Monday, August 30, 2010

U-TURNS, Wednesday Morning Field Practice

Updated 4/1/12 (April Fool's Day)  I Googled "dog agility flip" and was disappointed that this blog post from last August was the first entry and there wasn't much else out there. It is a confusing read. I had not remembered writing about it. I didn't know much about it when I wrote it.  I feel like a fool.  I'm leaving the post up due to it's high Google placement, and the course sequence is well worth setting up and trying, but the subject is much better covered in The 180 Flip which I posted today (no fooling).
Sheryl, bless her, and I met at the field again today, 8:30 a.m.  We feel rushed to practice eanother lawn mowing, and there will be nothing set up again until Saturday night, so we stayed there for 2.5 hours.
On this chart, we ran into a particularly difficult sequence we never could figure out how to do smoothly and predictably.  It was too easy to get stuck behind the dummy (turquoise) jumps. 

As illustrated, green H can handle 1 (see-saw), from the right side and be in a good position to direct D into the tunnel past 4, then U-turn back and over 4 with a right/left arm change, but on the red path after the FC before 4, the rest of path is the same (orange path and H).  I moved the upper turquoise jump to the right to make room for my orange H's, but in reality it is right in the H1 space so there isn't as much room at H1 to maneuver as shown.  It becomes imperative to block that jump with your body.

At H2, it's very hard to run fast enough to get a FC in -- you almost have to flip D to 6.  But flips are frowned upon in some schools, and it makes you feel like a darn airplane there are so many arm changes in this sequence!  I don't know what else to do?  I may reach out and ask our local experts.

Addendum: I did reach out, and Georgie came back with the FC solution.  I tried it several times but there isn't really enough time at H2.  So I resorted to the flip.  It worked for Maxie about half the time.  Lucky went HUH!  I can see that teaching the flip is important after all.  Sometimes you might need that flip.  Okay, so next I'll blog about The Flip.

#7 Practice w. Sheryl, More Pentagon Drills

Sheryl had never worked the pentagram drill before (missed last week), so we worked with Charlie, Max and Lucky on sending to T from 1,2,3,4 and various other combinations, then calling from 4 back to 5,6,  or 6,5, and various other combinations, all while H remains within the pentagram.

Then we did a bunch of other stuff, like calling D over the dogwalk from the far end, sending over the dogwalk from the near end to a target on the table, a bit of practice on 12 weaves and A-frame.

We explored Susan Garret's rear cross head-turn exercise and found it very elementary.  All our D's follow us with their eyes and heads.  What we found more challenging was a reliable sit-stay no matter where H goes (front, rear, away, close), and D waiting for a release before getting up.

I wasn't satisfied with today's practice.  In hindsight, I wish we had stuck with sending D OUT to T over 3,4, maybe varying it by adding more straight jumps, repeating it 10 to 15 times and fading the target.  I want to be able to send Maxie ahead 5 or 6 jumps without him looking back.  He's nowhere near that level of confidence.

Next week, I'm going to practice that more diligently.

After breaking a good sweat, we came in and applied ourselves to reserving our Ramada Gulfport room.  I called Ramada by phone and their quote was $79/night with AARP discount.  Thru Expedia, we got a rate of $63, plus tax and $35 pet fee (covers all dogs for as many nights as we stay). Comes out to $41.07 per person per night for 2 double beds and continental breakfast, plus fridge, microwave, cable, free wireless internet, pool, etc.  It's about 7 miles from the trial site.  We were unable to specify "downstairs" due to some remodeling issues, but I'll call a few days ahead and see.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Murky Waters" - Dog Club Politics

I had a mentor once who advised "If you don't like the way somebody does things, just take good notes then start your own enterprise where you can do things better."  But I don't want to start my own dog club.  LCCOC is the only AKC dog club in town and there can be no other within 100 miles (by AKC rules).  I just want to be included, have a voice, in the club I'm in.  Every member with a voice should have a voice, especially after 2.5 years, taking on numerous duties, and helping out the club every which way I can.

Sometimes it seems like swimming thru murky waters, trying to figure out how clubs (all clubs, too) work, all the personalities and politics involved. The simplest things seem so difficult. Getting information. Understanding policies. Fitting in. Wondering why an offer to volunteer is not responded to. A problem-solving suggestion is ignored. One person gets away with extreme rudeness, another is considered rude for being enthusiastic. Problems the entrenched leadership can't seem to solve, they assume there is no solution, meanwhile turning a deaf ear to those who are offering a solution. It makes me sad, mad, frustrated, left out. Democracy is just a dream, not a real reflection of the dynastic manner that people in charge operate.

Can I tell you how many people I've run across who once belonged to LCCOC but quit with a really bad taste in their mouths?  Three so far, each complaining of the stuffy, elitist leadership, rude instructors who treat you stupid for asking questions, giving some teams long turns in class while the next team is hurried along and dismissed. Yet these offenses go unpunished, and offenders seem to have an iron grip on the reins of the club.  The way leadership positions are so jealously guarded, you'd think they were all high paying jobs instead of an all volunteer effort.  You'd think they would be cultivating volunteers and making the jobs lighter on themselves.  But not so.

The AKC has successfully gotten past a bit of dog snobby where only purebred dogs deserve to live, love, show, compete when, as of this year (2010), they began registering mixed breeds as bona fide AKC Companion Dogs and accepting mixed breeds into obedience and agility competitions.  Waahoo, this is a milestone!  I've heard it said, though, they did this only because their revenues are falling off.  For whatever reasons, noble or financial, it has happened and a lot of dogs are very happy about it.  The democratic world has moved another teensy step forward.  Snobbery took a blow.

Maybe desparation is what it takes to knock down barriers and move forward.  Then again, some people would rather go down with their pride intact and take everyone with them, than accept any kind of change, as if change implied that they were somehow doing things wrong.  Don't they get the "flexibility",  "growing with experience", "change with the times", "team effort" thing? It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, by Thomas Paine:

"I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine.  He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of ever changing it."

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part 1, 1790

Reason has been in an upward struggle for a very, very, very long time.  Also, humility, cooperation, inclusiveness, cordiality.

So what brought on all my angst today?  Actually, it's an ongoing thing, but I've made a vow not to turn this blog into a bitch session against any dog person in particular.  I'm practicing the old adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything.", and the other adage "telling the truth usually gets you in trouble", but believe me, sometimes it's a serious exercise in restraint and I struggle with it.

At the very least, I feel I must encode this page with something to remind myself of who and what is bothering me so here I record a few barbed statements that one person has thrown at me just so far this year -- "none of your business", and "as usual, you're trying to take over", "nobody orders me around", "tell your dog to shut up", "I don't need your help", "as long as you do exactly what I say, I won't throw you out", and the worst "Your dog will never be an agility dog!"  There's a slew more of these, and more than one person delivering either cruel words or dour facial looks and hostile body language, but these are enough to catch my drift.

I just got a fortune cookie.  It said:

"It's never crowded along the extra mile."

Humm, I wonder what that means in relation to this situation?  Any ideas?  Leave me a comment.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Proofing Against Distractions

Proofing against distractions is a very important, often neglected part of training.  Dog training, that is, though it applies equally to us humans, but this isn't a blog about humans.  Well, of course it is, really because trainers need to learn to focus, too . . . . . oh shit, where am I going with this.  I've gotten off point. 

