Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bragging by Proxy

My friend DSL in Virginia does the sport of Earthdog with her smooth fox terrier bitch Meggie. She and her club held their first earthdog tournament this past weekend. It was a rousing success! Read all about their great weekend here.

They had tents. Catered dinner. Box lunches. Sold Tshirts. Had a raffle AND a silent auction (check out the list of donated items on the right side of the club's website). Goodie bags and name tags for all handlers. Judge's gift baskets (Virginia themed of course).

They had about 200 entries! That's just amazing and shows how popular this sport is on the east coast.

And what is Earthdog, you ask? It's a sport just for the smaller terriers and their daschund cousins. There are varying levels of difficulty, but essentially the dogs have to find and negotiate a 9 inch by 9 inch tunnel until they find the rat within a set period of time. Tunnels are longer and more complicated at the higher levels with false entrances and exits and confusing turns. The sport is managed by AKC.

The rat is more or less safely enclosed in a cage, but once the dog finds it, the dog has to "work" the rat for a specified period of time, which can include barking, digging, and general underground mayhem. We have gate stewards in agility, earthdog has rat stewards who look after the rats!

Congrats to DSL and her club have such a successful trial!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's Official

I got the genetic test results for Cap back last week. Yeah, I know. I've been busy. Didn't get a chance to post them right away.

Here's the scan of the certificate:

According to the info that comes with the certificate, the Primary field is blank because Cap is not a purebred. I think we can all agree that is true!

The Secondary field lists all breeds that have a significant signature in his DNA. Note that this field contains a whopping one breed: Border Collie.

The In the Mix field lists all other breeds that have a signature in his DNA but that represent only a minor contribution. That field lists only Australian Shepherd.

And that's it. No papillon or terrier or any other fluffy breed involved.

So I would have to say he is probably a BC/mini aussie cross with the BC predominant. Maybe some sort of BC x BC x mini aussie.

In the past couple of weeks, he's begun to LOOK more like a BC. Some of those odd Aussie movements are fading, although his asshole is still almost as high as his head! But he's losing that weird rabbit hop that Aussies do when moving between a walk and a canter. His body is getting longer, his neck has lengthened, and he's getting some proper BC proportions. The furnishings on his hind legs (the longer hairs) have become quite magnificent. However, he does not have prick ears like many BCs.

Don't get too excited--I haven't gone over to the dark side entirely. Cap is still a mutant. Super tiny, just barely as tall as Harry and Gracie at the shoulder. And there's that issue of his tail. Or lack thereof. His growth rate has leveled off dramatically (he measured 15.5" at the shoulder twice last weekend and the two weekends before that) but he is getting very muscular. The area where his front leg attaches to his torso is twice the size of the same joint in the fox terriers, and my terriers are nothing but muscle, even Dyna the couch princess.

I'm wondering now if I can even ILP him. He doesn't look much like an aussie anymore, even without the tail. But that lack of tail might prevent him from getting an ILP as a BC. I haven't neutered him yet, so I still have time to ponder this problem.

Cap, my little BC mutant, my little monkey man, welcome to CircusK9!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Examined Life (Agility With a Tiny Dog)

I was chatting with friends and family this week and realized how I look at my life differently now that I have this blog. Sometimes I see or hear things, or experience them myself, and think, wow, that would make a nice bit for the blog.

Am I more engaged in my own life? Perhaps. I have always had good eye and memory for detail but lately when I find something I want to write about, I don't focus on the details so much as the larger experience.

I have always written daily in my job but what I write is relatively cheerless technical stuff. And I churn out pages and pages of it. With accompanying tables and maps and charts and graphs. Certainly my reports are exciting to me and my intended audience but there isn't much there in the way of entertainment. Not blog-worthy, you might say.

My friends Gosia and Denise prodded me into this blogging experience after Iz died, ostensibly to help me deal with my grief. I still can't bring myself to write about her very much (I took pictures and video of her last few days that I have not yet looked at). Still, reviewing the events taking place around me and deciding which ones are worth writing about has subtly changed the way I interact with my dogs and my friends.

