Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Cluster

We're back (and mostly recovered) from our trip down to Springfield, MA for the annual Thanksgiving Cluster hosted by LEAP and Talcott Mountain Agility Club. For those who haven't been to the cluster - it's HUGE...Two breed buildings with 2500+ conformation entries, an obedience building with 200+  obedience entries, 150+ rally entries and 4 rings of agility with  2060 agility runs each day....HUGE show.

Agility is indoors, on dirt in the Mallory building...and while the rings stay pretty damp and dust-free the aisle-ways as competitors track dirt out of the rings have been so dusty that by day three one cannot see from one end of the building to the other - lots of folks come down with "cluster lung" a few days after arriving home. I work out of my car so that I can limit my dogs' exposure to the dust and exposure to the sheer volume of other dogs that are in and out of the buildings.This year the clubs involved in the cluster hired a man to walk around with a hand sprayer - spraying the floors with water and dampening the dust considerably. I thanked him every time I passed him - and I know he was a popular fellow. Genius idea from the club. Kudos!!!

A few years ago I brought Murphy to the cluster - WAY too much going on in there for Murphy. Teller LOVES all of the attention and people - almost thriving on the crowds! Teller also seems to like dirt too. Most of our trials indoors are in rings that are 80x90 - the rings at the cluster were big, open 100x100 spaces - LOTS of room to run and the space encouraged big wide-open courses. 

Super fun courses, great judges, happy exhibitors, efficient organization and Teller picked up a couple of JWW legs and some points :-) Can't wait to go back and play again next year! Thanks team cluster!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Update on "Back on Track"

We're freshly back from our weekend at the Thanksgiving Cluster in Springfield MA (four days of conformation, obedience, rally and agility - we stuck to just agility this year) - shopping was fantastic as usual (more on that in another post), the footing was awesome (Teller is a dirt dawg - more on THAT later too).

As I wandered around I saw that the back on track coats were selling like hot cakes - I kept seeing dog after dog after dog with new Back on Track coats...(Our initial review of the Back on Track coats here). I also discovered that the one I bought from Wizard of Paws is the old style - Teller's Back on Track coat was manufactured back in 2008...it's pretty non-descript - no labels, no embroidery, smaller collar flap, the new coats are MUCH better from an adjustable standpoint with a different front that I think would let me fit the coat higher up on his chest without making the neck area really tight on him...I really should have waited to purchase Teller's Back on Track coat at the cluster to get the current style - but at the time I didn't know there was a "new" and improved style available...Live and learn - for those that might be planing to mail-order a coat I highly suggest verifying that you're getting the NEW version.

Anyhow, the end result of the cluster was four days of my feet on concrete, a lot of walking, building to building, in the Mallory building, to the parking lot, course building, a lot of standing....the net result was when I got into the car today to head home my back was sore! So I tried something...instead of my usual post-trial cocktail of Aleve and Diet Coke (what's not to love about that right?) I decided to "wear" Teller's Back on Track blanket home. I wore it as a cape wrapped around my shoulders. Interesting sensation as I'm driving to I-91...a bit of a tingle - and a far warmer feeling than what I'd expect from a light-weight fabric.Its hard to describe - the warmth wasn't hot but it was remarkably soothing. I do feel better tonight even after the driving (though I am exhausted - that was a long five days on the road without a lot of sleep).

Teller has been wearing his "pajamas" every night and does seem to move pretty freely while wearing it. Teller DOES still give me that "Please Sir, Dobby does not wish to have clothes" look...Poor, poor Dobby.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Proactive vs Punitive (Repost)

This post was originally posted on November 28th, 2008 - but I recently had the occasion to think about the problem again - and decided to re-post the entry in its entirety. I'll post an update under separate cover...

