a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: June 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ooooh Noooo!

SUMMARY: Agility trial angst.

Wait--how is it possible that I'm already almost at this weekend's 3-day USDAA trial in Prunedale? Starting FRIDAY morning! Ack! Have we practiced ANYTHING that we need to practice? No! None! Nothing!

And I just realized that of COURSE we're not having class Thursday night this week because half the class will already be down there camping out and the rest of us will be going to bed very early.

Need to practice Tika jumping at 26"! Need to work on Boost's bar-knocking exercises! Ack! No time! Too hot! Boring! [wait--subtract that last one--one is supposed to MAKE the things that you have to do FUN so that you do them. ... OK, BORING!]

Ack ack ack!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sister's Family and their Really Big Jumping Dogs

SUMMARY: In which my nieces and sister do some fun stuff with their animals in the heat, and I watch.

Saturday morning, I tossed my borrowed SLR camera into MUTT MVR and swooped up to Portola Valley to finally (after meaning to do it for years) watch my nieces and sister ride their horses. It was wayyyy too hot to consider taking my own beasties along, so they stayed home.

It amused me to see how very similar to agility class their jumping classes are, talking about the line that you use to get from one jump to the next, what lead the animals are on, how your body affects the critter's actions, how many strides the dog--er--whatever--should take between obstacles, being careful about memorizing the obstacle sequence so you don't go off course, whether they should be bounce jumping (well--sort of--), watching the instructor change the jump heights (I'm tellin' ya, those are REALLY big dogs they have up there)--

I espied these nifty but humongous jumps in one of the fields.

In dog agility, it's the *humans* who wear the ankle and knee braces. (My sister's jumping animal.)
My sister didn't actually tell me that she was jumping *before* my nieces' classes, so I got to admire her animal up close and quiet after they were already done. He had to sniff my hands very carefully, just like normal dogs, except with nostrils about the size of some dogs' heads.

Here are my nieces, cantering their really big horse-sized dogs:

What ranch would be complete without a ranch dog? (Shaved just in time for the summer heat wave.)

Or a rambunctious lab puppy helping with the grooming?

Or a visiting dog, watching his human practice her horsework, and expressing his opinion about the whole thing (in between bouts of being a cute corgi)? (Owner claims this dog is sitting. With corgis, who can tell?)

I took a squillion photos of the riders and jumpers and will get around to posting the rest on my photo site sometime very soon. Really. Any day now.

We're Havin' A Heat Wave

SUMMARY: In which we attempt to get the TMH dogs to go swimming in an actual swimming pool.

106 F (41 C) today on my back deck. Yeesh. (Although the official temp, at the airport, closer to the bay, was a mere 94, the Los Gatos temperature, which is farther up the valley, more or less parallel to where I am, came in at 105. What a difference 10 miles makes!)

So we invited ourselves over to my sister's yard, in which they have a swimming pool. I know for a fact that Tika likes to get into water where she can swim a bit; likes getting into the ponds here in my yard (one ankle deep, one chest-deep when full). Figured that she, at least, would like the pool, especially if I were in it with her.

Boost isn't keen on getting into the ponds unless there's a toy there, and even so she attempts to get as little wet as possible. But she loves playing in the hose spray. And her sister can't be kept out of the water. And there are so many Border Collies around who love water. I figured that with a little frisbee, she'd be in, especially in this heat.

Didn't work that way.

Worked slowly at coaxing each onto a shallow step, then a medium step. Actually lifted them, I think. It's all a little fuzzy now. Spent about 2 hours trying to gradually get them to where they'd actually swim. Coaxing, lifting, holding, praising. It was quite an exhausting experience on all our parts. Finally got boost to hop in from a step under her own power--once--to get the frisbee. First time that I took her in and held her until she was making swimming motions, she wanted nothing to do with the frisbee and instead wanted out. By that time, had a decent but not perfect idea of where the various steps were. After that, though, she wanted the frisbee badly enough that I was able to lower her into the pool in my arms, aim her at the frisbee, and she'd get it and make a beeline for the exit.

Tika came down to the deeper step for food, but she wasn't happy about it.

Ah, well. I think we all got a good workout. I took a camera but didn't actually put it into someone's hands and say "take photos of this!" Oh, well.

