Friday, August 31, 2012

"Little And Often" - A Training Strategy

Opened a fortune cookie last evening and it said:

"Little and often makes much."

I thought so highly of it, I taped it to the backboard over my stove where I've collected several others and read them once in awhile. It is more of a truism than a "fortune", as so many fortune cookies are these days if they make any sense at all, but I got this one just at the right time, dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac.  I live in Baton Rouge.

We were fortunate--sustaining no damage, no lost trees, no loss of power, and no flooding, as many others did.  But looking out over my 2.5 acres, it is a sea of broken limbs and twigs which John and I have to pick up.  Yesterday in an effort to clear off the driveway first, we filled John's truck with debris, which pooped us both out, but it only cleared about 1/8th of the driveway.  We have a long ways to go.

These days, I can clean one drawer of my refrigerator at a time, but not the whole thing.  I can state my point once, then I don't care to repeat myself or argue.  My stamina isn't what it once was.  But the hard push, I've learned, is not usually essential.  We keep up with our chores, bit by bit.  "Can't watch another Netflix episode until we've each done a chore" is pretty effective.

An great example of "little and often makes much", managing my azeleas.  I live on 2.5 acres.  My house is set towards the back of a deep rectangle, and our long driveway is lined with 22 huge 50+ year old azelea bushes, so strong and verile they can hardly be beaten down.  Many years ago I hired a team of vigorous young Mexicans to chain saw them down to little stumps over a 12 day peroid and several hundred dollars, and 2 years later they were back, vigorous, bushy, beautiful, and in full bloom.  I called a plant nursery to see if they wanted to dig some of them up for free, maybe for an instant landscape on a plantation.  They didn't want them, but didn't want to kill them.  So I'm stuck with them.  I haven't the means to dig them up, but I can't let them choke out my driveway.

So, years back, I formulated a plan.  Every day when I walked up to the road to get the mail,  I'd break off the 3 or 4 branches hanging out most prominently over the driveway, and carry them up to the front ditch for city pickup.  20 or so branches a week got trimmed back this way.  I hardly noticed the effort, but within 3 months the bushes were trimmed back perfectly.  WOW!  My husband gets the mail now, and I've just about got him trained to do the same.  He still sometimes gets on the idealic track of us taking a long weekend to "get the whole job done", but we tried it a few years back and managed to whack back 4 bushes in a day before exhaustion set in. Then life intervened and we never got back to it.

How This Apples to Dog Training:

Systematically hammering my dogs with perfect sit/stays, reliable recalls, tight turns, perfect weaves over and over, etc., shuts me down. Them too. BUT, by applying the "little and often" principle, we make significant progress.  I've learned to make a training session out of just about every little repetitive thing we do.

  • 5 dogs chomping at the bit to go outside can be a dangerous stampede without a "sit/stay wait until your name is called" routine. 
  • Coming inside, a great time to reward the fastest recalls. 
  • Twice daily feedings, perfect checkpoint for requiring a sit/stay, down, back, wait for my name to be called for release". 
  • Loading up in the car upon name call, another checkpoint. 
  • Grooming sessions, great for developing long patience and taking turns.  
  • Requiring a "sit" before putting on or taking off a leash.
  • Prance thru the laddar over there by the fence, sometimes gets me a click and a treat.
  • Go out in the yard, take the tire, come back for a treat.
  • Back up on command and I may throw a treat.
Little exercises, repeated often, make a world of difference in developing anticipation, focus, awareness, impulse control, coordination, attentiveness to my voice commands and body language.  Some of them only take seconds to accomplish, and many are attached to activities we have to do anyway.

The most important change I had to make to accomplish this "little and often" training strategy was to my wardrobe -- either a shirt, pants or dress must have a pocket with treats in it!  On every table where I tend to sit is a little jar of dry treats, and a clicker.  My dogs will do anything for me for a cheerio.  They will offer behaviors in anticipation I might click, including turning their back to me, which I consider quite sophisticated on their part.

