a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: June 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Washcloth Lust

SUMMARY: It's catnip for dogs. Dognip.

Maybe I need to do my laundry more often? None of Amber, Sheba, Remington, or Jake ever did this. Maybe I really *am* rotting away as I get older.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Box Work

SUMMARY: In which I take advice to heart.

Dog agility is all about teamwork and communication. (In prior posts I might have suggested that it's all about the clothing, or the food, but in reality it's all about teamwork and communication. Today, anyway.)

Several people have suggested lately that what I really need is just basic box work with my dogs. I'm always big on taking good advice, and although box work can be a little tedious, still, I figured I ought to put in a little time on it. And I figured I'd videotape it and share it with you.

You can see that Boost needs more work on this than Tika does. (oops, in video, I say it's 2006 but it's not--it's 2008.)

You agility folks--I couldn't resist. You nonagility folks--well--

Addendum 5 p.m.: After you've watched the video, see my Comment (4th one) for a genuine useful training observation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Photos from Black Mountain Hike

SUMMARY: Lots of photos of people you don't know on smoky hazy hills and trails.

* My photos

* Fellow hiker Karin's photos (more of me in here) Updated link: Sat June 28 8 p.m., hopefully now you won't be asked to log in.

The Great Outdoors

SUMMARY: Ticks and Fires and Heat, Oh my!

After Sunday's hike, I was so worried about burrs and foxtails and poison oak that the dogs got combed fairly thoroughly (although Tika's coat is so dense it's hopeless) and bathed. And I still found a tick chomping on Boost's throat Monday evening. Had to flip her onto her back to be able to get hold of the thing and ease it out. She wasn't at all pleased about that activity. It wasn't at all engorged yet, so either it hadn't really settled in yet (I've been told it takes 24 hours--this was more like 30) or the Frontline Plus was doing its job and was in the process of wiping out the little parasite.

I have yet to pick up a tick of my own while hiking. Had one on my head a couple of years back, but I'm pretty sure that came from the dogs sleeping on my bed.

This week's hiking hazard is the smoke from all the wildfires. This weekend's lightning storm that I mentioned made an amazing 8,000 dry strikes around northern California, sparking 800 fires--700 of which were still burning on Wednesday. Plus fires that were already going. Several of them are major.

From the California Department of Forestry web site as of this morning:

Current Situation: State and Federal firefighters continue to battle hundreds of wildfires throughout Northern California and are preparing for light to moderate dry thunderstorm activity beginning tonight through the weekend. Fires are activity burning and continuing to spread. News fires are being identified on a regular basis. Priority of firefighting effort is for the protection of life, property and natural resources.

* Total Fires: 1,211
* Acres: 193,470
* Contained Fires: 266
* Personnel Committed: 11,322

It doesn't matter which way the wind blows--major fires hundreds of miles away produce enough smoke to make the valley as hazy as the worst smog days that we remember from our childhoods in the '60s and '70s. The air-quality monitors recommended that people with existing respiratory or heart problems stay indoors and keep the windows closed, but that healthy individuals should suffer "no lasting effects." For what that's worth.

So there was some debate about whether to do our usual 5-mile brisk hike Wednesday evening. It was at a higher elevation, so we thought we might be above most of it, but we weren't.
View from same hike in April:

Same view Wednesday night:

Still, we went ahead and did it, and although several people said that they could feel the effects, my legs were more tired than my lungs. Everything had a reddish glow to it, and all the views were somewhat obscured by the reddish haze. The sun glowed a muddy orange the entire time, but that didn't show up well in most of the photos; we just got lucky on a few that captured the sky's inflamed colors: Here's the group atop Black Mountain, sharing a snack.

My dogs don't seem to be bothered by the smoke, but I don't know how I'd tell. I wonder about those flat-nosed breeds, though, and the really small breeds. I can smell the smoke the minute I step outside. The Basin Complex and Indians Fire down in the Big Sur area have been burning for a long time, for a combined 87,000 acres. Closest big fires north of us are the Walker Fire and the MEU Lightning Complex, north of Napa County, for a total of 42,000 acres.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What a Waste

SUMMARY: Recycling and doggie droppings.

Back in high school in the early 1970s (there, I admit it), I wrote a couple of speeches about ecology and the environment, and then I got all hot under the collar about Things We Can Do At Home To Save The Earth. This was back when recycling was something you did to get back on a bicycle. Or else weird counterculture stuff. I believe that I was the instigator for my parents to start recycling bottles and cans. This was back when you had to buy your own containers for recycling, if you wanted it separate from garbage, and then you had to go find someplace that would take your recyclables and transport them there, and sort them yourself into the appropriate bins, after crushing all the cans to save space, of course.

I think I let my parents do most of the actual work. Although when I moved out on my own I did all that stuff.

