Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oh Banchor...

 Hello, Little Boy. It's been too long. I'm sorry for not letting myself think of you much this past year. I thought that eventually it would be easier, that I would be able to think about you without missing you so much, but it seems there is still that space in my heart that will never completely fill. A girl's first dog is like that, I suppose. 

I remember being 12 and crying at the thought of you being gone someday, wishing it would never come to pass. I told myself then that it was years away, and that when that day came, we would both be ready and it would be OK.  The idea fell into the back of my brain, categorized as a "never" event on the spectrum of Things That Happen In Life. When you're 12 that's how you deal with scary things. 

But then I was suddenly 26, never was now, and it was not OK. The 'right' thing, yup. But not OK. One of the saddest moments in my life was this time last year when I learned that my impossible wish made as that 12 year old, that you could live as long as I would, was not going to come true. And one of life's hands most unfairly dealt: that I should be the one to make to make this decision ultimately- me, the one who loved you most and wanted you to be gone the least. But thank you for making it easier, like you always did in life. You showed me it was time, so I could have some relief in that regard.   
A little more tired, but so YOU still

It's more sad because we had such an amazing time together. It was pretty perfect, so I hated all the more to lose what we had. I hated losing you to some unnamed illness and having a year of sad memories. But I am eternally grateful for the memories from before that time. Now, a year later, I am finally beginning to be able to focus more on those wonderful experiences and less on how you were sick. For the first time in years, since you started to age noticeably, I can remember what you were like as a baby and what it was like to run with you as a young dog.
Banchor and Tory, brothers if not by blood
I appreciate the amount of heart you had and that you always gave everything you had in the game we played. You were a little 14 inch boy, running against these comparatively monster Shelties, but you often still won anyways.  (Your thinking you were a Border Collie probably had something to do with it.) Of your many accomplishments, I am most proud of your showing at the 2000 USDAA Nationals. You were having the weekend of your life and hit the Aframe wrong on the second to last day. You ran the rest of the day like a  trooper, but I know you didn't feel right. I pulled you from everything but the Grand Prix Finals. We went into the finals in first place and it was a 'run clean and win' situation. The refusal was my fault. You did exactly what I asked. At the time it was a very painful thing to think about; it had been 'our year,' but I now know, regardless of final placement, that I had the best little dog there.

Lexington 1999
I loved your natural running Aframe. So much more now that I know the trials of trying to actually teach it! I miss the ease of running you in general.  You may not have had a lot of skills, but you got the importance of teamwork. With that, everything else just sort of fell in line for us.  I think people are still pondering over our lines of communication- especially in Gamblers. My pegged-on-the-line, arm-waving and yelling style was understood only by you.

Happy boy
I miss your unintentional comedy. I still crack up thinking of you stealing the entire angle food cake from the counter and eating it ALL, then poking your belly later as you lay on your back like an overstuffed turkey.  Or the time we were shooting that commercial. You were annoyed by all the retakes and eventually gave up to go join the volleyball game at the other end of the park. The time you helped Runner dismember the rabbit is still disgusting, but the look on your face; when did you ever look more please with yourself?

Eating tasty fake snow to celebrate at Lake Placid
Mostly, you were the perfect first dog. I credit you to our success and to giving me a love of agility. More than that though, you were a good companion to me. Whatever I did, you were game for, whether it be practice, having drinks with my friends, or napping.  You were not demanding or fickle and you were never fazed by anything (except thunder).  And whenever I was sad, or sick, you were there. No dog has ever been quicker to comfort me than you. I can only hope I repaid you in kind.

Because I was a bratty teen when we ran (and I certainly didn't have the perspective that I have now) I probably didn't tell you quite enough, so let me say it now: Good boy.

I miss you.

November 21, 1993-December 31, 2009
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. But do be sure to hug your dogs as you ring in the new year.

(The rest is just for me to have... I found myself forgetting these things, so I wanted to have a record, somewhere.)

2004 MACH (Wow I think this took five years!)
2003 GCH- Gold; SACH-Gold
2002 LAA Bronze- 3 Qs short of LAA Silver!
2002 FMCh
2001 ADCH Silver
2001 SCH-Gold
2001 NATCH- Superior
1998 ADCH

Moments of Brilliance:
USDAA Top Ten in multiple categories in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 (As of 2010, still ranking 17th for Gamblers in Lifetime Standings and he retired from Championship in 2004!)
1997- 1st place Round One of Grand Prix at Nationals
1998 DAM Team Nationals:  2nd place Team overall, highest pointed dog in tournament overall with two individual wins
1999 2nd place USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility
                1st place NADAC National Championship (1st place Team)
2000 6th Place USDAA Grand Prix of Dog Agility
                                1st Place Individual Snookers
                1st place NADAC National Championship (1st place Team)
                1st place ESPN Great Outdoor Games Small Dog Invitational
2001 2nd place NADAC National Championship
                4th place ESPN Great Outdoor Games Small Dog Invitational
                1st place Lexington Steeplechase Regional 
Frequent finalist in Grand Prix Regional and Steeplechase competitions (including Steeplechase Nationals); including multiple 1st Place finishes.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do You Dream Agility?

I had a dream recently that I was running a Grand Prix round at the Nationals. It was so real! I walked the course, sat and watched the course eat dogs alive, then walked a mile and back to get The Dog. Then we rocked it! I woke up with a start, a bit breathless, and thought "THAT was a fun course. We need to try it for real."

So I designed it on paper as best as I could. Granted, the dream course had the tunnel nearly IN the poles so it is significantly easier on paper.  Also my Word program is not exactly the Clean Run Course Designer.  Close enough though:

So what does this mean? Dog agility isn't in the dream dictionary. If you dream up a full fledged realistic course are you meant to be a judge? Or, if you run it well, are you oozing confidence in your team via your sub-conscience? Am I telling myself I do this TOO MUCH? Not enough? Or desire MORE from it?