L to R:  Maxie, Pepper, Willow
being good in hopes for a morsel of my sandwich.
Pepper is staring at me, Willow is averting her head, but not her eyes,
and Maxie is totally relaxed and confident he'll get his
treat in due time if he leaves me alone.
One of our oft-repeated daily "impluse control" exercises is when I sit on the couch watching TV, with a plate of food in my lap.  Nobody is allowed to approach me, wiggle around, bark or beg.  All are trained to lie down and "avert their eyes".  They have to be looking away from me while I eat.  I arrange several wee bits of something from my meal on one edge of my plate -- a few butter beans, bits of potato skin, grissle from my pot roast or chicken, a crust of bread, etc.  The light or wet items, I deliver by hand.  The larger heavier drier items (apple or carrot bites), I can toss several feet away to the big dogs on the floor, so now they don't feel the need to crowd at my feet.  Randomly, as I see perfect behavior, I surprise one of them with a morsel.  It amazes me how calm they all become hoping I'll notice their exemplary behavior.  And of course, I DO NOTICE.

I've gradually sophisticated this process to the point where Maxie and Lucky understand they can't even have their ears cocked in my direction.  They have to behave as though they aren't the slightest bit interested in my food.  Willow and Fooh Fooh, who were never properly trained as youngsters, still can't manage that.  Pepper, at 10 months, has become better at waiting patiently, but is still learning to avert his eyes.  He does it sometimes.

"Little and often" eventually translates into some fairly well trained dogs if you start them early enough and keep at it consistently enough, and it requires neither expense nor exhausting effort.  It also applies to a well trained ME, able to step myself calmly through huge tasks. 

The right side of my Puppy Training Yard, big
branches already cleared out.
Okay, back to raking twigs for awhile.  I'll start with the puppy training yard today, which shouldn't take more than an hour.  Rain clouds are gathering, though, so I'd better hurry.

This afternoon maybe I'll tackle another segment of the driveway.

Tomorrow John may go up on the roof to throw down limbs and sweep off twigs, which I will then rake up and take by the wheelbarrowful up to the front ditch.

Preschool lyric going through my head right now:  "Inch by inch, row by row, we're going to make this garden grow . . . " great little song (lyrics below) that has inspired me for many years to be realistic and patient as I work on long projects.

John, that wee white speck at upper center, raking piles.
Up closer you can see the amount of twigs we're dealing with
now that the larger branches have been cleared.
Meanwhile, John is out raking the labyrinth, getting it ready for the odd visitor who may turn up for a meditative walk after the storm.  Not too hard, just tedious repetitive work, of a kind that is going to stretch out for days. I thank God every day for sending me such a devoted and healthy husband who enjoys working out in the yard!

Upwards and onward!
Lyrics to Garden Song :
Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow.
Gonna mulch it deep and low,
Gonna make it fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row,
Please bless these seeds I sow.
Please keep them safe below
'Til the rain comes tumbling down.


Friday, August 24, 2012

My New A-Frame

My new light-weight A-frame, on wheels,
matches my 9' yellow tunnel.
Last week one of our club's newer competitors posted notice she was selling all of her agility equipment.  Her border collie had been diagnosed with epilepsy and displasia, preventing her from pursuing the sport further.  It was very sad.

At the same time, it was a boon for several of her clubmates who bought the equipment at half-price or less -- jumps, tunnels, table, weaves, baby dog walk, sand bags.  Our club scored a steerable A-frame mover, very well built, heavy gauge steel, and brand new, which we have sorely needed but could not afford at full price.

I drove over immediately to look at the equipment and possibly make purchases for myself and others.  I presumed it would all sell fast, and most of it got snapped up quickly. Clubmate Ken and I returned with his big van a few days later to pick up his tunnel, tire jump, table, the club's A-frame mover, and my stuff.

