Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Fox Terriers Return to Flyball

This is a picture of Harry on the flyball box taken back when we were running with the Utah Tail Blazers. His box turn is greatly improved these days--but he still basically pivots around that left rear foot, almost snapping himself off the box from a single point. And yes, that is a string of spit between Harry's mouth and the box. Aren't dogs great?

It has been two months since we were last at flyball practice with Dogz Rule! I still wasn't sure that I was ready to go back. But with our own club's tournament coming up the first weekend of October, and with Harry's continuing funk, I thought the time had come for us to head to Austin.

The drive up was a bit difficult--Iz's crate was empty. I didn't have any of her tugs in my training bag. Her harness was still hanging up at home. Too many things missing. But Mimi is never going to learn how to do flyball by sitting at home. And Harry was bouncing off the walls once I told him this morning when I got up at 4:45am that we were going to do flyball today.

The trek to Austin can't be done without some planning. It's a 12-hour commitment--3 1/2 to 4 hours for the drive each way plus 3 hours for practice plus time for loading and unloading. It's a long day for me and the dogs.

Since it is a holiday weekend, some club members had plans with family and couldn't come to practice, but I was very glad to see that SIX of our dogs in training were present. We gave them all a great workout. In fact, because we couldn't run any team lineups we practiced all sorts of fun drills for the green dogs using the more experienced dogs that were present. All of the dogs and handlers got lots of mat time--very little down time for any of us since it takes a "village" to train green dogs.

And now I have two very tired flyball dogs. I'm pleased to tell you that instead of eating dinner then plopping in his usual place by himself on the back of the couch, Harry stretched out right next to me. And Mimi decided that she had to be right next to him--resting her head on his side, in fact. In the past he only tolerated Iz being that close to him.

Perhaps we are starting to find new routines.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Too much technology?

The failure of my reliable but old Fuji digital camera earlier this year led to my purchase of a super spiffy, itty bitty Canon, which I love and carry in my purse all the time. That led to the purchase of a super duper spiffy Sony Handycam digital video camera, which if it fit in my purse I'd probably lug around too (maybe I need a bigger purse). Then the reliable old PC just choked on those videos so I got a beautiful new iMac (I'm a Mac user from waaaay back--I wrote my dissertation on a Mac SE, which I still have and which still runs). And I just won an iPod shuffle in a raffle at the conference I was at. It's my first mp3 player.

I'm surrounded by more technology than I would have ever thought reasonable. What's next, cable? (Joking. I've never had cable TV and don't have plans for it anytime soon.) I mean, I'm not a Luddite, but sheesh, suddenly my worktable is bristling with chargers and cables and docking pads and I've run up a large tab at the iTunes store.

And all of this technology, plus some prompting from my friend Gosia, led to this blog thing I'm working on.

I have spent several hours today moving pictures from CDs to the new iMac, thinking that looking at them would give me an idea for today's post. Well, that plan was too successful. I'm overwhelmed by memories and stories about my dogs and cats that I'd like to share. Too many stories. Where do I start? How do I fit everything into this space?

So for tonight, I'll just post a few pictures and think a bit longer about how to tell those stories. All that technology has to be good for something.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Two Tribes

As I've noted in a couple of places, I have smooth fox terriers and cats. Three cats to be precise: Bix, a lovely black and grey tabby who is about 8 years old; Bhumi, an exotically patterned Siamese mix who is about 6 years old; and Lola, a fat little 5 yr old ginger tabby who is missing her right eye. All three are rescues. They get along well with each other. And they get along with the dogs.

For the most part, this interspecies harmony is because the dog tribe and the cat tribe ignore each other. There are intersections, to be sure. Bix comes into the kitchen when I'm cooking and weaves in and out among the dogs gathered at my feet. Bhumi and Jack and Dyna are my bathroom buddies and wait together for me to finish my shower. Mimi regularly humps Bix. I've been trying to catch this on tape because Bix's reaction, or rather, his lack of reaction, makes it that much funnier. Gracie likes to lick Lola's head.

(Here's a gratuitous picture of baby Lola with Bix.)

