Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Practicing - Options

Meet paper Dolly and her little dog Trinket.
Dolly is wearing her blue shirt and red pants, to show support for the World Team. 
She would've worn an official USA Agility Team T-shirt, but it takes too long to draw. 
She is, however, wearing her favorite green shoes.

You'll notice that Trinket has a thing about always looking to the left. 
He likes to crouch, too.  What can I say?  He's a border collie. 

Dolly  is getting ready to practice a Derrett-style front cross,
and bring Trinket over two jumps. 
She holds her arm out, so Trinket will know she wants that lateral jump.

Because Dolly has a back problem, she needs to keep her body straight.  She needs to turn just her head, to look at her dog.  She used to turn at the waist and open her shoulder to look back.  Many agility handlers look at their dogs that way.  But it's difficult for her.  She's an index card. 

While turning into Jump 1, Dolly leads with her feet (instead of her shoulder),
 just as Trinket is ready to take off.  She keeps her eye on her dog.

As Trinket jumps, Dolly is facing him.  It would be nice if she were further along in her turn.
She lifts her other arm up to give him more information about where he's going next.

She turns into Jump 2.  Trinket gives her a long look, because she's turning too slowly for him.

As Trinket jumps, Dolly is leading with her feet to tell him where to go next. 
She keeps an eye on her dog.
(Dolly's feet are a bit stiff, so you can't actually see them turning. 
Her shoes are really big, though, so it's easy to imagine it.) 

Two clean jumps!  Happiness!  Now Dolly will try Mecklenburg-style handling.

Ultimately, Dolly will decide which kind of handling to use based on the demands of whatever course they are on.  For now, she just wants to practice a bit of each. 
She wants Trinket to be ready to respond to different handling techniques. 

This time she faces Trinket, who is crouching at the startline.  Dolly prefers it when he sits,
but paper dolls always let plastic pups do "whatever" at the startline,
because plastic pups have great stays.
She has her arm out to help Trinket understand which jump to take.

As Trinket is about to take off, Dolly is on the move. 
Leading with her feet.  Letting her arm come down.

And VOILA!  Two clean jumps!  


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Some Ideas re:Volunteering

Some dog agility folks have been talking about how many people volunteer (or don't) to help at trials.  I've heard Americans compared with Europeans and with the folks from the UK.  (Not too favorably, I might add.)  I've heard committee members talk about it.  I've read a few complaining blogs, and some darn entertaining ones.  (Some writers - like Team Small Dog - totally crack me up! Kudos to you!)  These comments and viewpoints gave me food for thought.

Want more volunteers? 

Are you getting enough help during "set-up"?
...Do your "set-up" volunteers get some sort of perk?  (They can crate closer to the field, yes....which works especially well for competitors who can get off early from work, and who don't have an RV or a friend who can "claim" some space.  Do they get anything else?  Two weeks vacation?  No, wait....maybe the vacation time should be saved for the folks who stick around for "tear-down."  They are saints!)
...Is someone assigning jobs, or is everyone "milling around"?

Which positions are the last ones to fill?  (chute straightener? pole setter?  leash runner?)
...Why?  (all the bad backs in our age group?)
...Can we make the job easier?  (hmmmm.)
...Can we make the job more attractive?  (extra payment?  or something like...ummm...a gold tiara? handed off to each worker? Ha!  offer a free massage?)    
...Can we do more to encourage two people to share certain jobs, especially during big classes? Or - sure - during ALL the classes?  Can any of the volunteers sit next to each other during the class they're working?  (which might be more distracting than chatting with a friend ringside....)
...Can we let volunteers know how many dogs are in the class they're signed up for, so they have a good idea how long they'll be working?
...How can we get spouses and partners more involved?  (Aren't they bored just sitting there, drinking adult beverages and reading a book?! heh heh.)
...Do all of your volunteers have an umbrella, if it's hot?  A towel or cushion to put on the metal chair, if it's wet or cold?  A bottle of water by their chair?  Do they need sunscreen?  A bathroom break?  A Snicker's bar?  (Do they know they can get up and ask for this stuff??)

