Monday, January 30, 2012


There was a time when this post might've been about the night we took a bottle of whiskey into our improvisation rehearsal.  [Does that sound like an oxymoron to you?  No, not the part about the whiskey,  although it did turn some of us into morons that night...I mean the part about rehearsing an improvisation.  You may think "improvisation" means "no rehearsal" but that's not actually the case.  Even those "Whose Line Is It?" guys rehearsed.]  Anyway, we were improvising a play we called Long Days Journey Into Hollywood (based on Eugene O'Neill's wonderful play), and we were rehearsing, that night, by improvising the past...specifically, the day our characters met.  I was playing the maid, and...       But wait.  That's a different story.

This post is about the wildlife found a few feet behind our backyard fence.  The pictures from my little motion-sensor infrared camera have been fascinating.  (Sorry about the quality...) 

NOTE: We live within the city limits.  Poppy Creek flows (when it rains) behind our house...but a lot of other houses march through the trees around us and on up the hill above us, so I never thought of our house as being "country."  But these animals live in our neighborhood.  Someone said they even saw a mountain lion in our area.  I'd love to capture one on film....

It's no wonder we sometimes feel watched, during our walks at dusk or dawn.  Occasionally the hair on the back of my neck stands up, and the dogs seem restless and worried.  That's when we veer into the middle of the street, and think about heading on home....

Raccoons have been photographed several times.
Unfortunately, we've seen a couple of skunks, too. 
These photos put a whole new spin on letting the dogs rush barking at the fence.
This little fox is my favorite.  And there are at least two! 
We got a photo of them chasing each other, but it's a very poor quality shot. 
Lots and lots of deer.  This one was curious about the camera.

We've seen a big buck napping under the redwood trees some mornings,
just behind our fence.  Maybe it was this fellow.

This is my least favorite critter.  Yuck!  I try to think of rats at "owl food." 
We do hear owls pretty often.  Thank goodness.
And I think this is also a raccoon.  Or is it??

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beautiful Day at the Beach

Riff, Spree and Charter head down the beach

Riff says, "Whoa!  Look at all that water!"

As you know, Riff is not a big fan of water....but he was adventurous today.
Spree and Charter helped.

Charter showed us his "Pretty!" trick

The Red Dog Pack - Charter, Spree and Riff

Happy Riff!

The dogs ran and ran....

....and then it was time to head home....

Friday, January 27, 2012


"If you could just explain what you want me to do, I could do it!"

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Clever and Riff

Riff was excited to play with Clever.  He made himself tiny, and approached her from a crawly-position.  She was so energetic he soon stood up and offered to play.  She roiled around happily, running this way and that between his legs, winding her little leash around and jumping on his head.  Riff decided he'd rather play with LP.  Maybe he thought jumping on LP would be more fun than letting Clever jump on him.  Or maybe he wanted to talk her into letting her puppy loose.  LP explained to him "I'm trying to get Clever to pay attention to me, even when other dogs are around...!"
Clever is stronger and more confident, every day.  Charming Plupper Clever!  She's now ten-weeks old.  I feel like a lucky auntie...

Riff has been having a good week.  Our Tuesday lesson was great!  Even though we worked several tough approaches to back-side jumps and weave entries, on Masters courses, Riff ran like he knew exactly what to do.  And his peripheral vision was ON!  From well-ahead of me, he turned back and forth through several jumps as though he were reading my mind.  He had solid start-lines.  At one point he picked up a decel cue in time to execute one of the tightest turns I've ever seen from him.  Someday we're going to show up at a trial with this kind of mindset.  You'll enjoy watching him run....

Our weave-entry practice sessions have been going pretty well, too.  Just two more are scheduled, but I may try to add two more after that.  I'd like to test his weave entry with tunnels and contact obstacles, too. 

Ever onward....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trial Notes

Practice makes perfect, I've Riff and I need to practice going to trials.  What a rusty day we had at the BayTeam trial!  Our new plan is to go to as many local "fun matches" as we can.  Usually I avoid them because I'm lazy, or busy.  Or I really don't want to stand in the lines they've been having at the fun matches, trying to keep my reactive dog calm until it's our turn.  (Which is surprisingly difficult at times.)  But practicing more might help us calm down.  Although....I did feel curiously calm at the start-line of both of our classes on Saturday.  It was after we got going that my brain started to flail around in my head.  Even though I played with Riff out in the field for quite a while before we went into the ring, he was thrumming along on a hair trigger while I was bumbling along.   More practice needed. 

