a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: September 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

La-la-la-la-Life Goes On

SUMMARY: Good knees news, and not competing is remunerative--maybe--

I went grocery shopping today. Got so involved with my shopping (remember, there's food involved here, which is always an attractive thing for me) that I forgot to walk sedately. Suddenly realized that I had been blazing around the store shoving the cart before me at my usual brisk pace and my knee hadn't even noticed. So this is the point where, if it were up to me, I'd say, "Cool! I'm better now! Time to go compete!" OK, so once when I stopped and braced myself to torque the cart to one side, that sideways muscle pressure on my knee evoked a protest, and that turning to get out of my driver's seat is problematic, but hey, I'll bet I could run and have no problems whatsoever.
The author doing bouncy bouncy therapy at her desk.

I have plenty of people monitoring me, though.
  • Arlene: Listen to your doctor.
  • Mom: Maybe it's time for you to think about taking some time off from competing.
  • Ken: Ice, Motrin, elevation...
  • Arlene: Listen to your doctor.
  • Dad: Please take care of yourself.
  • Mary: You have to try and clear your head here and start thinking about long-term consequence.
  • Arlene: Listen to your doctor.
  • Karey: (After I said that my physical therapist told me I'm not competing:) If you were a dog, we'd all be saying "Good mom" to your PT.
  • Steph: Spend more time focusing on getting better and less time focusing on ignoring the problem.
  • Arlene: Listen to your doctor! Listen to your doctor!

So, since all of these people AND my physical therapist all seem to have their heads screwed on backwards, I think I'll go right out and start competing RIGHT NOW DAGNABBIT! Who do they think they are ANYWAY!?! (Technically, that would be WHOM do they think they are... anyway...but I digress...to distract everyone's attention from my knee...)

Certainly not competing is quite lucrative financially:
  • I can work more billable hours.
  • Don't have to spend $50 on gas for the round trip (hey! I paid under $40 today for a tank of gas! How crazy is that? All the way down to $2.59/gal!)
  • Save entry fees--for two dogs, that's $200 plus or minus $50 for a weekend.

But all things considered, I'd rather be doing agility.

On the down side financially:
  • $3 of gas for every Kaiser round trip.
  • $5 per x-ray.
  • $5 for every doctor visit or physical therapist visit.
  • $10 for an ankle brace that I used once and decided it aggravated my knee more than it helped my ankle and, when I went to stash it in my supply of first-aid equipment (they're not returnable), I discovered I already had one. Sigh.
  • $15 for a therapeutic bouncy ball to help with my knee.
  • $18 for therapeutic elastic bands to help with my shoulders. (I *used* to have some. Knew where they were before I moved. Don't know where they are now. Either loaned to someone or I put them away somewhere where I'd be sure to be able to find them again...

Meanwhile--it's a good thing I've spent all this money on getting nice comfy dog beds for my dogs to rest comfortably upon:
Tika taking advantage of two dog beds simultaneously. Jake evaluating the paparazzi.
Although, actually, I didn't buy one of them--won it in a raffle doing dog agility dammit.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There Is No Joy in Mudville

SUMMARY: Crappy knee crap crap crap.

(from email to agility friends:)
Whine whine whine.

I saw my physical therapist again today and she conceded that the knee is much less swollen than Thursday but said she doesn't see how I think I'll be ready to compete by Haute Dawgs (well, she didn't say "Haute Dawgs" but I'm condensing) on Oct 7-8 since it is still somewhat swollen and it still is painful when I do things like, oh, say, turn suddenly. Like move to get out of the driver's seat of my car. I'm sure that if I were doing agility, the adrenaline would completely mask any possible pain I might experience. I tried to convince her that Haute Dawgs is a whole 11 days from now, but for some reason she has the illusion that she knows more about injuries than I do. I am very not happy at the moment. VERY not happy.

If it's really arthritis like the first doctor after Haute TRACS I saw said it was (and like a dummy I just accepted the instructions to ice & rest & just left and didn't ask for x-rays or therapy or orthopedist), then how much does it really matter whether it's still swollen and sore because it'll ALWAYS be like that, dammit. I'm kicking myself for not insisting sooner on pursuing the injury, but it got mostly better so quickly that time, that I just let it ride being generally uncomfortable and a little painful all the time as long as it wasn't bad. In fact, it was great while I was nursing my twisted ankle, which tells me something but I'm not sure what yet. But then, pow, at VAST, I don't think I did anything different, but my knee thought I did and it's just a mess for no apparent reason. NOW I've got physical therapy and an appointment with an orthopedist and x-rays. Sigh.

Anyway, I'm suffering major bummification at the moment and am just ranting. I really need the practice with both dogs before the Nationals. I certainly don't want to miss the Nationals, but without staying right on top of things, I'm afraid I won't do even as well as I was afraid I wouldn't do without it. If you catch my rather convoluted drift.

And everyone tells me that I should be listening to my doctor or, yes, my physical therapist. I tell you, it's a conspiracy. The light tone notwithstanding, I am more than a little despondent.

Now, should I get the car out to drive the 2 blocks to the neighborhood association meeting, or walk? Surely it can't be any farther than how far I ended up walking to pick up the therapeutic bouncy ball at Target that my physical therapist sent me out for earlier today, which was a way tremendous amount of walking. Hm. Hm.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Feels Good Today

SUMMARY: Better already, but more to go.

The difference in how my knee and leg felt when I woke up this morning compared even to last night is tremendous. It's quite a relief; I believed I'd be getting better but the way it's been this week, I was afraid it might be months.

Not that it's perfect. I can walk up and down stairs normally today with only a twinge here and there. But I went out to the movies (regretfully turning down opportunities to go to Big Basin Redwoods and a city-wide garage sale) and, turning my body to get out of the car, there was still a sharp pain, and walking up and down a couple of short, steeper ramps was harder than stairs. I walked leisurely, making an effort to walk normally and not limp--I think I wanted to favor my right leg because I have been for several days, not that it needed it at a casual pace.

What has me wondering is the pain in the muscles or tendons down the back of my leg on either side. Don't know why the knee whould have affected that. I didn't even notice it until Thursday evening. So--was it a side effect of favoring my knee? Or did I sprain or pop (or, zounds, tear) something back there on wednesday? Don't know. At any rate, that's much better today, too, but still not out of the woods.