Check which positions are the first to fill.  (score table? ring steward? course builder?)
...Why?  (because you can work while sitting in the shade, right next to the jelly beans?  and/or you get to set up in a privileged crating area?  and/or the job is flexible enough you can check on your dog or go to the bathroom whenever you feel the need, without waiting for a replacement?) 
...Is every interested club member getting an opportunity to work these "desired" jobs, or do they go to the same people all the time?  (and maybe that's totally okay with us...?)  Or do club members somehow "earn" these jobs (by working other jobs?), and then get to "keep" them as long as they want? 
...Is the general and/or newer competitor simply too intimidated, by the mysteries of the task, to sign up for these jobs?  Would an on-line "how-to" video be helpful?
...Can we make any of these jobs more available to interested spouses and partners who don't have much to do at trials?  (Which would free club members up for sharing the other jobs.)  Or must these jobs go only to club members? 
...Do club members "mentor" other club members into these jobs?  If so, is there a sign-up "apprentice" sheet?

Make sure every ring steward knows how much "payment" to give their workers.
...Rings do not pay the same.  The steward at the Novice Ring may be a novice steward, sticking closely to the rule (?) of "five raffle tickets" each worker, while the steward at the Masters Ring is giving tickets away by the boatload.  Sometimes you get a lunch ticket for setting poles.  Sometimes you don't. 
...Are your ring stewards getting enough training?  Are you encouraging them to be as generous as possible?
...Are your ring stewards getting enough recognition?  (Fame and Fortune? Wine?)  ;-)
...Do ring stewards need assistants?  (Some ring stewards are so busy showing their own dogs they can't keep track of people who casually step in and help set poles, or who run over to help build courses - which leaves some volunteers unrecognized.)

Do your volunteers feel valued?

...Volunteer-of-the-Year Trophy? Ribbons? Wine? Free Entries? Photos? Fame? ;-)
...Novice Volunteer awards?
...Newbie Volunteer awards?
...Do you know the names of your volunteers, and their dogs?  Do you personally thank them? 
...Do you go out of your way to make sure your volunteers are having some fun? 
...If any of your volunteers has a puppy less than a year old, do you let them know they can crate their pup ringside (if you allow it) (and if they want to)?
...Are all of your volunteers getting treated equally well? 
...Must all volunteers be "present" at the raffle table on Sunday, in order to win something that day?  Or can you devise a way to make sure a winner gets his prize?  (Which may make working on Sundays a bit more attractive to some folks.)

...Does your club have a Big "Year-End" Volunteer Raffle?  For which your volunteers get raffle tickets at each trial? 
- - - Maybe your club has a rich person that donated a New Car!? (heh heh)
- - - Ten or twelve free private lessons with __________ trainer? 
- - - Free Workshop(s)?  Seminar(s)? 
- - - Year-long Crating or Canopy privileges? 

It could very well be that your club has already done all of the above, and MORE!  I don't know.  The whole volunteer thing can be a real sticky wicket.  It should be a lot of fun....but sometimes it's just a lot of work.  I'll keep thinkin' on it.  Lord knows I've got plenty of time to think these days. 

 HUGS TO ALL VOLUNTEERS, everywhere!!!!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Today's Practice

Today's practice was a combination of Mecklenburg recall exercises (with added jump distractions) and some distance training (three-in-a-line, and three-in-an-arc discriminations).  Riff was a very good boy!  He handled the "line vs. arc" sequences well, and was great during the recalls.

It was a lovely day.  Brightly, I forgot to take my sunglasses off.  That could be why Riff seemed a bit confused at times.  Or, could've been the handling.  (heh heh.)

As some photos proved, I have a habit of turning at the waist to look at my dog, which breaks one of the my physical therapy rules.  No wonder my back feels tweaky after practice.  Must remember to keep my shoulders straight and just turn my head.  Still couldn't jog, but did manage to walk faster.  (Yay for progress!)  We brought an icepack this time, so I was back-happy during the drive home. 

We met Josie-the-mohawk-dog.  What a sweetie!

Riff, ready to roll.

Riff is pretty intense about getting his toy...

...and pretty nice about bringing it back!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hybrid Handling, Step 1

(aka:  Lumbar-Friendly Dog Agility, for Handlers of a Certain Age)

RIFF AND I HAD AN AGILITY LESSON TODAY!!!!!   Woohoo!!!!!  Can't tell you how great it is to be back on a field, actually guiding my dog over a couple of jumps.  Even though I walked around slower than Methusala, Riff didn't seem to mind at all.  I think he liked going slow because it was HOT - close to 90 degrees.  Thank goodness there's plenty of shade and water at LeapDog. 

My Physical Therapist says:  No twisting at the waist, leaning over, or playing tug. 

Those three "rules" change the game for me.   I often twist my upper body, to open my shoulder up to my dog. During many lead-outs, for instance.  And serps.  Even just running down the line.  And I lean over - while taking the leash off, petting Riff at the startline, picking up toys, setting poles....  Must admit I sometimes lean over while cueing, too.  (Which is a no-no, but it happens.)  Of course I also slump in my chair under the canopy.  And playing tug?'s the very foundation of our reward-based training.  My dogs love to tug. 