Or maybe I just had too many Christmas cookies before bed. Either way, I have our next practice course ready to go, so thanks for that brain, no matter what you're trying to tell me from your deepest recesses.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Because I Failed At Cards...

I want to make sure everyone received the good Holiday Vibes I sent out yesterday. I will continue to send these throughout the week, so don't worry if you haven't felt it yet- I am sure the airwaves are inundated with good vibes at this time of year so transit may be a bit laggy. Rest assured though, we wish you ALL a warm holiday season and hope you already experienced a cherry Christmas.

At the very least, we want you to feel as though you've been a part of our holiday exploits. Enjoy!

Holly jolly ornament to get you into the right frame of mind...

A happy little Go Dog showing off her favorite presents from Boyfriend and a festive new bow:

Posing with her new doppelgänger Pillow Pet.
Yes, I really, REALLY wanted a Pillow Pet.
This is awesomeness defined for me.

The 1000th iteration of an effort to get ONE nice holiday shot of all the girls together. This is the best. Ugh. Lacey either stared at the camera in mortal fear or gazed into oblivion. Thought oblivion was more Christmasy.

Black Dog being So sweet and keeping her mom company. All night. And trying to bite anyone who attempted to usurp her position. Truly the meaning of Holiday Spirit.

Holiday Cat! Quite cute when not trying to maim and destroy.

And here is The Dog gearing up for playtime with our new toy that Santa brought. She thinks it is slightly better than the bath kit she also got.

May this be the first of many automatic downs!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Songs for Dogs- I get all philosophical here.

We've played this game for all our dogs for as long as I can remember: If the dog was a song, what song would they be?  In other words...Rather than try to understand the minute neural firings and cause and affect implications that drive the thought process behind their behaviors and moods, we try and think of our dogs as a whole and guess what song they might have as a driving force instead. In our imagination, this song IS their thought process, and it plays through their brains like a chain of thoughts would in yours or mine.  When we think we've got it, it helps us understand what they output in life a little bit better .

We've had a John Denver song, "Wild Montana Skies," one "Flight of the Bumble Bee," and one "Happy Birthday to You." These songs are so the very definition of these dogs, musically, lyrically, in body and meaning that if you've heard them before, I think you would really understand the kinds of dogs we had. 

And whyyyy am I thinking about this now? I had a REAL practice tonight (finally, yaaaaay!) and ended up running all three of the girls: White, Black and THE Dog. It's been awhile since I've run them in succession, so I had fresh eyes ideal for comparison. So naturally during my long drive home I fell into thinking about the differences between them. On the surface, they seem more or less alike. Three bratty, excited, eager border collie girls looking for a good time but after all that they are still so different to run. It got so complicated trying to weed through the "why?" and "why nots?" that I gave up and switched over to our old standby game- what are their songs?

White Dog. I love to run her. It's ... easy- I'll say it! Just be honest in your handling and you have a girl who will seem to read your mind.  She is better than predictive texting while driving (not that I do that).  Her song would be the duet by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, "Islands in the Stream." It's simple, but there is a depth to it that is kind of beautiful. You appreciate the two separate parts coming together for a brief time. It's nice and classic and makes you feel good. 

Black Dog, on the other hand, is new and fresh and fun. She IS pop, constantly keeping you on your toes. I wouldn't say she is difficult to run, but she has some 'rules' to be followed.  It's more complicated, like using a mixer instead of just playing acoustic. And it's fast. But there is an upbeat rhythm you can dance to. Warning though- if you are going to try and keep up with her beat, be prepared because you'll fall out of sync pretty quick if you aren't up to it her pace. So for her? Usher all the way. I'm going with his new song "More." Because that's what she wants.

 And then there is THE Dog. Ever heard of this little ditty called "The Planets?" Yeah, I DO mean the full orchestral suite from Holst.  She is complex in all parts of her life. She shifts, from one movement to another, sometimes so subtly you might miss it. There is a range of emotion to boggle the senses. Some parts evoke beauty and some are just plain ugly (usually this is the tunnel vortex syndrome).  There are rules: note for note, one must play with technical precision.  Down to the shortest 'ting' of a triangle, you have to play every second. No forgiveness, only a sour chord if there is a mistake.  But if you can master it you can have something wonderful.  You've just got to go through some Mars to get to Jupiter though.
So what about your dogs? Having an issue understanding their motives, or actions? Well, try and play our game.  Figure out the tune stuck in their heads and maybe you can get inside there for awhile!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Plan of Attack

Time for some strategy. We've got a show coming up and then it. Just. Doesn't. Stop. after that. So. Obviously we don’t want to wander into 2011 unprepared so we have to figure out our plan of attack. First step: Define optimal targets.

The Dog met and surpassed every milestone I had set for her last year, accomplishment-wise. This means we get to coast next year. No goals! Yay!  See you in a year!

Just kidding- I'm not quite that lazy. Though I think that having the trialing goals that we did lent to some of the problems we were having (emphasis on maximal qualification equals doing what it takes to get by, not what it takes to be awesome). So next year we are really aiming for quality not quantity.
Performance over milestone.

The Dog is 10 various Qs away from her Bronze ADCH.  Definitely a goal. Beyond that, she would need a further 45 for her Bronze LAA which is probably doable.  Not going to worry about it though. I don’t trust myself not to get hung up on it and fall into The Trap again, so I will hold off on obsessively tracking results in hopes that it will just happen and that I will get a super surprise. (Does USDAA mail cakes along with the LAA certificates???)

I want to qualify her for the USDAA Nationals.  We need to try that again. Also going to hit the close Regional for fun.  In those I want to… compare. I think that is reasonable!

I think more than anything I want to see if I can break her into the Top Ten in something (I'd like it to be Standard, but I am not too fussed.) at some point in the year... or the year after (let’s call this the Long Term Goal). If she keeps picking up in speed this should be realistic to work towards.  I think it is a great goal for us- not just about qualifying, but about being competitive.  Seems to be in the spirit of the whole Project.