I bought 6 small tunnel sandbags for $10, and a home made light-weight A-Frame in LSU colors for $200 -- what I offered when nobody else wanted it because the metal frame is sway-back, the rubberized coating is coming loose, and the bare wood will eventually rot.  It isn't competition grade.  Nevertheless, I got to thinking that the frame, being made of channel steel, could be reinforced, straightened and re-used when the current top is replaced, and the unit, as is, is adequate for training my wee little dogs at home.  The tipping point for me to purchase was when I realized the way it was constructed, the wheels and axles I had on my old wooden A-Frame would slip right through the tubes at the bottom.  Also, she agreed to reduce the price down from $550.

Underside construction,
wheels hold it 1" above the ground,
1" square tube top and bottom
allows my axles to go through
the bottom ones.
It took John an hour or so to finagle the A-frame into the back yard (no easy task as fencing had to be removed).  It took him an hour or so to swap out the wheels (wing nuts were rusted on, of course), but now I have a light A-frame which I can wheel back and forth across the yard to mow underneath.  I don't have to wait for John to get home or someone to come over to help me move it.  The wheels also keep the A-frame itself from direct contact with the ground.  In the lawn where it had been sitting, one end had sunk about 3" under the ground and grass had rooted in the rubberized surface.  It took me about half an hour to tear out the grass. 

I still need to repair and re-glue the rubberized surface and paint the wood.  I'll probably use epoxy on the glue project, and spar urethene exterior varnish on the wood.  I may wait until it's cooler.

I tested it out this morning, and even though it's much lighter than my old solid wood A-frame and has a good bit of flex, the weight of the dogs hitting the upside or pushing off the downside, even Lucky's 50 lbs, doesn't roll it, so I don't need to chock the wheels.  But I could if I needed to for a larger dog. 

Dogs L to R:  Lucky, Pepper, Maxie
Maxie & Lucky seemed thrilled to have an A-frame again, and Pepper zipped right over it too, at full height, without the slightest need of encouragement.  Getting Maxie and Lucky to stay on top for a photo was difficult, with many a STAY, HALT, STOP, KISS ME, PLEASE STAY WHILE DADDY TAKES OUR PICTURE. I didn't realize how well they have internalized our NEVER PAUSE AT THE TOP rule!  They clearly didn't feel right about it.  Good!

Maxie (top), Pepper (bottom)
I even managed to crop a really cute photo of Pepper and Maxie posing together at the top. Too bad it's not sharp.

We are all feeling lucky today.  Now when will Lady Luck send me a dog walk I can afford?  The wooden one I built has rotted out in only 3 years. I don't want another wood one, but it puts a real crimp in an agility dog's lifestyle not to have all 3 pieces of the contact equipment handy.  For my dogs, at least, they are the most fun.

Upwards and onward!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Friendship -- Another Reason To Join A Club

Me (foreground) and Sheryl working
side by side makiig jam, i-photo taken
blind by my missing arm..
Gosh, golly, it's good to be home from the Hattiesburg trial where life is safe and easy, close friends and strong walls on a sturdy base surround me, with fenced yards the dogs can run around in, my own bed, and space and supplies aplenty.

The week before the trial I had picked 24 lbs of muscadine grapes and 50 cooking pears from a fellow clubmate's vinyard, and they were all in the fridge calling my name to make jellies and jams.  Sheryl (another clubmate who also picked the fruit) and I got together on Tuesday and Wednesday after the trial to process and make 74 jars of jam (thanks Georgie for providing the cooking pears and muscadines).   We scrounged up, washed and sterilized every jar we could find around our houses, bought all the Sure-Jell we could find from 3 different stores, and had a blast in my kitchen doing our sweet bubbly alchemy together, making 4 different recipes on 2 different days.

  1. Muscadine Jelly 
  2. Elderberry/Muscadine Jelly
  3. Pear/Muscadine Preserves
  4. Pear Sauce
We also re-boiled 6 jars of loquat jam that hadn't set from our Spring jelly making session.  One thing I love about making my own jams and jellies is I use a lot less sugar than the Sure-Jell recipes call for and less than store-bought brands, AND I only make up exotic recipes you can't really find in stores -- like the Loquat Jams we made last spring.  It's way too much trouble and too costly to make jelly and jams at home if you can buy the same thing at the store.  I've posted some jelly making tips below.

Sheryl and I both enjoy picking fruit and making jelly.  We like recycling jars rather than going out to buy new ones every time.  It makes us feel rich, plus we get to discuss other subjects besides dogs.  I sorely needed the side-by-side with a pleasant friend to get over my stormy Hattiesburg weekend, and it was a fulfilling way to celebrate Sheryl's birthday.

A recycled Smuckers Jelly jar,
Smuckers label removed.
For finishing touches, I used my PTouch 2700 desktop labeler (a gift last year from my husband) to make laminated water-proof labels for our jars . . . . . which added about 25 cents to the cost of each jar but made them look pretty and . . . . . our Christmas gifts are ready! Man, Brothers is making a killing on their label casettes! When I visited their website today I learned I can hook this unit up to my computer. I didn't know that, so it's one more thing I will have to try and learn.

This friendly experience made me remember a revelation about clubs I had years ago.  Growing up, my parents always seemed to be going to banquets, balls and parties, my mother was always sewing a new coctail dress for this or that event, their house a turnstile of visitors, secret friends, gift swapping, etc.  Perplexed that my adult social life hadn't unfolded so richly, I once asked my mother why I never got invited to balls and banquets and didn't have a bunch of friends.  She set me straight immediately with a simple question:

What clubs do you belong to?

"None", I replied.  "Well", she said, "Where do you think we meet people, and who do you think puts on these events?  They are mostly fundraisers for various causes, and you purchase tickets to them and/or work as a volunteer."  This blew me away.  It became obvious (once it was pointed out), that my parents friends and acquaintances, the ones who showed up at the door with casseroles, soup and pies when tragedy struck, were almost entirely from their neighborhood association, church, Optimist Club, Dad's WWII Bomb Group, the Kiwanees Club, their sailing club, Mom's craft club, bridge club, and so forth.  They had no more intimate friends than I did, just a richer social life.

So, in my later years I've joined a few clubs and gotten invites to a fair number of parties and events, and I've also found a few compadres with whom I have more in common than the club's purpose.  We help each other in lots of different ways, and it's enriched my life quite a bit.  Once you're out of school, turns out clubs are one of the best ways to meet people.

Upwards and onward!
  • To use 25% less sugar, use 50% more Sure-Jell.
  • Add a dash of salt per recipe.  "A little bit of salt makes sweet taste sweeter."
  • Mixing two or more fruits together makes for more exotic tastes.
  • Glass jars with rubber gaskets built into the lids can be re-sealed over and over.  Examples:  Jelly, Bean Dips, Grey Poupon Mustard, Pickles, Salsa, Classico Spaghetti Sauce.  Now that a 1 cup mason jar costs $1 and larger ones even more, and since you rarely ever again see the jars you give away, saving your glass jars can save you a lot of money.

Hattiesburg Agility Trial - August 2012

Maxie: 4 runs, 2 Q's, 1 3rd place, 41 MACH points, 4 videos
Lucky Lucy: 4 runs (3 clean), 1 Q, 5 MACH points, 3 videos

Despite surviving a tornado, locking myself out of the RV, only 3 Q's in 8 runs, and my most embarassing moment ever at any trial, in retrospect I am moderately pleased with our trialing weekend.  The RV's maiden voyage was mostly successful.

I left Baton Rouge Wednesday afternoon to give myself time to set up the RV and rest up before competing on Thursday. We had a very pleasant day and evening and all of us slept well.

Pepper, at 10 months, was excited but not nervous, and a great companion for Maxie.  He received many compliments.