Photo: Why you shouldn't slack off on trimming your dogs' toenails if you're going to carry them into the pool.

Photo: Afterwards, lying in the shade and drying off.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dog-Food Eating Zombies!

SUMMARY: In the dark, they come and steal our food.

We know that we have night-walking, flesh-eating zombies in our yard in the dark of night from time to time, because I often find plums from my tree that's on the west side of my house in the pond over on the east side of my house with some of their flesh eaten away.

We keep our dogfood in a giant garbage-can-like bin on the back porch next to the kitchen door because there's no room in the kitchen and, even though it's a nice bright kitcheny white color, really garbage can decor is out. Haven't had any troubles with that, except for one year when the really desperate rats chewed through the lid. (Had to have been desperate; who would eat dogfood when there were plums available? And oranges? And apples? And lobelia flowers? OK, I don't know who's eating all my lobelia flowers.)

Thanks to the miracle of white plastic tape--all the versatility of duct tape, except bright kitcheny white--I repaired the lid, so then they chewed under it, so then I had to repair that and also scare them away by putting rat traps in and on the bin for several nights running. Didn't catch anything, just scared them off. Clever rats.

But, to no one's surprise, I digress.

Yesterday morning, I came downstairs to discover the dogfood bin tipped over on its side with food cascaded out across the deck. I don't know whether Tika was more excited about smelling the zombies who were responsible, or about scarfing down the food. Wait--I do know. It was the food. But then, after we had collectively cleaned up the food, tremendous quantities of zombie-odor sniffing occurred.

Last night, after agility class and before bed, I latched down the lid on the bin. It latches pretty good; it is such a secure latching that I have to call a knowledgeable expert, like maybe a desperate 5-year-old, to unlatch it; I personally have to struggle with it for most of the morning to get it open after latching it.

Plus it is a heavy bin with all that dogfood (40 pound bags of food, you know; it takes almost 2 bags. Although admittedly it is now down to maybe 20 pounds) so I know that, with the lid latched, it is one secure mother-feeder.

So, at around 1:00 this morning, Tika informed me in no uncertain terms that zombies were afoot and she needed to go do something about them. Human Mom, however, was very tired and didn't want to get out of the toasty bed and argued with Tika about it for about 5 minutes and finally had to shut all the upstairs windows before Tika gave up and settled back to bed with an indignant Huff.

This morning, the bin was on the opposite side of the deck, beyond the cute little wrought iron table and chair, tipped over, lid off, with food cascading across the deck and over the side into the garden. Tika spent a good 10 minutes checking for food and zombie clues.

Maybe tonight, if Tika tells me about zombies, we'll come downstairs and give them some really good Woofs to scare them off. Might not let Tika loose in the yard; Remington tangled with a zombie one night and we both regretted it for weeks caring for his wounds. We just want to scare them a bit. Of course, these could just be giant mutant angry rats about TMH having wiped out their cousins in the attic. I wonder whether rat traps would scare them off? Or the zombies, either?

Of course, if I were a *useful* blogger who didn't want to take up all of your time, and mine, too, snapping photos and digressing along, I COULD have had a post that read simply, "Coons getting into dogfood on deck. Must do something." Better luck next time.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

No Training. But Walking.

SUMMARY: Busy but active.

Have been too busy with work (and other important things, like photos) to have the energy to do some actual dog training. Need to get back to the bar-knocking work, as there's a 3-day USDAA trial coming up 4th of July weekend.

However, I've tried to be sure that I get out with the dogs for at least a mile-long stroll every day (except the day after last weekend's trial, when my knee was painful and slightly swollen. Lots of ice ensued).

Yesterday I walked with and without the dogs. Took MUTT MVR in for an oil change. While they're doing their dirty work, the dogs and I walk. We got in a mile and a half before it looked like they were almost done, then we sat in the waiting room and--well, what else do you do in the waiting room?

They have magazines for people who want to sit there for half an hour burning NO calories and getting NO exercise when it's a perfectly lovely day out and there are sidewalks in every direction. Danged lazy Americans!

Knee felt fine, so I left the dogs home (many trails in our area do not allow even leashed dogs) and hiked up Black Mountain with the Wednesday Sierra Club group. Five miles or so, several hundred feet up. Small group this time, not sure why.