I haven’t told our Number One Travel Companion (mother) this yet, but I kind of sort of want to go to the AKC Nationals.  We never did end up taking our boys there because, while they were awesome, fast boys, they didn’t fit the AKC requirement of consistency. (50% weekend? Yep. 75%? Maybe. 100%? Nope! Never!)  Meanwhile, our girls are pretty consistent and I think we could actually stand a chance of qualifying  in 2011and not having a miserable time there! So I will sneak the Experience onto my list of goals- maybe we will blog live from the 2012 AKC Nationals?
Lastly… show in obedience. Ugh, talk about new frontier. That will be scary! I have to psych myself up for it so I don’t psych The Dog out.

Second step:  We need some clever tactics for meeting those targets.  

For one, we will continue our obedience classes. I may try and schedule some privates; we have areas in need of fine tuning.  (Recall, you are the Nemesis.) And anyways, obedience only helps in the other realms of dog sports and overall Good Dogness.

In agility, most of my goals seem to circle around having a successful Standard run. My favorite class, alas, the most likely to see issue.

First, we are starting a retrain on the teeter. I have to start over on this to help her feel better about it. I don’t like how she occasionally runs around it or does it with such varying speed- those can’t be examples of confident dog performance, can they?  So far we are playing the BANG game where she jumps on the end of the board and gets clicks for BANGing it and just added having her run to the end of the high suspended board Tower of Terror style. FUN!

Also on deck are training a run on the dogwalk into a wall. This still makes her very sad. I have to convince her that she will not die if there is a wall. I will turn her before she hits it. Probably.  But at least she finally gets what the point of the obstacle is other than that. Just heading towards elusive consistency now.

I was going to add something about training lead-outs. Now, not so sure it's necessary. Yeah, I may be disadvantaged, competitively speaking, in a Snookers lay out every now and then but on the whole? Not an issue.  If my goal is an overall faster, happier Dog, then maybe I should throw in the towel and literally just go with it. I will focus instead on practicing starts that would be unfriendly to our style, to tamp down any surprises in a show.

Talking about handling, we are working all manor of tight fast turns. I am trying out every style out there to see what works best.  Gotta say, the 'grab the nose' trick I picked up at the Nationals has been the most successful!  Add this to our acceleration work and you have one fine tactic for competitive success. 

Lastly, continuance as always on speeding up the auto-drop on the table and her weaves. The table IS improving (She is offering the behavior occasionally! And not looking like I am beating her into submission! OMG!), but the weaves… eh.  She still has only one or two good sets each day, maybe.

Since that could be caused by lack of strength in the right areas, and not just a lack of muscle memory, we are doing lots of exercises. I think I will share those in a future post (with pictures to illustrate) so look out for Dog Yoga on a screen near you soon! 

My Christmas list for Santa included:
A Table
Adjustable Teeter Base
Plank (to be used as teeter board AND to train dogwalk bottoms off the table)
Adjustable Weaves.
Come on, Santa! Tactical Skill Training is counting on YOU!

I'd say all this combined could result in some conquered targets. Here we come, 2011.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Day After Tomorrow Was Right!

Or, "Why all Minnesotans need a snow blower."

Not much to say about it- the blizzard came, we have no blower, the Boyfriend's arms are now tired from shoveling. And is it any wonder?? 

Mr. Six Foot Privacy Fence, meet Mr. Snow Drift.
 The Dog says... where did the backyard go? Whaddaya MEAN we can't get outside to go potty?

We decided that it might be prudent to try and take a dent out of the accumulation around 4 pm on Saturday- right in the middle of the blizzard.  Here's the view from safe inside the garage:

You may be thinking, geez, that's not very nice- you just took pictures of the Boyfriend as he slaved away with what might as well as have been a tweezers for all the difference the shovel made in trying to move all that snow??


But, technically, I am the Project Leader. My job is leading. Not shoveling. Someone has to direct the snow removal. And provide historical and anecdotal documentation for future reference.

So, I took a pretty picture of our wreath. Which somehow got snowed on from inside the storm door?

Saturday was a futile attempt. We resumed the excavation Sunday. 
The Dog wanted to come assist me in surveying the removal job. Until she got cold. And bored. Then she started leaning back towards the garage.
"If we aren't going to play, can we go in an get a snack??"
Oh wait, she didn't want to go in. She wanted to attack my camera.
Seconds later, she got a hold of that dangling strap. Oops.
I distracted her by reminding her how much she loved jumping on the banks. Sorry for ruining your edge work, Boyfriend.

Ok. That was fun. Now what can we do to avoid work??

Hey, Dog, check out that drift in front of the house!
"All I see is a bunch of snow... what am I looking at?"

Taa-daa! It WAS over the front windows, but my job was to clean them off. Yay me.

Checking in on the Boyfriend...still shoveling! Looks like he is repairing those edges.

While he worked hard at that, The Dog continued to attack the camera so I took off her collar and let her play with it, ruining the edge of the banks again. It was a fine toy!

The Dog enjoys Blizzards.
Oh Boy! Look who finally finished!! Ooo, I think you missed a spot on the left- you get that, the dog and I are going for some cocoa.

See you next Blizzard!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Pork Giving Tree Christmas Miracle

I think I have an idea for a new Christmas Special: The Pork Giving Tree. It's all about wishing and miracles and the Power of Christmas.

See, once upon a December Night there was a hungry little Border Collie. She wished she could have more than her regularly prescribed boring dinner for dogs. The little dog gazed longingly at her person as she chomped on her much more awesome dinner of Chinese Fried Pork. The little dog had heard about Christmas Miracles because her people had been watching non-stop Holiday movies. The dog understood that miracles can happen when you are the most in need and if you wish hard enough.

