Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flyball Is In The Air Again

I'm heading to Austin tomorrow for my first flyball practice since late December. Our tournament is in two weeks. I'm anxious about both events.

Harry has had to sit out the last two tournaments and it has been really difficult on lots of levels. I miss hanging out with my flyball club. I miss the excitement and drama of tournaments. I miss Harry becoming tight as a violin string, barking and flinging spit in all directions as I line him up for the box. I know Harry misses all of these things too.

Since the dermatologist vet gave me the go-ahead to ramp up his training, I've been increasing the vigor of our tug games, the length of our walks, and started throwing the ball for him.

I have an old flyball box borrowed from my club. Yesterday, I let Harry work on his turns. I had to pick him up so I could get the ball in the box--I could barely hold on to him because he was barking and lunging for the box and in general working himself into a fine frenzy. His first turns were a bit weak so I released him off to the side to help him get his approach angle like you do when training new dogs. He quickly got into the familiar rhythms and was looking pretty good when we finished.

Tomorrow will give us a much better idea of how he will perform when he has a full lane to run in and other dogs to run with.

I'm still a bit concerned about his toenails--he did tear the tip of one yesterday--but they are looking so much better than they did three months ago.

There's one other thing that I've missed about flyball--the club often asks me to coach our C/D team. Our club creates teams based on speed and error rate. Our C/D team usually is made up of a mix of dogs who may not need to run a full tournament, green dogs who are just getting started with the whole competition thing, and dogs who love to play flyball but just aren't quite fast enough to make it onto the B or A teams. (This is something that I love about Dogz Rule!--they believe that flyball shouldn't be reserved for only the fastest dogs. It's a game lots of different types of dogs can play and enjoy. This is also the philosophy that Gosia and I had when we started Utah Tail Blazers.)

It is the most amazing honor for me when the club asks me to coach that team. I think I'm kind of a hard ass when it comes to coaching but I always try to look at each dog and handler on that team and try to figure out what is going to make them and the team successful. Even the tiniest things can be cause for celebration.

Harry runs on the B team for now. This is a nicely competitive team that almost always places well in its division. I love to win and I love to win with Harry. Believe me, I get emotionally consumed about doing our best as a team when I run with Harry.

But often when I leave a tournament, it is the successes of our C/D team that make the most vivid memories for me.

I'm hoping the club asks me to coach that team again in March because I have really missed being out there in the ring helping my friends run their dogs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Growing Up Fast

Cap is still very much a baby dog at 21 weeks but he is going through a lot of changes lately.

I don't remember the fox terriers creating so much drama when they were teething, which is odd considering the stupendous dentition those small dogs have. But last Sunday, Cap lost one of his baby molars and I am still cleaning up blood. I had to throw away a few toys because they were too blood-soaked for me to clean. He was outside playing with Gracie when it happened--this is what she looked like when I called them back in the house!

Not what you think! All of this blood on Gracie is from Cap losing a baby molar.

He likes to gnaw on their hind legs.

Last night, he suddenly stopped playing. I looked up and he was in the doorway to the dog room looking back at me. Something about his expression...I jumped up, ran to the back door and threw it open, and he immediately ran out and peed. If he'd been a 3 year old kid standing in that doorway, he would have been grabbing his crotch and dancing from one foot to the other. This is pretty significant in the house training effort because it tells me he knows he is supposed to go outside. And he knows he can communicate with me when he needs to potty.

Cap and Mimi are inseparable. I am sort of surprised because Mimi is horribly aggressive around her sister and to a lesser degree the other terriers but she puts up with amazing amounts of abuse from Cap. Encourages him even.

Cap is most definitely not a fox terrier. He does not see the same world that they do. He places very different values on food and toys. He learns at a different pace. Oh, he quickly learns new skills in just a few repetitions but sometimes what he remembers from a training session can surprise me. He is affectionate and playful, and often rubs against my legs like a cat, but he doesn't have that need to be with me, on me, next to me, touching me at all times like all of my fox terriers do.