Jack has a complicated relationship with the cats, Bhumi in particular. He frequently charges Bhumi, trying to get him to run, and if he runs, then Jack chases him. I'd say that Bhum-bhum chooses to run about half the time. It's a choreographed game that both seem to enjoy.

But Dyna, Bix, and Bhumi lift interspecies interaction to new levels. Dyna has taken over the spot on the bed next to my pillow. She has always liked to be covered at night, so I keep a small fleece blanket on the bed and drop it over her once she settles in for the night. This is an irresistible situation for Bhumi, who has started cuddling up next to Dyna at night now that she's got this prime spot on the bed. And I've noticed the past few weeks that Bix wants to get in on that little love fest too. So he's been sneaking his way past Harry, who guards the bed against feline intruders, and curls up with Bhumi and Dyna.

Dyna doesn't seem to mind, so I don't interfere. Until the other night, when I rolled over and discovered a Dyna burrito! She was covered with her blankie and Bhumi had wedged in on one side and Bix on the other and the blanket was pulled so tight around her that you could have bounced coins off of it. No part of Dyna was visible. How could she breathe?

I unceremoniously pushed both cats off the bed and whipped the blanket up. Dyna lifted her head and blinked at me, all "what do you want?".

The generally peaceful co-existence of these two very different tribes has always been a bit of a surprise to me. Their fundamental rhythms could not be more different (the cats are stalking and tackling each other in the other room while the dogs are sound asleep around my feet), yet they find shared moments of calmness and even joy.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Pack

I'm back home from my conference and the dogs are back home from the kennel. As expected, the tan and whites are all limping, but no bloody paws this time.

I always feel such a sense of relief when I get all my dogs back together in one place again. I think they feel the same. They are exhausted from the kennel but still follow me from room to room as I unpack and straighten the house, unwilling to let me out of their sight. As I write this, Jack, Gracie, and Dyna are clumped together on dog beds near my feet. Harry is on my bed, but he only has to lift his head to see me. Earlier, I was stretched out on the couch watching a bit of TV and Mimi was curled up between me and Jack with her head on my shoulder. Two of the cats were wedged in there too.

The world is right when all of the pack is home together.

But for me, the pack is not whole. It's been almost a month since I lost my Iz. I miss her terribly.

Harry has also been mourning. I'm not surprised by this but I don't think I anticipated the depth of his sadness. He gets up to eat and go out to potty, but lays back down as soon as he is done. He has been like this since we said goodbye to Iz. His body language expresses sadness, not the constant electric joy and engagement that fox terriers should have. There is nothing I can do or say to explain to him what happened. He knew she was sick, all of the dogs did because they were treating her differently towards the end. But how can I tell him Iz is not coming back, that the pack, that old pack, will never be whole. That we need to settle into a new pack.

When I'm asked how many dogs I have, I have to pause now and remember to say "five".

Every daily routine has a hole in it.

I'm still mourning too. Unless I'm at work with its endless distractions, I feel sad most of the time. But I have five dogs depending on me for those daily routines. And I have to look at the tired fox terriers scattered around the house tonight and think that it is good to have them here, tired and happy to be home with me too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Guilt and the Kennel

I'm leaving on a three-day business trip in the morning, which got me thinking about this topic. My non-dog-owned friends often ask me what I do with my dogs and cats when I travel. I feel really guilty, that's what. No, that's not really what I tell them. But I certainly do feel guilty.

I can take two kinds of trips: day trips where I'm gone 10-15 hours and overnight trips. With five dogs and three cats, each kind requires some different logistics.

The cats are really easy. For day trips, I just make sure they get some extra kibble in the morning, refill the communal water bowl (shared by all of the dogs and cats), clean the litter box, and off I go. For overnighters more than two days, I have my totally fab petsitters come visit. Tina is the one that comes most often. She leaves these long, handwritten notes with all sorts of details about who greeted her at the door and who seemed the most in need of some attention. Two of my cats are normally pretty shy. Bix is the exception. He is a total attention pig and is most often found weaving his way in between the dogs as they mill around visitors. But Lola and Bhumi LOVE Tina. She often reports being greeted at the door by them. They don't even greet ME at the door when I come home from work at the end of the day.