Back to it, I remember once at a fun match in Kiln, MS, a couple of very experienced handlers (not mentioning any names) were tossing treats right onto the dirt floor at the end of the Dog Walk and A-Frame contacts to reward D for a correct stay. When Maxie did his practice runs, he would invariably stop and sniff there.  Must have been microscopic bits of treat residue left in the dirt. And the very next day, there was a trial there. That's not right! BUT, what are you going to do about it, go scrape up the top layer of dirt with your trowel just before you run?  NO, you have to prepare D to ignore EVERYTHING but you and running those obstacles.

Some D's are so tunnel focused, when they see a tunnel ahead they race to take it, even if it is off course and H is directing them somewhere else.  That's why they call a tunnel a "border collie accelerator".  Major distraction.

I've personally witnessed D's get frightened by a strange man standing around the ring.  At trials, observers sit right outside the ring, while D is performing, eating a sandwich or feeding treats to their D.  I've heard about D's getting spooked when someone opens an umbrella.  Lucky is distracted by sounds in the woods.

Observers in the stands call D's name.  "Go, Maxie!" may sound like cheering, but it distracts D.  This is a big no-no in Agility Etiquette, but people do it all the same.

And then when you get to the higher levels of competition, there are the PA systems!

You have to proof against ALL OF THESE THINGS, AND MORE.  But how?

You start with exposure to a wide variety of environments and circumstances, I suppose; then there's the "leave it" command; then focus exercises.  I've been to practice sessions where someone is stationed along the fence, opening, closing and twirling an umbrella, or banging a pot.  I've seen shiny plastic whirly toys stuck in the ground alongside obstacles, or strange men (unknown to D) standing alongside the dogwalk as D goes over it.  I've seen, on training videos, wind-up toys moving around as D takes the weaves.  It is also recommended to provide wings of different shapes and colors, and differently decorated bars, including streamers fluttering in the breeze under bars.

Lordie have mercy!  So many things to think about.  As I get more data, I'll add it to this page.

Wednesday Night XJWW Practice

Nedra called a special practice for 8:30 p.m. Wed. night, after the Advanced Beginner's class ended, to make up for the missed Monday night class and give all competitors a chance to run the XJWW course Sheryl and I had set up on Sunday.  I got there about 8 and had a chance to watch the AB dogs run -- Casey, Charlie, and a sheltie named Max. 

Right at 8:30, I had a chance to run Maxie using the distance handling techniques I've been practicing.  He got the first half right (red), made it through the box (9-13) but blew the 2nd tunnel (orange) the first time, blew the weaves the second time, and for the rest of the night (3 more runs), got it right.  Lucky was the last to run, and she pretty much ran the whole sequence at 22", with breaks for treats in between.  I mostly wanted everyone to see her jumping and note her progress, since I'm training her all on my own and so many instructors have expressed concern as to her lack of drive.  It was about 10 degrees cooler tonight, though, and she had some drive.  Not BC drive, but as much as many other D's I see out there competing.  I don't want her to ever get too fast for me to handle.

Maxie keeps smelling something in the grass, though, stops half-way thru the weaves or going along a run to sniff the grass.  I have to proof him against smell distractions.  I don't think it's a stress behavior.  He does this at home too.

Unfortunately, the course got taken down after Lucky's run.  I lost my battle to keep it up another week.  I would have liked to perfect my handling techniques behind those lines, sending Maxie far away, layering, and so forth.  I wanted us to run the course backwards, which would have presented a whole new set of challenges, such as making it from 9 to a correct weave entry.  Seems such a waste of time, energy, and opportunity, not to mention Thursday, Friday and Saturday there will be nothing set up for anybody to practice on.

We meet at 8 p.m. next Saturday to set up 2 short courses.  Nedra says one will be only jumpers stuff, the other will have the contact obstacles.  We'll work 1 for half the class, then the other.

Polly surprised me by inviting me to assist her next Beginners class.  Unfortunately, that is on Monday nights and conflicts with Maxie's Competitive Handling class.  I had to decline.  Maybe after the Gulfport and Kiln trials coming up, I can switch Maxie to the Tuesday night class, but then I'll be gone from home Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights!  I hate to be away from John so many evenings in a row, especially since his meetings are on Friday nights.  But then, what we mostly do is watch TV all night, except we do enjoy dinner together, and we get a few chores done during commercials or between episodes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Agility Field Management

After LCCOC's monthly meeting last night, Nedra, Polly and I discussed my suggestion for how we might leave a course set up for 2 weeks, letting the yard man mow around the course and me push mowing under and between obstacles after the 1st week.  Nedra said nobody wants to run the same course for 2 weeks.  This surprised me.  Some people, like me, would love it.  I need the repetition, and maybe those who don't could run it backwards the 2nd week.  But hey, they're calling all the shots, and if they want to tear down and set up every week, so be it.  I'll help where I can, but I'm usually not available on Saturday nights when they set up.  Nedra, Polly and Loralie, who usually set everything up, are all single so their evenings are probably freer than mine.

We did discuss leaving the A-Frame and Dog Walk up (the heavy pieces) and using a weed eater or  push mower under those.  Also, Nedra said when the folks were together in Hattiesburg, everyone was asking for more drills rather than always running full courses, so she's decided to set up more Backyard Dog exercises out of Clean Run Magazine, and a full course only every 5 weeks or so.  These exercises are designed by high level trainers and competitors, usually don't include the contact equipment and only about 8 obstacles.  They target specific skills and are easy to set up.  It's exactly what I need, although I usually set them up in my back yard anyway.

Polly said she used my XJWW course last night with her Beginners class and "didn't find it difficult".  That surprised me, too. It must be because they ran alongside their dogs, whereas I'm trying to handle from a distance and work within a "handler's corridor".  All I can say is, almost nobody at the trial Q'd on this course and I've got the videos to prove it.  I think Kay was the only one from our club who Q'd.

Nedra said we'd have to bring our own weed eaters because we can't keep push mowers or tools out in the shed because they always get stolen.  She said we don't even lock the shed any more because thieves break off the lock and damage the door getting in.  People even sleep in the shed.  They climb right over our 6' high chain link fence.  All this is pretty disturbing and makes me less willing to go out to the field alone. 

I will get John to show me how to use our gas powered weed eater. I could put it in my trunk once in awhile to use after class.  Maybe Nedra has a weed eater, too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Agility Training Academies

Cruising the internet, I have found some websites outlining a variety of training curriculums.  I will record my research in this post, and when I get time I'll check out the links one by one.

First one sounds mighty interesting:

Martini's Ranch
Debby Wheeler, her husband Jake, live in Escondido, Ca where they have built Martini's Ranch, a dog agility training facility for use by the San Diego dog community.