But it was OK to have a small group and no dogs because we saw wildlife everywhere, enjoying the evening. Saw several deer, including mom and fawn. Little lizards skittering everywhere across our path. California quail. Quite a few jackrabbits (two in this photo--one taking off down the left branch of the road, one dark sitting near the junction).

It was perfect weather, and sunset time always produces such glorious light. Watched fingers of fog from the Pacific slowly grasp the coastal mountains.

Saw Lick Observatory shining brightly on Mount Hamilton across the very hazy Santa Clara valley. (Might have to click photo to see the larger version.)

Knee did just fine; still fine today. Class tonight. Back to work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All the Agility Course Maps You Could Want--Eventually

SUMMARY: New site--visit, download, contribute.

Team Fernandez-Lopez emailed me a week or so ago about a cool new site that they were in the process of implementing. I got to be among the first lucky non-TFL persons to play with it and to upload a few course maps. TFL was pretty excited about the idea and spent a ton of hours on it in the first few days, and from the looks of it, since then as well.

Check out AgilityCourseMaps.com.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

CPE Trial Sunday The Natural Order Is Restored

SUMMARY: Some quick (I hope) notes on results.

Weather was much more June-like today; getting a tetch on the warm side but not enough to be hot.

Today Tika earned 4 Qs out of 4 runs; much more like Tika at an agility trial. So 7 for 8 overall, with the only disqualifying fault being an off-course that I caused.

And among us, we got a few 1st places today, finally. Still, not many--I'm used to coming home with a boatload of blues from CPE and this time it was 3 1sts (only 1 for Tika! and two for Boost!), 4 2nds, 6 3rds, and the other 3 runs lower. Dogs were competing against anywhere from 3 to 10 dogs, mostly on the higher end, so we were still up there. But still.

Boost Qed twice today, the two non-Qs being--you guessed it--knocked bars.

Now, with Tika, let me tell you that we were knocked out of contention for 1st in Snooker because the judge called one of her A-frame contacts and out of contention for first in Full House because the judge called one of her A-frame contacts. She did 11 Aframes this weekend, so missing 2 wasn't maybe so bad--But.

--see--she has perfect 2-on/2-off (stopping at the bottom) contacts at home. And in class. And at fun matches. Almost impossible to make her blow them off. But at trials? Pfah! I just got tired of reinforcing them and refixing them again and again and again in competition, and since she needs the extra speed, my strategy for the last couple of years has become "try to get part of my body--at least an arm, or all of me if I can force or fake a front cross--in front of her as she comes down to make her think just enough to get a toenail or two into the yellow zone." (I don't think that name for my contact system is quite snazzy enough to catch on, do you think?)

Which means that she no longer has independent A-frames, meaning that I can't send her ahead of me to them, run out ahead of her while she's doing them, or be a long distance away laterally. It's a handicap against better handling strategies.

At the end of the day today, as we were all packing up, someone I know only somewhat came up to me and said that she noticed that I had taught my dog "modified running contacts" and wanted to know whose method I had used for teaching them. I laughed and said "modified is right!--because they're supposed to be 2 on/2 off stopping contacts!" She said that she liked the way that tika moves through the contacts. Tika likes it too, I can assure everyone.

Boost did all of her weaves perfectly this weekend if I remember correctly. Woot! And I only had to stop her once after a contact for leaving early--last class of the weekend--and that was after a class where I released her very quickly from 2 consecutive A-frame contacts, so that was undoubtedly my doing.

We still had issues with running past jumps because she's not looking for obstacles, slowing down and turning back to me rather than taking a perfectly fine straight line of obstacles, or crashing into obstacles because she's bouncing around in front of me backwards while I'm running full-tilt forward, the usual stuff. Sigh. But she had some blazing times on a couple of courses. Someday. Maybe.

So. Gotta go. Maybe more info some other time. Or not.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CPE Trial Saturday Surprises

SUMMARY: Day 1 of Bay Team Palo Alto CPE trial.

