a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: February 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Things To Do When Not Doing Agility #83

SUMMARY: Go to the garden center.

Having large, active dogs and a not very big yard don't mix well with having lush gardens like we used to like having before we had, like, large, active agility dogs and most of the yard cleared so we could have large, immovable objects like Aframes and dogwalks ensconced. So any pretty kinds of plants that we want (vs. large shrubs that can handle themselves in a scrap with an agility dog) go into pots, not beds.

Taj MuttHall especially likes hanging plants because they are mostly out of the way of the Squirrel Patrol. But inexpensive plastic planters, after they've been hit enough times by flying Jolly Balls or flailing agility handlers practicing their moves, plus being too busy to actually water the pots, makes them start to look less than optimal.

Plus the big houseplant that's eating the desk needs a bigger pot, since no one is eating his roots any more.
So off we go to the garden center. Now, the dogs don't go into the garden center, but they inspire me in terms of not buying delicate plants that won't last more than one direct hit of the Jolly Ball. What a surprise to be greeted at the garden center with a sign for dog food! Apparently gardens and dogs DO go together.

In fact, there is an actual genuine dog department here in the garden center with toys and leashes and beds and clothing for dogs who don't like to be completely in the buff when out in the garden, and like that.

If you're light on actual dogs, you can even buy your own, complete with breed-appropriate accoutrements, if you like them on the stony side.

Uzza wuzza wuzza, how could you almost not take those faces home with you?

If you want to know what your setter or maybe springer spaniel looks like surrounded by hummingbird feeders, this is pretty much it.

I note that there are no CAT sections in the garden store. Cats are not really friends to gardens. Obviously Mr. Garden Center knows that. Too bad for you, cats. But if your agility dog selection isn't sufficient to make your garden feel occupied, you can purchase a wide variety of additional occupants.

But, OK, on to the pots. Wow. I love looking at pots. Wonderful colors.

Today, though, we are looking for indoor pots. OK, not quite as bright, but still catches the eye.

We make our selection (a couple of the bluish ones) and start to head out towards the flowers. But look who has come in to the garden center to decide on her next stage of exterior decor: Daisy! Daisy is very busy examining everything in the store, too busy to have her picture taken by paparazzi who admire her little wire-haired dachshund eyebrows.

Fortunately, Daisy brought along Bob and Pam--apparently the chauffeur and the gardener--and they positioned her on a convenient table for some portraiture with a cheap snapshot camera that likes taking photos of pots, which hold still, but not of actual animated beings. (The SLR camera is too snobby to go to a mere garden center with me; it consents only to go along to actual, say, actual conservatories, where it can take artsy photos.)
Then daisy moves along--thanks, Daisy!--and we do, too, to the actual plantage area--and wow again, Taj MuttHall always has trouble deciding from among all those alluring colors. Easier pick: Which ones will die the slowest?

We had hoped that, since our lawn needs mowing again already, there might be some spring/summer plants. But no, it's still winter annuals. Which we decide is OK. But how come I'm all of a sudden craving coconut sorbet? Weird. Huh.

We pick from among the violas and the primrose and head home to throw the Jolly Ball for our own dogs into a pot or two of daffodils or maybe hyacinths.

And maybe someday soon I'll post something about agility again.

Things To Do When Not Doing Agility #27

SUMMARY: Trimming Shrubbery

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Domestic Agility Mom

SUMMARY: In which we learn why it's a bad idea for dogs to play tug of war on your bed on which your bed linens also reside. We then focus on our household trimming and ironing skills.

Tika loves to heave large fabricky things (OK, how do you turn "fabric" into an adjective anyway?) around. I gave up trying to get her to stop heaving my comforter around, and instead got her her very own huge dog-type throw that she does. Throw, that is. Every morning. Sometimes she and Boost play a little tug of war with it.

As dogs are not known for their fine grasp (so to speak) of fabric qualities, sometimes apparently they still accidentally confuse my flannel duvet cover with the big furry upholstered dog throw, as Taj MuttHall discovered the other morning after exiting the shower.

Taj MuttHall just bought these sheets a few months ago and is not going to throw them out. No. We are going to repair the rends. Which requires an emergency visit to the once-ubiquitous-but-now-nearly-extinct fabric store. We benefit from our vague cultural memory that, in this colossus of a warehouse store, we need to look for "Notions." Sometimes that's a great idea. (ha ha? That's your obscure Ken Kesey reference for the morning.)

