Archive for February, 2009

Reading Dogs

February 27, 2009

My first article in DogSport Magazine is about to be published, and pictures of Nora with Dash and Blue went to the magazine this morning for the article coming in the May 1 publication. I hope the magazine’s readers enjoy consuming my articles as much as I enjoyed writing them.

The process of sorting through 60+ photographs to find the ones which illustrated my “7 Natural Laws of a Rally Dog in Motion” was fascinating. Nearly every picture illustrated either good movement or bad movement, either intuitively understood by the dog or not.

The pictures I chose had the clearest presentation of the rule I attached it to, and my plan was to show that Dash (a 9-year-old trained and titled rally dog) responded to handler movement quite naturally and that Blue (a 3-year-old untrained and inexperienced dog) responded to handler movement just the same.

What actually was  illustrated by the pictures, however, was a surprise. Since Blue has less hair and a nice long tail, her responses to handler movement were even more dramatic than Dash’s (he’s an aussie with lots of hair and no tail).

I sat at my desk, with my mother looking over my shoulder, commenting on the responses I saw in the pictures. It was obvious to me, by the set of Blue’s tail or the crossing of her front feet, that she has a really clear picture of how handlers move even though Nora was a young girl, a novice handler, and someone new to Blue.

My mother, on the other hand, seemed to glaze over a little with my technical discussions of Blue’s reaction time and how she seemed to get better with each picture, educating herself in handler movement at lightning speed.

I guess Mom was just thinking how pretty her grand-dogs looked in the pictures, or how several pics showed the old washing machine (we use it as a beverage dispenser) sitting on the porch of our log home. My parents built this house so Mom has a vested interest in how it looks. She thought the washer was tacky — I think it’s comical and lovely. <g>

The role of an instructor, by the way, is to be an educated and attentive EYE on your performance. To note where performance falls on the broad spectrum from “spectacular and perfect” to “absolute failure to communicate with the dog.”

I often worry that, with my obligations to old dogs, students, and family, that my trialing career in rally and agility have been put on hold. I also worry that Red, my 5-year-old, needs more training and trialing time. I need to pack her butt in my truck and travel to shows, just getting her out without putting undue pressure on her, but all of that is on hold for now.

Because I don’t trial much right now, I worry that my instructing skills will get rusty, or will be unappreciated. There’s not much I can do about that, so I’m going to stop worrying. It’s wasted energy.

In the meantime, I was really pleased to spend time with Nora and her mom, Lori, and practice my instructing skills. And I was really pleased to know my eye for performance and the dog’s reaction is as sharp as ever, even if I only get to show it to my mother who can’t stop thinking, “I sure wish they’d move that washer off the front porch!”

Taking Nora’s picture

February 26, 2009

I had a blast this afternoon, with one of our young students and her mother. Nora Price is a talented young dog-trainer who brought her little lab mix to learn agility last year. Midway through the year she acquired a pug puppy who has also done some agility.

Nora’s mother, Lori, is taking on the task of coordinating 4H dog projects and activities for our county. She and I spent some time on the phone yesterday, discussing how Bud and I might assist with the growth of the program.

As we were talking about how we can help 4H, and how 4H can help us, I was reminded that I still needed photographs of my Dash (Slydrock’s Dash For Cash CD AX AXJ RA ARCH) demonstrating my “7 Laws of a Rally Dog in Motion” for DogSport magazine.

Lori and Nora came over today and we spent a delightful 75 minutes training dogs, training Nora, and joking about our Directorial and Photographic skills.

My goal was to have Nora perform certain rally obedience sequences, demonstrating how body language affected the dog’s movement. She was to demonstrate first with Dash, a trained and titled dog, then with Blue, an untrained dog.

Both dogs performed beautifully, regardless of their level of training. Most of my time was spent getting young Nora to lighten up on “controlling” the dogs and allow them to move naturally.

That’s probably a skill learned later in life. From the point of view of the 50+ crowd, there’s a sure knowledge that you have control of nothing, also most things need not be controlled (part of “don’t sweat the small stuff”).

I think I was right!