We use only positive training at Martini's Ranch taking from several well know trainers to provide a well rounded training program. Training philosophies such as Susan Garrett's Operant Conditioning and DASH, Maureen Strenfel's Training Theories on Foundation, Greg Derrett's Handling Philosophy , Sandy Rogers One Jump Two Jump training, Bud Houston's distance work, Linda Mecklinberg's Jump training, and a collage of many other top names are sprinkled into the mix. We use both food and toy motivation and clicker work for shaping (clicker is recommended, but not required). Below are descriptions of what to expect: Agility Foundations 1 & 2; Obstacle Mastery 1 and 2; Beginning Sequencing / Sub-Novice; Novice Handling - Ring Ready; Intermediate Handling; Advanced Handling; Distance 1 & 2.

Under Advanced Handling, the description intrigues me, and mirrors what I've been saying I need: This is where most classes loose their "training" and turn into just an hour of running courses. But at Martini's Ranch, we realize the importance of training new challenges to our dogs and handling options to the human. This class still allows the handler to run courses as this is an integral part of training at this level. But additionally, we take a closer look at problem areas on courses, discuss handling options and allow the dogs to learn the correct way to execute them before running it at full speed on the course . . . . . . . We also incorporate fun and games into the class to keep things fun for both you and your dog.

The 80% Rule

If the 80% rule is right for practice, then I think it should also apply to your competition results. In other words, if you aren't Q'ing 80% of the time, then your team isn't ready to compete. Time to go back home and drill your skills -- become a real team. If done correctly, it shouldn't take very long to see big improvements.

The 80% rule states that when D is completing an exercise correctly 80% of the time, it's time to move on to the next exercise.

The only way to tell this for sure is to keep accurate training records.  You put 10 treats in your pocket, reward at the end of each correct performance until 10 treats are gone.  If that took 10 tries, you are operating at 100%, if 12 tries, 80%, if 15 tries, 66%, etc.  At 80%, D knows it well enough to move on, at least according to some literature I've read and Elaine Coupe's Agility Seminar I took last year.  I don't know whose idea this was originally.

I don't understand why some competitors object to repetition of a course or course segment. How will you reward correct choices and discourage wrong choices or innacurate performances if you don't stop when they happen, go back, repeat, and reward only when they are right? Maybe not 10 times at this level, but at least 3 correct performances in a row.

I've heard it said dogs can memorize a course within 3 turns and do it right from then on, so their correctness on repeated tries doesn't truly test the team's cohesiveness. So what? How else but by repetition can a team learn to work well together, feel each other's field, read each other's body language, develop muscle memory?

I'm sticking with my guns -- repetition, repetition, repetition. -- until you've covered every possible combination of moves multiple, multiple, multiple times. Only at that point does Q'ing become more than just a happy accident.

Then again, what do I know.

#6 Practice with Sheryl - Tuesday Morning XJWW

Sheryl and I met at the field at 8:30 a.m. to practice the XJWW we set up Sunday night.  It was shady and cool but the ground was sopping wet from a big storm last night. No matter.  Skies were clear. With us were Max, Lucky and Charlie.

Here's a small image of the course, but the large one is 2 posts back, here.

We broke the course down into segments 5-6 Target, 5-7 Target, 5-8 Target, handling from further and further behind 5.  Within 3 tries, Maxie could do 5-7 with me behind the turqouise line and tunnels in between us.  Within 5 tries, he could do 5-8 with me behind the line, but kept popping out at weave 10 until I ran to meet him at the last weave.

Charlie couldn't handle from that far back and found it great fun to run away with the plastic target.  Had to switch targets to my water cooler top!

Of course I had to run right beside Lucky but she took the jumps and weaved, if slowly.  She didn't run off, at least.

Then we all repeated 9-13 over and over and found it easy enough if we got deep within the box and completed a 360 after D committed to 11.  After sending to 14 then RC, 15 and 16 were easy.  We kept hanging back further and further and increasing distances.  16-19 were surprisingly easy from within the turquoise corridor so long as we turned our shoulders to support the tunnels. Sheryl got to where she could stay behind the line and get past the 2nd tunnel before Charlie exited it.  Earlier, he was beating her and she was nearly tripping over him.

After several segment repetitions and several sit-stay reinforcements from as far as 3, I put it all together for Maxie and he ran it flawlessly with me inside the corridor, with a treat after the weaves.  It's the best distance handling we've ever done. Charlie needed a bit more support from Cheryl and I had to run right alongside Lucky and treat after 4, 8, 13.  But she did it.

Running this course over and over, breaking it down into segments, and seeing everyone's (D's and H's) enormous progress in just one session, convinces me that this is exactly what we need, and also that Maxie is not ready to compete at the excellent level.  Applying the 80% rule, I have done right keeping him out of trials for another couple of months.
I emailed Loralie asking if we could leave this course up past Wednesday night, in fact volunteered to push mow between the obstacles if we could leave it up another week.  We'll see what she says.  It's a shitload of work to set up a whole course on Sunday for it to be taken down on Wednesday for a lawn mowing.  Between me and Sheryl, we could lay each obstacle over one at a time, mow under it, replace it, in about half an hour, whereas it takes a few hours to set up a course, another hour to tear it down and stack all the equipment way over there, by the fence line.  There has to be a better way than what we are doing now.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Conditioning Exercises/Tricks

I found a bunch of these on the internet, and gather them here, with credit to the authors.


To strengthen the hindquarters, teach your dog to sit up, stand, and move back to the sitting up position without their front feet touching the ground. Start with the dog in a sit. Raise a treat slowly above her head to get her to sit up. Mark and reward. When she has this step down, have her sit up and then bring the treat straight up so she stands. Mark and reward. For the last step, very slowly lower the treat so she sinks back down onto her hindquarters. For longer-backed, out of condition, or heavily-built dogs, you can teach them to sit up while bracing them against your legs (they will have to sit with their backs facing you). Dogs with very long backs like Corgis may always need support to sit up safely.

Excellent JWW Course Set-Up Sunday Night

Last night Sheryl and I met at the field at 7:30 to set up the below XJWW course. It was my first time ever to set up an entire course from a map. Whew! It was a lot of work! We didn't finish until about 9:15, then spent 30 minutes or so running Maxie, Lucky and Charlie. We were both sweating buckets. I gained a whole new appreciation of the people in our club who set up courses each week, believe me!

I saw this course run by several people last Saturday, in Hattiesburg. Very few Q'd. A surprising # of D's had trouble at 4, which looks so simple to handle with an OUT command. Due to wide spacing between obstacles and 3 long tunnels, you either have to run a lot to reach the back side, or handle from a distance. The course below shows what I think the judge might have intended to test for -- distance handling. Because without that skill, there is almost always an obstacle in your way to run wide of, or you have to run right alongside your dog all around the course -- a long run.

I intend to go out this week and practice this, in segments and with touch targets if necessary, to get Maxie used to "going out" away from me. No way we would have Q'd in a real trial on this one. We made 4 but he missed 5, 6 and 7 unless I ran right beside him. He screwed up going OUT to 10, and didn't even see 11 (I didn't support it). I was surprised, though, that he had no trouble with 14 and 15, and going thru all 3 tunnels in sequence and over the finish line at 19, with me staying behind the turquoise lines. Lucky ran the course, too, just for fun, with many treats. She did the whole course, in segments, but was far more interested in the cat on the field.

Sheryl and I divided the course up into trouble spots (5-7; 9-13; 15-19) to practice separately, with a target moved around from just past 6 to just past 7 to encourage go outs.  Each one could be handled from greater and greater distances as D gains confidence.

