Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ladies' Kingdom

It's Wednesday night, I feel guilty that I haven't posted a word for two weeks, I've been drinking some nice red whine (whew, that stuff is potent so I have to cut it with Perrier), animals are fed, dogs have been thoroughly walked. And this is my THIRD post in one night.

I've posted before about how I may think for several days about what I want to write, turning topics and phrases and metaphors around in my head to determine if they are "blog worthy." Well, being on that field trip for a week with limited internet access gave me plenty of time to ponder these big questions.

This post is about the day that MO and I spent at the Kingdom Mall in Riyadh.

The three women on the field trip (the word women is rarely used by Saudis; they prefer "ladies") had to fly to Riyadh 24 hours ahead of the men, who drove from Dhahran. This was ostensibly to avoid any unpleasantness at government checkpoints. ("Mixing of the sexes" is probably the most horrific thing the mutawas can envision and it is actively discouraged in this culture; having women traveling with unrelated men in cars could possibly have sent the entire Saudi system into a fatal tailspin were it to be discovered by the wrong person....) So we were flown out to Riyadh. That's all I'm going to say about that.

The Saudi woman on the trip has family in Riyadh: daughter, son-in-law, 4-month-old granddaughter. She spent most of her free time with them.

But MO and I had an entire day to kill...what to do? Well, for women in this culture, there is really nothing else you are permitted to do but shop. So we took a taxi from the hotel to one of the largest, swankiest malls in Riyadh, the Kingdom Mall.

We discovered that the upper floor of this mall was called the "Ladies' Kingdom"...and no men were allowed up there. All of the shops were staffed by women, even the coffee shops. I shouldn't even use the word "shops" as all of them represented the top European designers and fashion houses.

Sounds weird, right? But MO and I ended up spending most of the day in the Ladies' Kingdom...and enjoying it!

It was remarkably refreshing since I find the general atmosphere of this culture to be so oppressive. We saw Saudi women ripping off their head scarves as soon as they passed the entrance barriers (there were male guards at all of the entrances). I think that maybe some of those women find it a bit oppressive on the other side of those barriers too.

MO and I are by our own admission not shoppers even in the real world. But we spent hours fingering couture gowns (mostly hideous), gawking at shoes and accessories that were never going to be seen by any but other women, and generally enjoying the experience. It was all so alien: designer fashion everywhere one gazed (MO and I think Lands End is acceptable office wear) and only young, pretty, fashionable women to be seen (no children; they left the squalling brats at home with the Indonesian nanny).

And while I think that it is a great idea here in this backwards country, I would have been very happy to trade our day in the Ladies' Kingdom for a day in any US mall, no matter how low brow.

Agility in KSA Weeks 15 and 16

While I was on the field trip, MH had to run the agility class on her own. She decided to give the handlers a special treat and had a friend back in Canada design a NADAC course--MH even included the hoops she had built for her own dogs! By all accounts, it was another very successful class!

Last week I decided to set up a Backyard Dogs sequence from the November Clean Run magazine. It was a simple exercise with a curved tunnel and six jumps. We fudged on the weaves (used open 2x2s) but so what. I showed them the magazine, the article with the course maps, and talked about how I liked to work the exercises in this column each month for a week or two. We used cones to number the exercises so they got to practice their "walk throughs". We only got through a couple of variations but we all had a good time.

MH and I try to introduce our handlers and dogs to new skills but we also want everyone to have fun. So we aren't tracking our progress in terms of "tournament skills" or ticking off specific handling patterns from a list. Instead, we look at the progress of each dog and handler: HD and her shy desert dog Savvy who will now go through a shortened, straight tunnel with only a bit of encouragement; S and her Yorkie Abbie who will work a sequence, any sequence, off lead; PM and her crazy lab Nellie who despite having the zoomies at least once per class shows amazing focus now, constantly looking to her handler for more information; MW with her shepherd mix Boodle who will now go into any tunnel, curved or straight, and who happily goes in his crate in class and calmly waits his turn. The list goes on.

