Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Preparing for Monroe Trial

It's Monday, I leave on Wednesday for 5 days in Monroe, and I'm not the least nervous about my packing.  This makes me nervous!

Perhaps I've finally got the drill down, or have I just gone blank?  Let's see. 
  • Monday I pack my gear, charge all batteries, make ice.
  • Tuesday I pack the dog's gear, trial paperwork, maps, shop for food, confirm hotel reservations, etc. 
  • Wednesday I pack the car, gas up, check tires, etc. 
  • Thursday I pack the coolers and take off.
Only this time I'm leaving on Wednesday, a day early, the car is in the shop til Tuesday afternoon, the A/C is out in the den so I'm waiting for the repair man instead of packing.  I've got to get everything done in 2 days.  Still, no nerves.

It may be because now I keep all my equipment gathered in one place.  To wit, I've simply commandeered the dining room table, the first flat space I come across when entering the house, and that's where I keep everything "dog".  It's an eyesore, but absent a convenient closet to store everything, I gave up appearances for convenience for 2011, and that was a major step forward in organizing this dog agility obsession of mine. John hasn't complained.

Still, I've got a hint of a toothache so I should be nervous about that.  And, I got a really bad charlie horse last week, which flared up tonight at practice, so bad I couldn't run either dog.  So I'm hobbling off to the doctor tomorrow to see what to do about a "sports injury", and call the dentist for some antibiotics and pain killers to see me thru the weekend.  For some reason, I'm not even upset about all that.  I should be in tears.

Since I couldn't get in my last planned practice tonight, I asked Sandy R. (who runs both her dogs in the same classes as I run mine), to try and run Maxie.  You always hear people say "Oh, my dog won't run for anyone else!", but from watching Sandy's videos in the past, I already knew we use mostly the same handling signals, and I surmised Maxie would run with anybody carrying his treats around.  And so he did!   He ran very well for her and much faster than he does for me.  It was a joy to watch.  Sandy came back breathless and amazed at Maxie's speed!  In exchange for running Maxie for me, I gave her my next turn to run Tango, her daschund.  Maxie and Tango usually vie for placement at local trials in the 8" class, but now we both see Maxie can easily outrun Tango.  The sad fact is, Sandy can outrun me!  Looks like it's true, then . . . . . the dog keeps pace with the handler.

After that success with Maxie, I asked her to try running Lucky at 20" on the other course.  I had her tug with Lucky a few minutes, then run with Lucky's tug toy in her hand, and they both zipped around like they had been running together forever.  That, too, was a joy to watch.  Lucky ran fast and sure (it was cool and breezy out).  Sandy says "STOP"  where I say "HALT",  she says JUMP where I say OVER, she says A-FRAME where I say UP, but it didn't matter to either dog.  They understood exactly what to do based on the body language and hearing any kind of "oink" coming from their handler.

Oh well, enough of this musing, I really must go serve dinner, kick back and watch Twilight Zone with my sweetheart, and put a hot pad on my calf.  I'll think about packin' tamarraw!

Upwards and onward!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Backward Front Crosses

A few weeks back we set up a course with a very unique sequence that ran best with what I am calling "backward front crosses".  It was my first experience with this maneuver, felt very weird at first, but worked great.  It's a maneuver where the handler is moving forward thru the sequence while walking backwards and sidewards the whole time.  I tried my best to capture it with CR Course Designer.  Since that experience, I have incorporated a few more backward front crosses into my routines, and it feels fairly normal now.

It definitely takes getting used to.  It messes with your mind at first, and I haven't noticed many handlers in competition videos moving backwards more than maybe 1 step now and then.  But the dogs don't seem to question it.  They respond beautifully.

Learning, learning, learning, always, always, always, moving

Upwards and onward!