That's my take on it anyway.  We'll see how it goes next week.

Sun's coming out after a horrible thunder storm late last night.  I may get in some back yard practice a little later on.  However, Maxie and Lucky are both zonked.  Hattiesburg trip, and last night, wore them out.  I'm a bit worn out myself.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Proofing Lucky to a Trial Setting - Hattiesburg

Yesterday I drove up to Hattiesburg with Maxie and Lucky, Saturday only, not to compete, just to get Lucky used to the trialing environment.  I didn't enter Max into any runs, fearing that Lucky would be a handful.  I wanted to concentrate on proofing her.  But she was absolutely fine.  Made her longest trip in the car so far, 2.5 hours, without a single complaint.  Hung around the trial site without a single bark, growl, lunge, or complaint of being crated in a heavily trafficed walkway.  I was most impressed.

Maxie and Lucky's crates were side by side, and both behaved well.  I took turns walking one then the other away, leaving one behind, leaving both behind.  We walked on the red dirt, near the course fences, did the practice jumps, went inside, outside, up and down lots of stairs, passed hundreds of dogs in crates and strange people laughing, talking, gyrating around.  Not a single problem.  Several people commented how beautiful and well-behaved she is.

I also videoed the runs of my club mates and others who were competing, which gave me something to do.  I was especially interested in the Excellent JWW course, which lots of competitors had trouble completing.  I plan to set it up on our club's field and practice.  I picked up every course map I could.

Before leaving, I took a drive thru the RV park to see if I might spot some slabs that aren't on a slant.  There wasn't a single level one, and I discovered that what I thought was a "crack" in the sidewalk where I put up my camper before (horror story told in previous blog post), is actually a dip then a hump, and it's on every single slab out there.  I can NEVER bring my pop-up to that RV site again!  Blimey.

The arena gave me a totally different impression this time, though.  While huge, loud and noisy, it seemed much more inviting than previously.  There were 2 rings going instead of just 1 before, and no band equipment. I must have been too nervous before.  I'm like my dogs, I need proofing!!!!!

The drive, on the other hand, had its problems.  No bad traffic whatsoever, but I left home at 6:30 a.m., driving east and straight into the rising sun.  I realized I had left my sunglasses home, and my windshield was filthy.  Stopped at a gas station to clean it, but their squeegee didn't do much good.  Coming home after 4:30, heading west, I was again facing right into the sun.  Same problems.  Two hours of neck craning trying to keep my eyes out of the blinding sun. Soon as I got home, I got out the windex and cleaned my windows inside and out, and put my sunglasses in my car.  Upcoming trials at Kiln and Gulfport will present these same problems, so I'd better remember this experience.

Doggie Dream - "The Invisible Psychic Leash"

Last night I dreamed that I was teaching a Beginners Agility class -- the first one where dogs begin working off leash.  I was explaining to my students that the sport depends upon an unbroken connection between dog (D) and handler (H). So while D may be off of their physical leash, they are still very much on a psychic leash, fully connected to you AND in your control. 

This psychic leash operates just like a retractable "flexi" leash, where D can go out far away and as D returns, the leash winds back into its casing. You are the casing, the psychic leash unfurls from your hand.  And of course, it never gets hung up on poles or other obstacles but passes thru them like radio waves.

In my dream, I demonstrated myself and Maxie doing a flawless run and moving smoothly around a course, but since I can't do that yet, I am posting this video I took of Jane-Simmons Moak running a very difficult Excellent Jumpers course at the Hattiesburg trial I attended yesterday. Jane is a well-known author and perhaps the foremost expert in what she calls "distance handling".  In this video, Jane sends her dog far away, with obstacles layered in between herself and D, and it seems almost impossible that D could know what she wants . . . . . . . but D does know, and doesn't have the slightest doubt about it either.  It's truly remarkable.  You can almost see Jane whipping the psychic leash around the ring.

Seeing this run is probably what sparked my dream.  It was especially exciting because this run earned her team their MACH title, which is why she started running around the ring with a bar.  Notice after the run, the "psychic leash" is no longer attached to the dog so he spins wildly and runs around like a maniac.

In my dream, after running Maxie flawlessly, I presented my students with the following exercises to help them envision the psychic leash:

#1 Practice the rear cross (RC) with D in a sit/stay, on leash, at H's left.  Holding leash in left hand, H moves right to the end of leash, then back to rear cross behind D while shifting leash to their right hand, then stops to D's left, leash fully extended.  D is now on H's right and the arm holding the leash has changed. Reverse.  When D is comfortable with this and their head always follows you, perform the exercise off leash and at greater distances, walking then running while D sits, performing the same hand motions.

#2 Practice the front cross (FC) with D in a sit/stay, on leash, at H's left.  Holding leash in left hand, H moves right to the end of leash, then front crosses (walks forward and left in an arc around D, making a 360 degree turn and ALWAYS facing the dog), while shifting leash to their right hand.  D is now on H's right side and the arm holding the leash has changed. Reverse. When D is comfortable with this and their head always follows you, perform the exercise off leash and at greater distances, walking then running while D sits, still performing the same hand motions.

These are the same arm changes/hand motions you will use to direct D around a course.  To everyone else it will look like you are lifting one arm then another, pointing at obstacles and paths, but you are really "extending" the leash as far as you want D to go, switching leash from hand to hand, and reeling it back into yourself when you want D to return to you.  The trick is to remain mentally aware of the tension on the line, so D can tell by your pressure how far out to go, when he's reached the end of the line, when to return, etc.

Can you really "will" D around a course in this fashion?  In the dream, it seemed you could.  I'm sure there is a lot more to pulling and pushing, sending and calling than this, though.  I want to learn it all.

Today, I tried #1 and #2 exercises on Max and Lucky to see if they really work, and they do!  On leash.  Off leash.  Their heads turned in my direction every time.  If I ever do teach a class, I will definitely teach a reliable sit/stay, front and rear crosses as described above, rewards for correct head turns, and the sense of being fully connected to your dog.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pentagon Exercises, Lucky's Jump Height

Pulled out my new Exercise Sourcebook, and chose the Pentagon Exercises, page 33-36 to work on this weekend. Simple looking, but looks are certainly deceiving.

1. There isn't much space between the wings for H to run, so that leads me to believe H is supposed to stay within the Pentagon.

2. Getting D to go out to 1 and 4 while H stays within the Pentagon, is a challenge.

The book provides 12 differently numbered patterns, some of which are mirror images of each other, others reverse directions of only a portion of the course. I tried Exercise #1 in this diagram first, rated as Intermediate, first with Lucky, then with Maxie. Then it started raining and we had to quit before I could do #2, which reverses direction after 4, shown in turquoise.

Temperature 85, but feels like 95.  Air wet and heavy.

Lucky:  Lethargic, distracted by something in the woods, and not interested in treats right after breakfast.  I broke it down into bits, 1-2, 1-3, 3-4, 2-4, 3-5, 3-6.  After which, she did the whole course without error.  A few times, she ran on past 4 and over to the nearby see-saw , with me calling Here, here, here and waving a treat.  She just wanted to do the see-saw, ran to the downside contact, stopped and waited for a release.  If I had given the see-saw command, it would have been a perfect performance.

