly gave that up as agility became more important and as Jake came into my life: He was SO slow at learning something new, that it wasn't nearly as much fun. Sure, I got a great sense of accomplishment when we finally broke through, but waiting six months between such reinforcers was a demotivator.

But Tika and Boost are such quick learners (when I figure out how to approach it) that I should really be doing more of it, especially since tricks are such a crowd pleaser.

Nowadays I try to teach as much as I can using shaping. That is, you wait for the dog to make any motion approximately in the category of what you want her to do, and reward for it. Tika and Boost will ponder that and let it churn in their brains while trying things to see whether they can repeat the activity. Usually after 2 or 3 got-its, they start to get it (if I haven't picked off too large a chunk to process). Jake, however, just sits and wags his tail, hoping for more goodies.

Anyway--yesterday it was too hot to be out in the yard practicing agility, so we went into the living room to try some tricks, which I haven't done in quite a long while.

With Tika, I practiced some nose touches to a target--sure enough, she had gotten really lazy at it and we had to do a little remedial touch-up on actually *touching* the target, not merely swiping one's head in the general direction. I also worked on getting her to put her chin on the ground while lying down. It was interesting because she constantly wanted to stand up to try to do things; had no good idea of what she could be doing while lying down except crawling towards me. So it took a while--she'd either stand up, crawl towards me, paw at me (see later notes on Jake & Boost training for the irony) or stare at me, so I didn't even get a glance downward or a sniff to the floor or anything for the longest time.

When she finally moved her head forward without moving her body, it also caused it to move downward (because that's how dogs' heads move), and I clicked that and fed on the floor in front of her toes, and when she'd lower her head to sniff out in front of her for crumbs, I'd click that, too, and so on. Then we'd be back to square one. I *think* that after 3 or 4 sessions with a ton of clicks, she was starting to get it (she was keeping her head down and forward but not all the way to the ground and once she'd lift her head completely again, it would take a while before she'd lower it at all), but it wasn't a complete success the first time. That's OK, progress happened.

With Boost, I also practiced nose touches. She's pretty darned good at giving the target a hard poke with her nose when it's in the air, but when it's flat on the ground, she goes back to swiping. We worked on that a bit; she's a bit better now, and so I threw in some driving to it at a distance, which she took to immediately, so I just worked at reinforcing that (for use on contacts).

The practical stuff out of the way, I decided to go back to teaching the roll-over that I had toyed with once a long time ago--and she did it right away! (I did do leading on this one rather than shaping, that is, drawing her head around her shoulder with a goodie in my hand until she had to go over.) So I started putting a command to it. That was cool.

And I've discovered that a dog who only does nose touches to an outstretched hand isn't understood by the general public, so I've been wanting to teach her to "shake". So I need to distinguish between a nose-touch open palm and a shake open palm. I decided that an upward-turned palm (which I hardly ever, if ever, use as a nose touch) would be the Shake. So, to shape, I put goodies in my fist and held my fist facing upwards in front of her below the level of her nose. My theory was that, in frustration at not being able to get the goodies with her nose or mouth, she'd eventually paw at in. But noooo--she did just about everything but--backing away, lying down, turning, standing up, sitting down, blah blah. Not making progress, so time to try something different.

So I had her lie down, where her choices of movement would be more limited. Then I just waited. She hit it a couple of times with her left paw, so I got her to lie down with the relaxed rear legs pointing in the other direction from where they had been, and eventually YAY! she not only finally moved her right paw but actually touched my hand with it, so I clicked and fed, and we continued from there--which was *very* quick. More and more rapidly with each success she'd put her right paw on my fist. Hooray. So next time we'll start with that and then see whether I can get her to do it while sitting, and then move on from there.