The dogs are more complicated, of course. Day trips are usually dog-competition related so I nearly always have at least two of the dogs with me. I arrange for those fab petsitters to come every 3-4 hours and let the remaining dogs out. Sure, they can hold their bladders for longer than that, but I figure, it's the weekend and if I were at home they'd be outside nearly all day, and I crate them while I am at work during the week (I come home for lunch every day; it's not the draconian sentence it seems), so I figure they deserve lots of attention and breaks from the crates during those weekend days when I have to travel. Since I'm a control freak, I leave these long, complex notes with instructions for dog management. Tina and Danielle are excellent at handling my dogs. Never had any problems. The dogs apparently love Tina as much as the cats do.

But now we come to the guilt part. Those overnight trips? That means...the kennel. It's a traditional kennel with concrete-floored runs with indoor and outdoor parts to each unit and chain link separating each run. I double up the dogs when I can but I am not sure that makes much of a difference. The tan and whites (that would be Jack and his daughters Mimi and Gracie) come home gaunt even though I send them with extra large food rations, and their pads are often blistered and bleeding. This is because they endlessly pace/run back and forth in their runs, barking and getting all wound up at every little sound and movement. It's a damned kennel--there is constant sounds and movement. I doubt the tan and whites sleep at all. Gracie and Jack often limp for days afterwards. Harry and Dyna fare better. They are not so excitable and I think they take it more in stride.

This is not the horror show that it sounds like. The kennel is quite clean and the prices are excellent. And it is almost exactly 5 miles from my house. Convenient hours. It's basic but is a safe place to put my dogs when I must leave home without them.

I've looked into three other kennels in the area. All of them require non-refundable deposits at the time of reservation! I don't know about you but my trips get rescheduled, rearranged, and even cancelled all the time. All of them house the dogs inside a building, taking them outside perhaps once a day. At least at the traditional place, the dogs can pop outside when they choose during the day and get some fresh air. Or bark. Or fence run. Sigh.

It's a tough position. I love my dogs, I spoil them terribly, but I also have this work thing I have to do to provide the funds to spoil them in that terrible manner. Work and sometimes even play require a bit of travel now and then. I feel guilty. I call the kennel every day when I'm traveling. And we all have a joyous celebration when I return home.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What's for dinner?

Since this is my little soapbox, I thought I'd write about food, specifically, dog food.

But first, a short digression. I like to cook. Even though I live alone, I cook large meals at least twice a week then eat the leftovers for lunch. On nights when I don't cook, I have a bowl of cereal with fresh fruit. I'm not necessarily an organic fanatic but I rarely open packages or cans for my meals. In fact, I eat very little processed food. If I have veggies with dinner, I clean and cut them up myself. I cook rice the old fashioned way. I'll go vegetarian as often as I eat meat.

Cooking is a relaxing hobby for me. While I bustle about in the kitchen, I can review the day's work in my head and think about what I need to do the next day, or I can listen to the radio, or I can have a glass of wine or two and not think much at all. Selecting the ingredients for my meal, then preparing and eating it with deliberation is a way for me to relax and just live in the moment.

So what do I feed my dogs? Mainly, they eat kibble. But because I like to think about food and how it nourishes the body, I have thought a lot about what my dogs eat.

I feed kibble because it is easy (product plug: I feed Solid Gold Hund-n-flocken and Innova green bag, rotating every 80 lbs or so). Yes, I know there are purists and raw feeders who would be horrified. More on this below. And to that kibble I always add fresh fruit or fresh veggies or yogurt or some savory bit of something because there are micronutrients in fresh food that just aren't present in kibble, no matter how good that kibble is. And I like to think that my dogs appreciate that bit of variety. I imagine them thinking, what special goodie is going to be in my bowl tonight?

In truth, my dogs would eat sticks and pebbles if I put that in their food bowls and presented with a flourish. And we can't forget that dogs eat shit and dead things when they get the chance. But that's not the point.