So.  Exactly what must I change?  How shall I change it?

Rewards:  Riff weighs about 45 pounds and he's a very powerful boy.  Tugging with him is killer for someone with two bad discs.  Food rewards are okay....he'll take them....but I really want an interactive game with a toy. 

Moe S recommended having him run back to me for a good hand-touch, then toss him a ball.   Lauri P hurt her shoulder once, and Nancy G suggested to her that she "push" the tug toy back at her dog, instead of "tug" it.  Her dog Lark loved that game.  Not too sure what will work best with Riff, but we'll experiment.   Today I rewarded his 'recall to heel' exercises with treats.  We did a little distance training, too, which involved me throwing a toy. 

Throwing that toy hurt!  That surprised me.  I'll have to figure out how to move down a line of 3 jumps and throw a toy beyond the 3rd without jerking my back around.  Perhaps if my knees were bent a little?  I could walk like the Egyptians do, on ancient vases.  Hmmm.  We'll think of something. 

Riff is pretty good at running down a line, but he's not used to me moving this slowly.  I fall pretty far behind pretty fast, and he turned to come back to me.  Distance work needed....

Lead-Outs:   A pure, well-executed lead-out pivot can be done without any twisting.  Can't it?  I have had a hard time keeping Riff in my peripheral vision, just turning my head to look back, so I often open my shoulder up too.

At lot depends on your lead-out position, relative to your dog.  And whether or not you need glasses.  (Heh heh.)  You make your choice based on the demands of the course.  So I've been practicing Mecklenburg's basic foundation exercises in our backyard, thinking "We need options!"  

As LP put it, the Derrett system is easy for a dog to understand, because it looks inviting. You're facing the direction you want your dog to go, and inviting him to come along.  Facing your dog, as Mecklenburg does in some cases, looks less inviting to the least at first.  But properly trained, it can be a wonderful way to handle.   So we're training some new options.   I may start facing Riff more often, using a "lead-out push."  I may face Riff for serps, too.  It's good to have options on course.  (Blind crosses, here we come?!) 

Startline Routine, and Picking Up Toys:  Looks like, once I have the leash off, I'll need to stop leaning over to pet Riff at the startline.  He sits tall enough I can still touch the top of his head.  That'll have to do.  I'll use more sweet talk to make up the difference.
I've been using "the golfer stance" to pick up the Riff's toys.  One leg straight out behind me, my back staying straight, one knee bent slightly.  It works!  So far.  I haven't played tug with Riff since April he's already getting used to that change.   He often runs off and plays with the toy by himself.  So...I'll need a new interactive game...

The Leash:  Leashes, and the way my dogs pull me onto an agility field, will be a whole new chapter.  It seems like I'll need to train better heel work.   Still wondering how to do that without twisting at the waist to look at my dog.    So far, I've been going to the LeapDog field when no one else is there, and leaving my dog off leash. 

Conclusion:  As LP helped me realize, my new Hybrid Handling means I have to get my body thoroughly used to doing new things.  I have a built-in disciplinarian (ouch!) that will help me remember what to do.  LP is great at making suggestions, talking through the details, and guiding me through these new waters. 

It won't be fast.  I tried a couple of running steps today and thought my leg was going to fold up under me.  It felt like a Jacob's ladder toy, with a big knot on one end.  So - more strengthening exercises.  Slow and easy.  I may bring Keeper out to the field, instead of Riff, so she can help me learn how to keep my back straight while running (er...walking) a course.  Lovely, sweet Keeper.  That way youngster Riff won't have to try to figure out the game AND a totally confused handler....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad

Thanks, Dad, for your endless love.  For your stories.  For your generosity. 
We like to think you're peaceful and happy, out there in the universe...      
We feel your energy.     
We miss you. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Since My Back Got Hurt:

Books I've Read (some good, some not):

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steve Brust
Men and Dogs by Kate Crouch
Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
Solar by Ian McEwan
A Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley
The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Developing Handling Skills by Linda Mecklenburg  (still studying...)
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
Horses I Have Known by Will James
A Most Wanted Man by John LeCarre
Nerve by Taylor Clark
Back Rx by Vijay Vad
Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
The Wave by Susan Casey (just started....)
PLUS a bunch of magazines
(Note to Self - Perhaps you've had your nose buried in books too much lately?  Hmmmm??)