"Pick-Up" Handling Maneuver

The "PICK-UP" is another maneuver I sort of made up myself.  It is very reliable at getting D past a wrong choice, particularly on green dogs.  It's an exaggerated "Here" (includes both arms), with the addition of a running/throwing action towards the next obstacle.  Not quite a post turn. Not quite a pull through or a lead out pivot. A pick-up is when, while running a course, you need to guide D through a tricky turn sequence, so you lean forward with both hands extended, as if grabbing the dog's head, only you are 3 feet away, "pick up" the dog and throw them into the path of the next obstacle.

Sounds violent, but of course it isn't.  You are just exaggerating your motions a bit, in a way D clearly understands and responds to. 

I am teaching this maneuver using the diagrams below, and after the students do it it a few times, it improves their performance.  It feels graceful, like a dance, and makes the run more fluid.

  No flatwork needed.  It is so intuitive for D that when they see both your arms outstretched together, and you inscribing an arc, they just follow it.  It's a very powerful signal.  It is intuitive enough for H that it only takes a few times to master, and once practiced a bit, everyone's performance becomes more fluid.

Upwards and onward,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"HERE" Command

"HERE" is a command I use to mean, "Veer off to where my finger is pointing, right now".  It differs from the "COME" command in that HERE always implies a "moving come", mainly used on the agility course.  It's a type of "CALL OFF".  You and the dog are running a course, you need D to make a sharp turn around a jump post (as in a threadle), or out of a tunnel, or to avoid taking a wrong course.  You are essentially asking them to look for you, collect (slow down), and change course a bit from where they logically think they should go.  It is somewhat similar to Steve Schwarz's Verbal Leash

The hand motion is unique -- an outstretched arm with index finger pointing to the ground while the body bends down and forward.  D is trained to respond immediately to that index finger pointing towards the ground.  I've seen handlers on video actually snap their fingers as they point.

You see this command being used at high level competitions, but nobody ever taught it to me.  So I made it up myself, and it works great.

I've drawn up a few simple example sequences where the HERE command is useful.  Notice, neither of these examples call for a front or rear cross, but both call for a slight change of direction.

The HERE Command is easy to master and highly intuitive.  In fact, it is so intuitive I have seen experienced handlers, as their dogs take a wrong course, yelling "Come here, come here, you goofball idiot dog."  and they fall to their knees and begin pounding the ground where they wanted the dog to come to."  And their dogs come right over to see what the new game is!

I presented HERE in last Wednesday night's classes, to 5 students, and once practiced a bit, both dogs' and handlers' performance became more fluid.

TRAINING: I train the HERE command with large visible tasty treats, 3 in each hand (kibble won't do, cubes of white bread works great because it shows up in the grass). Sit D. * Walk 10' away. Begin running sideways to D, call HERE, point to the ground with the hand closest to D, look intently at that spot with your whole focus, and when D reaches where your finger is pointing, drop a treat on the ground. Sit D again. Repeat from * on both sides, going both ways. Interject a jump. Send D over a jump, then run backwards a few steps, HERE, point to ground, D makes a b-line for your pointed finger. D becomes convinced that treats are falling out of your finger and he quickly learns to pay close attention and get there very quickly.
Begin dropping treats intermittently, about half the time. When you don't drop a treat, continue running just as D's nose drops towards the ground looking for that treat. He will forget the treat and follow you, hoping for another chance to score a treat.  End the sequence with another HERE, and be sure to treat this one.

Upwards and onward!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Waste Fairies!

If you measure life in terms of "hours expended earning money", then wasting money is equivalent to wasting hours of life.  Now imagine every time you come home from the grocery store and offload, say, 6 bags of delicious groceries at roughly $25 each, some gal walks in out of the blue, grabs one bag, stomps it to bits, throws it down the garbage disposal, then leaves without explanation, without even taking anything for herself.  Just comes in and throws $25 of your life away, not to mention the time it took you to plan and shop for those groceries and bring them home. Senseless, pointless waste.