Attitude....try to hang on to a good attitude.  This game is seriously FUN, even if you put your dog into a "down" right after the first jump, because he didn't hold his start-line stay.  Even if you leave the ring after the first jump.  Even if you put your dog into a "down" after contact obstacles, because he didn't hold his 2o2o.  (I didn't know what else to do!  Is there something better?)  The judge never did whistle us out...although I kept expecting him to.  Riff was veering this way and that.  After the first few obstacles I started laughing.  It suddenly seemed totally funny to me.  I'm not sure the judge agreed, and the audience was perfectly silent when we were on our way out.  Maybe nobody actually watched our run - that happens a lot.  But I still felt like hanging my head in shame.  It took some deep digging for me to find "handler motivation" for our next class.  I send a special "Thank you!" to LL, who told me "Don't you dare scratch your next class!  You're just rusty after nine months off..."  And helped me remember the whole "attitude" thing...

Trying something new:  like crating out of the car, and taking Riff home between classes....can be an unexpected challenge.  I didn't realize how strange it would feel.  It felt good to not schlepp a bunch of stuff around or sit for hours in the Lyttle Cow Palace, but I'm not sure which is better:  Keep Riff in a quiet place during the trial, and relax at home between classes as much as possible, or keep him (and me!) close to the noise and action, so we get "acclimatized."  Decisions, decisions....

Instigating 'Handler Motivation' is a cool way to spend your time between classes.  Clap and yell for everyone's run!  I wasn't very good at it on Saturday...too busy going to and from my van and my house....and worrying about the courses.  Next time, though, I plan to spend more time ringside....clapping and yelling!  Wahoo!!

Enthusiasm is catching.  Churchill once said:  "Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."  And I totally agree...but it's tough, sometimes.  You work so hard to play this game, and then you feel like a doofus.  Like you've been wasting a lot of precious time.  But you have to remember that that's just Ego, trash-talking in your head.  Remember to go tell someone how wonderful they're doing, how beautiful their dogs are, how great the rain is.  Enthusiasm is catching. 

Never give up!  Even if you had to scratch Sunday because your knee was swollen( for no good reason!) and your back was murderous.  Don't give up!  Old people can play this game, too.  Don't give up!

Crewing is a great thing...but chairs are important.  If you sign up to work as Ring Crew for a class...don't forget to bring your own chair or blanket with you.  Those metal chairs are bitterly cold in the winter, and not good for bad backs.

Excedrin and Advil are fine drugs....but you'd be better off if you did your core exercises more often.  Go on, you.  Exercise!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mud Dog

Riff loves mud.  He's not a big fan of rain, but he's always liked dirt...and mud is even better.  Wahoo!!

Why stick to our backyard path when there are muddy trails through the brush?    At times like these, I'm almost glad he doesn't have the same luxurious coat as his littermate Rampage. 

Cindy diFranco mentioned Riff's lack of undercoat when she gave him a massage on Monday.  She also laughingly noticed the random wispy bits of long fur on his sides, and around his ears.  They are kind of cute, so I laughed with her.  He has about a dozen lo-o-ng strands of red fur on each of his sides, and around each ear.  Although I brush those areas religiously, the strange long bits never want to come out.  She said he must've gotten only a tiny smattering of the "long fur genes" his brothers and sister got...  

Anyway.  This is how Riff may look when we go into the ring tomorrow for our Starters Standard class.   Better to have him a bit tired, wet and dirty than jumping out of his skin or breaking his startline, yes?  Hhhmmmm.  We'll see.  

To those of you whom Riff loves to greet with hugs and kisses....I'll do my best to keep his muddiness off of you.   

Today I wish I'd signed up for all the Starters and Advanced classes Riff can be in.  Today I'm thinking it would be more fun to be in a bunch of classes - for exercise and training - than to show up for just one or two 50-second runs.   "But wait a minute, self," I have to say, "You kept the schedule ultra-light so that you wouldn't re-injure your back.  Stick to the program.  All will be well!"  

Wow, speaking of "self"....Tori Self and her marvelous dog Rev were invited to represent AKC at the big Cruft's Show in England!   Go, TORI and REV! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Riff doesn't want to believe we're finally getting some cold rainy winter weather.  [Yay for plantlife.  Boo for dog training.]