February 24, 2009

I watched Jon and Kate Plus 8 with great interest last evening and I’m convinced I was right in my assessment of the situation leading up to the purchase of two GSD puppies. And I’m pleased I was able to look past my initial response to what must have been the real reasons for the Gosselins getting two GSD puppies.

A. The large, male puppy was named after a big, burly bodyguard in Hawaii (have you ever seen bodyguards on screen?), leading me to believe that bodyguards play a bigger role in the Gosselin’s lives than we see on the show. I’m imagining the countless nut-jobs who seek to contact this family.

B. Jon Gosselin referred to the fact that the male puppy would be a good guard dog. Hopefully the presence of 2 big dogs loose in the yard will discourage the nut-jobs from getting to the house and kids. If I were in their situtation I’d be getting big guard dogs as well.

I actually did a bit of giggling about the lack of preparedness the family experienced. About the breeder suggesting they take the two puppies that day. About the bag of puppy supplies, and the puppy stepping in his own poop, about the puppies eating toys and gloves.

I cringed less than I thought I would. References to the puppies nipping at the young children, and Aiden’s fear of the dogs, made me a little nervous for the family. The idea that the family needs protection was a little unnerving.

But, all in all, I thought it was a good representation of what a family of ANY size goes through when they attempt to get their first puppy for the kids.

I often joke, at the shelter, that I’m IMMUNE to puppies. I see the mess, smell the mess, hear the mess, and I think “I don’t want that in my house.” I’m sure that sometime, somewhere, there’s going to be a puppy face that makes me forget all about the hassle, the smell, and the mess.

In the meantime, life at the shelter and (now) watching the Gosselins raise their puppies, should be all that’s necessary to bolster my immunity to puppy cuteness. <g>

Being tolerant

February 24, 2009

Okay, so I made a resolution to be more tolerant, to be less judgemental, to think before speaking, to “edit” myself, to consider other points of view before responding from mine. Unfortunately for me and my siblings, we have a genetic predisposition to flying off the handle. If we were dogs we’d be called “reactive.” LOL  When we get together our emotions are so raw we can barely hold a conversation without scrapping.

I read a description of a reactive dog class and the suggested process is one that might help my family — start with everyone 50 feet apart, rewarding them for being in the same area without aggressing or fighting. Maybe if we start working this summer we could manage Thanksgiving dinner together. LOL

I had a breakthrough last week, though, and I wanted to make sure I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it. I saw something on television and actually considered another point of view before spouting off.

One of my favorite shows has been “Jon and Kate Plus 8.” It reminds me of life with 9 dogs, though I think 9 dogs have got to be easier than 8 kids.

I enjoyed the earlier programs more than the recent segments, with all the product placement, free vacations, and contrived story lines. I also enjoy watching “The Soup,” where they poke a bit of fun at Kate’s treatment of Jon. I figure they’re both pains in the butt at times, and the poor treatment of each other is typical of married folks who lack social skills.

The preview of tonight’s show has Kate announcing that they’re getting TWO puppies!  The kids scream with delight. Then Kate is shown carrying TWO GSD puppies away from a kennel, saying “I’ve got my puppies!” The next scene is of two puppies on the rug in their basement and Mady saying “Oh, she’s peeing!” And Kate says, “what was I thinking?”

My first reaction was, “yeah — what WERE you thinking?” Then I silently chided any breeder who would send two GSD puppies home with a family of 10. After hours at the shelter, seeing all these terrific dogs being dropped off, medicated, fed, trained, shipped to other parts of the country, all at great expense to all the shelters and staff involved, I don’t have high regard for irresponsible breeders.

But then something magical happened.  It occurred to me that this couple, with 8 kids, have had a nationally televised reality TV show for 4 years. The show producers had been rather specific about where the Gosselins live, and I bet there are gawkers, drive-bys, and perhaps even cyber-stalkers as daily events for this young family.

Then I imagined myself living out in the boonies with 8 young kids and I thought, “yep, two german shepherds running around in the front yard might be JUST what the doctor ordered.” That should keep the boogie-men away.

Hopefully dog people aren’t going to freak out as they did when President Obama said he was getting his little girls a puppy to move into the White House. But, if they do, I’m prepared to be the voice of reason. What a hoot!