I suspect you'd feel outraged, as I did this morning making a huge pot of cauliflower soup, and imagined the Kitchen Waste Fairy descending upon me. (Often, when I cook, clean or do chores, I talk to myself, muse, day-dream.)    She watched me pull the leaves off the 3 cauliflour heads, then pull the flowerettes off the stems, then chop both leaves and stems to add to my soup.  She watched me cut the choicest stem parts into radish thin slices and store in a Zip-Lock bag for adding crunch to a future salad (they taste just like a mild radish!)  And our dialogue went like so:

"Why don't you just throw that stuff away, like everybody else does?", she said.  "Not a chance," I replied.  I told her I didn't throw away the tips of whole green beans either (they are perfectly edible, so WHY DO PEOPLE THROW THOSE AWAY????????), never throw away dry crusty bread (makes great croutons), and am bound and determined to figure out what to do with my sour milk besides throw it away. 

Dog Treats: Those tough asparagus ends that everyone throws in the trash, I feed to my dogs as tasty crunchy snacks, which they adore and beg for more.  I give them the apple and pear cores too (including seeds), let them lick the gravy off our plates as well as that last bite we simply cannot finish (which others scrape into the trash), not to mention letting them lick the stirring spoons, pots and pans, measuring cups, etc., with all that scrumptuous residue.  I feel positively weird at restaurants and other people's houses when I see all the wasted morsels my dogs would relish, going in the trash.  I have to bite my tongue not to ask for a doggie bag. My dogs' very happiness revolves around these little treats, and I use them as invaluable training aides, requiring a sit, down, stay, wait your turn, leave it, share, or no-begging posture, before dispensing.  Saves a bundle on doggie treats, and ensures that daily training takes place.

And this is only the Kitchen Waste Fairy!  There are Office Waste Fairies, too, whom I scoffed at later today as I used the clean back sides of printed copy paper to print out a 68 page manual (one I need only for myself, and will probably read only once).  John and I save reams of paper per year this way, at absolutely no inconvenience to ourselves. 

There are Yard Waste Fairies,  Hardware Waste Fairies, and Energy Waste Fairies.  Waste Fairies are everywhere. On this latter, I remember one of my pet peaves running my summer school was parents who stood in the doorway waiting for their child to finish playing, or chatting with an employee or another parent for 10 minutes with the door propped wide open in 95 degree temperatures, letting out all the A/C I paid a fortune for to keep their kids cool enough.  "Come in or go out, but shut the damn door!", I wanted to scream.  Senseless, thoughtless waste.

DAMMIT!  Oh, I could go on and on about WASTE, especially the kind that requires little to no effort to avoid.  John's and my parents grew up during the Depression, they lived thru rationing in WWII, they taught their kids how to conserve, and considered frugality a sign of high moral intelligence. My mother never threw away a garment before cutting off the buttons, and I have fond memories of her letting me dump all the buttons onto her bed, and sorting them by shape, size, color, number of holes, etc. My grandmother took "waste not, want not" to extremes, extracting the thread from the hems of any garment before folding it into the fabric drawer, wrapping the thread around her finger, and keeping dozens of little bundles of colored thread in a small cardboard box.   I never saw her use that thread, but I am sure she felt proud of herself and wealthier knowing she had it handy "just in case". 

I'm proud of their frugality, too, and I'll be damned if any Waste Fairy is going to claim one thin dime of my life either.  "A penny saved is a penny earned", Grandma would say.  I do draw the line, though, on saving used Christmas wrapping paper unless it's a large sheet, or hand-made.  And I refused to recycle until they finally let us put cardboard, glass, metal and plastic all in one bin.  I can't let the Conservation Fairy eat up all my time or space, either.

Upwards and onward!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke First Aid

Agility/Obedience instructors should all know what to do in case any person or dog in their class suffers from Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke.  For people, the Mayo clinic says here's what to do:

Signs and Symptoms (for people):
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion often begin suddenly, sometimes after excessive exercise, heavy perspiration, and inadequate fluid or salt intake. Signs and symptoms resemble those of shock and may include:
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid, weak heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cool, moist, pale skin
  • Low-grade fever
  • Heat cramps
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dark-colored urine
Remedies (for people):
If you suspect heat exhaustion:
  • Get the person out of the sun and into a shady or air-conditioned location.
  • Lay the person down and elevate the legs and feet slightly.
  • Loosen or remove the person's clothing, including any hat.
  • Have the person drink cool water or other nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine, sports drink if available to replace electrolytes.
  • Cool the person by spraying or sponging him or her with cool water and fanning. Place cool compresses (moist towels) on the forehead, armpits, groin, chest and shoulders near surface arteries.
  • Monitor the person carefully. Heat exhaustion can quickly become heatstroke. If the person isn't feeling better within 60 minutes, call 911.
  • If fever greater than 102 F (38.9 C), fainting, confusion or seizures occur, call 911 immediately.
People exercising outdoors in heat should:
  • Wear loose fitting clothing
  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, non caffeine fluids, even if not thirsty.
  • Use sun screen
  • Wear light colored hat
Canines only have sweat glands on the pads of their feet and on their nose, which are inadequate for cooling during hot and humid days. Panting helps dogs cool themselves but they still aren't as efficient at cooling themselves as people.

Signs and Symptoms (for dogs):

Heavy panting, tongue turns bright red or purple.
Dog begins huffing and puffing or gasping for air, often with rasping sounds.
Thick saliva
Strange facial expressions, bug eyes
Hot skin, temperature over 104
Diarrhea, vomiting
Dog begins to weave when it walks due to dizziness
Dog lays down or collapses and can't get up
If left untreated dog will slip into unconsciousness and die.

Remedies (for dogs):
Cease all activity.  Before heading to a vet (which is most people's first reaction, but wrong)
  • Get dog out of the sun, out of any hot vehicle, into air conditioning if possible, at least in the shade.
  • Give it water, but not too much nor too fast.
  • Plunge dog in water, or wet down with a hose, or rub liberally with a dripping wet cloth, especially under arms, legs and belly.
  • Place before a fan, or hand fan, to increase evaporation.
  • If available, place ice bags around the dog's head and neck to cool the blood.
When a dog's temperature has reached 108 or 110 degrees it can only take a couple of minutes before brain damage occurs. The car ride could take five to 10 minutes, so the owner needs to cool the dog down BEFORE taking it to a veterinarian.

The main cause of heat exhaustion in dogs is being left in a hot car.  Even with windows down, there is not enough circulation on hot humid days.  Don't coop your dog up in a car, especially in high humidity.  Overweight and/or older dogs, and dogs with pug noses, are especially succeptible to heat exhaustion.
Don't leave home unprepared for your outdoor outing.  Plenty of water, snacks, wash cloths, first aid kits (one for people, another for dogs).  Carry the phone number of a local 24 hour emergency vet with you at all times. 

We should all follow the Girl Scout motto:  BE PREPARED.
Upwards and onward!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Keeping Cool In Hot Weather

Last night at 7 p.m. the temperature reading on my car thermometer was 99 degrees (and by 9:30 it was still reading 95), so I gathered my agility students around (both classes) and took several minutes to prep them how to cope with this scorching heat.   I've been mulling over this problem since last summer when one agility student swooned and fell to the ground, when I almost had to quit taking classes myself last summer in the midst of competition season, and lately I've worried how I might survive teaching classes in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.  So today, I decided to share my heat survival strategies with everyone I can reach, because heat stroke is serious business. 

So far, my "keeping cool" methods include:
  • Freeze 2 small (8-10 oz.) water bottles ahead of time.  Add these to the dog's water jug (I got an Igloo 1 gallon wide-mouth at Dollar General for about $6, but you can pay about $12 other places.).  The water bottles work just like ice, without melting fast or letting the dogs eat the ice cubes.  When you get home, just rinse off and throw the bottles back in the freezer. 
  • Fill 2 or 3 16-20 oz. water bottles about half full, freeze tilted almost on their sides.  Fill the empty space with water just before class.  The ice melts slowly and is mostly gone after a few hours, but is still very cool.  Can substitute water with gator aide, freeze that, refilling the small bottles from a large one at home.
  • Treats - freeze your dog treats, such as liver brownies, gizzards, Bil-Jak. Of course, keep these in a small cooler, right next to your half-frozen drinking water bottles.
  • Electrolytes - preferable to water, drink Coconut Water, Gator Aide, or other fluids that replace electrolytes. Target and Wal-Mart sell all kinds of sports drinks now. Freeze them a few hours before class. Someone suggested upping Potassium in the diet, like "a banana a day keeps the charlie horses away".
  • Bandana - 100% cotton, wet one down and tie it around your neck.  Use to wipe your face and arms, re-wet often, and keep tied around your neck.
  • Wash cloths - wet one down to dripping wet and and wipe dog's underarms, belly and behind their ears several times during class. Rub them all over.
  • Introduce the swimming pool and encourage dogs to hop in between their runs.  Keeps their feet cool.
  • Spray Bottle - I have an orchid spray bottle that puts out an extremely fine mist.  Spray your face, neck, arms, clothes, between runs, even the dog if they will tolerate it.
  • Sweat band - made of thick terry cloth, 100% cotton, like tennis players use.  Keep on your forehead to keep that salty sweat out of your eyes.
  • Clothing - wear 100% cotton, breathable fabrics, preferably patterns or colors that look the same wet or dry.  Drench your shirt in water or lots of mist to keep yourself very cool. I can go in the grocery store wringed out wet and nobody can tell.
  • Hat or cap - make sure heat can escape from the top of your head.  If you wear a cap, let it be open on top (sun visor) unless you're working in direct sun.  We give off heat from the top of our head.
  • Pull hair back into pony tail, or at least up off of the neck.
  • Canopy:  Stay in the shade during the day, under a canopy if no natural shade is available.  Wonderful, sturdy 10' x 10' straight leg canopies, by First-Up, are available at O-Neal Wal-Mart for around $80.  Suggested retail elsewhere:  $249.  Wal-Mart also offers both screen and opaque sides for this model, at about $40 each.  A total bargain.  One person can put this up, and it folds down for compact storage to 8" x 8" x 4', which is on wheels.  (Ingenious design).  Replacement parts are available.   I wish they made these canopies in the 6' x 6' or 7' x 7' size.  I would set mine up over my crate space at trials in cold weather, with a heater inside to keep us all warm.
  • Portable fans - needed in the car, with windows open, if any dog must be left in there. Also great hanging on any wire crate. My brand is the little Ozark Trail O2 COOL, very popular, available at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc., at around $25-30. It runs on 8 D-cells, and also has a 12 volt cord for plugging into a car's lighter socket. It stands up on its own, also has a hook for hanging. Mine hangs from the passenger side visor. 10" blade.  3#. Folds small. Lo-Hi settings. I like it. There are more expensive versions now, with rechargeable batteries. Here's the link, and their ad.
    We checked into a bit larger/heavier Ryobi fan with 8 hour rechargeable lithium battery from Home Depot (+-$100), but I'm happy with my O2-COOL for now.
  • Dog Cooling Coat: And then there are the dog cooling coats, which I'm looking into.  Lucky really shuts down in the heat. Jerri has ordered one for Kyra and it should be here next week for me to check out.  Meanwhile, a Google search offered one from Wal-Mart for only about $35. You just dip it in water 1 to 2 minutes, for hours of cool.   Check it out: HyperKewl Canine Cooling Coat, Blue   Do they have these for humans?
Stayin' cool!