It was just a coincidence that one of the regular Q&A columns in this month's Clean Run magazine had a brief discussion about the minimum weight specified by the various agility organizations needed to tip the teeter. For AKC, that weight is 2.5 lbs. Teeters have to be calibrated such that a 2.5 lb weight will make the end fall to the ground. Not very fast, but all the way to the ground. I remember reading this and thinking, who would run a dog that small anyway?

At the trial this weekend, I had the pleasure of watching a young woman run a Chihuahua in the Open class. I could have enclosed this dog entirely in my cupped hands. It was barely as tall as the top of this young woman's shoe. Still, the lowest jump height possible in AKC is 4 inches, which was just around the height of this dog's head!

But there she was, running the dog on the exact same course that I was going to run with Mimi. The same Aframe. The same dogwalk. The same chute, tunnels, and weave poles. The same teeter.

The entire arena was riveted to this spectacle. A woman next to me said, "The dog is running 10 miles!" Well, of course she was not. The dog was running the same 150 yards that Mimi was going to run, just taking many more steps to do so. (This is one of many examples of the numerical illiteracy of the American public, don't even get me started.)

But back to the show. The teeter was obstacle 5, and every one of us held our breath as this tiny dog ran to the end....and paused....and waited....until at last....slowly....slowly....the teeter began to tip. It hit the ground and off the handler went to the table (8 inches high, in case you were wondering).

The weaves were a comedy act unto themselves. With a pole spacing of 20", this dog was taking half a dozen steps between each pole, but was clearly weaving with speed and accuracy. No, it was not slaloming or doing any of the fancy steps our larger dogs do. It was running back and forth through trees in a giant's playground.

A friend of mine, a very tall man who also runs a smooth fox terrier bitch (he and I are the only ones we know of here in Texas that do agility with smooth foxes, thus we are automatically friends), said, "I would look so gay if I ran that dog!" Debbie and I assured him that he would rock pink and glitter with the best of them.

We all held our breath again as the dog approached the Aframe. Most of us could only see the down side of the obstacle. We waited....and waited....and everyone clapped when the dog's tiny head popped up over the peak.

The dog went over time but just a bit and still qualified.

Afterwards, I went up to speak to the young woman who handled the dog. She was telling some friends that she had fed the dog several times that day just to make sure she was going to be heavy enough to tip the teeter!

Isn't that a story worth telling?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Some Progress At Last

We didn't Q in either of our runs today. However, Mimi ran both courses in full. We got two refusals in Standard and two in Jumpers--only one is allowed in each course in the AKC Open class, so no Qs. But we were OH SO CLOSE! And I can't believe that she is doing so well.

On the down side, I think I carried Operation Jealousy a bit too far. Mimi and Gracie's mutual aggression has stepped up to fearsome levels. The video below was taken on Friday. I filmed Mimi while I played ball with Gracie--okay, that went according to plan. Mimi was excited but still in control. But when I put Gracie in the car to head home that afternoon, you can see the result. (And I do hope that those of you that were wondering if I am crazy to separate the sisters all the time now understand why.)

This morning, when I brought Mimi into our crating area, she began to freak out and when I put her in her crate, she totally destroyed the dog bed that was in there out of frustration that she couldn't kill her sister. Stuffing was flying everywhere. I pushed their crates about a foot apart for fear that they were either going to break teeth on the wires or grab a piece of the other dog and try to pull her through. Both bitches were frenzied! It took me quite some time to calm them even after I rearranged the crate covers so that they could no longer see each other.

So I kept Operation Jealousy very low key today. No taunting or teasing. Mimi never really knew when Gracie was going out because I would flip the crate covers down entirely so she couldn't see and I picked Gracie up and silently carried her some distance away from the crates.