  • Boost earned more Qs than Tika! (Admittedly she's in a lower level where you can Q with minor faults--but still--that's never happened before.) (Tika Qed 3 of 4--there goes our Perfect Weekend award; Boost Qed 4 of 4.)
  • I do CPE in part because I love getting lots and lots of blue ribbons because I almost never get them in USDAA. But we had some--er--Issues--and our crates were collecting a lot of these today:
  • It was 90F on Thursday. Today we huddled in our coats and blankets at the score table and for the Bay Team meeting at the end of the day.
  • The wind off the Bay was biting and surprisingly intense.
  • This was apparently the Day of the Tunnels Under the Aframes: In Snooker the #7 combo, in Jackpot (Gamblers) in the opening (I love doing these! A quick 16 points A-tunnel-A-tunnel):
    and DOUBLES in Standard!
  • The park in which the trial is taking place has a variety of intriguing sculptural thingies.
  • Pink! (This is Terry.)
    Compare to Green! with Vicke at our March trial---oh, wow, I was going to link bakc to that photo, but I see that I have a whole directory of photos on my computer from that trial labeled "USE IN BLOG" but I never posted them! Doh! Another surprise! So here's the photo:)
  • Both dogs got this gamble (coming towards us: Jump-jump-jump-right side of tunnel; the gamble line is out where the person is walking).
  • Jersey got very excited every time I put the camera to my face. No idea why.
  • Wonderful rich colors and textures. I love looking at these leashes.
OK. Am wiped. Out. Off to bed and do it all again tomorrow.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Demo Today

SUMMARY: A survey of demo dogs. Plus napping.

Today a bunch of us are doing a demo for a retirement community where the mother of a friend lives. My parents are thinking about the same place. Maybe. Or not. I hate moving myself, and they've got 40 years in their current home (and the stuff to go with it), so this would be a big decision. Big.

But today is about little. Because the lawn where we do the demo (have done this every year or 2 for a while now) is very tiny, it's hard to demo with big dogs. I took Jake one year, and he was pretty small for a big dog, but even at 13 years old he kept having to screech to a halt to avoid running into a shrubbery. So this demo is best for smaller dogs who have good shrubbage avoidance technology.

Plus my friend has these cute custom-made agility equipments for households with little dogs to practice on--the tire is full-sized but it hangs in this teeny short light-weight frame. Very practical if your dogs never have to jump more than 12". Or 16". Not 26".

So today my dogs are not going; they will hang out here in the predicted 90-ish F (32 C) heat and snooze, like Boost is currently demonstrating.

I'm going to be the announcer because I love to blather on about agility, and I won't be distracted by having to, like, run. We like to share info about our dogs when we do agility. This is great stuff.

I will try to post photos later of the dogs I don't already have shots of. Here are their own descriptions; my comment in [square brackets].

Scully [maybe Havanese mix] - 13 years old and has been doing agility for 12 years. She finished her 5th agility championship earlier this year and is still competing. The weave poles are her least favorite obstacle and she likes everything else. Scully also has titles in obedience and rally. She has more titles than any dog in the history of Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America.

Sparkle [chihuahua mix] - 5 years old [and about 3 pounds] and has been doing agility all her life. Two years ago she broke her leg while practicing agility but made a full recovery and last month she finished her second agility championship. She has a hard time doing the teeter because she has to go all the way to the end to make it tip. She also has titles in Rally.

Belle [MinPin] is 6 years old and she has AAD in USDAA and CL4 in CPE.
I have been with her since she was 8 weeks old.
She is my first ever dog and she is the reason we started agility because she loved to jump and run since she was a puppy.
I like to dress her up and she has more clothes than I do.

A little info on Bernie [a tiny beagle]-
He likes snacks!
He has his PD2 and C-ATCH titles.
Meatballs (turkey and beef) are one of his favorite snacks!
He has his P3 Standard, Jumpers and Snooker titles.
He likes salmon snacks - too!
He will be eleven years old in September.
He likes popcorn (so everyone should hang on to their popcorn!)
He had knee surgery two years ago - he did 'doggie' physical therapy - it took about 9 months to recover.
Bernie is my first agility dog - so I'm learning too!
Did I mention he likes snacks??
If you run out of something to say, I think you can mention just about anything related to snacks!

Porsche [little Pembroke Welsh Corgi], Porsche, also known as the "Porsche Pupster" for you car enthusiasts out there, is 4 years old, been competing for 2 years. Favorite activities are sprinting, eating, and chasing squirrels ... so apologies in advance if she takes a break in the middle of her run to do one of the later two.
[Porsche was the highest-scoring overall 12" dog at the USDAA Nationals last year and was in the Grand Prix and Team finals. Debbie is so modest, she'll say she just got lucky. Ha!]