Also, just to be a good person, I have always picked up my dogs's messes in public. I used to get complimented because I'd walk around picking up after my dogs. Now people swear at me because my dogs poop in public. Weird world. Anyway. In your own yard (if it's not a giant ranch in, say, Marfa), you need to pick it up or else reencounter it in many unexpected and not necessarily pleasant ways.

Eventually, when I grew up a little bit, like in 1995 or so, I went through the program to become a Master Composter because I learned that soil is SO much happier with organic matter added, and besides it makes so much more sense to process your own yard waste. (Ask me someday for why. I'm a Master Composter. I have a very long list of reasons.)

Then there was the doggie droppings thing. When I walked out in public, we used to carry a trowel and a small paper bag. Then I'd scoop the poop into the bag and then throw out the bag. When I started doing Dog Activities with Dog People, I realized that plastic bags were way more convenient in so many ways: Moisture doesn't leak through them. Before use, they crush easily into a pocket. You can do the grab and lift and don't need a trowel. You can buy them on a very condensed roll and attach them to your leash.

When I had a Really Big Yard, during the winter, when it rained, we'd mostly leave the doggie deposits where they lay, as they'd fade into the soil under their own power. But the rest of the time, we used to gather it all into a large grocery bag and toss it in the trash.

So, Taj MuttHall Mom, What's Your Main Point?

And so, here's my main point. With my Concern For The Environment and finally being a Master Composter, I decided that I needed to find some way to deal with all of the solid waste produced by my canids.

So I bought a Doggie Dooley digester, which is basically a big plastic box with a lid that you bury in the ground, like a mini doggie-doo septic tank, and you periodically throw in your dog waste and some Doggie Dooley Digester Enzymes. It's supposed to just vanish in a trice and sink into the soil in an unobtrusive way.

Well, I tried for probably 3 years to get that thing to work. I added more liquid. Less liquid. More enzymes. A lot more enzymes. Fewer enzymes. I kept a big pole by the (very-rapidly-completely-filled) Dooley and stirred it and aerated it. A really fun thing to do on weekends. But I never, never got it to work. There were notes about clay soil not being perfect, but since our clay soil drained very well, I thought it wouldn't be an issue. But noooo--- I gave up finally.

I have corresponded with people in other parts of the country who have had good success with the thing. But not here.

So here are some other possibilities:

* Put in a plastic bag and into the trash. Actually, at least one agility site near here REQUIRES that the dog poo must be in plastic bags before it goes into their trash. But--all those plastic bags!

* Put into a paper bag and into the trash. However, some municipalities now apparently ban pet waste in the garbage entirely (hmm, trying to find a reference for that and can't. I believe it was Pacific Northwest somewhere). Plus, really, stuff that goes into the landfill gets buried so quickly and thoroughly that a lot of it just doesn't break down, or won't for centuries. I don't think paper or plastic really matters.

* Compost it. Ugh. Doggie poo (and that of most omnivorous/carnivorous animals) can or usually does contain all kinds of ugly pathogens that normal backyard composting won't kill and you don't want in contact with you, your vegetables, or your children. Not a good solution.

* Same applies, maybe, to leaving it lying around the yard to break down on its own, if you have a large-enough yard. But in this case, it would be far enough from where you're usually in direct contact with it that it wouldn't matter so much. But how many of us have yards that big?

* Flush it down the toilet. Gak, carrying that through the house?

* Put it into the sewer in some other manner, like build a sewer connection in your back yard. Expensive, although maybe cost effective for larger kennels. But now there's some indication that many of those pet pathogens are not destroyed in the water treatment process and are finding their way into the waters of the world. (Limited references available; mostly applies to cat waste.)

So what's an ecoconscious dog owner to do? I dunno. My current strategy is plastic bags into trash, both for public poos (small convenient-sized bags) and for backyard cleanup (one large bag weekly).

But someone just pointed out this gadget. Looks like an interesting idea, if it really works. And if you have $400 left over after doing dog agility. Anyone out there have any experience with this thang?

Sunday, June 22, 2008


SUMMARY: Oh, yeah, and we dog-sat this husky last night.

That was THREE grayish and whitish dogs whose ancestry is blatantly wolfish (except Boost's floppiest ears) in the yard simultaneously! Yoiks!

The Leader of the Pack

SUMMARY: Hiking with the dogs among the rhus diversiloba so green-o.

Dad took me hiking today with the Beasts, and he offered to hold onto Boost while I wrestled with Tika. Boost was OK with that, as long as she checked in with me every couple of minutes.
Tika didn't much care who was holding her leash; she just wanted to get moving. (Note leash spiral indicative of dog spinning back and forth in anticipation.)

