Archive for May, 2009

know-it-all versus genius

May 31, 2009

The difference between a know-it-all and a genius is that a genius sometimes says, “I don’t know!

I came up with this one-line zinger last year when my brother kept telling me how to read MY dogs. Afterall, he’d had two dogs five years ago and he is a know-it-all.

I’ve been working my way through the issues Bud and I face, being in the dog agility business and all, with introducing new ways of thinking to students or campers who have studied dog agility for 1-5 years.

In all of our interactions with students and campers we shamelessly use them as a laboratory for learning. I hope I will never teach a lesson without learning something about people, about dogs, about dog-sport, or about life in general. So here’s what I learned this past week.

At the start of their agility career students absorb everything they hear, probably. After a year or so they start sifting through the debris and choosing what they’d keep. At 5 years a student of dog agility will usually have established a basic belief system against which they test new information.

By the time a person drives 800 miles to study with Bud they’ve probably got a belief system that is rock hard. I’m sure he runs into these rock-hard belief systems when he travels to seminars, and I’m equally sure he just keeps chipping away until he sees a glimmer of hope that a change might be possible.

Sometimes we get a camper who has been doing agility for many years and who says, “this information was exactly what I’ve been missing — it has changed the way I do agility and train my dog.”  Just as often, however, we get a camper who knows-it-all and who refuses to allow anyone to chip away at her belief system. (Tears often ensue.)

The former is why we continue to do this. The latter is why we continue to be needed. So I guess that’s what I worked out in my brain …

swimming and the stockdogs

May 28, 2009

We have a series of 5 camps in 5 weeks, so our attention must be constantly on “what needs done now versus what can wait.”

I’ve chosen this time of year to make sure all the dogs get their wellness checks, get their teeth cleaned, and that the old dogs’ pain meds for arthritis are adequate.

Bud’s focus is on camps, facility maintenance, and Kory the wonder puppy. My focus is on camp meals, continuing business, facility maintenance, cleaning, and the remaining 9 dogs.

The hardest elements for me:  to keep focused, to keep proper perspective, and to hold the line between what parts of our place are public and what parts are private. All while maintaining my resolutions to be less judgemental, to think before I speak, and to get more fit.

Yesterday I awoke at 6am, prepped for swimming, fed 9 dogs, then took the two old Sheltie boys to the vet’s office by 7:30 for their teeth cleaning appointment. I left the vet’s office for the YMCA, arriving about 10 minutes before I usually do, and started swimming.

Instead of worrying about “can I swim for an additional 10 minutes? that would be an hour and 25 minutes!” I just calmed myself and swam, and swam, and swam. It was lovely. Then an hour of water aerobics with my Mom. Then dash home to prep for dinner.

Last night was make-your-own-taco night, so I prepared 3 meats and got them into oven-proof dishes before going to the training building to watch some agility. Kory is having some problems being over-stimulated while other dogs are running with Bud, so I worked with him a little and then brought him into the house.

At 3:15pm I headed back into Marietta to pick the boys up and to make appointments for the remaining 4 dogs for Monday. Bogie was a little groggy but could walk, while Birdie (who must have been the second in line for cleaning) was barely awake and had to be carried.

We got home by 4:30 and I started prepping the cold elements to dinner, started the oven to warm the meats, and made rice. Dinner was set by 5:50pm and campers were hungry.

I spent 30 minutes while other campers were eating, talking with Mary Ellen from Texas about the issues she’s having with her stock-dog BC. No dog is perfect and sometimes a stock-dog needs to be a stock-dog.

Dear breeders — You breed a litter of border collies and have a bossy, pushy bitch puppy who dominates the entire litter and is a bully. That does NOT make her a prime candidate for agility training, where dogs spend 90% of their training time either standing in line, walking around to potty, or confined to a crate. It actually takes more than muscle and bone to make an agility dog. They have to be able to self-calm, to accept a good bit of space invasion, and to spend endless hours bored to sleep. Please stop breeding high-drive stockdogs and selling them to dog trainers who don’t spend 12 hours a day moving stock.