Mini shelter adopt-a-thons

February 22, 2009

I noticed a few weeks ago that people react better to individual dogs, separated from the mob, than they do to large numbers of dogs together. When the SMART (Shelter Matchmaker And Rehab Training) team is working they bring dogs into a front hallway at the shelter. Potential adopters will usually stop and visit with the dogs we’re training. Some adoptions have taken place in the hallway, with dogs being presented to people by the SMART team. Some adopters will say they prefer to not even go into the big dog room because of the noise and perceived aggression issues.

It was a natural journey, therefore, to consider changing the shelter’s adopt-a-thon process. Setting a goal to make the animals more attractive and adoptable, I first decided to reduce the number of dogs and enforce a 1:1 ratio of volunteers to dogs.

Here’s how it worked before —  1) an adopt-a-thon location was contacted, room was made for the HSOV set-up,  2) eight to ten dog-walkers would show up at the adopt-a-thon site that morning,  3) shelter staff would make 2-3 trips transporting a dozen-or-so dogs and cats,  4) kids would walk the dogs around the parking lot and the store, and  5) very few animals got adopted.

Here was my plan — 1) contact a few local businesses interested in mini-adopt-a-thons,  2) create a plan and system for individual volunteers to personally haul individual dogs to adopt-a-thon locations,  3) train volunteers to behave respectfully and to be an asset to the store, rather than being in the way or an intrusion, and  4) test and monitor the constant, impromptu adopt-a-thons.

Yesterday I met with the manager of a local pet food store that provides cage space for our shelter cats, ex-pen space for some of our shelter dogs, and works closely with our shelter as well as other area shelters. The manager was delighted to provide a small space near the front of the store for an individual volunteer and a dog or two.

This morning I arrived at the shelter having done an mental inventory of the available shelter dogs. I wanted a dog available for adoption (we have 20+ dogs leaving for New England shelters and rescue organizations tomorrow), I wanted one I could manage (my knee injury forces me to limit myself to dogs less than 40 pounds), and I didn’t want to take a little puppy. My choices included a little black lab mix who was extremely shy and a rotty mix who was very well behaved.

Imagine my pleasure when I walked into the shelter and found, in the little-dog room, an 8-or-9-pound terrier mix who had just been surrendered to the shelter. She was too recent an addition to be slated for the rescue transport, she was well-endowed in the cute department, and she was just the right size for this lame handler.

In addition to “Gretchen,” the shelter staff called We Luv Pets and discovered they could make room for some of our cats. We loaded 3 cats into a carrier, loaded Gretchen into one of my crates, took volunteer applications and some treats, and headed out to We Luv Pets.

When I arrived they’d set up a chair for me and asked if I needed a table or anything else. They had a cat cage all cleaned and ready for the cats, and were incredibly welcoming. While Gretchen and I settled in the manager cut fleece fabric to create hammocks in the cat cage.

I spent a really pleasant 2-hours in the store, schmoozing with customers, talking about shelter dogs, showing off Gretchen’s new tricks (she learned sit, sit-pretty, and dance in about 5 minutes) and generally being goodwill ambassadors for the shelter.

We cleaned up our area and headed back to the shelter. Gretchen was exhausted and I was very happy with how the non-event functioned. The new shelter manager, Sue Goff, decided that she’d go back to We Luv Pets on quiet afternoons and take one of the shelter dogs along with her.

I’m hoping this becomes an even better relationship, between us and this pet-food store. They compete with a nearby Petland that sells dogs for big bucks, so I’m hoping folks will see the benefits of visiting We Luv Pets instead.

Shelter call lists

February 20, 2009

As the new volunteer coordinator for the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley (HSOV) I’m doing a good bit of “inventing the wheel” for our shelter, designing systems to make life easier for folks who need asssistance from volunteers. I’m also wanting to limit the number of times volunteers get contacted via e-mail for jobs not on their “I-like-to-do” lists.

The plan I’m working on today is a series of Call Lists, using FileMaker Pro software. I’ll enter each volunteer’s contact information and note their preferred tasks on a spreadsheet. The previous coordinator put all this information on Excel but, to use the spreadsheet, you have to tab all the way out to the right to get the task, scroll down to find an “X” in that column, then all the way back to the left to pick up contact information, then tab all the way back to the right, finding the correct column, scrolling down some more, etc.