Turns out that, if I led with Tika (who pulls intently forward at all times in supreme confidence that she is the most qualified leader), then Boost pulled frantically forward in an effort to keep up. If Boost led, then Tika STILL pulled like she was the most qualified to be in front and kept bumping her nose against Dad's calves, but Boost, although she still pulled a wee bit, was more inclined to stop and look back to see what Tika and I were doing, or push back past Dad to lick Tika's face and to jump on me as if she hadn't seen me in three weeks.

In most places, the trail was barely wide enough for one person, not even a person and a dog, so the dog would have to get its feet, face, and/or tail into the surrounding vegetation to do things like push past Dad or leap up on me.

You might think that it would be OK to let the dogs flounce through the undergrowth, except that about 80% of it was rhus diversiloba--AKA toxicodendron diversilobum--but more commonly known by friends and enemies alike as Poison Oak. Innocuous-looking little guy, isn't he? Until he turns into a giant shrub or vine, sticking tendrils at all bodily levels out into the path.

The trail was surrounded by it. Well--usually on one side, at least, and sometimes both. Trying to steer a dog away from leaves on one side or the other is extremely difficult from behind. I don't believe that dogs can catch poison oak, but people can certainly get it from dogs who have frolicked therein. Fortunately there were a few places along the trail where all I had to worry about was mere foxtails and burrs.

But, still, it was a nice day (much better than the last few, although still warm), and we had a few nice views of surrounding hills. There are a ton of trails in the area that we might eventually hike, too. And it was nice to be out and moving, and the dogs seemed to like it, too.

The Beasts got a good combing for burrs (lots in Boost, none in Tika) and good wet sloppy anti-poison-oak baths when we got home. Whew, that's a lot of work!

A few more photos along the same lines here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

No Fruit Dogs To Help In This Heat

SUMMARY: Plums are ripe; where's Jake when you need him? Mighty hot for these here parts.

Yesterday the official South San Jose reading was 106 F (41 C). The forecast for today was cooler--105. Here's my indoor-outdoor thermometer as of noon today (plus you can enjoy the last bit of 1970-era wallpaper that I STILL haven't taken out of the kitchen):

Although the thermometer in the shade of my dying apple tree begs to differ (but it's still darned hot):

Tika followed me outside on the off chance that I might do something interesting, but then quickly schlumped into the little bit of shade against the house. Panting. But then, Tika always pants.

Boost, as always, grabbed the favorite yard toy on the off chance that someone might throw it for her, but then dodged into the little bit of shade against the Giant Shrubbery. Panting. And she does NOT always pant.

I also noted that my plum tree is shedding ripe fruit at a prodigious pace; some PLUMmetted to the ground as a I watched. But it was wayyy to hot to do anything about it. If Jake had been here, he'd have helped out by scarfing down every fallen plum no matter where it landed or how hard it was to get at. He was the consummate Fruit Dog.

But my current collection of four-footed vacuum cleaners are not so keen on fruit. In some ways, that's OK--plums have lots of sugar and so always made Jake fat, plus ingesting a million plums has an interesting--er--loosening effect, shall we say. But, still, all these plums giving their lives for nothing, and there their little PITiful corpses lie.

As of half an hour ago, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in 15 minutes and a cloud cover rolled in. Said I to Renter Guy, If this weren't California, I'd say that it looks like thunderstorm weather.

Renter Guy dragged me away from the computer to go pick plums. At least there's someone in this house who's pretty avid about getting fruit off the trees. He does lemons and oranges, too; I'm just too lazy. But I really like plums, and they're available in my own yard for only about two weeks, so I went along with it.

Then, suddenly, big spattery raindrops and a big boom in the sky. Great, and there I am with my proverbial 10-foot pole, picking fruit out of a tree. Let's home that Mr. Lightning is more attracted to the chimney or antenna. Which incidentally will be totally worthless with the changeover to HDTV. So that now I will have TWO gigantic useless metal things on my room, as it joins the SETDA*-sized satellite dish that was obsolete long before I bought this house. Add those to my to-do list.
*Search for ExtraTerrestrial Dog Agility.

Meanwhile, this evening, I'll be dog-sitting a friend's friend's Siberian Husky. In this weather! Then I can do a side-by-side comparison of Tika's possible Husky ancestry.

Day 6 of Havasu/Grand Canyon Trip

SUMMARY: Day 6 photos are done! Just one more half a day at the Grand Canyon to go.

On Thursday, Day 6, we crawled from our toasty sleeping bags into freezing air. It hailed a bit at breakfast. A 40% chance of thundershowers was predicted. After a futile foray to try to find another battery for my camera, we strolled to the shuttle stop in the hail/snow and started our tour of the rim. Delightfully, the sun came out and we strolled the rim trail in pleasant weather. But by lunchtime, freezing winds and hail/snow had driven everyone back into the shuttle buses. With white-out conditions in the canyon, we bought a hot lunch indoors and then went to Tusayan to watch the IMAX Grand Canyon film.