So, she stared at the Christmas tree and made a very special wish for pork.  Santa heard the little dog's wish- since he sees AND hears you when sleeping and awake- and felt so bad for the little dog that he granted her wish. He sailed some Christmas Spirit her way and *POOF* the Christmas Tree became the Pork Giving Tree. A piece of pork danced out of the branches and the little dog jumped at it with joy and gulped it happily down.  The dog was happy and full and had  learned the meaning of Christmas. The End.

Or at least, that is what happened from The Dog's point of view.  She looked so sad that I tossed her a piece of pork. My aim is poor; it went into the tree next to her and bounced off the snow globe ornament into her mouth. However, since she hadn't seen me throw the treat, she assumes it came from the tree. Now we can't get her to stop poking her nose into the tree or licking the ornament. All the glitter is gone.
Pork Surveillance
In other news, we had the AKC show last weekend. Both goals were accomplished- have FUN and finish her OA.  The Dog did such a great job; she was really booking!  Very technical courses on Saturday and she did great on both (And even had an awesome time in JWW- that is saying something! We work so hard to be competitive in Jumpers!). On Sunday she had a slip in JWW, but ran clean, though it stunned her momentarily since she rarely falls. Then her Standard run had a silly teeter bypass (not the first time for that certainly), but her Aframe and Dogwalk were amazingness defined. I am betting that minus the refusal she would have had a killer time.  We are having so much fun running lately! BOTH of us! I can't even describe how happy it makes me to see her run this happily. We are all happy. Another Christmas Miracle! Happy.

Arg! Make way for my return!
Badish news- I have so done something to trash my wrist. So much pain and limited use now.  I think it was exacerbated by course building. Should have seen that coming. Not sure what triggered it though. I had a yucky cyst earlier this year that went away... he better not be coming back! Although I sort of miss his company. Yeah... I gave him faces depending on our mood for the day. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Don't ask me why he is a "he" though. No answer for that one.

Anyways! I am thinking that in the spring I will try to get The Dog on some sheep. I know she is not exactly from herding lines (it's there, but buried. Deep. But we have hope since Brother Dog is a lean mean poultry-herding machine!), but it would be fun to at least check out her instinct and see how she reacts. Then I will go from there.  My secret wish is to have one pet sheep and have The Dog herd it around the yard. A super cute one... like this little dude. Wish I knew what pasture he was frolicking in. He would be mine.

They stay this size... Right?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tryptophane Trip and Subsequent Rant and Recovery Program

Ugh, where am I? How can it possibly be December??
Hey...New sweaters... unnecessary gadgets...10,000 DVDs still in the wrapper...where did all this STUFF come from? And why can't I find a clean fork anywhere? Most importantly...


The answer to all of these questions lies in the trash can- turkey bones are everywhere. One glimpse into that gristly, gizzardy container tells me Thanksgiving has once again come and gone in a gravy-soaked flash.

Here is my theory on the recent mysterious events:
The farming industry is in cahoots with the retail giants!
Per the genius Alton Brown, the first Thanksgiving most likely served wild deer, elk, pheasants, corn, lobster and fish. As time passed, those original ingredients faded and were replaced by TURKEY.  Turkey became the big Thanksgiving food cash cow for farmers and the reasons behind this monopoly are many; I am sure turkeys are stupider than other more authentic Thanksgiving critters therefore easier to procure, and perhaps they take to fattening for the feast more than other birds. But the main reason, surely, is due to the discovery by the farm and retail industries that turkey is a source of tryptophane. Simply put, we eat gobs of turkey that the farmers place before us (since they get quite the kickback from retailers, I bet), laced with nature's sedative which puts us into a hazy fog of sleepy compliance.  THEN once we are in this vulnerable state the retail industry  goes out hanging shiny signs up to entice our enfeebled brains spend money.  Black Friday? More like BlackOUT Friday.

The real kicker is that the farmers have grown turkeys so BIG that leftovers are inevitable (and- let's face it- munchies are inevitable on this kind of mind-altering substance so you WILL eat more turkey), hence the drugging of John Q. Public AND the sales are extended for the length of the turkey leftovers in a sick circle of meat and commercialism(!!).  Think about it- the size of turkeys over the years has had a direct positive correlation with the amount of post-Thanksgiving sale days! The plot- like the gravy- thickens? This cannot be a coincidence.

It's all a wicked conspiracy to separate me from my money by taking advantage of my love of shiny signs and eating turkey. Bastards.

Oh well. At least my Christmas shopping is finished, plus I have some fun new things for me! Sleepy, turkey-drugged Project Leader has a good eye.

AND, when trying to recover some memories of the past few days now that I'm in my own mind again, I found this picture when searching through my phone:

Looks like I discovered that Go Dog has launched her own line of products. Either that, or she is going to have to sue someone.

Oh, and because I want to be the best Leader ever for Go Dog, I am trying to be fit and stuff. So naturally I wanted to know what my Thanksgiving day munchie fest cost me as far as Project Fitness. Based on this cool/awful site, I had (including leftovers): 2145 calories. Accordingly, I needed to walk 21.45 miles, or 42900 steps, assuming  one mile is 2,000 steps in order to make up for the binge. So the finale to my Lost Week means recovery program. At the gym. I still owe... 9 miles. Bleak.

Maybe one last helping of sweet potato casserole before I get on that. It's the same principle as the Dog's Pumpkin Diet...right?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Blind Truth

First- some romantic nostalgic background fun!
Once upon a time, 20 or so years ago, people around the country began gravitating towards the sport of dog agility.  Some of them got their start by going home to dust off the family dog after watching a demonstration. Others found their way to it via horse events or other dog sports like obedience, as was the case for us.