In my experience with my dear Red-dog I realized too late that a dog was incapable of functioning in the presence of other dogs, that she’d never be able to focus her formidable physical skills on the sports I enjoy, and that she’d not be anyone’s companion (other than mine). Red is now my chambermaid’s companion, is my guardian, is my lifelong adoring observer. She’ll probably never be a performance dog, and that’s fine with me because I’m able to accommodate a number of dogs here.

Others aren’t so fortunate. They have room for only 1 or 2 dogs in their house. If they choose the wrong puppy, if they’re convinced to take the wrong dog, they have 2 options — give up on dog agility or get rid of the dog. Society tells us that re-homing the dog means we’re giving up on them.

I learned years ago that my home is not the best home for all dogs. Some dogs need more one-on-one time, some need more attention in general, some need more work, some need more structure.

When your home isn’t right for a dog, find a home that IS right. And don’t wait until you’ve had the dog 4 years and you feel like a failure — like you’re getting rid of a problem. Do what’s best for the dog and what is best for you.

By the way, finding a home that is right for the dog is a hard task. I’m not talking about dumping the dog at the local shelter, or passing the job onto a rescue group already burdened with hundreds of unwanted dogs. I’m talking about searches, interviews, home visits, and the real work of finding the proper home for a special dog.

The sort of work breeders should be doing, in my opinion.

Oh! Yesterday, during water aerobics, a lady swam over to me and said, “you’re into dogs, right?” I always hesitate to answer yes, because 99% of the questions that follow have to do with breeding dogs or getting rid of puppies. This question was no different, “how long does it take for puppies to be born?” I felt my blood pressure rising and said, “I’m a spay/neuter advocate and have never bred a litter of pups, so I don’t know.”

She went on to describe her son’s female dog who, when she came in heat, was allowed to stay out in the yard as before. One day a beagle arrived to service her and the son said, “well, he’s too small to breed her.” However, next morning, the bitch had been bred (how can anyone be that dumb?). Now, having done little or no health care for the female, they’re curious as to when the puppies will arrive.

“He should get her spayed when possible, if he’s not going to pay attention and be more careful with her,” I said, with a bit of an edge to my voice, “and he’s going to get an opportunity to find out how difficult it is to find homes for 10-12 puppies.” Another nearby swimmer said, “they’ll probably end up with you, Marsha, out at the shelter.”

The lady who asked the question, finding us an uncomfortable spot on which to land, returned to her place in the pool. No problem. No great loss. Last month this same lady said, “Oh, I brought a bunch of letters in for you folks to help me stuff and address — they’re letters demanding that our legislators become pro-life!” “Sorry,” I responded, “I believe in a woman’s choice and I believe that legislators should support that right to choose.”

So we already weren’t friends. <g>

Mom’s alumni banquet

May 24, 2009

Last evening I spent a few hours with my mom at her high school alumni banquet.

She graduated from a little country school which was, in it’s day, quite a facility. It combined the student bodies of half-a-dozen little one-room schools and kids were bussed in from outlying areas.

The first graduating class, 1938, was represented by a fellow who had also worked at the school for many years after graduation. He got an opportunity to speak to the assembled crowd of 150 people.

Each graduating class was called out, the attendees rose and introduced themselves, and received applause. From 1938 to 1960 when the school closed and the students were bussed even further from their homes to an even more consolidated school, people stood and were recognized.

On a series of tables nearby were framed pictures of all the graduating classes. The early years had separate pictures of each student with their name hand-printed, matted to showcase each student.

In 1944 and 1945 (the year my mother graduated), the pictures were a rather simple cut-and-paste affair, and there were fewer students. “The war was going on and a lot of kids dropped out of school to join the service,” mom told me.

Classes which started freshman year with 100 students would have 6 or 7 graduate.

The whole event was both intensely moving and mind-numbing (they finished the night with a business meeting to establish next year’s event), and I see why my mother likes to go every year.

During the business meeting they called out the names of graduates for whom they have no current address. My aunt, Betty Fall, was one of those. She and her husband have recently moved to a condo near DC and her mail had been bouncing back to them.

On the drive home we discussed Mom’s family. It’s always interesting to hear about my maternal grandmother, Belva Woodburn, who spent a great deal of time raising me while my mother was preoccupied with my younger brother.