Still, even without the taunting, Mimi ran just great today. I had tail wagging at the start line! She was jumping on me just like she does in class when we were in the gate area. I mainly used peanut butter as her gate and after-run treat today. She seems to prefer this over every other treat I have tried, including vienna sausages, boiled chicken breast, homemade fish fudgies (I don't offer these anymore because the smell makes me gag), beef brisket, and deli turkey.

I am posting the video from our Standard run. Mimi went around a jump on the far side of the ring (refusal 1) and missed her weave entry (refusal 2) but otherwise it was a super great run. The commentary you hear on the video is from my instructor Debbie, who volunteered to tape the run for us. (Debbie got a MACH on her Sheltie Cameron yesterday!) I can hear Gracie barking in the background--she has a very distinctive, deep throated houndy bark. You know it's a small trial when you can recognize your other dog's bark on the video!

I need to enforce Mimi's 2o2o contacts better (she does actually touch but I release her very quickly) but I'm so pleased that she survived the scary recorded voice coming over the PA system telling us to "GO!" and the scary table--together we negotiated a complicated course! And to be honest, that was a tough weave entry right out of a tunnel. She is more than capable of nailing it but this simply wasn't the same atmosphere as class.

The difference in her demeanor and attitude are lightyears from where she was two months ago. We are so close to hitting our stride!

Done in By a Cold French Fry

We are doing another trial this weekend, this time in Wichita Falls. Operation Jealousy continues to be a success.

Yesterday, Mimi and I tried our hand at AKC FAST, their version of Gamblers. She was probably a bit too wound up and spent 28 of our 30 seconds running around sniffing. Debbie was watching and we both think that Mimi wasn't stressed as much as excited.

After a couple of hours, we had our Standard then Jumpers runs in quick succession. In that time, I walked all of the dogs (I took Harry along for the ride) two or three times each along this nice park-like area along the river. Taking Gracie out of her crate for a walk, leaving Mimi to stew, then coming back for Mimi's turn, is pretty time-consuming but it totally plays into Mimi's obsessions.

I was able to walk her around the arena while dogs were running in both rings, even visit a vendor booth, and Mimi was, well, relatively normal. No lunging on the leash, she was looking around, tail up, ears up, head up. I even sat in the bleachers for a few minutes chatting with friends with Mimi standing next to me getting lots of attention. AMAZING.

However, our Standard run was a total bust but not because Mimi fell back into her ring stress mode. No, we were done in by a handful of cold french fries.

As we were moving through the gate area to get ready for our Standard run (the gate area in this arena is a very wide central aisle between the two rings with some bleacher seats), Mimi noticed a dozen french fries on the ground under the bleachers. Unfortunately, she noticed this two seconds before we had to go in the ring!

She jumped the first jump, then turned around to leave the ring...yes, to head to those french fries! I grabbed her and carried her out of the ring.

Debbie filmed this fabulous bit of agility history for us.

Postscript to the french fries: I crated Mimi and went back to the scene of the crime. I picked up the french fries and threw them away, then took a Jif peanut butter packet and Mimi back to that spot. When she satisfied herself that there were no more french fries on the ground, I gave her peanut butter. French fries were instantly and completely forgotten.

In Jumpers, Mimi had refusals on 7 or 8 jumps because this was the Sniffing Ring. However, her weaves were awesome (12 poles, perfect entry and execution), and she eventually did all of the obstacles in the correct direction in the correct order. We had no off courses, just refusals because she was running around. I had this elegant handling plan that of course fell to pieces because when she runs around like that, we end up on the left when I planned to be on the right, etc. Still, she was not particularly stressed. Her ears and tail remained up, and frankly, she couldn't do 12 weave poles perfectly (if a bit slowly) if she was worried about the agility monster getting her.