This might sound familiar, but trust me- agility was a different world then. When my mom started with her Utility Dog- a golden retriever- there was no such thing as a running contact, except maybe on accident. Border Collies were not the norm, and those that did run were more stock dog than anything, with handlers that could barely move without sending the dog ricocheting two miles off course.  Agility trials were something you traveled hours and hours for in order to show even a few weekends a year, and on very little practice. Less than 20 faults got you a Grand Prix Q. And, can you say "Crossover?" Training methods did not yet exist. In fact, training amounted to teaching your dog the obstacles, never mind worrying about handling. The best dogs were converted obedience dogs, like ours, that you could keep with you while you jogged about from obstacle to obstacle, sometimes pointing, but mostly just calling commands for. This wouldn’t last long.

Agility proved addicting, and like any sport worth anything, began to get competitive and evolve. Hooked as we were by the sport, we decided we wanted to be better and evolve too, which meant we would have to step up beyond the rest of the field. First we got AGILITY dogs.  Then we not only taught them the equipment, but we incorporated some handling. Only some; mostly I ran my Sheltie with rear crosses, meaning he learned a send to go on ahead, and then to follow me left or right as I cross behind him. Literally, “go” and “turn” were his only commands besides the names of the equipment. And for awhile, we were ahead of the game.

But then other people started improving their handling too, catching on about working with Border Collies and realizing that you could have fast Shelties, not just breed Shelties. So to stay ahead, we needed to improve our game even more. We went to our first seminar, where we learned about front crosses from Nancy Gyes. It was the 90’s and this was a new science. I admit, at that time it was hard! And it wasn’t even until my Sheltie was about 12 that I was even comfortable using the front cross at all. But we trudged on in the name of awesomeness everywhere.

For several years, trends flipped around a lot- rear cross versus front, outside arm, inside arm, 2 on/2 off or 4 on the floor… you never quite knew what was ‘best’ and at the time, you certainly didn’t know that there wasn’t a ‘best-‘ except for what is best for you and your dog. But the one thing everyone agreed on: DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF YOUR DOG! Meaning, if you do a blind cross, someone will throw a rock at you.  We've all heard the stories (or spend 10 minutes ringside and you will hear them):

"So-and-so does blind crosses all the time and her dog is always popping up on the wrong side when she doesn't want him to and going off course..."

"You-know-who did a blind cross in front of a tunnel and they didn't get out of the way in time and the dog broke their leg on the way out..."

It has been ingrained in most of us (at least those who have done agility for more than 2 years) by every trainer, from day one, that you never, ever do a blind cross. You do not take your eyes off your dog for any reason. If you take your eyes off your dog, they might disappear forever into the Blind Cross Vortex.  And then a bystander will throw the rock at you.

But here is the thing- there is no vortex.  The idea that you can never take your eyes off your dog is a mere urban legend. In the course of my own personal evolution I have realized that the base idea has been interpreted incorrectly from the start- the important takeaway is that you must always be aware of your dog at all times. They have been utilizing the Blind Cross across the pond and in secret pockets in the USA for a few years now- and as far as I know, none of their dogs have vanished, and there are very few agility-related stonings.  Like any other agility superpower, the key is to wield them wisely.  Oh, and train it first. The problem comes when people just start bandying the blinds about without teaching their dogs to respect what side they are trying to hold them on, or using them without a proper cue.  Of course there is inherent danger in using a power without understanding it.

And not only are they not scary dog-eating maneuvers, they are actually kind of useful.  Using a Blind can often cut down on steps for the handler, as well as allow motion to carry without a slow down or stride break for the dog.  Plus, the dog can always see you, which is really better then having them running in front with no visual cue potential. No, I don't think it takes the place of a Front Cross when you need an actute change in directions, but as far as soft lead changes and maintaining speed and momentum I see the value over other crosses.

But to use them, you must be brave. You must train. You must understand where they fit in a course before you use them on a course.

Do not be afraid- this part is crucial.  If you say you can't do it, then you never will.

What if Superman had just said, "No, I could never fly?" Then he would just be bouncing over buildings wishing he were as cool Batman.

I'm evolving. Call me Batman.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Because we are home!

So Go Dog and I followed the yellow brick road and what did we find? Well. I got some COURAGE and the Dog found what she had inside all along: the ability to GO!

This was a very eye-opening weekend for me. Lesson filled and very good for the whole Project. And I don't think I've ever enjoyed running The Dog so much in a show, but not necessarily because we qualified or had some amounts of glory or anything like that. 

I have been struggling for awhile now to let go and stop playing it safe when showing. I admit it-GUILTY! I heart clean runs (Especially now that I pay my own entry fees!) and titles and enjoy those milestones, and since joining Masters I have fallen into the trap of running conservatively in order to accomplish those things.  But running that way is not nearly as fun to me or the Dog, nor is it fair to her- I know that besides the fact that I have been like a body-snatched alien handler it shows that I wasn't trusting her or being confident in her skills. And MY lack of confidence was showing in HER times and attitude, causing all sorts of frustration. The trialing break we've had has been wonderful and helped me realize that this was happening- she runs really well in practice! Enthusiasm AND attention abound. So I went into the weekend resolved- handle like we practice- not like the body-snatching show handling alien. Be daring. Go for it. After all, that is the ESSENCE of Project Go Dog!!

We started on Friday- Team Tournament Day. Up first- Team Gamblers. I planned my usual 9 obstacle opening and a close.  Lesson One: it turns out, when one runs a dog how they are accustomed to running in training, they do really well. They also run a lot faster than you are used to them running in a show. We sort of ran out of stuff to do. Oops! 
Team Snooker
Next run- Team Snooker. Most everyone did some combination of 1-5-1-5-1-6-1-7 for the opening. Looks pretty straightforward (key word: looks)- however this ran in some very unexpected lines for most dogs, resulting in spin outs all over the place. It proved to be the 'herd thinner' for the team classes. The Dog had a marvelous run though- smooth and fast, with one spin in front of a red (MY fault!), but otherwise not a paw out of line, for second place. 
Team Standard
 Team Standard was probably my favorite class of the weekend. Slightly hairy from 5-6 (not quite laid out like on paper) but the Dog was simply amazing. I did my job of setting the lines for her, but it was all her after that. I held off the urge to over-handle and manipulate every maneuver (that's what body snatchers do...) and we worked it mostly with distance, only meeting at crucial turn points. She ran every step (from the start line even!), had an awesome time and if we can be only slightly bested by an awesome world team dog I consider that a high point!