Grandma Woodburn lived with us after becoming ill with leukemia. My mother, a registered nurse, cared for her in our home and got her to Marietta Memorial Hospital when necessary.

My earliest memories are of grandma and I walking to church and going to the doctor’s office for my booster shots prior to starting grade school.

Grandma Woodburn taught me how to do dishes and, unlike my harried mother, had time to watch me play in the soapy water, sloshing it back and forth from glass to glass.

When grandma got sicker she took her meals in bed in our family room. Her bed propped up at one end so she could sit up a little. Mom would ask me, “do you want to eat with grandma?” and I’d answer “yes!”

I’d set my plate on the bed next to grandma’s legs and it was like a picnic. I was too young to know anything of grandma’s illness, I just knew it was special to eat in there with her.

Grandma died just before my 5th Christmas. There were presents for her under the Christmas tree. At her funeral I wasn’t sure what was happening, why everyone was crying, even my Dad.

I remember vaguely someone explaining that grandma was dead and wouldn’t be back. I’m sure I missed all her special attention and, as the fourth of five children, would have taken a back seat to the more demanding siblings.

I was in first grade, with a teacher who focused a lot of time and effort on punitive measures such as getting paddled, standing in the corner, writing something 100 times, and staying after school.

I don’t remember getting punished much by my mother during that phase. Perhaps she realized I was missing grandma’s attention (now they call it acting out) and cut me some slack.

I remember one occasion where my teacher kept me after school to write some 4-word sentence over and over again. Mom showed up asking where I was and took me home.

I don’t really remember having to stay after school after that. Amazing how school rules have changed. That old hag (Mrs. Hicks — she was the worst and most dreaded of the 1st grade teacher) could do just about anything she wanted in her classroom.

When I remember that first year of school it doesn’t really surprise me that education, schooling, learning were not anticipated or enjoyable for me. I dreaded school. I delighted in every graduation. I’ve returned to my high school once. I’ve never returned to my college.

As with any butterfly effect I have to wonder how different my life would have been if my grandma had lived longer, if my first teacher had been a nurturer, if I’d been the fourth of four (instead of five) children — the baby — instead of my younger brother getting that distinction.

Bud’s Kory and his 2 minutes of stay

May 21, 2009

In just 10 days Kory has progressed quickly in his 2-minute training sessions.

What began as sit and down exercises, then tossing the kibble with “go find!” and recall to sit, is now sit/stay and down/stay training.

I generally observe from a point where I won’t distract him, at least until he gets settled in his work. Bud puts his food bowl on a deck chair, sets Kory up in a sit/stay, leaves him to walk to the chair, brings back kibble, and feeds.

Kory is about 90% solid on both sit and down/stay. It’s amazing, really, how clever this boy is. When he’s working, he’s steady and focused, all at less than 14 weeks of age.

When he’s not working, by the way, he’s schmoozing with the pack, forming alliances and posturing appeasement to the less welcoming of our dogs.

On Sunday afternoon, during our agility workshops, Kory got to stay in his ex-pen with our student, Nancy, doing a little puppy-sitting.

The rules were that, if Kory was noisy, he was told to “settle.”  When he went into his down (for “settle”) she’d count 1-2-3 and feed a treat. If the treat is given too quickly the dog assumes a behavior pattern of jump-up-on-the-pen, hear “settle,” lie down, eat a treat. Dogs will jump up just to start the behavior chain.

By counting 1-2-3 (and, later, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10) the chain is broken, the dog is holding the down, and they’re being rewarded for staying settled.

Kory did really well at class on Sunday and I wanted him ready to accompany Bud to the building for camp Tuesday through Friday.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I walked to the building mid-afternoon and there was Kory, curled up with his head touching Blue’s rear, sound asleep while Bud taught in the other end of the building.

As I watched agility I heard activity in the ex-pen. Blue was explaining to Kory that the ex-pen was for resting between exercises, not for rowdy play. She was explaining it as only a bitch can. Gently, but noisily and firmly, Blue got the message across in no uncertain terms.

Beginning today I’ve asked that some of Kory’s stay exercises include an obedience “return to heel position” as Bud brings the food back. I don’t expect Kory to have much trouble staying while Bud walks around behind him.