I tried the same thing with Jake--Tika shakes both right and left on command (or with the correct hand offered), so I've thought it would be cool if Jake could do something with his left paw, too. Yikes. What a challenge. I tried all the things I had tried with Boost and then a few more--all waiting patiently for a long while to see what he'd do, and what he'd do eventually is stop doing anything. How a dog can keep one foot glued so permanently to the floor simply astounds me. He wouldn't even move it to take a step for the longest time! But that was the tactic that seemed to finally work--getting him to move so that his foot would move, and then trying to find some way to leverage that into getting him to use it to paw at the food. Which he did, eventually, once or twice, but unlike the other dogs, I don't think that he ever THINKS about what he's doing (e.g., somehow Remington, Tika, and Boost seem to be aware of the fact that they've used their paws to do something, but Jake is just a bundle of reactive nerves with no feedback connection to the brain whatsoever). But at least I got him doing *something* and trying some different things.

Anyway, it was an interesting session.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

About Jake

SUMMARY: Jake's behavior and health.

1. OK, WHY WHY WHY has he started standing at the doggie door and barking for me to let him in or out? What did I do to deserve this? He seems to be fine going through when it's important to do so. Is he not getting enough attention otherwise and this is his trick? Arggghhhh it's driving me nuts!

2. I'm so glad that the plums are gone. ("But why are the plums gone?") No more 1 a.m. excursions. No more rinsing diarrhea off the big fluffy petticoat fur. Does he just eat more plums than the other dogs? Or does he just react differently to them?

3. I took him in to the vet because his eyes started looking odd to me. Almost like they were a little swollen or extra-moist or something, not sure how to identify it. Looking closely, I could see obvious misting in his pupils. But that wasn't it, either. The vet looked and said, yup, sure enough, see that shading in the cornea? (Had to look sideways with a sideways light.) Sort of half-moon shaped coming in from the outside. He said I caught it at just about the earliest that it could be caught. But, of course, there are several things that it could be. One is inflammation between the layers of the cornea, in which case the basic steroid eye ointment applied regularly over a period of few weeks usually makes it go away, although it often comes back and has to be treated repeatedly. But nothing too serious. Apparently it's very common in German Shepherds, although it can occur in any breed. I'd never thought that Jake had Shepherd in him, but who knows.

OR it could be the beginnings of separation of the layers. In which case hitting it with the eye cream would be very bad for it if kept up. So I have to keep an eye on his eyes, watching whether the shadowing gets better or whether he starts squinting or blinking or acting like his eye is bothering him in any way at all.

4. He hardly ever sleeps all night on the bed any more. I don't know where this comes from, either. He'll get on the bed at bed time, nest around, settle for a short while, and then after I turn off the light, he leaps down and sleeps on the floor in near the far corner of the bed.

5. It is SO odd not to be able to wake him up sometimes. Yell his name, shake him, no reaction. Eventually something gets through to him. Weird weird weird.

Nifty Research Open House

SUMMARY: Went to Moss Landing without my dogs!

See photos and narrative.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Why Agility

SUMMARY: What? How? Why? do agility

An acquaintance, unfamiliar with dog agility, asked me that (those) today. I gave him an answer, but really only answered "how did i get into doing agility" and "what benefits does it provide", not really everything that makes it appealing.

How Did I Start?

When Remington came to live with us, he was an insatiable learner. I taught him tricks, went through more and more detailed obedience training, went to "animal acting" classes (more tricks), went to tracking classes (but the practice for this was really tedious). When our obedience instructor told us about this new thing called agility, I knew that my dog-who-loved-to-climb-on-things would be perfect for it. We started classes solely with the intention of having something else to do with my dog one night a week. But then, of course, we started making and buying some rudimentary equipment to practice on at home--kludgy weave poles, play tunnels, flimsy PVC jumps, so we were starting to get invested in this sport.