I love my fox terriers and probably will get another in the future. But having this non-terrier creature lets me look around at my world with fresh eyes.

Some of these differences are likely due to his checkered background as a rescue bounced through too many foster homes (nurture) but some of them are going to be the result of what he is--some weird amalgamation of herding breeds and who knows what else (nature).

And ponder this last thought. Don't you think it is sort of strange that I would begin searching for another dog only to find a border collie cross that is about the same size as a fox terrier?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Videos! Videos! Videos!

If you haven't already done so, you might want read the previous post. It sets the stage for the first three videos here.

Our Standard run on Friday started with a very happy entry into the ring, something I haven't seen since the unfortunate PA system accident last fall. That happy jumping is typical of her behavior in class, though. Mimi decided to go around the tire (not an uncommon error for green dogs) and we got an off course as she backjumped a jump as I was turning her back around. She was running slow (I wasn't quite sure she was going to come out of the tunnel at first) but the table in the corner was the hardest part for her. The sniffing and not wanting to remain in the down are signs of stress, as is jumping up on the judge after I released her. I gave her a very quick release off the dogwalk and the Aframe to keep the flow going. I noticed at the time and again when watching the video that her Aframe contact was pretty shitty, so that is something we can work on more in class. Still, a lot of the reason she jumps off like that is stress. Her weaves after the dogwalk were slow but she kept it together and we still completed the course under course time. The table fault eliminated the possibility of a Q but this was a long course and Mimi did a great job with it.

In the first run of Saturday, Mimi is happy as we enter the ring but begins to worry just a bit at that start line--the entry to the building was behind us and there was a lot going on in that area. I was planning to run with her on my right but decided to just start going with her on my left since she was getting a bit nervous. The rear cross at jump 5 was no problem. She slows on the far side of the ring when she sees all that commotion on the walkway but stayed with me. She went around the next to last jump but since that is not an error in USDAA Starters, I calmly rounded her around to a nice finish and a Q, the only dog in our class to do so.

There was a handler at the trial with a 15 year old JRT. She told me that she is planning to retire him at her club's trial next month. He is mostly deaf and has cataracts in both eyes. She was running him in Performance so he only has to jump 8". She said he could no longer do the dogwalk and that he struggled with the Aframe and weaves. I filmed their Snooker run on Saturday. She got the minimum number of points required in the opening, and completed all of the obstacles in the closing for a Q. He was the only dog in his class so he also got a first place! He was running with such joy, and the look he gives her at the end says it all.

Finally, about 2 weeks ago I started training Cap on the X for flyball. I tested my handling by first teaching it to Mimi, who figured it out in seconds. Cap took a bit longer but there's no question that he too had it figured out by the time we finished that session. All that barking? Yep, that's the other dogs. I always train with distractions: dogs barking, cats wandering around, toys all over the floor.

Still Taking Baby Steps

Let me just cut right to the good news: Mimi ran four complete courses out of five attempts this weekend, earning two Qs and placements in all four of the completed runs!! Woohoo!

I took Mimi to a USDAA agility trial in College Station this weekend. It was a 3-day trial, but she's not up to running three days so I entered her on Friday and Saturday. Sure, I have to take a day off from work doing it this way, but Fridays usually have lower entries and I thought she might be more comfortable if it was a bit less hectic. I also took Harry and Dyna along for moral support.

I decided not to take Cap because this weekend was going to be all about Mimi. He would just be a distraction from that. Harry and Dyna are more than happy to go along for the ride, wherever that ride might end up, so they were an easy choice.

I got up at 1am on Friday morning, showered, packed the dogs and the car, and left for College Station at 3am. I know all of you are asking what the hell I was thinking. Well, it was all part of the plan. I wanted to make sure I arrived at the arena by 6:30am so I could get a crating area that put the backs of the crates against the wall. I wanted plenty of time to get set up so I wouldn't be rushed and stressed myself, and I wanted time to feed the dogs at the arena. Mimi had to be measured around 7:15 or so and I wanted to be completely set up by then. It was a brutal drive with only three hours of sleep behind me but we made it safely.