Photos here.

Previous posts about this trip:
* Day 5
* Day 4
* Days 1-3

Friday, June 20, 2008

Various Views

SUMMARY: The view from Tika. The view from ringside. The view from class.

Spring has sprung.
Fall has fell.
Summer's here,
and it's hotter than
Up around 100 yesterday, today, tomorrow in my part of San Jose. You expect that in Phoenix. It's brutal here, especially without air conditioning.

Except that I've spent a lot of hours this week away from my home office, at my client's air-conditioned building. Wednesday I was gone from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., after throwing in the Wed. evening hike.

Thursday morning, Tika started showing her teeth at Boost and even snapped at her a couple of times. I had to think about it a little bit: OK, I was gone all day. Tika isn't good about bringing me toys (well--might bring one, but then not bring it back again), but Boost will usually keep bringing me a toy, so I threw it for Boost off-handedly while catching up on my email. In the yard in the morning, I ran through a couple of agility exercises with Tika who, as usual, did them very well, then I told her to go lie down while I worked with Boost (this is normal). Tika kept charging in to chase Boost (this is normal), and I yelled at her a couple of times to cut it out and go lie down (sadly, this is normal, too).

But somewhere in all of that, Tika's point of view was that Boost was getting all the love and affection and attention, and she took it out on that poor Puppy. I felt so badly for both of them; they have always gotten along fabulously in the 3-plus years that Boost has been here. I seem to have fixed it: I told Boost to go to her waiting area, then I spent some time doing agility with just Tika and playing with just Tika. Then I spent time just petting Tika. I made a point to talk to Tika a lot and touch her a lot. Within a couple of hours, all was back to normal, but it took Boost a while to stop cowering in whatever corner was farthest from her erstwhile pal.

I'll have to be careful when I'm spending more time away from home.

Meanwhile, I just got a bunch of trial photos from a photographer friend (Erika Maurer--Slipstream photo site). Some of the photos are just cool, like me running with my dog (most photographers won't shoot the handler because, they tell me, most handlers don't want themselves in the photos--I have to ask people to please try to include me in some):

And some photos show some, shall we say, interesting things--like, for example, Booster Dogs who enter the weave poles in the wrong place:

or handlers who don't call their Tika Dogs soon enough on a turn out of the tunnel so she blasts wide:

Photos can reveal so much, with just a single moment frozen in time!

Lastly: I'll tell ya, it's hard to beat the views from class at Power Paws, especially with gorgeous sunset colors reflecting off the hills or across the San Francisco Bay in the distance. Last night went through all sorts of intense color phases. Some of it, of course, could be the fires that just keep springing up--it's going to be another very bad fire season, starting this early--but I'll enjoy it for the color it brings to my evenings:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let Lying Dogs Lie

SUMMARY: In which I work and they don't.

One big advantage of working at home is that you're at home. One big disadvantage of working at home is that you're at home. At least I get to see that mostly the dogs just lie around and sleep all day, waiting for me to do something interesting, like eat a pretzel (then they get to have some) or look in their direction (which is very exciting for them, I can assure you) or maybe twitch (which doesn't happen often when I'm at the computer, or at least not until I've been there for at least 12 hours, when the twitching starts in earnest).

But mostly they lie around.

Sometimes Tika lies around at my feet under the desk, sighing dramatically and occasionally resting her chin on my feet, my shins, my knee, or my lap.

Sometimes they hang around by the sliding door into my office, monitoring both the visuals in the yard and the sound effects of me at my computer (has she stopped typing? did she swivel the chair? did she push the chair back? did the computer power down? is she reaching for a pretzel?).

I tell ya, it's an exciting life, working at home.

Wednesday Night Hike

SUMMARY: The usual brisk hike with the Sierra Club group.

Some photos.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 5 of Havasu/Grand Canyon Trip

SUMMARY: Photos are up.

On Day 5, we rose before 5 a.m. and headed back up the 8 miles of trail and 2000 feet to Hualapai Hilltop, where the van was parked. I was determined to get there before it got hot, so the camera got put away, and I took no photos till we got to the top and started celebrating. Then drove to the Grand Canyon South Rim, set up camp, watched the sunset, and got very cold very quickly. It was near freezing and it hailed around dinnertime. What happened to all that heat?!

Photos here.

Previous posts about this trip:
* Day 4
* Days 1-3

How to Win At The Nationals

SUMMARY: In which I explain my strategy for not being at the top of the game and whining about it.

My post about not going to the USDAA Nationals the other day drew several off-blog responses.

My parents do their best to follow my agility blather, and, like very good parents, they've come to watch their kid compete a couple of times, but really the hiking and nature posts are more along their lines of interest. But also like good parents or friends who want to understand more, they often ask questions about things that I take for granted but that, in fact, are not obvious to anyone outside the small agility community (or, sometimes, outside my very head).