Found Notions. Found iron-on fabric. Not nearly the selection TMH remembers from our youth, shopping in the cave'o'fabric near where the deer and the mastodons play. But bits of white in the multicolored package. No idea what TMH will ever do with navy blue, black, and deep burgundy iron on fabric, but that's what one gets.

Then one trims them to size, and rounds the corners per instructions. Kitchen shears won't do this. Fortunately I still have my old fabric shears from when--in our pre-TMH days--we occasionally wanted to shear fabric. Now they're in our desk drawer for emergency shearing of printer paper or the occasional carpet snag resulting from dog teeth operating in the incorrect place.

The other handy tool for using iron-on fabric is an actual iron. Remember irons? Mine is practically new because I've only used it twice since I got it when I first moved out on my own a couple of years ago. Or was it 1977? I lose track of these details1.

The instructions also say WARNING! Wash fabric before applying patches! But if you wash it, you know that the frayed edges will fray beyond your wildest nightmares (if you have nightmares about fraying fabric). So what are a few dog hairs among iron-on friends? Now you have to line up the edges to prepare for ironage. This is not so easy as one might suppose, with the stretchable fabric having been stretched a bit during its ordeal. Dang stripes--how can all of them line up except one?

Line up the patches right next to each other so that there are no gaps at all. (You had to use several pieces because the fabric wasn't large enough to do in one full sheet. Don't you like it how I know what you are doing and why?) Now, with the iron plenty preheated to Cotton setting, even though you believe that the sheets aren't exactly completely cotton, you're just following directions, you press for 30 seconds, moving the iron back and forth per instructions.

Learning opportunity #1: when you move the iron back and forth, the tightly aligned patches don't apparently stay that way.
Learning opportunity #2: What's that brown, iron-shaped patch of color that just appeared on my sheet? It'll wash out, won't it?
Won't it?

1(I also lose track of whether we're writing in the first person singular about me the person or third person singular, whether we at TMH are actually singular or plural, whether you're addressing your audience directly, or whether one is referring in general to some third-person entity not directly emotionally involved.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Limbo

SUMMARY: Not much agility training.

It's weird, trying to give Boost a break from doing agility training (meaning seqences or obstacle performance in the yard). Makes me disinclined to practice with Tika, as well. And no classes for a while, since I'm taking a break while working on Boost's possible physical issues.

Just weird.

But my month off from competition ends soon. One more weekend off, then it's two weekends in March of CPE, from which I scratched Boost but left Tika in.

And the premiums are pouring in for USDAA trials coming up. Not sure whether to try to find pairs or team partners for Boost for any of them. If I wait too long, everyone's booked and I have to ask for a draw partner. Which I do sometimes anyway. But it's nice to team with people you know. And because I'm not filling out the entries for Boost, I feel disinclined to fill them out for Tika, either.

Meanwhile, last night we did a brisk 5-or-6-mile hike (2 hours anyway) with the Sierra Club group again, just through the sidewalks around Stanford. Wore shoes that I don't usually wear because I didn't put my light hiking boots back into the van after emptying it while it was at the body shop, and the bottoms of my heels have distinct sore spots this morning. Funny that I can walk a couple of miles in those shoes with no problem, but not 2 to 3 times as much.

Ah, me.

Life is soooooo hard.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dog Dreams, Boost Balance, and Just Tika

SUMMARY: Where my mind goes at night, and what we're doing during the day.

Last night was a night for dreaming about dogs. I dreamed that we were at a picnic at the beach, sitting at a weathered gray picnic table on a rocky crag (which is what surrounds a lot of beaches here on the west coast). It was very cold; we were wearing winter clothing. And Mom mentioned that she had seen Sam recently.

Well, Sam was our old family dog. She came home with us when I was in 5th grade. I hadn't seen her around in a long time. So I was a little excited. I got up from the picnic table and called "Sam!", and there she came, up from the beach onto the rocks to see what we were up to. And she was kind of old and needed her back rubbed, so I massaged her back and neck really good, and she stood there taking it all in on a gray and almost foggy coastal winter day. And I thought, wow, I regret not having done more of this her whole life.

But then Remington, lying on a blanket in a little cozy indentation where the sand met the craggy rocks, snarled at Sam, and Sam thought better of being there, and trotted away again. And I think I knew that Remington was ill or he wouldn't have been so ill-mannered, but he was happy when I came over to him.

Then, much much later in the night, I'm sure, we were going to set up a barbecue out on a grassy island in the stream. It was very cold; we were wearing our winter clothing. (I'm catching a theme here: winter and picnics and water. Perhaps I was cold and hungry and water? In the middle of the night under my dry and toasty warm down comforter?) This time it was my ex and my mother-in-law.

