Thursday, August 31, 2006

Is that a show dog?

It's a funny distinction isn't it. Show dog vs. Purebred vs. couch potato. To the average non-dog person the fact that a dog is a "show dog" means he is different than the average fido. The dog is elevated, highly regarded - to most of the folks that walk by anyway. I'll take all of that with a grain of salt and a wee bit of satisfaction, it means two things: first we've moved on to training "impressive things" and secondly we're doing them well (for the moment). Yeah, we're back to working obedience pretty hardcore - running through our Open stuff - doing a lot of heeling and stay work. Most days it's easiest to do this in my front yard - very few cars, but walkers and bikers every couple of minutes. In novice the dog is on a leash, heeling might look fancy but it's all pretty boring for the spectators to watch. People watching the novice class look at their dogs and think - hey, that's easy. My dog can do that no sweat. The open work is different - it might look easy (because we've trained forever), but people don't leave thinking - "darn, my dog can do that too". Heeling around small children (off leash) in the road (no cars) is impressive for people. The figure 8 is Murph's specialty - then there's the really fun stuff.

A couple about my folks' age walked by this evening while I was working the retrieve over the high jump. I sent Murphy over the jump and the woman cooed at him, "ouuuuuughhhh, he must be a show dog", Murph landed and forgot for a moment what he was doing - stood there for 2 seconds regarding the woman, then his brain re-engaged and he got the dumbbell and returned over the jump. I took the dumbbell and finished him back into heel.

"How did he know to come back over the jump?" I explained the exercise and the retrieve over the flat - and it was simply what he had been trained to do - and rewarded for doing successfully. I started to talk about reinforcement history and I "lost" them. They went on their way and I setup for some out of sight stay work. People find the stay stuff most impressive, people will literally stop walking and stare at Murphy while he sits there. He stares back, blink. blink. blink. Some people initially think he's lost (ever seen a lost dog sit patiently in one spot) and try to call him "here puppy puppy" (blink), some people eye him cautiously as if he's sitting there thinking about evil deeds he can do to nice families out for evening walks...

I often tell people that their dogs could do all of this - they don't have to be "show dogs" to have some basic obedience skills. Certainly Murphy's AKC papers don't help him sit there through distractions. And the greatest irony of all, is that this "show dog" (after he's had all of his daily requirements met) is the biggest couch potato that you'll ever meet - most happy crashed on the couch with a chewie bone.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

House Guests...and you get what you live with...

No, not the two legged kind - two legged guests require that the vaccum come out of the closet, the guest room linens changed, guest bathroom cleaned and the blankets on the couch removed (none of those things happened this weekend - unfortuneatly, because the house is a bit of a wreck). There's something about being away every weekend for 12 weeks and not keeping up the house the way I'd like to. So on this first weekend at home in a few months what did I do? I went out to pick up Cooper (our four-legged guest) and run a puppy play group on Saturday morning, then I played a bit of agility later in the morning - napped around 2ish, and went to the fair to eat bad stuff...I didn't even eat a lot of bad stuff - which puzzles me, because that was part of the grand goal.

Anyway, the point of this post was to talk about guests - two legged and four legged. Give me the option most days I'd take almost any four-legger overnight than a two-legger, there are several exceptions to this of course but not the topic of this afternoon post. Perhaps the difference between 2 and 4 legged guests comes down to who has to do the entertaining. Murph does all of the 4 legged entertainment, with little or no facilitation from myself. I have rules and they are enforced (no wrestling in the house) but it's Murph's house and his games - he's yet to be anything less than a proper gentleman and host extrodinaire. This weekend of course was no exception. We had Cooper with us, she is a 9 month old little yellow cutie, belongs to a co-worker of mine. When I picked her up on Saturday she hopped in the car with Murphy and went to sleep on the bed in the back. The two dogs were like vanilla and vanilla - like they'd lived together forever. They played nicely in the yard, they walked nicely around the block. Cooper walked into the house like she had been here forever and never showed any inclination that this wasn't totally normal for her (though she objected to having her ears cleaned - ha ha).

This is all relevant because as much as Murph has seen the world, as wonderful as his temperment is with people, dogs, cats, babies, skunks, etc - I'm not sure he would be able to just go home with someone else and be boarded for a night. I left him once overnight with a housesitter. Lee was graduating and we brought my parent's two labs over here and had a friend of mine deal with the four of them - Kodiak didn't get to stay as Kasei and Kodiak were oil and vinegar. Murph spent the night crated and my friend came over several times a day to feed and potty them. The report card said that all four were good, and that Murphy was a cutie. No surprises, though I can still feel the worry in the pit of my stomach as I sat on that plane waiting to take off - wondering if my dogs knew I was going to be thousands of miles away from them. Worrying, overthinking, overplanning, stressing - it's what I do...

I guess it comes down to the fact that we all do our best to raise our puppies, we correct what we can't live with and we live with what we can well live with. I worry about Murph walking loosely on a leash and I don't tend to care if he brings in dirty paws when it rains. A stay is a stay is a stay and you don't break that stay, but sure you can get up on the sofa. My food is my food when I'm eating dinner, however if you wait patiently I'll share my left-overs.

So the house didn't get cleaned this weekend - but the beauty of the situation is that Cooper couldn't care less and I've got a whole week to get ready for next weekend's excuse not to clean - the dust bunnies aren't going anywhere are they?

Puppy Tantrums...

Today was stew day - that would be the one day every 6 weeks or so that I prepare ungodly amounts of dog stew and freeze it in 3-4 day quantities. I bought chicken thighs at the grocery store because they were $.33/pound - got 15lbs of them instead of one or more entire chicken…they've got the bones in so the boiling process pulls the same minerals and such from the bones that would happen in a full carcass - maybe more so because the bones are cut? Dunno, I should research that. Cut bones vs whole bones, which leech more minerals, vitamins and good stuff into water when boiled for several hours?

So I've deboned the chicken and put the lentils in the chicken broth in one pot, 10lbs of ground beef in another pot, a pot of barley and two pots of veggies. Then what I do is take a third of each pot and mix them in 60 cup batches in a big bowl and then portion them out into 8 cup containers…over time this seems to be the best way of doing things - I tried mixing everything in the gladware but it was messy and didn't end up mixed very well I don't think. So that's my process… What is my point?Seems like boring and useless process of dog food preparation right?

Here's the point. Murphy typically eats dinner at 5pm. Sometimes later during the work week. On the weekends it's possible I'll feed him earlier - depending on what is going on. Anyhow, at 5 I had only removed the chicken bits from the pot and put the lentils in the broth to cook. Sure, there are three or four containers of food left out in the freezer - but why thaw one when I'm making a batch now - just doesn't make sense to me…so I get everything else cooking (an hour or so later) and debone the ckicken (that was a lot of work - more work than an entire chicken, but ultimately more meat I think). At about 6:00 the looks of "you know I haven't eaten yet" began - despite the fact that I'd been feeding samples as I cooked knowing that his dinner was late…by 6:30 the looks had evolved to some pacing and some "woe is me" whining…meanwhile I was in the process of moving a third of the ingredients from each pot and putting them in the "big bowl", at 6:45 as I started to mix - it happened. THE TANTRUM. It started small with the retrieval and throwing of his food bowls. Then a favorite stuffed toy "bit the big one" (rest in peace star man - you were loved even if that love was fleeting and ultimately deadly), then it was the dog bed's turn to suffer as Murph gripped it and threw it across the room - then digging on the bed and another throw - THEN the howling while throwing the bed, then howling as the bowls were thrown - peppered in here were several "throw your body on the ground as hard as you can and look at mom". Yep - full fledged tantrum time. The really hard part was not laughing at him and the ironic part was that by 6:50 I had pulled out a serving for him and popped it in the fridge - it was effectively his for the eating, but not in tantrum mode - he carried on for about 10 minutes and then finally threw himself on the floor (again) and settled. Then I fed him - he gave me this look like "why didn't you just feed me an hour ago when I asked nicely?

Oh poor Smurf.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ribbons aren't everything - but sometimes they help

Murphy and I were at the NADAC trial this weekend - getting up at 5:30 on Saturday and on the road by 6:00 was a tough shock to the body…Murphy's too. First class was jumpers, in NADAC there's no weaves - just jumps and FAST course times. We had a couple of bobbles but managed to pull a 3rd out of a class of 20+. Then we had touch and go - all tunnels and contact obstacles - what a rush. NADAC equipment is slightly different - no slats on the a-frame or dog walk. I thought the a-frame was going to be an issue - Does Murphy use the slats to go up or down on the contact obstacles? Turns out the answer was no. He didn't like the slatless dogwalk though - which is interesting. Cassy pointed out that the teeter never has slats…from a dog's perspective maybe the up portion of the dog walk looks like a teeter? I've never seen Murph think about bailing from a contact obstacle - he thought about ditching off the dogwalk in touch and go. Anyway, he made all of his contacts which was good enough for 2nd place (a LOT of dogs blew contacts).