Here's my dad's queries and comments about my post:
It's too bad that only Elizabeth Taylor could take a horse to the Nationals, and win. Perhaps Hollywood could get Drew Barrymore (or her ilk) to the agility nationals without anyone but her hoping to do well. And win.
It sounds as though you're being rational about the whole thing. But what are the things that you have to do to go, successfully, to the nationals? Love the dogs you have, but acquire champions?
Because you probably can't get winning coaches to take your dogs through the courses and have them do better than with you. And it would be disappointing if they could and did.
"Do thousands of repetitions" sounds like someone who doesn't have to do some wage-earning. Or who earns enough so that they can hire a full time trainer.

And here's my final response:

About "agility nationals": There are different flavors of "agility nationals." USDAA national championships (really, the Cynosports World Championships) is a very different animal from CPE national championships (the other venue in which I compete). At the last CPE National Championships that I attended, Tika won 5 out of 9 classes, Qualified in 8 of 9, earned High-In-Trial in her category, and missed by about one foot of distance in a gamble being in the running for high-in-trial over all. So there are some agility national championships that we are plenty qualified for. However, most of the top competitors in USDAA (and AKC, and the world) don't bother with CPE. So--we're good, but we're not in the top tier over all.

Tika's chances: 4-5 years ago, I'd have said that Tika had a moderate chance of making it to the finals at USDAA Nationals in either Steeplechase or Grand Prix. She wasn't winning anything locally, mostly because of knocking danged bars, but her *speed* was in the range where, if I could avoid making foolish moves on course and she could avoid knocking bars, I could see us being there--assuming that enough of the topmost dogs collectively had problems with those things, giving us room to squeeze in. I would never have said that she had a chance of winning, though; too many very good dogs for them ALL to crap out.

However, every year, the dogs get faster and faster and more accurate and the handling gets better and better. It's been an evolving sport and the increases in performance of people and canines has been amazing to watch. So--Tika is much faster than Jake or Remington were. She can do 12 weave poles in around 3 seconds, which is much faster than either of the boys could do them, and that seemed fast to me. But now--Boost can do them in 2 seconds!

And Tika might be slowing down just a little bit. Maybe not much. But consider that the time separating the top 8 dogs in Boost's height of the Steeplechase finals last year was about 1.5 seconds total; the difference between 1st & 2nd in Tika's height of Grand Prix finals was .02 seconds.

So something like having weave poles that are 1 second slower just about puts us out of the running right away. Could I speed up Tika's weaves? I dunno. Some methods have been suggested, but at her age, it seems unlikely, and her running style is just enough different from those low-to-the-ground border collies that it also seems unlikely. AND, OK, I'm too lazy to want to spend the time to try retraining.

Get a champion dog: Boost is champion-quality, even in today's tough competitive environment, in these terms: Speed (she is physically just incredibly fast; she's built for it). Drive (desire to do it and to do it at the utmost of her body's ability). Agility (she can turn on a dime, she can do any obstacle at optimum speed, that sort of thing.) With the right handler and training, there is no physical or mental reason on her part why she couldn't win at the top levels.

And there's the rub. I've never been the most coordinated person in athletics. Maybe better than the average bear, but not by much. I can think I'm doing one thing, but watching the video shows that I'm doing something completely different. If I were really determined to win, I'd make a concerted effort to videotape all my runs, and probably some specific sequences at home or in class over and over to figure out where I'm going wrong, and work at it, reviewing the videotape, until I got it right.

And, even more, I don't have a good training regimen. I practice what I feel like practicing when I feel like it. The truth is that I want to have a chance at winning without really putting in the work in that's required to do it today.

About those "thousands of repetitions"--the sequence that my instructor suggested would take maybe 15 seconds including a reward. I could do it ten times, three times a day, and it would really hardly be a blip in my schedule. But, like, OK, boring. See? I'm not Olympic champion material, and so my world-class dog performs like a neighborhood-class dog if you just look at the final results. (On any given shorter sequence or single obstacle perforance, she's world-class. 2-second weaves. 2-second dogwalk. Runs full speed across the teeter and slides to the end to slam it to the ground. World-class. There are very few dogs that are much better than that. Just--there are many dogs who are in the *same* class. And, yup, the difference is the handler and the training.)

One example of dog vs training vs handler: Several years ago, there was a world-class Border Collie competing in USDAA. He was in the Top Ten (in the nation) categories. He won events. He was at the top of his game. Then his owner died. A friend kept competing with the dog, since he was still in his prime and eager to go. But basically he became an Ordinary Dog. Oh, they did OK. They earned qualifying scores (meeting the minimum requirements) and thereby eventually earned a championship in one agility organization. And he always looked like he was having a generally good time, so it was a happy ending, really. But the new handler didn't have what the old handler had. So it wasn't the dog, and it wasn't the training (at least, not of the dog).