In other news, I’ve heard through the grapevine that HSOV’s (Humane Soc. of the Ohio Valley — Marietta’s shelter) new executive director has taken it upon himself to fire the new shelter manager.

The board of directors hired them simultaneously and they’ve both been working out of the same office for about 2 months. I try to stay out of the politics but, honestly, how on earth does this happen?

Rather than having management attacking each other it would be nice if someone at the top would start managing the staff of young men who seem to spend 50% of their time on smoke breaks and texting their friends on their cell phones.

It amazes me how some kids get by with low-paying jobs (or no jobs at all) and a $40/week cigarette habit. Who supports that habit?

private camp tomorrow

May 18, 2009

Three ladies arrived Saturday for a few days R&R prior to their private camp which starts Tuesday. They’ve played with their dogs, gone to dinner, done a private hour with me and the advanced agility workshop yesterday, and are generally de-stressing.

We went to dinner last evening and got to compare notes on our like-minded dog training ideas. Though there are many folks who refuse to believe it there’s a ton of bad dog training going on in the world.

Last evenings conversation wandered around the use of prong collars and electronic collars to control “out-of-control” dogs.

As a basic obedience trainer, faced with a multitude of people who feel they don’t need my assistance (or who would like my assistance if only I would train their dog for free), I’m shocked that there is still a belief system in place that says a dog can’t be trained until he’s 6 months old, until he’s a year old, until he’s 2 years old, etc.

I’m not sure of the source of this great advice, or whether it is some sort of ancient knowledge passed genetically from one caveman to the next, but I would ask them “WHAT?”

Do they think that a wild pack of canids leaves puppies to their own devices for 2 years and then, as if by magic, invite these vibrant, strong adolescents to join the hunt? DUH!  No, the pack trains the puppies as soon as their eyes open, as soon as they can hear and smell and see.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that as this week’s camp progresses.

Yesterday our spring workshop beginner class graduated. There were eight dogs in the first class and five attended their last workshop of the quarter. Tracy Waite stood on crutches (her daughter did all the heavy lifting for her, thank you) and instructed the group around a 10-obstacle course.

They worked through a delightful front cross, an interesting weavepole entry, a pause table exercise, and — at the end of their 2 hours — did the entire course for an admiring audience made up of family members and the advanced workshop class.

Many of the young dogs performed off lead, all were amazing in their ability to focus and work through distraction.

And every class has a star. Ours was Erica with Reine, a non-confident little black pomeranian. They ran like they’d been doing this for 5 years. The advanced students were suitably impressed.

I know that, in some parts of the world, dogs attend classes for 6 months before they get to put sequences together. I’ve been told of rally classes that run 8 weeks without a sequence being presented.

I don’t think we’d have a graduation without students completing a 9-10-obstacle course. That’s the game. And that’s where 99% of us — the duffers of the sport — play with our dogs.

I’m sure there are entire classes in some part of the world made up of very serious, world class, international team players. And they want to focus on the minutia of the sport for an entire year. They’re the top 1% of the players in this sport.

Why any training center would apply class protocols designed for the top 1% to the everyday duffer is beyond comprehension for me.

For about 5 years the premier agility magazine, Clean Run, featured articles focusing on that 1%. I would read each issue, hoping for something I could apply to my classes, to my dogs, to my teaching, to my dog-training. Nope, all border collie, world team stuff.

It would appear that I’m not alone in my desire for reading material designed to improve the odds of qualifying for the weekend duffer. Lately there’s been at least one article per magazine for the 95% of us not aspiring for international fame.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall watching instructors teach a complex, minutia-oriented, border-collie agility beginner class to the beagles and farm dogs we love to have in our classes.

Hickory, the mamma’s boy

May 16, 2009

Hickory’s been my dog for about 24 hours now. I’m doing some puppy 2-Minute protocols with him using his meals, as well as working on housetraining and getting him some exercise in the training building.

Hopefully Bud will read my blog so he knows what I’m up to. <g>  (Bud’s judging agility in Texas.)

With lunch yesterday I introduced the concept of a formal recall to a sit in front.  Hickory’s been doing downs for about 3 days and that’s become his default in the presence of food, his begging position.

