Thursday, March 29, 2012

Loquat Jam Making, or "Spring Fest", or Easter

Anita and her Loquat Tree, in
Broadmoor Subdivision
Introducing my puppy to diverse new environments led me to visit my dog club friend Sheryl's new house last week.  She moved just a couple of miles away.  We took Winnie Pooch, Charlie and Sam for a walk in her beautiful forested neighborhood.  Only four houses down I spied a Loquat tree in one front yard just loaded with ripe fruit, and began salivating.  Loquats are rare in Baton Rouge.  The trees are sold as Japanese Plums, an ornamental, and I don't know anybody who eats the fruit, except me.  They fruit right around Easter.  They don't taste like anything else -- sweet and tart, with a hint of almond.

Sheryl called on her neighbor the next day to see if we might pick some, Anita said sure, she didn't even know they could be eaten, she'd love to help and learn, and show us her dog, so last Sunday morning we showed up with buckets.  Anita came out with her laddar to reach high branches while we picked below, we played with her dog, she took our pictures and we took hers, and we quickly became fast friends.  Amazing the doors dogs will open! 

The seeds are large, 1, 2, or 3
per fruit.  The pulp is tart and tangy,
and smells like almonds.
Sheryl and I went back to her spacious new kitchen, blanched the skins off of 2 buckets of fruit, peeled them on her gorgeous covered patio while the dogs socialized, netting us 16 lbs of fruit.  I took them home and seeded them while watching TV the next night, netting about 10 lbs of usable pulp.  I also got busy rounding up, washing and sterilizing every mason jar I could!  Other people might find this tedious work, but I love fooling with food.  It keeps my mind contemplating earth's bounty, my hands busy, and my imagination active dreaming how good it will taste when prepared or given as gifts.  It's healthier for me being "near food" than just eating it all the time.
L to R: Michele, marking Sheryl
as "my Easter Bunny"

Tuesday morning Sheryl came over to my house, we got busy and in 3 hours made 20 pint jars of jam, three kinds:  Loquat/Mint, Loquat Spice, and Loquat/Apple Spice.  I designated her as my 2012 Easter Bunny, because she brought me lots of Easter joy!  We laughed a lot.  Girlfriends are so much fun!

After the Agility Trial next week we're going to take some to Anita and have a tea party in her back yard!  She offered us to come back and pick all we want, and I may pick another small batch to experiment with not peeling the fruit.  But otherwise I think I got my Loquat Fix for awhile, and enough jam to last a few years.  I still have a kitchen to clean up!  Baah!  That's the only part I don't like!

Our results, in an assortment of jars, mostly
donated by friends or saved.
I don't bother making jams and jellies of things readily available in the store.  It's too time consuming.  I concentrate on fig compote because my Dad loves it, plus elderberries and muscadine grapes I harvest in the wild, and loquats.  They all have a very distinctive taste that you just can't buy, and I experiment with different seasonings like peppermint, basil, nutmeg and various spices.  All that's left is to see if it sets, and make the labels.

Upwards and onward!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Slo Mo Video - Back Side Jump Handling

The tools we have at our disposal for learning and teaching these days is mind-boggling.  More and more people are using them.  I was very gratified this morning to run across a You-Tube video posted by Steve Schwarz, The Agility Nerd, on all the ways to send a dog to the back side of a jump, in slo mo.  He had posted the same video, without the slo mo feature, a few days earlier, and my mind could not quite grasp it.  Now it's clear as a bell.  You can view his full post, including diagrams, here. Printing out the diagrams really helps.  There are 5 handling maneuvers from the landing side, 3 from the take-off (back) side of the jump.  It depends upon where you want the dog to head next and how much time you have to complete the maneuver.

Here's the stand alone slo-mo video (I was prompted to install the latest Adobe Flash Player for this to work, but it only took a few seconds).  I love the way he made his wings out of fabric, and the way he does little back yard training sessions real quick, isolating a skill.  The variations keep it from being repetitive and boring, and show all the different ways the same obstacle, approached from the same angle, can be handled.  The dog learns to focus on the handler's slightest moves, not just take the obstacle over and over.  Brilliant!

Once I get the moves down, in both directions, without a dog, I'm going to video myself doing them with Maxie and Lucky and post them here.  That should provide some entertainment, as we've never seen some of these moves before!  Then I'll teach them to my students. Thanks, Steve, for sharing and being such a generous teacher.  My cup runneth over.

Upwards and onward,

Monday, March 26, 2012

Annabelle Lee - A Memoir

Annabelle Lee.

The "If I Knew Then What I Know Now" theme, got me to further remembering our amazing Annabelle Lee, a miniature beagle I purchased back in 1983 as a Christmas gift for my 10 year old son.  Because as everyone knows  . . . . every little boy needs a dog.  She was the first dog I ever bought.