So, sure, if "the right person" were handling my dogs, maybe they'd be in the Top Ten and winning local Steeplechases left and right. So I've got the right dog(s). I couldn't ask for better than Boost, certainly.

Other handlers: But, no, of course I wouldn't have someone else run my dog! There are a very few cases of people running other people's dogs. Like, when I was injured and couldn't, some friends ran my dogs for me to keep them in practice. Like, there's a local woman who can train her dog in small sequences, but physically cannot do the running required in competition. So she works regularly with a friend who also trains with her dog and runs it in competition for her. But she's there at the start line and at the finish line and she does all the other work with her dog.

But, it would drive me nuts to have someone else run my dog and do better than I could.

Plus--all the best competitors already have plenty of their own dogs to run. MAYBE if I offered to pay someone enough, they'd consent to work my dogs. But why would they do that? To compete with a dog who wasn't their own companion and training partner? I know that it's done in horse racing and in dog conformation shows. Bummer! And I know of one handler who gets paid specificially to run other people's dogs because she can earn Qs with them and their owners can't. But thank goodness dog agility isn't like that for the most part. Agility continues to be about me and my dogs doing things together, bonding, getting to know and love each other.

I wouldn't say that world-class dogs are a dime a dozen, but now they're certainly very available, now that people know what to look for in an agility dog (rather than how most of us--and the sport--started, with whatever dog happened to be hanging around in the back yard looking bored). So the question is--am I a world-class handler? No. And, really, I don't have any right to whine (although I will, regularly), because I know perfectly well that I don't put the time and energy into being a world-class handler.

So how many repetitions of that agility drill could I have done while editing this blog? There ya go.

The world-class dogs stretch out for their morning nontraining session:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Work Those Doggie Legs

SUMMARY: Finally, hiking WITH the Taj MuttHall beasties.

Today, we hiked the Los Gatos Creek Trail from Main Street in downtown Los Gatos to the Lexington Reservoir. Round trip, we covered probably 3.5 miles. A very slight uphill towards the dam, with only a couple of steeper sections.

Now, Los Gatos, besides being upscale and beautiful with small-town charm:

is also just about the dog-friendliest town this side of Sirius. How many towns have drinking fountains not only with child-height fountains, but dog-height, too?

In fact, there are so many people walking around with dogs on nice sunny weekend mornings in downtown that you just about feel like a canine Luddite. (Hmm, bad metaphor. Will have to ponder later.) The thing about walking Tika around other dogs, though, is that I have to have my hand in her collar and be managing her ferocious barking and shrieking and lunging. Today we avoided the shrieking, probably because there were so MANY dogs that she wanted to save her energy for the next one coming down the road.

Why she can calm down and not care about dogs at an agility trial but not after passing 40 or 50 dogs on the street, I dunno. She's definitely all noise and no bite, but I can't very well say to complete strangers, "Hey, if I let my dog lunge at your dog so that she can sniff his butt, she'll be happy. Is that OK with you?" Yeah, right.

So I couldn't take photos of ANY of the wonderful variety of beasts, from Boston Terrier to harlequin Great Dane and all kinds of mixes and nots between, because I had to use both hands for Tika.

When I wanted to take a photo--like of this hand-sized white flower (Romneya Coulteri, aka Matilija Poppy), which was one of many covering a huge shrubbery, I had to first look around for dogs coming up or down the trail, and then maybe hand her off to my sister just to be safe.

So I didn't actually take many photos on this hike. Here we are with our first good view of the dam at Lexington Reservoir, dogs managed by sister so I could manage camera.

It was a warm day and both dogs were getting a good workout. They didn't even stop panting for a photo.

The water level in the reservoir is super low because they're reconstructing some piping that runs through the dam. So the spillway isn't spilling and, in fact, the water level can barely be seen as we approach the road that runs across the top of the dam (over the bridge).

Under the bridge, mud swallows had pretty much mudded up every nook and cranny with their nests, and were actively feeding the heads of their young'uns which were peeping out of all the nest openings. Needless to say, with dogs along, I didn't have the right camera to try to capture the amazingly fast adults zapping in and out at warp speed--you can see one blurry one whip by in this photo.

As we started back downhill, Boost decided that that was enough of this boring merely walking stuff and wanted to play Leashie. Who can resist that face?

First we play tug of war with Leashie, then she shakes it dramatically to killl ittttt!

But eventually we got back to concentrating on moving downhill, and I took one last photo of some attractive yellow flowers with bean-like pods.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Not Going To Nationals

SUMMARY: The big decision has been made. Probably.