I responded to a thread on one of the golden lists I subscribe to and it gave me a really good "buzz phrase" that I really like - it goes along with my theory and methods of training my dogs. There is a bit of background to this story so I'll give you the sequence of events.
The list member has a young dog (20 months or so), he has his CD and had two CDX legs - she's really been pushing him pretty hard and seems to be more proud of that he's gotten these accomplishments at a young age than she is about the titles. Which is weird and I think a novice mistake - it'll eventually bite you in the ass - it's just a matter of time. The first post was a month ago, her dog went around the high jump in training (instead of jumping back over with the dumbbell). Her correction at that time was to go to him, scruff him and really physically correct while scolding him.
Anyone who knows me knows this isn't my cup of tea - I'm not a purely positive trainer but I'm not physical with my dogs and I make darn sure that if I am going to fix something I'm careful to make sure my dogs understand what it was that I didn't like. The net result with this woman's correction was that her dog developed a fear of the dumbbell - didn't want ANYTHING to do with it. She had another show going for her third CDX leg the following weekend and wanted a magic fix for the problem. The consensus was that she needed to back way up and reintroduce the dumbbell as if it were a new thing and that she should probably scratch the trial that weekend. She did some pinch work and eventually got the dog to pick up the dumbbell, went to the show and eeked out a qualifying score.
The most recent post had to do with a practice session where her dog left her on the directed jumping exercise to go visit dogs outside the ring, played through the ring gating, then jumped over the ring gating to play with the other dogs. Her correction for this was to go outside the ring, grab her dog and do another scruff shake and yell at him. The context for this post was basically "he jumped the ring gating - I don't want him to do that when we trial" and "how do I teach him not to jump the ring gating - I wish it had fallen over and scared him". You wanted him to be scared by ring gating?
There were some people who responded with "wow, your dog is really pretty" or "he was just trying to make friends". My feeling was basically that she dropped the ball and corrected her dog unfairly AND at the wrong time. She could have called him after he took the jump, stated to lose attention, when he started running towards the gating or she could have called him as he was greeting the other dogs (before he jumped the gating). She didn't say anything to him until he was outside the ring and when she did she grabbed him and punished him. So what does a dog think in this situation - was he corrected for losing attention? Was he corrected for greeting and playing with other dogs? Or was he corrected for allowing his mom to approach him? Hummm - me thinks it might be the latter.
My first thought was "why the hell is she using physical corrections again when she knows that shuts her dog down". And then it was "wow, she really turned a proofing opportunity into a really negative thing". My point here was that she had missed the window to fix the problem before it escalated. There was a huge window of time where presumably she just stood in the ring watching her dog make a series of mistakes and didn't intervene. She didn't call him - she watched him make the mistakes and didn't take any action. Because she didn't act and his small mistake (going off-course) became a bigger mistake (greeting the other dogs) and then a bigger mistake again (jumping the gating) she overreacted and made an unfair correction.
My phrase in my advice to her was to be proactive, not punitive. It should have been training! She was practicing not training - maybe standing there like a stump is one way to handle that situation in the competition ring - it's not the way to handle that in a drop-in TRAINING session - or in a match. Honestly I'd fix it in the obedience ring too and take the "training in the ring" excusal, but the other part of this is proofing! I take every opportunity to proof for stuff like that when I'm training. I'll put Teller in stays next to a bitch in season, I'll ask him to heel past dogs he played with the day (or hour) before. I also work very hard to be more fun to work (play) with than another dog. Another dog can't tell him he's a superstar or play the hand-touch game - I can and I do. It's not all about the cookies - they don't come into the ring. It's understanding what the task is at hand and wanting to play the game - in training and in practice!
Anyhow, this is what I chewed on all day today. Be proactive not punitive, train more and practice less - and of course train, don't complain!
Pro-ac-tive: adjective serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, esp. a negative or difficult one; anticipatory:
Pu⋅nitive: adjective serving for, concerned with, or inflicting punishment
I think it's hard sometimes to see our dogs objectively - to know what is an honest mistake and know when they're being goofy dogs - either way our dogs do not choose to do these sports with us, it's something we ask them to do for us. It's our job to be "on" 100% of the time - to pay attention to what we are doing when we're working with our dogs - to hold up our end of the bargain. To that end (and because today is Thanksgiving) I am thankful for my dogs - how much of the time they go above and beyond what I ask of them. Thankful that they give me another chance when I screw up and thankful that they keep me warm on COLD winter nights. And I'd be SO VERY thankful if they learned how to vacuum and work the buttons on the washing machine - but I know that's pretty unrealistic!
Anyhow, that's the original post - my update tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Another book highly recommended by friends - shout out to Katie and Ann - was Kate Morton's novel "The Forgotten Garden". Perfect timing - I'd just finished David Baldacci's Hell's Corner and had a new road trip coming up. Perfect for a twenty hour audio book {GRIN}.

The publisher's summary was nice - sweet even:
"A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, a maze, an aristocratic family, a love denied, a mystery - The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric, and a compulsive listen about the past, ghosts, family, and memories from best-selling author Kate Morton.
Thirty-eight year old Cassandra is lost, alone, and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident 10 years ago, feels like she has lost everything known and dear to her.
But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra's life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family. Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace Rutherford - the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early 20th century - as well as a cliff-top cottage on the other side of the world, Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell, on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself."
I was due for a "sweet" chick-lit anyway, so I invested the credit and resisted the temptation to start the book in short snippets - after almost giving up on Garth Stein's "Raven Stole the Moon" - I promised myself I wouldn't start a new audio book unless I had a full two hours to invest into the novel.
Having read the publisher's description I expected certain plot twists - they weren't immediately forthcoming. Readers or listeners will definitely have to pay attention to the time contexts in the novel - particularly 1900, 1935, 1976 and 2005 - and who's point of view is delivering the story. Nell, Cassandra, Eliza, Rose - generations of women - so intricately linked in and out of time.
The Forgotten Garden is not a deeply complex novel - If you pick up this book and expect Withering Heights on the moors of England, you WILL be disappointed. However, if you pick up this book and recall that first time you read Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic "The Secret Garden" than I believe that you will love the story - slow to evolve, magically crafted and worth waiting for. Yes, "The Forgotten Garden" is suitable as a young adults' novel - but the story does not over-simplify content for a more sophisticated reader.

Caroline Lee's narration flips between Australian and English accents - including a relatively convincing Cockney. Ms Lee's narration while not as dramatic as other Audible narrators - and isn't without flaw (there are bobbles here and there) - all is forgiven and it does not detract from the story...Now that I'm shopping for my next audiobook listen I've discovered that Ms Lee has narrated all three of Ms Morton's works. I'm considering Ms. Morton's latest novel "The Distant Hours". I'd best make up my mind soon!

The Forgotten Garden was written by Kate Morton and published by Bolinda Publishing release date July 18th, 2008. The Forgotten Garden was narrated by Caroline Lee and has a runtime of 20 hours 38 minutes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Middlesex County Kennel Club

Mixed bag at the Middlesex trial this weekend. Fun courses, good A-Frame and Dog-Walk contacts from Teller - but we never really connected this weekend. I botched Saturday JWW by not supporting a line - it was a line I'd have bet he'd have found - tunnel back into a one-eighty - he didn't see it and we had a wrong course. Teller came off the teeter in Sunday STD - Sunday's JWW run would have been clean but for a bar - I don't recall the last time Teller's dropped a bar in competition. All's well - my first thought with the bar was that he wasn't feeling well - but I think it was just a mistake. It happens, I'm sure part of it is that he hasn't been seeing full-height jumps lately...Teller will enjoy the rest of the week off and we're going to try to get out for some fun runs this week!

And from the iPhone, THIS is how we roll:
Smurf and Woo on the road again..."Are we there yet?" The boys know we're off to a trial
as soon as the alarm goes off at 4am..

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Teller's "Back on Track"

I've been eyeing the canine line of ceramic fabric from the folks at "Back on Track" for a while - I've read so many good things and the word of mouth endorsements have been phenomenal - from both horse people AND dog people. Timing was right with an unexpected profit sharing "bonus" from work - so I placed an order for Teller's Back on Track coat. Initially Murphy will share Teller's Back on Track jacket - with the intention to get one for Murphy as well if it works as well as advertised and reviewed. Consider this a part one of a Back on Track review - in this part some more information on the Back on Track blankets and our initial impression of the product.

Product literature lists eight reasons to use Back on Track for Performance dogs:
* Increases blood circulation.
* Reduces inflammation and swelling.
* Speeds up recovery capacity in between competition events.
* Can prevent injury.
* Expedites the healing process for injured dogs.
* Warms up and loosens up muscles prior to and during training sessions, and allows for faster recovery after training.
* Eases stiff backs and tight muscles.
* Relaxes nervous and tense dogs.

From the Back on Track website:
Back on Track is the name of our unique range of painrelief fabric products. They have evolved from a combination of ancient Chinese wisdom and modern science as well as skilled textile production. The result is a polyester/polypropylene fabric with a ceramic powder melted into the fabric's very own weave. The ceramic particles reflect body heat as an infrared wave, a form of energy with a highly documented pain-relieving effect. This reflected heat helps to ease inflammation, reduce muscle pain and increase blood circulation. Back on Track products for dogs can be used to warm up your dogs' muscles before exercise, thus reducing the risk of strains or injury. Most importantly, the products' dual capacity to prevent injury as well as ease and expedite the recovery of already present injuries is what makes Back on Track products so unique. These products' genuine aim is to contribute towards your dog's wellbeing and good health in the easiest, most comfortable and pleasant way.
November 20th, 2010: Teller models his Back on
Track Mesh "rug". Please note the Red Roof decor.
Teller doesn't like clothes. YES he's a party boy at heart and YES he does like to be the center of attention with a flair for making that happen - but he runs hot year-round - and doesn't like to be anywhere warm at night preferring the tile floor in the bathroom to other more comfortable (softer and warmer) locations. Murphy is the opposite, he too runs hot in the summer - but LOVES his baker blanket (sheet) in the winter as "jammies" and when it's below zero he'll often balk at going out the door without his parka from Dover Saddlery. How do you spell Murphy? S-P-O-I-L-E-D.

So when shopping for his new Back on Track blanket decided to purchase the lighterweight "mesh" version of the canine "rug" - made in New Zealand after all where they take their performance horses VERY seriously. Back on Track also makes a full line of other products - including a hock and wrist wraps for canines, and for humans: socks, shirts, hats, knee wraps, underwear, ankle, elbow and gloves.

The mesh version is the same inner fabric - the heavier weight rug includes a cordura nylon shell. The actual fabric doesn't feel like anything special - a bit like polyester or rayon - in that shiny and smooth synthetic feel. It's shiny and light. Unlike the nylon shell version the mesh version doesn't have the giant red "BACK ON TRACK" embroidery on the hip.

November 20th, 2010: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Three days into 
his Back On Track routine Teller's sleeping in his new jammies.
Complete with shiny reflector! Sleeping on his own bed
by the way... 
Teller's other clothes are size 28" (cool coat and dover blanket) - both dogs actually have the same size in both products. Back on Track says to measure from the collar to the tail. The problem with those guidelines is that a collar (at least the several that I use) can be placed anywhere from just behind the ear - to at the point of shoulder/neck. Quite the variation! I ended up ordering the 31" length - which I was SURE was going to be too big for Teller, but would be the right size for Murphy. As it turns out 31" is the perfect size for Teller and a scooch tight (but acceptable) on Murphy.

I initially thought about not using the tail hole or the leg straps, but found that the tail hole is pretty instrumental in keeping the blanket in place and that Q (the cat) finds empty leg straps entirely too tempting to grab and chase Teller around....

For my anti-clothes horse I've been impressed at how tolerant he's been with wearing his BOT blanket. I have noticed that the first few minutes the blanket is on he's a little wired - moving around a lot - on leash he'll bounce. Human reports have said that "it tingles for five minutes or so" when first put on. This would explain the Wheeee! impression from Teller. I expected to find him much warmer underneath the rug - reaching my hand over his shoulder he was certainly warmer under the blanket - but not the radiational warming I was expecting...

This weekend I worked out of my car at the trial - Temperatures were in the low 40's, both boys were quite comfy in the van with the windows cracked - cool and comfy. About 30-45 minutes prior to our runs I went out, took Teller out for a walk and potty and then put his BOT rug on and put him back in his crate for 15-20 minutes before getting him out to warm up for his runs. When I stretched him out prior to our runs I found him to already be pretty loose - particularly his quads which are so heavily muscled that I often have to do a couple of rounds of stretches before I feel like he's warmed up enough to run and jump. The back on track seemed to shorten his physical warm-up routine considerably. I kept his cool-down routine the same - after each run he went for a 15-20 minute walk with Murphy and another light stretch before going back to nap. For the 3 hour drive home tonight Teller wore his BOT blanket for the ride  - napping comfortably the entire way - with a minimal amount of air conditioning to cool him.

Overall, I'm very positive on the Back on Track blanket so far....The enclosed documentation suggests taking every "third" week off the blanket to preserve the healing aspect of the ceramic fabric - so the body does not become overly accustomed to the properties of the product...That is my plan at this point. And I'm going to get Murph his own BOT blanket - To be determined whether that is another mesh blanket or if I go for the nylon version.

11/29: Update to Teller is "Back on Track": http://blog.magicagoldens.com/2010/11/update-on-back-on-track.html

Friday, November 19, 2010

Preparing to Trial - Part Eight: NERVES!!!!

So you've sent in that first entry, stamp on the envelope and signature on the check - then you get your entry confirmation: Fluffy The Dog entered in 16" Novice A Standard, 16" Novice A JWW and 16" Novice A FAST. Wow. It's kinda real now isn't it? You haven't even packed your car yet and your knees are a little wobbly and like one of my readers you're repeating your mantra "Agility is not a contact sport, agility is not a contact sport" over and over again....{GRIN}. You might even be feeling the butterflies when you're practicing - like your training has taken on a new dimension. You've entered at trial and now your perfect weaver can't find an a weave-entry to save your soul....Relax, you'll get through this! But - how do you counter ring-nerves?

You are who you are.
First, everyone is different - I spent an awful lot of time in the saddle at horse shows so when I made the cross-over to dog shows my nerves weren't really a problem per-se - but I did (and still do) have to channel my 'twitches' and honestly, I'm still not very good at waiting around sometimes. I love training - but I am so hooked on the rush of competition...As for nerves and ring nerves, I'll offer some suggestions - but you'll have to plan for what will work for you and your dog.

Play by the Rules
Know the rules and regulations of the venue that you're competing in. This is part of my nature - I'm really uncomfortable playing a game without knowing the rules. Sitting down with the rulebook and knowing everything about the game I was playing was a great relief - one of the reasons I incorporate information about rules and regulations in my classes - I think it's important to be confident in how you play the game.

Separate from your walk-through visualize everything you want to accomplish in your run. Visualize "Fluffy" getting his weave entry, now visualize your dog getting his weave entry. That which you manifest is before you - this goes both ways. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking in pursuit of your goals. No one ever gets to a MACH thinking that they can't do it...

Just breathe. Breathing is related to visualization certainly, but it's important enough to have it's own bullet-point. Breathing is especially important when you're running your course - every once in a while you'll see people come off the course having not breathed for the entire run (or most of it). {Grin} Sometimes a few deep breaths are enough to recenter - close your eyes and breathe.

Go for a walk.
Your dog needs to go out and relive himself anyway. If you're feeling a little nervous go out and blow off some nervous energy walking around the grounds. Some trial sites have some amazing adjoining trails. Keep your eye on time - but just go for a walk.

Trials run with the help of volunteers...so many of the jobs that allow the trial to run smoothly are staffed by volunteers. Know what kind of jobs you're interested in...almost anyone can ring crew (set bars, fluff chutes), leash run (walk the leash from one side of the ring to the other while the current dog is running), Score Run (bring scribe sheets to the score table) and Timer(watch the judge, tell the dog on the line they can go, repeat the dog's time to the assistant scribe).

Make friends. 
Reach out, meet new people. I always try to reach out to the "new' faces in the crowd - are they novice competitors? Are they spectators at their first agility trial? We've all been there right? With a little bit of conversation you just might sit down next to a stranger and leave with a new friend. I have some AMAZING agility friends that I have met on the road. We don't live in the same geographic location - but I love seeing them on trial weekends. How have you been? That was an AWESOME run! We laugh, we cry (at least I do when people MACH) - we share ideas and sometimes hit a restaurant on the way back to the hotel for a margarita.  What's better than that?

Old wives tale or absolute fact - it depends on who you talk to. Dogs can smell fear, dogs can smell your nervous feelings. You dog might be one that stresses based on your stress. Peppermint  might help disguise your nerves. Then again they say that bomb dogs can find explosives hidden in soiled baby diapers, wrapped in rotting fish, concealed in a lead-lined box and embedded in a concrete vault - so maybe not. For one thing it might give you something else to think about, it'll give you good breath and if your tummy is fluttering with butterflies, peppermint just might help settle it...

If it helps you to psych yourself up with "I think I can, I think I can" then do it! However if that voice starts saying things like "I think I can't" you need to stop with the mantras {GRIN}.

I hear music...
When I'm getting ready to go in the ring with Teller (any venue) - I'm usually singing a song in my head - for the same reason that headphones keep everyone out in the walk-through - I pick a song that I find motivating and up-beat and sing along - this usually gives our warm-up a bit of a rhythm.

I love my dog. 
When I get to the startline it's about me and Teller. Yes there's a judge - Yes there are spectators - probably a couple of cameras - ring crew, a scribe, etc etc etc - but it's not about them. It's about me and my dog. I'm not running the course with the scribe - I'm out in the ring playing a game with my dog. When I run a course those other people don't even exist in my sphere of consciousness.

Savor the moment...
You've earned the right to be out there. You've trained hard, you've sacrificed a lot to get to the point of competition. You've given up your weeknights and weekends, you've said "no" to non-doggie friends who don't understand why you'd rather go out and play with your dog instead of going out for thai food with the gang and you've spent hard-earned money to get here. Enjoy it. Let the course unfold as a puzzle that you and your dog can solve - and enjoy the process.

Whatever happens - and I really mean whatever happens - you still get to bring the best dog home with you. Your career is more than that one run and that one trial - there's so much more to come in the future - but for right now your dog is with you and will sleep in your bed tonight when you get home. It's all good.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: Hell's Corner by David Baldacci

I was half-way through David Baldacci's "Split Second" when I noticed that Audible (and Amazon) had released a new Baldacci novel - part five of the Camel Club series. To finish Split Second or to spend a few hours with Oliver Stone, Ruben, Annabel and the gang...no decision really, I downloaded Hell's Corner and headed back to DC with the Camel Club - split second can wait for another day.

Oliver Stone (John Carr) is back from his time in Divine, VA - leaving Abigal behind - Abigal not wanting to leave Divine - and Oliver unable to stay in Podunk USA. Back in DC the feds find Oliver and pick him up - he thinks to atone for his crimes - but as it turns out the Feds want him back.

All of the familiar camel club haunts are back - Mount Zion Cemetary, Lafayette Park, Blair House, The White House, etc. The novel starts with a terrorist attack in Oliver's Lafayette park - for which Oliver is a witness  - actually watching the plot unfold...

A couple of new characters round out the plot-line. Stone's partner in this novel is Mary Chapman - a Brit - borrowed from MI6 - who proves to be just as lethal as Oliver Stone. Funniest quote of the entire book: "She handled him like he was a pole and she was a dancer." GASP - luckily the writing got better after that!

I don't think Hell's Corner is Baldacci's best work - but if you liked the previous Camel Club novels (which I gave two thumbs up) - you'll like Hell's Corner for all the same reasons: conspiracy, double agents, secret forces, likable characters - plus the inevitable death and destruction that follows Oliver.

Narration of Hell's Corner is by Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy. I've found Ron McLarty to be an expert narrator - he doesn't detract from the story - and he blends into the background behind the story. Efficient and neat narration. Orlagh Cassidy's narration left a bit to be desired - I initially thought the female characters were computer generated - but, nope - actual narration. Ms. Cassidy voices all of the female voices - some with ridiculous accents - all of them sounded forced. Even worse were the transitions between Ron and Orlagh that were awkward at best and at worst they took away from the overall impression of the novel. I'm not sure who produced this audiobook - but I expect more from Hachette Audio.

My bottom-line on Hell's Corner: Buy the book for the story, skip the audiobook because of the hatchet (get it) job on the narration. If you MUST choose the audiobook version be prepared for the awkward transitions...

Hell's Corner was written by David Baldacci and published in audio format by Hachette Audio with a release date of November 9th, 2010. Hell's Corner has a run-time of 14 hours 31 minutes and is narrated by Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Intermediate Agility - November 18th, 2010

Last week was "skill" week - so this week is sequence week! Here's the plan for tomorrow night: RED, GREEN then BLUE.

Advanced Agility - November 18th, 2010

Two nested sequences tomorrow night....
We'll run GREEN, then flip the tunnel for BLUE.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday Training - November 16th, 2010

I was running late tonight so I decided to reuse much of the existing setup (pinwheel, a-frame and teeter) - my plan was to work contacts and weaves - as you can see that's what we did!

I had so much fun with this one - I expected a tough discrimination between the dogwalk and the jump - Woo nailed the discrimination both ways. NAILED it!  I ended up layering the weaves (and the discrimination jump) and it just worked :-) Notice the orange dog in a perfect 2o/2o!