I've always thought of dogs when reading Edgar Allen Poe's lines:

Annabelle Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea.
That a maiden lived whom I came to know
By the name of Annabelle Lee.
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child, and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea
But we loved with a love that was more than love
I and my Annabelle Lee.
Nathan and Annabelle, 1985

So I named the dog Annabelle Lee and hoped she and Nathan would feel that love connection.  They did.  We all did.

Beagles, I had heard, were docile, didn't shed much, required no grooming, liked kids, weren't easily hurt with rough handling, were loyal, and made good house pets, so I bought her out of the newspaper for $75.  The "breeder" had no stipulations as to "conformation" or "neutering", I signed no papers (I hadn't heard of AKC back then) but as soon as this wee little puppy with the floppy ears came scampering up to me, the cute factor bowled me over.

I arranged to pick her up from the litter mom on Christmas Eve while Nathan was at his
Dad's, and hid her at a neighbor's house until 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve night. At 9 p.m. when Nathan got delivered home, I handed him an envelope with a scavengar hunt inside, which finally led him to a scroll tucked in the Christmas Tree, a calligraphy poem that started with the lines above, followed by these lines which directed him to the neighbor's house: 

And this is the reason this Christmas Eve
before settling down by our tree,
I find I must go a' searching for
this mysterious Annabelle Lee.

So on with my coat and on with my hat,
Forget about Santa and hot spiced tea.
Two houses down I simply must go
To find my Annabelle Lee
Two houses down are friends, and that's
Where my Annabelle waits for me.

Sadly, I can't find any photos of those early days, but I remember it was freezing cold out and had snowed.  It was a white Christmas.  They invited us in for egg nog, we sat on the couch talking awhile, then the Mom snuck off and released Annabelle into the room.  It took a few minutes for the wee tiny puppy to find Nathan's feet and sniff his shoes but when Nathan saw that huge red bow around a floppy earred ball of fur and finally picked him up, his face filled with confusion, then awareness, then disbelief. As Annabelle licked his nose he giggled, snorted, and was dazzled.  I must say, the effect was very satisfying!

For the next 8 years, Annabelle was an anchor of our household.  The darling of our neighborhood too, I later discovered, for little did I know, dogs don't like to be alone, beagles are great at digging holes under and going over fences, and that little scammer would wait until I left for work, wiggle under or over and make the rounds of our neighborhood.  She delivered a distant neighbor's newspaper to our doorstep every day, and one day the neighbor folllowed the thief home and demanded we make her quit.  I had no idea.  About that time I discovered Annabelle was also calling on another lady down the street for her morning biscuit and jelly, then trotting 2 streets over to spend the day with an elderly couple who, I found out years later, built her a dog house in their yard with an Annabelle plackard over the door!  (They knew her name from her personalized collar.)  She was always sitting on our back patio when we got home, excited to see me and Nathan, so we had no clue.  I always wondered how she got so fat.  I fed her less and less all the time to try and slim her down.

Annabelle and Aurora, best of friends.
I got Nathan a miniature bunny for Easter one year (from a pet store), not even thinking that beagles hunt rabbits.  OMG, I feared for poor Aurora's life every time we let her out into the yard.  Annabelle had to be taken out on leash for awhile, always lunging at the bunny.  The few times she got loose she chased Aurora ceaselessly, but never quite caught her.  Fast bunny, I thought!

Before long I rigged up a 25' clothesline between 2 trees with Annabelle's leash attached to a pulley wheel.  She could run in a straight line back and forth, giving the rabbit the rest of the yard to graze.  But NO, as soon as Annabelle was so confined, the rabbit insisted on staying within Annabelle's corridor.  Back and forth they went.  Back and forth, back and forth.  I eventually let Annabelle loose with the bunny and they did fine.

I hired a contractor once to work on my roof, and I'll never forget his comment . . . . "what a waste of a good huntin' dog." I had no idea what he meant, until we took Annabelle on a hike to Tunica Hills one Easter and let her run free (no leash law back then). She showed a totally different side of herself, running up and down ravines fetching deer droppings, circling round in wide arcs, scampering thru streams, tossing her ears about, smiling, baying, never tiring, never hungry, and not wanting it to end. In 3 years of life in the back yard or on leash, I had never seen that side of her.  In fact, the contractor was a hunter with a kennel full of beagles, and one day he scooped her up into his truck and stole her.  One of his workers saw it.  When Nathan came home from school and we couldn't find her, we were both so distraught calling around the neighborhood, crawling under the house, Nathan in tears, the worker pulled me aside and told me. I called the police, they went with me to the man's house and picked her up out of the back yard.  He said he did it so Annabelle could be happy!