And I was trying to figure out which shoes to wear to get through the river without getting my feet wet. Decided that my agility shoes wouldn't work, and probably not my hiking boots. And I have these old giant rubber boots that my ex gave me years ago for wearing on wet agility mornings, and they've been sitting out on the porch and when I looked at them last month they're all cracked so probably not waterproof (this isn't in the dream; this is real). So in the dream, I pull them out of the truck and almost wore them, but then decided that since the water was going to be up to my waist that it was pointless, so just waded in.

But as I was wading in, an incompetent frisbee-thrower (and I don't know who that was) somehow ended up losing BOTH of my frisbees from the back of the van into the really rapidly flowing middle of the river, and right downstream there was a sharp drop where the water really rushed through, big whitewater thing, and I started to race down the bank to catch up with them, but then Boost leaped in and was caught in the flow and disappeared downstream much faster than I could get through the thick woods.

So we went downstream, wading the whole way, for miles, looking for Boost, even though my sister kept asking me to look for chrysanthemums for her wedding (apparently they spring up in the river if you look closely enough), and I said I wasn't looking for anything until I found Boost, and I was so scared because she hates being in the water and it was so cold. But finally I found the 2 frisbees sitting on the bank, neatly placed there, and I kept looking around, and sure enough, there was Boost, half curled up, exhausted, in the grass on the riverbank, so beaten that she couldn't even lift her head, but the tip of her tail wagged and I was so glad to find her alive.

I know you wanted to know all that.

So we move on.

The vet/masseuse I mentioned in A Break for Boost and More About Boost OKed listing her name: Cindy DiFranco. She's based in Arizona but gets around a lot in California.

Boost and Tika have been working on their balance and coordination exercises.

Backing up stairs: Boost always wants to start by first putting a front foot up one step and to the side, so that she's going up almost sideways. Although a dog who goes up the stairs sideways might be entertaining, I work each time on getting her to start straight back. This is a long-time thing, and I just haven't worked on it conscientiously until now. Tika does very well going backwards up the stairs and always has.

I pumped more air into my 25" exercise ball so it's much firmer, so the dogs are finding it easier to stand on. Tika seems so huge even on that big ball! At the moment, because she started doing it automatically, she's got her hind feet on the ground and walks forward, rolling the ball under her front feet. She's getting it pretty quickly, although she'll often just let it roll away from her so that she can lean her chest on it so it doesn't move. Pretty clever. But I also get her to stand on it in a stationary position.

Boost once again showed how she watches and learns; when I first had Tika on the ball after our session with Cindy, giving her rewards for it, then bought Boost over, Boost immediately leaped up onto the ball. I have had them on the ball from time to time in the past, but not very much; not enough that I'd expect that from Boost if she hadn't seen Tika getting amply rewarded for it. She wants to sit right away on the ball (I'm supporting it so it doesn't move), which is pretty funny. Since she wanted to go up on top right away, I let her get her balance, reward, and let her off a few times in a row. Then I move the ball backwards just a little (so she has to move her feet forward to keep her balance).

I think she'll get this pretty quickly, although a solid ball or keg or such would be easier than the flexi ball--but the latter is better for balance and using the related muscles.

Different from agility.

I haven't gotten the boxes out in a couple of weeks (progressively smaller boxes for them to stand in). Boost is better at smaller boxes. It is funny because I don't think their body lengths are much different; just Tika is 3" taller. Hmm, will have to measure shoulder to hip to know for sure.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Plastic Surgery and a Trim, with Flowers

SUMMARY: My van is back, sans big dents, and I just mowed the lawn for the first time in 2009.

Yay van! It was supposed to be another week, but somehow they got it done yesterday. So both the year-old dent in the driver door (not my fault) and the big boo-boo in the rear (officially not my fault) are fixed! And along with the latter, some little issues from leaving the rear door (ooh--sorry--I called it "rear door" at the repair shop and they said, "the hatch?" Gotta get my automotive technicalese down) accidentally open while opening the garage door. Not a good fit.

I promise NEVER to do that again!

Meanwhile, the back grassage had started to look just a wee bit raggedy, meaning that it has started growing again!
Yes, spring has sprung!
The grass has ris!
And where the heck the flowers is?
They say the bird is on the wing.
Now, isn't that a funny thing?
I always thought the wing was on the bird!
      -anonymous (really; i'm not just saying that to protect myself)

BEFORE mowing:

It takes so long to mow this scraggly patch! Mow 10 feet, stop, throw toy. Mow 10 feet, stop, throw toy. AFTER mowing (big difference, hanh?)

