Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I Don't Understand This

I got a new (cheap) bit of carpet to put in front of my door. The cat in particular loves to lounge on it. I guess he likes the texture. Or the smell. Maybe the color. Who knows? He's a cat. Might as well be a helium-based life-form that lives in gas giant planets like Saturn for all that I understand what motivates him (sorry, my re-reading of the most excellent sci-fi Culture series by Iain M. Banks this summer is taking over my metaphors).

I was working on my summer research project the other day when I looked over to see Archie chilling on the rug. Good, I though, that means he won't be bugging me for a few minutes at least. I worked for a few more minutes, looked over again to see Beast stretched out on top of Archie's paws. Archie didn't even bother to move and the cat was already mostly asleep.

I don't understand the relationship that Azza and Archie have with Beast. They love him. He loves them. The cat ducks in and out of various rooms, runs under the bed, and zooms behind chairs in the living room, leading them on a truly merry chase through the house. The three of them go all out for this game.

You might recall how Azza would drag the cat across the living room by his head, cat screeching the entire way but loving every minute of it. 

Imagine my astonishment last week when I walked down the hallway just in time to see Archie dragging the cat across the living room by his head. 

It's the cat. That's the only possible explanation. Somehow he has figured out how to get two dogs with extremely different temperaments play the exact same crazy games with him. 

What can one do but shrug? They are happy, healthy, and full of play and silliness.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Request From Reader: More Antler Kabuki

While playing the antler kabuki game, Azza will offer a combination of submissive/appeasing behaviors (such as licking Archie's face and rolling over) while she continues to guard her antler with lifted lips and tries to push Archie away with her paws.  

Mimi is always looking for openings to get involved, and I don't mean in a good way. Her behavior seems low-key here but she'll pile on top of Azza in a second if she sees an advantage. This is an escalation that usually requires my intervention. 

In this video, the kabuki get pretty heated but both dogs back down on their own. This is a perfect example of knowing when to trust your dogs.

Make sure you have the volume turned all the way up for this one to get the full ear-piercing effects of Archie's barks:

I love Azza's expression at the end of this video. It's as if she's saying, see, see what I have to put up with?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Diary of A Second-Year Vet Student: Drama of the Little Sibs

One of the traditions at my vet school, and I'm sure at others as well, is for second-year vet students to take on the role of "big sibling" to "little sibling" first-year students. Each class gets to decide how the big sibs are assigned to or associated with the little sibs. The most common, and certainly reasonable, way is to send a short survey to the incoming first-years then share their answers with the second-year class, allowing each person to select their little sib. That is exactly what our class presidents did.

The survey results from the Class of 2020 were posted in a shared google form, and we, the Class of 2019, were told that on such a day and exactly at such a time, the form would be opened up for editing and we could put our initials next to the person we chose for our little sib. 

Sounds pretty simple. 

Shit went south in less than an hour. People started claiming "dibs" on this or that first-year. Others protested that claiming "dibs" wasn't fair. Tempers flared, mean words were exchanged. Dibs were placed on incoming students who were already dibbed by someone else. Arguments raged about who should get priority in claiming a little sib: "He's from my home state so I obviously get first dibs!" "She wants to work with camelids so obviously she must be my little sib!" This was all happening during the last couple weeks of the term when everyone was just a frazzled mental mess anyway, and the arguments began to spill out into hallways during breaks between classes.

The entire affair began to take on the air of something between auctioning slaves and trading Pokémon cards: she's mine! No, I called dibs on her first! Sadly, very sadly, this was only happening for a very small number of the incoming first years, the result of the cool kids fighting over the cool kids.

After reviewing the google form, I made my selection of little sib quickly. He's an undergrad here at the university and I've known him for several years. I like him a lot, and I think he'll be a good vet. I contacted him and asked him if he'd be okay if I put my name in as his big sib. He said yes. Nobody was fighting over him. I guess neither he nor I qualify as cool kids. Fine by me.

Then the form opened up as duly promised by our presidents and the shit didn't just go further south, it went nuclear. 

Some of my classmates began replacing initials already in place in the form with their own. Did they know that google documents retain a complete editing history, what and by whom? They didn't care! This was playing for blood, a fight to the death. This was about getting the most cool first-year as their little sib. Because clearly that would mean they were cool too.

I quietly logged in, put my initials next to my little sib's name, watched some of the drama (you can see real-time edits in shared google docs), then quietly logged out. Just in time, too, because one of the class presidents, who was also involved in a bidding war for one of the first-years but has yet to own up to his participation in the shit show, finally closed the form down, about three hours after he had opened it up. Of course, his initials were firmly in place by his choice of little sib when he closed it down. Keepin' it classy!

That still wasn't the end of it. One of my classmates who was engaged in some of the more public and nasty fights with another girl forced the dean to meet with both of them. The dean, who surely has better things to worry about. I haven't heard the gossip about the outcome, but really, what difference could it make? The entire affair was petty and unfortunate. 

I truly hope that the next three years provides some tempering for my classmates. 

I met with my little sib last week. I gave him a tour of the building--he'll get a tour during the orientation before classes, but I gave him a tour of the actual places he needed to know about; the official tour is pretty worthless. I shared suggestions about which textbooks he should consider buying and which ones he didn't need to buy at all, where he could find all the digital resources that the students share between themselves, what he needed in terms of lab materials, and gave him tips like "keep one clean lab coat and a set of scrubs in your locker". I told him that the schedule in the college course catalog was completely bogus, that the vet school sets its own schedule for courses and finals, then I showed him where to find this information. I discussed professors and their expectations and teaching style. These are all things that I wish my big sib had shared with me, but she wasn't very proactive, and in fact turned out to be sort of weird. So I figured that I would pass my knowledge to him in the hopes that, since he's a nice guy, he'd pass things on to his little sib in turn. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Beast Is No Exception

This is a photo of one of the windows in my bedroom taken from the backyard. Go ahead, click on it and take a closer look:

I'm sure you have several questions for me now.

Are those car sun shields nailed up inside the window? Yes, indeed they are. I rent an older home with no A/C, typical for this area (the house could be retrofitted for it but it would be very expensive). Although this summer has been unusually cool and cloudy, it can get quite warm in the Pacific NW at this time of year. And this particular window faces southwest so it gets full summer sun. The sun shields not only block the sun, they block the heat. With the blinds and curtains drawn and the shields pushed up against the window, my bedroom remains cool all day long.

Isn't putting sun shields in the window projecting a slight note of trailer park? Yes, indeed it is. I don't care. They are effective and cheap, and easy to remove with the changing seasons. And they are slightly more upscale than aluminum foil.

Why are they all torn up? In short, cats are assholes. Beast is not content to just stretch out on the window sill to bask in the afternoon sun. No, he has to amuse himself by chewing up the sun shields. They used to be connected in three places by zip ties. Those were not apparently challenging enough so he started in on the shields themselves.

Are all cats assholes? Yes. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's A Wrap!

Archie and Azza enjoying a sunny morning after weeks of cool, cloudy days.
I was excited and nervous when I took Archie to class on Tuesday morning. New day and time, and an entirely new class: Archie's beautiful stopped contacts and his weaves (still a work in progress) earned him a promotion to the next level of training. 

I was nervous because Archie and I are the "new team"--all of the other handlers and dogs in this class have been taking classes together and already know each other. But it turns out that the instructor placed us in a perfect class because all of the dogs in it are at almost the same level of performance as Archie. 

In our new class, we work sequences of 5 to 10 obstacles arranged to focus on a specific skill. This is always a bit of a leap for dogs learning agility because the rewards are spaced farther apart. In contrast, when rewarding at a skills station like those we worked on in his previous class, Archie would get rewards every few seconds. Consistent with his overall chill attitude, Archie seemed to accept this new arrangement without any hesitation.

However, he did have a "puppy brain" moment on his first run of the morning. He had completed the sequence and I had tossed the bunny fur tug out in front of the last couple of jumps. He grabbed it...and took off running! He jumped over a tunnel, carried his precious up and over the Aframe a couple of time, did a few jumps just because he could then carried it into another tunnel where he settled down in the MIDDLE OF THE TUNNEL with plans to rip the tug open and get to the treats. Oh, such a naughty puppy! I managed to convince him to bring it to me before he emptied the treats into the tunnel.

On his next turn, I took no chances and ran with a traditional bait bag clipped to the waist of my shorts. 

The first class did expose an interesting hole in his training: Archie has no wrap command. A dog that knows he will wrap a jump will collect himself as he approaches the jump, take off closer to the jump and land closer to the jump. Agile dogs that get the idea of the wrap can turn as they jump, so that when they land, they are already pointed in another direction. That's been the theme of our training at home this week. 

Archie picked up the concept rather quickly (including turning as he jumps) so tomorrow I'll set up some obstacles (as few as three jumps is enough but I'll probably toss in a tunnel and of course weaves) that I can use to work both the wrap and an extended jump.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Keeping It Simple

Archie continues to amaze and astound in his agility training. We had a fun class last night where we tested the dogs' understanding of the two-on-two-off position at the end of the Aframe by doing a front cross in front of them as they stayed in their contact position. Archie flew over the top of the Aframe, literally as he was completely air-borne, skidded into his touch position, ducked his head to wait for his treat, waited patiently while I crossed in front of him then, when I released him, shot off the Aframe to the next obstacle. The instructor videotaped us on this run and I hope to be able to share that in the next few days. His startline stay is quite nice too. I'm pleased with his progress.

We've also been working "go on" and "here", two specific commands that give a lot of information to the dog about what he needs to do next. "Go on" is fairly simple. It means continue taking the obstacles in front of you even if the handler is not right there. It is a nice command to use at the end of a course when many judges put a run-out to let the dogs stretch and fly, and when fast dogs easily outpace their handlers. "Here" means turn towards the handler--even if there is an obstacle that the dog can see in front of him. Remember, the dog's name only means that they should look at you. "Here" asks the dog to change his path and move towards you. 

I set up a little skills sequence in the backyard this morning to work on both, as well as work on Archie's "left" and "right" directionals and his weaves. 

Such a simple setup: one J-shaped tunnel, three jumps, one set of six weave poles. But so many skills can be worked on it. 

Mimi loved it. I have many more options with her since I can do more obstacles before I reward her, and because I can rear-cross her. Archie isn't quite there with the rear cross. It was so fun for both of them that I'll probably set it up again later this week.

Sunday, July 03, 2016


I has a sad. 

Amazingly, the iPad still works just fine. 

 The nice girl at the Mac store (a third-party re-seller; Corvallis isn't large enough to have a real Apple store) suggested the packing tape. I used a few strips of tape to pull off all of the minute glass fragments before I sealed it up. Swiping over broken glass is not a good idea.

Sadly, it would cost quite a bit to have Apple replace the glass--around $200. I'm going to see if a cell phone repair guy in town can replace the glass for less. New glass or not, I'll keep it and use it as a backup.

If one has to look for a silver lining, it's the fact that I ran out of memory on the thing last week and pulled all the photos and videos from the iPad onto my laptop then synced the iPad to iTunes on my laptop. So even if it craps out in the future, I shouldn't lose anything.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Antler Kabuki--Variations

Antler kabuki doesn't have to include an antler. As I write this, Archie and Azza are in the backyard performing antler kabuki with a stick. It can be performed with any object of mutual desire, as in the case of the video below, with a plush frog missing stuffing and squeaker.

Azza is making the noises you hear. Archie might let loose with a shrill bark every now and then, but for the most part, antler kabuki is a silent game. 

Archie grabs Azza's cheeks so often during this game that she has a permanent welt/bald spot on both sides of her face. I figure that as long as blood isn't drawn, it's not a problem.

I was grooming Archie yesterday and realized that he's not a puppy anymore. He's a big boy, clocking in at nearly 22 lbs of solid muscle. He's a lovely SFT with a cheerful and resilient temperament. I'm lucky to have him, and Azza is lucky to have such a fun playmate.