Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Fun

It snowed at last! We got between 6 and 8 inches in the valley. Here's some pics that Gosia took of the dogs playing in that deep powder--drifts were so deep that Harry and Gracie would disappear! Dyna didn't go on this outing. Her arthritis is acting up.

Gosia says I'm supposed to crop these images but that sounds too much like work.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Christmas eve was a veritable frenzy of dogs and toys and wrapping paper. Here's Gracie and Blink tugging with the smallest toy they could find.

In an rare moment of frivolity, Dyna decided to play with one of the new toys this afternoon.

On Thursday we took the dogs out for a walk in a nearby golf course. The fizzled winter storm still managed to put a dusting of fresh snow on top of the old icy crust.

Gosia got a remote control operated helicopter as a present and fired it up today for the dogs. Harry immediately took over this show. For the most part, we managed to keep him from grabbing it until Gosia flew it onto his head. He immediately bit it and broke one of the rotors but that was easily repaired with a bit of tape.

Finally, she broke out the soap bubbles. Two of the crazy BCs showed Gracie how it was done.

Comments Are Open!

After getting a couple of emails from family and friends about not being able to post comments on Circus K9, I checked the settings and I think I found and fixed the problem.

Comment away!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Traveling to Northern Climes

We made it to Salt Lake City in good time and in good shape, leaving Keller around noon on Saturday and arriving Monday around 1pm. I made plenty of stops along the way for fun walks with the dogs. And as you'll see, the weather slowed us down quite a bit.

We stayed in the Quality Inn on I-40 in Amarillo on Saturday night. It was quite a lucky find as there was an arbor trail behind the hotel with benches and trees and grass verges on either side of a paved path that went for at least a couple of miles in both directions. Even in the dark of night, it was a fabulous place to let the dogs stretch their legs.

It was a beautiful but frigid 11 degrees when we left Amarillo on Sunday morning.

None of these windmills were turning (that is, none were generating any electricity) but I thought they made a nice picture in the early dawn.

Around Albuquerque, the dogs and I took a long hike and they stuck their noses down every prairie dog hole they could find.

After a very long day on the road, we at last ended up in Moab at the La Quinta (super nice and super dog friendly). I knew a winter storm was heading for northern Utah. All the forecasts projected the storm to hit around 11am the next morning. Imagine how shocked I was to wake up at 5am on Monday to take the dogs out to pee only to find an inch of snow on my car.

I immediately moved my entire travel schedule up an hour and revised my scenic route to the more conservative interstate route. This was a good thing because it took me an hour to go the 30 miles from Moab to I-70. I stayed about a quarter of a mile behind a snowplow the entire way as heavy snow continued to fall.

I-70 westbound takes you through some spectacular geology so despite the bad weather, I stopped for a few pictures.
But the weather turned really bad around Salinas. For about 100 miles, visibility was less than a mile and there was thick ice, snow, and slush on the road, often completely covering it. Temperatures were well below freezing so every fat fluffy flake stuck. I had several hours of white knuckled driving.

But we did arrive at last only to find that the GIGANTIC WINTER STORM predicted for the Salt Lake Valley simply failed to arrive, slamming southern Utah in a sneak move instead.

I close this post with a picture of Gracie and Gosia's Blink, 2 yrs old, wrestling. They are both in young dog with too much energy heaven.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gracie's Big Adventure

Gracie, Harry, Dyna, and I are off today on our big holiday adventure. We are driving up to Salt Lake City to spend a few days with Gosia and her pack.

Gosia and I started agility at about the same time and her BC Grommit and my Iz used to train together all the time. Iz was totally in love with Grommy and he was the only dog that she would actually play with. Gosia and I also started Utah Tail Blazers Flyball Club, which is still going strong. This is a particularly big adventure for Gracie because Gosia is Gracie's godmother.

When Gracie's placement didn't work out and she had to be returned to me, Gosia kept her for quite a few weeks until we could arrange transport for her back to Texas. The first part of the video is a 5-month old Gracie playing with Gosia's BC Banshee. The second part, well, it's probably self-explanatory.

I'm sure that even my grumpy old Harry will be happy to see his old friends!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Bullet and To Dog Friends

My best friends are dog friends. We will look at a puppy, or even pictures of a puppy, and if his pedigree is known, we'll discuss all of the facts and rumors we know about his progenitors and their kennels. If we don't know the pedigree, we'll still endlessly discuss all of his possible provenances and sources.

Baby Bullet, approx. 1992.

We enthusiastically talk about poop at dinner parties and other group social events. Hopefully, we are surrounded by other dog friends when doing so but even if we aren't, I've found that isn't much of a deterrent for us.

The occassional, hmm, well, the regular flurry, of dog hair on clothes and furniture are for us just part of the scenery.

Denise surrounded by her Meggie, Scout, unknown dog (sorry, Julie!), my Jack, and Mary Claire, Montgomery County Fox Terrier Dog Show, 2003.

My friend Denise has a 16 yr old smooth fox terrier named Bullet. He's one of the toughest little dogs I've run across: he's had cataract surgery in both eyes, he's had TPL surgery on both knees, he's mostly deaf at this point, and he's become a wee bit incontinent. He can still do a bit of agility, mainly low jumps and tunnels, but it's probably more impressive that he still wants to even try!

Sad Bullet after the first TPL surgery, July 2006.

His vigor for life and engagement with his people and pack remains undimmed.

Bullet with agility awards, March 2006. He's 13 in this photo!

Denise has another smooth fox, a rehomed show dog named Meggie. In fact, it was her interest in smooths that brought us together, way back in 2000, I believe. She recently crossed over to the dark side and got a young Hobnob border collie she has appropriately named Crash.

For the most part, Crash has become Bullet's assistance dog, helping to wake the little old guy for the morning potty runs and letting him know when Denise is ready to gather the dogs and leave her exercise field, because of course calling Bullet isn't going to work anymore. According to Denise, Crash worships Bullet and follows him around constantly, which is of course only as it should be from Bullet's perspective. He's a smooth fox after all.

I have learned so much about dog behavior and training from Denise, which she in turn learned from the obsessive-compulsive master himself, Bullet. He's mellowed a bit in his old age but old dogs can always teach us plenty of new tricks.

Denise and Bullet, December 2008.

The Circus K9 pack sends their love and paws up to Bullet and I send the same to Denise and John. (And of course, to Meggie and Crash too, but this post is supposed to be about Bullet!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Project Mimi (3)

I set up our spiffy little PA on the grooming table last night and played ball with Mimi in the dog room. Chasing the ball is one of her favorite games and she gets pretty focused on it. I repeatedly said "Go!" into the mic in all sorts of odd voices before, during, and after tossing the ball. She flicked her ears back each time and sometime flinched but did continue to play.