Anxious dogs have become more confident, distracted dogs have become more focused. Dogs who just needed something to do have become agility junkies. Tweaking an exercise, moving a jump or shortening a tunnel, gives such affirming success to dog and handler.

I'll bet that you agility folks already know that agility works magic, that you are saying to yourself, sure, tell me something new. But we aren't focused on titles or ribbons or points here. We are focused on the joy. It is a lesson that I will never forget.

I am so amazed that MH and I have been able to give these experiences to our handlers and dogs here in this crazy country with a motley set of equipment and no experience teaching this sort of class. Blind leading the blind? I don't think so. Neither MH nor I are weak handlers. Back in the "real world" we never saw ourselves as agility trainers. Here in the Magic Kingdom, we can make up the rules as we go...and one rule is, if you think you can do it, then by all means go ahead and try.

We joke with the handlers all the time now about how their dogs are way better than them, and I think that most of them can see that this is true. And I am so proud of them all for trying even harder, to become better handlers for their dogs. They try to control their flailing arms, their multiple verbal commands, their awkwardly veering paths. MH and I smile at each other and praise them all.

None of our small group may ever step foot in a "real" agility ring but it doesn't matter. We have brought the joy and challenge of agility here to Saudi Arabia. And it needs no translation.

Triassic-Mesozoic Field Trip, Saudi Arabia

I know, I know, it's been two weeks since I last posted something! I've got good excuses, really I do.

Last week I went on a field trip to look at Triassic and Jurassic rocks in central Saudi Arabia. More than 70% of the world's booked hydrocarbon reserves are in carbonates...and most of that is in Jurassic shallow marine platform carbonates in Saudi Arabia.

Geologic map of the Arabian Plate. The colors correspond to the age of the rocks exposed at the surface.

Because the Arabian Plate tilted a bit to the east when the Red Sea opened between it and Africa around 40 million years ago, give or take 5 million years, nearly the entire succession of rocks from Neoproterozoic basement to Paleocene is exposed in a series of bathtub rings that get younger and younger as you go east.

This particular field trip is designed around exposures of the very proximal (more landward) parts of the Triassic and Jurassic reservoirs that contain so much oil and gas here in Saudi Arabia.

We stayed in the Sheraton in Riyadh and drove out to the various outcrops and road cuts in a series of very long day trips (we were often out for 10 to 12 hours, which are unusually long days for a show and tell sort of trip like this).

This was my first trip to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia (the administrative capital that is, since Mekkah is the religious capital). I'm sure glad I traveled there on Aramco's dime. It was just as dirty and half-constructed as Khobar, only much, much larger. So there's no need to go back!

I learned some really amazing things on this trip. For example, there is "local Saudi beef" sold in the markets but you never see cows grazing. What would they graze on that the sheep and camels hadn't already eaten? So where does this "local beef" come from? It turns out that cows are indeed raised in Saudi underground farms, stacked level upon level. They never go outside. They only see artificial light. They shit and piss on the next level down. Basically all of the "local beef" is veal since the cows never really move. Thank god I only bought imported beef from Brazil but this story has turned me off beef in a big way.

Then we learned that there is a small "high quality" cement plant outside Riyadh. Nearby is a significantly larger "low quality" cement plant. It seems the demand for "high quality" cement just isn't there. This explains a lot...every building that you see under construction is made of cinder blocks that look like they have been stacked together by children: blocks pointed every which way (hole side in, out, to the side), irregular spacing, gaps plugged by rags, newspaper, rubble. Low quality cement will do just fine when that is the general standard of construction.

The lunches were provided each day and for the most part were reasonable. However, the logistics coordinator decided to do a Saudi lunch one day. He showed up with bags of canned tuna, canned olives, peanut butter, honey...and canned cream, canned cheese, and white bread. The Saudis apparently love them some canned cheese. Grab a piece of it with a hunk of white bread, dip it in the canned cream and then honey...yikes! The four westerners on the trip (including me) were pretty appalled by this discovery--the amount of chemicals required to stabilize "cream" and "cheese" in cans is appalling. We stuck to peanut butter. At least we weren't going to starve.