Tahles (said like tay-less) [Pomeranian with no tail], named after the great Klingon warrior, Tayles is better known as Tater Tot. He was a rescue, scrapped off the street after a hit-in-run and brought to the hospital that I work at [hence no tail]. After 1 year of surgeries and rehab, he started working the equipment in our back yard all by himself. He decided that agility was too much fun to miss.
He has been to USDAA National Finals twice and finished 5th and 4th. He held the 60 weave pole title for Poms for about 1 and 1/2 yrs. He is a natural-born comedian and knows he is the center of the universe.

[Provided by Art's spouse:] Sooner [Papillon] is Art's second agility dog. They have been competing for 1-1/2 years. Sooner likes to ride in the truck and also enjoys many groceries. He weighs 11 pounds and likes the high obstacles most, like the A frame and teeter. Art lost 60 pounds when he got his first puppy so that he would be agile enough to move with the puppy. Sooner is 3 years old. Art can tell you how old he is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Crisis of Conscience

SUMMARY: I don't know what I'll do next time. Rats.

First Story

Cursed vermin! A plague of rodents invaded my attic sometime last winter and I didn't deal with them right away this time. The vile things could be heard gnawing inside my expensive-to-maintain real estate and it seemed like only a matter of time until they'd gnaw a hole in my roof, or through my electrical wiring, or even into my living quarters or cabinets in my kitchen.

Gross horrible beasts, peeing and defecating profusely everywhere in my attic, tearing up the insulation for nesting, and if you don't think that replacing that is miserably uncomfortable--and expensive--work, then you've never been in a 100-degree attic covered with protective clothing and gear and breathing through a filter mask, hunkering down beneath the low roof, balancing on the beams and trying not to fall through the ceiling into your living room. S**t.

Hate them. Why can't they stay out in the fields where they belong? Tika will hunt them down in my yard between episodes of agility training; the problem is that she tears apart everything that stands in her way--flower beds, hot tubs, you name it. More destruction to blame on the rodents.

They are just bad news. As the Santa Clara County web site says, "these rodents can infect humans directly with diseases such as tularemia, leptospirosis, arenavirus, Hantavirus, ratbite fever, lymphocytic choriomeningitis and salmonellosis (food poisoning). They also may serve as reservoirs for diseases transmitted by ectoparasites, such as tick-borne relapsing fever, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague, murine typhus, rickettsial pox, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and tularemia." Jeez, you don't want to be breathing their waste or having it come anywhere near you, and heaven forfend they don't have plague-carrying fleas. Remember the Black Death? Rats with fleas. Gah.

Damned things are too smart for their own good, too. Put up traps with bait. Caught nothing. Called rat guy and paid him money to set traps in a professional manner. Set several; caught one. One afternoon I counted 8--eight!--damned rats scrambling to escape when I opened the attic door. And those are only the ones I saw. So they're breeding like--rats--and I hope they don't run at me when I open the door. Gah, yuck, awful, I suppose they could carry rabies, too.

Put in poison bait blocks. Not my favorite method because I worry about the dogs getting poisoned rats, although I've never known any of my dogs to eat dead rodents. Carry them around, yes; eat, no. Still. Anyway, they nibbled at them some and then left the bait alone. The hellspawned creatures learn about traps and become trap shy, and they'll sample bait, wait a while, get sick, and never go near it again. Curse them all!

But finally we thought we were making progress. Saw many fewer rats. Rat guy came back again to close up the hole in the roof they were going through (I suspected as much) and we didn't see any rats at all beforehand, so hopefully they were all already dead or had scrammed when we started mucking around in the attic.

But at least one was still in there, curse it! Gnawing away. Finally got caught in a trap. Had to clean out the mess. Good riddance.

Second Story

I had hamsters when I was a kid. And various friends all my life have had rats as pets. They're very smart, very curious. So warm and delicate, sitting in your hand, their teeny little toenails skittering around. The way they sit up and look at you with cute little faces, bright eyes-- And smart, too. Can learn tricks. You can start seeing different personalities, just like you can with any other pets--cat, dogs, whatever.

And I hate killing things if I see an alternative. I'll carry spiders outside and let them go. Rats--challenging. If I catch them live and turn them loose outside, they'll be back in my house or someone else's house or breeding like crazy to spawn more invaders. Dead is probably better. The thing I always preferred about snap traps is that it's really quick. Usually. So I set out a bunch of traps.

I crawled up into the attic a few weeks back to check the traps, and my perspective made a 90-degree turn: I pulled back a massed-up mess of insulation--and there was a nest of baby rats, still mostly pinkish, barely any fur, just innocent, tiny, living infants, all clambering around on top of each other to get away from the light, nowhere to go, not understanding what was happening to them, probably frightened half to death.

Which meant that somewhere there was a mother taking care of them. Mother dies, babies starve slowly to death. Or ther rats will kill them and/or eat them. OK, rats might be cute, but this isn't so much. Of course, male lions do that to other male's cubs and we still like lions.

But, anyway, all of a sudden they were no longer foul vermin. They were like my pet hamsters, like my friends' pet rats, like my dogs. They were families of smart, soft, cute, active, feeling animals.

I felt like crying. What was I doing? How could I contribute to this? Could I scoop up the nest and do the whole litter in? How, for crying out loud, drown them? Given that that's one of my phobias (possiblity of drowning), how could I do that to another critter? Stomp on them? You've got to be kidding. Wring their little necks? I'm afraid I'd just hurt the hell out of them long before dispatching them.

I still felt like crying. I backed out of the attic and called the rat guy. He said, "Awww, babies, gee, I hate doing that! But that's what I do for a living, I guess I have to deal with it." He came over, but we couldn't find the babies again. They were moved or dead. I didn't ask what he'd have done with them if he had found them.

A week or so later, I went up to check the traps again. Pulled aside another lump of insulation, and there were the babies--still really too small to be leaving their nest, still struggling against the light, but now definitely furry with that soft, downy fur common to all young mammals--puppies, kittens, rats.


I backout out of there again really fast.

The rats just weren't going for the traps. As i understand it, if one gets caught in a trap, the others figure out that traps are bad and just stay away. Traps worked for me in the past, but apparently these were geniuses among rats. Nothing. And still a half dozen or more rats every time I went up there. And gnawing away at my house still.

I finally put up a bunch of rat bait, seeing no other alternative. You don't want to close up the holes in the house until the rats are taken care of, or then you have rats inside looking for other ways out. So we have to make sure there are no rats.

The rats barely touched the bait. I kept checking. And the traps were getting set off but not catching anything. How do they do that? But eventually there were fewer and fewer rats and then I didn't hear any for a couple of days, and so called the rat guy to close up the hole in the roof. It was a bear to do--way down at the base of the roof, very difficult to get to. But I hoped that meant no more rats coming in, so I wouldn't have to kill any more.

And then--the final sea change in my emotions. Because there was apparently at least one rat left, maybe two, because that evening when he woke up and tried to get out, he became frantic. I sat in my kitchen and listened to him overhead, smashing and thrashing and banging and grabbing and gnawing and clawing to get out. I thought he was going to come down through the light fixtures or dig or gnaw right through the drywall ceiling. I'd never heard activity so desperate.

And that's what I heard--the desperate attempts of a living being, shut off from food, shut off from water. Maybe shut off from family. Do rats have a sense of family? I don't know--certainly the young rats huddling together in the nest and the mother caring for them have strong affinity for each other. And how would I feel, trapped, no food, no water, not understanding what had happened, wanting desperately to get out?

I hardly slept that night. I heard him all night long, trying everything everywhere to find a way out. Desperate. Scared. Frantic. Gnawing at anything, even the solid wire mesh sealing the old entryway, I could hear the metal reverberate. And it wasn't the noise so much as the guilt--what have I done? What have I done?

It continued well into the morning, then silent as the day brightened and things warmed up.

Midmorning, I stepped out into the garage for some reason, and a movement caught my eye. I turned and looked. A young rat--not an infant, maybe half grown--hesitated in the walkspace near the back door, sat up, paws tucked in, and looked up at me, nose twitching to catch my scent. Just like the little guy in the photo. "Are you my mother? Are you a friend? I can't get into my home and now I'm here and I'm alone and not sure what I'm doing." Jeez, how can a damned rat break my heart like that?