Maxie: enthusuastic, caught on quickly, but I had to place a target (T), out past 4 to get him to go out that far away from me with speed and confidence. Our last run, I removed T and he went out to 4 and cut back toward me on HERE command, and over 5 and 6 just fine.  I barely had to move, or speak.  Tomorrow I will try it without verbal commands.

Lucky's Jump Height: Did I mention before, I measured Lucky at 21", so it looks like she'll jump at 20".  That will put less wear and tear on her shoulders than 22", which I do worry about.  She's so solid, sometimes she seems to land heavy on those shoulders, or maybe it's just that her hair is so short I can see the shoulder blades flexing.

"Wildfire" -- Making The Psychic Connection

Last night, John and I watched the finale of a 4 season TV series called WILDFIRE, streamable off of Netflix if you have a Roku box.  It's an expose of the horseracing industry, the sport, the training of the horses, their bloodlines, etc.  I was fascinated with the daily training and conditioning requirements of a racehorse (up at 5, warm up, run, cool down, rest, repeat), as compared to how haphazardly most of us train our dogs.

It was also a riviting romance, full of convoluted plots and counter plots, beautiful scenery, well written, well acted, etc.  After it was all over, I began to process, almost in my sleep, what it was most deeply all about.   And what it was about was -- CONNECTION.

We all talk about the importance of commitment -- in our jobs, marriages, friendships, etc.  But there is something else that happens once in a rare while -- a connection -- when two or more entities come together, attract to each other like magnets, fuse, and circulate round and round together, causing other things happen in their sphere, with or without their willing it into being.

We are coached to believe we can WILL everything and anything into being if we want it badly enough.  We are GOD, the co-creators.  We take enormous comfort in that. It shapes our lives. We pay enormous sums for gurus to teach us about manifesting our destiny.  And of course, in some ways, we can do that.  But keeping the door open to inspiration and recognizing and appreciating when a connection is made, can be difficult.  As the series shows, we build up walls and situations that don't allow inspiration in, and push natural connections away. We get so caught up in our "expectations", our fears, and attempts to control things, we sometimes forget to check out what the universe is actually offering us.

Wildfire and Kris
In the last episode, Wildfire (a retired racehorse with a near-fatal leg injury, and not much enthusiasm for running with other jockeys on his back) wins his last race and a 1 million dollar purse with his best friend/jockey, a girl named Kris, who has saved him from the glue factory years before and won many past races with him, and now visits and rides him out in the pasture every day.  She feels he can race again, but everyone else is doubtful, wonders how Wildfire could possibly win against younger horses. After the race, Carlos, the trainer, says Wildfire found the energy to win "because he loves her". This simple line really struck me, because when I feel connected to someone or something, there is an energy surge that makes me feel much stronger, much sharper, and what might have actually been impossible for me before, becomes easily doable.

It's like an electric cord, always capable of conducting a current, but it doesn't do anything until it gets plugged into a socket.  As Danny says about his relationship with Sandy in the movie Grease, "IT'S ELECTRIFYING!"  That's how I felt becoming a mother.  Before that, I had no idea what I wanted to be, but during my pregnancy I began reading up on childhood education, discovered Maria Montessori, and resolved right then that my son would receive a Montessori education and I would be a Montessori teacher.  This is what set the course of my very exciting, fulfilling, inspiring professional life for the next 27 years.  Despite all the pitfalls, struggles and disappointments of those years, I never lost my inspiration.  It was a great ride.

I feel that way about my Maxie now. Every time I look at him I feel like laughing.  I can hardly keep my hands off of him.  I dream about him at night. I love all my dogs, but Maxie and I have that special "connection".  He knows it.  I know it.  We knew it from the first time we laid eyes on each other, and it's been a non-stop love fest ever since.  I sure wouldn't be writing this blog if it weren't for his inspiration, and I sure wouldn't be so involved with my sometimes-not-too-warm-and-friendly dog club, nor spending so much time and money learning to do agility.  I am absolutely not naturally inclined to exercise, get up early, go to bed early, or sweat.  I do it for Maxie.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nail Trimming

Nail trimming for our dogs has always been a problem.  We put it off as long as possible because they ALL hate it!  We hate it! And since our dogs don't need professional grooming, and are never sick (knock on wood) so only go to the vet once a year for shots, we grapple with this issue ourselves. We have a total of 76 nails to clip, every month or so! I may hate doing it but feel very guilty if I don't.    It's like, when their nails go clickety-clack on my linoleum floors, it's a 5000 times a day reminder of my woeful neglect of my dogs.  Then I also feel guilty forcing John to help me.  I can't win. Why do essential things have to be so hard?

Maxie is the least problem.  He submits to the torture. His dew claws were removed so he has 18 nails and I keep them trimmed.

Willow, also with 18 nails, fights me all the way, but I've learned to tuck her hind feet along side me in my big arm chair where she can't thrash my hands away.  This takes care of her front nails.  Then I block her in the hole with my arm across her face and chest, and do her back feet.  She cries like I'm killing her, and if I don't catch and do her first, she runs and hides under the bed when she sees the clippers come out.

Fooh Fooh and Lucky are a different issue.  They are 50 lb dogs, strong, they growl, they wiggle furiously, froth at the mouth, and they can bite!  I bought a muzzle that fits them both, which takes care of the biting.  Yesterday we tried putting each one on the dining room table (rather than the bed).  John was able to get a much better grip around their neck and torso, and in no time I had all 20 nails clipped on each one.  Hallaluah!  Why did it take me 10 years to figure this out???????

After nail trimming, they immediately get an extra special treat -- a jackpot!  They love that and seem to forgive me for torturing them.  I usually fix myself a stiff drink!

Have I tried the Pedi-Paws, you might wonder? Of course.  I have one.  Tried getting them used to the noise, the vibration, etc., but never got even close to a single nail.  Have I tried tranquilizers?  Actually, yes, once, but I don't want to tranquilize my dog for 2 hours for a 3 minute nail clipping job.  I may actually try Children's Benedryl next time on Fooh and Lucky.  But I don't really believe in drugs if I can find another way.  Have I desensitized them from puppyhood to having their feet held and touched, their pads separated and massaged.  Of course, I ain't stupid.  Have I tried calming massage therapy.  Oh yes. They can take hours of that bliss, but run off the second they see the clippers.

Fooh Fooh is now very pleased with himself that his nails aren't clickety-clacking on the floor and spreading his toes apart.  I am very pleased that Lucky's nails are blunted.  Her nails stay rather short because she digs a lot, but they get really, really sharp, and she has ripped holes in my shorts and raised whelps on my legs, even cut the skin when she jumps up to greet or play tug with me, John or visitors.  It hurts, and makes us less inclined to boisterous play with her.  And John and I are mighty pleased with ourselves to have found a better way to get this essential task done.

I wish our dog club could sponsor someone -- a groomer or vet, perhaps -- to demo how to do this properly -- explain the structure of the nails, the nerves, the blood vessel that sometimes bleeds even if you only take off the tip, and best practices.  Then again, I doubt the library would let us bring in a real dog to a meeting.  There has to be some easier way for dog owners everywhere to learn this skill.  We've actually seen some dogs with nails so long they curl around on themselves and the dogs can hardly walk.  It's a very serious issue.

"Field Fees" Snaffu

Since I've paid my "field fees" for the year, I've discovered a few problems with that system that I never noticed before.  Here's the problem:  the field needs mowing every week during the summer months so all the equipment needs to be removed to the sidelines.  A-Frames are very heavy and require 4 people to move them, Dog-Walks, SeeSaw's and the larger tunnels require 2.  Agility classes are only held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, SOOOOOOOOO, it makes sense for the Wednesday night students to move the equipment off the field after class.  BUT , THEEEEEEEN, if the field isn't mowed til Saturday (and I don't know when it's mowed), people like me who envisioned going out to the field late Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday or Saturday to practice, don't have anything to practice on.

Here's a photo of our field, by the way, which I took a few years ago for the LCCOC website. It's actually several photos stitched together.
LCCOC Agility Field, Baton Rouge, LA
The main benefit I anticipated to using the field is that a full course is usually set up there on Saturday night and stays up for a whole week.  My own back yard is plenty big enough (about 40' x 80') to set up shorter exercises for specific skills, but I also need practice running full courses which require 100' x 100'. As John pointed out, it appears the field is only available about half the days I thought it would be.
In the fall and winter, this won't be a problem because the mowing schedule is cut way back.  But for summers, it is.

I spoke to Nedra about this last night by phone, and she agreed it is a problem.  She gave me the name of the two men who mow and suggested I call them for a schedule.  I emailed Bill who wrote back and said there is no schedule.  Ask Loralie.  Nedra further suggested I could go out and set up exercises that don't include the heavier equipment, and put the jumps back along the fence line when I'm done.  Unfortunately, that's a lot of work and far to drive to train my dogs for 15 minutes!  And like I said, I can set up short exercises in my own back yard.

Sheryl and I talked this over and agreed we should, and could start helping Nedra set up the courses on Saturday night -- her usual time for setting up, and maybe we can even set the courses up ourselves right after a mowing, before Saturday, if we were given a course map.  Nedra really liked that idea.  She has to be tired of doing this all herself, every Sat night, all these years. 

Til now, I never thought about how the courses got set up.  When you only attend supervised classes, the equipment is "just out there".  Pay field fees, and all of a sudden you get a whole new perspective, and more responsibility.  Darn if I don't have to learn something new every day!

Agility Competition Recordbook

Yesterday my Agility Competition Recordbook arrived from Clean Run, and I began scraping together all the bits of information about Maxie's competition runs (15 so far) into one place.  The recordbook finally gives me a point of focus for all this data, which I sorely needed. If you need one, check it out at

I learned years ago, teaching Montessori preschoolers for decades, that unless you record each child's daily progress thru your program, you can never fully evaluate their achievements, and never really pinpoint areas that need more work. You end up making assumptions, skipping a lot of skill building exercises, and being a poorer teacher. And unless you have a well organized checksheet to work from, it is impossible to keep good records.  The Montessori Societies provide very detailed checksheets to accomplish this, and they ain't cheap.

Thus, this recordbook is a bargain at $15.  It records the following information on up to 300 runs:

Date of run
Class (Novice, Open, Jumpers, Excellent, Masters)
Hosting Club
Venue (AKC, USDAA, etc)
City where trial took place
Jump Height
Course Length
SCT (Standard Course Time set by judge, which if you exceed, you are penalized or disqualified)
Your Dog's Run Time
YPS (yards per second, which is Course Length/Run Time)
Leg #
Title (if any)
Top 4 competitors in the race in your jump height: name, breed, and placement.  (These are the very dogs you'll likely be competing against regionally for a long time, so it's good to know what you're up against if you intend to ever place.)
Comments: (a place for you to keep notes)

After each race there is a score book at the trial which shows all this info on each dog's for that day, but if you don't copy it down right then, there is no way to get it later.  The Trial Secretary sends you an email a few days after the trial with how your dog did in their qualifying runs, but not their NQ's.  So you never get to study what you did wrong unless you record this for yourself.

At the trial, there are also Course Maps made available of the day's runs, but if you don't pick up one of those early, they're often all gone.  I got maps of most of Maxie's runs at the time, which I marked with the dog's path and how I chose to handle each course, and how we did, but until this morning these were scattered all over the house, mixed in with various other piles of papers.  How I hate paperwork!

Aha!  I finally found my hook, my incentive, my inspiration to go thru all those stacks, looking for my maps.  I got them all collated into a new 3 ring binder I've labelled Maxie's Competition Book, and the pages correlate run by run, trial by trial, with my Recordbook.  Unfortunately, a few maps have been lost, and all of my NQ history is gone.  I emailed the trial secretaries of all 3 trials yesterday asking if there is any way I could still get that info.  Haven't heard back yet but will fill in here if I do.  I doubt they will do that.

But now I know what to collect, when, where, and I have the book to record it all in, on the spot.  I've studied them all, wringing out all the performance info on Maxie that I could.  I confirmed that indeed he runs way faster in Jumpers than in Standard, just like the big mucky mucks claim they do.  I'm set. 

Sorry, Maxie, that I flubbed up some of your early records in this way.  You deserve better. But, guess what, nobody in the dog world takes you by the hand and shows you these ropes.  You have to find out the hard way, observing other competitors sitting at the score table pouring over pages and scribbling in little books, wondering what they are doing, asking questions and they mumble some cryptic answer, groping in the dark, sometimes more like swimming thru molassas, like I did.

Or maybe not, if you read this page.  Which is why I wrote it.  If you've read this far, I probably wrote this page FOR YOU.

Cucumbers As Dog Treats, Cold Cucumber Soup!

Bamboo teepees are great for cuke vines
to climb up.  I built the portable
picket fence so I could take it
when/if we ever move.  It keeps the
dogs out of the garden, all except Lucky.
As you can see,
the agility equipment is in the same yard.
I've had so many cucumbers in my garden this summer, I can't begin to eat them all.  I eat one a day, then give a bunch away to neighbors, bring them to agility class, and feed slivers to my dogs, which they fight over except for Fooh Fooh, who has always spit them out.  Thus, I didn't know dogs went for cucumbers, but they do, especially the papillons.

The cukes are nearing the end of their run now, the leaves are turning brown. A few days back I was going through them and found 2 giant ones that I somehow missed.  They are twice normal size -- too big to give away and turning paler in color.  What am I going to do with them?  Detesting waste, I went online and looked up Cucumber Soup recipes.  I settled for 2 that I had all the ingredients already, prepared them, and the 1st one was by far the most delicious. I list the recipe below.

When you come in from the practice field, hot, sweaty, tired and starving, there's nothing so refreshing as a cold bowl of Vichyssoise.  The dogs agree, and lap it up.

Here's Lucky, the only one who usually holds the vessel between her paws, enjoying her cold Cucumber soup.  Does this classify her as a gourmet?  I think, yes!

The recipe:
Lucky Lucy LuLu, licking the pot clean.


3 cucumbers (or 2 huge ones), score the skin down the length of cuke with fork tines so they will chop more finely. Cut into 1" chunks.
1 can cream of potato soup
1 can chicken broth
2 tsp. vinegar
1 sprig tarragon, chopped fine, or can use 2 tsp tarragon vinegar if no fresh tarragon is available.
8 oz. sour cream (lite)
1 tbsp honey
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth and chunks of cucumber in processor in 3 or 4 batches, liquify and place in bowl. Blend potato soup, sour cream, vinegar and honey together in food processor. Combine with chicken broth and cucumber mixture. Add milk. Stir with wire whisk until blended. Refrigerate until cold. Garnish with parsley if desired.

NOTES: More delicious if chilled overnight for flavors to marry.  Keeps several days in refrigerator.

Next year I will try dehydrating cucumber sticks and giving them to my dogs.  I bet they will love gnawing on them too.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Maxie Makes It To Youtube

Here’s a link to a Youtube video of a TV news article about our dog clug and Dog Agility, an LSU journalism student interviewing some of our instructors back in April 2010, with Max and me at the very end. Loralie had invited all the agility students to show up and run their dogs for the reporter, but only a few of us showed up.  And by the time she got to filming Maxie it was dark outside.  We were, it would appear, an afterthought, but at least we made the cut.  Here's the video, entitled Red Stick Agility

I'm posting this in my ongoing effort to catch up on "old history".  Don't want it to get lost forever as I delete my emails. 

It was fun, but not the first time Maxie has been on Youtube.  In fact, I just remembered that long ago (Jan 2008) I posted a video of Max as a 7 month old puppy, playing with Fooh Fooh, the great and dangerous Dingo.  The video indicates how afraid I was to leave Maxie in the same room with FoohFooh, but I'm not afraid to leave those two alone any more.  Fooh Fooh has lost a lot of his spunk in the last 2 years.  He's getting old, slowing down, mellowing out.
Maxie, on the other hand, is just about the same, only with a lot more tail and ear feathers and longer britches now.  Still just as cute as ever and about 2 inches taller and 2 lbs heavier, and has moved on to torment more lively prey -- Lucky Lucy.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday Night "Competitive Handling" 8/16

Everyone who showed up last night is going to the Hattiesburg trial this weekend, (Nedra, Georgie, Noel, Loralie, Sandy, Michele S., Lisa), most of them for 4 days, so excitement was in the air.  Except for me, that is.  Why aren't I going?  Well, I'm going to drive up on Saturday, just to bring Lucky and get her used to the trialing environment, but I didn't enter Maxie in the trial.  Now I'm doubting my decision.  They say it's the last indoor air conditioned nearby trial scheduled for this year -- Gulfport and Kiln are outdoors.   On the other hand, I just don't feel Maxie and I are ready to compete at Excellent level.  A few more months of training under our belt is what I think we need.  So far, I disagree with everyone else's philosophy that "trialing is training".  It is, but not as a substitute for proofing your team's issues at home.

Maxie's issues:  solid weaves, focus, speed, working at a distance.
My issues: clear commands and body language, stress reduction techniques, being able to function in the morning, and remembering the course as I run it.

The course we ran tonight is below, which Nedra, Polly and I had set up on Saturday night.  It was relatively simple, with a few interesting twists! In 3-4 places, there is an obstacle in the way of H's most likely path.  It took extra thought for H not to flip over the table or crash into the jumps. (Examples: going from 2 to 4, 9 is in the way; from 9 to 11, 4 is in the way; from 19 to 20, 7 is in the way, and then there is that weird un-numbered turquoise jump - put there no doubt for aggrevation!).  A trap, they call it, and many of the dogs out last night took it -- a Wrong Course fault that automatically disqualifies your run!

Also, a few dogs overshot the table due to that sharp left turn out of the chute, so H needed to position themselves BEHIND the table to prevent that.  That was unusual.  And also not call D to you until they were exiting the chute, otherwise they could veer left too soon and get tangled in the fabric.  Tricky!

Sheryl was there observing, and we got to see first hand the value of the Lead Out Pivot after 2.  H's who didn't do that arm change had harder time getting D to execute a 90 degree left to make it over 3.  Like Susan Garret preaches, an arm change means a change of line.  No arm change means go straight.

For some, the RC after 14 worked.  Others did the FC after 15 (green).  Both seemed to work.

I had run 1-9 with Maxie on Saturday night after setup, and 1-6 with Lucky. They both did well, although Lucky was distracted by a black/white cat sitting over by the gate. She stayed on her start line and didn't run after it, but she kept looking at it and missed my first cue. We have to practice a lot on her focus.

I brought both Lucky and Maxie with me tonight, arriving before 7:30 for the 8 p.m. class, and ran Lucky thru the entire sequence, in steps (1-6, 1-9, 9-15, 16-20), before class began, and again after class.  It was cooler out and she was more energetic than previous weeks, more focused, and faster.  Unfortunately, she spent class time cooped up in the car because she wouldn't stay quiet chained to the fence.

Maxie did very well the first 2 times through, but then we had already run the course.  On his 3rd turn, he started shaking his head and scratching his ear, and wouldn't quit, and wouldn't run.  Just sat on the start line shaking his head.  One more thing that can screw you up in a trial.  Fleas.  Ear mites.  A stray cat.  A bird in the rafters.  I treated all the dogs for ear mites as soon as we got home.

As earlier stated, I created this diagram with my Clean Run Course Designer, which I am still learning to use. I discovered, futzing around with the program, that you can choose "connect the numbers" for D's path and H's path, and the lines draw automatically. Afterwards you can adjust them to suit yourself. This saves lots of time from hand drawing each path.

I also discovered you can add a label to the handler automatically (LOP, RC), rather than a separate text box. Neat!

Sandra R. asked me why I had missed her last Wed night class.  I explained how I had pulled Lucky out after the first class and applied the fees to field fees, and hadn't Loralie told her?  She said NO.  I was surprised.  It seems there is a lack of communications there.

#5 Practice with Sheryl - Pinwheel Practice

NOTE:  Today I've been blogging for 1 month.

Last Saturday I set up a 5 jump pinwheel in my yard, but even in the shade it was so darn hot out that's about all I could muster. 90 degrees felt like 110.  Worked it on Sunday morning, twice in each direction, before Maxie and Lucky both pooped out.  Thinking about it, though, that was about 30 obstacles apiece, if you count every obstacle they took.  Longer than an Excellent run, so I guess that wasn't bad.

Monday morning (yesterday) Sheryl and I worked it, taking turns, for about an hour.  I describe the exercise here.

We also set up a 5 jump straight line sequence where D has to zig zag while H runs a straight line, like so:
Then we came in and watched Susan Garret's Success With 1 Jump - Disk 2, Crosses and Turns.  I tried taking notes but while it makes sense to watch, even do, it is hard to describe.  We did some floor practice but both of us are still a little confused.

I spent the late afternoon trying to come up with another way to describe FC and RC, as if I was teaching a child to envision having the dog at the end of an invisible leash and needing to get to their other side and pull them along a different line.  Whether you cross in front or behind, you have to transfer the leash to the other arm.  I practiced RC with Lucky in a sit/stay, I cross behind and treat when she turns her head.
Monday night, I went to class, described in my next post.

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Lawn Mower

Keeping the grass cut on an agility training field is not an option, especially with small dogs. 10" high Maxie simply will not run thru tall grass tickling his nose.  Not even to do his business.  So mowing the grass is more than esthetics for us.  It's a necessity.