Tonight, I set the PA on the floor just outside the kitchen and said "Go!" every so often while I was preparing dinner with Jack, Mimi, and Dyna milling around my feet. Mimi started to stress out so I didn't speak into the mic as frequently.

She always has to sit and hold that sit in the kitchen while I walk away, then she has to perform some action before she gets to go in her crate where she eats. The action can be as simple as having her come up to touch my hand then continue on to her crate or as complex as my doing a lead out pivot and directing her out and around the armchair before she can go in her crate. These are my variations of Susan Garrett's Crate Games and involve self control and focus.

Well, I put her in a sit like I would in the agility ring, led out, said "GO!" which the PA made really loud and scary, then turned my head so I wasn't speaking through the mic and told her "okay, get in your box!" Her body posture was definitely stressed but she held the sit through the scary sound then shot into her box at top speed.

Baby steps.

Happy Holidays, Kitties!

A box arrived from my mother today. I opened it to find a red, pyramid-shaped cat bed tucked into the top. It is fleecy inside and has a little red mousie hanging from a string near the opening.

Of course, as soon as I set it on the floor, Mimi decided it was the best dog toy ever and proceeded to drag the bed around the living room by the mousie.

I managed to extricate the bed and put it on the kitchen table where Bix and Lola took turns testing it out. I think we have at least two paws up in approval.

As I continued to dig in the box, I found a nice red box protected by a layer of bubble wrap. I pulled the bubble wrap off and started popping some of the bubbles. For some reason, this sent the dogs over the top (well, they were already pretty wound up from the bed game) and Mimi grabbed the bubble wrap and took off at top speed.

She led us all on a merry chase around the living room with Jack and Dyna in hot pursuit, snorting and tossing her head with that bubble wrap in her mouth the entire time. I was laughing so hard that most of the pictures that I took have no dogs in them at all!

Mimi finally came to rest on the back of the chair and started to turn the bubble wrap into very small pieces of plastic. Oops! Game over!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Project Mimi Continues (2)

So I think we all need to do a bit of catching up. The incident that created Mimi's fears in the agility ring happened during this trial. At the time I thought she would shake it off and be fine. It turned out to be much more severe than I ever expected. I really want to blame someone for this and it was indeed thoughtless of them not to check the volume on the PA before the judge turned the mic on. As a result of this incident, I will NEVER be in the ring before I need to be. Never.

I otherwise have little control over the reality of our competition environment.

There are few to no outdoor trials in this area. Her class is outdoors and of course my own training field is outdoors but for the most part trials in these parts are held in horse arenas, all of which are metal buildings with endless possibilities of random loud noises.

All of the venues out here use PA systems. AKC uses them to give a recorded "GO!" to let the handler know they can begin their run. No, they won't turn it off for one handler when all other handlers use it. USDAA uses them when judges call points in Snooker, for example. No, they won't turn it off either.

So I'm now reduced to spending hours clicking Mimi for positive body posture and hoping I can get her to do a couple of obstacles before she totally loses it. My beautiful agility partner turns into a panicked, trembling creature as soon as she thinks we are heading for an agility ring, all because of a freak accident with a speaker.

I purchased a new training tool that I hope will help her: a small portable PA system with a wireless mic. It runs off AC or batteries. It's the black box behind Mimi in the picture above. Once she gets used to it at home, I plan to start taking it to class. For now, she will just get to do some tricks in its vicinity while it is safely powered off. I did test it to make sure it all worked but it is far too soon to expose her to this scary device.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Project Mimi Continues

Mimi, Jack, and I returned to the trial today.

I spent the better part of three hours repeating what I did on Friday. I clicked and treated any loud noise as well as any positive body posture that Mimi showed. In addition to the vienna sausages and Bil Jac frozen dog food which are standard training fare these days, I also brought along some raw, lean beef stew meat that I had cut into very small pieces and put in the freezer. Over the course of the afternoon, Mimi consumed almost half a pound of stew beef!

As part of her new fear issues, Mimi now becomes very stressed in the gate area. At this trial, the two rings backed onto each other so the entrance and exit to each ring were along a long corridor between the two rings. This corridor was usually filled with people and dogs but there is an ebb and flow to trials. I waited for one of these ebbs, grabbed a handful of treats, and quickly walked Jack and Mimi together through the gate area. Mimi wasn't thrilled but didn't fall apart so I did this again about half an hour later. The third time I took Mimi by herself and had my instructor, who was sitting by one of the rings, give Mimi lots of praise and treats. She braved the gauntlet and survived!

Mimi appeared to be more relaxed today, even to the point that when the teeter banged to the ground, she didn't ear flick or flinch, but instead lay there staring at me waiting for her treat.

I took this as a positive sign.

Our Standard run was first. She played with her fur tug-n-treat while we were far outside the gate area, then when it was our turn I ran her into the ring and sat her down without giving her time to think about things. I was able to leave her and move out about six feet or so. Jump, jump, then a front cross to the weaves, but she was already getting worried and dropped her feet as I was crossing and knocked the bars on the second jump. She hit the weave entry but popped out. I just kept moving because forcing her do the weaves isn't important right now. Jump, Aframe, perfect 2o2o contact, then to the table. She was starting to freak out so I immediately left the table, swung around for a jump-jump-teeter pinwheel. Perfect teeter, then into the chute, another jump, rear cross on the double, into a tunnel. We had now completed seven obstacles in a row! After the tunnel it was the dogwalk and tire. She ran past the dogwalk so I kept going. She wouldn't do the tire either but no matter. It was over and she stayed in the ring, stayed with me, and really really tried to do her best.

My friend Denise got to hear the post mortem as I was driving home tonight and she suggested that things like the dogwalk and weaves require a lot of focus from the dog and that Mimi is afraid to take too much attention away from her nervous scanning of her environment to be able to do those obstacles. It makes a lot of sense based on what I saw today.

We managed to complete six jumps in Jumpers before she started her melt down. I dragged her through three more jumps, but it was clear she was done so we just ran to the exit. She did stay with me though, and no knocked bars.

I can tell that this is going to be a long process. I feel terribly frustrated because she is such a fantastic little athlete. She is totally working herself into this fearful state, playing some scary tape loop over and over in her head. But I have to believe that I can train her past this, that solid training techniques and careful application of them (she still will have to go to trials but I won't do as many and will always be ready to walk away if we need to) will help her find her joy in agility again.

Tonight she's sleeping like a savannah carnivore with a full belly of raw meat. Tomorrow's another day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Microscopic Progress

I took Mimi to an agility trial yesterday. It is a three-day trial in Wichita Falls, about 2 hours north of my house. It was a very easy drive and a beautiful sunny winter day.