TV Shows I've Watched:

The Killing
Modern Family
Jim Lehrer News Hour
Giants baseball games
PLUS a few Netflix movies

Flower Pictures I've Made:

None  (Note to Self - Find a comfortable table top...maybe a drafting table set-up?)

Riff's New Tricks:

Sitting Up
Rolling Over
(and his old stuff is better....)
(Note to Self - Is it time for a new trick?)

Trips to Physical Therapy:

Six and counting...

Dog Agility Shows:

NONE  :-(
(Note to Self - As soon as you can drive the distance, go visit a trial...)

Flowers Planted:

Not Yet   :-(
(Note to Self - Get thee to a nursery and buy some soil, mulch and compost.  Buy plants!)

Discoveries Made:

(Note to Self - Just because you're bored and restless and a bit blue, and you can't think of any right now, doesn't mean you haven't made some splendid discoveries during the last couple of months.  Think!  This list could be a good one.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Eyes on the Prize

Okay!  My hope is that Riff and I will be able to compete at the Santa Rosa and Petaluma AKC trials - and play at the Fun Match - all in August.  If we can't make it back to the field by August, then my next target is the Santa Rosa show in September.   (Driving has been tricky.  I can't imagine any kind of distance-driving yet.  I can't imagine packing, unloading, and setting up my canopy either.  But we'll get there, someday.)

For now it's all about 'work, work, working' toward being able to just get through a course with Riff.  (Sometimes I wish I could dream it true.  But alas, life doesn't happen that way.  Phooey!)

My physical therapist gave me 8 exercises, and I can get through them all (yay!) - but only every other day or so.   My current goal  is two days in a row.  My right leg has started misbehaving on occasion (crikey!) so my PT is saying things like Uh-Oh, Take It Easy, Go Slow, You Need To Be Really Careful, and Ice Ice Ice Your Back.   I'm sitting here now with my buddy, the icepack. 

Yesterday I heard a story about someone with a similar back problem.  That fellow went through PT, and three epidurals, and the whole nine-yards of treatment, only to land in surgery anyway.  With a minimum six-week recovery period after surgery.  It's the third time I've heard this kind of story, and I know people are trying to be helpful.  (ie. He felt So Much Better After Surgery!)  They don't really want to scare the heck out of me.   (Do you see my hands shaking?  No way.)

So I keep my eyes on the prize:  Running Riff through an agility course.  Yessiree!!  Having a dog is one of the best motivators in the world.  Being in love is right up there, too.  Raising a child is a good one (going shopping, making lunches, getting the kids to soccer practice...) but I've been there, DONE that.  (Whew!)
This morning I took the dogs on a one-mile leash walk around the neighborhood.  Slowly.  Carefully.  Too slowly for my sweet border collies, so used to trotting smartly at my side....but we got it done!  

Lately I've been wishing for a horse.   

Here are a couple more photos from Riff's Wednesday romp. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Tricks

Riff has a couple of new tricks.  (Good boy!)  One is "Roll Over."   The series of photos below is fun because it captures Riff's expressions and body positions while he's rolling over.   

Riff likes to Roll Over really fast (which is his typical M.O. for...ummmm.....everything) so we don't typically see these kinds of details.  My husband captured these shots with his Canon Mark IV on a continuous shutter setting, no flash, at an ISO of 10,000 with exposure compensation down 1 and 1/3. 

Another of Riff's new tricks is "Sit Up."  Not be be confused with "Wave" shown below.

.....or "Up Here," as shown below.  (He is, in fact, supposed to gently put his front feet on my chest for "Up Here.")  But....he's a youngster.  He gets excited and offers a bunch of different actions - as fast as he can! - during some of our trick sessions.  He's getting better...but today the SLR camera had him on overdrive.  He LOVES the shutter-sounds, and he gets hyperactive when the camera comes out.   

"Sitting Up" has been a tough trick for him.  Perhaps, because he has such a narrow butt, it isn't easy for him.  At first he would just kind of fall over.  (It isn't easy for him to do a "static" trick, either.  He likes MOTION!)  

Or the trick has been tough because I haven't been clear enough about my expectations.  Either way, it's taken a while for us to figure this one out.  I'm happy, though, because today he's much more comfortable with this trick than he was a few weeks ago.  One of the adjustments he made (on his own) was to splay his hind feet out more, like a hare, rather than keeping them pointed forward and close together.  YAY, RIFFSTER!!!! 
(His neck seems to have "telescoping" capabilities.  Like when he wants a treat.  Or something on the kitchen counter...)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Fifteen years ago, today.

Happy Anniversary! 

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