And they finally convinced us to try a competition. Just once. Really. My life was already plenty full without spending money and weekends on something new. But, to be perverse, Remington did well at his first competition, won some ribbons, earned some Qualifying scores towards his first title. In the whole of 1996, we attended 6 agility trials. The next year--when I got Jake specifically as an agility dog--and when my food was broken for a good part of the year--we did seven. The next year, 10. In 1999, 11. In 2000, 14. Then 17 the next year, then 18 although with problems with Jake's foot and Remington's cancer, we missed 2 months of competition. We peaked (so far) in 2003 at 23 trials. Down to 21 the next year, 20 in 2005.

OK, the point being, we were hooked.

OK, so Why?

I discovered that I learned so much more about my dog by doing agility than I had ever learned about my previous dogs. I learned what really motivates him to become excited and driven. I learned what worries him or distracts him or turns him off. I learned what it takes to train a much wider variety of behaviors than simply shaking a paw or holding a biscuit on his nose. He was off leash, and we had to trust each other to each do our part out on the course, and we became much more than merely Owner and Dog; we became Teammates. It's a wonderful feeling of partnership with another species that I think would be hard to beat.

In addition, it gives my dogs both a mental and a physical workout, which keeps them satisfied and out of trouble. And it give ME a mental and physical workout, which keeps ME more or less satisfied and generally speaking out of trouble. I can use all the exercise I can get.

Plus we're out-of-doors, active, meeting and becoming friends with many wonderful people. It's just a good all-around thing.

But Doesn't Going Through Hoops Get Boring?

OK, this is the part that I didn't really answer (and he didn't really ask it, but I was thinking about it afterwards, that there's really much more than the preceding).

You might think that, after you've (finally) taught the dog how to do the weave poles and how to run across the dogwalk and how to go through the tire, that then it would get boring after a while. But it doesn't, because agility is SO much more than the dog simply being able to look at a piece of equipment and just do it.

For example, in the weave poles, we do drills all the time, even (and especially) with my experienced dog, trying to find ways to get her to drive as fast as she physcially can through the poles. Top dogs can do a set of 12 poles in just over 2 seconds; we're still not there, but I'm trying all the time to try to make doing the poles an exciting and rewarding thing for my dogs. And I also do drills so that they always make the correct entry no matter what direction they're coming from (they must always enter with the first pole to their left) and no matter how fast. Taking the poles from different approaches and at super rates of speed is critical; you don't know whether you'll have to make a 90-degree turn or even more to get into the poles, and the dog will then have to successfully wrap itself around to correctly weave the second and third poles, not skipping any and not losing any speed. And you can't always be right there with the dog to show him the correct entry.

For another example, with jumps, you'd think that the dog could either do them or not. But NOOOO--you want them driving over the jump, too, as fast as possible, and you want to be able to send them ahead of you full speed, or have them follow you full speed, and you want to be able to cross behind them as they go over, or in front of them before or after they go over, and you want to be able to have them wrap tightly around the side of the jump as they go over and reverse direction; you want them to be able to take the jump straight on or at any angle; you want to signal to them to go right while you go left or vice-versa. And all of this without causing the dog to knock the bar off the jump. We do drills and drills and drills for these. And my list of things here just scratches the surface. :-)

Furthermore, every course you run is different. In competition, your dog never runs the same course twice. When you walk onto the field for a walk-through, it'll be the first time you've ever seen the course, too. You do get a walk-through, along with everyone else competing, of sometimes as little as 7 or 8 minutes during which you figure out how to move yourself most efficiently and effectively around the course in such as way as to move your dog efficiently and correctly around the course.

See, dogs run a whole lot faster than people (you knew that, right?). At their peaks, my dogs can be covering more than 6 yards per second, which can be two or three obstacles in that one second. Think about it--That's dang fast. (View a video of me and Jake doing a Jumpers course--it's a fairly simple course without a lot of crosses or call-offs of trap obstacles, and I don't actually have to move very fast very often, but you can get a feel for how fast the dog is moving.) You don't have time to be thinking and strategizing on course with the dog; you'd better know every step that you're taking and where every piece of equipment is and in what order the dog has to do it.