Everyone said this was a nice arena. And I've been thinking non-stop for a week about how to solve Mimi's fear issues in the ring. So it was time to give this another try.

I loaded Mimi and Dyna in to the car along with our gear and set off around 10am. The trial of course started at 8am with all of the FAST classes (AKC's new gamble game) but I decided to sacrifice that run. The Novice classes usually run last in the day and I estimated that they wouldn't start until at least 3pm.

I found a quiet place to set up that backed up onto the Standard ring. I did NOT walk Mimi around the arena. I put her in her crate, snuggled my chair up facing her crate, and clicked and gave her a treat every time we heard the PA system give the electronic "go", every time we heard the teeter bang, every time we heard a big dog bark. I sat there with a bit of vienna sausage on my finger waiting for the scary noises and then jammed that food in her mouth. I did this for hours with short breaks every so often.

I also pulled Dyna out of her crate and played games with her right in front of Mimi's crate, running and jumping and lots of verbal praise and treats, all the while ignoring Mimi. It drove her crazy! Never discount the insane jealousy these fox terriers have for their pack members.

When I pulled Mimi out to walk her outside, for the most part she was excited, ears forward and tail up. When I saw this, I started clicking and treating her even if there was no noise as long as she was wagging her tail and had her ears forward in her crate. In other words, I was using the theory that if you can reinforce a happy, relaxed posture, which is no different than any other behavior like touching a target or sitting, it makes it more likely that the dog will feel happy and relaxed more often.

So, while I did have specific criteria for the click and treat (either noise or her body posture), I spent hours feeding her a constant flow of treats. She did seem somewhat more relaxed than last week.

She did the first two jumps in Jumpers, started to panic, so I ran her to the end of the course where she did the last two jumps. That may seem like nothing, but it was a HUGE thing for us. She left the ring with me, in my arms, and got a jackpot of treats.

Before our Standard run, she played with her bunny fur tug-n-treat near our set up. She gets too stressed in the gate area so I stayed way back from that. She was pouncing on her toy and putting her mouth on it. Not tugging, exactly, but certainly interacting with it.

Once in the ring, I actually managed to leave her and step to the other side of the first obstacle, the tire. That's a hard obstacle to get the dog to do when you run with them so I really needed to lead out. She was clearly stressed but held her stay. She did the tire then the teeter, perfect execution, then the jump after that. I had a bail out plan for every single obstacle and thought, maybe the chute? She panicked once she hit the ground after the jump, so without hesitating, I took off at top speed for the exit of the ring and she came right with me and again we left together. She wasn't happy but at least she didn't leave the ring on her own.

The trial continues today but I decided to give her a break. I plan to return on Sunday and do the exact same thing as on Friday. I think that I will take Jack and let him have a special day out with us.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Postscript to the Big Setback

I hauled out my dogwalk to join my teeter and newly refinished Aframe and set up a course in my training field to see what Mimi would do.

She was enthusiastic, drivey, and very happy to play the agility game with me, performing nicely on the contacts and the weaves. Here's some pictures. You can tell that I was running with the camera in my hand!

A Very Big Setback

Mimi had a major nervous breakdown yesterday. I'm not sure when or even if she will complete in agility again.

We had a three-day trial this weekend, and starting on Friday morning, her anxiety was ramping up with every hour that passed. By Saturday afternoon, she was so panicked and trembling so much that I could hardly hold her. Forget putting her on the ground on a leash. She would lunge in all directions in an absolute fear/flight mode. She was refusing all of the special food I had purchased or made for her: boiled chicken breast, dried duck hearts, she wouldn't even look at food. She was panting and trembling and no way no how did she want to go in that ring.

She did perhaps four obstacles the first run on Friday, a couple obstacles on the second run, and no obstacles in either attempt on Saturday. In fact, on Saturday afternoon, when I set her down, she shot across and out of the ring, and huddled up next to a supporting beam and a trashcan trying to hide. I had to get on my hands and knees and pull her out of this little space because she wasn't going to move on her own.

We didn't go back today.

What is causing the stress? Noise. The speaker that says "Go" at the start, the buzzer, metal doors banging, people dropping stuff on the metal bleachers, dogs barking. All of the normal noise you'd find at a trial but that we never hear at practice.

She was apparently quite worried that I was going to put her in the car this morning and force her back to that place again. I was going through the usual morning routine which looks the same for an agility morning as it does for any morning, and I could tell that her anxiety was obviously increasing again. She just knew that at any minute I was going to grab her and the training bag and get in the car so she tried to position herself so she could watch me at all times but not be within my reach. That made me very sad.

I'm not sure how to resolve this.

We have another trial next weekend in Wichita Falls in a venue that everyone says is really nice, much better than this place we were at this weekend. I've not been there before.

I'm worried that if I don't break this pattern of anxiety, it will become a full-blown phobia that I won't be able to change with training.

I may try to take her up to the trial on Friday. I'll bring another dog with us, maybe even two. Maybe I'll give her the tiniest bit of acepromazine to chill her out before the drive up. I'll try one run then leave for the day. And I think I'll purchase a tape recorder/speaker device (like a kid's toy) next week and take it with me to record some typical trial sounds for use at home and at class. Other than that, I have no idea how to fix this problem.

My beautiful little dog is filled with fear about the game that should be giving us both the most joy, and I simply don't know how to overcome this.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Aframe Refurb (Final)

This interminable project is at last completed.

It's a respectable effort but I won't quit my day job!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Not Spoiled. No, Not a Bit!

Mimi. In my bed. With her head on my pillow. December 2008.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fun on the Contacts

Happy Gracie rolling in the grass on a sunny day, June 2008.

It's common in beginner classes that you never quite know what kinds of dogs you'll have to deal with. There is a rude female mixed breed named Shawnee in Gracie's class. Shawnee has a thing for my Gracie girlie.

Shawnee is a large, leggy dog that looks like she could be part rottweiler, part doberman, part...who knows. She is a rescue, about a year old. She stares, she rushes other dogs and puts her head over their necks, she has no sense of space, and in general shows many signs of poor socialization and a complete and utter lack of self control. She lunges at Gracie whenever we walk past. She's never made a sound but the silent ones are the ones I trust the least.

So far, Gracie has shown a lot of maturity and basically ignores this rude dog.

On Monday night, while we were waiting our turn to run an exercise, I was letting Gracie get on the Aframe and practice her contacts. She wasn't doing the complete Aframe, just going up a few feet, turning around, and moving into her contact position. We were off to the side and not very close to the sequence obstacles.

Suddenly Shawnee came galloping up, chest-bumped Gracie then stood stiff-legged over my pup. Gracie immediately swelled up like a puffer fish--every hair on her body was sticking straight out.

