Saturday, January 21, 2017

Diary of a Second-Year Vet Student: Readin' and Writin'

I developed a rather painful swelling in the knuckle of my left index finger (between the proximal phalange of digit 2 and metacarpal 2, to be precise) from all the manual writing I had been doing during the first year of vet school.

This might be a good point to admit that, yes, I am left-handed. Based on an informal poll, about one-third of my classmates are left-handed. Since we lefties only comprise about 10% of the general population, there is some weird selection going on that brings more of us into vet school.

But back to my story. In that first year of vet school, I blew through hundreds of pages of paper and index cards making lecture notes then summaries of notes (what I call meta-notes). I took to wearing a neoprene compression wrap while at home. However, the swelling and pain in my joint did not resolve over the summer, so I've gradually transitioned away from writing to working almost exclusively with my class notes in digital form. 

It's a new way of studying for me. Writing things out is an effective way to cement concepts. You build muscle memory at the same time you form connections between things. While I can certainly type almost as fast as someone speaks, and I can type far faster than I can write, it is a different way of organizing information. 

I still resort to pencil and paper when I need to make diagrams or need to flesh out steps in a calculation for drug dosing. And of course I print out all those fancy outlines when I've finished with them, and they get plenty of hand-written annotations in the margins as I find new connections between things. I haven't abandoned my precious mechanical pencils.

One big advantage of digital notes is that I can include photographs of gnarly (animal) body parts in my digital notes. It's becoming clear that this will be extremely useful. We are taking our first class on radiography (x-rays) and radiographic interpretation. There is no way I could capture that information by writing or drawing it by hand.

Another advantage of typing everything is that it just takes fewer hours to summarize lectures than it does to write it out. It's so much easier to keep up, and even get a little bit ahead, of the assigned work. 

Vet school is hard enough on its own. Serendipitous discoveries of extra hours in the day are more than welcome. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Recapping Archie's Second Novice Standard Q

What I didn't mention in my post yesterday is that I was sure that Archie did not qualify in his Novice Standard run on Sunday, so I didn't check the scores before I left. I only found out that he earned that second Q when I got the results email from the trial secretary last night. Not only did he Q, he only made one fault, an off-course.

I thought it would be amusing to put up an image of the actual path that Archie ran to give an example of how crazy it is to handle easily distracted, high-as-a-kite baby dogs. I made the image below as an exercise to figure out how he managed to Q.

The obstacles are numbered on the side the dog needs to approach them. Obstacle 8 is the broad jump, which you'll recall I mocked up at home with a shipping pallet (worked brilliantly, Archie had no problem with them all weekend). Obstacle 10 is the teeter, and 13 is the tire.

We started out with an arc to jump 1 as I mentioned yesterday since he refused to sit. His weaves were perfection and he had a nice stopped contact at the end of the Aframe. I did a front cross while he was descending the Aframe to position myself for the loop from 5 to 9. However, when I released him, he ran not to jump 5 but to the table (red line). He jumped on the table, off it, went around it, zoomed off to the corner. I managed to get him back to me without him taking any other obstacles (a minor miracle), and somehow, I don't know how, I got him back on track to jump 5. Even with all of that craziness, he only got one fault, an off-course at the table when he jumped on it after the Aframe. He never crossed the refusal plane of jump 5 while he was running around, another miracle.

We finished the rest of the course without incident and had a big happy party at the end--even though I thought he had not qualified, it is important to always have a party so the dog leaves happy. He in fact ran the entire path (red plus white) 5 seconds below course time. Speed is not Archie's problem.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Archie's Agility Debut

Archie went to his first agility trial this past weekend. It was a three-day AKC trial. I entered him in FAST, jumpers, and standard each day. That was in fact the order in which he ran these courses.

FAST is a gambler-style game where the handler selects her course. Obstacles have assigned point values. The objective of the game is three-fold: successfully complete a distance challenge (send the dog to obstacles at a distance from the handler) and accumulate enough additional points to reach a total of 60 within the allotted run time. You can't qualify (Q) if you don't complete the distance challenge. And you lose points if you go over time, but you could compensate for that by earning extra points during the run. The high-point obstacles are always placed in awkward spots so a run that would get a maximum number of points might not be very pretty or smooth. I decided to try this game because Archie has such solid distance skills. It would be a chance for him to work out some kinks before he tackled standard and jumpers. Standard is the course with the contact obstacles, and jumpers just has jumps and weaves and tunnels. 

Friday was a wash, as I expected it to be. My goals were to enter with a happy puppy, and leave the ring, together, with a happy puppy. If we managed to do some obstacles together, that would be a bonus. Archie thought it most important to visit all of the ring crew and the judges, thanking them for being there and helping out. He was quite enthusiastic about this. Agility people know how this works, of course. Judges turn their backs. Ring crew don't move a muscle, no matter how cute a puppy is. And of course there was a fair bit of exploration of the space itself. I could see the little wheels in his head spinning around as he started to figure things out. Every run was better than the one before it. Even when he went zooming off to check out something, I was able to get him back to me and back on course. By the end of the day, we were completing large sections of each course, and he was performing brilliantly. For his standard run on Friday, he hit every contact perfectly, and his weaves were fast and focused. I was very pleased. 