If I manage to lose track of the correct column after getting contact information, I must go all the way to the top of the document to pick up the correct column heading before starting the process again. I’m not a big fan of Excel, though I’m sure there are probably methods (given a week or two of study) to make that software work for me. FileMaker Pro, on the other hand, is just too darned easy and you can fit everything on one page, so I’m going to spend the time entering all the information AGAIN.

My database is going to include the volunteer’s name, address, e-mail (though folks around here don’t check home e-mail as often as in urban settings, where lots of our customers actually forward home e-mail to work during the day, or respond from their cell phones), telephone, and age (we have a lot of kids filling out volunteer forms). I’ll have all the volunteer form’s specific skills listed and will check those applicable. I don’t intend to go to the trouble of entering ANY information for minor children. No one is going to call a kid at home to get them to the shelter to assist with cleaning, painting, grooming, etc. I’m not sure why anyone has them complete a volunteer form, other than to get Mom or Dad’s signature on the waiver.

I’ve actually re-created the volunteer application to change it from a 3-page form to a 1-page form, but mine isn’t being used widely yet. Oh, the trees cut down for the sake of volunteer forms and useless waivers.

What I’d actually prefer is that people wanting to volunteer at the shelter be given my name and e-mail address — maybe even handed the shelter phone with my number dialed — and that they contact me to discuss their skills and level of commitment (hours a week, hours a month, walked-in-once-and-may-be-back). During this conversation I can get an impression of where their skills might best be put to use, and whether or not we can count on them for regular visits.

As with most situations, there’s a bit of salesmanship that needs to be applied to volunteers. Shelters generally suck at this but, when someone expresses an interest in volunteering, they should be made to feel neededwantedvaluable – and shouldn’t just be asked to sit down and complete a 3-page form. Here’s an analogy most of us will relate to.  They should be treated like a person who meanders onto a car lot “just looking” for their next vehicle. Salespeople know this rule and shelters should learn it: don’t let that person leave your shelter without making them feel important to your operation, and without a specific commitment to return on a specific date to do a specific job.

And, if volunteers were asked to contact me, we’d be handling fewer bits of information. A committed volunteer will appreciate being given a specific name, e-mail, telephone to get started with their involvement. A non-committed volunteer, who doesn’t really intend to be called upon to help and wants to wander in every 30 days or so, won’t go to the trouble of calling the volunteer coordinator.

Not that we don’t want these folks to help, but my task is to coordinate volunteers and I want a nice, tight group of committed folks. Coordinating volunteers is like moving and guarding prized stock. Non-committed or casual volunteers (includes most children, who are carried hither and thither by their school schedules, extracurricular activity schedules, and parent’s schedules) are like a flock of birds circling overhead. It’s nice that they’re sticking with us but I’m not going to expend energy keeping track of them.

While I’m here in relatively warm Ohio, entering data into FileMaker Pro, Bud’s in Wisconsin (brrrrr…) doing a seminar today at a little training center he’s never visited before. They’ve never been introduced to Bud’s style of handling, intuitive movement the dog cues off of, so it should be interesting to hear if they accept or reject the premise.

Tonight he drives a short distance to present teacup handling. I believe this weekend’s event is a teacup seminar / trial combo where folks run a course, do handling skills on that course, re-set equipment, run a game, do handling skills on that game set-up, re-set equipment, etc. It’s a fabulous way to introduce folks to teacup agility and allow them to earn qualifying legs while learning the rules and handling required.

In the meantime our home is very much quieter without the two young, noisy girls Bud’s got with him on this trip. Hazard, a sheltie, feels she must be heard pretty much whenever she moves. And Blue, probably a JRT mix, feels barking is the only reliable way to get what you want from people. When they’re gone, the old dogs and I are all more relaxed and the house is considerably quieter.

Last night’s fun runs were attended by just 2 students and 3 dogs. A large group of students were here Tuesday night for a private lesson and yesterday’s harsher weather meant most of them stayed away from fun run night. Beth drove an hour and 15 minutes each way, bringing Coda and Huey, and Maddie came from 5 minutes away with Brandy and her new puppy, Max. Maddie’s mom and cousin attended as well, and I tried to convince them to sit in “bar setter” chairs placed out in the building so Maddie could practice getting Brandy’s attention when distracted, but they didn’t last long in isolation.