Neither dog was on a leash. I started to grab Gracie, then Shawnee, then thought better of that idea entirely. Someone said, get between them, so I pushed Shawnee aside with my legs and got between them with Gracie behind me. Shawnee's owner came over and pulled her away.

I turned to find my amazing pup STILL IN POSITION in the contact zone! Technically, I had not released her and she was clearly expecting me to continue to play the touch the target game now that the annoying dog was gone.

Now that is some distraction training!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gracie Meets Teeter

I love my method of training the teeter. No monkeying around with all those intermediate steps, no putting food on the teeter to lure the dog to the end, no "walking" the dog up the teeter in the beginning, no bracing the teeter on the table or lowering it to less than full height. No worrying about whether my dog will freak out on different equipment at a trial. It's all about the tippy board!

You'll recall Gracie's tippy board training. I only had a couple more sessions with her after I posted that video then set it aside.

In class we are working a small contact trainer, not full height equipment, and none of the dogs have been run over any of the real contact obstacles. But the dogs are using a target plate and getting rewarded multiple times for staying on the contact trainer.

For my non-agility readers, the concept is this. You teach the dog to touch a target, usually a round plastic lid, with their nose or paw. You move the target around to different places, eventually putting it on the ground at the end of a contact trainer or contact obstacle. (You can even put it on the table if you are having problems there.) The dog runs to the end of the contact trainer, sees the target, and stops to do their trained behavior on the target--voila! this ensures that at least one paw, and ideally two, are solidly in the yellow zone. I teach what is called a two on-two off contact behavior in which the front paws are on the ground, the rear paws on the obstacle, and the dog is lined up square and facing forward, not twisted to the side looking at me. It's easy to teach this with a target. Gracie drops back on her haunches into a nice down and pats the target with her front paws as well as dipping her head and touching it with her nose. She covers all the bases! I reward her for any of those behaviors so she usually does them in combination in the hopes of maximizing her reward.

The teeter is balanced such that one end always drops to the ground if there is no dog on it. This is the up side of the teeter (which is obviously a one-way obstacle for this reason). The teeter is a 12 foot long, 12 inch wide obstacle--and it moves. Some dogs do not like this at all. It can be tricky to perform correctly at speed.

A couple of weeks ago, I showed Gracie the regular, full height teeter. I started with the target at the bottom of the up side and let Gracie jump up on it from the side and do her target behavior a few times, lots of clicks and treats.

Then, I pushed the down side of the teeter (the side that sticks up in the air) to the ground and put the target a couple of inches beyond where the end of the teeter would hit. The idea is that I want Gracie to stop at the end of the teeter like she has to stop at the end of the dogwalk and Aframe. Both she and Mimi are heavy enough to hold the end of the teeter down and stay in their 2o2o position until released.

Gracie was an old pro at the teeter, but she didn't know it yet. She had already run up and down a narrow, wobbly plank. She had already thrown herself with gusto on a noisy, wobbly tippy board. And she sees plenty of targets all over the place and knows exactly what to do with them.

So I pointed her at the teeter and told her to "hit it!" which is her tippy board command, then reminded her as she hit the end, which was still in the air, to "touch" which tells her there is a target out there even if she can't see it yet. The first time we tried this, she jumped off as soon as the teeter started to move. The second time, perfect teeter performance. Ran to the end, rode it to the ground, put her front paws on the target and waited for her treat.

This morning in our training field, she repeatedly did beautiful teeters with obstacles before and after. Not a single flyoff (jumping off before the teeter hits the ground) and I believe I had her attempt the teeter perhaps a dozen times in our 20 minute session.

Now, purists will certainly quibble that I am using TWO verbals for one obstacle. And you know what, from the purist perspective, I have to agree that this isn't very good dog training. But with Debbie's encouragement (and frequent reminders!), I use very few verbals with Gracie so she isn't having to sort through a lot of chatter. And I believe that if two verbals provides consistent and clear information to the dog that helps her complete the obstacle quickly, correctly, and safely, then that's how I'm going to do it.

Mimi and Gracie are living proof that it works.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Miscellanous Ravings

Since I'm a Luddite as least as far as my TV is concerned, I got one of those government-issued discount cards and bought a TV converter box at Target. Still can't get the damned thing to work. It might have something to do with my antenna which is even older than my TV. I'm planning to get a new antenna today to see if that helps. I am resisting getting a new flat-screen TV as hard as I can but I'm keeping all my receipts just in case ....

yes, the antenna is TAPED to the top of the TV

Ever since I got sick, I've not been able to eat meat. I'm not sure what's going on but I suspect the gall bladder remains a bit jumpy (thanks, Mother). I am eating regular meals but the idea and definitely the smell of meat makes me a bit nauseous. I'm dredging up recipes from my college days in Austin when I lived for two years in a radical vegetarian, clothing-optional co-op. That was an eye-opening experience in many ways. For some meal ideas, I pulled out my ragged, stained paperback copy of Laurel's Kitchen, vintage 1982! Wow, that really dates me, doesn't it?

I'm proud to say that the farthest I got from the house yesterday (so-called "Black Friday") was to the street when I dragged out my trashcan and five bags of leaves. I spent the entire day sweating over a little project for work. It's a luxury to work from home, wearing my new pink slippers, taking breaks to walk outside with the dogs. This particular project started out with a simple question from one of the brokers at work but has mushroomed into a 25-page white paper and three gigantic Excel files with more than 30 graphs, most of which are tucked into the paper. I became so curious about this subject that I went back to papers published in 1919 to get a historical perspective. I can see the end of the project, the light at the tunnel, but I think I'll need to spend another day to get there. Sigh. Won't be done this weekend because of my other big project....

The Aframe rehab project continues. One half of the frame now has a full coat of sanded paint on the front side. It will need a second coat, I'm afraid. That's the big task for this morning. I'm very glad that Gosia let me in on Colleen's secret for applying the sand: use a roller, dip in paint, then roll in sand, then gently apply to the wood. I don't quite have the technique perfected (you can see the sand is lumpy in the yellow contact zone) but I expect that I will be an expert after this weekend, and this interminable project, is over.
Even though I didn't leave the house yesterday, there's always the internet! In August, I won an iPod Shuffle in a raffle at a conference. I had never even downloaded a single bit of music before that. I've since become quite addicted to the gadget, particularly on long drives. So I decided to upgrade and got myself a cool purple iPod Nano (with free engraving--I had "circus k9" put on it, of course) and a cool device that lets the Nano simulaneously recharge and broadcast over an FM station so I can use it in the car without headphones. Everything is on its way already!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fun on the Teeter

An amusing incident happened in Mimi's class this week. One of the other students has three shelties. She had just finished running one of them and was walking off the course as I was moving to the start position with Mimi. The sheltie stopped to visit with Debbie, the instructor, who gave him a treat. I didn't realize the dog was still on the course, and started to run the sequence.

