Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Poor Mimi!

Mimi had twelve teeth removed yesterday afternoon. Yep, that's right, twelve teeth. Don't worry, she has plenty left.

Here's a picture of the teeth that I took at the vet clinic when I picked Mimi. I took only the picture, leaving the teeth behind. Ew.

Most of those were incisors. They are tiny teeth for the most part--except in the fox terrier, the incisors have unusually large roots. She lost one premolar, those small teeth directly behind the canines, and the two large molars in the back of her upper jaw. I brush her teeth every couple of days but those teeth are hard to reach because of the shape of the fox terrier jaw, and I did worry that I wasn't getting them clean. According to the vet tech, they were darned hard to remove too. 

The problems with her teeth came on quite suddenly. She had a dental done just a year ago with only a single incisor extracted. For some reason, all of her remaining incisors (but one) just went south a few weeks ago. She also had a condition in which her gums were growing too exuberantly around some of affected teeth. This condition is more commonly seen in boxers, and in those dogs, the gums can grow so much that they cover the teeth completely. And she had an epulis, a small hyperplastic nodule on the roof of her mouth behind her upper incisors, which from my reading is thought to be from the peridontal ligament and is nearly always benign. 

I was worried that the vet who did the dental last year missed some obvious diseased teeth, but the vet who did the procedure this time seemed to think that Mimi just had a bit of bad luck. I was careful in how I posed my question to the second vet since I didn't want the issue to become a pissing contest between two different clinics. And Mimi's dramatic tooth removal shouldn't be used as an argument against brushing your dog's teeth. I've already started getting Archie used to the dog toothpaste even though his teeth are still beautiful puppy white.

Mimi is on the mend, eating well (two weeks of nothing but soft food--yummy!), and getting some good pain meds (tramadol and carprofen). She's been better though, and is not her bouncy self. Not a surprise with a sore mouth full of sutures. Poor old girl. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Rude Encounter With Nature

Archie did not have a good morning. It started out like most other mornings this summer. Part of our morning routine is a complete poop patrol of the backyard. This includes what I call the back forty, a small ell off the main backyard. The house is on a corner lot so this ell is paralleled by a sidewalk and a street, and separated from the main part of the yard by a short stretch of fence with a gate that I keep propped open. It's a bit neglected. The dogs like to play back there so I make sure that it is part of the regular poop patrol but I don't do much with the space itself--it's weedy and dry.

Anyway, I decided to mow all of the backyard this morning. Archie loves to help me mow, shadowing my every step. I started in the back forty. After some tight corners with the mower around the propane tank, I was just getting into the rhythm when I saw Archie explode into a frenzy of running, diving, rubbing his face on the ground. He was covered in bees! On his head, his side. I managed to call him to me (his recall is getting so much better!) and we ran around to the main part of the yard where I brushed the remaining insects off of him. He was frantically flipping and rubbing in the grass.

I've encountered these little fuckers before. Last summer, I had two different nests of them in flowerbeds in the front yard. They are social, live in nests in the ground that they dig, usually located around something like the stem of a large plant or a pole that extends into the ground. And they are extraordinarily aggressive if their nest is disturbed. They interpret disturbance fairly liberally so I keep an eye out for them. They cling to clothing, or fur, and sting multiple times. They will even sting through clothing. Bastards.

I've never gotten a good look at them except to figure out that they are around 10-12 mm long, fairly dark in color with clear wings, and they are not bumblebees. I have plenty of those in my yard, more than one species, and they are easy to identify. After doing some research, I think that these things are some sort of wasp, not bees. A lot of the evidence points to wasps: nesting activity so late in the summer, aggressive defense of the nest, etc.

I inspected Archie carefully for swelling or similar adverse histamine reactions. I put him in the house and kept an eye on him for about 15 minutes just to be sure. Then I went back to see if I could find the nest. Sure enough, they were coming and going from a small hole located next to the pipe containing the electrical supply for the propane tank meter. I must have bumped it with the mower and by sheer bad luck, they went for Archie instead of me.

I cobbled together some water hoses and sprayed the wasp nest with poison. My experience of last summer suggests I will have to do this a second time to completely eliminate the nest. Of course, before I resorted to poison last year, I tried benign solutions such as trying to drown them out. All that did was provide them with a regular source of water and make them more active and aggressive. At one point, I was having problems exiting my front door because one of the nests was under a rosebush about four feet away. So, poison. I'll also set out some hanging traps, which don't seem to attract bumblebees (although plenty of sweat bees make it into them).

Poor little Archie. Even when I finished mowing the main part of the backyard, Archie decided he wanted to stay in the house. That was not at all like my happy-go-lucky puppy. 

I generally take a live, let live attitude towards the insects in my yard. As long as doing so won't endanger me, I capture and transport spiders back outside. I don't break spider webs unless I absolutely need to. Instead of poisoning the horrifically slick moss coating my sidewalk and driveway last winter (all the poisons are terribly toxic for fish and amphibians), I sprinkled sodium bicarbonate over everything--it changes the pH and the moss dies. Works great and it's cheap! I plant flowers in the front yard that attract bumblebees and butterflies. But these little ground-nesting, stinging wasps--they have to go. I can't have myself, and now the dogs, attacked when we wander around in our yard.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sniffing Bugs and Chasing Shadows

Archie is certainly proving to be a challenging agility partner. At times he has amazing focus and ability. At other times, no matter how enthusiastically we start, after a few obstacles he's off sniffing bugs and chasing shadows. His trainer pointed out that this is a classic example of avoidance behavior. But what is at the root of this problem? What, exactly, is he avoiding? There are several possibilities.

I'm late in giving him information. I just have to point and Mimi will perform. I can crowd her line, flap my arms, and she forges ahead. But Archie needs time to process what I say, which means he needs the information early and clearly. When I'm late, he slows down or stops because he's not sure what he is supposed to do and we lose our connection. Then it's oh, look! Off to see what that bug is doing!

I'm sloppy in my handling. He is extraordinarily sensitive to my body position, far more than Mimi is. Certain handling moves that work great for her only confuse him. He likes it when I keep everything very simple. That's not to say that he's stupid, because he isn't, or that I can't execute complicated handling moves with him, because I can. But I need to focus on trimming out all of the unnecessary bits and watch my feet and shoulders and my path more closely. For example, this morning he had to execute a tunnel and two jumps in a straight line followed by a 90 degree turn to another tunnel (this was part of a longer sequence, and he had completed this section once already). The dogs were getting a good head of steam coming down the line, so timing their turn around the second jump was important. The goal is to have them collect before the jump and turn tightly around it, not jump it at full speed and in full extension then execute a joint-damaging turn on the ground. Instead of running straight ahead to the second jump then slowing at the approach, letting my path mimic the one I wanted him to take, I let my path drift laterally to the second tunnel (with my shoulders turned towards my drift direction). I said "tunnel" before he hit the second jump so that he had plenty of time to execute the turn. Instead, he pulled off that jump and came straight to me. In fact, he did exactly what my body language was very clearly telling him: he interpreted that I wanted him to come to the far end of the tunnel, where I was heading, instead of the end of the tunnel closest to that second jump, which I had already passed. See what I mean? There is no question that he is watching me very closely. But I need to get better control of what he sees!

I'm not giving him rewards often enough. His trainer suggested this morning that I need to build up his stamina--his mental stamina, because physically he's fabulous. He needs to receive a reward every three or four obstacles, at least for a while longer.

And finally, I may be drilling him, which he hates (in which case, he is voting with his feet and leaving), or I have overfaced him, presenting him with a challenge that he just can't figure out. Both are more easily fixed than my sloppy handling.

Any and all of these can apply at any moment in time then he's off with the bugs and the shadows.

I was feeling particularly frustrated last night during a casual practice session (not a formal lesson). Archie was a mess. His time in the ring was not productive for either of us. I fretted over it after I got home and went to bed. He should be doing better, I kept thinking.

Then I recalled Mimi and the dead rabbit. I don't recall if I've written about this on the blog (it would have been in the earliest years of the blog, pre-Saudi Arabia). She used to train outside in a very large field. When presented with an arc of jumps that took her down field in a particular direction, she would not complete the arc but would instead take off for the damned lower forty. She always ended up at the same spot, sniffing and pawing excitedly. I was able to call her back, but she kept doing this. After a couple of weeks, I finally went all the way down there to see what she found so fascinating. 

It was a dead rabbit. A very long-dead rabbit. Just bits of bones, tendons, fur. A paw. Probably a dog or coyote kill.

A dead rabbit! How could I possibly compete against a dead rabbit? And that became a running line from her trainer: when you are more interesting to Mimi than a dead rabbit, you know you have found it, that special sweet spot in your training. I persisted, and in a few more weeks, we did in fact find that spot.

And with time and patience, so it will also happen with Archie.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Agility Fun Run!

The facility where Archie takes his classes held an agility fun run yesterday. It was casual and low key. I signed up both Archie and Mimi. She let me know quite some time ago that she didn't care for noisy competition venues. Besides, even though she is in good condition, she isn't conditioned to do agility anymore, so I don't jump her any higher than 8" even while goofing around in the backyard. So this was a perfect opportunity for her to do some agility. And this of course would be a good way to see how Archie would behave at a real trial with other dogs in crates, bags of treats lying around, equipment banging and dogs barking, people and dogs moving around. Then there was the issue of his focus: could he hold it together when faced with something like a real course? 

The people that attended the fun run were inexperienced handlers with inexperienced dogs so our trainer set up courses using basic equipment--no tire, no spread jumps, no teeter. We had two standard courses, a tunnelers course, and a jumpers course. That's a pretty fun-packed morning for a bunch of novice dogs and handlers!

Mimi showed them how it's done with her tunnelers run. And that high pitched barking in the background? That was Archie! I totally did not notice it when Mimi and I were on the course.

On Archie's first standard run, he had several puppy-brain moments: he had to check out the Aframe just in case there were treats at the bottom, he went to sniff behind tunnels. But it wasn't that bad. His tunnelers run would have been fabulous if I hadn't been so late with information. I can see that I am going to have to step up my game with him. Mimi lets me get away with all sorts of bad handling. I'm rusty in handling a novice dog.

But oh my, Archie's jumpers run. It was a thing of beauty. It wasn't perfect of course. He's only 11 months old, and he's only been taking agility classes for about 4 months. I didn't expect perfect. I was looking for drive, focus, and joy. And I got all three.

I put a lot of effort into getting Archie to the start line. I don't want him pulling on the lead. I want him "with me"--eyes on me, focus on me. Even when he darted off to check on his leash, he still came right back. I know that I sound quite idiotic, chattering away to him in that stupid voice but he seems to like it.

I wanted a longer lead out--you can see that he quickly got ahead of me, but he headed right for the tunnel like he was supposed to. The yellow tunnel was a problem for him all morning. This time, I planned to rear cross him, a move that he's not been reading well even at home. Once I got him focused on the tunnel, that rear cross went off without a hitch. And while his wrap on that jump could have been tighter, he did collect and wrap as I asked. 

That knocked bar was my fault. I should have alerted him sooner, while he was still in the tunnel, that he needed to make a turn out of the tunnel. He came out of the tunnel too wide and in trying to make the turn to my front cross, he knocked the bar. He almost knocked the bar on the next jump too--his stride was off from the first knocked bar! But pause that video as he is coming out of that red tunnel: look at how he is already turning into me, reading my front cross and heading for the next jump. And I slowed down a bit at the end, so he did too, although he did turn out to the final jump (a hoop, actually).

Some of his jumps were boingy. That's a smooth fox terrier flaw, for sure. Their straight fronts cause them to boing a bit too much. It's inefficient and really slows them down. But some of his jumps were nicely extended and flat. I need to do more jump grid work with him but at least I know that he is capable of jumping correctly. 

At the end, he was like, great, the petting is great, but give me the darned treats you've got in that bunny fur tug! (He got them all.)

That was a complicated course with several side changes. My handling needs to be smoother and my signals earlier and more clear (less arm waving in general, I think). But Archie did a great job. I'm excited to see what he will do next!

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Linking to YouTube

I don't spend much time on YouTube. But I think that posting videos there will resolve viewing issues for those of you who use tablets.
I'm starting with two short videos, one of Archie and Azza playing in the backyard, and the second of Archie dragging Beast by his head

Just for grins, here are two screenshots:

Look at that air!

An excited terrier puppy and a cat--what could go wrong?

Monday, August 01, 2016

Archie and Azza

Despite being a 10-month-old smooth fox terrier (two strikes against him), Archie is a joyous, happy little dog. He personifies the CircusK9 motto: live in the moment. For me and Mimi this is mostly aspirational, but Archie truly lives his life in this way.

Archie likes the sprinkler.

I am very lucky that he and Azza get along so well. He distracts her from her many worries and fears. She is large enough that he can't do too much damage.

Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths...but don't be fooled! They are regenerating for a new episode of mayhem.