And meanwhile, back in the rest of the yard--

Mr. Dinosaur (who doesn't quite qualify as a dragon but he's so cute who cares) meets Mr. Daffodil:

Close up and daffodilly personal:
Orange primrose:
Blue primrose:
Daffodils standing so straight in a row:

Not daffodils:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Best News On Food Labeling

SUMMARY: Completely unrelated to dogs, but I think that the "Nuval" (Overall Nutritional Value Index) is the best nutritional aid to come along in a long time.

Nuval rates every food on a scale from 1 to 100 for its nutritional value. Developed at Yale, it's based on a variety of nutrients, grains, vitamins, sugar, salt, impact on blood pressure, and a bunch of other things. I first read about it in a brief article in the Sept 2008 National Geographic.

Think how handy it would be to compare an orange at 100 or a tangerines at 93 with canned sweetened mandarin oranges (haven't found a score for them yet, but I'm betting it's quite a bit lower). Or to compare your Wheatena at 91 with Wheaties at 28. Or Captain Crunch at 10. (Not that I'm admitting to eating it regularly.)

Sure, some of this you could kind of guess on your own. But this really makes it easy to compare. They're trying to get grocery stores everywhere to use it. I would love to see this implemented.

You can read scores for quite a few things already at nuval.com.

Favorite Dog Lyrics Part 6

SUMMARY: From KTMH (K-TajMuttHall), only the finest in foolish repurposed dog lyrics.

Who's featured today. [yeah yeah repeat after me: Guess Who's featured next time.]

Lyrics spring up spontaneously whilst laving post-muddy-yard-play dog feets.

Well, who's muddy? (Who's muddy? Who, who, who, who?)
I gotta take a seat (Who's filthy? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who's muddy? (Who's dirty? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I gotta wipe your feet (You're muddy! You, you, you, you!)

Original lyrics here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More About Boost

SUMMARY: Orthopedist appointment in 3 weeks; pelvis comments.

I've set up an appointment for x-rays and exam with an orthopedist for Boost in 3 weeks--first appointment that's available. It's about a 90 minute drive one way. I am so not looking forward to 3 hours of the dogs in the car, resting and storing up energy, while I'm tiring myself out, driving. But I sure think it'll be worth it.

Meanwhile, I forgot to mention that the vet/masseuse also commented that Boost's pelvis is a little flat and a little short. She said that what this means is that she might be less "scopey"--the scope of what she can quickly and easily adjust to might be less than dogs with a differently shaped pelvis. It's not an insurmountable issue. Just might take more or different training. Which was an interesting observation.

Who ever thought, back in 1995 when I started going to class for something to do with my dog one night a week, that I'd ever think about anything like this?

A Break for Boost

SUMMARY: Taking Boost out of agility for a while.

I've commented here about Boost's bar knocking, about my lack of success with bar-knocking drills (which actually work well with Tika), and about some of the spectacular all bars down, all the time runs in class lately.

The next step is to evaluate Boost's physical status. Yesterday, I took her up to Power Paws for a massage and evaluation with a well-regarded DVM/masseuse who specializes in performance dogs (got tired of dealing with "overweight, out of shape pet dogs and their owners") and who participates in agility herself. Boost took a while to relax (one reason I don't do a lot of stretching and rubbing with her--she's not much into being touched, although she puts up with it, and never relaxes much), but by the end of the session her body just flowed out onto the table, eyes half closed. She still resisted some things just from being that kind of dog, but mostly she got into it--as most dogs do. Jake and Tika always liked getting worked on.

The evaluation--and this is in my words: Boost reacted in pain to some work on her right rear leg. Hard to tell exactly where, but DVM thinks lower back or pelvis. Says that Boost's legs are all spectacularly muscled, which would most likely eliminate dysplasia. But her lower back and abdomen need work to develop the muscles there. (Just like us humans with back issues! She and I now both need to start doing crunches!)

The suggestion was to not do any agility with Boost for a while, to continue evaluation of what the problem might be, to give her body time to heal, and to work on developing those other muscles. Got the thumbs up to keep doing what I've been doing, and even more of it--the exercise ball, backing up the stairs, long hikes and running, just not jumping and like that.

So I'm going to get her x-rayed at a well-regarded dog sports vet if I can get an appointment any time soon. Then we'll see from there what more to do. Like: To work on: Teach her to sit up (some people have taken to calling it "sit pretty"--what was traditionally called "beg") and even to do squats. I've seen videos of dogs doing it; if they can stand on their hind legs, and if they can "sit pretty," then it just takes some additional work to get them to go from one to the other. Maybe it'll motivate me to do more like that, too.