One day I came home from work to find Annabelle injured on my front doorstep.  A trip to the vet showed her back leg was fractured, evidently hit by a car.  That's how I learned she was getting out, found and repaired the hole.  During her recovery, the bunny nestled in her arms by the hour, groomed her, and they slept together.  They were the very best of friends.  Annabelle healed up okay but wasn't quite as active, and she couldn't jump over the fence any more.  Oddly, she got slimmer!

Annabelle's 3rd Christmas, sitting up
and looking like Snoopy!
I don't remember ever teaching Annabelle any tricks except the basic leash training and sit, get off the couch, and come.  Back then I had my fill with teaching children all day.  She never attended classes but didn't seem bored and wasn't any trouble.  I also don't remember buying her any sows ears or rawhide chews, or tug toys or balls.  What did we do with her?  I can't remember.  I do remember she's the only dog I've ever had who would sit on her haunches with perfect balance.  I didn't train it.  She just did it.

I also can't remember how Annabelle got pregnant, but I'm sure I thought it was every dogs' right to have children so I arranged a suitable marriage, and we had 4 little beagle puppies.  I tried keeping her inside as her due date drew near, but she kept scratching at the door.  I discovered she had made a nest near the fence by hollowing out a groove in a stand of iron plants.  I came home from work one day and she was delivering a puppy.  The sack wouldn't break open, so I called the vet, who advised me to just poke it open and let the puppy out, that she would either clean it up or kill it.  I was horrified, but we worked out a system and all 4 puppies survived.  Cutest things you ever saw. 

Annabelle's bed and favorite bear, but
she wouldn't keep her puppies in there.
I put the puppies in the basket with a soft blanket I had prepared and she had been sleeping in, but she removed them to her nest.  I figured this would never do as it was about to rain, so I moved the basket outdoors under the patio and put them in.  She moved them back.  I moved them back.  She moved them back.  So I gave in and rigged up a large umbrella over the plant and dug a trench for drainage, and there they stayed for 3 weeks!  Fortunately, it was spring.  I don't remember where the puppies went, but they all found good homes.  She was a wonderful Mom.

Then I had Annabelle fixed.  After that, she developed asthma or something.  Her breathing became so loud and annoying I wouldn't let her stay in the house at night.  Also, I didn't like her "hound dog" smell, which became very strong.  So when Nathan went off to Tulane U at 18, and I got busy with a new business venture that kept me away from home a lot, I asked the couple 2 streets over (the ones who built her a dog house) if they wanted her, and they took her in.  They must not have let her dig holes under their fence, because she never came back to visit me.

And that was the last dog I had for many years, until our dingo came along.  I've told his story in the first entry of this blog, in a post entitled "It All Began With Fooh Fooh".   But my love affair with dogs began way earlier than him.  Wow!  Now I am recalling my childhood dogs -- Duke, Champ, a cocker spanial whose name I can't remember.  And my own first dog as a homemaker/wife/mother, a white German Shepard, whose name I also can't remember, a gift from my husband.  She got out, had 9 mixed breed puppies (all white and all adorable), 8 of which my husband snuck off and drowned (without my knowledge or consent) by throwing them in the bayou, on grounds that it was "too many dogs to find homes for". Disgusting. Ruined my marriage, and was divorced shortly thereafter.  For the next 15 years I didn't have time for dogs, but had lots of wonderful cats.  I love cats, too.  They are very independant.   But now that I have the time, I'm back to dogs.

Photos have been hard to scrounge up.  No digital cameras back then.  Just a polaroid and a Pentax Spotmatic with film that didn't always get developed, or slides that I never look at.  I've included a few prints I found scattered around in shoeboxes.

If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have purchased Annabelle.  No papers.  No registration.  No lineage.  No health certification.  But wait a minute.  I have Fooh Fooh and Lucky Lucy!  They didn't come with any of that either.  But then they were rescues.  I didn't buy them.  I'm glad I didn't know so much back then, because Annabelle gave us a lot of pleasure over many years.

I'm sure she's gone on to puppy heaven by now (she'd be 28 years old).  I just want to tell her she made a lot of happy memories for our little family, we loved her and were happy to have her in our lives.

Upwards and onward!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blog Action Day Take-Aways

Plowing through 40 posts (as of today) by agility bloggers participating in Blog Action Day, on the topic of "If I Knew Then What I Know Now", list linked to here", all the pages put together about as thick as a novel, with hundreds of interesting points mixed in with lots of brags, photos, nostalgia and unrelated ramblings, here are my favorite take-aways and links to the pages they came from:
  • Before the dog commits to a jump it must know the direction to the next obstacle and how much effort to exert taking the current obstacle.
  • The most important thing that I have learned over eight years of training Elly (and then Dancer, and now Rush) for agility is how important structure is. The dog, no matter how willing or personable or sweet or trainable or smart (or whatever you think matters to you more), can not do what you ask unless she (or he) is fully comfortable in her own skin. The structure is what everything else hangs on.