It wasn't a stellar day but given Mimi's sketchy performance history, it wasn't absolutely terrible. And we go back again for another attempt this morning.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Operation Jealousy (2)

Mimi didn't Q in Open today but she completed both courses in their entirety! As my friends Gosia and DSL predicted, the tighter and more technical courses made a difference. Mimi didn't have a single refusal from running around a jump that was right in front of her. We could have Q'd in both Jumpers and Standard because our times were good and we didn't have too many allowed errors but we did get a fatal error in both.

I also confirmed that my mental state makes a huge difference to my insanely sensitive little dog. The Jumpers course was a bit challenging and I was feeling nervous when I took her to the gate area. She totally picked up on that nervousness and ran the equivalent yardage of an entire second course by running around sniffing after obstacle 5. Somehow I managed to get her back on track with no off courses, not an easy task in a complicated Jumpers course. Unfortunately, she still wasn't focused and had a bad weave entry. I made her go back and complete the weaves and after that, she was fast and on track with me. Even with all of the running around and sniffing, we still made course time!

The Standard course was fortunately very smooth and flowing. It had challenges but because of the training that I do with Debbie, none of these were going to be a problem. I really worked on my mental state before I got Mimi out of her crate, convincing myself that this was just like class. In fact, it wasn't anywhere near as difficult as class. When I took her to the gate area, I felt...normal. Just like in class.

For this run, I also pulled out two secret weapons: Jif To Go peanut butter in dog-servable plastic cups (it's almost like they made this product for sports dogs!) and slices of the grass-fed, free-range New York strip I had grilled for my own dinner last night (dusted with coarse salt, fresh ground pepper, and dried garlic and cooked rare). Mimi and Gracie were going nuts for both.

Still, Mimi was showing the usual signs of stress in the gate area but like yesterday, I didn't stress or obsess about this myself, and I made her sit on her own at the start line for both runs and did very short lead outs. Mimi broke her start line stay for the Standard run but since that is not a regular problem she has, but a stress-induced one, I went with it.

Mimi of course hit all her contacts. She popped out of the weaves at pole 10 but I made her go back and redo them, which she did perfectly and quickly. I would not have made the old Mimi go back and redo anything so this was a HUGE achievement all by itself. This is not a fatal error in Open.

No, what did us in for the Standard run was the evil table. It was a down on the table, and I refused to stress about it. I ran right to the table and said "Down!" in my happy voice. Mimi did actually drop into a down then noticed the number cone on the ground in front of her and jumped off to sniff it. The judge snickered when I sighed and said half under my breath, "...terriers... ." A table fault is allowed in Open so I put her back on the table but her concentration was broken and while she did sit, she clearly wasn't going back into a down. Rather than stress her out, I decided to continue to keep the course flow going. You gotta complete the table no matter what and we didn't, so that was an elimination fault and no Q.

But let's remind ourselves of the most amazing success of today: she completed BOTH COURSES in their entirety. Not pretty, not clean, but she did run them. No question that Gracie's presence (including all of the taunting with toys and treats) and the more challenging courses kept Mimi from slipping too far back into her old freaky tape loop.

Mimi is my agility star this weekend and I'm super proud of her.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Operation Jealousy

It's late, I'm tired, and I have to be in Belton by 8am tomorrow which means I need to leave by 5am which means I need to get up at 3am. Better than this morning when I got up at 2am. So I'll try to keep this short.

Following my friend DSL's advice, I put Operation Jealousy in place today. I cruelly taunted Mimi with vienna sausages then gave them to Gracie. I played ball with Gracie in front of Mimi's crate. I took Gracie all over the arena with Meems stewing in her crate wondering what we were up to.

Ready for the results?

Mimi Q'd and placed first in Jumpers for our AKC Novice B Jumpers title at 8am, then around 2:30 pm she Q'd and placed third in Standard for our AKC Novice B Standard title.

I collected every ribbon that I was entitled to: green Q ribbons, placement rosettes, New Title rosettes, and that bright orange Double Q rosette. We worked hard for those ribbons! That's Mimi on the left, Gracie on the right.

Some highlights:
  • I immediately filled out the move up form so tomorrow we will be running in Open.
  • I got a short lead out on both runs. Sure, I was no more than a few feet in front of the first jump but it was a real lead out. I left her in a sit and walked away.
  • Mimi sat on the table and held it for the full count, even holding it while I moved away from the table before releasing her. Amazing!
  • Mimi hit all of her contacts.
  • She did her weaves on the first try in both runs.
  • The Standard course judge was rather generous in her calls, as many judges are for the Novice classes. In the video below, Mimi hesistates ever so slightly at the table and the tunnel, both of which would probably have been called refusals in Excellent.
  • Mimi usually deflates completely after the first run, emotionally and physically. Instead, this afternoon she was thrashing around in her crate ready to be let out after I played with Gracie right in front of her. (I carefully timed my play with Gracie to take place while the 12" dogs ran so that there was only a couple of minutes between putting Gracie away and getting Mimi out for her run.)
  • Mimi was BEGGING me for treats and attention in the gate area before our Standard run. She was jumping on me just like she does in class without even an eye flick to the usual crowd of dogs and people in the gate.
In fact, I think the "just like in class" thing is important. I was feeling pretty frustrated when I posted last night, and when I got to the arena this morning, I had sort of mentally thrown up my hands and said, okay, whatever, Mimi is going to do what she is going to do. So with no false expectations, I entered the ring both times just like I do in class--I wasn't stressed or worried about Mimi's stress or worry, I wasn't stressed or worried about the outcome. I just ran the courses like I planned them.

But the real surprise was how Mimi reacted to my playing with Gracie. In short, she had a total hissy fit every time I got Gracie out. When I gave Gracie the vienna sausages, I thought Mimi was going to pop. When I played ball with Gracie in front of Mimi's crate, Mimi started thrashing and barking!

So every time I got Mimi out of her crate, she had very little emotional energy left for worrying about scary agility trial monsters. It was all about Mimi! Me! Me! Me! Play with me, not that stupid bitch, who I would kill if you gave me half a chance. Meeee! It's all about meeee!

DSL suggested that what I did was interrupt the tape loop that Mimi has been running in her head at trials and replaced it with some weird amalgamation of Mimi's obsession with me, her sister, and agility, in that order.

Operation Jealousy, Day 2. You know, if taunting my dog and using her obsessions is what it takes, then I will continue to do it. Gracie certainly had a great time today with all of the attention and play.

In the meantime, I couldn't be happier with Mimi's success.

Here's video from our Standard run. Not pretty, but we got the job done. Thank goodness we aren't judged on style points. Oh, and I should mention that the old Mimi would never have played with a toy in her crate (that's her first place prize from Jumpers). She surprised me by doing it so I grabbed the camera and filmed her.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Can We Talk?

Let's talk about agility. It's been a while since we got caught up on that. First, the good news.

Last Saturday, I went to a half-day snooker seminar offered by my regular agility instructor. Debbie doesn't teach snooker in her regular class because most of her students don't do USDAA, the organization that offers the snooker game.

Debbie does play USDAA, and lately noticed that she has been seeing much harder Masters Snooker courses. If you can't get three 7's then you are out of luck for a placement, much less a Super Q. So she offered a Masters level snooker seminar for that small group of us that also play USDAA.

I of course wanted to do this seminar with Mimi but emailed Debbie and told her that I was going to bring Gracie too. Are you sure, she emailed back. The courses might be too far above her skill level right now. I replied, even if we only work on long lead outs and do a few obstacles, it will be a rewarding experience for her.

A brief, oversimplified note about the agility game of snooker: there are three or four jumps designated as "reds" that are assigned a point value of 1. Other obstacles are assigned point values of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. These can be "combos" like two jumps that must be taken in a specific order or orientation or a jump/tunnel combo, or like the example below, the 7 point obstacle which consists of two jumps and a set of 6 weaves. The basic idea of snooker is that you do a "red" obstacle, then a pointed obstacle, then a different red, then a pointed obstacle, then yet a different red, then a pointed obstacle. You can do each red only once. Once you complete all of the reds followed by successful completion of pointed obstacles (this part is called the opening), you can then run through the closing, which is obstacles 2 through 7 in that order. I won't go into all of the insane details about what happens when you make an error or what even constitutes an error in snooker. The goal is to get as many points as possible in the opening then complete as many obstacles as possible in the closing before you run out of time. If you are a snooker god, you will get (1 + 7) + (1 + 7) + (1 + 7) = 24 points in the opening then 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 27 points in the closing for a grand total of 51 points and do it all within the allotted time.

Snooker is a tough game and judges are certainly designing pretty nefarious courses at the Masters level. I scanned the map for the second course we ran in the seminar. This is an actual Masters Snooker course that Debbie ran a couple of weekends before that. Note that the three reds are arranged in a pinwheel in the northwest corner while the 7 obstacle, a jump-jump-weave combo, is arrayed along the south end. And further note that the start line is entirely behind the pinwheel of reds.

To get three 7s on this course, you have to run past all sorts of enticing things like tunnels! Other jumps! Oh my!

Now that was a pretty long way around to get to the point, which is that Gracie NAILED this course. She absolutely NAILED it. Got all three 7s and the complete closing in 46 seconds (Mimi did it in 41 seconds), which would have been a Q in competition. (I ran it the exact same way for both.) Gracie isn't yet doing upright weaves, so I placed a second set of 6 slanted weave poles below the regular set. So Gracie was actually doing a harder course than the other dogs because she had to run out farther for her baby weaves then back into the jumps for the rest of the 7.

About an hour into the seminar, Debbie said to me, you must get this dog into the ring as soon as possible!

So the good news? Gracie's first agility trial will be an AKC trial in Ft Worth in May. I emailed the trial secretary when I got home from the seminar and promptly entered Gracie in all of the same classes as Mimi. Now won't that be interesting?

But that leads to the bad news. Or not such great news.

I've been to a couple of agility trials with Mimi that I haven't mentioned here. She is doing just terrible, regressing back to doing just an obstacle or two if I'm lucky. Her stress level at trials is off the charts.

In fact, a couple of weekends ago I got up early on a Sunday morning to get ready to head to Austin for flyball practice. The gear and packing and routines are very similar for flyball and agility. Mimi saw me start this activity and began to tremble, just like she does at an agility trial. She followed me around, tail tucked, ears back, head down, just like she does when she goes into an agility ring. She was terrified that I was going to pack her into the car and head to an agility trial! I was so sad when I realized this.

I am at a loss at how to proceed with her. I can only expose her to show conditions at actual trials. I'm becoming very uncomfortable with the money I'm wasting on entries without even four obstacles in a row to show for it. It would be different if she was trying full courses and just not getting Qs but we don't even get that far. I'm also becoming very frustrated with her weird phobia--I don't know how to work past this.

My friend DSL in Virginia suggested that Gracie might be a secret weapon. It's true that Mimi is obsessed with trying to kill her sister. When I run Gracie in class, Mimi barks and thrashes in her crate, not at all happy with that situation. (For those of you who don't have snarky terriers, the barking and thrashing is the tip of the iceberg. Mimi really and truly does want to kill her sister and has tried to do so on numerous occasions. That's why they are always separated.)

DSL suggested I take Gracie to the next trial (which happens to be tomorrow) and play with her and give her vienna sausages and walk her around so that Mimi can see all of this. Perhaps Mimi will become so wound up and focused on her sister that she'll forget to become so FUCKING STRESSED that she can't even jump.

Yeah, it's a good plan but I don't hold much hope for success.

Still, I've got all of the gear packed up and plan to haul the sisters to Belton in the morning, about 2 1/2 hours drive south. Mimi will be in the Jumpers ring by 8:15 am or so and I need time to set up, so I'll be leaving the house at 4am in the morning. Not pretty but you do what you have to do.

If Mimi totally tanks tomorrow, I won't go back on Saturday (more wasted entry fees). But I will very much look forward to May when I can get Gracie into the ring.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Learning About Cap

I was walking around the back yard today picking up poop, trailed by five of the dogs, when a page of a newspaper suddenly blew against the fence. Cap went ballistic, jumping back and puffing up like a cat and barking his head off. Mimi and Jack ran to the fence barking because Cap was barking, saw that it was nothing but a piece of paper and immediately lost interest. Cap stalked up to the fence all stiff legged, barking and growling, and streeeetttched out his nose to take a tentative sniff. Oh, he realized, it wasn't a monster trying to get in the yard, it was just a piece of paper. He watched me pull it inside the fence and went off sniffing again.

I thought this was interesting because I've not seen him in a stressful situation like that. He overreacted at first but recovered quickly and was able to investigate the scary thing, decide it wasn't such a threat after all, and move on. Incident entirely forgotten. I like that resilience.

I'm still trying to figure Cap out. He is so soft. Almost everything I've learned about handling terriers has to be tossed out the window because none of that works for Cap. He's incredibly smart but I'm searching for that right motivating factor when teaching him new skills (or teaching him about things he shouldn't do, like dig in the yard or chew on my shoes! Yes, that's right, to my horror, he chews on shoes.).

I've become consistent about playing with him with balls and tugs. His retrieve (indoors and out) is getting much faster and more enthusiastic but I have to watch him carefully and stop the game before he gets interested in something else, while he still really really wants that ball.

I often tug with him on one hand and Harry on the other. I continue to struggle with his bite inhibition--it's a fine balance because I want him to tug vigorously but I simply can't let him bite my hand when doing so. I had to use some positive punishment the other morning--I offered the tug and he jumped up and grabbed the part nearest my hand, and my hand, not the part of the tug hanging in front of his face. It hurt like hell! I smacked his nose and yelled OW! very loudly and removed the tug from his reach. I had repeatedly tried much softer methods (like just yelling ow!) but this hand-biting behavior was becoming a regular pattern--he wouldn't go for the tug end, always my hand. That just had to stop.

He most certainly did not like the nose smack and shut down on me for a few minutes. I continued to play with Harry and ignored Cap but I did put away the "bad" tug and get out a new one for him, which he stared at for a while before deciding it was okay to play with. Something like that wouldn't have fazed the terriers for a second. A nose smack? Come on, hardly even a distraction!

Now before you get all wound up thinking I'm beating my dogs (although the terriers do get daily beatings per the Terrier Owner's Manual), let me say that I used that nose smack carefully. I did try other methods and he persisted in undesirable behavior. I am not yet a good enough dog trainer to figure out how to replace the bad behavior with a good one--what I want him to do is grab the tug end, not my damned hand--so I chose to shut down the bad behavior.

Since that event, when I offer him a toy or a tug, he LOOKS at my hand and the toy and evaluates where he can grab it, and only then does he do so. So the result is that he is hesitating a bit before acting but he is making better choices. I believe the hesitation will fade as he gets rewarded for those correct choices.

Cap is not much of a snuggler--because he has so much more fur than the terriers, he gets warm quickly and doesn't like to be in a pile of blankets and dogs. But he does like attention and makes it very clear when he wants to be pet and fondled. When we play retrieve in the house, sometimes I sit on the floor, and when he comes back with the toy or ball, he runs full speed into me, jamming his head and the toy into my stomach while throwing himself in my lap. I tickle him and roll him around and he just loves it. He's not shy about physical contact and I can touch him anywhere.