We'll have to shelve our weave-training for today, and work on rain-walking instead.
Back to the Land of Muddy Pawprints! 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Random Riffing

With the USDAA trial coming up on Saturday, my brain seems to be veering into a deep-freeze zone more often than usual.  In an effort to stay calm and thoughtful, I tell myself:   "You only entered three Starters classes, for goodness sake.  It's like Totally No Big Deal."

But that statement is increasingly littered with others, such as:  "Holy crap, what have I done"  "I can't even run yet"    "We haven't even made it through an entire course in class yet"   "Why do I do this to myself"  "Riff would be World Class if he had a decent handler" and "If only I could figure out our timing" and...and.... 

So I have to counter-balance, out-weigh, and otherwise banish those thoughts with better ones:  "Riff is adorable - and incredibly talented"  "Riff is having so much fun"  "It will be super to see my old agility friends again"  "Riff is a dynamite jumper and excellent weaver"  "We're doing GREAT" and "Time to steer this nervous energy I'm feeling into universal acts of good will for all of mankind." 
Oh, you know - stuff like that. 

In the meantime, we continue to wend our way through our ReTrain Weave Entry program.  Today we got through Lesson #7 - "Work Riff 'down the arc,' with the weaves on my left, starting from a close distance (6 to 10'), and adding handler walking."    He was successful 75% of the time...ending with an EXCELLENT set of entries.  (We also got to visit the loveliest puppy in the world - Clever!) 

We did Lesson #6 yesterday, right before our LeapDog class.  It was the same as #7, only with the weaves on my right.  He hit the entries exactly 100% then, all the way down the "clockface," and even on course during class.  Wahoo!  He's been hitting 100%, with the weaves on my right, the last couple of times.  Hopefully we'll soon have the same success rate on the left side. 

We had a lot of fun on Monday....with a nice walk in the morning, followed by Riff's first-ever Cindy diFranco massage.  She liked him.  She said he has "lovely structure," "no physical issues," and that he was very trusting, for a young "scared, shy dog."  It was his first time on a table (although I suppose he was on some kind of table for neutering).  I did say to her, "I like to think of him as cautious, and selective."  Cindy was incredibly nice, and she spent quite a bit of time with Riff.  He seemed to really like it!

Later Monday afternoon Riff and I met up with my friend Sandy at the AARF field (where Riff did fairly well on Lesson #5).  Sandy brought her 2-year-old Standard Poodle "Kenya" to check out the field.  Kenya is a lovely RED dog, and is as sweet as the day is long.  I loaned Sandy Laurie Leach's book "Agility for Beginners."  Maybe we'll have a new player, soon.  ;-)

Monday was MLK Day, so I watched his 'I Have A Dream' speech on YouTube.  Marvelous.  That evening, some theatre friends and I had a long discussion about class differences, and Occupy, and civil rights.  It was lot of food for thought....will it some day turn into action?  Hmmmmm....

Yesterday Riff and I happily veered right back into agility.  Our class at LeapDog was grrrr-eat.  I left a bit early, because my back went "tweaky"...but we sure had fun while we were there. 

Riff is eager for his turn.....

....especially when Uncle Charter is on the line.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Weave Entries

With LP's help, I worked up a "lesson plan" for fixing Riff's weave entries.  He's terrific once he's in the and dedicated...but 'angled-entries' have never been his strong suit.  Neither has 'running into the weaves from a distance.'  Riff likes to run - and jump - with an extended stride.  'Collection' is not a big part of his inherent vocabulary.  Lack of thoughtful collection effects his weaves, and it effects his turns.  I'm not used to this because Keeper always ran "collected," as LP pointed out.  And it didn't help that my back was injured and I began to encourage Riff's distance work...and, as a by-product, extension.  So...we have plenty to work on.

We used the 2x2 method to introduce him to weaving, when he was a bipster, but I obviously made it's back to the drawing board.  We haven't gone all the way back to the beginning, though.  We start each lesson with 4 poles in a straight line, quickly introduce 2 more, then (hopefully) move onto the 12-pole weaveset for a couple of excellent entries before the lesson is over.