So, last night in class, two funny (ha ha!) things happened related to my last couple of posts:
  • The instructor claimed that we were sending the dogs around a 270-degree turn when it was, in fact, about 220 degrees. The misterminology is endemic, I tell you!
  • Two days ago I said, "I am very good at remembering courses that go in a straight line and go "jump jump tunnel jump jump tunnel," and of course that never happens in dog agility, but guess what our first exercise was in class last night? Yes! Tunnel jump jump tunnel jump jump tunnel, in pretty much a straight line! Who'd have ever guessed it? Of course we had to do some creative and useful agility-training sorts of things like rear crosses.

Later, however, Boost demonstrated that:
  • At full speed after a couple of straight-on obstacles to the weaves at an angle, she skips pole #2. [Insert assorted curse words.] We had that entry several times in class, and I tried it several times each of those times. The only things that got her to do it successfully were (a)put her in a sit-stay about 5 feet from the entry so she's not going really fast (yeah, like that's practical at an agility trial), or (b) put some kind of stupid barrier (e.g., a cone, a jump bar on the ground...stupid things that aren't really barriers except visually) on the ground next to the 3rd pole to "force" her into the correct 2nd pole. (Yeah, REALLY practical at a trial.)
  • If I move laterally away from her in the weave poles, she skips the last weave.
  • If she goes wide on the first jump of a serpentine, she will not--will NOT--come back in to me to make the second jump, just keeps running full speed in the direction she was going, looking at me over her shoulder to say, "come on, you're not really going to make me slow down to do that stupid jump, are you?" World Team Coach, after trying to help me in class, tells me that I have to go home and practice that move (gave me specific instructions) "a thousand times."

Tika, meanwhile, did only 3 runs last night, and they were perfect. Spot on. No bars down. No wrong turns. Very fast and completely perfect 2 on/2 off contacts, just like we trained them. Which doesn't explain why, at trials, she's flying through the air with the greatest of ease from halfway down the contact ramps. And it was completely fun to run her, at speed, with just lovely handling. And it goes to pieces at trials.

So I have been mumbling for a while about whether I should go to the USDAA Nationals this year. I have been every year that it has been anywhere near California. Last year was the first year that Tika hadn't qualified in everything (missed Steeplechase), but this year she's qualified for all three main events with room to spare.

However. She just doesn't have the speed and we don't have the consistency to have any real chance of doing anything other than simply being there in the preliminary rounds. We've never even made it into the Grand Prix semifinals, and EVERYONE (using whiney voice) makes it into the semifinals sooner or later. We just got lucky the one year that we squeezed into the DAM team final round. And the way I've been playing this year, no one will want me on their team anyway. I've just had good teammates to cover for my mistakes.

Boost has qualified only in the Grand Prix. But not in any noteworthy manner--no placements at all. She has never. In her entire life. Qualified in DAM. She has only one Steeplechase Q (needs 2 to go to Nationals). And talk about inconsistent. Goes from one round where our "only" flaw is a knocked bar, to a round with 4 knocked bars, 2 refusals, and a bunch of spins and miscues.

So why would I want to go to Nationals again? I am no longer feeling confident, like I did in the past, that Tika has a chance of doing "well" by some definition. I have no reason at all to believe that Boost will do well. I've gone, done everything, seen everything. The vendors weren't as many or as interesting last year as they were in earlier years, but anyway I wouldn't feel that I had extra money to spend. And it's a long trip that uses a lot of vacation and/or unpaid time off.

So I'm not going. At least, as of right now. Maybe Boost will go to the next trial and win the Steeplechase. Maybe at the Regionals Tika will shun tradition and earn a bye into the semifinals in the Grand Prix, and jeez, wouldn't it be a shame to waste that opportunity. But, for now, staying home seems like SUCH a much better plan.

So, that's my working plan and the universe will have to convince me otherwise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is it A Cute Angle? Am I Obtuse? Test My Reflexes!

SUMMARY: Practicing 270-degree turns.

So yesterday, using my new coneage, I set up what claimed to be a 270-degree-angle jumping drill from the very Clean Run "Backyard Dogs" article that I showed yesterday.

It claims to be an exercise in 270-degree turns. But it is lies, lies, lies! Basically the set-up is 6 jumps arranged in a sexagram (that's the technical name for a 6-sided figure if you don't care for actual vocabularial accuracy). This means that, if you go around the outside from one jump to its adjacent jump, you are in fact DOING ONLY 240 DEGREES! Let's be honest, here! Accuracy is important! Indeed, had the article claimed to be doing reflex angles, then my dogs would have performed much better, because they would have known that the turns would be greater than 180 degrees but not necessarily exactly 270 degrees.

But instead, when I told my dogs that we were going to practice 270s, boy, did they get confused and end up all over the place, on the wrong jumps, coming inside the ring instead of staying outside, all sorts of errors like that, and all because they thought they were doing 270 angles instead of 240s!

Before you confuse your dogs like I confused mine, brush up on your angleish vocabulary.