There were three women on this trip, two westerners (me and a Brit) and a fairly westernized Saudi woman. So you might be wondering about bathroom facilities. There are truck stops in Saudi Arabia and they usually have a women's facility. And the mosque in small towns often has a small female prayer room and toilet (except in Mekkah, women are either discouraged or actively prevented from going into mosques in Saudi Arabia). Most of these places were not very clean (the one on the first day was downright appalling) so I tried to pee at our field stops as often as I could. Thank god for hand sanitizer and personal packets of Kleenex.

The fact that women were permitted on this trip is a bit unusual. Government Affairs turned down female applicants for this trip for all of 2010 and 2011, then suddenly relented (actually, our logistics team probably found the right guy to bribe). I knew that I had to go because the opportunity could be pulled away with no warning or explanation.

I'm still working on captions for a Picasa album of my field trip photos. But I'll stick in a few here to give you the basic idea.

Looking at the Triassic Jilh Formation (the dark brown stuff in the hill to the left and the stuff we are standing on). Here in central Saudi Arabia, it is composed of fluvial (river) clastics. In the subsurface, the Jilh is a restricted, hypersaline, lagoonal carbonate.

This is some middle Jurassic carbonate that I can't identify from the photo. Field notes are not at hand.

There is a sword on the Saudi flag, and swords figure heavily in religious and civil government iconography. Islam, the religion of peace. I took this from a moving car and that's all I'm going to say about it.

Some crappy middle Jurassic carbonate that has absolutely no resemblance to its reservoir equivalent to the east. The faint trails are made by camels. Saudi Arabia is lousy with camels, which are free range for the most part. Oddly, I have no photos of them although we saw plenty of them every day.

A suspension bridge over a very large wadi to the east of Riyadh. One of my few attempts at "art."

Dalh Hith. The only known exposure of the Hith anhydrite, an extremely important regional seal for the Jurassic hydrocarbons. Anhydrite is an evaporitic mineral and quickly dissolves when exposed to water. Even though it doesn't rain much here, it rains enough to dissolve most of the Hith exposures. Most of what you see in this photo is the earliest Cretaceous Sudair carbonate; the Hith anhydrite is that darkish material at the base of the cliff.

We were looking at Late Cretaceous Aruma braided fluvial clastics in this quarry exposure when suddenly this Bedouin showed up with his two donkeys (the dark one was the offspring of the white one), his flock of sheep, and three dogs which appeared to be just hanging out with the group. They had absolutely no function in moving the sheep. The Bedouin moved the sheep by throwing rocks at them and waving a staff around.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Useful Survival Tips

Everything you buy here, unless it is imported, is shoddy, already broken when you take it out of the package or will break upon first usage, never the correct size or shape or material, often gaudily colored and chemically scented with odors that can never occur in nature. An example: rubber gloves. Such a mundane item, right? They often come out of the box with tiny holes or tears in them. They are so thin that the slightest pinch or bang against something will tear them anyway. And they are so short that water runs down then back inside them no matter how careful you are. So suck it up and ship it in. You'll be happier in the long run.

Always check flour, pasta, grains, and beans for insects before purchasing. Yeah, what else can I say here? It's scary to see ...things...crawling in that bag of elbow noodles.

Check expiration dates of cans, bottles, boxes. Food often spends a lot of time in customs and by the time it makes it to store shelves, well, it can be a bit past its prime.

Never buy fruit or vegetables that have been stacked in a box or container then sealed. The top layer may look okay but the ones below that will be green, wormy, bruised, or moldy.

Get on an email news chain. I'm on three. You can find out about events in camp, air fare deals offered by this or that airline (I got an amazing deal on my flight to Scotland in May this way), information about all of the little service shops run out of their homes by the so-called "dependent wives."

Learn to make your own whine or beer. It's easy, makes a nice hostess gift, and gives you something to talk about at parties.