I took a piece of food and taught him to follow a toss with the subsequent roll of the kibble. It took him a few tries to follow the rolling food but, thankfully, it was hard kibble on hardwood floors, so the sound helped him follow the movement.

When he was following the food nicely I introduced the recall just as he was reaching to eat the kibble. “Hickory Come!” with him flipping around and roaring back to me, “Sit!” as he approaches, and feeding the moment his butt hits the floor.

He’s really quite clever, though, and can just as quickly slam into a down as do a sit, so I’ve got to be pretty quick.

When working on sit with Hickory, the sequence is mostly “Sit!”- he sits, he eats, he lies down, “Sit!”- he sits, he eats, he lies down, etc. I’ll introduce the concept of sit-stay later this weekend.

For now, he’s a mamma’s boy. And this morning he also learned he isn’t supposed to pass through the babygates, even though he can.

We have an iron railing between the dining room and the living room, with a babygate providing the door through which dogs are supposed to pass.

Hickory (Hazard too) passes through the iron railing like farts in the wind. Hazard will always be able to do it, Hickory not so much. So today I threw a blanket over the railing and blocked passage through. We’ll see if it gets taken seriously or if it just becomes another barrier to conquer.

more thoughts on balanced puppy training

May 15, 2009

So my goal with Hickory is to do a bit of housemanners training, a great deal of socialization, and lots of ground work for obedience, rally, and agility.

My shortcomings with my last 2 dogs have been with socialization (with people and other dogs) and familiarization with strange environments.

Both have been a function of running a dog-training center, preparing to sell that dog-training center, giving up trialing while moving and setting up our new dog-training center, injuring my knee, etc., etc., etc.  In other words, LIFE got in the way of doing the right thing for my dogs.

Hopefully Bud and I can share responsibility for Hickory, with Bud managing the agility training and travel to new environments, and me handling housemanners and socialization.

Hickory needs to be walked in local stores and around trial sites.  He needs to do attention and obedience work at the park, in the tractor supply store, in the pet food store, on busy sidewalks, etc.

Maggie was pointing out that Piper had tons of obstacle familiarization but hadn’t been subjected to a lot of stress (like being in a kennel run with a bunch of barking dogs) and hadn’t met a lot of people, so he tends to shut down easily in the presence of those stressors.

The flip side is a dog who gets a lot of manners training and a bunch of socialization, but who doesn’t get to experience a variety of equipment set-ups, who trains at home (like our dogs, for example).

training for a balanced puppy

May 15, 2009

Last night at fun runs Maggie Paskawych and I got into a discussion about how we, as trainers and keepers-of-dogs, affect how our puppies will react to stress.

I took the opportunity of last night’s training session to introduce Hickory to the concept of lying quietly in his ex-pen while other dogs do agility, and while Bud whoops it up with Hazard, Blue, and other dogs.

While the other dogs were working Hickory was getting clicked and fed for lying down in the ex-pen. He worked constantly for over 20 minutes and, very quickly, learned that if he whined or jumped on the walls of the pen, I would tell him “lie down,” wait 4-5 seconds, and give him a treat.

In the end he worked for an hour and a half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as he was earlier in the week.

I’ve often thought that a lot of agility handlers encourage behaviors that are disruptive in order to avoid squelching “drive.” I’ve seen spoiled rotten dogs behaving horribly in crates and ex-pens while their handlers try to walk a course, or work as a bar-setter, or just walk to the vendors for some lunch.

We’ve had students who created such horrible crate behavior that they became pariahs at trials — no one wanted to crate anywhere near them, and everyone resented them for walking away from their noisy pack of dogs and letting their neighbors bear the brunt of the annoying behaviors.

The rule in our pack has always been that everyone gets a turn, but you must be calm and quiet when confined. The idea that a dog of mine would bark non-stop while I’m away from the crate is unimaginable.

So this led to my conversation with Maggie about training a puppy.

If you focus too much on obstacles and agility, and not enough on proper social interaction and housemanners, can you create little agility monsters?

And conversely, if you focus too much on proper social interaction and housemanners, can you kill the dog’s natural drive to work?

I’ve believed for some time that I “tame” my dogs overmuch. But can you shut a dog down in the agility ring by taming their wild side?

Or is it possible that the aussies I’ve trained in the past were just softer on the agility course, and that taming and housemanners have nothing to do with their natural boldness?

the cost of veterinary care

May 12, 2009

I hate to admit it, but I expressed a bit of irritation with the lady behind the desk at my vet’s office this morning.

After wellness checks for 4 dogs last week I scheduled 2 back for dental cleaning. I specifically asked, “how much do you charge for dental appointments?”  The answer was “about $100.”

We hadn’t scheduled dentals for awhile, so I bit the bullet and scheduled Dash (9 years, 40 pounds) and Hazard (5 years, 9 pounds) to have their teeth cleaned.

This morning I was presented with the inevitable paperwork to sign, including  required “pre-anesthesia bloodwork” for Dash — for $66.  The corresponding bloodwork for Hazard was $33 but, since she’s not considered a senior, it wasn’t required.

As I’m reading the paperwork, and complaining about the $66 charge, it goes on to say that there’s no guarantee that the required bloodwork will show existing conditions which might make anesthesia dangerous for Dash.

As I turned away from the desk I said to the clerk, “when people ask how much a dental cleaning costs the answer should be ‘$100 to $200, depending on your dog’s size and age’.  You folks shouldn’t tell people that dental cleaning is $100.”

After a few minutes in the car, where my irritation simmered, I began to question why Dash’s bloodwork would cost $66 and Hazard’s only $33.

Don’t get me wrong — I realize that bloodwork is recommended for dogs, especially seniors, prior to anesthesia. I get that there are dangers involved.

Frankly, I’ve reconsidered the plan I had to take all our aged dogs in to get their teeth cleaned as well. If the anesthesia is so dangerous for aged dogs, and the bloodwork is $66, and there’s no guarantee the bloodwork will turn up dangerous conditions, I guess I’ll just deal with dirty teeth and the possible infections.

What drives Bud nuts (among other things, of course <g>) is that this vet offers NO volume discount based on the number of dogs we have and the way we combine office visits and manage the dogs for minimal impact on her staff.

We paid over $400 for 4 dogs’ wellness checks, vaccinations, and bordatella. Two had their teeth scraped. Additionally our flea/tick preventative amounted to another $250.

There are places in the world where that would constitute a mortgage payment. So what recourse do we have?

One of us will be spending some time on the phone harvesting pricing information from other vets in the area. When we find a qualified individual with lower prices or a willingness to discount for volume, we’ll change vets.

Hickory arrives

May 11, 2009

Yesterday afternoon, while Bud drove home from Altoona (about 5.5-6 hours), my mother and I drove to Hurricane, WV, to meet Peggy Stein of Tagalong kennel and purchase Hickory.

For the first 20 minutes he whined and howled, certainly missing his litter mates, his mother and grandmother, and his human guardians.

Mom and I continued to chat, ignoring the din immediately behind us, and soon he ran out of juice. He curled into a ball and slept while we made good time north on I-77.

About 40 minutes from home I had to stop for gasoline and, when we started out again, we were being sung to. I gave a short, sharp “A!” and he immediately stopped, laid down, and went back to sleep.

When we got home at 11:00 pm, Bud came out to meet his new puppy. They spent about half an hour in the dog yard, seeing if Hickory needed a potty break. We were all in bed by midnight and Hickory, after what must have been an exhausting and confusing day, put himself to sleep with barely a whimper.

All our other dogs seem totally accepting of this baby invader. All the old girls are giving him a free pass. Red, who travelled with me to pick up Hickory, seems a bit smitten with him. She’s 5 and needs a baby boy.

We’ve set up an ex-pen and a crate near Bud’s office and his side of the bed. I expect Hickory’s transition to our home to take just a few days as he’s adjusting quickly.

The trip to Hurricane was billed, jokingly, as Mom’s Mother’s Day gift.  Five and a half hours of one-on-one quality time in my truck with me, and only about 30 minutes of it filled with whining and howling. I explained that she can’t expect a major gift like this EVERY year for Mother’s Day. This was special, clearly. <g>