a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Brrr! But Keep On Practicing

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Brrr! But Keep On Practicing

SUMMARY: Near-record lows for California, but that deters our agility not a whit. So much to work on. And my back yard is less limiting than I thought.

Saturday morning, 10 a.m.
Tika's favorite pond still has a layer of ice.
My back yard as no one has ever seen it before--from my plum tree! Jake ponders the incomprehensible activities of mom.

The low parts of the Bay Area have been colder before, but not by much, and not on these dates. It's cold. There oughta be a law. We live in California for a reason, and this sort of thing just shouldn't be allowed. All our artichoke and citrus crops are freezing to death, literally. What will we do, what will we do?

But at least the sun is shining. So, in the sun, it's fine to be out in the yard running around with the dogs, as long as I'm dressed snugly and don't mind numb fingers.

I could probably get by without weekly classes, after 12 years of them, if I were any better at--on my own-- (a) figuring out what I'm doing wrong, (b) keeping up with the latest knowledge and skills about training and handling, and (c) figuring out how to create simple yet versatile course layouts in my yard to assist in developing my handling skills.

The latter is quite hard for me. Probably I just never work at it very much. Course design just doesn't excite me. Plus, as you can see from the photo, although my yard is about 95 feet long and varies from about 25 to 40 feet wide, there's a lot of unusable space (patio and trees and such) plus that danged lilac shrub and planter right in the middle of my practice area. I'd have torn it out along with all the other shrubs, trees, and planters 5 years ago, except that the landscape designer I talked to convinced me to leave it. It really is gorgeous and smells delicious. For about 6 days, once a year. Is it worth it? I've been threatening to take it out for the last 5 years, but of course I also planted a whole lot of smaller plants and bulbs around it, so I want to take those out, too--and so it stalls.

But I digress.

I got a complementary copy of Dog Sports magazine at the USDAA nationals this year, and it has a lovely little backyard grid of 7 obstacles that allow you to practice a phenomenal array of techniques and paths in a small area. They've got it laid out on a 40 by 50 grid, but with only a little tweaking here and there, I've got it fit into about 30 by 40. I've used it for three days now and I'm not yet running out of handling challenges that we need work on.

The obstacles are:
  • the tunnel (theirs looks like maybe a 15-footer spread over 10 feet; mine is just 10 feet)
  • table
  • teeter (mine, which you can barely see in front of the Aframe, is at an angle to avoid the aframe and the corner flower garden, but theirs was aimed straight at the table)
  • 6-pole weaves (mine isn't quite where theirs is in relation to the tunnel, but close)
  • Three jumps arranged in a pinwheel--one next to the teeter, one opposite it (next to dogwalk in my yard), and one perpendicular to them that you can barely see out by the winter-naked lilac shrub. (OK, you can barely see it and only if you peer really closely)

They've got a dozen or so courses of 6 to 9 obstacles laid out starting at the table, and another dozen ending at the table, so you can combine them for longer courses if you're inclined. You can get to either end of the weaves from either end of the tunnel. You can go past the weaves on either end to get to the pinwheel. On those three jumps, you can practice pinwheels, wraps, 180s (bypassing the back jump). You can practice a push out and turn over the left jump to the teeter. You can practice either end of the weaves from any of the three jumps from any direction--coming towards you or going away and wrapping. And from the teeter. And from the table. And from the table you can do jumps, either end of the weaves (far end is tricky), eitehr end of the tunnel. And so on.

I of course have an added level of complexity because I have a dogwalk set up to the right, and beyond the far jump of the pinwheel I can send the dog straight to another tunnel or turn left over an additional jump which can get me to *another* tunnel and so on and so on.

The only major flaw here is that the approach from the table to the tunnel is on the concrete patio, but I do few enough of them that they probably won't hurt--and Tika, for one, is always up on the hot tub and flying off onto the patio all on her own, so if that doesn't bother her, a few table exits won't, either.


  1. Could you relocate the lilac bush? Could you donate it to someone so you don't have to just kill it? No? Then rip that sucker outta there!:-)
    I bought the Susan Garrett One Jump DVD last summer and it's got a whole lot of wonderful things you can do with one jump. Things that we may tend not to practise because we don't realize what can be done with just one jump.

  2. Unfortunately no place to relocate the bush. Hmmm, I could try offering on freecycle to see whether someone wants to come dig it up & try transporting it. Its buds are already swelling and color is visible beneath! Jeez, it's been freezing here! What is it thinking?! I think I've heard about the One Jump thing (did I say that on the wrong post comment? hmm...). Will check the Bay Team's library for it. -ellen