Mimi was entered in three runs on Friday: Starters Gamblers, Starters Standard, and Starters Jumpers. Even though I really enjoy the game of Snooker, all clubs now have the judges call the points through a mic and a PA system and I thought Mimi was not ready to try that again. And I am not willing to jeopardize someone else's Pairs run if she's not ready, even though for Pairs she only has to do half a course.

Imagine my astonishment when I went out for the Gamblers briefing to be told by the judge that the club had sent their electronic timers out for repair and they hadn't arrived back so the entire show was going to be done the old fashioned way: hand timing and no PA. What luck!

My goal for Gamblers was simple: to keep Mimi in the ring for 25 seconds, the length of time allotted to the opening. It was a nice little Gambler course and the gamble was just four jumps and even though I walked it out, I went into the ring with Mimi not planning to try it. But she was so excited and still completely with me so when the gamble whistle blew at 25 seconds, I thought, what the hell, let's try it. And she nailed the gamble!! She needed 15 points in the opening and she got 16. She earned a Q and second place in the 16" Starters dogs.

Next up was Standard. She ran the entire course beautifully--but the table remains a very scary place. To my surprise, she got on the table, got into a sit when I asked, then into a down. But she only held it to a count of three before standing up and I saw that she was getting stressed so I just called her off to the next obstacle. That gave us a fatal table fault and no Q, but we did earn third place out of three 16" Starters dogs. She hit all of her contacts and did all 12 weave poles on the second try. Very nice run.

Of course, her abilities far exceed those simple Starters courses but when you add on all of that stress, even simple weave pole entries become a big challenge for her.

After a bit of a wait for Pairs to be run, we had Jumpers as the last game of the day. I completely screwed up the first two obstacles, sending her into the wrong end of the tunnel, but we finished the run in grand style well under course time. That wrong course is a fatal error in Jumpers but she earned second place in her division.

Normally, I don't keep placement ribbons if I don't also Q because there's not much point. But these two placement ribbons were super special and I did collect them. (Note to non-agility readers: USDAA awards placements even if dogs don't Q; if four dogs Q, they get all of the placements, but if only one dog Q's, the next three highest scoring dogs get placements. Qs are required to earn titles.)

Saturday was much more crowded but the morning started in our ring with Starters Jumpers. It was jumps only, not even a tunnel, and was just a couple of large sweeping loops. Mimi nailed it and we earned a Q and first place. We were the only 16" Starters dog to Q in Jumpers, out of a class of 6 or 7 dogs!

Every ribbon got a toy. Q ribbons are maroon colored. This is my booty for the two days.

The wait to Gamblers was far too long and I could tell when I got Mimi out of her crate that afternoon that she was not at all happy about going back into the ring. When she went around the first jump, I knew we were finished, but I stuck it out, asked her do some easy stuff like tunnels and the Aframe, one of her favorites, and we ran out of the ring together.

We are far from getting the ring stress behind us but I know that my training and patience will pay off. Mimi was happy and relaxed and showed plenty of enthusiasm and pleasure on Friday. It will happen for us.

Back home enjoying the spoils.

I've got three amped up dogs who were kenneled for two days, yard work to do, a house to clean, and some computer stuff to do for work, so I may not get the video processed and posted today. I didn't get that first amazing run filmed, but, on the advice of Gosia, I did ask friends to film all of our other runs so I could look at Mimi's stress levels.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Catching Up

I'm still here. Work has been really stressful the past couple of weeks so when I get home, I don't want to sit in front of the computer. No, instead I want to play with my dogs.