This map looks a little messy doesn't it...The BLACK sequence gave Teller some momentum hitting the A-frame into his "Yellow". I'm at the point where I'm not doing a lot of a-frame reps anymore - but I'm really proofing it right now. I like what he's giving me.
The GREEN sequence was a stop on the a-frame and a pull to the teeter.
The RED sequence finished with a tough weave entry...Teller had the best line to the weaves when I stayed inside the pinwheel and rear-crossed the weaves. Not surprisingly if I put a front-cross between 6-7 or a blind after #5 his weave entry was SUPER ugly (though he got it).
The BLUE sequence gave us a wrap to the a-frame.

The last of our sequences tonight. Sort of "a breeze-thru". RED was a speed circle into the weaves and BLACK was just an after-thought really - one more weave entry.

All told - 5 minutes to setup, 10 minutes to work Teller and another 5 minutes to play indoor frisbee!

Preparing to Trial - Part Seven - Walking the course...

Ahhh...time to walk the course. What should you expect?

The 16" Excellent Standard Walk-Through @ AK9C
Be aware of how the classes are running and where your classes are in the running order. If your day starts with "Novice Standard" and you've got Excellent FAST, Open FAST, Novice FAST, Excellent Standard and Open Standard before they build Novice Standard you've got time. BUT - you need to be aware of how the ring is flowing. Are they building open now? How many dogs are in open? There might be 130 dogs in Excellent - but only 20 open dogs...pay attention.  You might want to watch your course being built - you could even volunteer to help build your course. Whatever you do, you want to be ready to walk the course when the judge releases it to be walked - You don't want to be surprised and miss all or part of your walk.

After the course is built the judge will walk it, tweak various lines and setup and then hold their briefing. Sometimes the judge will wheel for yardage while exhibitors are walking - sometimes they'll wheel before the briefing - it's all within the judge's discretion.

The 12" handlers walk the standard course @ HGF
OK, so the course has been built and the judge has finished his or her briefing...

Here are some "DOs"
-DO check your dog in for the run. It's distracting to have the gate and assistant scribe yelling your dog's name - and it's polite trial behavior. Don't make trial volunteers hunt you down. Most trials have advance check-in - meaning you can check-in at the same time that you pick up your number.

- DO pick up and put on your number BEFORE you start to think about walking your course - you've got to have your number on to run the course and you SHOULD be wearing your number when you walk.

- DO walk the course a few times. Remember you'll probably be nervous - you should NOT have to look at the numbers while you are running the course. Walk the course as though the numbers won't be there - KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING!!!

- DO watch the classes ahead of you - very often the Open course looks a lot like the Excellent course and the Novice Course looks a lot like Open...sometimes the Novice course even looks a bit like the Excellent course....

- DO go into the walk-through with an idea of how you want to handle various parts of the course.

- DO consider an expensive MP3 player and headphones - pre-load it with a playlist that motivates or relaxes you. I like to listen to "up" music - GAGA is one of my favorite course walking playlists - Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, Prodigy, Donna Summer, Queen - you get the idea...

Some DON'Ts
- DON'T chat with your fellow exhibitors while you're walking the course. You aren't running their dog and vice-versa - what will work for them won't always work for you.

- DON'T pay attention to the fellow exhibitor that wants to instruct you in the walk-throughs. I've never understood this - and those same people shut-up when (or if) they get into excellent - but in novice and open I remember these few people who wanted to "help" people walk the course - keep in mind that they were (or should have been) walking the course for their dogs...it's strange. Just politely ignore them - even better reason to walk the course with an MP3 player...

- DON'T mow people over when you're walking the course. Some people want to walk the course at a run - that's fine - but don't take people out or shove people out of your way. Agility is not a contact sport - it's everyone's walk-through - be courteous. And trust me - if you do that you become "THAT crazy person" and it doesn't make friends :-)

- DON'T make abrupt stops and spins. People are walking behind you, in front of you - stopping in the middle of the pinwheel makes other people have to stop abruptly too - and plus, see above - don't be a crazy person! {giggle}

- Really DON'T stop and chat with your fellow exhibitors in the middle of the course - so if you really MUST chat with someone during the walk-through or analyze strategy please don't do so in the flow of other people...your conversation impacts 30 other people - just don't.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My first agility trial....

So with so many of you getting ready to trial for the first time - I thought I'd share some pictures from MY first agility trial - which seems like AGES ago!!! Murphy was just barely two years old and with the exception of some chute difficulties (as in he wouldn't go in the chute) he did pretty well for a baby-dog!

Murph always leaves lots of room over the top of the jumps.

Over the Double

BIG AIR over the Broad Jump

Over the dog-walk.

Hanging over the panel.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What is agility anyway? Cross-posting our Pawcurious contribution

Dr. V from the pet-friendly blog PawCurious is putting on a "Blog-A-Thon" to raise money to buy (and train) a service dog for a young boy named Bradyn - you can read about him here. Dr. V's has a strong online following, thousands of daily readers and I'm happy to be able to contribute in a small way to the greater good - and really it's a super cause. Let's all raise lots of money for Bradyn!!!