Jumpers ran very well also. There was a super fun five jump line at the end which was the perfect reward for the Dog- the making of a Go Dog lies in jumps chutes because they spawn flying!  After that we ran Relay, which was slightly scary (pipe tunnel- the spawner of Evil Flying Go Dog!). Our Team survived though, and won relay with just two teeny (ok, terrifying) refusals. And wouldn't you know, our awesome team took the whole tournament too! Black Dog and Brother Dog had amazing days of their own, with Brother looking strong at 26".  They both ended MVPs in their heights, with Go Dog just slightly behind Black Dog  in 22." Top three dogs of the day? Cool.  

Saturday started with Gamblers and Snookers, both Qs. In Snookers, we attempted our first ever Blind Cross off the Aframe in competition. It worked! Solid hit! Much better than the other Aframe we attempted, which was a pull off to the side and much more questionable. And she read the next obstacle perfectly- there were several inviting obstacles she had to bypass, so I was thrilled that she both read the side change (no sneaking behind me!), and followed the line I indicated. 

We followed that up with Standard, Steeple and Grand Prix.  While those were big fat NQs for us, they were nonetheless valuable. 
Steeplechase Round 1
Steeple involved the Dog running like I've never seen in a show from 7 to 12, then continuing on to back jump #2. Oops. Reminder: Standing and calling is pointless. Movement required! If no movement occurs, dogs will make decisions on their own accord. It was SO (soooo) apparent after her off-course how much impact I can have on her line by moving into her, and how little impact I have by trying to pull her (I was on the left of the A trying to pull her back into the tunnel). Excellent lesson! 
Master Standard
As for Standard- we had a marvelous run going; she ran an independent dogwalk and came in over 4 for a push through the tire to teeter; then I met her for a cross into the poles. After an awesome fast auto-drop on the table (first ever in a show!) I sent her through the tunnel and intended to shoot her out over the jumps while I made a straight line to the Aframe, where we would meet again for another cross.  Unfortunately, she tripped over the tunnel bag on exit and that threw her off enough to cause a run out on 15. So we scurried back and grabbed the jump, and then went on to throw in another blind in front of the Aframe to pull her into the chute, which was possibly our best move of the weekend. Standard's valuable lesson : Sh*t happens! 

Grand Prix
The next lesson was... trust your dog, stupid! I know she will always pick the dogwalk. As far as she is concerned, the tunnel in a contact-tunnel discrimination does not exist unless I take her up to it and hand deliver her into it. YET I somehow decided she was heading for the tunnel over #2 and called (no, wait, screeched like a banshee demon monster from hell, complete with flailing limbs) her off the tunnel she wasn't really going to. She smashed the jump because of my verbal beating, landed on the dogwalk and froze in fear.  Ice Dog then melted off the dogwalk, and slithered into a puddle in the tunnel. She was then very reluctant to run the dogwalk and was very sticky (wouldn't you have been if you had just melted??) on the downside. After we moved away from the scene of the crime, she resumed running and we finished up beautifully with, you guessed it, another blind cross off of the Aframe. I thought for sure trying to put one in there would result in a China trip after the jump, but the constant movement from the A through the 180 turn kept her super tight.  Bonus lesson: We have a new super power- Ultra Blind Cross Action!!! 
Sunday was a perfect day for the Dog- Qs in all three classes: Standard, Jumpers and Pairs with Black Dog. Nice runs, courses weren't quite as fun though so not worth posting the maps. She was a bit tired (as was I) so things were a little less GOish, but still much better (faster, happier, tighter) than most shows. 

I think that Black Dog only missed one Q this weekend- she decided her birthday present to her mom would be being a Perfect Pup, since the White Dog was not running (much needed R&R!). Black Dog is an honorary Go Dog for sure! 

And if you get the chance to get to Lawrence, KS sometime... Go! The club is awesome and the arena is very nice (not dirty or dusty- no Black Lung!).  They do a great job offering lots of classes and getting through things very quickly. One ring show and we were done by 1 on Sunday. And who knows, maybe you too can have epiphanies.  How circle of life- earlier this year, this show busted my confidence, and now it has restored it!

PLUS. Home in plenty of time to see Harry Potter, so it really was the best weekend. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Going, Going... GONE!

We are outta here! A mere 8 hour journey ahead of us.  (Yes, I say mere. You weren’t in the RV/mobile prison during the trip to the Nationals for…*shudder*… 30 hours.)

And the best news is- no snow on the horizon! Kansas is expecting near 70 degree weather over the weekend. Even Iowa is begrudgingly throwing out temps in the 50s for us. THANKS IOWA! What you lack in professional sports teams and hills you make up for in your semi-agreeable nature.

This week I have had a terrifying amount of spare time on my hands. Loathsome of boredom as I am (only boring people get bored!) I set out into the vast expanse of Google to settle a few questions regarding the canine world that have been plaguing me lately. It has been exhausting trying to feign recognition and comprehension when these topics arise and catch me off guard. (“Oh! Yes! THAT thing.  It is, um… bad? What? Oh, by bad I mean, GOOD of course...” nuts.) Just in case anyone else out there is as woefully and embarrassingly behind the times on these trendy topics, I am going to help you and share what I didn’t know and now am a genius regarding! (Ha!)
1.)     This is the most embarrassing one. I know of course (I don't live under a rock), that USDAA and AKC each send teams to compete in world events. What I can never keep straight- who sends to which one? EASY. AKC will send a team to the FCI World Agility Championships and USDAA will send teams to the IFCS World Agility Championship. (Is it any wonder I was confused? All those Fs, Is and Cs!) AKC/FCI does not accept mixed breeds at the WAC, however the USDAA/IFCS WAC does. This event occurs once every 2 years (next up… USA!), whereas the FCI WAC takes place every year.  
2.)     In line with this… what the HECK is the World Agility Open then? This one sounds pretty awesome. It’s a ‘non-denominational’ (What, who says agility isn’t a religion??) world event, where countries represent as a whole, rather than by the organizations within the country. This means that everyone has to play nice together! It’s sort of like an invitational for the best of the best- winners of major events at the FCI and IFCS get automatic entry, everyone else has to meet the selection criteria for their country. The USA’s criteria is on the site, and I am impressed by the equal consideration given to competitors from both AKC and USDAA:

3.)   Silas Boogk- why haven’t I heard of this person? And WHAT is that little dog he runs? Well, he seems to be a bit of an international phenom- very high end competitor. He was in town recently for a seminar. He does blind crosses (which is why he was off my radar) like they are in short supply, but from videos (which are extremely exciting- he is all over the place and yet…not?), it seems to really work for him and his dogs. Speaking of, the little dog… is a Sheltie. A shaved Sheltie. You had me until this, Silas.  
4.)    Lastly. Schutzhund. (Dog says Gesundheit?) No, Schutzhund! I kept hearing that word and finally had to know- what is it? Do I need one? Well, turns out it’s not really an “it” but another dog sport.  It has three parts: obedience, tracking and protection. I guess it was originally made to be a breed test for German Shepherds, but then everyone wanted a piece of it since it looks fun, so now it is a sport, with Nationals and Worlds (under the FCI) and all that.  Cool! Here is a site that I found that does it much more justice than I did.
Hm… Go Dog = future Schutzhund star? Maybe! She is pretty good in obedience, likes to sniff the carpet by where we eat to find noms, and barks savagely at the neighbors kids (from the safety of our house, of course).  

I feel better now, having shared, and regained my status as genius (again, ha!). Now I don’t have to worry about being socially awkward and unaware... until the next new topic comes up. Curse you, trends!

I Love My Dog More Than Harry Potter.

I know, I can't believe it either. Especially since I forgot to feed her on more than on occasion because I was either re-reading or re-viewing the series.

But my preference rings apparent now! I have chosen to go to a dog show with my little Go Dog and skip the midnight movie opening. Hopefully this weekend will make up for those empty belly nights (past, present and future).

But that doesn't mean I am not slightly devastated. The misfortune that the two events should coincide could only be designed by the Devil himself, and the "Sophie's Choice" position this puts me in has nearly broken me.  But I love my dog. This I can do- but only for her. 

However. Every spare thought will be of you, Harry. I will be looking forward to Monday, when I can see you again at last. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

All together now! It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Mass exodus to the South?
Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Yeah, any way you look at it, it doesn’t look good.  Winter is officially here.  I admired the snow storm for about one hour on Saturday and then it wore out its welcome.  After all, it’s all sparkling diamonds of frost and fluffy blankets of flakes until someone drives into a ditch.  (No, I did not- but many a driver did, which seriously inconveniences my commutes. I’m late enough as it is people! Let’s try to keep it together on those main transit ways.)

And the worst part is- my meager holding of agility equipment is banished to the sub-basement for at least 5 months.  Save for ONE solitary jump which I’ve been promised is ‘all I need’ to train agility indoors this winter.  I’m hoping it will *poof* into an indoor facility with a full ring of equipment when I pull it out tonight. ..

The Dog is inconsolable.  She used to explode into the yard and run loops through her tunnel and then make a few weave pole circuits.  Now when she goes outside… nothingness.  Her world is bleak.  Last night she stood in the yard, staring at me.  The burning gaze told me what she missed, and that she blamed me for the absence.

Sorry little Go Dog. How about a new table for Christmas?
My offer is met with hostile silence.   
I am ashamed for thinking this would make things right.

Five months… it’s not so long, is it? Maybe March will be uncharacteristically Lamb-ish the whole way through (none of this “in like a Lion” crap), and we will be back outside in the natural element of the agility dog before we know it.  At least there is plenty of time to ponder what next year’s season will focus on.   We have one last USDAA show this year, and then one more as well for AKC.  After that, it’s time to reflect on 2010 and lay out some goals for 2011 (NOT to be confused with New Year’s Resolutions… I can’t remember them past New Year’s Eve, let alone stick to them.).   For now though, going to try and make the most of these final shows (as we should with every show, I suppose).  Minor goals: Finish Tournament Bronze title (2 tournament Qs- in anything), and get that last Open Standard leg. Major goal: Have FUN (nervous about returning to the scene of the Lawrence, Kansas Confidence Slaughter of February 2010- A.K.A. the worst show ever- and always a struggle to do this in AKC, especially a one-ring show). Further, I am curious to see if this little showing break and cooler weather will boost both the Go Dog and I back into good ‘timezones.’  Also hoping- not a goal, just a prayer- that Iowa will not try to kill us on the way home from Kansas again. We are bringing a chauffeur (dad) to drive just in case the ice storm tries to do us in though, as we are wussy about snow.  Perhaps I will sacrifice a Gopher’s Jersey or something to appease the state. Or eat some corn in its honor. 
Pet a pig? 
Not really sure. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aw man, I am either a "Stage Mom" or a "Crazy Dog Lady..."


So a few days ago I was enjoying the "Next Blog" feature and perusing some 'neighbor' blogs. I thought it was funny how many were about the 'Smith Family,' or 'Johnson Family,' or 'Moschkowitz Family...' etc.  Being me, I was making fun at the lameness of these blogs; I mean how boring can you get? Pages and pages of "Look, here's my kid- see the cute thing it did? Now here is another shot of it doing the exact same thing from a slightly different angle! Aw, look, now it is taking a poo!" (Did I just call a child "it?" Reason 1,001- at least- why I am unfit for parenthood, for anyone still wondering why I only have dogs...)

Then my friend said, "Isn't that what your blog is? Except instead of kids, it's just your dog?"

I opened my mouth, prepared to launch a full on defensive on how of COURSE it's not the same thing, MY blog has a point! I have a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan)- it is a PROJECT!! I am sharing my experience for the betterment of the agility community! This is giving me accountability in my training and helping me to be a better handler with clear goals!! Then I realized...

She was sort of right. Dang.

Time to embrace the truth. Sooo...

Look, here's my dog! See the cute thing she did?

 Here she is, doing the exact same thing from a slightly different angle!

Aw, look, now she's going to take a poo! 
A little privacy, please?

Yep, I am just as weird as those family bloggers, maybe even a little worse since my 'kid' is four legged and kind of furry, therefore less socially acceptable (though it depends on who you ask...). But at least we have each other, fellow dog-centric weirdos. YOU know I have a point, etc.

Maybe next time I will actually talk about training though. I'm not a complete Crazy Dog Stage Mom. Yet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Extreme Home Take Over: Border Collie Edition

A.K.A. How I was held hostage for three days by three BCs, A.K.A. The reason we have just one dog.

Because I am a kind and loving, dutiful daughter (ha!), I somewhat unwittingly agreed to board Mother Dearest's dogs for the weekend so that the parents might actually take a regular person vacation (e.g. NOT just go to an agility show).  After all, why wouldn't I? I know and love those girls.  True, I know they are um, spirited and uh, vocal at times, but I have always been able to handle them with no problems. Well. Things change.

My mistake was probably the idea of having them sleepover at my house instead of puppy-sitting at their home. It wasn't so much a sleepover as a home invasion. And me without a panic room.

Sad = Quiet

It started out ok. White Dog was sad and stared longingly at the front door wishing her mom would come rescue her.   Black Dog and BIG Black Dog (Lacey!) enjoyed sniffing about quietly.  

This would not last long.

The boyfriend came home.

Turns out, Black Dog thinks that the boyfriend is evil incarnate.  If he moved, she tried to bark him into oblivion. Each bark was the dog equivalent of that part from The Exorcist where the Priest is trying to banish the demon and is yelling "the power of Christ compels ye!!!" Ugh.  Cheese bites helped, but she kept forgetting about the cheese bites when he moved from room to room. 
Demons don't give cheese bites... or DO they??
Eventually she got used to him in a few parts of the house, so as long as he didn't leave the living room or kitchen, he was fine.  Sure made using the bathroom hard though...

 Just when we tamed one bit of crazy dog, another popped up.  By Day 2, White Dog was feeling less sad. Downright happy even. And when White Dog feels happy, you are going to hear about it. A lot. (This is the vocal part I mentioned.)  If I stood up, she barked. If I walked towards the stairs, she barked. If I said "don't bark" she barked. Blinking- you better believe she barked. Don't even ask what happened when the other dogs barked.  The only way to stave off the barks was to shove a large muffling toy in her mouth. Unfortunately, the large toy was also a squeaky.  Sigh!

White Dog Containment Unit
I think the girls were also on a vacation. From manners and general domesticity.  I mean, White Dog "forgot" how to sit, stay, and how to not bite her sisters.  She also attempted to commandeer every plate of food in the house. It was so bad that she was placed in the lockdown unit of solitary confinement so that we might attempt to eat some of our meals (though half probably was stolen off the plates by BIG Black Dog anyways...).

But they were pretty cute when they weren't being loud, naughty, eating, biting machines. White and Black Dog had cute morning romps of play time which were darling. Unless they were actually fighting? In that case, not quite as darling.

Oh wait, definitely playing. The Fun Police only shows up to kill the good times. And Black Dog thought that boyfriend was possessed...  
Moral of the story? I need a panic room if we are going to do this again. And...Border Collies are nuts. But if we had Basset Hounds, we might not know that there were demons possessing us and that squeaky red balls NEVER STOP SQUEAKING!

In other news THE Dog (who by the way was a very good hostess) is on a diet. I think recently she has been getting more people food than dog food and it shows. So no more sweets! (Dog says Well, good thing Candy Corn is corn and not a sweet... what?? It's not?? NOOOoooo!)
In honor of the season, we are doing the old reliable Pumpkin Diet. Orange in, orange out. Ew. But she likes it and by coupling this with extra mega walks she looks less like the aforementioned Basset Hound and more like a Border Collie.
Wait, you're NOT supposed to get the pie-ready type? Dang.

She is only mildly starving. Can you spot the massive drool bubble forming on her lip?

T-minus 5 seconds til the drool starts to flood the couch and my pants leg.
 ALSO I did the unthinkable (for me). We've been working blind crosses (ugh, dark side, dark side! Help me Obi-Wan!) off of the Aframe. This is to combat our problem of me throwing her stride off when I crossed in front, resulting in missed zones. She is responding well so far, as long as I don't look back at her, and if I cross at the next obstacle, not at the base of the Aframe. She missed wildly the first time but was pretty good after that- she got at least a paw in and always picked up on the right obstacle after. The side changes aren't throwing her at all. Next step is to pick her speed up to normal again, since she hesitates slightly still and we need her going full board to really get down into the zone. I  think I like it, even though it feels wrong. But maybe, like Darth Vader, it will end up good. 

LOTS of practices, including a fun match, this week. We actually get to show in a few weeks (going all the way to Kansas) in USDAA so we'd better step up training to make the drive worth it.  The last time we went to Lawrence it was The Dog's worst show EVER so I'm thinking we couldn't do any worse (really, so bad), but I want to ensure we don't have a repeat. But if we do, at least then I will know that the show itself is cursed and its not our fault.

Time to go vacuum now. White Dog left miniature White Dogs all over the place...