Suddenly, I see Huggy heading right for me as Mimi and I are running towards the teeter. His path took him between Mimi and the teeter. Mimi didn't bat an eyelash. She shouldered that sheltie out of her way and ran up the teeter like she always does. I turned and followed her, and being a good boy, Huggy decided to follow me and turned and ran up the teeter too!

His weight changed the tipping point and it didn't fall like Mimi expected it would. But she stayed on that teeter, Huggy right behind her, until it hit the ground.

I gave both dogs a handful of turkey hot dogs bits while they were still on the teeter. They thought this was great fun.

I figured, crazy stuff like that happens all the time. Dogs get loose and decide to do some agility on their own while another dog is running. I didn't want either Mimi or Huggy to think there was anything bad or scary or even unusual about them both being on the teeter. Plus, I wanted to reinforce Mimi for doing the teeter no matter what.

You just can't make up distraction training like that.

Dog Butts

The fox terrier pack is rocketing down the stairs of my first Salt Lake City house. Photo taken in January, 2002 or 2003.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Milestone for Mimi and Gracie

I've not made a big deal out of the fact that I have to keep the Mimi and Gracie physically and securely separated 24/7. Each pup's desire to do serious damage to her sister is all-consuming. The final straw came quite a few months ago with a nasty fight at 3am which drew blood on me and both girls and left a trail of it through the house. Tales of previous fights are probably best left for another day. I tried all sorts of training and conditioning but some kind of switch flips on in the primitive lizard parts of their brains that is not reached by training or conditioning.

Separation is the best solution.

How does this work? I created an "isolation room" in a large room off the dining room/living room/kitchen area by attaching two panels of an expen to the door hinges. One of the expen panels has a door in it. I never lift the pups OUT of the isolation room because even though the expen panels are 42" tall they can easily jump them. They always exit by the doorway. And calling it the isolation room is a bit misleading. The room is in the heart of the house with a clear view of the kitching and living room where we spend most of our down time. The pup in that room is included in all of our activities, she just can't directly interact with her sister.

One pup is in the room and one pup is out with the other dogs. I switch them every hour or so depending on what is going on. The tension in the household dropped noticeably once I made the separation and it has been working very well.

Anyway, to the point of today's post. A local trainer trying to jumpstart her business offered a fun run today. It was a whopping 3 miles from my house. How could I not take advantage of this? I took a deep breath and loaded BOTH pups in the car and off we went.

Given what I described above, what would possess me to take both? There are three reasons I wanted both there. Gracie certainly isn't ready for a full course. But this would be a great chance to expose her to a trial-like environment and for me to see what sorts of distractions affected her the most. I also wanted to make sure that Mimi wasn't harboring any sort of permanent skittishness from her meltdown at her last tournament.

But there was one big reason for taking both. Both girls are showing tons of aptitude and enthusiasm for agility. I can delay it but can't avoid it forever--there will come a day when both of them will be competing at the same trial. I'll have two super drivey terriers who are obsessed with killing each other. At the same trial. With food and toys and all sorts of high value stimuli. Exactly how would that play out?

My family took a lot of trips when my brother and I were very young. I have great memories of many very cool places that we visited. Some of these trips involved staying in hotels for a night or two which in turn required my brother and I to share a bed. We fought like proverbial cats and dogs and would end up poking, pinching, and kicking each other, and driving our parents crazy. Their solution was to roll the bedspread into a long tube and lay it under the covers down the center of the bed. We were instructed not to cross the center line, OR ELSE.

Since Mimi and Gracie can't even be in crates next to each other without growling and escalating aggression, and since I was crating out of my car for this fun run, I decided that the bedspread solution would work for them too. Notice in the pic below the two yellow towels blocking their view of each other (the crates only have holes in the top half). Sure, they know the other dog is in the next crate, but they can't see her, so it reduces the stress. When I checked on them throughout the afternoon, several times I found them curled up into little balls in their crates, sleeping calmly.

Gracie is on the left, Mimi is on the right. Vienna sausages on lower left!

When I opened Mimi's crate to get her out to warm up before her runs, she never even glanced at her sister who was only inches away. She was completely focused on the agility game. It was the same for Gracie--not even a quick eye flick at her sister. She wanted her treats and her ball and my attention.

It was quite a milestone. I think I can make this work.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Mimi and Gracie are physical end members of the smooth fox terrier body spectrum.

Gracie is large and muscular. She is almost as tall as Harry but outweighs my little old man now. Her chest opened up when she was about 2 years old. (This refers to the following from the breed standard: "The foreribs should be moderately arched, the back ribs deep and well sprung, and the dog should be well ribbed up." Their ribs actually open up a little bit, usually accompanied by development of muscle in the shoulders.) Her coat is very tight and smooth. She is in fact oversized for a bitch but she has lovely conformation, gait, and proportions. She is a near carbon-copy of her mother Jen (CH Tamedale Glory).

Mimi is very slim, almost scrawny. She too is muscular but she is ripped without the bulk. As I've mentioned before, her coat is some bizarre genetic throwback to a very old style of smooth fox terrier coat with ripples and waves. It isn't a broken coat and by no means a wire coat. It's just not perfectly smooth. Her chest has never opened up and it probably never will. It gives her a leggy look. Her gait is very nice but when she stops, she throws her left hip out just a bit. It would never work in the show ring.

Emotionally, they are also different. They respond to all kinds of stimuli in opposite ways. Gracie tries to take toys from the other dogs, Mimi doesn't try, she just takes the toys. Mimi is worried about firecrackers and thunder. Gracie doesn't seem to notice either. Mimi barks when left alone in the house. Gracie does not.

Sisters with so much in common yet they are such very different little creatures.

I've mused on the role that genetics versus upbringing might have on their respective agility training and careers. Now that both are in class (Gracie on Monday nights and Mimi on Tuesday mornings), I get a chance to see them in action back to back.

Their respective classes are going great. Mimi totally smoked several nasty sequences this week. She was brilliant. And I'm trying new things with Gracie, using almost no verbals and just driving ahead to the next obstacle (the "do the obstacle that is in front of you" method).

But as I was playing with (that is, training) them all tonight, it struck me that Mimi and Gracie do one thing exactly alike.

I use the command "get ready" plus a small hand motion to move the girls into a seated heel position next to me, facing the same direction I am facing. They have to sit and they have to sit very close to me. I use the same verbal command regardless of the side and let my hand provide the context of left or right. This is how I start every training exercise, every sequence, every run in a trial. I use this command all the time.