Next two standard runs - back to back - instead of breaking down novice, setting up open, running open, breaking down open, setting up elite, running elite, breaking down elite and setting up novice again….The novice course stayed the same, we just ran it backwards the second time. Murph got all of his weave entries (yay) all of his contacts (yay) and both of the distance discriminations (handling several obstacles from behind a tape line). Both runs were nice, the second one was awesome - Murph saved my butt at one point and got a "whooooo" from the crowd (he liked that). We placed 3rd in both of the standard runs. So four ribbons and a long day...after his second run I found my water sandals and took him down to the river that runs through the grounds (from the top of mansfield - cold, clear, beautiful water - there was one spot that was chest-deep and I made Murph stand there for a little whil e until I was sure he was all cooled off and comfy - then I let him do some fishing :-)

On Sunday We slept in (relatively speaking), not leaving for the trial until 7! It was clear at home but as soon as I got into Stowe the rain started. Rain, rain, rain and more rain. First priority: Sure up the tent. I bought an ez-up on Friday instead of bringing my 12x17 camping tent. It's great in the sun - wrap some shade cloth around it and it's blissfully cool in there. In the rain though they tend to leak at the seams...so I took the "floor" and put it over the top - leaks stopped. Next to put tarps all the way around three of the sides - whew, we're dry - actually I was soaked, but because of the way my car is packed I had to unpack Murphy (in the way back of my wagon) - below him is my "permanent storage: extra jacket, a pair of jeans, a sweater, tarps, first aid kit, rain poncho, umbrella, etc - so out Murphy goes into his warm and dry crate (I had wrapped the floor tarp over and around it like giftwrapping), and I go back out to get my gear. Man! It was wet!

I watched the Elite and Open dogs very carefully to see how they handled the wet equipment (remember - no slats) - the fast dogs got into trouble, but the slow and thinking dogs did fine - Murph is neither fast nor slow - but I decided to run him in the standard runs anyway - let's see what he thinks - I trust him to tell me when something isn't OK. So we ran two standard runs back to back - both runs were outstanding - he really put down two very nice runs - we had one bobble on a "multidirectional tunnel" - I didn't know such a thing existed so when he went in the wrong end of the tunnel (or what I thought was wrong) I turned him around and sent him in the other way - which was good for a wrong course. Murph got his weave entries in both standard runs - and worked with me the whole time. I tried some things today - first was putting distance on our runs - Cassy had noted he seemed more confident when he was working further away from me (not a typical obedience dog). But, looking back on all of the bumps we've had along the way one of those was he didn't like being wrong - when he's working away he knows his job - when I try to help him he isn't as confident. So something to work on. Murphy took 4th in both of his standard runs (his classes were about 15-20 dogs so I'm happy with that).

We had good runs in jumpers and took 4th in that class as well. It was a pretty wild weavers run (just weaves and tunnels) again Murphy got all of his entries and put down a clean run - good enough for 2nd place. Then came tunnelers - for those who don't know this is a course of just tunnels - 8 of them to be exact for a total of 15 obstacles. Murphy is somewhat confused by tunnelers...he just doesn't understand why the next obstacle after a tunnel is another tunnel. My boy likes two things in agility - jumps and weaves - tunnels are fine - but they don't fire him up the way that jumps and fast running does - that and I have a lousy sense of where his point of committment is for a tunnel - in front of a jump it's about 10' away, for weaves about 5' contact obstacles about 5' - tunnels for him are probably about 3'. Note to self, need to increase his tunnel reinforcement history. We finished first in tunnelers - despite the fact that I no longer had any dry bits (parts) left. At one point I was caught mumbling to myself about wrinkled fingertips (bathtub fingers).

I've really got to say how proud I am of Murphy - I saw ZERO stress this weekend. I LOVE that. He had a blast in the sun and he had fun in the rain - he is really an adaptable fellow. We've never done a NADAC trial before - I entered the "costco" package - all 10 runs of the weekend - five runs a day. In AKC we run two runs a day - separated by sometimes 5-6 hours...In those same six hours he ran five times this weekend. I thought about "saving" him - scratching from this or that - but I got greedy and didn't scratch anything. I was watching him to make sure that he was willing and wanting to play and to his credit each and every time I pulled him out of his crate for a run he pottied quickly and got right down to business. He got all of his weave entries. In the weavers class he saw a 12 pole set of weaves - his first in competition - he stayed in the weaves for all 12 - both times. He held his startlines, and he sat at the startline the first time every run - none of the scratchies that we've been trying to work out. We (I) made some mistakes this weekend but we got over them in the moment - whoops, we missed that tunnel entry, lets go back and do it. There was no begging (me - shamelessly), there was no tagging or biting at my shoes (him) - we just ran.

So the ribbon count from the weekend, 10 classes, 9 placement ribbons:

Saturday:
Touch and Go: 2nd
Standard 1: 3rd
Jumpers: 4th
Standard 2: 3rd

Sunday:
Standard 1: 4th
Standard 2: 4th
Tunnelers: 1st
Weavers: 2nd
Jumpers: 4th