Keep plenty of cash on hand--this is very much a cash economy. You need small bills to pay taxi drivers and larger ones to pay your domestic help each month. The Aramco dining halls only take cash. The Aramco gas stations only take cash. Small stores in town only take cash. Credit card theft (theft of the number to be precise) is a thriving industry in this part of the world (I've already had it happen to me once). The bigger stores in town take credit cards but it is often faster to pay cash.

Learn to live without things. You really don't need El Paso brand refried beans to make tacos. The UK Waitrose brand will work fine. Or perhaps forget the tacos and try whipping up an Asian-inspired dish with fresh ingredients.

Get names and mobile numbers of craftsmen from friends. Even if you can't find something here, you can often have it made for you: furniture, metal work, windows, doors. But be careful--refer back to the first paragraph! Some of the stuff made here is horribly shoddy and gaudy.

Sharing the Moment

I'm running another session of the basic obedience class. I try to limit the class to eight handlers and dogs but for a variety of reasons, enrollment in this one crept up to 10 before I told Community Education "no more!"

It's a fun group of handlers this time with some very interesting dogs. My agility friend MH dropped by last week and was amazed at the variety of dogs: two cocker spaniels (siblings), a Cavalier spaniel, a variety of terrier mixes of various size and hairiness, a "desert dog" saluki mix, a husky (in Saudi Arabia, of all things), a wire fox terrier (named Seamus; he's very cute), and a Rhodesian ridgeback.

The ridgeback, a bitch puppy about 9 months old, is named Sinuk. It is hard to look at her and think "puppy" because she is a massive animal. Then you see her move and you realize, oh, yeah, puppy, just gigantic and powerful! Sinuk has a wonderful personality, very open, friendly, and curious, which is not how I've generally perceived ridgebacks to be. She's also got lovely conformation.

Sinuk's family apparently had done some training with her. This trainer told them that they had to use a heavy metal choke collar and leash corrections. They walked in the door and I saw a pup with no self discipline or control who ignored her family for the most part. Those leash corrections were as effective in changing Sinuk's behavior, or even getting her attention, as a fly on an elephant's back. But a dog that powerful does require firm handling. Still, as you all know, firm doesn't mean punitive. More than anything, it means consistent. And that choke chain had to go!

It took me a couple of weeks to convince them that leash corrections were a battle they were never going to win, especially once Sinuk filled out with her adult musculature.

To my great pleasure, they have been doing all of their homework...and even though I already know that positive training works, it was nice to hear them reporting significant improvements in Sinuk's behavior. For example, the mom emailed me a couple of weeks ago to report that she was able to recall Sinuk back to her for a hand touch...even though Sinuk was taking off to chase some feral dogs. She said she nearly fell over because Sinuk had never come when called before. Now that's a demonstration of the power of reinforcement (I introduce the hand touch game in the first week of class).

Last week, Sinuk was particularly wild in class. The weather was unsettled and some of the other dogs were acting up a bit too. Also, most of the dogs quickly become comfortable in class and do things that they might not do the first couple of weeks when they are still scoping the scene. I anticipate this and don't get too wound up about it. Dogs are animals. They have their own agendas sometimes. I respect that and work around it. Plus, I've found that if I help the owners stay patient and consistent, the dogs usually settle down. In class, I usually spend much more time watching the owners anyway.

After Sinuk's happy day in class (happy for Sinuk, a bit frustrating for her owner), this email was waiting for me when I got to work a couple of days later:
Soo, I think I figured out why Sanuk was such a maniac today..... So far today she has shredded her blanket, eaten a tennis ball (literally shredded it leaving teeny tiny rubber bits allll over the house), whipped her ball on a string across the room and knocked over a lamp, turned over every carpet in the house and gotten stuck under my bed requires extreme extrication measures. This is AFTER an 8km run this morning....
My daughter bought a small bag of sugar cane from the commissary the other day, and apparently left it within Sanuks reach- I went to clean out the shredded blanket out of her bed and there it was- a whole bag of chewed up sugar cane. Just waiting for the crash.......
Frickin' hysterical, especially when you remember Sinuk weighs around 100 lbs and can put her front paws on my shoulders.
There are lots of subtexts to explore here but I'll just focus on two. First, my goal is to help owners understand their dogs a bit better than before they took my class. Not to brag, but I usually succeed more often than not. Of course not every dog and owner who takes my class becomes an obedience success story. I aim for a different target: dogs who pay attention to their owners and owners who pay attention to their dogs. Everyone ends up a bit happier.

The second subtext is that owners now experience these events such as Sinuk's crazy day, notice them and think about them, when before they may have just gotten mad or ignored the dog, and then take the time to share the stories with me because they know that something significant has happened, good or bad. 
And this is why I teach the dog classes, including the agility class. It's about sharing the joy of the moment with dogs and their handlers.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Agility in KSA Weeks 13 and 14

With such a full class, I haven't had time to take any pictures the past few weeks. Fortunately, PM brought her camera for the week 13 class and shared these pics with the group. I've scattered those photos in this post so you can see more happy handlers and dogs doing agility in Saudi Arabia.

And yes, I admit, I've been a bit lax about posting the past couple of weeks. Check back soon--I'll put up some posts explaining why in a few days.

HD and her desert dog mix Savvy. Savvy is very cautious of new things: new people, dogs, situations, obstacles. But HD is very patient and helps Savvy be quite successful.

Having handlers of two different skill levels in the same class is a bit easier than I thought because it isn't like we are dealing with Masters level versus Novice level. They are all still novices but some are a bit more advanced than the others. The new handlers are progressing forward very quickly because they can watch the more advanced handlers and get a clear mental picture of where they will be going. When I instruct the handlers on what they will be doing for that particular class, I talk to the entire group at the same time, no matter what their level.

For the past two weeks, I've had the more advanced handlers work RFP challenges such as obvious yet off-course tunnel entries staring their dogs in the face. After a bit of practice last week, they managed that very well! Because I decided that their dogs knew what the RFP move meant even if the handlers were a bit shaky on the concept, I upped the ante on them this week: I introduced the serpentine with three jumps.

For you non-agility folks, a serpentine is a sequence of three obstacles oriented in a line such that the dog's path is away from the handler, towards the handler, and then away from the handler. In the olden days it was done with only three jumps but now you can find serpentines in Master courses that include teeters (seesaws), tunnels, tires...any obstacle is now fair game for judge to design into a serpentine. But you will only find serpentines in Masters courses--they require sophisticated handling and solid communication between handler and dog.

It took a while but we convinced PM that she didn't need to babysit the obstacles! Look at Nellie's focus!

So this morning, as I said, I decided it was time to challenge my more advanced handlers, because it is important that you train at a level above where you are actually competing (not that we are competing, but you get the idea). As I described what they needed to do to handle this exercise, my advanced handlers were skeptical to say the least. One of them said rather emphatically, "that's all well and good but my dog won't send over jumps." You agility folks know how that went, right? If we train with consistent body and verbal signals, our dogs figure this game out long before we do. And I had really been working their RFP for the past two weeks. I knew they could do it with the right coaching and encouragement. Thank goodness both of them trusted me enough to give it a go.

A serpentine can be handled in several different ways but the most efficient way is for the handler to do a RFP at the second obstacle to turn the dog into them, over the jump, then return to regular handling with the inside arm for the last obstacle. In other words, the handlers sends the dog over jump 1, does an RFP to get the dog to turn into them for jump 2, then sends the dog over jump 3. The handler runs down a line parallel to the obstacles while the dog does all the work. There is still some fancy handler foot- and armwork involved.

I had the two handlers practice this footwork on their own without their dogs then I pretended to be their "dog." I know this sounds really silly but playing "dog" is a more effective training tool than I thought it might be. It helps a lot that I don't give a flying leap if I look stupid--I'm jumping 8" jumps saying "oh boy, mom, here I come!" I go into the hole, I veer off course, I run past obstacles, and by doing all of this, I can correct their timing and position. A dog that can talk! Okay, maybe it's good there is no video of this. Still, it's proving to be an effective training tool for these two handlers because they listen. Plus it provides a lot of laughs for the class.

CJ and Webster. Look at that attention on his handler!

CJ and her agility star Webster. I had to put in a second picture of him because he's so darned cute!

So you can probably guess what happened. On second thought, I'd kill for video of this, I really would. Those two handlers and their dogs totally nailed that serpentine exercise! It was amazing and beautiful and awesome. I am so proud of PM and her lab Nellie and JH and her old terrier mix Aris. They may not realize that I am feeling my way through the "how to be a fun and effective agility instructor" maze or that they are my guinea pigs, but I will always remember the joy I felt this morning for being able to give them such a fun and successful agility experience!

And what about all those newbie handlers?  We've been working them on tunnels for a couple of weeks, culminating this week in the ever popular jump-curved tunnel-jump sequence. This sequence is used in every novice agility class on the planet. Now just pause for a second and think about this...I've got totally green handlers and dogs successfully sequencing in just three weeks! It's amusing to see all of the typical newbie mistakes: repeating "tunnel! tunnel!" over and over; putting their hands into the tunnel then pulling them out, which pulls the dog out; not having reliable stays and lead outs; running out of room and coming to a halt which causes the dog to stop too. But we help them improve by showing them that they need to give the dog consistent signals with handler body position and timing of their commands.

Cherie and Xena. I keep the leash on the new dogs for a couple of weeks until I see how they are going to behave towards the other dogs. Nice drive to the tunnel!

We had some major breakthroughs this week with a couple of the dogs. One of our returning, but relatively green, handlers has a dog who was very reluctant to go through the tunnel. MH, my co-instructor, had him doing full length straight tunnels this morning after just a few reps with a shortened tunnel. I'd also mention that MW wasn't able to get Mr. B into his crate either... but this week he was happily going in and waiting his turn quietly! She's clearly been doing her homework! And one of our brand new handlers, HD with her desert dog mix Savvy, actually got her pup to sequence from a jump to a shortened tunnel--a miracle given that Savvy wouldn't even put more than front paw in the tunnel last week.

Sometimes MH and I hold dogs at the start to help teams be successful. Here's Cherie with her other dog Jake. That's me with a mug of coffee in my hand, thoughtfully provided by my co-instructor MH every week!

I'd also like to mention S and her yorkie mix Abby, graduates of my basic obedience class. S was really worried about Abby running off but it was pretty clear to me that Abby was totally focused on her handler. So I convinced S to leave the leash behind and run a jump-jump-tunnel-jump-jump sequence "naked." Once again, the handler trusted me enough to try it...and of course it went great. Abby never took her eyes off S (sorry, no pics of Abby; we'll try next week).

CM, one of our new handlers, and her JRT Obie. He loves this agility game and is doing great!

In the end, it's all about sending home each week happy dogs and handlers who are more confident, more trusting of each other, and always feeling like they've accomplished something really significant!

No team is happier than me and Mimi!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Feline Detente

I'm so glad that at last the cats have reached some sort of understanding. First there was Tsingy's 5-day hunger strike (I kept putting the same darned bowl of food out twice a day; I figured she'd get hungry eventually). Then I discovered that they were taking turns trapping the other in the litter box--and not as part of a game. That was not pretty at all.

Kinky stretching and yawning after a nap.
 I supposed some line was crossed a couple of weeks ago because they started screeching and howling at each other, escalating up to some short but rather vicious fights (these usually took place around 1am so I didn't see many of them although Mimi would shoot out of bed to go investigate). Both cats ended up with shallow bites on their necks and shoulders. Just like with dogs, those aren't killing bites but mutual attempts to sort out their issues.

Even though I thought it was all excessively dramatic, they needed to work it out on their own terms. And so they have. This weekend was noticeably drama-free. Tsingy is strolling around like she hasn't a care in the world. Both cats came upstairs with the dogs when I went up there to change after work. No yowling, no puffed tails, no fleeing the scene. They hung out while I played a quick game of fetch with the dogs, then we all trooped back downstairs again.

Kitty attacks sisal post: news at 11!
I've tucked into the post some pictures of Kinkajou playing on their new cat castle--both of them like it but I only managed to snap pics of him.

Kinky likes the new furniture.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Settling In

I find myself settling in here despite my dislike of the culture and my curmudgeonly view of humanity in general. For one thing, I can comfortably weigh in on all of the topics that expats like to gnaw and worry over in social gatherings (MENA geopolitics, housing, Aramco politics, to name a few). That's not much of a stretch as I can schmooze with just about anybody on any topic if I am motivated to do so. But sometimes my opinion is even sought out, pretty flattering to a curmudgeon.

But what surprises me the most is how many people I know and greet as I go about my tiny, circumscribed life. At work, at the commissary, at the gym, walking the dogs, even in stores and malls in Khobar, I constantly run into people that I know. Well, so what, you are thinking. I'll tell you, I probably have never actually been recognized by so many people in my entire life. It is kind of weird because sometimes these people even come up and greet me first. This has simply not happened to me before.

I now have all of you thinking that I'm some sort of social misfit, and I suppose there is a grain of truth in that, but the larger point is that I seem to have become a member of the expat community without noticing it happening. I'm not notorious, that's not the right word, but I seem to have become someone that people a good way.

The dog training classes of course play a large role here. Last weekend, I volunteered at a fund-raising event held annually by the Dhahran Running Club. It was the second year I helped them out, happily sitting at the registration table taking money and names. The community event is called the "Doggie Dawdle"--it's a 1-km run/walk/stroll with the goal of raising money for the local animal rescue group. People are welcome to bring leashed dogs, although a dog isn't necessary to participate. This year I knew, sometimes even knew the names of both people and dogs, around half of the 65 or so participants. And the common thread is that they all took the dog obedience classes from me.

The second contributing factor is my role at work. I oversee the construction of training programs for all of the geologists at Aramco. In the process, I meet geoscientists from every department, including a lot of Saudis. And here I have a fairly distinct advantage: there are still only about a dozen female geologists at Aramco, so I stick out. It is easy to pick up the phone to call someone to ask for something because even if I haven't met the person I'm calling, I'm pretty sure they already know who I am.

Although Dhahran has changed radically since its founding in the 1940's, it still retains many characteristics of a small town. It is hard to hide yourself away in this kind of environment. In a way, this is all probably a good thing although I hate that I had to come to Saudi Arabia to experience this.

Agility in KSA Week 12

The other instructor for the agility class, MH, has been OOK since before Christmas so I've been running the class by myself. Getting the equipment to the field and getting it set up on my own requires a lot of effort. I also found that running the class, currently with 8 dogs and handlers at two distinct levels of experience, is really challenging. Arranging exercises suitable for each set of handlers and moving through them quickly enough so that no handler has to sit and wait for too long is harder than I expected. But MH emailed me this morning--she's back! Whew! With two instructors, we can keep two stations going all the time so the pace will pick up a lot.

Since we have such an avid group in the class, and since I see them all trying really hard to learn everything we throw at them, I thought I would select some videos of great handling and share those with them with the goal of inspiring them even more. There is a lot of poor, inconsistent handling out there that has been preserved forever on the internet, but I figured the FCI World trials would be a good resource. Indeed, there is a highlight video about 9 minutes long from the 2010 trial. I also found a video of American Ashley Deacon and Luka from 2011, and Austrian Lisa Frick's end-of-tournament 2011 run with Hoss in which he dropped the very first bar but she kept going like the gold was still in play--amazing sportsmanship.

I guess I overfaced my class participants a bit. JH, Aris's handler, came back in about an hour with this classic line:

I’ll hang me treat bag up now then…
No, no! I wailed to them in a reply. I wanted you to be inspired by the great handling and athleticism, not freaked out!

I'm trying to start their agility obsession. No better way to do that than to give them a chance to watch the best in competition.