Thursday, dogs ran small to tall and the FAST class went first (which I didn't enter), so Maxie's 1st run wasn't until around 9:30 a.m.  I didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn until Friday, when he was the 4th dog on the line at 8, and even after the stress of being caught out in a tornado Thursday afternoon, I felt fine on Friday. Here's the video composite, with commentary (missed one). I'm still not satisfied with the audio, which sometimes cuts out.  Since both dogs are running the same courses now, I decided to put identical runs together for comparison.

In every run, Maxie ran the course in less time than Lucky, ranging from 1 to 10 seconds faster.  Odd considering the difference in their stride and leg length, and Lucky's strength.

Maxie ran well, only popped out of the weaves once out of 4 runs, and I pulled him off the second to last jump on another run.  2 errors out of roughly 80 obstacles.  His time was good but he had some stiff competition, including one Welsh Corgi, Stella, who smoked all the other 8" dogs every time by several seconds.  Lucky handled well and only made 1 mistake in 4 runs, she was reasonably focused, but again she didn't make course time 3 out of 4 runs.  Her weaves were slightly faster this weekend.  She walked less and ran more than previous runs.

Saturday I woke up with my shin muscles very sore, probably from my struggles in the tornado on Thursday.  I could barely maneuver my legs, was off emotionally, and it turned out to be a horrible day.  I hadn't entered my dogs, just planned to hang out to cheer on and video our novice competitors (our club has generated many new competitors this year, more than ever!)

My most embarassing trial moment to date: 

Ken and Casey on the start line Saturday,
Novice Standard
Ken, a new friend and enthusiastic club member, at his first trial, was 4th dog on the line early Saturday morning, his 2nd Jumpers run ever. I left my dogs in the RV and and ran to the arena to watch and video him. I was near the start line, camera running. Ken took a long lead out as we had practiced.  When Casey broke her start line stay, Ken headed back behind the1st jump to sit her again.  Before I knew it, confused on the rules myself, I yelled "NO, KEN, NO", the judge blew the whistle and disqualified him for "Outside Interference".  Shocked at this unfolding drama, I begged the judge over and over to give him another chance, it wasn't his fault, it was all my fault, etc.  But she said 'NO, SORRY, NO, BOTH OF YOU CAN LEARN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME".  Incredulous! 

I thought that was such an unfair ruling for a Novice A handler.  Punish me, not him.  Take away my last Q, whatever.  That would have somewhat assuaged me but nothing worked.  After he left the ring, I was unconsolable.  Ken told me later he would have led out again past the jump and been disqualified anyway, but that doesn't excuse my outburst, nor my confusion about the rules.  I left the arena, cried all morning, almost threw up several times.  Of course , nobody from our club had gone over the start line rules with him, Ken hadn't read the AKC regulations, and I hadn't reviewed the rules in 2 years!  Conclusion, something needs to change.
Reviewing the rules is something our dog club should do with every novice competitor.  Maybe as my penance, I should write those up in layman's language for us to hand out to our newbies, and to remind myself of the rules.

Secondly, nobody in our club had measured Ken's dog, so he's been jumping Casey at 20" all year long in practice. The VMO measured her at over 22", which required her to jump 24". She managed to do it, only knocking 3 bars, but barely cleared the rest. They Q'd 5 out of 10 runs the whole weekend, but the surprise height change was quite a shock.

Every dog in our club intending to compete in agility should be measured by the time they enter Advanced Beginner level.

Next trial I'm entered in is our own in Port Allen, just 4 weeks away.  Til then Lucky is enrolled in Monday night Competition class, Maxie is enrolled in the Tuesday night Competition class, and Pepper in the Wednesday night Intro Class.  Lots of Agility going on.

Upwards and onward!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Maiden Voyage of my new RV - Hattiesburg

New puppy, Pepper, lounges on the couch
of our dream RV, as we head to Hattiesburg.
Heading out to Hattiesburg (about 3 hours away) for our first trial since April, this was our first time on the road since bringing my new RV home from Florida last May.  I have spent the past 3 months working out every minute detail for comfort and utility for me and my dogs.  I knew I'd have a few more kinks to work out, but OMG nothing of TORNADO magnitude!  I filled the tank, and drove the whole trip at 65 mph, so next time I gas up I'll be able to calculate mileage at that speed, hoping it exceeds 8 mpg.  So far, my plan is unfolding.
Once there, I parked on a slanted slab so dreaded by my previous experience in Hattiesburg with my pop-up camper, but a different wheel base and my home-made leveling boards worked perfect to level the unit and keep her stable.  Still good.  I set up my 32' x-pen yard at the RV site, with my lattice skirt along the RV wall, and found that the lattice needs to be cut down 1/4" more to clear the door.  Humm, at my house it clears fine, but I'm not on concrete.  Maybe there's a dip in my yard. I marked the lattice and sawed the excess off when I got home.  I hit one pot-hole on the way home that made 2 drawers and the kitchen door fly open, but that just served to help me figure out how to bungie them shut in transit.  I timed complete set up in 2 hours on Wednesday afternoon, it was easy work, and every preparation was working great!

Lucky Lucy is comfortable on the bench,
while Maxie (who can't be seen) chose
to lounge in the open crate at right.
Until . . . . . Thursday afternoon, after my last run, with storm clouds gathering, I decided to pack my wagon and dogs and walk from the arena to the RV before it began to rain.  It was a long walk.  About half way, too late to go back, lightening split the sky and it started to drizzle, then rain.  I thought I could make it to the RV so kept going.  Lucky was in harness helping me pull the wagon.  We walked as fast as we could, getting wet, laughing, but with each crack of lightening Lucky's pulling became more eratic and the rains increased.  Eventually I unhitched her from the wagon.  Thank goodness, because within 20 seconds a tornado touched down, knocked me off my feet and flung the wagon 30 feet away.  I scrambled fast to marshall us all to the door of our motor home, but as I rounded the bend saw my x-pens had been knocked down, my table flipped over and there was lots of debris to get tangled in.  And then I realized the keys were still in my purse, in a wagon flung far away.  We were locked out -- in dousing rain and high winds, only barely protected by crouching against the wall of the motor home, which began rocking furiously back and forth.  There was no shelter anywhere else.  No choice, I had to try and reach my keys and get us inside.  I commanded the dogs to "STAY" against the side of the RV, which I figured provided them some protection from wind and pelting rain.  I headed toward the wagon as fast as I could.  Suddenly, it began hailing so hard, blowing almost horizontally, I was knocked to my knees. I had to crawl and keep my head down.  Afraid for my life, I abandoned the wagon idea and took refuge behind my neighbor's trailer -- a little trailer that could have blown off it's chocks and crushed me at any moment.  My prayer was that my RV wouldn't capsize and that my dogs were safer than I was and would stay put where I left them.  I couldn't even see them and dared not call. I was truly afraid for all our lives.  What seemed like 10 minutes later (probably 3) the hail subsided, and I see Lucky skulking my way in the downpour, dragging her leash, and she crawls up under the trailer and extends her paw to me then licks my face.  I grab her neck and melt into tears. Then I see Pepper wandering about, looking for Lucky in the blinding rain, and I call his name from my gut.  He makes his way under the trailer, totally drenched but otherwise unharmed.  Then I notice Maxie is still STAYING where I put him, I begin calling furiously, furiously.  And he makes his way to the trailer, me praying with all my might his leash doesn't get tangled in debris.  He made it.  I have never been so glad to have all my dogs near me.  I unhooked their leashes to prevent them further danger of getting tangled in debris in case we needed to run again.  There was no predicting what might happen next.   When the winds died down, but it was still raining hard, I ventured forth to fetch my keys.  They all followed me to the wagon and then to the RV.  They were all totally focused on my commands, no controversy, total trust but they didn't want to be separated from my side.  We were all drenched to the bone and dripping everywhere.  I no longer cared about keeping my carpets or upholstery clean. Who gives a shit about carpet compared to safety?????  They followed me in, I towel dried each dog as best I could, quickly changed out of my sopping clothes, then put on a poncho and went back out in the rain to fetch my purse, camera case, and dog duffle bag, which were all drenched.  At that point some nice lady walked by saying people and dogs had to head back to the arena immediately for safety, another even worse storm is coming within 5-10 minutes.  Without hesitation I leashed the dogs and we hurried back, and entered an air conditioned arena that was freezing cold to us wet people.  Maxie began shivering so violently I feared hypothermia, and I didn't even have a towel to wrap him in. 

NOTE:  Always carry a big towel in your gear.  Add a hair dryer to my equipment list.

I managed to borrow a towel, dried Maxie off as best I could, and held him in my arms for the next half hour.  Lucky and Pepper weren't so affected by the cold.  The trial stopped.  After an hour and no worse storm happened, the trial re-commenced and we walked back to the RV, where we stayed cozied up the rest of the night. I realized I need a big tub to put wet items in.  A few items in my cabinets were topsy turvy and I made notes for the future.  We learned later, one 5th wheel had been turned around 90 degrees, blown off it's jacks and suffered damage, the brand new little A-frame trailer to my left had collapsed, and other RV'ers suffered minor damage.  Part of the arena roof blew off.  Trees snapped off, and debris was flying all over the grounds.  No one was hurt. We were all extremely lucky.  I managed to salvage all my stuff along the fence line by the next day, and though wet, none of it was harmed. I dare not contemplate how I would have faired in my pop-up,

Next day, Friday, to my great amazement, we all felt fine.  Maxie Q'd one of 2 runs with only 1 problem caused by me to his NQ, and Lucky ran pretty well for her.  I was calm.  I didn't feel shaky until Saturday.

Saturday I wokd up with my shin muscles very sore.  I could barely rotate my ankles, was off emotionally, and it turned out to be a horrible day.  More on the trial-related horrible thing will be in my next post along with a summary of our runs.

Second horrible thing, I was packing up the RV to go home Saturday afternoon, dogs inside, me moving stuff in and out, when the f'ing door locked itself and I was locked out!  Keys were inside.  95 degree weather.  What??????   After recovering from jaw slapping shock, I found my iPhone in my pocket and used it to call 911. They offered to contact a locksmith, meanwhile I went back into the arena to see if anyone could help, but of course the trial secretary was busy recording scores, also told me campus security wasn't on site.  After an hour 911 couldn't rouse a locksmith, but eventually sent a sherrif out to pick my lock.  (They didn't send anyone at first because "we can't pick locks on motor homes, only on vehicles."  I thought fast, and assured them that my Class C motor home was built on a van chassis, so it was just a vehicle  So they agreed to try.)  But this took 2 hours, with the dogs inside and me out in the heat.  At least my dogs were air conditioning, but I wasn't.  I used my time wisely re-arranging the outside storage compartments (which I had planned to do anyway), staying in the little ribbon of shade beside the RV.  But towards the last half hour I was getting hot, parched and while still not frantic, considerably nervous.  Finally I remembered the broken window latch I had taped shut on the drive home from Florida, managed to force the window open and get inside by standing on the handle of my little step laddar, and just as I got my butt in, my feet dangling out the window, the sherrif arrives!  Lucy, I had some 'splainin' to do!

NOTE:  Hide a second set of keys in a magnetic box and put it outside somewhere.  I hear one can purchase a magnetic box with a combination on it.

Made it home without further incident, pacing myself, exhausted and not caring about our agility performance.  Haven't even watched the videos.  I'll assess this when I feel better rested.

Upwards and onward!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Foray Into Conformation

Pepper watching Mommy and keeping quiet.
On Saturday, August 4, I made my first foray into Conformation -- attending a show at the Ponchartrain Convention Center in Kenner, Louisiana with Pepper, just to see what goes on.  Louisiana Kennel Club was the host club, the show was huge, with hundreds of dogs and 10 or more rings.  I only filmed in the small room with 3 rings.  Several dog agility friends were there, some showing, others looking for a mate to breed their dog with, others looking for a breeder to purchase their next champion puppy from.  As it says on the AKC website, "the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock."