Then I moved towards him, and he moved briskly, not terrified, matter-of factly, back behind some boxes. I peered back there. I had left a mouse trap set from a mouse infestation, oh, maybe 3 years ago, and there was another young rat, same size, probably a sibling, dead with his head caught in the trap. I could hear the other one hovering nearby. Were they companions in this strange world that they'd been forced into, and one had been caught and the other hanging nearby, not knowing what to do, alone for maybe the first time in his life?

Am I anthropomorphizing?

After dark the noise in the attic started in again; not so desperate, but now determined and with a plan. Gnawing very very hard, very persistently, not in random places and small occasional bits like normal, but solid, determined, constant, very hard, very loud gnawing in one place.

Not only have I trapped a living creature in a sure-death situation, I have forced him into a position where he is destroying my property even more. But really foremost in my mind was a moving story I read years ago, "The House on Cemetery Street" by Cherry Wilder--in the attic, tiny scratchings and scratchings and tappings, trapped, slowly starving to death, running out of water, dying of thirst--

Again, I had trouble sleeping, listening to the persistent, determined, constant gnawing. Knowing that he did have things to eat in the attic: The bait blocks. The bait in the traps. And him knowing, knowing, KNOWING that those things were dangerous.

The next day, I inadvertently left the door to the garage open, and found that Tika had dispatched the other young rat.

The third night, persistent gnawing, still, but with breaks. As of desperate exhaustion. Must rest. Must keep going.

Sometime during the day, found another dead rat on the lawn, obviously had been dog-carried. Tika has been going overtime the last week or so as if the yard is suddenly full of rodents. Probably is, now that they can't get back into my attic.

The fourth night, very light, very weak gnawing. Not much at all. You could tell it was weak, weaker than all the normal gnawings and sounds from an attic full of vibrant mammalian life. Quiet. You could almost not hear it.

The next day, another young rat, even younger, dead on the lawn.

Then, that night, from the attic, nothing. And a day or two later, oh, a not so pleasant smell.

I donned my gear, hauled plastic bags and things up to the attic. Found a recently deceased rat in a trap. He had gotten desperate, needed to eat. Needed something. No matter how dangerous. Afloat in the ocean in a raft, desperate for something to drink. You know that if you drink the seawater, it will kill you. And yet--after a while--it seems like the only alternative.

I started hauling out the damaged insulation. Found another rat under the insulation. Poisoned? Don't know. Gone. Found a nest with two young, fully furred babies, curled up, so tiny, so sweet. Gone.

Don't cry into your filter mask. Harder to breathe.

Pulled out a lot of badly damaged insulation, but not nearly all of it. How many more families are up there, dead? Individuals, dead? Not dying cleanly.

How did I get to be this age, and dealt with invasive vermin several times through the decades, and only now have been so torn up by everything? If only I hadn't SEEN them alive and cute and close up.

Next time, it's live traps and I'm setting them loose in the field. I just don't care whether they come back. I'm still having trouble sleeping, thinking about it. I'm crying right now.

Damned rats.

Photo credits:
Evil rat, cute rat

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brutalizing Your Dog Teaches Him the Wrong Lesson

SUMMARY: Old dog-training methods are out. Dominance is out. Communication and learning are in.
In the 30 years since I took my first obedience class and read my first dog-training book, dog-training methods have changed dramatically--in many, but not all, places and for many, but not all, people. And it continues to change, year after year, as dogs have become more and more members of the family sharing people's homes rather than working animals snoozing in the barn or a doghouse. Because of these trends, more and more time and money has been devoted to understanding how dogs learn and socialize.

In my first class, we were told to never use treats because the dog was supposed to do the work for the reward of you paying attention to it. At home, I'd sneak my dog treats when training. If dogs didn't do what you wanted, you forced them to or you scolded them for it. If they were fearful, you dragged them into situations that frightened them and wouldn't let them go. The memory of a collie, terrified of other dogs, being hauled around the ring to every single dog, his tail between his legs, his ears back, struggling to get away, is my most indelible memory of evil dog trainers and a huge reason why I decided that I would do it on my own from then on. (Ten years after that, a fortunate referral to a trainer relieved me of the "all trainers are evil" belief.)

For years now, I've been reading about, and hearing about from trainers I respect, the idea that "dominance theory" of dog training is a bunch of hooey. Here's a new study from the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences that confirms that this strategy has probably caused more damage than good: Article: Using 'Dominance' To Explain Dog Behavior Is Old Hat; Study abstract.

Among the assorted common dog-training nonsense that I get from The Person On The Street who engages me in a discussion about dogs is "it worked for my father/grandfather/first dog 50 years ago so it's good enough for me." An example of a thoroughly debunked ancient training strategy: when a puppy pees on the carpet, hit him with a rolled-up newspaper and rub his nose in it. Doesn't communicate the right thing to the dog--in fact may communicate entirely the wrong thing, may make the problem worse, probably takes longer to achieve the results you want.

Knowledge about, and strategies for, many things change through the years; don't know why some people think that dog training methods should be frozen in time when there's plenty of solid, more recent information about how dogs think, act, and learn.

Cesar Milan is a controversial figure in one large part because he uses dominance theory. Most trainers I know think he's singularly done more damage to the science of dog training than anyone else in recent history. I think he makes some good points; like: if your dog is getting enough exercise and mental exertion, he won't develop bad habits through boredom or pent-up energy. But there are a lot of things that he talks about in his book that raise my suspicions about what's really going on behind the scenes and after the cameras have left the building.

If you're here reading this blog, I'm probably preaching to the choir, so,OK, that's my soapbox for the day.

Here are additional links on the same topic:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knock Off That Bar Knocking and Check Out That View

SUMMARY: Working on Boost's main issue (of --um-- 2 or 3 main issues).

Spent an hour yesterday with WTC ("world team coach", yeah surely one of these days I'll make an extra page for all of my associate's aliases used here) with Boost analyzing some of her bar-knocking issues and coming up with ways to address them.

WTC watched her jump several times and she jumped nicely. Jumping when I'm moving out ahead of her, though? She's taking off early. I'd already identified that one of her bar-knocking issues (and refusals & runouts) is that she spends too much time looking at me rather than figuring out the course. Several things I've done on my own are devoted to getting her to look at obstacles instead of me. So this reinforces that issue.

We also identified that, when rewarded promptly and "punished" promptly--very promptly--after hitting the bar, she starts doing better, so she's at least somewhat aware of what she's doing with her back legs. The punishment is to immediately make her down (but in a gentle but firm voice, not scolding) and turn my back on her for at least a few seconds. That means that the instant she hits the bar--certainly by the time she's landing--I have to be telling her "lie down" or it's too long after hitting the bar for her to get it.

We also worked on ways to get her to think about the jump and looking forward instead of looking at me for a reward. We experimented with the treat-n-train for dispensing a reward after she's done a jump correctly. It's not bad, but there is a bit of a delay in dispensing the treat after the beep. I'll have to reaccustom her to that delay.

Mainly I'm going to be focusing on tossing high-value treats on the ground in front of her when she does jumps successfully. I could be standing, or sitting in a chair as motionless as possible so she's not looking at me so much for the reward. Which also means I have to be quick with the toss so she doesn't have time to look at me, but not so quick that I accidentally reward a ticked bar. Timing is everything!

So we're going to work on one jump for now with me sitting and tossing treats, or with treat-n-train at one end and a low table or phone book or something at the other end for me to toss the treat to, anything so she's looking ahead instead of at me. And no sit-stay or anything, just telling her "hup" from where she's picked up the last goodie. She was doing very very well at not touching the bar by the end of yesterday's session.

And we'll also work on 2-jump bounce jumps, full height (actually 26"; her competition height is 22"), 7' apart. And gradually adding me standing in different places, them me moving a little bit, then both of us running at them, and so on.

So for her--and the issue may be different for other dogs--the idea is to teach her that the JUMP is the important thing, not me, and that looking FORWARD is the important thing, not looking at me. And we'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile--Just going up to Power Paws is a pleasure. I mean, the company's good, but the view is ever-changing and always beautiful.

In this photo, I believe that PP is the level area just above the stoplight on the left side. (So hard to pick it out from down below.)

The downside to living up there is that you're always looking for smoke, always hypersensitive to the scent of burning. This is a bad thing to see in the foothills below you as the fire season begins.
But--back to the upside--look slightly more to your left at sunset, and this is what you might see:

And this is what class on Thursday evening is like--looking still further to your left-- (those are neighbors' houses you see):
Gazing out over San Jose: