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!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Cats (2)

I was at PetSmart today picking up some cat litter and spent some time petting the cats that were on display for adoption. There were three teeny tiny grey striped tabby kittens, one a long hair just like Space Frog, my first cat. Space Frog lived for 10 years with diabetes. She became very ill and I finally had to let her go when she was 17 yrs old. I have a soft spot for grey long-hair tabbies. These three were so young their eyes weren't focusing too well yet. And there was a beautiful male grey-brown tabby, FLV positive, who was just an absolute noodle of a cat. He was working me with the silent meow. It tears my heart to see all those beautiful cats (and dogs) who lost their way, or were abandoned, or were just not loved enough.

I've been idly toying with the idea of getting another cat. I've got a big house that is very cat-friendly. I'll continue to toy with that idea for a while longer. The current dynamics in the house seem to be stable and calm. Everybody is healthy.

I don't write much about the cats. They spend most of their time on the fringe of my activities. They don't do agility, rarely go to the vet, never go to class. They hang out in sun beams and patrol the house during the day when I'm gone. But I still find ways to spoil them too.

For example, I bought a whimsical lounge for the cats made of cardboard and wood veneer strips. It is beautifully constructed and well designed. Lola likes to take her afternoon naps on it, positioned so she can watch butterflies, birds, and squirrels passing through the backyard.

I plant oat seeds in small containers so the cats have fresh greens to nibble on. I buy them organic catnip so they can get high. I sometimes buy them fancy cat toys like those rabbit fur mousies but those have a short shelf life in my house because the dogs are just as enamored of cat toys as the cats but are considerably rougher on them. They eat those rabbit fur mousies, plastic eye beads and all. Anything with feathers is also consumed. The cats generally have to make do with plastic pull tabs from my soy milk cartons and other flotsam.

Despite living with a pack of fox terriers, the cats do pretty well for themselves.