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!