Tomorrow, we will discuss some other irrelevant reason why I'm not able to successfully get my dogs through a course containing reflex angles in my very own back yard, let alone at a trial. (I guess it's a good thing that I'm trying to actually practice some actual agility moves. I must say that Boost did some beautiful jumps at very sharp angles of approach, which is something she's had trouble with in the ring. I just need to do a million more of those so that she's comfortable with them when she's very excited.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Caffeine, Chemicals, and Coneage

SUMMARY: Musings upon the effects of assorted chemicals on human and canine consumers; plus coneage.


OK, here's a life lesson (file under "Duh!"): If you find that drinking even a couple of cans of caffeinated Coke in one day (34 mg caffeine each) makes you twitchy, sleepless, and prone to heart palpitations, beware dark chocolate. Oh, yes, it might LOOK like "candy" (AKA "sugar"), but in fact it's 20 big fat mg of caffeine PER OUNCE, so if you were, say, to eat perhaps 10 ounces in one day, even if (let's say hypothetically) it's chocolate-covered cranberries, hence fruit, hence healthy and nutritious (am I right?), then that would be like drinking six cans of Coke, and perhaps might make you lie awake, wide-eyed, until 4 in the morning, heart bouncing around like a superball.

Note to self: Take nap this afternoon. Leave. The chocolate. Alone.


Note to self #2: Don't let the dogs at it, either. Theobromine kills. (Notes from my email in the Fall of 2000:
"I nearly killed Jake...is now in recovery [at the emergency clinic]--but I spent 24 hours not knowing what he had gotten into & thinking it was something in one of the piles of junk that the landlord still has here (having found a chewed-up pesticide box but that contained apparently sealed bottles, & pesticide symptoms didn't match but I was convinced it was something in the yard [ and called poison control 2 or 3 times before and after taking him to the emergency clinic]). What a nightmare...

"He got into a Costco-sized bag of semisweet chocolate morsels that I didn't even know I had, let alone was anywhere near where he could get at it. It was one of the scariest nights of my life. [I was at home, crying, while he was at the emergency vet's, and finally just decided to start unpacking the boxes in the kitchen, and finally found the bag, in a box that had been untaped but wasn't open; he must have been sticking his head in under the flap and munching. I was so relieved to finally know what the problem was.]

"Theobromine....is highly toxic to dogs and, [in Jake, ]caused a racing heartbeat [that was so fast that I couldn't count it--tell me that isn't terrifying--], vomiting, horrific diarrhea, and hallucinations. [The only dire symptoms that he escaped--and we were just damned lucky, I think--were] seizures and death."


But that's not really why I called you all here.

Sitting awake at my kitchen table in the wee hours inspired me to talk about coneage. Yes, that's coneage, like as in signage:

Main Entry: sign·age
Pronunciation: \ˈsī-nij\
Function: noun
: signs (as of identification, warning, or direction) or a system of such signs

This word is not my coinage; I blame it on my Punmeister Instructor who sometimes deviates from puns into other wordplay.

Main Entry: cone·age
Pronunciation: \ˈkōn-nij\
Function: noun
: cones (as of numberage for a collection of agility equipage) or a system of such cones

So, I was inspired because I just bought at the flea market, ta-da, finally! my own coneage for my own numbered courses! Six orange cones (sadly, not purple) for only $3! Much better than I could get anywhere else! Now, it is true that I had to number them myself, but hey, I needed practice counting from 1 to 6! Plus now Boost and Tika can decide whether bowling is on their agenda:

And anyway I already warmed up by numbering my previous very own coneage, although it might not be very cone-shaped, had the big advantage of being FREE because I already had them:

However, their main disadvantages were (a) they moved around the course randomly in a stiff breeze (b) they moved around the course randomly when Boost discovered that they make really fun noises when chomped on and (c) they don't stack very easily.

Now, I have graduated to another, more conelike, better stacking, variety of coneage for the numbers beyond 6, also free (if you disregard the $2 each for the plants that came in them). I had to number these myself, too, which is rude considering that I paid $2 each for them:

And why would anyone need numbered cones in their very own back yard, when no one is laying out courses except your very self? Because I am very good at remembering courses that go in a straight line and go "jump jump tunnel jump jump tunnel" but very bad at remembering clever courses that actually teach me and my actual agility dogs some actual useful moves. Like all those nifty courses that use identical equipage but different numberage in Clean Run's "Backyard Dogs," which I can't even remember more than 3 or 4 numbers on the first course, let alone up to 10 on a dozen different yet same courses. Like this:

And now, before I leave you, I'll give you one additional nifty tip about coneage in addition to those various clever ways to have FREE although breezable coneages of your own:
You must always stack cones with the lowest number on TOP. This is so that the next person laying out the cones can easily see that the correct number is next and can easily lift the next cone from the top of the pile. Like this: