Thursday, February 26, 2009


There is not enough money to go around this week. I just sent off premiums for 2 trials in March. Total cost: about $142. I also just signed up for another 6 weeks of classes, cost: $90. Plus my membership needs to be renewed for another 3 months, so that will be $87. Grand total is $319.

One annoying thing is, there's no telling when the checks for the trials will be cashed, could be after the trial could be next week. Why do we even have checks anymore?

It’s a lot to shell out at once. At least for me.

I think of all the things I'm NOT buying, like new shoes, a haircut and color, manicures, a gym membership. Kind of weird to forego all sorts of things, technically the gym membership I could possibly swing and is the most important out of the list I just made up. Its not as though I feel deprived but when I think, ooh I need new shoes and then dismiss it out of hand automatically because I can't afford them but blithely spend $300 without questioning…well, priorities I guess.

I just keep telling myself that the season is almost over anyway. Soon it will be 85 degrees at 5 am and 100 percent humidity and no one will want to think about agility.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Its not Christmas but this picture cracks me up.

No more trials for weeks

There were some high points of the trial this past weekend. But mostly just low points. Saturday's standard run was really nice with the exception of the weave poles which for some reason DJ felt through with after 10. Jumpers. Same thing.

Sunday we had a really nice FAST run except that we didn't do the send. It was in the middle of the ring and you were supposed to send out to a jump to the far side of a tunnel and then back to the jump. Deej did the jump, went in the wrong side of the tunnel and then back to the jump so I was pretty happy.

Contacts were lovely oh except for the teeter which he jumped off of because it was an unusually heavy teeter.

That came back to bite me in the butt during the standard run which was just ugly.

It still makes me feel sick to think about it! Not like a close family member died sick but still just vague disappointment. And then guilt for feeling bad since DJ didn't sign up to do the agility trial and its only 30 seconds of fun for lots of crate time for him. And still, the teeter issue just does make me feel bad and baffled.

I think I'm going to have to retrain his teeter he did have a 2o2o at one point and got bounced off the end of a teeter somehow and was really scared of it after that. He had been getting good and fast on the familiar teeter at the club but there's really no single behavior cemented in his head about it. Back to square one with that.

I have a teeter base, I have to get a piece of wood to use as the plank. I'm going to start with the board flat and train him to run to the end.

For the jumpers run on Sunday it was a very easy flowing, fast course and the Q rate must have been around 95 percent. DJ was at least among them. With a time of about 27.79 we were again at least about 4 seconds off of placing. By that point I just wanted him to stay in the weaves as all weekend, save for FAST, 10 was the most he felt like doing.

Other things such as the A-frame and table were pretty ok this weekend.

Handling was OK, nothing fancy, the horrible standard run on Sunday ended with a missed final jump due to an inept rear cross but by that point I was done.

There were like 3 world team members at the stupid trial. And their students all with insane fast shelties doing awesomely. Some people and dogs stand out because of their awesomeness and other people are just rumpled, anxious messes that just get in the way of the good people as they stride authoritatively around the walk-through.

Oh one other high point, DJ found a chicken bone in the field across the street from the arena which he dropped very politely.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

So recently I've been feeling particularly warm and fuzzy and proud of Deej, no major meltdowns, no biting, being a good man…but this morning guess who found an incredibly delicious chicken bone on the beach.

And guess who got a couple of fresh wounds for her trouble in trying to retrieve said bone from the unnamed dog's (DJ's) gullet.

Ouch. Guess it's back to the "living peacefully with humans lessons."
On a positive note some kids ran up to us last night and there was no barking so he's not a total butt. Just partially.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fun running

Last night we went to a fun run at Lucky Dog. A jumper course was set and we did pretty well, I tried to get more distance and actually get my front crosses in, I missed a couple of times. Then flubbed a rear cross.

I watched a really talented girl run with her border collie and she managed to layer the jump I was trying to cross in front of and did the cross in front of the next obstacle instead…I wish I could have tried again after seeing that.

DJ ran super fast despite my ineptitude he's getting so much quicker and more responsive it really taxes my crappy handling skills. And of course shows off just how slow I both run and think as I can usually not manage to articulate Get out and instead just gesture helplessly and say Over there. What? I don't know how he does it but he does manage to figure it out most of the time.

Even though its harder for me and of course tough on the old knees (please, do not want to be one of the many agility competitors sporting a knee brace) I prefer doing front crosses because A. he runs faster if I'm in front of him and B. someone told me when we were first starting that you should always do a front cross if you can. I can't remember who but they knew what they were talking about. I think it was LeeAnn.

So, I'll keep trying, gotta stop babysitting each jump though – four legs beat 2 legs in every race, unless its like a shih tzu, I may be able to beat a shih tzu. Pekinese for sure.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are min pins hard to train?

A question that comes up often on the min pin agility yahoo list regards people's perceived ideas about min pins and whether or not they are hard to train.

I don't know if they are. For one thing, our first min pin was untrainable in that he had no real motivation to do much and not a lot of energy with his chronic heart failure. If you put a wee-wee pad down, he would generally at least pee near it. Usually on whatever upright surface was closest.

DJ has been a breeze to train. He's smart, fast and loves to play games. He can be a little bit distractible.

When we got him from the shelter, he may or may not have been fully housetrained. He had been returned to the shelter at least once for marking inside. But save for one incident when he first arrived he hasn't had any mistakes except for one time when he was not taken out in time and had to pee on the door to the outside. He did the best he could.

Besides that he wasn't allowed to make any mistakes and was taken out on a regular schedule and not allowed full run of the house for a couple of weeks.

His main problem was being crazy reactive to other dogs – besides biting and resource guarding.

Because of the reactivity, I tried to do a lot of impulse control and attention work as well as counter conditioning his reactions to other dogs. Agility classes were a nightmare for a while because he would go nuts whenever someone entered his space.

And then I found the book "Control Unleashed" and things really started changing. One of our instructors even commented on how much he's improved, for instance not barking at her! And other people! This past weekend he let people pet him and took treats, its freaking amazing.

I don’t expect to always be perfect from this point on but its just so gratifying that I feel like I can take him in public and not worry so much. Worry some, but just feel more confident that he has the tools to control himself and isn't as worried about his environment.

To my mind, we've been tremendously successful at agility so far, especially in trials he's learned to handle waiting at the gate for his turn around people and dogs without getting bothered and he not only stays in the ring with me but runs the courses!

This long rambling preamble was just to say that some people have said to me that min pins are difficult or DJ is the best min pin they've ever seen because they are so distractible and hard to work with. And yes he is awesome, that's true but I don't think he's that far from the normal min pin character and I'm not a super awesome trainer with l33t skillz.

I think that his behavior problems actually helped us in agility. (I'm talking like we're doing so awesome but hey I think we are!) Even though in the back of my mind I was kind of thinking he'll be great at agility, I didn't know and my first goals weren't foundation training for agility they were walk out of the house without a major meltdown, be able to take something from him without getting my arm chewed off.

A lot of little things that ended up being important to building a relationship and confidence but also impulse control and attention. I think if you don't have to go through a bunch of problems then focusing on focus and control isn't as much a priority.

And I think as they are busy little dogs who don't sit still for 3 seconds if there is something more interesting happening somewhere, impulse control, focus and attention are incredibly important and somewhat overlooked especially by people who are used to dogs with an off-switch.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If you can’t be a good example...

DJ was awesome at the trial this past weekend. Superstar awesomeness. Contacts were hit, tables were downed upon and weaves were woven. We got two standard Q’s. No jumper Qs but that was my fault.

He did his job, for the most part, not Saturday necessarily but Sunday he did everything he could but poor handling struck. There was a collision of sorts at the second to last jump. Not really of sorts…but an actual collision of my knee and his head.

Bad decisions were made, rear cross was not done. But the good thing was that we served as a tragic warning for all the dogs going after us.

DJ shook it off and forgot about it about 4 seconds after it happened. But I still feel terrible. Last night at class he was fine, I was mostly fine except for almost impaling myself on a jump standard. Sigh. DJ is handler impaired.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Goals for this weekend

I have some goals I'd like to hit this weekend:

1. Contacts -- proper stopping contacts on the dogwalk and getting in the yellow on the A-frame.

2. A fast down on the table -- Not just a down, a fast one! Though if pressed I will admit that any down will do as long as I'm not reduced to crawling and begging though I’m not above it. You can see how my criteria tends to slide. Moving on!

3. Cracking 4th place in jumps with weaves. This will require fast turns and fast weave poles which means I need to stay connected with DJ in the weaves while also moving faster. Obvious right?

Non-wide turns will require that I really carefully consider where I’m going to put a front cross and also remember that I can do a lead out and rear crosses. I really really can.

A BNT at the trial last week, and actually a guy she trains with, dunno what his claim to fame is besides the fact that his shelties are smoking fast…had really nice blind crosses. Something to consider for the future. I practice them but am not ready to plop one down after the A-frame…more likely the weaves or even more likely than that, a nice plain tunnel.

Other goals: have fun and keep DJ amused and happy!

More trialing

This picture is from the trial this past weekend. The show photographer, Furry Fotography was super fast, the order just arrived today. The photos may not all be awesome but speed counts.

THIS weekend we're going to Davie for another trial. Davie is south of Fort Lauderdale, so about an hour on the Turnpike. It's also all done up in a rodeo / old west motif. Kind of neat I guess if you like that sort of thing. Its basically the same crap you find in any town, like strip malls and Burger Kings but with wooden signs and fake hitching posts.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Today's excitement

We went to the club this morning for some practice. Practiced lead outs which for some reason terrify me in competition. I just need to get over it. Its not like anything will explode if it goes wrong.

Also fast fast fast weave poles. I want to get away from baby sitting DJ through them and actually pick up some speed and he does rip through them if I run faster. Its still a delicate balance though, if I get too far ahead he pops out.

And! We also practiced leaping over the A-frame contact a LOT this morning. Hooray, let's practice what not to do. Eventually got that sorted out.

As we were leaving I noticed DJ worrying his back foot, it looks like one of his pads got a little chafed, or rubbed a bit. That's the only thing I could see and by the time we were home he was no longer favoring it. Thank goodness, there's an emergency vet right next door to the club so I would kick myself for not just going there if it was a serious injury.

I also noticed* that the nails on that foot are so long that his foot looks a little weird. Splayed. Probably because he was standing on it weird but still it freaked me out and I decided those nails Must Be Done Right Away. I tried to get it done the easy way, nice click and treat but eventually just picked him up and cut one off.

Lots of treats but I could not get the clipper on the middle nails because he was clenching his foot. I just need one more hand and it would be much easier. In general he's better about the rear feet than his fronts but maneuvering him into position is the hard part and why I was putting off trying them.

So far, the best way I've found to get the back nails trimmed is by holding DJ in my left arm and then trying to lasso a nail with the clippers. It really helps to have another person to wrangle the foot and spread the toes. But I'm trying to get away from methods that involve wrangling and multiple helpers.

I may try to work on him when he's relaxed and enjoying a belly rub. Just desensitizing. The problem with that is that he's not really thrilled with going belly-up on demand. Sometimes you can roll him over but if he stressing over something or anxious or otherwise not in the mood, its like trying to put a recalcitrant cat into box. Legs everywhere, stiff muscles, anger and vindictive words – from him, not me.

Another option is to teach him to give me his back feet. That way we're not already starting from a place of him going, hey what the f…when I pick up his foot. I think that's what I'll do but first these nails have to be cut before he's permanently deformed.

Any other suggestions would be well-received.

I expect tonight will be fun. We're going to trim one front nail nicely and then see what happens to get another of those monstrosities trimmed down. When I say we, I mean DJ and me. As one of us is a very reluctant participant at best, I really mean me.

All of the nail stuff sounds incredibly crazy I realize. Most dog people look at me like I'm either incredibly negligent or just a moron. If I had to choose it would be the latter rather than the former but considering his go-to strategy when I first got him was a well placed bite or threat, I think we're doing well.

*Heretofore its not as though I didn't notice that those particular nails were growing into serious Guinness world's record longest nail contenders, I guess I just hoped that a method for getting to the nails would present itself with a minimum of effort. Surprisingly that didn't happen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tailwagger's trial at Vero Beach

The weekend was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Both standard runs featured a selection of DJ's greatest hits, including "I don't know nothin about no A-frame."

Not downing on the table was not included although this time he decided to quickly skim across the surface of the table leap off the other side and do a quick run by of a dog watching from ringside. Then I made a mistake and sent him off course so we were pretty much even on that one.

That was Saturday's standard.

Sunday, was the A-frame problemo but our time was freaking fast as hell. It was like placement level fast, if we had Q'd and were in Ex. B. In Ex. A everyone places since there are usually no more than 3 people tops – at least 3 people who qualify.

Picked up a Q in Jumpers on Saturday with a really nice run, too slow on a front cross however.

And on Sunday the run before ours was a MACH run. Yay for them. Confusion for DJ however, somewhat for me too – um what do I do? Do I leave? And that equaled start line distraction, late front cross and weird run AROUND me into the correct tunnel, resulting in an off course, then a missed weave entry. After that it was very fast and awesome, just that little train wreck thing first. Super fast and fun course though.