Well, when I say "get ready" and twist my hand, both girls spring forward into the air (they will get a running start if they need to but they can do this from a stand directly in front of me), lightly tap my stomach with their front paws and sometimes their nose, then as they drop, turn and land into the heel position by my side. It's a lot of drama for a relatively simple behavior but both of them do this.

I think it is amusing that they both interpret this command in the exact same way, that both express their excitement and anticipation of what is to come with the sproing and the tap on my stomach before settling into that ever so short moment of stillness and held breath. Sure, I'm the common denominator but in this case, I think there's some shared wiring in common behind it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

We are having our first real cold spell for the season. There's a good layer of frost on everything this morning and my basil finally gave it up for the year. (Sure, sure, you Utahn readers are all saying "psssh, that's nothing" right about now, but hey, in north Texas, we take what seasonal changes we can get.)

I reprogrammed my thermostat from "autumn" to "winter" settings.

And I'm wearing a pair of new slippers around the house instead of padding around barefoot.

My little Dyna-bug starts feeling the cold right about this time of year. She's small and I'm sure she does get cold but there's a lot of drama queen in her too.

Drama or not, a cold pup needs a warm coat. My friend Denise makes well designed dog coats in all sorts of fun patterns and fabrics. If you are in the market for a gift for a friend or for your own four-legged buddy, check out her RoverReadymade website.

Here's Dyna modeling a lovely Rover Readymade blue and black faux fur coat with side closure. Stunning!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Catching Up on the Latest...Bug

It's been a tough week. I woke up Monday with a fever, a migraine, joint pain, and a sharp pain in my stomach. I thought I just overdid it during the weekend and headed on to work. I felt worse as the day progressed and left at 3pm.

By 8pm that evening, it was clear that something was terribly wrong--my head, my fever, my stomach were all much worse. I was having alternating and extreme chills and fevers. I'm not usually a big whiny baby but I was feeling sicker than I ever have before. The pain in my head and stomach were off the charts. I was becoming dizzy with the fever.

There was a terrible rainstorm (it rained 2.5 inches in about 12 hours) with wind and thunder and lightening and none of the dogs would go out to potty after dinner except Harry and Jack. Even though I had huge reservations about doing it, I put them all in crates and headed to an urgent care place I knew was open.

After a brief exam, the doctor there said that he couldn't care for me there, that I had to get to the ER. Like, right then. If I couldn't drive, he would call an ambulance.

This was not what I expected to hear.

I hardly remember the drive to the hospital. It was just a couple of miles farther down the same road but it seemed to take forever.

They examined me in the ER and admitted me immediately. I spent the next 48 hours in a cardiac ward, put there because that ward didn't have many patients at the time. What's special about a cardiac ward? They take your vitals every 3-4 hours no matter what. They WAKE YOU UP to take your vitals.

The first 24 hours were the worst. My initial CAT scan and ultrasound indicated my gall bladder was the problem, and because they thought that I might have surgery at any minute, I wasn't allowed to drink anything. My fever was 101.8, which is very high for an adult. No wonder I felt so crappy! The pain was so extreme that they were shooting dilaudid into my IV every 2 hours. Yikes. That stuff is scary. I did plenty of recreational drugs in my wild youth but nothing like that. But even as strong as it was, it barely dented the pain in my stomach and my migraine. The night passed in a drugged haze.

I was frantic about the dogs and called my petsitter at 6am. Yes, 6am. I was not terribly coherent. She said she was awake but I suspect she was being nice. Still, she got to my house in record time, cleaned out the soiled bedding in the crates (only the boys had made it without accidents), and hauled the dogs to the kennel (I called them as soon as they were open to let them know). She went above and beyond and it was such a huge relief not to have to worry about the dogs for a little while. She also returned later that day to deal with the cats.

Finally, after 24 hours and some really uncomfortable tests, the surgeon decided that he couldn't fix me by cutting me open so he passed me on to the internal medicine specialist. My fever was hovering around 100 at this point. They were pushing IV fluids into me with serious determination--about 500 ml every 8 hours. The internal specialist ordered a ton of new tests including so many blood cultures I swear they took out a gallon of blood--they were literally pulling it out of my arm with a syringe the size of a freaking cigar. My insides were imaged in ways I didn't even know existed (N.B. The section on "How It Feels" in that link is nonsense. The tracer burns like icy fire as it moves through you--for almost 2 hours.). They stopped the dilaudid and started giving me Tylenol every 2 hours. Yes, plain old Tylenol. It really helped with the fever and the joint pain.

My fever started dropping at last and the stomach pain just...stopped. Just like that. Of course, at this point, I had not eaten food since Sunday night and it was now after midnight on Tuesday. My headache lingered for a little while longer but at last it too just stopped. When the internal medicine doctor said I could have clear liquids, the nurse brought me two tiny containers of apple juice and two tiny graham crackers. Ambrosia. It exhausted me to eat that bit of food. By this point I'd been there about 36 hours.

They brought me breakfast on Wednesday morning--lemon jello! chicken broth! decaf Starbucks! Lunch was lime jello! beef broth! decaf iced tea! We all know about the medicinal effects of jello but who knew decaf Starbucks qualified too?

I was visited by an infectious disease guy who was doing a consult for the internal medicine guy. He decided I wasn't infectious enough for him so he moved on.

I never vomited during this entire time but the diarrhea started on Wednesday morning and lasted for almost 24 hours. It was probably delayed because I hadn't been eating or drinking for so long.

By Wednesday afternoon, I was pale and weak as the proverbial kitten but feeling much better. Most of the pains were gone, my temp was a near-normal 99.

The final diagnosis? Inconclusive. All those cultures, including nose and throat swabs, never grew a darned thing. All those tests indicated that my insides were functioning to specs (with one exception; see below). My white blood cell count was super low, the only direct indication of a viral infection. Yes, it seems I probably picked up a super nasty, ass kicking virus. No 48-hour bug this one, more like a 4-5 day affair. My gut is a real mess still.

My gall bladder had a role in this little drama too. All is not copacetic with my gall bladder and I suspect it won't be with me much longer. It's only functioning at around 35% of normal. My mother had her taken out a few years back so I'm going to blame her for this. You can't hide from genetics.

I was turned loose on Wednesday night in just enough time to make it to the kennel before they closed to get my dogs. We'll be doing a lot of napping this weekend.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

USDAA and Mimi (2)

Poor Mimi. My pup is usually unflappable but she had a little nervous breakdown today.

This particular hosting club tended to take forever before starting each new course. The course would be built and measured but there would be an unusual amount of flailing around for scribe sheets and setting the timer, finding ring crew, judge getting into position, and so forth. And we were the first dog in all weekend, often the first dog of the Starters class (no 12" or 8" dogs ahead of us). That in itself is a bit stressful for Mimi as she is still so easily distracted. I can't just walk her out onto the course and stand there while all this goes on. She needs to play a lot of fun games with me, and I still need to use food to keep her focused. Can't do that in the ring.