It didn’t help that 2 of 3 dogs decided to take a poop in the building during their runs. I don’t blame them — long drive, complete darkness outside, cold north wind blowing, snow swirling — I’d poop indoors, too.

But we all had a nice time and got to spend some time discussing strategy, rather than spending all our time on handling. Strategy is the more advanced topic and, in large groups, is addressed less often. With a small group we can present several strategic options, try each of them, and then pick the option with the most reliable results. Since Beth had driven so far I wanted her to get a good lesson.

teacup agility and c-wags agility

February 19, 2009

I’ve had “big” dogs for years and had no idea what little dog people were talking about when they complained about big-dog predation on their dogs. Though I do remember that Banner was a bit intimidating to a little dog that had the misfortune to be positioned next to her in long sits and downs 12 years ago, while getting her CD. She didn’t get up and move toward the little dog, she just stared.

When we got Hazard, however, I got to see firsthand how predatory big dogs are towards little, hairy dogs. And how the comments from big-dog people regarding, “my dog just thinks she’s a toy” could be perceived as insulting.

When we first moved here Hazard was 3 years old. Bud would take her to the building during classes and sometimes tie her to a cleat on the wall while big dogs were working. She was rushed and intimidated so many times that she, for a period of several months, refused to do agility in our own building. Instead she would hide under a chair or jump into my lap.

When I attend TDAA events I’m convinced that this is, indeed, THE venue for little dogs. The environment is safer for them, the other dogs less intimidating, and the equipment is sized just right for their physical attributes. AND they’re faced with equivalent challenges as the big dogs face in standard agility.

Shirley Ottmer’s C-Wags agility program is going to be the closest venue to TDAA, with its focus on games, but for all sizes of dogs. We’re looking forward to seeing this new venue during its birth and early years!

Asian Ladybug Blues

February 17, 2009

These asian ladybugs are so disgusting. And they’re all over my house. When we used to visit Mom and Dad in this house I’d see these horrible creatures crawling in windows, on lamp shades, everywhere. I’d think “Man, if I lived here those buggers would be GONE.” My Mom would say, “you can’t get rid of them.”  I’d think, “just watch me!”

When we actually moved here I had a cleaning frenzy, sucking hundreds of bugs into my sweeper. And Bud cleaned up piles of wood in the basement, uncovering ladybug nests and clearing them out. That fall (2007) we had the house pressure washed, all the cracks sealed, and new stain applied.

I thought, “Great! This should fix the problem.”  NOT

Here it is, February 2009, and — just like my Mom told me — I can’t get rid of these buggers. So today I decided to actually spend some money on the problem. Gardner’s Supply catalog has 2 products for cluster flies and asian ladybugs. They’re traps filled with finely-ground egg shells in which the bugs “drown.”

According to the sales pitch the traps last 2-4 years and capture 1,000 to 2,000 bugs each. For 4 traps (2 of each) we’re going to spend nearly $95 but, if I can go a few months without my skin crawling from ladybugs, without flies and ladybugs all over the big, arched windowsills, it will be worth it.

I don’t really believe the 2-4 year thing, but we’ll see. My calculations have them filling in less than a year, but perhaps I’m going to be impressed with how well something works.

If they work I wouldn’t mind replacing them once a year. Like most folks my age I’ve learned that a paragraph in a catalog can be written so that an item looks incredible. “Incredible” being the operative word there — unbelievable might work as well. The traps are due to arrive in the next 2-4 weeks, will be installed immediately, and I’ll be reporting on my blog as to their effectiveness.

In other news, I’m attempting to re-create my “Go Rally Training Manual” and “Go Rally Notebook” figures on my new computer. Every couple of years we have to get new computers, for whatever reason, and — regardless of what brand or what operating system — my work is almost always non-transferable.

This latest switch involved going to a Vista operating system and PageMaker (my favorite publication software) isn’t supported by Vista. So the Adobe folks sold us InDesign, the PageMaker look-alike which IS Vista-compatible. Bud had already transferred all my PageMaker documents to my new computer and — voila! — none of them will open, of course.