And, I have to be able to mow the dog yards without waiting for John to get home from work to start our mower.  It takes me 20 to 30 tries and by then I'm too exhausted to mow. Yesterday morning I tried in vain to start the old one, sweating buckets and cursing, and when John got home and tried, the rope broke off in his hand. And that was it!  A fire was lit under me. 

Within 10 minutes, I was dragging him over to Lowe's, found exactly what I wanted, got the last one off the rack, came home, he filled it with oil and gas, pulled the rope once, it started right up, and we mowed -- in half the time I might add.  It zipped along so easily, and so quietly, I kicked myself for not doing this 2 years ago.  John made a point of doing it one-handed.  WHEE!  It was like a party!  I had to fight for my turn to operate it and he only left me one little patch to mow.  I'm feeling the rush of independance!

What we got is a 21" Troy-Bilt with a Briggs & Stratton 625 series engine (Product Description below). It's got everything I want, including both rope and key start, self-propelled, 21" deck, bagging unit, dual wheel levers to set the height.  Spent $408 (including tax, 3 year protection plan, and accessories). It also has a deck washer feature! A bonus not on my list, but John says it's valuable. He says there is an inch of dirt caked under the old deck that it would take a chisel to remove.

Clearly, I'm not the only one grappling with lawn mower issues.  This was well confirmed when John visited both his daughters on his recent trip (one in Tennessee, the other in Virginia), they were both having lawn mower problems.  Multiplying all our stuggles over the years with all our mowers (push and riding), times all the people in America struggling likewise, the amount of human energy wasted @ $5/hour would easily pay off the national debt.

Reminds me of a joke I heard years ago:

What's the difference between an American truck driver and a Chinese coolie?

The truck!

Point being, efficiency requires machinery, and those who design and manufacture machines have a big responsibility. There ought to be a law that lawn mowers must work reliably, and manufacturers should be held to a higher standard of excellence!  This incredible waste of human energy should be considered a crime!  Sure, the purchaser should make informed decisions, but it is impossible for consumers to know what they are actually buying or how well it is built, until you end up with a dud.  Consumer Reports was a "free enterprise" solution to that and years ago when they sold their magazine, I subscribed, but now, you have to pay too much every time you want to research a product on their website.

Product details:

TB270 ES TriAction™ 21" Electric Start Self-Propelled Mower
3-in-1 Capability: Side Discharge / Mulch / Rear Bag Lawn Mower

NEW for 2010! Troy-Bilt's TB270 ES lawn mower has a new innovative TriAction™ cutting system that features a rake bumper to lift grass upright, a specially designed blade for a finer mulch and a symmetrical deck for superior grass flow, eliminating clumping. Our most affordable electric start lawn mower! The TB270 ES offers standard electric start - no pull starting required! It also features an easy-to-operate front wheel drive transmission to eliminate pushing. And with mulch and side discharge options, this self-propelled mower is versatile and dependable.

Next question, can I count the lawnmower as an agility training expense?  Nah, I suppose that would be a stretch.  I wouldn't mow as often but I still need to mow.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

3rd Intro To Agility Class, Sat Evening Setup

Saturday Morning:
Intro To Agility, only 5 of the 8 dogs showed up.  I brought Max and Lucky to work out afterwards, and left them nearby, on leash to watch.  At first they were barking, whining and complaining that they could not participate, but they settled in.  Guess what?  That's an important part of training!  Mature dogs know how to wait their turn with patience.  They have to learn to trust you, that you haven't forgotten them.  They have to learn assurance that you'll be back.

Loralie introduced the Barrels -- I had never seen these.
You stand between and a little out front of 2 barrels (or trash cans), and ask your dog to go around the barrel to your left.  They have to pass around a space where they can't actually see you.  Big step!  Then to the barrel on the right.  Maxie was called to demo this, off leash.  The new dogs do this on leash.  Even an experienced dog didn't quite understand it at first, but he quickly caught on.  It is the same as a figure 8 around a jump, but without being able to see H at all times.  A new experience, and good practice for H with directional arm and foot signals, much like the exercise sending thru the tunnel which I charted in an earlier post, here.

I took a lot of pictures, not sure what to use them for, but maybe for the club's website. I'll have to review them when I get home and see what message they convey.  Maybe I'll upload them to LCCOC's Picasa Web Albums and invite all the students to see them.

Saturday Evening:
I met with Nedra and Polly to set up the courses for the Monday night Advanced and Beginners classes. Got there at 8, it was hot but not intolerable.  We really need more people to go help with the setup.  It's hard for 3 old gals to move the A-frame, 2 gals to haul those 20' tunnels without dragging them across the yard.  I suspect the students never wonder how the courses they practice on get chosen or set up, just take it for granted.  For a long, long time, I did.  Then again, it was never explained to me

After setup, Lucky and Maxie ran the first half of the course.  Doesn't seem too difficult.  I played with Butchie, Nedra's retired border collie.  We had fun with the Touch Container and some basic commands.

In the middle of the day, Judy and Thom came over for Cucumber Soup and we finished watching Julie and Julia.  Judy brought me an onion so I could make my Beef Stew, which we had for supper at 10 p.m. when I got home from the field.  John had waited to eat with me, sweet thing.

And that was, mostly, my day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Table Scraps

Lucky Lucy licking the measuring cup.
She always holds the pots between her paws,
relishing every morsel.

We let all our dogs lick our plates, pots and pans after we eat. I make sure Max and Willow only gets the juices and crumbs while the bigger dogs get the scraps.  I also make sure they can't get their noses stuck into something tight, like a yogurt cup.

Some people don't dare give their dogs table scraps, believing "commercially prepared dog food" is the only diet that dogs should eat. John and I reason that dogs evolved over centuries as scavengars, eating campfire scraps, that commercial dog food has only recently been invented and is mostly made up of the very same meats, grains, fruits and vegetables we eat.  And, we fervently believe, to deprive our dogs of the delectable treats we feed ourselves is to deprive them of the joy of living. Our dogs are a testament to that. They will lie still for an hour at our feet to be given our plates to lick, even if all that's on it is remnants of mashed potatoes, gravy, steak juice, ice cream, etc.

Not to mention, there would be an unbelievable amount of food waste if our dogs didn't eat the scraps.  We don't know what people without dogs do.  Guess they throw a lot of good food away.  You simply can't scrape all the gravy out of the pot with a spoon.  Nothing better than a dog's tongue and infinite patience to wipe the dishes clean.

On the other hand, I also know people who feed their dogs whatever is left over, which can sometimes be a cup of grits, half a hamburger sandwich, a huge pile of leftover french fries, etc.  Their dogs get so fat they can hardly function.  Surely, we don't do that. Everything in moderation, like my Grandma Tilley taught me!  If there is volume involved, I cut it up into tiny pieces, counter dry and use as treats, or refrigerate and incorporate a tablespoon or two into their evening meal.  I already wrote about this in my blog about Dog Treats.

Just so you know, in case you're coming to dinner, I am fastidious that whatever they lick clean, goes straight into the dishwasher for a thorough scouring.  Because when they get finished licking, you can't tell the difference between washed and licked clean.