Basically, we're working our way "around the clock face" (or "down the arc," as I call it)...from each side, at various distances and, eventually, from various obstacles.  We mark correct entries with the word "YES!" and reward with a toy on the line.  When he doesn't hit the first gate, there is no word, and no toy.  One change I've made this time around is to take him to his 5-to-10-minute weave sessions a little tired.   Not really tired, but with a bit of the edge off.  It may be making a difference.

Last time we worked the 2x2 method, Riff had a tendency to become frantic and start running in circles from me through any weave gate and back.  He wouldn't even look at me....he would just run in anxious circles.  Not fun.  Back then he started the method very well, with just two poles, and he did great with four...but when poles were added he got so anxious to get to the "toy part" he'd just run by poles as fast as he could.  Both sets of six.  He's nuts for his toys, this pupster.  We drifted away from the 2x2 method and into channel weaves. 

This time around, I can happily report that he seems more mature.   He's actually thinking about the game instead of trying to blast his way through it.  He's beginning to understand that he needs to focus on that first pole in order to earn his "YES!" and then get through the rest of the poles to his toy.  He's also understanding that he needs to "check in" with me before he gets another try.  He needs to touch my hand, and look at me.  He needs to be by my side.  This part is still difficult for him, at times.  Riff has a need for speed, and when the RUN switch is ON, his eyes start swirling around in his head.  (Or so it seems.) 

But it's wonderful to watch his progress.   My "lesson plan" includes a total of 16 sessions.  So far we've done 4. 

At one session a day (if we're lucky enough to get to a field with a set of weaves), we obviously won't be finished before the USDAA show next weekend.  And we need to skip a couple of days.  Ah, well.   All we can do is the best we can do....and right now the best we can do is "make good progress!" 

We'll have to take the trial as it comes.  He'll either get his weave entries or he won't.  There's a lot we can work on at the show, regardless.  Startline stays.  2-on 2-off contacts.  Weave entries.  Trial nerves.  Attitude.  As always, our main goal is to have fun.  Yes?  Yes!


Spent Thursday in the City with my son Will.  What a beautiful day!  San Francisco hasn't seen this kind of weather (for this many days in a row) in many years.  No fog!  Are we worried about our lack of moisture?  Yeah, actually, we are a bit worried.  But in the meantime, we try to enjoy ourselves.  

Will and I went to the Museum of Modern Art for a nice brunch, and to get cultured.

I tried to take a photo of us.  Oops.

Sorry, Richard Serra.  I totally didn't "get" your exhibit.  All black shapes.
Just flat black.   All it made me think of was the million or so stage flats
I've painted black over the last twenty-five-some-odd years.
This is a nice photo of Will, though. 

We pretty much had the whole floor to ourselves. 
Which was kind of fun. 
How often do you get to be loud and laugh and run around like silly goons in a museum?
But when we literally stumbled into three ushers, we learned that 
"No running is allowed!  No photographs are allowed on the 4th floor!"
We liked the Francesca Woodman photography exhibit on the fifth floor.
Cameras were allowed.  :-)

The "Where's Waldo?" view from the museum.

And this light installation in the lobby is really cool. 
It looks like a big box-shape of little lights hanging on wires...
but if you watch it for a while from the balcony, you'll see
shadows of birds flying round in it. 
The only way I can show you is with a video.
Or you can visit the SFMOMA...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nocturnal Visitor

Last night I tied the infrared motion-sensor camera to an oak tree that leans over our back fence....

....and then he went on up and over....

Monday, January 9, 2012

Puppy Kisses

LP's new puppy is adorable.

Look at her little white chin!
Clever loves her new mama.
Side view!  (She's not sure she likes whatever's in her mouth, though...)
You can see the white spot she has in her ruff area, if you look next to her ear.
A "naughty spot" in reverse?  She also has a freckle on her left front leg.

Puppy flew alone all the way across the country this weekend.
Still tired this afternoon...

....but willing to explore!
Puppy kisses!  So sweet.
Riff and I had fun today, too! 

We were able to go to the field out at AARF this morning, where Riff acted like an old pro.  He took the contact equipment easily (although I'm still avoiding their teeter).  Started him at 26" for the show on the 21st, and he sailed over the jumps beautifully.  AARF has made some lovely improvements since we were last there (about a year ago). 

This afternoon we had a "weave entry" lesson with LP, after which I mapped out a lesson plan.  It's based on 2x2, but we'll be working with 4 to 6 poles - mostly 6.
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