You have to decide whether to leave your dog in a sit-stay at the start line and lead out forty or fifty or more feet to get yourself into a better position to handle the course opening. You have to decide where to cross behind your dog and where to cross in front. You have to choose whether to flip your dog to the left as he goes over a jump with a direction reversal or pull him towards you to the right. You need to decide whether you can send the dog out to a tunnel or the weaves and rely on him to complete that obstacle unmonitored while you race in another direction to get into position to direct him over the next obstacle. There are hundreds of little decisions that go into an experienced handler's eventual run with the dog--plus you have to store in the back of your mind some alternatives for places where the dog might, despite everything, start to go off course or make an error that you can recover from IF you do the right thing.

And the courses get harder and harder, not only as you progress from Novice through the various levels up to Masters and then on to National competitions and so on, but also as agility continues to mature as a sport, Novice courses get harder and harder and Masters courses get harder and harder.

In some ways, it appeals to my puzzle-solving brain parts, because I'm working in a (mostly) 2-dimensional maze through which I have to navigate both myself and my dog at top rates of speed. Events are often won or lost by hundredths of a second. Sometimes there have to be runoffs. You think it doesn't matter whether your dog takes an extra half a second in the weave poles? Boom, drop from 1st to 4th. You think it doesn't matter whether he takes an extra step after a jump before turning? Badda bim, drop another couple of places.

And in all of this, if you misjudge by a hair the timing of your command or the turning of your shoulders or the lifting of your arm, in an instant your rocket-speed dog is off course and then you've earned an Elimination and you're outa there. (Here's another video, of my instructor Nancy Gyes and her dog Riot--national champions and World Cup team competitors, doing a course with all the equipment. Watch how fast her dog is, how far ahead of and behind and laterally away from her dog she works, and how little wasted motion and space there is on course. (In fact, you can pick just about any videos in this directory and see some spectacular california dogs and handlers.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Snooker course posted

I just posted a drawing of our Snooker course where we just missed yet another super-Q by one dog in June 26th's entry ("Friday USDAA in Turlock").

Agility or Real Life

SUMMARY: Too much agility, not enough anything else.

Apparently I'm not the only one conflicted about how much time I spent on agility to the exclusion of all else. Read "Fun, introspection and agility" (July 7 entry) at Training Journal for Devon and Jaime.

What I posted in response: I used to have several hobbies and activities; I used to spend lots of time with friends and go on long, interesting vacations. Now, I do dog agility, dog agility, dog agility, and more dog agility. And four or five years ago I started complaining about it. At the beginning of this year, I *vowed* I'd do only 12 trials this year instead of 20. Well--here it is July, and I've done 13 already. There's always JUST ONE MORE that would be fun, or useful (for titles or qualifying for nationals or whatever), or just TO BE THERE DOING AGILITY. Sure, I love it, but it sure has squelched everything else I've always loved, too. What a conflict. I'm not sure that I could manage 2 years off from agility--I'm not quite sure what I'd DO with my high-drive, high-energy dogs if I didn't have training to focus me and them. Sigh.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

So Much for a Unique Name

SUMMARY: Which Tika?

When I was trying to think of a name for my newly adopted dog, formerly known as Savanna, I eventually came up with the name Pika (pronounced PEEK-a). Short, sharp, related to her proclivity for standing on her rear legs to get a better view of what was going on in the world. But turns out that two friends had possibly-large puppies that they had named, at the same time, Pic (PEEK) and Peak. Gak!

I tried a whole lot of other names, including Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, which I think is what eventually led me to making a name up out of whole cloth: "Tika."

Then, naturally, the first USDAA trial that I attended after choosing her name, I discovered that an Australian Kelpie named Tika was entered in the Masters classes. Who'd-a thunk it?! I introduced myself and my Tika and asked where the name came from. She said that her Tika already had the name when they met, but she thought it was from some children's storybook about a princess named Tika. Wow--a whole book about a Tika! Who'd-a thunk it?

Then another friend told me that she has a cat named Tika--except I believe it's spelled Tica--which is Puerto Rican slang for a girl, if I remember her explanation correctly. Who-d-a thunk it?

Today I was just browsing around randomly in the USDAA's history of awards by breed and decided to see who the first Australian Shepherd ADCH was--and, lo and behold, wayyyy back in 1997, it was a dog named Tika! (From Mesa, AZ.) Who'd-a thunk it?!

What does one have to do to get an original agility dog name around here, if making one up doesn't work?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

More Boost Training

SUMMARY: contacts and weaves

In class last week, we tried just running her up the Aframe set at, I dunno, maybe 5 feet? And she balked about 2/3 up and bailed. Yikes. So we set it lower and ran her over it a couple of times on lead and she was fine. But I need to set up my Aframe again and I still haven't. It's just so HUGE and there's noplace good to set it up.

Unless I get rid of that dang lilac bush. I'm working on it... slowly...

She actually went across the dogwalk unassisted; not very fast but when she got to the downslope, she sped up a little and did a few very nice 2-on-2-off nose touches. We didn't try the teeter in class.

At home, we're still doing mostly running down the dogwalk ramps from various heights and trying to get a good solid nose touch. She's still often just brushing it or not even quite making contact. I need to stick something to the back to make it stand up off the ground a little, both so that I can see when it moves and so that maybe she's more confident about hitting it.

Susan Garrett would be disappointed that I'm rather simultaneously teaching the run-to-nose-touch AND working on contacts; she says thier students don't get on the contacts until they've got a very solid drive-to-nose-touch not only on the ground but at the bottom of stairs and the ends of boards and things. But, oh, well, I'm impatient. Probably means I won't have the perfect contacts that I want. Although Boost seems to *want* to drive across the contacts, her own speed scares her. She's bailed on the dogwalk here a couple of times, so I'm trying to do only a very few full ones, on tab lead, and not superfast, to accustom her to it.

I've got the teeter set at not quite its lowest position. End is maybe a foot above the ground. She has bailed on that a couple of times, too, sometimes when she gets to the end and it hits--where she jumps off sideways as it hits and jumps mostly back on to do the nose touch. It's cute in a disturbing (training-wise) way. So also I'm mostly backchaining that, with one end propped up and setting her above the pivot point, stuff like that.

She's getting faster and more confident in the weaves but her accuracy is deteriorating. I've done a few sets of having only 3 poles and clicking as she makes the entry and the turn into the 2nd opening, but as she speeds up even on sets of 6, she starts skipping more and more. Nancy told our class that this sometimes happens; the dog is doing it great after the initial training with hand in collar or with guides or however you did it, and then over time they seem to forget or lose the rhythm or something. Soooo maybe I should do a few more here and there on tab lead, although she's so fast, it's hard.

So much to do, so little time! It would be very cool to enter her in some things at the Bay Team's Labor Day trial. Nancy said don't even THINK about entering her in nationals-qualifying classes. But I've got just a little over a month before the deadline for entering, and I'm not sure we're really there even for a jumpers class or gamblers class yet. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Some USDAA Title Statistics

SUMMARY: Some interesting comparisons from USDAA's title site.

(Thanks, Arlene, for pointing out this page.) USDAA indicates that there are 4,350 "All-breed" (All-Americans or Mixed-breed) dogs registered with them. That presumably covers all dogs living and dead who have ever registered with USDAA, so no way to know how many are currently competing. (So Remington, Jake, and Tika are all listed as "All-breed" dogs.)

Of those, a mere 861 have ever completed their novice title (AD) and 268 their Performance novice title (PDI--although there could be overlap with the same set of dogs. Would be interesting to know how much overlap there is...Do I want to try to figure it out? Hmmm...).

Only 205 have ever earned their Master Agility Dog (MAD) title, including Jake and Tika.

Only 50 have ever earned the Tournament Master (TM) title--NOT including Jake but YESSSSS! Tika finished hers last weekend. Only 30 have earned the TM Bronze--which Tika will get as soon as she earns one more Team qualifier. Maybe at the Bay Team September trial. Maybe not.

In comparison, only a really small number have achieved what Jake did:
  • Accomplished Jumpers Dog Bronze: 9 dogs (These 1st 3 offered only since late 2002, I believe, and not that high a percentage of dogs compete in the Performance classes, so the numbers will be lower than in the regular titles)

  • Accomplished Snooker Dog Bronze: 11

  • Accomplished Standard Dog Bronze: 7 (And this is from the dog who hasn't been able to successfully complete more than a handful of dogwalk down contacts in recent years and ALWAYS had a problem with them anyway)

  • Accomplished Performance Dog (roughly equivalent to a regular ADCH championship title): 16

  • ADCH: 102

  • Snooker Champion Bronze: 70

  • Standard Champion Bronze: 37 (see note above about dogwalks)

  • Sad to note that I pulled Jake from USDAA when he was only 3 Qs away from his Accomplished Jumpers Dog Silver--which only 2 dogs have ever achieved. Oh, well--

    On a larger scale, they don't say how many TOTAL dogs are registered. However, they do give stats overall--
  • AD (novice): 7,678

  • MAD: 1,941

  • ADCH: 1,067 (of which 71 belong to current Bay Team members--not counting those people who are no longer members for various reasons like they moved away or retired from agility)

  • TM: 887

  • Snooker Ch Bronze: 639

  • Standard Ch Bronze: 523

  • Acc. Std Bronze: 54

  • Acc. Snooker Bronze: 47

  • Acc. Jumpers Bronze: 37
  • Monday, July 03, 2006

    Misc Training Notes

    SUMMARY: At the park, in the yard, around town.

    Jumping drills from Boost's (and Tika's) classes from a couple of weeks ago involve a modified 3-box grid--4 jumps going up the middle, 20 feet apart, one jump 10 feet to the left of the last 2, one jump 10 feet to the right of the second 2, and then another jump straight out from the 2nd jump as if starting another box to the right and weaves and a tire off the left side--OK, I'll have to upload a copy of this, it's hard to explain.

    There are a ton of exercises you can do with this setup. I've marked three of them on the diagram.

    Well, my yard does NOT have room for 4 jumps 20 feet apart. If I really twiddle things, I can get 3 jumps 17.5 feet apart--but without much room to swing wide left or right after either of the end jumps (can go straight ahead into a u-shaped tunnel, for example, or veer out from the middle jump... dang, ok, time for another drawing...)

    To the Park We Go

    Anyway, because boost and I (and Tika and I) really need some spread-out jumping, I decided to try hauling 7 jumps to the park down the street for practice. Haven't done anything like that since I started Remington 11 years ago. I'm so lazy--hate moving my equipment just around my yard, let alone hauling it out front & into the car etc.

    It's just that there's a park just a couple of minutes from here, whereas if I want to rent the field at power paws, (a) I have to pay to rent it, and (b) it's a 20-to-25-minute drive each way.

    However, moving my equipment won't be easy-- my metal jumps are frozen to their bases, so I can't disassemble them for easy transport, have to carry them whole and somehow finagle them into the minivan..

    Since only half of my weaves are fully functional (i.e., not totally wobbly), I mostly dismantled one set (two poles are frozen to their bases on that set), folded it in half (which it barely does any more--lucky that's not frozen, too), put it into the car. Did some trimming of broken jump bases, dug out my old iffy PVC jumps, worked on improvising some fixes, carried 4 of the frozen metal jumps out to the car and figured out how to get them in--yes, I had to completely remove the crates, which is at least a 5-minute operation by itself.