I mostly went just to investigate the process, and to see the Papillons.  Wanted to see how Pepper compares in appearance to known conformation Paps.  Maybe talk to a judge about Pepper's qualifications.  It was a very bustly place, though.  I never got to show Pepper to anyone competent to assess him.  My own assessment is that he is taller, more long nosed, long legged and long bodied than the others.  He has a mature, statuesque look to him than the others, but it has its own beauty.

I arrived around 9:30 a.m., and the Papillons didn't go into the ring again until 10:30, so I had time to make a few trips to the car, haul in my crate, my chair, my video camera, and talk to a few Pap owners.  As with agility, many of them seemed to know each other, having been on the conformation circuit for many years.  I was, again, a complete newbie.  The doors were plastered with "No Unentered Dogs Allowed", so I was immediately a renegade breaking the rules!  But I had come 90 miles in the rain, I couldn't leave him out in the car in 95 degree weather, and knew I wasn't going to hurt anything, so I got up my gumption, entered, set up my gear in an out of the way place, and prayed that Pepper would crate up and keep quiet, which he did as long as I was in sight.  The few times I disappeared around a corner he began howling, so I stayed close or walked him on leash with me, and nobody threw us out. What a relief!

I positioned us as best I could to video the Paps and handlers.  I must have missed an earlier judging because what I captured was very different from the videos I took later of a friend in the dachshund ring, where the dogs were lined up in a completely different way than the Paps.  Here is what I got.

I saw some beautiful Paps.  I couldn't really tell who won, except when the photographer began taking photos of the "Best Of Winners" and "Winners" category.  One winner looked like a Chihuaha, nothing like a Pap, which confused me.  I found out later from cousin Lois that photos can be taken of different toy breeds on the same table at the same time if judged by the same judge.  Surely, then, I missed an earlier judging of the paps.

Some of the handlers were clearly professionals, others were just dog owners, and I couldn't shake the feeling that the professionals knew the judges ahead of time and were being favored. 
Most of the Paps there were around 8.5-10".  12" is a disqualification fault, but anything under 12" is permitted, though 11" or under is preferred.  I'm not sure of Pepper's height at 10 months but suspect it is about 11".  I need to get him measured.  Lois assures me he has quit growing at 10 months, and his pasterns will drop up to 1/2" at about a year of age.  I dread the thought of running him in the 12" jump height category in agility, where he will be one of the smallest having to jump the highest.

Anyways, I got a feel for the whole conformation process.  It is complicated, confusing, and loud.  There are several categories (Puppy, 9-12 months, etc) , and in each category there is Winner's Dog, Winner's Bitch, Best of Winners, Reserve Winners, Best of Show.  All you do is check the catalog to see where to show up, dress up, fluff up the dog, position them to stand for exam, walk too and fro, walk around in a circle, lure the dog constantly to pay attention to you, leave the ring.  With a few cursory glances and touches, some judge decides who's the best, and onlookers get a second or two to see the lineup of who wins.  Sometimes you see a judge hand out a blue ribbon.  Not much fanfare about it.  And all around the ring are people talking about which dog looks best. I saw no discernable test for agility, obedience or intelligence -- just breeding for looks is not the best plan in my view for designing great breeds.

Behind the scenes, I bet a lot of folks are visiting the winner dogs' crate areas and wheeling and dealing about stud fees and puppies.  I didn't get to see any of that. Maybe another time.

There were a dozen or more vendor booths, and one reason I went was to get a white nylon show leash.  I couldn't find one of those (boo), and nothing else tempted me (yeah)!

One neat thing.  At the Onofrio Dog Shows website, all the upcoming conformation shows are listed, plus all the results from past shows.  Lois was able to go there and confirm who the winners were in my video above, and verify that they were all, as I suspected, professional handlers she is familiar with.  What a magnificent website for those interested in Conformation.  And it's FREE.

Upwards and onward!