So I've scratched Boost from the next 2 CPE trials in March, although I've left Tika in (since I've promised to be the chief score table czar). Next USDAA is the big four-day Haute Tracs extravaganza in 2 months. Would be too bad to miss that with Boost. But--well--we'll see.

Meanwhile, I'm also going to take at least one six-week session off from class; Boost can't participate, Tika and I can always use practice but it won't hurt us badly to miss it; and I'll be needing the time and money for Boost's work.

The interesting thing was my first reaction to the suggestion to stop agility with Boost for a while: A sense of relief. Like, maybe this is a fixable issue and if some time off is mostly what it takes, hallelujah! Like, someone is giving me permission to not do agility. Isn't that funny, what goes through one's mind?

It'll be tough, being at a trial and not being able to run Boost. I'll try to still take her out and play with her just the same. Have to remember to do that and not start putting it off because it's "not important" (like doing a run you've paid for).

After the massage, we went for a drizzly walk around parts of Power Paws' open fields.

Just about the only shot of Tika, because she always wants to be out at the farthest distance, exploring:

Both dogs seemed intent on grazing, since the sheep were in a different field and not doing the job. With San Jose spread out below and vanishing into the glaring mists of that steady, steady drizzle.

We walked up over the rise where the big agility field is and down the other side. There's Tika, as far away as she can get (to the right of the tree near center--really, she's there!).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tika/Boost 2016!

SUMMARY: Election propaganda.

Courtest of obamicon.me.

Walkin' In the Rain, We're Happy Again

SUMMARY: Entertainments after 6 consecutive rainy days.

We are agility dogs not doing agility because it is raining. We've walked backwards up the stairs. We've circled left and right til our eyes pop out. We've practiced balancing on, and rolling, the giant exercise ball. We've chased Mr. Monkey tossed into the dining room twenty thousand times. What we really want is to go OUT OUT OUT! We don't care if it's raining! We're big active dogs with thick, thick fur, fur cryin' out loud!

Human dog-mom is doubtful, as the incoming skywater remains constantly downward-coming. But, Holy Sennenhund, is that a patch of blue sky gathering on the horizon?

We are so excited! Mom has leashed us up and we are bouncing off the walls in the front hallway! We are throwing ourselves down the front steps! We are going for a WAAAALLLLK!

Mom is not taking a toy with her, the fool, so when we get to the big soggy green park thing, she has to throw the leash for Boost to chase so that Tika will chase Boost. We are sooooo happy. Even human dog-mom is smiling a bit--even though it's STILL raining--because now maybe we won't crawl all over her while she's sitting at her desk. For a little while.

It may be true that some of us are a little damp.

And we might need to be hosed down and dried with dozens of towels because some of us have coats that are like 26"-jumping sponges. But our human dog-mom thinks that cleanliness is next to dogliness, so yes, we will do the hose.

And what does the well-dressed agilitiphile wear for a stroll with cabin-fever-crazed dogs in the rain? The waterproof Bay Team logo jacket--which goes well with ANY jeans--and the favorite agility Pluto Unleashed hat, of course! Because the rain must be kept off of the glasses so that one can detect whether an Aframe has sprung up suddenly in the field. Tika, however, demonstrates why dogs don't need no stinkin' jackets.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dogs' Birthday Photos

SUMMARY: Boost turned 4 on January 31; Tika turned 8 on Feb 14.

Lots of people with rescue dogs celebrate their dogs' "gotcha day"--the day the dog came to live with them. I've always been more traditional and picked an approximate birthday. Boost's birthday I do know for sure; Tika's I picked because it was easy to remember (Valentine's Day) and also my sister's birthday. This, of course, was 4 years before I knew that my next dog's (Boost's) birthday would be my birthday. Keep it all in the family.

I meant to post some early photos of both of them, but didn't; was just reminded by Lola's gotcha day photos. So here are my girls as seen when they first came home.

Tika was a big girl when she came home, but in some photos she looks so scrawny at a year old! Plus that was when, sometimes, both of her ears would tip over nicely. Now that one ear never does, even when I press it into place. (The photos were scanned by the photo processor from my 34 mm film and I think they had it set to some weird setting because all the rolls from that set came back oddly done--but the actual prints look OK. Someday I might try rescanning from the negatives.)

Boost was three months old when she came home with me. She was still darned cute, although already past the roly-poly puppy stage.