Guess I'm glad I didn't go this weekend. However--inspired by Gridiron Gang today and Invincible last week, I think I'll now go find some football games to win.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dang Knee, No Agility

SUMMARY: No titles for anyone this weekend.

My physical therapist took one look at my knee and when I said "I'm supposed to compete this weekend..." she said "you are NOT competing this weekend! NOT! You shouldn't even be walking at the moment if you can avoid it!" So I scratched Tika and Boost and I'm staying home. So Boost can't get her one Standard leg for her AD and Tika can't get her one Super-Q for her ADCH.

OK, 2 weeks in which to get ready for the next trial...then 2 more weeks to the next...then 3 weeks to the Nationals.

Needy Knee

SUMMARY: Can barely walk

Well, if this isn't the year for my joints to be a mess--

In January I made a mess of my shoulders by trying to shovel & move a truckload of wood chips to the backyard by myself, compounded by then falling over a wall and landing so that my shoulders absorbed all the shock. Doctor's verdict: impingement syndrome, here are exercises to keep it limber and to strengthen when it stops hurting enough to do them--which has never happened.

Then my knee, which had been bothering me off and on (and more an more of the often & on), went completely to pot at the Haute TRACS 4-day trial, the first time it swelled and became so painful I couldn't do anything. Original doctor thought arthritis and suggested one exercise to strengthen thighs--which I've had trouble doing because knee bothered me. Regular doctor ordered xrays a month ago and said "they're fine" so I still don't know if arthritis or soft tissue or what, but phys therapy was waiting on first taking care of my ankle--

Which I twisted July 20 but didn't see the doctor for a month after i kept yanking it and yanking it.

SOOOO I've had one PT appt, for the ankle, and it might have helped, but frankly I never did twist it again after the xrays (hmmm, maybe the xrays gave it superpowers after I was bitten by a radioactive mosquito! or something!) and although it's definitely still stiff and vaguely sore, it's nothing like my shoulders waking me up at night or being in misery when I'm loading & unloading my car, or my knee--

which this weekend for some reason decided to get much worse again. I did virtually nothing on it monday & tues, not my usual walks or training with the dogs or anything, then woke up yesterday morning with it much worse again, then I tried to do an agility demo in a small area with good old jake, hobbling most of the way because I just couldn't run at all and then something kinda went Pop partway through, and after that I could barely walk at all.

I did manage to get referrals for shoulder and knee PT from my doctor this week as well as the ankle, and although PT appts are being made 3 to 4 weeks out, the lady who saw me for my ankle is giving up her lunch break today to see me for my knee. I'm so grateful-- can walk on the level mostly OK if I move slowly and carefully (trying not to limp because I think that's why my LEFT hip is sore today), but can't go up and down stairs except one at a time.

I did call the trial secretary for this weekend and she hasn't printed the final catalog yet so I could withdraw both dogs and get my entry fees back, but I don't WANT to. Have arranged a part-time handler for Tika if I do go and my knee bothers me--she practiced with Ashley (Luka's dad) in class last night and they did good--but it's really much more fun to run my own dog, and there's no point in going if I can't run Boost myself and if I can't run Tika for her one Snooker run hoping to finish her ADCH.

Guess I'll have to decide today whether to take the risk that I'll be mobile by Saturday morning.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Boost at Nationals

SUMMARY: Entered Boost for Team at USDAA Nationals

We now have one and a half trials under our belts. She's currently entered in 2 more full USDAA weekends between now and Nationals, and unless something really falls apart this weekend or I rethink it, I'll enter her in a 3rd one as well (since Tika and I are definitely competing).

It seems to me that her stress level went down from her Labor Day trial to this past Saturday, and she was definitely more focused on me before and after running this past Sunday than on Saturday. So I think the experience is very good for both of us.

I'll take Boost and Jake with me to Scottsdale no matter what; I just don't think they'll get enough attention while I'm gone and I think they'd be weirded out by me taking one dog and leaving the others for a full week.

However, at Nationals, you've got limited space to play with the dogs off-leash, and Boost usually gets a lot of running and playing in each day. There's the hotel room, which isn't much space, and there are some grassy areas in which you could actually do a little frisbee (if it's set up like last year), but you have to share those spaces with the other 500 dogs (or more) also in attendance.

There are limited opportunities to enter dogs into competition, however. You have to have qualified for Steeplechase, Grand Prix, and Team, and since we just started competing, there was no way that we had a chance to qualify (actually could have tried at Bay Team Labor Day and last weekend--last chances for this year--but I didn't want to put that kind of pressure on her or myself). There are only 2 classes at the nationals for which you don't have to qualify--but they get around having everyone in the universe enter their dogs by putting a minimum entry fee of $45 per dog and then charging only $10 or so for each of those two classes, so I couldn't even enter her in those.

Our only chance would be to be on a team because USDAA allows two dogs who have qualified to enter with one unqualified dog. But who on earth would want to pay those entry fees and have a babydog as a partner who's (at this time) had only one and a half trials of experience?! I figured no one, so I didn't even ask and just resigned myself to not running the babydog.

Then another Bay Teamer sent this email to our mailing list:

I am looking for a 16 or 22" jumping dog for a baby dog team for Scottsdale (of course the dog doesn't have to be a baby dog). This would be a team that is just going for fun and experience and will most likely NOT be competitive (this year).

If you know of anyone (qualified or not) who would like to join a "Boys Just Want to Have Fun" kind of team, please contact me.

Soooo yes, I have to tell Nancy (our instructor) that on the spur of the moment I accepted an invitation for a baby dog who isn't taking the competition seriously and wants to use it as a chance for experience only... I'd rather do that than try to keep her mentally & physically stimulated for 4 days in that relatively limited space, and that was the only way I could do it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Anyway, I've now sent in my entry and committed to this team, so I hope we don't discover some gosh-awful training issue for which I really want to pull her from competition, which happened with me and Tika a couple of times our first year.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tika's Weekend

SUMMARY: No championship. Knocking bars. Mom's brain AND nose messed up.

photos coming soon I hope

It wasn't a glorious weekend for Ellen or Tika. On Saturday, Tika knocked TWO bars in each of her Jumpers, Standard, and Steeplechase courses; knocked 1 bar in Pairs Relay which fortunately didn't prevent us from Qing (our only one for the day), 1 bar in the Gamblers opening (which merely cost us a point), and the first bar in Snooker, so within 1 second of starting that put to rest any thought of that being our Super-Q for our Championship.

Tika was getting paws in the yellow zones on contacts but not stopping, so we were spending a lot of time with her in a Down after the contacts trying to get her to think about it.

Meanwhile, I got Tika started perfectly in the gamble and then my brain froze and for some reason I couldn't get any words or gestures out, and Tika drifted slowly to a stop and came back to see what I was up to. I was flummoxed. I've gotten by on 4 hours of sleep before--who knows. And then in Jumpers we somehow managed an offcourse through some idiotic move on my part.

I thought I was well-rested for Sunday, sleeping in my van onsite again, but it was another odd day for us. Tika knocked the first bar in Standard and missed the up on the dogwalk, and then near the end I yelled "left" when I meant "hup! left" and she obligingly turned left right past the jump she should have taken and we just went ahead and took the off course to finish on a blast, since she was perfect on that command.

Then, after we'd been waiting to go into the ring for Gamblers, through a series of life experiences that culminated in this one moment, Tika smacked my nose with the top of her skull, which hurt tremendously, caused a nose bleed, and despite me sitting there vowing that I was going to run NOW so that I didn't have to then put Tika away again and wait for 50 22" dogs to run before our next chance, GO AHEAD and strap the icebag to my nose and I'll run like that!--somehow I never managed to actually stand up in time, and with the eyes tearing up from the pain, I'm sure it would've been hard to see anyway.

When we were finally up, once again she knocked the first bar, again merely costing us a point, and the rest of our opening was spot on for a change, and we veered around and picked up the gamble ALMOST flawlessly--she almost went TOO far out towards an offcourse, but I got her back and she was lovely. So our 2nd Q of the weekend.

Once again I had entered the Grand Prix in the hopes of maybe getting our (now) 3rd completely clean Q instead of those 13 other 5-fault Qs AND earning the elusive placement ribbon. Tika again was on and happy, and for a change in the GP she neither knocked bars NOR missed the up on the dogwalk--and then, just before the end, I forgot where I wanted to be, hesitated, saw Tika coming towards me, and dashed to the wrong place, pulling her past a jump for a 5-point runoutfault, crap crap crap another 5-point Q and no placement! What a dingbat. Can't blame it on the nose, cuz we ran the Gamble fine.

Then came our second chance for the Snooker Super-Q, and this time we were up as the VERY first 26" dog, and the 22" were after us, so I had no opportunity to see ANY of the regular large dogs do it. I had walked the opening with three 7s and didn't like any of the paths through the obstacles, so had picked a 6-7-7 that I liked much better. BUT the performance (mostly older) dogs and small dogs who ran before us among them managed to get several 7-7-7 openings, so I knew there was no excuse for us not to try it.

Tika ticked the first red bar but it stayed up, and we were off and running--although blasting out of a tunnel, I didn't want to call her too hard and risk pulling her off the next weave poles, so I didn't call her, and she blasted off to the left, wasting half a second to a second at least to get her back. She ticked the 2nd red bar but it stayed up, and we did our second 7-point combo. Then, to do the 3rd set, we had to go between a tunnel and weaves, shoot out over a red jump, then thread back through a VERY narrow space between the Aframe and the tunnel, and she tried for the Aframe and I called her in and she tried for the tunnel and I called her in and WHEW we were through and man, she blasted through the closing 7-2-3-4-5-6-7 with no flaws at all. We blasted past the finish line at 50.51 seconds, which means we just barely finished our #7 within the 49 seconds allowed. Not real promising, even though we earned the maximum 51 points.

Then we sat back and watched to see whether 4 of the 24 other dogs would beat us, and I was pretty sure they would, because of our two time-wasting bobbles and anyway in a flat-out race through a course, some of those dogs are guaranteed to beat Tika most of the time. The other problem is that, when you're the first dog and you set the pace, everyone else is naturally going to follow your lead if they think they have the slightest chance, rather than doing their optional 5-7-7 or 6-7-7 or whatever, so we just about guaranteed that we were forcing people to compete with us.

Sure enough, only a couple of dogs after us, Rachel and her younger dog Fable ran a simply stunning flawless course (basically same as ours--almost all the 7-7-7s were--) with no detectable bobbles anywhere--and beat us by 8 (!) seconds. So then I knew there was plenty of room in which the other dogs could beat us, and that we were doomed.

Interestingly, someone I don't know stopped me just before that to confirm that I had done three 7s, and said, "So it *is* possible!" Well, yes--I knew it was possible, just difficult.

It turns out that 6 dogs managed the 51-point run. Only four Super-Qs (15% of those entered). And we were 6th--missing 4th place by 1.12 seconds, easily accounted for with both of our bobbles--maybe even with just one of them. So I can't say we did our absolute best and it's hopeless for us to ever get there. It's just frustrating to be so close AGAIN... Out of the other 9 times we've Qed without Super-Qing:
*Once I had a super-Q wrapped up if we just ran the course I planned. Then for some stupid reason I threw in a change oncourse that took more time, and we missed finishing by the hair of a whistle (on the teeter up as the whistle blew). Just stupid and I didn't know why I did it even then, except from stress.
*Missed by 2 places 2 other times
*Missed by 1 place once
*Missed by 3 places twice
So I know that it'll happen EVENTUALLY; I just want it to be NOW.

And it's the championship leg, now, and this happened to me before and it's happened to lots of people. Like our Nationals Teammate, Charlene and Brenn, need one more Jumpers leg. OK, that means they've already earned 4 successfully. But they've been trying for months and can't finish that 5th leg. And I'm sure a lot of it is just the heightened stress of that last leg.

Then, at the end of the day, my knee is killing me and very stiff and I'm trying to pack and don't even want to walk around doing that, we still had Jumpers. It was a twisty turny course that lots of people were knocking bars and messing up on. But Tika and I seem to do well on that kind of course. I almost scratched her. I almost asked someone else to run her. But experience tells me that the adrenaline will kick in and I won't even feel the knee. Sure enough, I was fine as we started the course, and she was fast, and making tight neat little turns, very efficient, and she kept ALL of her bars up and -- duh-- just before the end, I forgot what the next obstacle was and told her to "left" one turn too soon and she made a gorgeous turn away from me at full speed, and too late I saw the cone saying "5", not "13", and it was tooo toooo late to avoid an offcourse. Crap crap crap. Right at that moment, my knee started hurting again, and I hobble-ran the last loop to the finish.

I was glad to be home. Next day, doctor looked at my nose and said yeah it's probably cracked but if it's not affecting your breathing and isn't out of alignment, it probably needs no attention (and not much to do anyway). So I'm waiting a few days to see what's up--something's definitely loose in there and it feels weird for it to be moving, but I'm guessing it's merely partially disconnected cartilage.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Boost's First Trial

SUMMARY: Successful in many ways, but weaving sucks.


Well, this was Boost's first full trial ever. (Labor Day she was in only 4 classes for practice.) That's 9 Starters/Novice runs, which is quite a full weekend. She did all of her contacts beautifully except that she hit bottom on one Aframe and her hind legs slid off around behind her, but her front feet stayed firmly planted. Will have to work on those nose touches to keep her body focused forward instead of turning to look at me. I even did front crosses (slow, deliberate ones, saying "Good girl!" the whole time, not fast running ones) while she held the contacts. What a delight!

She kept her start line stays perfectly, and I led out very aggressively on most runs. What another delight!

She knocked a couple of bars and we had several bobbles where I wasn't giving her clear enough direction. We need to work on turns to the Aframe, which caused her to run past it (same problem we discovered in class last Thursday).

And weave poles are a mess. I tried them deliberately when they were available in Snooker and Gamblers. In our first glass, Gamblers, I had to load her in 3 times, and the third time she got through about 10 poles and popped out, and then I went on to avoid stressing her. Every other occurrence of poles she could not both make the entry and keep weaving correctly (either hit the entry and then skipped, or ran past poles and then entered). So every time I had to stop, bring her back, line her up calmly on my side, and send her again, and then she did them beautifully, except in one Standard run, where she popped out at the last pole, and I managed to bring her around and stick her back through that last opening to remind her that she had to finish them all.

Here's the amazing thing. She Qed in 6 of her 9 runs, which just happen to be 6 of the 7 she needs for her Starters title ("Agility Dog", abbreviated to AD)--at which point she'd be required to move up to the Advanced level. Welllllll this is concerning, because you can't do weaves like that in Advanced! And you can't run by Aframes and come back and fix them in Advanced. Little stuff like that. So it's not clear that we're ready for Advanced.

However, here's a comparison. In Tika's first year of USDAA competition, Starters classes were not titling except for Standard. You had to earn 3 Standard Qs to move up to Advanced. The others you just entered for practice and glory, because at the Advanced level they did count. But I recorded all the results anyway, so I can tell you that:
  • At Tika's first full trial, she earned 0 qualifying Starters scores. But she did earn her first (and only, until Labor Day this year) clean masters-level Grand Prix nationals qualifying score!
  • At her second full trial, she earned one Standard and would've Qed in Relay.
  • At her third full trial, nothing.
  • At her fourth full trial, nothing, but we "E"ed often mostly because I was taking her off the course if she didn't stick her startline or her contacts.
  • Then I pulled her from USDAA trials for a while because we were having so many problems with contacts, start line stays, and foot biting.
  • At her fifth trial, 4 months later, she earned equivalents to Relay and Snooker Qs.
  • At her sixth trial--a 3-dayer, so she had lots of chances--she earned another Grand Prix, her second Standard, and Snooker and Gamblers equivalents.
  • At her seventh trial, another Relay equivalent.
  • At her eighth trial, nothing.
  • At her ninth trial, another realy equivalent.
  • Then we moved into her second year of competition at the starters level, and the USDAA rules changed: Now, to earn your AD, you didn't need merely 3 Standard Qs (which Tika had 2 of), but at least one each of the other 4 classes: Jumpers, Gamblers, Snooker, and Relay. And Jumpers was the rub. We hadn't yet had one clean Jumpers Q.
  • So, at her 10th trial under the new rules, she earned that third Standard leg, dammit, had she only done so one trial earlier, we'd have been in Advanced in everything! But noooo, now we could move up only in Standard.
  • Also at her 10th, and her 11th and 12th, trials, she earned 2 Relays, 3 Gamblers, 2 Snooker, and 1 Advanced Standard.
  • It wasn't until her 13th USDAA trial that she finally got a clean Jumpers run (no bars knocked) at the Starters level--her 21st Starters Jumpers run.

    At Boost's first full USDAA trial, she earned 2 Standard, a Jumpers, a Snooker, a Gamblers, and a Relay. She now needs only one Standard Q to move to Advanced in everything.
  • Friday, September 15, 2006

    And Some Training Notes

    SUMMARY: Why don't I ever work on the things I really need to work on?

    Taking Tika for a walk with the other dogs is a mighty struggle. I hate it. It has really cut down on how often and how long I walk, more and more over the last four years. If I leave her behind, she shrieks to high heaven and I can hear her up to a couple of blocks away. I hate it.

    So, this morning, stymied again by wanting to take dogs for a walk but not doing each one separately or cutting my walk short with Jake, I decided to try fixing Tika's screeching problem. I grabbed the leashes and shuffled the other 2 dogs quickly out the front door (can have Jake & boost off leash; not Tika), gave tika a goodie for not going through, and closed the door. (Note that when I give goodie or treat, it's always praise-treat, but Tika's definitely the food-motivated kind.) Waited 5 seconds, opened door, treated, closed door. Called Boost back who was wandering down the sidewalk, opened door, treated, closed door.

    Waited 8 seconds, opened door, treated, closed door. Put other dogs into a sit, put on their leashes, opened door, treated, closed door. Waited 10 seconds, opened door, treated, closed door. Trotted noisily down steps with other dogs, waited, Tika made a bit of a yip; I waited--9 seconds and she yelped again. Waited--9 seconds and yelp. Waited--9 seconds a slight whimper and then I waited a few more seconds, ran back up, opened door, treated.

    OK, you get the idea. Gradually increasing the amount of time; noisily leaving the front door but then quietly sneaking back to treat her if she wasn't shrieking.

    This also meant putting the other dogs into sits or downs while I snuck back. Jake was good but Boost wasn't comfortable with me doing it quietly and surreptitiously, apparently, because she's usually good but this time got up often. So between Tika treats, I worked on leaving Boost in a sit or down next to Jake, just out of sight. She got better with appropriate praise and attention.

    And Boost, Jake, and I finally managed a walk all the way down to the end of the court (one house), across the street, to the end of the block (2 houses), back to the court, all the way around the court (4 houses) and to the front door without hearing a single shriek out of Tika! I hadn't expected it to be that easy. It was SO hard with Remington years ago. Maybe I'm better at it now. Maybe Tika's an experienced, "operant" dog who understands more about BEING trained.

    I'm sure we'll have to repeat the whole thing again multiple times, but now I'm wondering why I never tried this before? Or did I? I don't remember...

    Worked on Boost's call from a tunnel to a perpendicular jump as in the beginning of a serpentine (the thing we had so much trouble with in class yesterday). Not great, but gradually more consistent.

    And, since Tika's been better at doing gambles since I've found ways to practice gambles in my back yard, it occurs to me to wonder why I'm not practicing snooker-type maneuvers in my back yard--and why I haven't been creative enough to find ways to do it. So today, I did. The trick is to get her really excited and revved and covering long distances going around obstacles. Managed to do it, although indeed going around obstacles is hard for her. But she was trying hard to understand what I wanted and didn't give up on me, which she sometimes does when the stress level is high in training. (In competition, that would be biting my feet.) So I feel like we made progress.

    Jake... well...

    Notes About This Weekend

    SUMMARY: Thoughts upon regarding the running order catalog.

    Interesting: There are 35 Masters Pairs Relay teams (Tika's competition level). There are 4 (!) Starters teams (Boost's competition level). There are roughly 70 Masters dogs entered, which means that they all enter Pairs as well. There are roughly 15 Starters dogs (not only Boost but her sisters Bette and Beck, too!), which means that only about half are in the relay. Huh.

    This will be a big weekend for Boost--5 runs on Saturday, 4 on Sunday--her first full trial. And a big weekend for me for the first time in a long time (since I semiretired Jake)--11 runs on Saturday, 9 or 10 on Sunday depending on whether we make it to Steeplechase Round 2. Fortunately it's a compact trial site so I won't have to do a ton of walking...I think.

    Tika has two, count them, two, opportunities for a Super-Q in Snooker this weekend (to finish her championship), compared to the more-typical one per weekend. But there are only 24 dogs entered in the 26" height, so that's only 3 Super-Qs each day (4 if they round up, but I think there are newer rules where they truncate rather than round. I can't keep track).

    Tika's 2/3 of the way through the order on Saturday, so I can obsess a little bit about what the other dogs are doing, although I shouldn't because it fries my brain. And she's first (!) on Sunday, so I have to decide what I'm going to do, do it, and keep my fingers crossed. Sigh.

    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    USDAA This Weekend (and Nationals)

    SUMMARY: Ready to send Nationals entry. Not ready for prime time with Boost.

    I've got Tika's entry form all filled out for the USDAA Nationals ("Cynosport World Games") for November. Haven't sent it in while I wait to hear from my teammates about crating options. I have no one to drive down with or hotel with, so I guess I'll be driving on my own, taking it easy rather than blasting through and blasting back, and probably sleeping in my van onsite. Which will save a bunch of money and travel time but isn't as comfy as the hotel, and I guess I wont' have a network connection for trying to send updates to The Bay Team as the days go on. Sigh. I wonder whether there's a starbucks or something nearby Westworld with a wireless connection?

    Boost in class today--couldn't do serpentines if our lives depended on them. Couldn't even get her out of a tunnel over a perpendicular jump, crap. One of our classmates hit it on the head when she said that Boost doesn't know how to collect herself. This is our major problem in sequences; once she opens up the throttle, she doesn't know how to prepare for a turn or change of direction or pace. It's not as if we haven't practiced turns, a lot, all the time, at home. What we don't have space for is practicing opening up the throttle.

    And her weaves suck. She just skips poles randomly and constantly. How did I get there from having a dog who was so good at them that I was practicing runbys, distance work, front crosses, rear crosses, and distraction work? It seems to have all gone completely goodbye. Have started using some aids at home again. But in class, she did the first set of weaves perfectly and then nada. Argh. It never ends.

    SOOO this weekend Tika just needs a Super-Q in Snooker for her Snooker Master, Snooker Championship, and ADCH. And that's it, those are the last titles she could earn for a while, after a long rash of cleaning up title after title.

    And Boost is entered in all the Starters classes. Nancy suggested backing off and just entering her in fun matches and such for practice in different environments. (A) There are no fun matches. (B) I'm there at the USDAA trials anyway with Tika so I might as well enter Boost. Yeah, the runs are more expensive than at fun matches. I could also do like I did Saturday and rent field(s) for the practice. Which I can do on weekends when I'm home, maybe, but I'll be off doing USDAA trials 3 of the next 5 (?) weekends. So not a lot of chances there.

    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Scary Cars, Scary Tires, Scary Mulch, Scary Kaiser, Scary Agility

    SUMMARY: In which Ellen's flat tire is repaired, Ellen's almost-flat dog remains 3D, Boost announces another menace, and physical therapy is slow.

    Scary Cars

    Wednesday night, before Tika's class, I intended to load her into the car and stop at the grocery store to pick up some scrumptious goodies to share with our classmates in honor of her new JM and TM-Bronze titles. I let her into the garage, goodies on my mind, drinks and dog treats and keys in my hands, shut the other dogs in the house, and simultaneously hit the lightswitch--except I didn't hit the lightswitch, I hit the garage door opener, and in the second that it took me to realize what I had done, I turned to see Tika squeeze full-speed beneath the door.

    Let us summarize by saying that the results involved lots of running and yelling on my part, lots of running and ignoring on Tika's part, dashing across a busy street to check out a dog (scaring the owner half to death, I'm sure), and then deciding to dash back to me right in front of an oncoming car--who was fortunately paying attention and not speeding and was able to stop a mere few feet before hitting my dog, scaring me half to death as I screamed "Nooooooo!", and of course even running I still wasn't nearly close enough to have stopped the car if I had needed to.

    By the time we got to the store, all I could do was cry; I had no stomach for goodies. So that'll have to wait for this week. Meanwhile, I've been practicing (again) calling Tika at least a couple of dozen times a day. Nancy had suggested "100 times a day," but I don't know when I'd call her 100 times a day. I don't want her sitting under my desk waiting for goodies all day. So only when we're out and about in the yard.

    Haven't gotten back to where she'll call off a squirrel (we had gotten there at one point about a year ago), and when I had an opportunity to call her off of sheep and llamas while practicing agility, it failed completely.


    Scary Tires

    Noticed that my front left tire was almost flat for the 3rd time. First time I pumped it up figuring it was a fluke. Second time I pumped it up figuring it was, um, another fluke. But this time I conceded that I had some kind of leak and took it on in to the tire shop. They found a nail. Pressure was below 20 PSI. That thing could've just disintegrated under me on the freeway. I try to remember to check my tires by eyeball when I get gas, but this apparently started leaking a bit too quickly. Fortunately it's all better now. I hope.

    Scary Mulch

    I keep thinking that Boost is over her "something scary is menacing us" fear of things out of place, but no. The other afternoon (not twilight, when everything apparently starts looking spooky), she started the alert barking. I headed out into the yard and saw that she was alerting on the big pond/waterfall hole in the ground in the corner of the yard. I approached cautiously, but Tika and Jake just bounded gleefully past as if nothing was amiss, so I figured it couldn't be a hidden cat or rat again.

    I have wood chip mulch in many parts of my yard, including a strip of ground along the back side of the pond. Apparently someone had skidded or dashed around in the mulch in an unusual fashion, spewing enough wood-chips into the pond to make a roughly 12-inch-by-18-inch dark brown floating mat on the surface of the pond. Something different in the yard! Scary! I got out the pool scoop, scooped some to show her, and she skedaddled backwards about as fast as a BC can skeedaddle backwards. So I dumped it out on the patio and went on to cleaning out the rest, and she was brave enough to edge ever closer and finally take a sniff and decide it was nothing dire, then all was right with the world.

    Scary Kaiser

    They don't have enough physical therapists. Got an appointment today, 2 weeks earlier than scheduled, by calling every day and asking for cancellations. But I've managed to end up with a PT who works only Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Thursdays are my busy day. So although she wants me to have 2 appoinments/week for the next couple of weeks, what I got was one at the end of the month and two in mid-October. And she doesn't even want to think about my shoulders and knee yet. Crap.

    Scary Agility

    Wellllll entered Boost in all the Starters classes for this coming weekend, and all starters AND grand prix and steeplechase for next weekend. But I know we need so much work, especially after class last week. So I rented Power Paws field for an hour Saturday morning and went up to practice Gambling and Snooker with Tika (mostly got in practice chasing her down after she went after the sheep and llamas, but did get some tough gamble work in) and to give Jake a chance to do some agility (we're obviously out of practice but he seemed to have fun) and to practice doing sequences with Boost. Well, we did get some sequences in, but discovered that I still have a major issue with lateral or angled lead-outs, with rear crosses, with the timing of my front crosses, with skipping weave poles--why do I think it's a good idea to enter boost in competition? I'm rapidly tlaking myself out of running her, although boy that'll waste a whole ton of entry fees, since we're now well past the closing date.

    Oh, well, we'll see...

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    Last Weekend's Team Competition

    SUMMARY: Correction: 16th of 72 teams. Interesting how it works--

    Tika entered the team competition with Brenn the Border Collie and Skeeter the not-so-exciteable Australian Cattle Dog as "Three's A Charm". The name comes from our previous three tries:

    First Try

    In our first attempt at the enormous 4-day combined Haute Dawgs/TRACS (hence "Haute TRACS") trial, there were scribing and score tabling glitches galore. Tika had a good weekend even if we didn't get tons of points in the gamble. But Brenn got stuck with an offcourse in Jumpers and Skeeter in the Relay and we were history. That was our "Tika Skeetering on the Border" incarnation, where we discovered that they hadn't recorded one of our Es and we reported it and hence dropped from Qing nicely to NQing.

    Second Try

    For our second attempt, Skeeter had already promised to run with someone else, so we subbed in the excellent Molly and her handler--whose knee gave out partway through the day, and both Tika and Molly were offcourse in Jumpers and I think we all blew Snooker and then we just blew off Relay because we didn't want Molly's mom killing herself when we were pretty much down near the bottom anyway. That was our "At The Last Minute"--no, something similar--incarnation. But Skeeter Qed with her team, so now it was just Brenn and Tika wanting to get that Q for the nationals in Scottsdale.

    Third Try

    For our third attempt, Skeeter was back with us and we didn't want to reuse a name that seemed jinxed, so we became "Three's a Charm", both for the third time and for the three dogs. There, we all held on, with Tika's scores not being noteworthy but the other two doing well, until I Eed in the three-dog relay, but we still had done well enough earlier that we Qed.

    Fourth Try

    So this was our fourth time; we wanted to do it for fun and practice keeping our heads together. Once again, we weren't all in synch.

    Gamblers: Tika had a very good gamblers run but Brenn missed contacts and/or weaves again AND got greedy and placed near the bottom, which is not quite as bad as an E but down there, and Skeeter, who isn't fast, did well for Skeeter but below average--still OK. But we were 57th of the 72 teams competing, not a good way to start. All of our events for the weekend would have to combine for at least 36th to Q for nationals.

    Standard: Then Skeeter Eed (offcourse) in the Standard run, which is 130 points right off (low score is better here). Tika took the Standard run as an opportunity to go visit a vendor before returning to the ring, so with that wasted time and faults, we were over 60 seconds, still better than losing 130 for an E, but not great. But even so, we were 46th of as a team 72--I had expected our team to be much lower in the Standard, but I guess a lot of people had trouble with that course. The weird thing about Team is that your placements in each event don't have to be super-high, as long as you're consistently somewhere in the middle ground or higher. So we weren't great, but we weren't dead in the water... yet...

    Jumpers: Pleasantly, we all stayed on course in Jumpers, although Tika and Brenn both had bars down. So our team was 28th in Jumpers, nicely above the middle point of 36th, and things were looking up.

    Snooker: But then we watched in amazement as all of the hotshot dogs in the known universe crapped out in the Snooker run. I was working score table for that. The USDAA accumulator sheets have about 4 columns set up for "25 pts or less" and we ended up stealing 5 or 6 additional columns for all the dogs with low points. It was astonishing. I hadn't thought it was that challenging a course, really, and started to get nervous. Tika was the first of our team to run--and what very cool was that Tika made it all the way through--blew off her final #7 A-frame but still we had more points than most dogs, and then Brenn and Skeeter both made it ALL the way through, so our team was 3rd of 72 in the snooker competition, which really gave us a pick-me up. If Tika hadn't blown off the A-frame, we'd have been 2nd for Snooker! Even against this phenomenal field of competitors! So, it was muy cool to have accomplished 3rd.

    Relay: As a result, we were in 20th after the first 4 classes, and we just had to hold it together for the relay to keep in the Q range--and we did! Tika had a refusal AND a 5-point fault (now I'm not remembering exactly what for, but it's still MUCH better than losing 150 for an E), and Brenn had a bar down. But no Es. In the relay itself, we placed 24th, but combining the five classes, we ended up at 16th of 72 teams; somewhere over 36 Qed, so we were well in there.

    Looking at the numbers afterwards, we were still in the point range where, if one of us had Eed early in our relay run and hustled back to the start line to hand over the baton, we'd probably still have Qed, but if one had Eed late in our runs without being able to make it up a little in time by rushing back, we'd have NQed. We were that close--you needed 878 points to qualify, and if our relay run had used the same amount of total time PLUS an E, we'd have had 877! So we'd have probably pulled it out, but being absolutely sure beats the one-toenail-in-Q-territory method.

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    Tika ADCH Chase Statistics

    SUMMARY: Averaging one needed leg per trial. So--what about upcoming VAST trial?

    Tika earned her MAD at the VAST USAAA trial of Sept 17, 2005. At that time, I started (very casually) counting how many legs she needed for her ADCH, figuring it was a lonnnng way away. But then she started getting more legs. Now that we're one SuperQ away from our ADCH--and the VAST Sept 2006 trial is in two weeks--I thought I'd plot our progress since then. It has been SO slow in many ways, but in fact it's much faster than Remington ever did (never even got his MAD, in fact).
    The following table highlights those legs that we've earned that we needed towards the ADCH; extra legs are shown dimmed out.
    Event (below) StandardJumpersGamblersSnookerSuperQRelayTournament
    Legs needed after MAD ->1440210
    9/24/05 TRACS------1
    10/8/05 Haute Dawgs------
    10/15/05 CAT---2-11
    1/28/06 Bay Team----11-
    2/4/06 VAST-1---11
    3/18/06 CAT1-1----
    4/13/06 Haute TRACS-1---11
    4/29/06 SMART--1---1
    5/6/06 Bay Team--11-1-
    6/23/06 NAF---1--2
    8/26/06 SMART111--12
    9/2/06 Bay Team-1-1--2
    Legs needed now ->0000100

    So, in theory, we SHOULD get the missing SuperQ at VAST in two weeks because:
  • It would be poetic justice to finish the ADCH on the 1-yr anniversary of our MAD.
  • We've been averaging one needed leg per trial, and that's the only one left that we need.

    However, we probably WON'T get it because:
  • I feel like we SHOULD get it for the preceding reasons
  • I really really really want that leg
  • I always crap out when I really really want a particular Q
  • We haven't gotten it so far, why should VAST be any different?

    Huh. OK, why do I overanalyze like this? Just let it happen, go with the flow--
  • Monday, September 04, 2006

    Moderately Successful Weekend

    This amazing photo of the flying Hi C-Era Interstellar Propulsion (Boost) is by pro photog Bruce McClelland's brother from this weekend.
    Tika looking like she's snoozing over the Aframe. She's not.
    SUMMARY: We've had worse weekends. Tika 2 more titles. Boost debuts.

    We didn't have that many Qs this weekend to show for all our runs. Tika had 6 Masters runs and Qed only 3 of them--but one was our final Jumpers for our Jumpers Master (JM) title. Now all we need is that danged Snooker Super-Q! Who'd'a guessed we'd get 5 clean Jumpers legs before managing 3 Super-Qs?

    The second Q was a Gambler's leg on another challenging Gamble that defeated 22 of 29 dogs, which is pretty exciting--it was another layout 50% of whose success for us I can directly attribute to that same backyard layout we'd been practicing with. The other 50% I don't know exactly what to attribute to; surprised me a little that we got it.

    What's really interesting is that we suddenly seem to have hit our stride in Gamblers and I hadn't quite realized it. After Tika moved up to Masters Gamblers, she did 12 runs with no Qs, then one Q, then another 9 with no Q--and no we've Qed 5 of the last 6! Boy, I hope it lasts.

    The Masters Snooker this weekend required speed and precision, which we sometimes achieve, but in this crowd it was *real* speed and precision, and unfortunately Tika the Weaving Queen chose that opportunity to miss her weave entry early on, which almost nailed our coffin, but then for some reason chose to be barking and jumping in front of me instead of pushing way ahead of me to jumps or tunnels straight ahead of, so we earned enough for a reqular Q but were out of time way way way early; probably needed another 9 seconds to finish the obstacles at that point. It was a stretch challenge for us anyway, but there's no good excuse for being so far behind the others. Oh, well.

    She had a lovely Steeplechase run with one little unfortunate offcourse that was just a half-second move too early on my part, but they recorded her time and it was well in the qualifying range even with the extra obstacle, but noooo...

    She earned yet another Grand Prix qualifier, and amazingly enough it was a *clean* Gran Prix run! First clean Q in 13 GP Qs. So we moved up to Round 2 this weekend, but there was that unfortunate danged up contact on the dogwalk, so we were 16th of 26 and only 13 earned Byes into the semifinals, drat drat drat. I'd have been better off taking the faults in round 1 if I could've traded it for a clean run in round 2. Sigh.

    And after the 5 Team runs, Tika and her teammates placed 20 out of 72 teams, so we once again Qualified for Nationals, making that Tika's 3rd Team Q and our Tournament Bronze title. Now (dare I say it) she needs only 2 more Team Qs and one additional Q in any of the three tournaments (Steeplechase, GP, or Team) for her Silver. It's those danged Teams Qs that are hard to come by.

    Boost had no Qs out of 3 opportunities and a 4th run that was just for fun, although I really went in to try to practice being in a trial and doing stuff with me in competition, and many things went very well. She stayed at the start line perfectly every time, even with longish lead-outs. She did all of her contact downs beautifully; none were super-fast but they weren't slow, either. She missed 3 of 4 weave approaches--oh, that's not exactly fair; the last one she hit the first pole but skipped the 2nd and then skipped some later down the line. The one set she did perfectly I stopped and set her up for, and she just flew through them.

    We really need to practice working together as a team on longer sequences of obstacles. I went ahead and submitted our entries for two more USDAA trials in 2 and 3 weeks, but I have until Wednesday to decide whether to scratch her from some or most because it's kind of an expensive way to do training and I also don't want to stress her out by having her confused in a competitive environment. But I'm too tired to make a coherent decision today.

    And I had Jake out at the end of the day today while packing, just letting him sniff around, and then he started looking eagerly at me, so I got out a frisbee, and he chased frisbee very happily (other dogs in the crates) for quite a while. It pleased me immensely.

    And now to bed.

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Physical Therapy and Tika Walkies

    SUMMARY: Kaiser needs more PTs. And maybe I have a Tika solution.

    Argh, both the Santa Teresa and Santa Clara physical therapy depts are booked solid for 3 weeks or longer. And since my doctor wants me to attend to one joint at a time, it's looking like there will be no respite for my knee or shoulders before nationals, just the ankle (maybe--first session now scheduled for Sept 22 and I leave for nationals less than 6 weeks later). I'm really worried about the knee. If I walk more than a mile or two TOTAL in a day (I'm talking about shopping, walking around the house, checking to see whether any chocolate has crawled into my kitchen cabinets when i wasn't looking, that sort of thing), it gets stiff and swollen. And the nationals site is HUGE; it's about a 3 minute walk from the parking area to the crating area and maybe 5 minute walk from the crating area to the farthest agility ring. I walked a bleep of a lot last year and I expect to do the same this year--if I can. Don't know what I'll do if the knee swells up and I can't walk after the first of 4 days.

    Kaiser said to just call back every day and see whether there are cancellations. Just what I need to be spending my time doing.

    Meanwhile, I think that taking Tika for a walk is one of many things that takes a toll on my knees and shoulders. I've succeeded in teaching her how not to walk on a leash using several different methods. Primarily I've taught her that, when I step forward, she rushes ahead to the end of the leash, then I stop, then she yo-yos back beside me, then I take a step forward, then she rushes to the end of the leash, then I stop, then she yo-yos back beside me, then I take a step forward...

    Anyway, a bunch of people called me one day to tell me that there was a cool dog program on TV about people taking rescue dogs and turning them into real working dogs within 6 weeks or some such deadline. (Don't know why people called me about this one when no one calls to tell me that agility is on. I blame others for not taking responsibility for my TV watching. After all, everyone KNOWS I have no idea what's on TV. But that's another matter.) Anyhow, what I got out of the whole program was this:

    A sheep rancher was training a Beardie (Bearded Collie) to behave himself. When she first took him out on leash and he lunged ahead of her, she just brought him back beside her, stepped on his leash until he lay down, told him that good sheepdogs follow their handlers, praised him, and finally released him. We saw her do that exactly once. Then, next thing we see, they're walking around the ranch and he's bouncing left and right, off leash, but BEHIND her the entire time.

    Wow, I said to myself, myself being the only one listening at the moment. How did she do that? That's what *I* need for Tika.

    Eventually becoming bold (it sometimes takes me a while to get started), I started taking just Tika out on leash and, every time she passed the plane of my body, I pulled her behind me and stepped on the leash to get her to lie down. In the past, I had tried telling her to lie down when she was forging and yanking, but that put me in the awkward position of praising her for obeying when it was supposed to be a consequence of behaving badly. So, no command, just the downward pressure on the leash.

    OK, now YOU try getting your foot onto the leash while there's an active dog attached to it, and then pull it so that the dog is lying down. This requires coordination, timing, various assets like that of which I'm not always in great supply. But, behold chillens, it seemed to have an effect! Within a day or two of starting this, she'd be walking calmly at my side for many steps rather than the half dozen max that I think I've ever gotten with other methods. Now, we have to restart every time we go out, but it comes back quicker each time. However, when I have her AND the other dogs on leash, it goes completely to pot.

    So today I realized that I have to bite the dog bullet--I took her out with the other dogs and vowed to practice the lie-down thing. Discovered quickly that I couldn't do the step-on thing at all with the other dogs in tow, so I resorted to grabbing her gentle leader right below her chin and leaning down to get her to the ground. Not excellent for back, knees, or shoulder. But, by yiminy, by the end of the walk, the other dogs were a little confused, stunned, and disoriented, but Tika was walking mostly nicely at my side most of the time.

    This just might work. I just need to practice it ALL THE TIME. Hate when that happens.

    Joints and Jake

    SUMMARY: x-rays OK; Jake drives me nuts

    My doctor emailed back that "All your X-rays are fine and you can safely start Physical Therapy." So her referral has presumably now gone through and I can call and make an appointment. I'd have liked to have heard more detail on what the x-rays did or didn't show (is there arthritis in the knee or not, for example), so I'll follow up at some point.

    Meanwhile--Jake! And his refusal to play outside! It's driving me nuts. I've tried to hound, badger, pester, jolly, excite, jumpstart, kickstart, ANYthing to get him to play out in the yard and he just won't. I don't know why he has become so turned off to playing outside. On the few occasions when I get him to say OK, man, he goes back to being the old Jake who just won't quit, tail wagging, one happy guy.

    And before you tell me that "he's an old dog, leave him alone," let me point out that, last night in the living room, I threw the squeaky into the dining room for him--about 20 feet-- 79 times before he wanted to quit. (And he'd have probably gone longer if he was in better shape, but since he's not willing to run outside much, he's losing tone.) I'd just rather not do it so much inside--my shoulder can't handle that many tosses, even though they're lightweight; the odds of my throwing something that many times without either hitting something breakable or ricocheting to do the same thing are not good; he's got more room to maneuver outside and it would be better for his toenails, too, which are getting frighteningly long (used to have to touch them up, now it's a major challenge to try to keep them short enough).

    Dang dog.