  • When I started, it was more about how to get the dog to perform a given task...that is how I was instructed and how I thought dog training was. If the dog didn't fit into the program of training, they were faulty or not made for the work. And I have been proven TIME and TIME and TIME again...dogs are individuals, dogs don't fit into ANYTHING. We as trainers need to change, adapt, constantly. There is no standard. There is only the path that each dog takes you on. The JOURNEY is very much more important. It's a team sport...always remember that. Dogs WILL put up with a lot to deal with the ones they love.
  • The nice thing about if you are messing up in that just begin a new way today...they will begin that new way with you :) 

  • Success can and should be measured in ways other than a "Q".
  • and everything else on this page: 

  • Many of the nuggets that I cherish can only be acquired on the journey. That is, they don't have the deep meaning if someone just tells you.
  • Be kind to those just starting out in agility. The sport is very humbling, we all need support to get through the first several years (and longer).  

  • My favorite way of logging training now days is using Google Docs. (Details on the link.)

  • Train every behavior long before you ever need to use it. . . . . . don’t train door/gate behaviors when you want to go out the door with four dogs crowding you to go for a walk . . . . . don’t train stays when it is imperative that your dog do so . . . . . don’t teach recalls when you really need your dog to come to save his life . . . . . don’t wait to train your dog to tolerate physical exams while you are at the vet during an emergency.

  • The single biggest thing I would have done differently would be . . . . . "go with the flow" approach when first starting out in agility. The biggest example of this, for me, is when the dog goes off course or misses an obstacle or whatnot -- do you go with it and continue on as if it was all according to plan, or do you stop the flow, go back, and "fix" it? I did the latter for my first few years in agility. The result? One dog who was never as fast and enthusiastic as he could have been, and another who eventually said "screw this" . . . .

  • We all have strengths & weaknesses but to constantly compare yourself to others is going to always make you feel inferior.
  • “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” -Dr. Seuss

  • But, as awful as our early days were, I wouldn't change a thing. If I had started off doing all the right things and practicing perfect foundation, maybe I wouldn't be the trainer I am today.

  • Honor your dog for who they are, and remember it's not just about what you want.

  • To know the dog really is just a product of what we know and when we get annoyed at the dog we are blaming him for our lack of ability to communicate what we want. To be receptive to the lessons the dog is sharing by their inability to do what we want and to make sure “every day is game day” when I train my dog.
Rant: I almost didn't add this one, because I don't agree with Susan Garrett that "the dog is just a product of what we know", as though they are nothing but programmable robots.  I don't want to go around with cookies in my pocket 24/7, constantly shaping my dogs' behavior, bribing them to do everything I want until it becomes a reflexive response, controlling every aspect of their lives, depriving them of their natural joy just being the glorious animals they are, depriving me of the thrill of observing their instinctive skills.  My Lucky Lucky needs no bribes whatsoever and no training to kill an armadillo, for example, or to retrieve, or jump a 5 foot fence. She and Maxie equally scamper their feet all day over boulders without a single slip, and Lucky plows thru the woods, briars and brambles without a single scratch.  I find those and other of their skills utterly amazing.  Dogs awe me, and humble me.  Sadly, they will be distracted by a little cookie, and still "be happy".  But taking advantage of this weakness every hour of their waking lives is a violation of their being . . . . . . . as wrong as this hilarious "Sheldon Shaping Penny" video from a popular TV sit/com, Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon tries to train his roommate's girlfriend with chocolates, the same way we train dogs.

We had a beagle when my son was young, chosen because she would be a sweet docile house pet, and she was.  But I hired a contractor once to work on my roof, and I'll never forget his comment . . . . "what a waste of a good huntin' dog."  I had no idea what he meant, until we took Annabelle on a hike to Tunica Hills one Easter and let her run free (no leash law back then).  She showed a totally different side of herself, running up and down ravines fetching deer droppings, circling round in wide arcs, scampering thru streams, tossing her ears about, smiling, baying, never tiring, never hungry, and not wanting it to end.  In 3 years of life in the back yard or on leash, I had never seen that side of her.  More on Annabelle here.

One of "the lessons the dog is sharing by their inability to do what we want" , from Susan's quote above, might be that we are trying to conform square pegs into round holes.  Trying to turn a silk purse into a sows ear.  Hello!

My tendency is more libertarian, to balance teaching them to be good family pets, safe in crowds, to entertain with some tricks, be good agility dogs, etc., and likewise let them be free to be themselves so long as they don't harm anyone!  I am incredulous when I hear agility people say "I can't tolerate a dog that barks", "Hush your dog", "I don't appreciate your dog sniffing my dog".  OH, P-A-L-EEese!

The ball and chain of constantly shaping my dogs' behavior is not for me.  I delight in training, a few short sessions per dog per day, and a few classes, but not 24/7.  Sometimes we're just "in the zone", one papillon curled contentedly under my chin, another laid at my side, my husband in the recliner with our cur dog sprawled out over his lap asleep, quivering and making sounds like she's chasing game in her dreams.

The first rule of life:  "Know thyself."

I suppose that means I'm not a totally dedicated trainer.  I don't feel pressed to hone my dogs to "international competition status" nor to that level of obedience, or keep nose to the grindstone myself.   I'm alpha, reasonably strict, and almost always aware of my dogs' whereabouts, behaviors, and proclivities, but I'm no Nazi nor a dictator seeking to bend every aspect of their nature to my will. Even if my dogs were capable of perfect performance and I enjoyed "always on my toes" training, I can't see myself jet setting around the world with them competing. In all honesty, I can't see further than a locally earned MACH for Maxie, MX and MXJ for Lucky (unless she picks up speed), and who knows what for Winnie Pooch.  These feats will satisfy my mildly competitive spirit, and still give me the satisfaction of teaching, problem solving, "overcoming" obstacles, and heading in my favorite direction . . . . .

Upwards and onward!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

5 Hour Energy Drink

I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog that I sometimes take a 5 Hour Energy drink on the drive home from trials so I don't fall asleep on the road.  Being one who doesn't take many drugs, except 2 Aleve daily for arthritis stiffness, a low dose Bayer for heart insurance, and half a sleeping pill once or twice on trial weekends due to insomnia (being a natural night person who has a devil of a time getting up early, much less being alert during a 7:30 Judge's Briefing and walk through).  I've attested elsewhere that 5 Hour Energy really works for me -- keeps me awake without any form of buzz, for several hours.  That's $3 well spent, in my opinion.

Last night my husband showed me an article about 5 Hour Energy in the Feb 2012 edition of Forbes Magazine, entitled What's In The Bottle?  Turns out, it's 3000% of your daily dose of B6, 3 other B's, plus a shot of caffeine equivalent to a large Starbucks coffee. This surprised me, since 1 cup of caffeinated coffee makes my heart race, and this doesn't.

Manoj Bhargava, founder of the company, says it's not really an "energy" drink.  It's a "focus" drink, but the FDA won't let them use that word.  Well, hell, FOCUS is one of the issues I struggle with, so maybe I'll try taking a shot half an hour before my next run. Could be, it isn't just for the drive home any more.  Maybe my dogs can lap some up too, just before they run.  Would that be considered doping?

In just 8 years, 5 Hour Energy has made Bhargava a multi-millionnaire. It is readily available at WalMart, Sams, most drug stores, Race Way and Race Track gas stations, truck stops all up and down the interstate.  It's cheaper than $3 a pop if you buy it by the case, and it has a really long shelf life.  Comes in several flavors, too.  Perhaps dog clubs could do a little side business at trials selling shots to weary competitors!

Humm, something else to research, experiment with, and learn about.

Upwards and onward!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Monroe Trial

Last weekend's Monroe trial is summarized here. 

Friday was a complete wash, not even nearly Q’s on 4 runs.  At least 2 errors each run. Maxie took an A-frame 20 feet to the side rather than the see-saw I was running toward, took a tunnel entrance I was attempting to block which required him to run around the back of my legs.  These will be added to the Bloopers Video I'm working on. He and I weren’t quite in sync.  No idea why.

Lucky walked the weaves all weekend, with her head hung down like the hound dog she is, and only made course time once.  She made two errors on each course she ran on Friday.  The rookie gate-keeper wasn’t calling dog’s names ahead of time, so I was late to the gate one time and ran with treats in my pocket.  Oops!  Bet I'm not the first person to do that.
Saturday was better. Maxie QQ'd (his 6th) with 2 1st place wins and 23 MACH points.  They were SOLID Q's, and that felt great.  Lucky got her 5th XS Q, and 3 MACH points. She did well in jumpers and ran fast enough to Q, except where I got lost and fumbled around trying to find my way again. It was my NQ, not hers. Sorry, baby girl.
Sunday was another complete wash.  The video composites tell the whole story. I don't know why my audio cuts out sometimes. When will I get the right equipment?
Maxie's runs, with commentary:

Lucky's runs, with commentary:

On the upside, I memorized the courses easily and only briefly lost my way -- twice.  Otherwise, I was focused.  I pumped my arms on straight runs like Georgie just taught me, and didn’t call each obstacle if it was the obvious next choice.  Both worked.  I met 4 new people who held real conversations with me, one who reads my blog, and I remember their names:  Peggy, Joan, Amy and Gloria with her 12" papillon, Bleu.  (I'm not very good at social banter, so this was especially pleasant.)