They put the judge on a wireless mic for Snookers so she could call points. This afternoon, they had the speaker placed on the edge of the ring at hip level aimed directly down the start line itself. The volume was turned up far too loud (the only people who really need to hear the judge call points are the handler and the scribe). Mimi was the first dog in (as she was all weekend) and I was working her outside then trying to get her set up in front of the first jump as the judge fumbled with the mic. There was feedback, there was clicking, the volume was so loud we could hear the judge breathing. All of this was aiming straight at my pup's sensitive ears.

Mimi just freaked out. She refused to take the first jump, circling it with her tail down, ears back. I tried to get her to do a second jump and she ran out of the ring. I crawled under the rope and grabbed her. She was frantic to get into her crate, trembling and panting.

I waited a bit, then pulled her out of her crate and tried to walk her around the far ring that wasn't in use at the time. She was hunched down, tail tucked tight, ears pulled back, making herself as small as she could, slinking along close to the ground. She refused food. When I finally gave up and carried her back to the car and her crate, she was still shaking and panting. Clearly it was time to call it a day. (By the time we got home, she was more relaxed and not so much on edge.)

Today was much harder for Mimi. She was very tired--four runs the first day may still be too much for her (note to self to not go overboard on future entries)--and she simply didn't show the focus and energy today that she had yesterday. It's so easy to forget that she's still very green and young.

We placed but did not qualify in Jumpers (entirely my fault), and failed to complete the Standard course. Then the terrible Snooker game and the end of the trial for Mimi.

On the bright side, her contacts were great and I pulled off this wonderful RFP from table to teeter that worked very nicely. I got in some super nice front and rear crosses in Jumpers. Her first run, the Standard run, was nothing like the first run of yesterday. We did do most of the course, failing to complete the weaves at the end (multiple attempts become pointless after a couple of tries). So even though we bring home no ribbons or Qs today, I'm still learning how to be the best partner I can for my crazy little Mimi.

Here are a couple of photos to end with. The first is of Iz's ribbon boards and the second one is of course Mimi's ribbon board that I just hung up this afternoon.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

USDAA and Mimi

Today was Mimi's third agility trial and our first go at USDAA. For my non-agility audience, USDAA is another organization that offers trials and titles in agility. Unlike AKC, they don't require your dog to be a pure breed. And USDAA offers some really fun games in addition to the usual Standard (with contact obstacles) and Jumpers courses.

Mimi had Q's and placements in 3 of her 4 runs today!

The first course of the day was Gamblers, which requires you to send your dog to a few obstacles some distance away from you (the so-called distance challenge or gamble). I didn't really expect Mimi to get the gamble, which is required to Q in this game. I didn't think she was ready. And I was right.

The tournament was held outdoors, unusual for Texas agility in general. Even though we train outdoors in a big field, Mimi found this trial space fairly intimidating and stimulating all at the same time. It wasn't as securely fenced as I would have liked. A determined flight risk could have gotten out of there quickly.

In that Gamblers run, I chose to start with the dogwalk. I had some trouble with her at the start line and all of it was my fault. I waited too long to try to make it "perfect" and she became more worried about things going on around her. She ran up the DW okay but launched herself off the downside. Totally airborne. When she landed, I called her and she turned right around came back to do it again, as I had directed, but proceeded to launch herself off the other end after which she ran out of the ring. Someone in the entry area grabbed her for me. She was totally wired, not at all focused on me or on the game. But on the bright side, she did turn and attempt the dogwalk again as I had asked her to. A glimmer of light in the tunnel. Several of us agreed that perhaps she had now "gotten it out of her system" for the day.

The next run was Snooker. Iz was a snooker queen and just loved to play the game. I learned a lot about Snooker strategy with Iz and was pretty confident that I could do something in this game with Mimi. It's a good game for handler focused dogs. And in fact, we had a beautiful run that went pretty much as I had planned. She ran wide several times to check out the ring crew and the guy taking pictures but we completed the opening with 16 pts and completed all of the closing (which included 6 weaves), another 27 points, for a total of 42 points and no faults with seconds to spare on the clock. That was enough for a Q and a third place. It was a very nice follow up to that Gamblers attempt. Several people commented on how nice her Snooker run was.

The third run was Standard. By now, it was after noon and Mimi was starting to get a little tired. She ran under the tire, the first obstacle, and didn't trigger the electronic timer. But that's not considered a fault in the beginner's class, so I rounded her about and started her again. She did a run-by on the tunnel, the fourth obstacle, but again I pulled her around to try again. Still no faults. The weave entry was very difficult as the dogs were coming off an arc of jumps at high speed facing the Aframe the entire time only to be confronted with frantic handlers trying to pull them into the weaves. I realized that Mimi was flying over those jumps so I did a very strong RFP and basically pulled her to a stop, made eye contact, then turned her into the weaves. She hit the entry and did all 12 poles perfectly. This was a great improvement over the last trial where she struggled with just 6 poles all weekend. She had no faults and ran fast enough to get a Q and another third place.

The fourth and final run of the day was Jumpers. Mimi was visibly flagging (it was now 3:30pm or so and we'd been at the site since 6:30 that morning). She pulled off one jump in the middle of the course because I turned before she was committed. But it was a great run. She had no faults and earned a Q and a fourth place.

1. I may have several different problems with Meems but I certainly don't have bar-knocking issues. Her gigantic jumping arcs slow her down (thus no first places despite her lovely clean runs) but ensure that she clears all jumps easily.

2. I was worried that she might have a weave entry problem after the last trial. She confirmed for me today that she does not have a problem with the weaves. She did those 12 poles in the Standard course slower than she does them in class but with drive and commitment.

3. Each run today felt more and more like the way it feels for us class. In class, I can sometimes layer obstacles and push her out for distance--all signs of a dog that trusts her handler and a handler that is giving good information. Her confidence in the ring today increased with each run. She didn't get faster but her commitment point moved farther out and she drove ahead of me when I needed her to.

4. Mimi never tried to leave the immediate area of the rings on that first run. She stayed with me all day and it just didn't seem to occur to her to run off. I spent a lot of time walking her around the perimeter of the facility so that she could satisfy herself that it wasn't as interesting as all that cool stuff in the rings.

5. She hit all of her contacts perfectly.

6. She read all of my crosses correctly.

7. She held all of her starts (sometimes a bit too long, but that's better than a dog that breaks their start).

It was a very good day for me and Mimi. Indulge me and watch the video from our last two runs.