My greatest fear was that he would leave the ring (no agility ring is perfectly escape-proof if a dog is determined to leave it). But at the end of every run he came right to me, so excited with himself. So I was able to leave the ring every time with a very happy puppy.

The one factor that I did not anticipate was his start line behavior. In class, he has a rock-solid start-line stay. Rock solid. At the trial, I couldn't even get him to sit. He was so excited, he was ready to pop. I had to resort to holding a hand on his chest then releasing him when I was ready, hoping that I didn't trip over the first obstacle as I went past it. Handlers that have to do this often arrange to have the dog approach the first obstacle in an arc rather than position the dog directly in front of it. This allows the handler space to get around that first obstacle more quickly, and safely. The downside of this is that the handler can't get ahead of the dog. If you are running a fast dog, that has a big impact on the handling choices you are forced to make. I added this to my list of "things I need to work on."

On Saturday, I managed to execute my intended plan for the FAST course, but too much time was wasted while Archie visited the ring crew, and the buzzer rang a microsecond before he completed the distance challenge. We had plenty of points, but in this game, no distance, no Q. I could see that he was getting very close to "getting it" though. Our jumpers run was nice. In AKC Novice, some errors are allowed, but he made one error too many so we didn't Q. But he ran the entire course with me, completing it in plenty of time even with his errors. Speed is not a problem with Archie.

I had quite a few people stop me to compliment me on what a fine specimen he is. I admit, I preened a bit. I had put some effort into grooming him before the trial to make sure he looked as good as he could be. He's in great condition, and he's a very pretty little dog. Smooth fox terriers are not that common outside of conformation so he attracts attention just for that. 

But people also commented on his abilities. I preened some more. His contacts were superb, his weaves fast, and I was working both front and rear crosses with him. Those comments gave me quite a boost. 

On Saturday afternoon, at 15 months and 10 days of age (dogs can't compete in AKC until they are 15 months old), Archie earned his first Q in Novice Standard. He was fabulous in the ring! It was not error-free, but it was a good run. I was over the moon. 

On Sunday, I decided to go for a minimalist approach to FAST. I chose the smoothest course possible, basically a big loop around the outside, that would get us the absolute minimum points that we needed. And it worked perfectly. It was a fantastic run, and his first Q in Novice FAST. 

He got terrier brain during his jumpers run and decided to tear apart the double jump sniffing for something in the dirt. Alphabet soup of errors on that one so no Q. But I managed to get him back on track and he completed the rest of the course perfectly. 

For the last run of the weekend, he and I ended up playing tag around the table. I was sure he had too many errors because of this even though he actually completed the entire course, in order, with perfect contacts and weaves. He even took a side trip to check out something in one corner of the ring and I managed to get him back. Turns out, the little stinker earned a second Q in Novice Standard. I couldn't believe it.

A woman came up to me after the run, a total stranger, and said, when the two of you get it together, it will be a thing of beauty to see. She was not being unkind or critical, but stating a fact: it takes time for a handler and a dog to find that sweet spot of teamwork. And she was also acknowledging that my baby dog and I still have lots of work to do, which is absolutely correct. But more importantly, Archie's potential is apparent even to complete strangers who had never seen him run before.

I only kept one ribbon from the weekend: Archie's first Q in Novice Standard on Saturday. No photos or video from the weekend, although a professional photographer was there and her group took some great shots of him. I thought I'd buy one for his breeder. 

I managed to pass some of the good karma I was getting to another handler. I volunteered as the gate steward for a couple of Open classes. On Sunday, a woman had two malamutes entered in the Open Standard class, and one of them in the Excellent Jumpers class running at the same time in the other ring. Her dogs were quite large and somewhat, well, let's say, exuberant, and she was not comfortable standing in the crowded gate area. She was already nervous and frazzled because of the potential conflict between the two rings, so it didn't help when the timer didn't start when she was running her first dog. The judge stopped her mid-run and asked her to start over (fairly standard thing to do). But the woman didn't set her dog up far enough from the first jump and this time, it knocked the bar. That wouldn't have eliminated her but the dog made many other errors during the run. Not the best time for her or her dog. She left to get her other dog, returning even more frazzled, out of breath, wide-eyed, and clearly, obviously stressed. I went up to her and said, hey, take a deep breath. That kind of thing happens. Focus on your lovely boy here and have a good time. You've got plenty of time. She looked at me, blinked, took a breath then turned to her dog and smiled and began talking silly talk to him. I said, you'll be great! And she was. She had a clean run with her second dog and left the ring beaming. 

That's how the game should be played.