I had to teach Harry a "in my hand" command as part of his refocusing for flyball. I had to do this to keep him from running around erratically after getting the ball. He comes to the tug and when I drop it and say "put it in my hand!" he focuses on nothing but me and my hand. It took quite a while for Harry to learn this even though I was explicitly teaching just that specific command. Cap has learned this behavior in a more organic manner without so much fuss and drama. I never set out to teach him this particular behavior. Unlike Harry, Cap has no verbal for this command. I simply drop my hand and he shoves the toy into it. He does this reliably because he reliably gets rewarded by my grabbing the toy and throwing it.

Cap also had an annoying habit of grabbing my hand with his front paws when I grabbed his toy. Even though I keep them trimmed, he has dewclaws (they are removed in the smooth fox terriers) and he was scratching my hands and wrist. I taught him not to grab my hand with his paws simply by tapping his paws with a finger and waiting for him to remove them. Again, no verbal at all. Once he dropped his paws, I'd throw the toy. He sometimes forgets and puts a paw up and all I have to do is tap it with my finger--he drops it down right away because he knows I won't throw the toy until he does. No clicker, no treats, no verbal. Just a finger tap. Never would happen with a fox terrier.

My relationship with Cap is a work in progress. He's so smart but emotionally so different from the terriers. Soft is not the same thing as weak or scared. I think if I can figure out how to train this little guy, I will have really accomplished something.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Ahh, Spring

The other side of spring is days like today.

I was going to repair my roof today from the hail damage but discovered once I got up there that I need some professional help (I placed a call for someone to come out next week to give me an estimate).

So instead, I went to a garden center that just opened up down the road a piece and bought tomatoes, pots and soil.

I never quite found time to build a tomato bed or prepare any part of the yard for them so I decided to plant them in pots. Tomatoes have pretty shallow roots and even large plants don't need large pots. I've got a fantastic west-facing wall that now gets full south and west sun since I had a dead peach tree cut down last fall. I put the pots on the ground along that wall and planted two fancy hybrids and one heirloom (Brandywine, my favorite of the heirloom varieties).

I do have an herb bed that I made last spring. It has two low-growing rosemary plants, two kinds of lavender, and mint that survived the winter (I think mint would survive a nuclear blast). I noticed last week that marigold babies are coming up from seed from the marigolds I planted there last summer. Today I added two oregano and four basil plants. They are tiny now but I have great expectations.

After all of that work, I then got a cold beer from the fridge, set a sprinkler on the tomatoes, and lounged in the shade listening to the birds while the dogs variously napped in the sun, chewed on sticks, or rolled in the grass. I can usually drop my hand down and touch at least three of them.

I felt extra virtuous because I mowed the entire property after work yesterday so the yard looks great--dandelions that are chopped down to the same level as the grass are suprisingly not as annoying.

That has to be my favorite way to pass a spring (or summer) afternoon: surrounded by happy, calm pups, everyone enjoying the fresh air, green grass, nice smells on the breeze, and the warm sunshine.

Postscript: I neglected to mention that it is 84 deg as I write this. Before you northerners get all wound up about the balmy weather, it is forecasted to be near freezing on Sunday night--all my tender plants will have to be covered.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Spring is Sprung

We had a monstrously fierce storm blow through around 10pm Monday night. Brief, but fierce. It rolled in from the northwest like most of our nasty spring storms do. I watched the clouds and lightening build all evening and kept the TV turned to my favorite local station. It became my favorite last spring when there was a tornado-spawning storm that hit around 3am. After stowing photos, computers, dogs, and cats in my safe room, I turned on the TV to find the weatherman for WFAA Channel 8 broadcasting weather updates LIVE! At 3am! I was so impressed that I only listen to their weather now.

Anyway, the storm brought in a lot of hail. Big hail. Two-inch diameter hail! I braved the weather to collect a handful of hailstone samples from the backyard before the rain melted them.

The smallest was about 1 inch in diameter. The largest in my terribly non-random sample was this two-inch monster.

Not surprisingly, my roof and some gutters were damaged and some shingles need to be replaced. That's one of my projects for the weekend. The car was safely in the garage and thankfully, no windows were broken.