My post is directed at the active pet community (not pre-existing agility adicts) and consists of two parts - first: What is agility? And secondly "is agility really for ALL dogs?". Here is my post on the PawCurious Blog-A-Thon - or you can just read on below :-)

Murphy over a double-jump.
You may have seen dog agility on TV - perhaps on ESPN's incredible dog challenge - or maybe even part of a national event such as the Eukanuba Invitational on Animal Planet. Agility on a basic level is a course of obstacles on which a dog and handler team navigate the course, the challenge of the course increases at each level of training and competition. In competition the fastest team to successfully complete the course wins! There are several different agility organizations: AKC, USDAA, CPE, UKC and a few more servings of alphabet soup for other venues. The basic equipment is pretty similar across those organizations: Jumps, weaves, tunnels, an a-frame, a dog-walk, a teeter (or see-saw) and a table. In all competition venues dogs are penalized for knocking (or dropping) jump bars, missing contact-zones (the yellow part of the a-frame, dog-walk and teeter), refusals and wrong courses.

Golden Retriever Murphy over a broad jump!
In all venues each dog's jump height is determined by his height at the withers - just between the shoulder blades where the neck meets the back. The taller the dog - the higher he'll jump in competition. There are a few different kinds of jumps - single bar jumps, double bars, triples, non-wing jumps, winged jumps, tire jumps and broad (long) jumps

Teller in the weaves
Weave poles are one of the hardest thing to teach beginner agility dogs (and their people). In the beginner levels of competition dogs weave through 6 poles - in more advanced levels dogs weave through 12 poles. Dogs must enter the weaves with the first pole on their left - regardless of the direction they are approaching the weaves - the ultimate goal is to teach dogs to find that same entry every time they're asked to weave - even when they are galloping full speed at the weaves on-course.

Murphy coming out of a closed tunnel (Chute)
There are two kinds of tunnels: Open Tunnels and Closed Tunnels (chutes). Open tunnels are 22" in diameter and come in varying lengths from 10' through 20' and can be made of any color (or colors). Closed Tunnels (chutes) consist of two parts - a round barrel type opening and a fabric skirt which the dogs must run and push through.

Regulation heights of a-frame vary by venue (and in some cases by size of the dog) between 5'0" and 5'6" at the apex. Each side of the a-frame is nine feet long and 3 feet wide. Some venues require slats. Traditionally contact surfacing (A-Frame, Dog-walks and Teeters) have been painted wood with embedded sand over an aluminum frame, though in the last few years we've seen a lot more rubber surfaced contact equipment which provides significantly more traction for the dogs - especially in bad weather. Dogs don't need to touch the yellow part on the way up - but they MUST touch the yellow with at least a toenail in the yellow part (and the judge needs to see the toenail in the yellow). Some smaller dogs will naturally run into the yellow - big dogs though often need an end behavior to ensure that they "get into" the contact zone.

A regulation dogwalk is comprised of three 12' long boards - two ramps to a center board with the center board set at about 4' off the ground. Dog-walks are relatively narrow - 12" wide. Once again, dogs must touch the yellow part of the contact as they descend the down plank.

The teeter or see-saw is also 12' long and 12" wide, the mid-point of the teeter is 24" off the ground - and the center support MUST be visible on either side of the plank. Dogs must remain on the teeter until the board hits the ground on the other end. Failure to do so is a missed contact - or a fly-off. We just rubberized our home teeter a few weeks ago - it was quite the interesting project!

The pause table is a required obstacle in the standard classes. Dogs must jump onto the table and hold their position for a count of five seconds. Sliding off the table or jumping off before the judge releases the team is a fault. Table heights vary by height of dog - in AKC the 4", 8" and 12" jump heights have an 8" table, the 16" and 20" dogs have a 16" table and the 24" and 26" jump heights have a 24" table.

That's a pretty high level overview of what the sport of agility is - what about "your" dog - would he like to play agility? Could he? Dogs of all shapes and sizes can learn agility - from the very small to the very tall all dogs can play the game. For some dogs the objectives need to be a little different - a 120 pound newfoundland will never be as fast as a 35lb border collie - the two breeds were bred for very different purposes (by the way, we probably won't ask that 35lb border collie to rescue captain and crew out of a whirling ocean). For most agility addicts, competition isn't why they play with their dogs - it's about building a relationship with your dog, spending time with other people who like their dogs and learning new things. When I step to a startline - practice or competition I'm looking at the puzzle (course) ahead of us - can we put the pieces together as a team and get through the course without any mistakes?

As an instructor, I've seen dogs make remarkable transformations once they gain confidence on equipment. The same "I can do that" attitude that a dog needs to launch over that teeter helps shy or under confident dogs become more confident off the agility field...They've learned to learn and they've learned to think! I love those lightbulb moments!

Before you start, check with your vet - most intro to agility classes emphasize skills over jump heights, but you need to start with a fit and sound dog. Make sure that your dogs nails are trimmed to prevent toe and ligament injuries. Before I start my young dogs I like to have x-rays to know what they look like orthopedically before I ever ask them to jump.

What else should I know to get started? Check out this link - Basic obedience for agility dogs.