    Then, at the park, the field with parking next to it was taken up by small children playing soccer, so I had to park a long way from the nearest large swath of grass and haul everything over there--took 4 trips for the equipment and would've taken more except that I didn't take the weaves because, duh, I left the dismantled poles sitting in my back yard. AND discovered I had only 6 bars for 7 jumps, so had to figure out how to kludge something with one of my fence posts that I'd taken to stake the dogs to.

    So--40 minutes from "think I'll go to the park" to leaving the driveway; 35 minutes from parking in the parking lot to being ready to run my first dog. Later, I think 20 minutes to get it all back into the car (hmm? no, maybe 30... have forgotten already) but I feel like I'm getting more efficient all the time... and then maybe 20 to unload the car, get the crates back in, etc. So it took me about 2 hours of time to save 40 to 50 minutes of driving time to/from power paws. Plus I was exhausted.

    Jake's practice

    Jake knocked a bunch of bars. I don't know why. He hardly ever knocks bars. Is it him or is it the site? The grass is a bit longer than we usually encounter. He does OK but isn't super-enthused about doing this. He'd rather make a beeline for the hinterlands to go sniff fenceposts and things. Takes a while to keep rounding him up and I finally give up on him.

    Tika's practice

    Actually I get her out last, after the other dogs, and she is completely wired. I set her up at the start line and intend for her to go straight over the 4 center jumps and then make a 270 to a side jump. Well, she blasts across those jumps like no one's baby and continues running full out--I'm thinking she's taking off on me, but no, she circles around full speed and comes back in and takes another couple jumps at supersonic speed. She's just very excited. We deal with her overshooting turns and blasting full speed through several attempts at multiple jumps and then I give up and mostly do nothing with more than 2 straight in a row because she is so wired and excited and we can't seem to do the most basic things correctly. I think that this is instructive. I'm not entirely clear on HOW it's instructive, but we do practice a bunch, and she gets lots of practice and rewards for staying in a sit at the start line and for coming in to me when called on a jump and stuff like that.

    Boost's practice

    First I lead out past jump #3 and release her--and she goes *around* all the jumps to get to me. Jeez, she hasn't done that in ages! And, I mean, this is exactly the same set-up with the same heights as we've been doing in class the last couple of weeks. I try again, same thing. Back up one jump, same thing. So we have to go back to real basics--lead out just barely past the first jump and release her and reward when she goes over the jump, then we do a front cross or two, and gradually add jumps back in. She's not knocking quite so many bars as she sometimes does, but she's sure knocking more than will allow her to earn Qs in competition.

    Then, on the last exercise I want to try--a rear cross with her turning to the right--she always turns to the left. I exaggerate my body motion, I try to give cues out the wazoo (ewww) and she still alwasy turns to the left. In fact, I'm yelling "hup-right!" and she still turns left, and I KNOW that she know how to turn right after a jump because we spent a lot of time working on this and practice it on the flat or over a jump all the time.

    So then something clicks in my little sweaty brain: Had to go back to basics to get her to go over the jump instead of around it. Let's go back to basics here. So I put her in a sit in front of me facing the jump, tell her to hup right, and she gets up uncertainly and turns back to me. Finally get her to just Hup, then add the Right back in, and then something clicks in HER sweaty little brain, "Oh, you mean THAT right!" and she starts hupping and turning right in that controlled situation, so then we go back to the rear cross with her turning to the right--and she does it beautifully, and then I turn left the next time to repattern her and try right again, and she's fine.

    So what I learned (that I already knew) is that dogs have a rough time generalizing to new environments and what worked at home and in a familiar practice field don't necessarily work AT ALL anywhere else.

    So I 'm glad we did it, I think it was valuable, but it was too bloody much work (2 hours of setup/teardown for 1 hour of practice), and we were all getting really tired but I was determined to get in at least half of the time that I spent setting up! So maybe I could take just 3 PVC jumps out to the field again and try some very simple things--but to really get the running long stretches, looks like it'll be renting Power Paws. Sigh.