Just as with my own meals, I take a few minutes to prepare my dogs' meals with thought and deliberation. It is a way for me to express how important they are to me.

And since this is my soapbox, I'm going to finish by talking about what dogs should be eating. Let's think about this little fact: dogs are not wolves. Yep, that's right. They are thousands and in my opinion tens of thousands of years from being wolves. A dog generation is, what, two to three years in length? We've been practicing animal husbandry on dogs, overriding the slower pressures of natural selection and changing their genes, for many thousands of years--hundreds of thousands of dog generations. Dogs evolved right alongside humans. Oh, we haven't changed all of their genes. Just the ones for behavior, breeding, temperament, size, color, and eating.

Dogs are opportunistic omnivores, just like humans. Like our ancestors, they would eat whatever presented itself, including carrion, fruits, nuts, and roots. For thousands of years, dogs have been eating whatever we ate. In fact, as recently as 50 years ago, before the dog food industry became the international industrial complex it is today, dogs were still eating what we ate. And back when I was a kid, back when my dad was a kid, we didn't eat much meat at all. It was expensive and reserved for special occasions. We certainly didn't go out and buy meat just for the family dog. True working dogs (herders, hunters) might have had an opportunity to eat more meat but it would have been situational and still not a daily event.

I do not feed grain-free or high-protein kibble to my dogs. Dogs did not evolve to eat solely protein. (Cats, on the other hand, have a short intestine that cannot process grains properly. They do better on high-protein diets. We have modified cats extensively as well but their genetic makeup started out very different from dogs. We've meddled with size, temperament, etc., but none of that changed the fundamental fact that, relatively measured, cats have a shorter intestine.) Dogs evolved to eat what humans eat. Indeed, I think their ability to eat what we eat is one of the reasons we have been affecting their evolution for so long.

I purchase the best quality kibble I can find and make sure that the manufacturer reports sources and processes. I review nutrition information. Dogs do need a variety of vitamins and micronutrients to stay healthy. They need them in different amounts than humans so you can't create a "balanced" dog diet by basing it on your own. I have read many books and articles on home-made and fad dog diets and am comfortable with adding a bit of this and a bit of that to my dogs' bowls. After all, hundreds of thousands of generations of dogs got along pretty well with eating just that for dinner.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini!

Harry Houdini is ten years old this month.

He was my first smooth fox terrier, in fact, my first dog. Oh, of course, my family had dogs when I was a kid, a rotating cast of daschunds, but while my brother and I played with them all the time, I never felt that connected to any of them.

I had progressed to a point in my career where I at last owned a house. A house needs a dog, I thought. So after doing a lot of research, I decided that this breed was the one for me: small, tough, active. Soon after making that decision, I saw a very small ad in the Salt Lake City paper: Smooth Fox Terriers, Provo, and a phone number. Sure, I know now that the Abegglins were backyard breeders. They had half a dozen very nice dogs of Australian lineage, but they made little effort to control who mated with whom. But I didn't know about any of that at the time. Harry was the last pup from their most recent litter. I saw him running around the backyard with the rest of their pack and fell in love with him in an instant.

Harry earned his name by making a miraculous escape from a room with a closed door and a puppy gate in the doorway. I found him upstairs on my bed when I got home from work, the door downstairs still closed, the puppy gate still in place. I didn't learn about crates until a couple of years later following the "glitter glue" incident (a tale for another day).

Harry has had many wonderful adventures in his life. He's been white-water rafting half a dozen times, he's been on numerous cross-country road trips, he's canyoneered in central Utah, he's hiked up 12,000-foot peaks, he spent several winters running with me and his pack in the snowy foothills above Salt Lake City, he's successfully hunted gophers and rabbits and mice. He sleeps next to me almost every night. But even with all of this, Harry LIVES for flyball.

I happened upon flyball at a fund-raising event one weekend in Salt Lake City. A club called Salty Dogzz was giving a demo in a park. It was good timing because I had been thinking that my dogs, now two in number, really needed a hobby. Daily runs and ball play weren't enough to wear them out. Flyball looked like a perfect fit for my Harry. He had become ball obsessed very early and with his drive, speed, and focus, I thought he'd be a natural.