So now I’m left with a puzzle. I can recreate about 6 months of work, using new InDesign software, on my new system and publish “Go Rally Notebook 3,”  OR  I can set up my old PC and work on it. Since my office is right off the dining / kitchen area in our house, having 2 computers set up all the time is not feasible. So, to use my old PC I’d probably have to work in the basement.

I’ve decided to bite the bullet and just re-create my previous templates and figures. The task is so daunting I’m considering an entirely new approach to the “Go Rally Notebooks.”  In notebooks 1 and 2 I used APDT rally signs, though the training manual actually addresses skills rather than venues.

So the question before me now is this — how do I create future notebooks without using a particular venue’s signs? I’ve considered creating generic signs which allow instructors from numerous venues to place their sign where I’ve indicated with the generic sign. For example, my sign might just say “call front, finish left, halt” thus combining the AKC, APDT and C-Wags versions.

Okay, so that means I have to invent teeny, tiny versions of about 100 signs. Better get started …

Back to the home front, I’ve purchased black-out fabric with which to line all my curtains. When my parents chose the construction package for this house the salesman should have said, “this house should face south.” Our house faces east, which means NO ONE sleeps soundly past 7:00 a.m. as the sun is beating in on your face. In the winter it’s just overly light in the house. In the summer it’s boiling hot in the house by noon.

And the kitchen windows and doors face west so I have to crank the air conditioning up to keep campers from boiling away while they eat their dinner. The kitchen should have faced north while the living room windows should have faced south. I’m going to try to remedy some of this with black-out drapery liner. I figure that’s cheaper than having the house rotated.

If I can block some of the light, and get rid of the bugs, two major irritations will be out of my life. And isn’t that what progress is all about?  Minimizing irritation and maximizing comfort are my life goals right now.

Oh yeah, and making all those little signs and handler/dog figures for “Go Rally.” [sigh]

Shelter adoption policies

February 17, 2009

Erica made an interesting point in her comment, seen at the bottom of my previous post. She pointed out that breed rescue groups often have strict adoption guidelines, they know the characteristics of their dogs, and they control who gets those dogs.

Our little shelter doesn’t do a great job of screening adopters. In fact, sometimes they don’t screen adopters at all, nor do they always check references. And there are so many types of adoptions and so many fee levels, it’s nearly impossible for matchmakers to inform potential adopters as to what they would owe for a dog or cat.

1. If it’s a puppy or kitten, you’re permitted to pay for it and take it immediately without any guarantee it will be neutered.

2. If it’s an adult dog and they know you, you may adopt without any guarantee it will be neutered, though you get a discount certificate for the surgery.

3. If it’s an adult dog and they don’t know you, they sometimes require that the dog go to your vet for surgery, and that you pick them up at your vet’s office and pay all costs.

4. If it’s an adult dog and you live out of state, you may adopt by making any donation to the shelter. No set fee, just a donation.

When I hear these various fee explanations my mind is boggled. And the fact that they do no checking of references ensures that some unknown percentage of shelter dogs probably end up in bad or horrible situations, whether stuck out in ayard (hopefully with a dog house), running loose, or in a puppymill.

I’m not sure if this situation exists because of laziness or poor management or poor policy. Perhaps it’s like the “feed all dogs once a day regardless of their age, and feed all dogs 9 cups of food regardless of their size” policies — old timey.

Here at Country Dream we’re having a private lesson sale. And there’s $65 in our beautification fund already! Certainly not enough for a truckload of gravel but I’m going to get started with my order of evergreens and ground cover plants. Ooooh, so exciting!

Bud’s telling me my 2-Minute Dog Trainer Sport Foundation packet will be on the website any minute. He’s been wrapped up in a project selling comic books, but those go into tomorrow’s mail so hopefully my project is at the top of the list.

Not your typical shelter problem

February 15, 2009

What’s a shelter to do when too many people want the available dogs?  We’re having a bit of conflict at HSOV regarding adoption versus transport to other shelters and rescue groups and, having rambled my way through this issue in prior blogs, I’m suggesting a possible solution.

I think and rescue transport are the best ideas since sliced bread. But what happens when a terrific family-of-5 comes into the shelter looking for a pet and finds 20 kennels, housing great dogs, with big blue “not available for adoption” signs glaring at them because shelters in New England have made room in their shelters for a bunch of our dogs.

HSOV’s transport and rescue coordinator works tirelessly to find reputable rescues willing to take large quantities of dogs, opening up kennels and puppy pens for the influx of unwanted animals in our county. But how big a deal is it for “labrador retriever rescue” if they get 4 dogs instead of 6 because 2 have been adopted locally?

I’ve been told that breed rescues get ouchy about this, having gone to the trouble of finding foster homes and families for the dogs via their network. Having been a rescuer of dogs for about 22 years I’m keenly aware that — if I want a particular dog in my home — I’d better move swiftly to acquire that dog and get it out of the present situation.

So I’ve proposed to HSOV the following idea … instead of a sign that says “not available for adoption” on the pens of dogs slated for transport, how about “Available for adoption until ___(date), transport to rescue scheduled for ___(date), please let shelter staff know if you’re interested in adopting this pet. Thank you! HSOV”

This might lend a sense of urgency to the adoption process, would give transport folks time to finalize their list of animals, and would assist those of us training and matchmaking dog in determining if a dog really IS available.

Following is a success story !!   Reggie, a rotty or dobie mix female, had been at HSOV since August. She’d been adopted once and returned, so essentially had been at our shelter for 6+ months. A fellow in Pennsylvania saw her picture (even though she was misrepresented as a cattledog mix) and liked her. He and I chatted on the phone and he planned a trip to Marietta yesterday, 2/14, to adopt Reggie. He was then going to take her with him to a second shelter and see if another dog he wanted got along with her.

Well he arrived Saturday morning and met Reggie. And he also saw Reese, a like-sized male mix-breed. He decided to take both of them for a little walk to see which would work best for him and discovered that the two dogs LOVED each other. They bounced around and played, discovering a lovely doggie relationship, so he decided to take them both! Those of us who have worried about Reggie, have shifted her from the dangerous corner kennel to a quieter spot, have trained her and walked her, are delighted that she and Reese have found a home and found each other. What a great Valentine’s Day  gift.

Today we’re having our last agility workshop for the winter session. We have 7 people scheduled here for advanced training from noon-4pm, and 4 for intermediate training from 2-4pm. I’m encouraging all my intermediate students to move to advanced for next session, so we’re going to integrate them into the advanced group today.

Our spring session begins March 8, with 6 workshops in 3 months (March 8 and 22, April 5 and 26, May 3 and 17). I’m really pleased that our workshops are as well attended as they are, since I spend little or no time marketing them or selling slots. I am, however, going to do e-mails to all our spring-and-summer students (those fragile creatures we haven’t seen since the first frost) and let them know that registrations have begun and working slots are limited.

In the meantime I’ve got 3-5 folks from an hour away wanting to enroll in the beginner workshops for spring. They’re 4H enthusiasts and, true to form, are interested in starting training in March for competition in August. A serious child exhibitor certainly needs to be training year ’round, but 4H seems to not really encourage serious child exhibitors. Instead, 4H seems to encourage “dabbling” — kids can do various projects, from pigs to silk purses, without ever really delving too deeply into any one project.

I know it leads to some pretty stressful performances in late summer but perhaps the stress is MINE, not theirs. As their instructor I find myself cringing inwardly when I see lack-of-relationship errors in 4H teams. It goes counter to our training philosophy, that dog training is ALL about relationship. And I wonder to myself what message is being transmitted to the kids about their relationship with dogs, versus their relationship with pigs, chickens, rabbits, cows, corn, potatoes, or squash. I guess I’d feel differently about this if I were a chicken-trainer or a potato farmer.

Regardless, I’ve given up on the idea of influencing 4H kids to train year ’round. Even if they get enrolled their attendance is sketchy, with conflicts during the week with basketball, band, etc., and conflicts on weekends with homework, video games and family activities. My instruction has changed as well, and I ask them at each class, “how many weeks until your competition?” I make extra homework assignments and try to encourage them to be as prepared as possible. (If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one to hear it, does it really make a sound?)