The courses, designed by Judge Jacqueline Hote, each had 2 or 3 difficult spots.  Easy to memorize, but strange angles sent too many dogs off course.  Once, the weaves headed straight towards a concrete wall, going nowhere, which confused many dogs.  I've never seen that before.  We always practice weaves out in the open . . . . . guess we'll need to face them towards a wall occasionally. Some complained that between the 6th and 7th weave was an open space which threw several dogs off.  In other words, it was 2 sets of 6 weaves with a 24" space in between them.  You can see this in the videos.
Jon Morar and I struck a deal.  I video Morgan, he videos both Lucky and Maxie.  This works because he jumps 24, I jump 20 and 8, and I do the lions share of the work processing and uploading afterwards. Otherwise I have to leave my camera up in the balcony with clubmates who hunker together and video from up there.  But then, only my own runs land on my camera.  I miss all the other ones I like to follow.  With the camera down below, I can catch a bunch.

The 4 hour drive home was uneventful. I got sleepy, though, so I stopped at RaceWay and bought a 5 Hour Energy Shot which kept me alert for hours, and listened to a Book On Tape, Smoke and Mirrors, which was good and made the time pass quickly.

This was my 3rd trial in West Monroe.  Stayed at Motel 6 again, right down the road. Had no wi-fi all weekend for some reason, but made do without it.  The arena seems smaller and smaller every time I go.  Guess I'm finally getting used to things.

Upwards and onward,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"If I Knew Then What I Know Now" - Blog Action Day

Thanks, Steve Schwarz (the Agility Nerd) for inviting us agility bloggers to discuss this interesting topic on March 7th, Blog Action Day!

I've learned so, so much since I started training agility with Maxie back in February 2008 when he was only 8 months old.  We trained for 2 years (once a week in class, and short sequences at home) before first daring to compete in April 2010.  Maybe waiting so long is why our novice experience was so remarkable, 6 runs, 6 Q's, 6 1st places in our first 2 trials, and earned our Excellent titles in only 6 trials over 7 months, plus, he loves agility. And now that we're working towards our first MACH and I have a second dog, Lucky Lucy, with Excellent titles, I can honestly say that no awards have been as thrilling to receive as those first ones!  These novice ribbons are still strung across my mantle, and this photo is my screensaver on my laptop.
Ace Maximillion, my first agility dog, a 7 lb. papillon,
posing with his NA and NAJ ribbons, 2010.
6 runs, 6 Q's, 6 1st places
One thing for certain, if I had known then how much money I'd be spending chasing those titles, I might never have gotten started.  Counting the cost of classes, seminars, gas, motels and entry fees, I figure each novice ribbon in this photo cost me about $45!  (The one QQ we earned last weekend cost me, I figure, $385!)  But they were each worth every penny of it in joy, exercise, excitement and the fulfillment pursuing them gave me. 
So, before I list my "If I Knew Then What I Know Now" items, I want to make myself clear on one thing:

RIBBONS & ROSETTES:  I LOVE MY RIBBONS.  And especially those rosettes for titles earned.  I decorate with them!  Arrange doggie portraits!  I remember being very disappointed when Maxie earned both his Excellent titles at the same trial, only to discover that club didn't give title rosettes. I was shocked and I complained.  The club said "we didn't list rosettes in the premium list". I said I didn't read that fine print and retorted, "Would you prefer I don't attend your trials if I'm up for a title because you don't give out rosettes?"  They must have listened, because the next year the trial secretary handed me two rosettes for the titles earned the year before!  I appreciated that, and they hang on Maxie's wall.  After all the countless hours of hard work and money spent getting those titles, the least the hosting club can do is honor your achievement. 

Being chincy in this department is very bad for the sport, especially compared to the Kung Fu and Ju Jitsu classes around here where 8 year olds bring home 2' high gold trophies for mere "participation" in a local event.  I would NOT have handled this differently, even though some competitors say they don't even bother picking up their ribbons, all they want is the sticker to put in their competition record book.  That's their choice, but should not the hosting club's. I'm very proud that my dog club gives out beautiful rosettes. 

Lucky Lucy, my second agility dog, 45 lbs
of love and pure muscle.  She's a
Southern Blackmouth Cur, registered in AKC's
mixed breed program as an All American Dog, who
loves herding, lure coursing, tugging and fetching
 more than she loves agility, unless I'm carrying her ball.
If I Knew Then . . . . . . .

Other than the wonderful "connection" with my dogs, being mentally and physically challenged, and the thrill of chasing after "improvement" eventually measured by Q's and ribbons, agility has been a mixed bag of emotions for me.  I could have saved myself a lot of angst if I'd have known from the start what I know now.  Here's my list:
  • I don't listen to other people's conversation before I run.  People can sometimes say very thoughtless things that mess with my focus, at the most inopportune times.
  • I don't listen to other people's negative opinions of my dogs, such as "not as good as a pure bred", or "papillons aren't real dogs", or "never going to be a real agility dog".
  • I no longer assume that any agility skill comes naturally (running fast, course memorization, pre-competition routine, well-timed crosses, maintaining a tough outer shell).  These are skills that take years of practice to perfect.
  • I now realize that agility is an atheletic sport for people as well as dogs, and I have to put in the time and exercise to become good at it.  Here's where my newfound love of football comes in -- those guys practice every day to accomplish the feats they do.  Agility folk practice 3-4 hours a week and wonder why we aren't Q'ing all the time.  That is plain silly!
  • I don't expect anyone to be consistently kind, thoughtful, etc.  Some people just aren't.  Others are very nice but preoccupied with their own performance.  Since I lowered my expectations of others, I've been having a much happier experience.
  • I don't expect friends and family to follow my career, attend my trials, take my picture, have champagne waiting for me at home.  They are not as into dogs and agility as I am.
  • I don't expect to make a ton of intimate friends who remember my birthday and join in my private life.
  • I don't assume that just because people don't remember my birthday or visit my house, they don't care about me.  I've noticed that when a dog dies or someone is injured, fellow competitors cry real tears of sadness and come out in force to wish you well.
  • I no longer think everyone is watching my runs nor cares how I do.  They don't. They are mostly preoccupied with their own performance.  I don't expect them to notice as my performance improves, certainly never as much as I notice it myself.  This is a very personal intimate journey.
  • I am learning not to let one bobble on course cause me to lose focus and throw the rest of the run.  I'm learning to "let it go instantly", stay focused on the next obstacle and "get back in the program", and that this is a learned skill.
  • I realize that even the champions NQ a bunch.  It's no big deal to NQ.
  • I no longer expect my dog club, or any one teacher, to teach me everything I need to know. It's my responsibility to branch out on my own and learn from many different instructors, including online courses, magazines, blogs, etc.
  • I keep a checklist of everything I need to take to trials, one for summer, one for winter.
  • I have agility outfits, including socks and underwear, that I don't wear any other time.  They get washed and put right back in the suitcase; a separate toiletries and makeup bag that stay packed.  And so forth.
  • As of this year, I have a separate set of crates for home and trialing, so I can keep my car packed.  Packing and unpacking the heavy stuff was wearing me out.
  • I take notes on every trialing venue, so next time I visit I know which hotels to stay in, what to take, where to crate, distance from home, directions, etc. I keep a page on this blog called "Trial Site Summaries" which I review whenever I go back to that venue. It's very helpful.
  • For the venues I compete in (AKC, USDAA), I fill out a blank entry form for each dog and make about a dozen copies, so I don't have to look up the info and fill one out every time.  I just cut and paste the premium header for each trial in the top slot, check off my classes, and I'm good to go. I also prepare about a dozen stamped envelopes with my return address label affixed at the beginning of the year, so I can grab and mail without spending all morning getting each entry together.
Here are some things I've been doing right from the beginning, and still believe in:
  • Video each run and watch them over and over again.  You'll find out you and your dog are doing most everything right.  That's very gratifying.  And that you mostly always make the same mistakes, which you can easily train to remedy once you identify them.
  • Don't listen when people tell you you're too analytical or self-absorbed, i.e., watching your videos, analyzing course maps, considering different ways to handle, etc.
  • Despite all the scuttlebut, I'va always seen a problem with the "handler is always at fault" didactic. It's value lies in that only if the handler assumes responsibility for the dog's errors is there any chance of correcting the dog's behaviors, and it also minimizes the "blame game".  But I've seen handlers take full blame for sending their dog over the wrong obstacle (too much pushing or pulling, failing to accel or decel), when the video clearly shows the handler was supporting the correct obstacle but the dog just wasn't watching, or felt like taking off for the A-frame or tunnel.  These handlers consistently fail to notice that their dogs are at fault and need more and/or different training.  Result, they stay stuck in the rut they are in rather than dare to expect more from their dogs.
  • It's always been okay to take a break.  Sometimes me and my dogs come back from a break doing measurably better than before.
Winnie Pooch/Honey Bear
I just can't decide on a name, but he
answers to either one.
That said, we're on break from trialing for 5 weeks while I play Crate Games, Clicker, fetching and tugging with my new Papillon puppy, and taking him around to socialize him.  Welcome 4 month old Winnie Pooch (Honey Bear) to the Fry family, unless and until I find him another forever performance home.  This little tri-color pap is just too smart, too fiesty, and too eager to learn to let go for a mere house pet.  We are having some fun!

P.S.  I've waited a week and it seems all the bloggers have added their Blog Action Day posts on this topic.  Here are my favorite take-aways.

Upwards and onward!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Training Problems

Before reading this post, read the header stating what this blog is about, and remember, it's partially about the people involved in the sport.  It's a place for me to vent, and it isn't always pretty.  I do my best not to mention names, because it isn't about anyone in particular, just the principles involved.

The way our dog club is set up, volunteer instructors who have put titles on their dogs and have time available, are our teachers.  They get to practice their own dogs too. This works out well enough, all things considered.

At the more advanced levels, however, instructors are more "coordinators" than teachers, making sure there are courses to run, suggesting sequences, and keeping the class moving along in timely fashion.  Instructors become reluctant to critique a fellow competitor's style, paticularly if that competitor has been in the game longer than they have, has a different training style, a different type of dog with different training needs, etc.

It's also an issue when a seasoned competitor brings a novice dog into a low level class, primarily for the benefits of socialization and learning to take turns with distractions, but has a training style different from the instructor's.  Competitors have firm ideas on how to train. They often ignore the planned program.

Which is why my second agility dog, Lucky Lucy, has thus far never made it through a single 6 week class without some kind of snafu.  Not that it's the instructors fault, it's just a situation.  Nobody knows my dog like I do.  Lucky, above all else, needs to improve her speed.  I don't give a fig if she misses a jump in a full course run, or if I misdirect her to the wrong obstacle, we are going to keep running to the end.  In my attempt to develop momentum, I don't stop for knocked bars or popping out of the weaves, except for incorrect entries.  I plan in advance where I will reward her by throwing her ball: to encourage fast go outs, to come out of a tunnel fast, race over the dog walk, not pause on top of the A-frame, or complete her weaves as fast as she is capable of.  More than one instructor, however, has had different ideas, wanting me to stop mid-run and correct any mistakes, or yelling at me as I run to stop and try something else.  I've learned to make it clear before the first class starts what I'm striving for with Lucky.  I'm willing to try new things, just not mid-run.  (This, of course, does not apply when training specific skills or short sequences, in which case I back-chain mistakes until they are right.)

Last night in Maxie's class, however, the instructor (who shall remain nameless because it isn't about a person but a principle) kept yelling at me during a full course run to stop and pay my dog.  "Pay your dog."  Pay your dog."  I got so discombobulated and Maxie got so confused, I started yelling at her to quit yelling at me, that I always pay my dog.  Which I do at logical intervals -- at the bottom of the see saw, on the table, at the bottom of the dog walk, and whenever we have trouble with a sequence, when I go back and practice it later.  It doesn't make sense to Maxie or me just to stop every 3 or 4 obstacles and throw down a treat.  That would be counter-productive and destroy his drive.  Even though my spots are exactly where she pays her dog too, she threw her hands up in disgust, turned her back and completely lost interest in us the rest of the evening.

In my view, she was way out of line.  Ridicule is NOT a valuable teaching tool.  At least, it doesn't work for me.  I came home wondering how an instructor might handle this differently.  What I'd suggest is:
  1. Watch my runs and evaluate my team's performance.
  2. Praise something I did right.
  3. After my turn, or before the next one, make constructive suggestions and/or ask me to repeat the sequence in that way, if I want to.
  4. If I choose NOT to do it that way, realize it's my decision.
  5. Don't make derogatory comments about the student running to the other students who are standing around.
  6. Keep it fun.  I don't go to class to be made to feel like crap.
Once in awhile, I'd like to give a fellow instructor a tip or two as they struggle with their own dog, but I tried that once and got my head bit off.  That was a year ago and the instructor still has the same problems.  Okay by me.  I did give one tip to a fellow competitor successfully, outside of class, and it's made a huge difference to that competitor's performance.  Critiques must be carefully timed, and never embarassing.

Okay, so I got that off my chest.  Now I finish packing and head for Monroe.   Three days of trialing and hopefully some Q's, or at least some faster course times.  I can't help but remember last year in Monroe, me with a torn calf, in pain, with others running (and Q'ing) my beautiful babies.

Upwards and onward,