You always make all of the training mistakes with your first dog, but if you are lucky, that first dog forgives them all. I was lucky. We joined Salty Dogzz and were at our first tournament in Las Vegas three months later. Harry made all of the usual newbie errors: he crossed lanes, he chased other dogs, he dropped the ball. After the first few races, I was in tears--why couldn't Harry figure this out?! I understand now that he simply wasn't ready to compete. But we stuck with it.

As the years passed, I became a better trainer and we became a better team. It took me almost two years to teach him to come to a tug in flyball--the ball had always trumped any and all other toys and treats. Now he's a tugging fiend and I'd be hard pressed to say which he loves more, the tug or the ball. But then again, both of them mean flyball to him, so as long as it's flyball, he's happy!

We've been members of four different flyball clubs since we started playing the game in 2000. I and my friend Gosia left Salty Dogzz in 2002 to form our own club, the Utah Tail Blazers. They are still going strong and you can read about their successes here. I left Utah in 2005 and moved back to Texas where I joined Austin Flyball Association. After about a year, I moved on to Dogz Rule! And even though Harry and I don't live in Austin anymore, and there are several flyball clubs in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we still train and compete with DR! I couldn't imagine a better fit for me and my boy.

Harry has his NAFA FMCH title and I hope that he will get his ONYX title before he retires. He's got about 3500 points to go! At 10, Harry still runs around 4.7-4.9 seconds. Not only is this a great time for a dog his size, but it's a fabulous time for a dog his age. In 2002, he was running 5.2-5.3 seconds, but around age 6 something really clicked for him. He suddenly peaked mentally as well as physically, and he started running faster and with a much more consistent performance. By NAFA stats, he's been the first- or second-ranked smooth fox terrier active in North American flyball for several years.

Here's to Harry Houdini, my Harry-belly boobullah, my sweet boy! May you play flyball for many years to come!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I got the rabbit fur-covered tug-n-treat from Clean Run to encourage Mimi to tug in more distracting environments. She adores chasing a ball and while that is very rewarding to her, it takes her focus and energy away from me and agility. I want her to be more motivated by tugging and by close play with me.

The video shows how much she loves her special agility toy. It's a great training tool! Be sure to load it with super fabulous high-value treats, like vienna sausages. Or cheese!

I have started using this toy to create more obstacle focus because it has a good weight to throw with some accuracy. I also use it as a distance target. So far, she hasn't been able to open it herself but I certainly wouldn't leave her alone with it.

Two items of note. First, yes, I know, she started out wanting to play with the regular tug toy. She will get to play with that one later tonight. Second, how about those chattering teeth at the end? Think she's excited? Now imagine driving that around an agility ring. She's quite a handful in a very small package!

Learning to work as a team with Mimi has been a real uphill struggle. She's so drivey and yet still so immature and easily distracted. This toy has helped focus her energy while rewarding her for making good choices.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I bought this print at the Reliant Dog Show in July. Jody Whitsell, the artist, had a booth there and my friend Denise Lodge and I simply couldn't walk past without stopping. Fortunately, Jody had this print--the original was twice this size and ten times the price! Figuring out how to frame this was quite a task--it's such a magnificent, imposing work, and the colors! Wow. But a local frame shop that I've been patronizing lately really came through. I wish the photos showed more detail on the frame. The print is now hanging in my office.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A tired dog is a good dog

Ever since I got my first smooth fox terrier (Harry Houdini), that phrase has been one of my mantras. These dogs may be small but they have incredible amounts of energy. Some people might describe them with pejorative terms such as "hyper." I prefer "high energy" or "really really active." But semantics aside, I will admit that it takes a lot of effort to get these dogs tired.

I spend at least an hour every evening trying to make my dogs tired and thus good. One of the best ways to do this is to play a very vigorous game of ball. But there's a slight catch. Isn't there always a catch?

For dogs bred to be kept in working pairs and packs, smooth fox terriers are insanely pack aggressive. I can only play with one at a time. Hey, I'm a pretty good dog trainer. I do agility and flyball with terriers. That alone should speak for itself. But I haven't had a lot of success in getting them to "honor" their pack members during play. People with more than one terrier know this as the "terrier code":

1) If I like it, it's mine.
2) If it's in my mouth, it's mine.
3) If I can take it from you, it's mine.
4) If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
5) If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
6) If I'm chewing something up, all the pieces are mine.
7) If I saw it first, it's mine.
8) If you are playing with something and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine.

It is so much simpler to just pull them out one by one.

It doesn't matter if we play ball inside or out (it's really hot in north central Texas during the summer so we play in the house fairly often), the other dogs howl and scream in their crates the entire time. You'd think I was sticking them all with hot pokers or some other medieval torture device. No, it's much worse. I'm playing with a dog that isn't them. I get each dog out and throw the ball until they end up stretched out on the tile floor and refuse bring it back to me. Then it's in the crate and out comes the next one. It's a wonderful way to spend an hour with my pups.

Oh, and a tired dog is a happy dog.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Baby Steps--Mimi's First Agility Trial

Mimi (Quicksilver Let's Play House) is a three year old smooth fox terrier. When she popped out of her dam and we opened the birth sac, she started screaming. I told my two friends helping me with the whelping that that pup was going to be my pick. I just knew that she was the one.

I started clicker training Mimi and her siblings before their eyes were even open. Mimi is fast and drivey, and over the past couple of months, we have really started working as a team out on the agility course. At class, that is. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mimi finds the places where agility trials are often held (horse barns, etc.) to be pretty damned stimulating. So stimulating that she sort of forgets that we are there to do agility. Zooming around, nose to the ground, is often way more interesting than me or agility.

Her first AKC agility trial was this weekend. I thought it started out okay when the judge who was measuring her thanked me for teaching her a stand. I thanked her for noticing that I took the trouble to do so! But things sort of went downhill from there.

My plan was this: enter the ring with my dog, exit the ring with my dog, and whatever happens in between was bonus. Perhaps it was a bit too simple. My good friend Gosia had flown in from out west just for the occassion of this weekend and she captured all of the fun on film:

While amusing, it was not exactly what I had planned. We had no connection from the beginning, she didn't hold her starts, and she acted as if there weren't any equipment out there at all. Fortunately the arena was relatively clean and although she was running around sniffing a lot, there wasn't much in the way of stuff for her to pick up off the ground. Still, it was a pretty disappointing first day.

Day Two. Gosia and I talked this over endlessly and I realized that I had to get Mimi to do an obstacle or two then grab her before she lost it. I didn't want to reward her for coming to me after she ran around the ring like a crazed thing. I had to make a better connection with her from the start and stop the run while I still had that connection. And I had to find a place on the course early in the course flow where I could call her to me.

So I revised the plan. Walk in with my dog, make her sit on her own (she had to make the choice to focus on me and my request), overhandle the first few obstacles, then call her to me for a come to heel/hand touch, grab her and run out. I worked those come to heel/hand touches heavily outside the ring while we were waiting. I also decided to employ a nuclear option: vienna sausages. Soft, smelly, and she'd never seen them before today. Mimi was quite enthused about the prospect of getting more! Here's what happened:

Success indeed! It was so tempting to say, well, she made it this far so maybe she can do just one more obstacle. But that wasn't the plan. Baby steps, Gosia kept saying. Baby steps. I stuck to the plan and was able to reward the behavior I asked for. Both times I ran out of the ring, grabbed our tug and treat bag from Gosia, and gave Mimi a gigantic jackpot of treats that included lots of vienna sausages.

What did I learn this weekend? I was reminded that sometimes it isn't about the Q or the win (it's really easy to forget this). I learned that while she appears pretty fearless, Mimi needed a boost of confidence--that big open ring is pretty daunting. I learned how to adjust my expectations to give my dog what she needed at that moment.

I was reminded that you must celebrate every moment. You never know when an agility run will be the last you have with your dog.

And I was reminded of how valuable a good friend can be. Thanks for your support this weekend, Gosia! Mimi's first Q ribbon, and I know it won't be long in coming, will be yours!