Cap is blooming, really coming out of his shell. I'm teaching him the X game, a sort of proto-swimmers turn for flyball. I put duct-tape X's all over the house. They are just out of his reach when he stands on his hind legs. When I run at one or even point at it, he is supposed to run at the X, jump up and hit it with his nose or paws, flip back off the wall and come to me for a treat or a game of tug. The X gets transferred to a target board, then eventually the flyball box. He offers the X game all the time now. I have an X on the wall by his crate, and when I say "get in your box" he runs and does his X turn, then runs into his box. Hysterical. He still doesn't have much distance (won't run to it on his own more than a few feet so I have to run up to it with him) but I make him chase me all the way back down the dog room before he gets his tug.

Now that he understands the tug game better, I've started bad dog trainer tugging. When he grabs the tug, I grab him and yank on the tug with one hand while I hold him next to me with the other, saying "give! give! give!" My release word is "drop it" so he doesn't let go on "give," good dog. This game drives him into a frenzy. All according to plan.

I'm also teaching him to drop into a play bow when I say "rrreeeeadddy....". Too cute.

He's starting to nip and jump on me more. I don't like the nipping but I am encouraging the jumping. When I'm excited and start jumping around and verbally winding them up, I want my dogs over the top, ready to play or run or whatever fun game I have in mind. He's starting to get the idea...

Harry is absolutely loving the new "doctor's orders." Play, play, play. He and Cap walk around with toys in their mouths constantly. It is so great to see Harry feeling better and feeling happy. Four weeks and counting to the tournament. Practice in two weeks.

Mimi is fully recovered from her unfortunate squirrel incident. The only scars she'll have will be emotional. No quarter for the furry bastards. I'm putting DermaSalve on her little scabs and they will heal right up in no time.

Everyone else is doing fine. Lola is still fat.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Out and About With The Boys

It won't come as a surprise when I tell you it is pretty hard for me to be objective about my dogs' health. Iz and I struggled for months but we still lost the race.

Harry lost his last two toenails last weekend and was in extreme pain for about three days. Also, in retrospect, it was a mistake to board him at the kennel when I went out of town on business. I should have put him with the vet along with Mimi. He could hardly walk when I picked him up that Friday night. I called the dermatologist on Monday and insisted on a follow up visit, which we scheduled for the next morning.

I examine his toes several times every day looking for...anything. Magically grown new toenails, I guess. So when he lost those last two nails, I began to feel defeated. It was an emotion that was too familiar and too scary.

To my surprise, the dermatologist was pleased that the deterioration of his nails was not progressing. In other words, it was a sort of null result. Losing his last two nails was going to happen anyway and didn't represent a worsening of his condition. The visit was on Tuesday morning, and Harry was in fine form doing all sorts of tricks for biscuits, entertaining the vet and his tech. The vet examined all of Harry's toes. It was subtle, but there might be some new nail growth on a couple of them.

The vet said Harry was to continue the cyclosporine. The only remnant of his initial intestinal distress is some nasty flatulence but I'll take stinky dog farts over dry heaves and diarrhea.

Then we got down to the big question: when can Harry start doing flyball again? Not just flyball, actually, but training and conditioning work, too. I have been reluctant to even take him for a walk since December and playing fetch has been out of the question. Harry needs a lot of work to get him back into competition form, plus he really needs to practice with his flyball team.

It has been hugely frustrating to me that I had to pull Harry from the January and February tournaments. The next one is in four weeks. That doesn't leave a lot of time to get him ready.

The vet told me to start slow, but that I should start working Harry again in all of the things he is used to doing, including flyball practice. He told me that the diseased nail remnants will split and break and may bleed and that Harry may not be as fast as he used to be, at least for a few more weeks. He also told me NOT to wrap Harry's feet during flyball. This last part amazed me. But then, I usually wrap his feet to prevent his nails from if we are truly addressing his condition, that may no longer be needed.

Since the vet visit, Harry has become a different dog. He brings me toys constantly and I've been increasing the ferocity of our tug games, which we now play three or four times a day. I'm able to play with Harry and Cap together because they both focus on their own tug and ignore the other dog. I could do this with Harry and Iz but never with any other pairing of my terriers. It's a different thing to have a dog that isn't a terrier.

I started taking Harry for walks this week (we do just under 3 miles ), which I'll ramp up to short periods of running in a day or so. And this morning I plan to take him outside and throw the ball a few times to see what happens.

Postscript: Harry chased the tennis ball in the backyard for about 20 minutes this morning. I checked all of his toes every five throws or so, and I didn't throw the ball too far, but he was ecstatic to play one of his favorite games. And the best part? Not a single torn or bloody nail. Woohoo!

In two weeks, I'll head to Austin for flyball practice.

I can only handle three dogs at a time so if Harry always goes on a walk, that only leaves two more slots. I took Cap along this week to start teaching him leash manners and of course the joys of taking a walk with the pack. Last night, Jack got the prized third slot. It was a walk with all of the boys.

Harry, Cap, and Jack.

Cap is now 19 weeks old. He weighs 14.4 lbs (checked on the vet's scale yesterday) and is just over 13.5" at the shoulder. He has not yet lost any of his baby canines, consistent with his tender age, but his front teeth have all been replaced. You can see in the photos how long-backed he is and also how much shorter he is than Harry.

Since I find the clump of dogs that gathers on the large dog bed for a nap as cute as anything I've seen, here's another picture.

Mimi, Dyna, Cap, and Jack.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Cap and Mimi Show

Mimi is feeling lots better! It's been non-stop action for her and Cap this morning. They chase and wrestle indoors and out. Very entertaining.

Before I get to the photo montage, here are some measurements I took this morning.
  • Age: Mimi, 3.5 yrs; Cap, 20 weeks
  • Weight: Mimi, 15.4 lbs; Cap, around 13 lbs
  • Height at shoulders: Mimi, 14.5"; Cap 13.25" (no change from the last measurement and Cap can still walk under Gracie)
  • Length from shoulder to base of tail: Mimi, 12"; Cap, 13" (he's long for his height)
  • Length of lower rear leg (foot to knee): Mimi, 5"; Cap, 4.5" (Cap has almost no angulation in his rear legs, they are very straight, and his rear end is taller than his shoulders; Mimi has good angulation so that isn't the length of her lower leg bone but the height her knee is off the ground)
  • Length of lower front leg (foot to elbow): Mimi, 9"; Cap 8"
  • Tip of nose to top of head: Mimi, 8"; Cap, 5" (his head is strongly domed with a big forehead and his nose is short; Mimi has almost no stop from nose to forehead and her head is nearly flat)
  • Energy level: Mimi, boundless; Cap, infinite
I'm providing this comparison for those holdouts among you who still think Cap might grow up to be even close to a small border collie in size--because he isn't going to get a whole lot bigger than he is now. I remain hopeful that I can ILP him with AKC as an aussie.

I ordered the canine genetic test for Cap, did the cheek swab, sent it in, and got confirmation that the lab received it on Friday. We have to wait for at least a month before we get the results back! Exciting and frustrating all at the same time.

Here are some highlights from the Cap and Mimi show.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events

With apologies to D. Handler.

Warning: This post contains some graphic photos. And lest you think I am just too morbid, sacrificing my pups' safety for the sake of the blog, all photos were taken after it was all over.

The Bad Beginning.
Early last week, I was home for lunch as usual. The dogs were snoozing in the sun as usual. Suddenly, I heard rattling and banging and looked out to see Jack pawing and nosing the downspout of a gutter next to the back of the house. I went out to see what in the world he was doing and heard scrabbling and rustling coming from inside the downspout!

I wiggled the downspout and the scrabbling noises became louder and a bit more frantic, and Jack became even more interested in the situation.

The Wide Window. I have a bird feeder in the front of the house that attracts many dozens of birds of different types and my first thought was that somehow a bird fell or got trapped in the downspout. I got a couple of screwdrivers and an adjustable wrench from the garage and removed the curved bottom piece from the vertical part of the downspout. The curved piece was squashed and it was clear that whatever was trapped couldn't get out by climbing back up the vertical pipe and certainly couldn't get out of the smaller space at the bottom.

Where it all started.

Jack almost got his nose pinched several times as I levered the curved piece off the bottom. At last it was off and Jack proceeded to try to jam his nose up into the vertical pipe. Still thinking there was a bird in there, I decided to move the dogs into the house to see if it would leave on its own.

I put Cap in his crate inside, and left Harry, Dyna, and Gracie loose in the house. Mimi was still on her tether outside with Jack.

I grabbed a mirror and after wiggling the vertical pipe some more, managed to produce louder scrabbling and more frenzied sniffing and pawing from Jack but no creature. So I put the mirror under the opening to see what I could see.

Imagine my surprise at seeing a squirrel staring back at me!

I was so startled that I dropped the mirror and broke it.

The Carnivorous Carnival. I rattled the vertical pipe some more and saw squirrel paws slipping out every so often. He wouldn't come out on his own but perhaps he could be...removed.

And here is where I made one of the bigger errors of this entire circus of mistakes. I put Jack in the house and let Mimi off her tether. She shot over to the downspout. I shook it really hard, a paw slipped out, and Mimi dragged that squirrel right out of the pipe!

Normally, when my fox terriers grab a small animal, they get it by the head or the neck and dispatch it in a fraction of a second with a good hard shake.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen this time.

Mimi grabbed the squirrel by the abdomen and the furry bastard wrapped itself around her head like a barnacle.

The Slippery Slope. Every shake of Mimi's head made the squirrel latch on tighter, and it was squealing and biting and clawing her face and neck. This made Mimi even more pissed and she shook her head harder. And because Mimi is a good terrier, she never let go but squeezed her jaws ever tighter, despite the jets of red blood shooting off her face and throat.

I was horrified. I knew the ultimate outcome, of course, but could not intervene to hasten it along.

I ran in the house, crated Gracie and Jack, and ran back outside to witness the final seconds of the battle. Mimi squeezed the squirrel to death.

As far as I could tell, all of the blood is Mimi's.

The Grim Grotto. After making sure the squirrel was indeed dead, I grabbed Mimi and ran out to the car and put her into one of the crates. Her face was hugely swollen and ugly bruises were already starting to show. The blood was still dripping but at least not jetting out like before. I had to hose the crate out later that afternoon and soak the crate pad before I could wash it.

Blood on the back porch that dripped from Mimi as I was carrying her to the car.

I dialed my vet as I pulled out of my driveway, and called in to work on the way. A tense 10 minutes later, I pulled in, grabbed my pup, and hustled her into the building where they had an exam room open and waiting for me. Two techs and two vets started swarming over her. Could they shave her face to examine the bites? Could they sedate her? I said, yes, yes, do whatever needs to be done.


The Penultimate Peril.
Nothing was life threatening and in fact, one of the deepest bites was inside her cheek which the vet's write up described as "self inflicted bite wound during fight with squirrel." The squirrel had bitten her many, many times below her right eye and along her throat so the swelling and bruising were pretty horrific but the bite wounds themselves were not that deep.

Yeah, it does look horrible but it was more like scrapes than punctures.

The End. They sedated her, cleaned her up, and kept her for a few hours. I brought her home for the night. She looked pretty pathetic and was quite subdued from the combination of drugs, coming off her adrenaline high, and the trauma of the fight.

Of course I was leaving for a business trip the next morning (these things always happen on holidays or before I have to take a trip), so I decided to return her to the vet instead of the boarding kennel with the other dogs. The vet took good care of her for me.

Today, five days after it happened, Mimi is still subdued and doesn't even want to play with Cap. She's on antibiotics and deramax and plenty of rest and TLC.