Last night we had class and he did get his contact, all contacts. He's a good man, he knows exactly what to do on the dog walk. Run, run run to the bottom and then stomp frantically on the contact five times to make sure I see that he has stopped is doing good agility dog stuff and is so excited about it. Teeter is still a bit slow though, he rushes up and then panics and hesitates at the tipping point.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Memory under stress in dog agility

Recently Slate ran an interesting article, "I'm plunging to my death, now what do I do?" it is excerpted from the book, "The survivors club: the secrets and science that could save your life."
The article is framed by the recent incident in which a skydiving instructor died while conducting a tandem dive. I don't know anything about skydiving I think that's what its called, two people attached. Anyway, he died of a heart attack, the soldier remembered what he was supposed to do and managed to get himself onto the ground in a controlled manner.

Apparently, not everyone could perform with such aplomb under duress. Stress can cause people's brains to shut off and it happens every so often in skydiving which can lead to very bad things such as hitting the ground at a high velocity.

Though dog agility is a little less treacherous than sky diving, agility competitors often have a hard time remembering where to go in the excitement and anxiety of running.

According to the article, Dr. John Leach of Lancaster University has researched memory in parachutists by testing the memories of skydivers before a jump after a jump and on non-skydiving days. He found that they can't remember stuff under stress. He theorized that the memories of how to save themselves was stored in their long-term memory and retrieval of that information became blocked by anxiety.

This study by Sian Beilock, assistant professor in psychology at the University of Chicago found that highly accomplished people are more prone to failure when under stress – for some reason due to their heavy reliance on their short term, or working memory.

According to the press release:

Highly accomplished people tend to heavily rely on their abundant supply of working memory and are therefore disadvantaged when challenged to solve difficult problems, such as mathematical ones, under pressure.

Working memory is a short-term memory system that maintains a limited amount of information in an active state. It functions by providing information of immediate relevance while preventing distractions and irrelevant thoughts from interfering with the task at hand.

People with a high level of working memory depend on it heavily during problem solving. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” Beilock said.

However, that same advantage makes them particularly susceptible to the dangers of stress.“In essence, feelings of pressure introduce an intrusion that eats up available working memory for talented people,” Beilock said.

Math is not the same as sports but holding the course in your mind can be challenging in a trial situation. Especially when there are other aspects to the run that you're concerned about, say…hitting the contacts.

Performance under pressure is something that has always fascinated me because I played tennis as a kid. I was ok, I really didn't practice enough to be particularly good but I don't think I really had any talent for the game. I participated in several tournaments and during the matches, I did very badly. My performance dropped from middling to somewhere near pathetic.

I know what choking under pressure feels like and it does suck.

When I attempted to move from the hunter ring to jumpers in riding, I had the same problem except instead of just sucking I was consumed by intense fear and anxiety. Needless to say I didn't do very well. Had I been more self-aware then I would have tried to mitigate those feelings with meditation, positive thinking and the like.

Luckily agility is not nearly as difficult or technical as tennis nor as life-threatening as show jumping or skydiving for that matter.

Thanks to our fantastic agility instructor Cynthia Kean, I have some methods at my disposal for dealing with stress and they have helped actually.

Some techniques include:

  • Visualization
  • Deep breathing
  • Positive thinking
  • Gratitude – its wonderful just to be spending time with my dog and having fun. (That's what I tell myself when he won't down on the table in trial…we're having fun damn it!)

  • Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Exciting title about dogs doing stuff

    This is Marco in the picture. He also had nail issues, but because he had so many health issues, hassling him about his nails seemed a little mean. In retrospect I would have just gotten over it and figured out wtf I was doing.

    I went to New York over the weekend. Actually not NY, it was Connecticut…so no agility wherever I was.

    We do have a trial this weekend, it should be a good time. It's an AKC trial in Vero Beach put on by some club or another. They do good work.

    We've gotten out to Lucky Dog once this week for some A-frame practice. Doing the Rachel Sander's method of training, you put a box over the contact area and then gradually fade it. His striding is pretty good when the box is there but when it is not he will just run down to…well almost exactly the yellow line. and leap off. Sometimes. It is kind of heartening that he is occasionally doing it perfectly without the box there, previous to this training he was never getting into the yellow.

    Kind of a problem apparently.

    Its really sad when your dog does something right and you're shocked. Like the nail thing, I had decided that he was Too Crazy to be trainable about his nails. And then that it was so easy makes me just want to kick myself, I really deserve it. Ladies and gentlemen not reading this blog I'd like to direct your attention to Susan Garrett's blog entry from mid-December wherein she writes of overcoming perceived baggage.

    I think I may be getting sick, I hope not but the feverish spaciness and sore throat say perhaps. If so at least it will cool enough to nap in the car this weekend.