Friday, November 07, 2008


I decided it is time to transition Mimi to tugging with a real tug. Not that her bunny fur tug-n-treat isn't a great motivator, but I would like to have the option of using a toy instead of food, particularly in flyball.

Gosia will recall that it took me the better part of a year to teach Harry to come to a tug in flyball. He would come back plenty fast, but he wanted to run around with his prize instead of coming to me. With the chaos of flyball and all those dogs on the edge of meltdown, this just isn't a good idea.

Mimi has a different problem in flyball. She comes right back to me but she doesn't come back fast enough. Basically, she saunters back, double stepping most of the jumps and taking her time about it. I'm hoping that by building some toy/tug drive, I can increase her speed.

So I bought her a hand-made, braided, real fur tug (from this link, click on Tugs, then 36" braided, then click on the fur photo). The guy who makes them lives in Canada and does a lot of flyball. When he can, he buys old fur coats and cuts those up for the tugs. This is friendly fur, for the most part. The tug he made for Mimi is just beautiful. He makes absolutely fabulous tug leashes too. You have to mail him a check and if you are in the U.S. the shipping takes forever (thanks, Homeland Security!), but the quality of his products far outweigh the hassle. Iz and Harry went through two of his tugs but it took several years for those strong tuggers to do them in.

So right now this fur tug is the only toy Mimi gets to play with and then she only gets to play with it with me. Here's some video I made earlier this week. I tacked on a short bit at the end with Gracie where I'm playing "bad" dog trainer as defined by Susan Garrett.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cats Are Strange

Here is a video of Bix being a cat, therefore being strange. He prefers to drink out of the bucket in the spare room (where one of the puppies is parked when I'm home) instead of the nice big bowl in the kitchen. And it's not like its easy to reach into that bucket either. I have no idea why he does this. Other than the fact that he's a cat, of course.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Aframe Refurb (1)

Last month, I briefly mentioned that Mimi put her foot through the Aframe while flying up it (she's not SuperDog; the wood rotted through after more than 5 years of use and exposure). Since the Aframe is a relatively difficult contact obstacle, especially for smaller dogs, and since I like to reinforce contacts often, I planned to start the Aframe refurb project right away. I thought it would be the work of perhaps a couple of weekends, take some photos, write a quick blog, and we are back in business.

Oh no. Oh my, no, it's not been that way at all. The Aframe refurb project has taken over my spare weekends and my garage. It's proven to be a challenging task.

If I were in the business of making Aframes, there are some things I would acquire immediately, such as two more pairs of sawhorses, at least four more clamps, a compressor, a paint sprayer, and a sealed room with at least 12' ceilings so I can hang the 10' tall pieces of the Aframe for painting. But I have none of those things, so I've had to make do with what I do have.

Day 1 (really, an hour): I had to remove the rotten wood from the steel frame. I tried to take out the screws but the heads were too rusted to keep a bit in them. I ended up using a crowbar to pry the wood off. I kept all of the wood parts to use as guides.

Days 2 and 3: I used a pair of channel locks to gently, ever so gently, get the screws out. Even with the care I was taking, I snapped off half a dozen screws.

Rotten screws sticking out of the rusted, peeling frame.

Now that I had the old wood and screws as guides, I made my first run to Home Depot for plywood, paint, and screws. I had them rip the plywood--the guy didn't even charge me for the cuts! It's hard to make long straight cuts with a circular saw, which is all I have, and I wanted my Aframe to look good, not hacked.

The steel frame was in good shape although the paint was peeling off in large sections where rust had developed around the screw holes. I used a wire wheel attachment on my drill to clean up the grungy areas. This was by far the most labor-intensive part of the entire project. You can't just whip that wire brush across the rust and peeling paint and call it good. It takes a lot of force and focus. And there are certain combinations of direction of rotation of the wire brush and angle of attack that are guaranteed to slam your forearm into the steel frame. I ended up with large bruises on both arms. I probably spent more than six hours cleaning up each half of the frame.

Multiply this rotted spot approx. 100 times for each half of the frame...

I suspended one section of the frame from an accommodating tree in my yard, cleaned it well with mineral spirits, and applied two coats of black paint (even outside in warm weather, it took more than 4 hours for each coat to dry). I usually work with latex paint, but for metal you have to use the oil-based stuff. Thick and sticky and messy. And I never know what to do with the dirty paint thinner after I clean my brush. I bought a cheap brush just for the task but didn't realize it would take DAYS to finish painting the frame. So it was either clean the damned brush or go buy more.

Days 4 and 5: The Aframe is 10' long on each side, so you need an 8' piece of plywood plus a 2' piece tucked in at the top. And I wanted slats on my Aframe (slats are controversial because some people think dogs injure themselves on the slats but I play AKC agility often and they have slats on their contacts). All of the wood pieces need primer on both sides and all edges. Latex primer dries quickly so I was able to get 1 or 2 coats of primer on all of the wood pieces over the weekend.

As those pieces were drying in the garage, I was able to get a coat of paint on the other half of the frame using my handy tree. But the weather turned so I had to move that part of the frame into the garage. The paint was still damp, so it took over the sawhorses. I managed to get the second coat applied to both sides a couple of evenings that week.

Days 5 and 6: I painted the back of the wood pieces their final color before I attached them to the frame. Exterior latex takes quite a bit longer than primer to dry. With only one set of sawhorses, I had to wait for each piece to dry before starting the next one.

I used a large cardboard box as a temporary sawhorse. Rickety but it worked okay.

I put a lot of thought into how I would attach the wood to the frame. I initially thought I could use the original holes in the frame but this turned out to be far more difficult than it was worth, if not impossible. So I worked out a placement pattern for the new screws that didn't intersect with any of the old holes.

By accident, I purchased 3/8" plywood although the original had 1/2" plywood. I decided that this might be okay: the steel frame was in excellent condition and I have small dogs. Plus the Aframe might turn out to be lighter and thus easier to move once it was put together. Nonetheless, every screw required a smaller pilot hole to make sure I didn't split the wood and to make the new hole in the steel frame.

Tangible progress! Plywood is attached to one half of the frame.

I measured out the position of the slats, glued them, clamped them, waited half an hour, discovered that my first clamp job sucked, reclamped them, waited an hour, then screwed them down too. I then waited another couple of hours before caulking the top and bottom of the slats.

More progress: slats attached and caulked.

After approximately 25 man hours, I've not yet reached the halfway point of this project.

What's left? I have to put masking tape on the frame and measure out and mask the contact area, then apply two coats of two different colors of sandy paint to the face. THAT will get me to the halfway point.

It's satisfying to see how much progress I made today, but frustrating that it will probably be the end of the month before I can finish this project. Still, I'm having a lot of fun making this new Aframe as good as the old one!