**On a side note, I realized that I don't own (as in the rights to) many good agility shots of my dogs! I have this super photogenic dog - who's amazing in shot after shot - and I don't own any of those amazing shots! Clearly I need to arrange an agility photo-shoot with the boys to get some good shots!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunday Sequencing - November 14th, 2010

Super special edition of Sunday Sequencing planned for tomorrow. I'm going to setup Sequence #1 to start:

Then I'll need your help to clear the floor (move contacts) and setup for Sequence #2:

Four Jumps - Backyard sequences Part Seventeen

Fifty-Five degrees on the 13th of November - what could be better? I dunno, maybe brilliant sunshine and having the day off? Trifecta! The boys got to spend the entire morning outside romping in the yard - Murphy looking wistfully at the closed and partially empty pool...

After I finished cleaning the garage, returning bottles, three loads of laundry and organizing and putting away much of our agility and obedience equipment - I packed up some jumps and my weaves and headed over to the school to work Teller on turf - we won't have too many more days like this before spring! Ten minutes to setup, Ten to work Teller and another Ten to toss the ball while I packed everything back up. The end result is two VERY happy dogs gearing up for their baths and Saturday night - tripe night! .

Friday, November 12, 2010

Daylight Savings time and Off to the school...

I spent the bulk of my morning running around with various errands - snow tires, oil change, bank, etc - actually a pretty productive morning of multi-tasking - I spent the majority of my time at the dealership listening to my new audiobook (David Baldacci's Hell's Corner) and reading Microsoft Press Exam Preparation guide for MS 70-640. Yes, it's that time of year - time to re-certify!!!

Before heading into the office I decided to drop off my summer tires and pick up the dogs for a run at the school. Since daylight saving time ended on Sunday - it's been a DARK week with not so much activity for the dogs - who really miss their daily runs. So off we went to the school for some romping!
OK Lady, photo op is done, would ya please throw the ball now?
iPhone 4
Surprisingly good quality picture here I think...HDR version was awful and 
blurry - but the standard option is MUCH clearer.
iPhone 4

Happy DOG!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Advanced Agility - November 11th, 2010 - Part Two

You guys were rock stars tonight!!! Here's the second sequence we put together on the fly:

Behold the power of hydration....

I bought several bags of Sojourner Farm's (aka Sojo's) Europa (aka Sojo's Grain-Free Dog Food Mix). I've previously fed both the Sojo's complete (Ingredients: sweet potatoes, USDA turkey, whole egg, broccoli, celery, apples, flax meal, pecans, tricalcium phosphate, pumpkin, cranberries, basil, dried alfalfa, ginger root, dried kelp, zinc sulfate, vitamin E acetate, vitamin D2) and the Sojo's Original Mix (Ingredients: Rolled Oats, Rye Flakes, Barley Flakes, Ground Pecans, Tricalcium Phosphate, Kelp, Carob Powder, Parsley, Basil, Alfalfa, Vitamin D3) - but now that the boys aren't swimming for hours every day - DAMN WINTER - they're back to grain free as much as possible, so let's try the Europa formula.

Soji's Grain-Free Pre-Mix (Europa) - - Before.
Dehydrated foods fascinate me - so handy, so easy - and so good for our dogs. Don't get me wrong - I like feeding my dogs raw, but I like the flexibility I can get from using pre-mixes or bases and just meat and bone grinds (without pre-mixed veggies). For one it gives me the ability to feed pretty closely to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), but it also gives me the ability to mix up their individual meals varying the proportion of veggies/pre-mix/base to raw meat and bones.

Sojo's Grain-Free Pre-Mix (Europa) - - After
OK, back to the Sojo's Europa. When you open the bag, the fruit and veggie pre-mix look like chunks of fruits and veggies - unlike some of the finer grinds of dehydrated foods, Sojo's is pretty chunky - probably why the label recommends 8 hours to rehydrate all of their formulas.

Through the miracle of water and time - that same batch above turns into big plump pieces of Ingredients: Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Broccoli, Celery and Apples (Plus the rest of the ingredients: Whole Egg, Flax Meal, Parsley Leaf, Tricalcium Phosphate, Carob Powder, Kelp Powder, Alfalfa, Ginger Root, Garlic, Vitamin D3).

Sojo's Europa was a big hit - happy goldens - and I must say the finished dinner (Europa plus VT Raw's Turkey) was really pretty!!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Advanced Agility - November 11th, 2010

Here's the plan for tomorrow night. Run BLACK (party) then run RED (party).

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tuesday Training - November 9th, 2010

November 9th, Teller playing "Holey Roller" - after working 
You know, I'm beginning to appreciate my Tuesday nights :-) Fifteen minutes to set something up - ten minutes to work Teller and ten minutes to let the boys run around like maniacs (happy maniacs) and then we're right back home again to catch up on all the other things we need to get done every week! Lovin' it!

I'm not doing a lot of training these days - still trying to focus primarily on conditioning to get him through the winter as fit as he came out of last winter - lots and lots of ball and....well....running around like a maniac.

Here's what I ended up working tonight:

Monday, November 08, 2010

Four Jumps - Backyard sequences Part Sixteen

How about another backyard four-jump sequence? I saw these entries in the open and novice JWW this past weekend - TRICKY. Let's work them: