Monday, June 25, 2012

An Instant

Lifted from FB, photo taken at "1/8000 sec" 

A millisecond is 1/1000th of a second.   The light from a typical photo flash strobe lasts a millisecond.   The average human blink lasts 3/10ths of a second (or 300 milliseconds).  So the balloon shape of the water lasts wa-a-a-a-y less than the blink of an eye, once the balloon is popped. 

How quickly things can change.

For instance:  There you go, running an agility course with your dog.  The fastest time wins.  The electronic timer is keeping track, down to 1/100ths of a second.  Your dog is keeping track of your body language, which is constantly changing as you make your way through the course.  Well-trained dogs look for specific changes in your body language (cues), and experienced dogs look for the First Indicator of each of those cues.  Do you know exactly what your dog is looking for?

I've heard people say "That dog can read my mind!"  Heck, I've even said it, after a particularly smooth and speedy run, because I had no idea what I did to cue my dog, in certain areas...

It could be that my dog just saw a First Indicator - that one movement that he's noticed always happens in the instant before I give a certain cue.  A slight rise of the shoulder?  An imperceptible shift of weight?  An elbow angle?  A head tilt?  So he took the correct obstacle...and shazam! - in the blink of an eye - he could read my mind....

How do they do that??  As I understand it, the eyesight capability of dogs is less than that of they stand even less of a chance than we do of seeing water hold a balloon shape after a water balloon is popped.  (Like, no chance x thousands.) 

Still, they have a big advantage over us because of their amazing abilities to FOCUS and to PAY ATTENTION.....ALL THE TIME. 

We shouldn't need fancy cameras to figure out what our dogs are reading as First Indicators when we give certain cues.  We just need to video our runs, then study the videos.  Decide what it is.  Then run each cue consistently.  [Heh heh.]  This is what some trainers like the Derretts have done, prior to generalizing their methods into training-classes-for-the-masses. 

Could finding your own First Indicators be similar to the time and equipment needed to train a dog for running contacts (via Silvia Trkman's method)?   Every dog and handler team is it seems you'd want to see exactly what's happening during each repetition.  Then you'll want to find the best cues (timers help, since the best is the fastest, in the long run).  Then practice your cue, and your dog's reaction, in a variety of situations.....different fields, different equipment, and even different weather conditions.  (To say nothing of the mood and health changes that both dog and handler go through...)   So you'd need to work a fair number of obstacles, and video a lot of it, then carefully study all the film....        

And consistently work at being consistent.   [But not boring...]  And record your findings in an organized way, because there will be way more information than you could remember.... 


Does this sound like a thesis project for someone in grad school?!


Okay.  Maybe I'm making too much of an instinctive action-reaction that naturally develops during dog training.  [Do I have too much thinking time, these days?]  Maybe we don't need to develop such a fine-toothed comb.  We are human, after all.  And our dogs are dogs.  We're just trying to have a good time.  (Although - YES, I totally admit it - we're also trying to WIN....which is why we study....)

But, honestly.....when I'm running a course?  I mostly just bumble along, doing the best I can, with whatever gifts the smiling-gods-above have given me that day.  I can't always pin-point those gifts, and I don't always try to.   I like to think my agility family completely understands.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rowing the Boat

Nautical terms keep popping into my head, like "adrift"  "batten down the hatches"  "five fathoms deep" "flotsam and jetsam" and "poopdeck."  Reading Joseph Conrad's LORD JIM has something to do with it.  I was in a row boat, floundering in deep water, during my dreams last night.  I woke up thinking 'Sink or swim!'  Water, water...everywhere.

clip art

Yesterday the physician's assistant told me "This kind of break takes quite a long time to heal...but the good news is, we don't think you'll need surgery...."  [WHEW!]

She said the break is "like a scoop of ice cream (the ball at the top of your upper arm humerus bone, where it meets the shoulder joint) broke off and then got squished back down into the cone (the shaft of the humerus bone)."  

Busted and squished...but not crooked!

So I need to keep the sling on 'full-time' for three more weeks, then get another x-ray, after which - hopefully - I take the sling least "occasionally."   [Arrrgggh! three more weeks of this??  Patience.  Patience.]   They gave me a nice new sling (awesome, because it fits better) and three "passive motion" exercises I can do:
1) take my arm out of the sling a couple times a day, to gently straighten my elbow (already doing it)
2) stretch my fingers and rotate my wrist as much as possible (yep...already there)
3) lift my arm up a bit at a time, out in front of me, with my other hand
"The pain will guide you."  Great.

Also "Absolutely no jogging or similar impact exercise of any kind." She said "That includes taking a brisk walk."  In fact, they don't think I should take walks at all because "you're off-balance without the use of both arms and at risk for another fall."  [Well, crikey.  What do they think I am...clumsy?]  [Chortle.]

Also "No lifting, pulling or pushing anything over one pound for three months."  Hmmm.  How much is one pound?  An average-sized hardcover book weighs almost two pounds.  A full can of soda weighs almost one pound.  Wow - one pound isn't very much.

So my plan is to Graduate Early. 

The "no walks" thing is carrying it too far, in my book.  Wouldn't you agree?  But of course I didn't tell them that.  Basically, I think they're looking at my age, and not at me. 
[FYI:  I promise to be careful, walk slowly, watch where I'm going, and pick up my feet.]

On July 16 (depending on x-rays) they'll refer me (finally!) to Physical Therapy. 

So it looks like our summer agility trial season...and on hold for a while longer.  Like...WEEKS.
Can that possibly be true???  I'm more than ready to be in denial about it. 
(At this moment, as I write this post....I feel BLUE.)

BUT this is all temporary.  I'm actually lucky.  This isn't too bad.  I just have to be patient... 

Riff?  Oh, Riff.  Yes, I know, buddy.  You're such a sweet goober.  We'll figure something out....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Thanks.... the men who brought children into my life - adding new dimensions to the word "family"....

D - my daughter's father

A - the father of my three sons

M - the father of my niece

and J - stepfather to my three sons

With a lifetime of love and thanks to my own dear Dad....

....who watches over all of the children, from the Great Beyond. 

PS  Riff asked me to give a shout-out to his dad Bezel.  Thanks, B!  :-)

Bezel, at five years old

Friday, June 15, 2012

Need for Speed

I like speed.  No, no, not bennies or anychemicalthing like that....just plain old wind-in-your-face physical speed.  I think it's one of the reasons I get along with border collies - I understand the need for speed.  It courses through your bloodstream, and colors everything you do....even when you're laid up.  {..and makes typing with one hand a real exercise in patience...}   You can spend a lifetime practicing impulse-contol, for instance.  Think before you speak.  Look before you leap.  Focus first.  That sort of thing.   The need for speed can be particularly difficult to deal with when you're a dog, and your exercise partner is laid up. 

We love the lion on that Chase Bank tv commercial.  Have you seen it?  When the lion sticks his head into the bank teller's window, and looks at the tellers with such longing, with so much expectation...we immediately think of Riff.  He has that exact same expression.  I tried to capture it on camera.  It's not easy to get the same lighting, etc, but you get the idea.

Chase ad lion
Riff, waiting to play
Not being able to hop around, or run, or lean over to pick up toys and play tug with my dogs, is almost more painful than having a broken arm.  Luckily my sweet Jeff is willing to walk the "laps" route with Riff in the backyard, so they're getting some exercise.   He refuses to let me walk it....over-protective, I I sneak in a bit of walking back there, whenever I can.  Except I tripped yesterday (did not fall down, but wrenched the darn arm pretty good), so must admit he has a point. 

Dreaming of jogging.  I'm very good at picking up my feet, in my dreams.  I run like the wind.  And I'm a parkour champion!  

Last night I also dreamt Riff and I were camping at the trial site in Woodland.  My shelter was a colorful circus tent...not sure what that means.  It ties in with the lion theme, though...  

Ah, well...if I rest it now, the arm will be good as gold later.  So they say.

It's been an easy transition for me to shift to right-handedness this week. 
Perhaps that's because when I was 5, I broke my left forearm (roller skating), and about fifteen years ago, I broke my left wrist (learning an Irish jig).  Practice makes perfect!?

Looking forward to getting back to agility practice.  Will focus on grace....

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Perfect Game

Watched every minute of that incredible game on TV last night - it was amazing - starting with all the homeruns - and then in the 7th, when announcer Kuip did not - would not - say the words "no hitter"... just "special night" and "nary a baserunner" - and nobody in the dug-out is talking to Cain - nobody wants to jinx it - and Cain just keeps watching, and pitching - and Melky caught the long fly - then Blanco caught another - and the atmosphere was ricocheting HOPE, with over 41,000 cheering fans on their feet at the park - on their feet through 2 1/2 innings - to say nothing of the tens of thousands pacing and yelling in front of their televisions at home, or raising their fists at the bar, or turning up the radio in the car, grinning at the dashboard - and those Astros really tried hard to break it up - but...holy shit! PERFECT! - and after the game, when AmyG asked Matt how he kept his composure he says "I don't know....I have no idea..." then "this place" "Buster" "my team" "these fans! look! they're all still here!" and we were ALL still there - what a wonderful night of baseball! What a wonderful baseball family.... WOW!

(AP photo)

Monday, June 11, 2012


Riff and I often enjoy leashwalks around the neighborhood or in the park...but nothing quite takes the place of RUNNING.

The Riffster is, as Ziji said when she first laid eyes on him, "built for speed."  Long and lean.  He loves to run, so I run him every chance I get.  Sometimes I'll just sit on our backporch and we'll play The Toy Game...

...which is really just an amped-up game of tug, with some head-shaking and running-around-the-patio thrown in.

About five months ago, when I discovered I could finally jog with minimal pain,  I started 'doing laps' in the backyard.  At first I just bumbled along the little flat sections, pushing myself into a jogging motion.

It was tough.  You really lose muscle tone fast when you're laid-up after a back injury.  Especially if you like cookies as much as I do.

Riff always went down the path with me and encouraged me to go faster.  After a while (approximately forever) I felt up to tackling the short  'hill' sections of the path...and then - voila! - I was jogging the path, up and down our little hill...doing laps! Riff likes to run with me.  Keeper prefers to watch from the topside of the path, while Riff and I go back and forth, and around and around.

Sometimes we play games while we jog, because Riff is light-years faster than me and it's good for him to stay focused.  He likes 'Tug,' 'Retrieve' or 'Find the Toy.'  Jogging is good for agility, so I've been stubborn about getting out there every day, even when I'm not in the mood.  Jogging is like any addiction - a little rough at times, but the more you do it the more you want it.    I like to think we're working our way up to being able to jog around the lake at Riverfront...although Riff may always prefer the speed of our leash-less backyard.   Maybe I'll enter a 5k someday??  This week we've been toning up for the USDAA trial in Woodland.  We've been very excited about's an RV trip!  Fun!

But yesterday this section of the path attacked me.

The very moment I was congratulating myself over how easy it's become to run up this section (we were on our fifth lap out of a planned twelve) I caught my toe on the bottom step...and the other steps quickly came up and smacked me.  Ow!!   First the knees...then I heard the bone in my left upper arm crack when it hit the edge of a step.  I laid there for a couple of minutes Ow!!! with Riff hovering over me, his eyes clouded with worry.  I asked him to 'find Jeff' and he took off...and brought back his toy.  Ah,well...he tried.  Finally decided I could try, too...then got up and walked back into the house.  Simple.

Jeff took me to the hospital right away.   X-rays, a shot of Toradol, blah blah.  Jeff took a photo showing how annoyed I was at this turn of events.  He said, "You broke your humerus and got humorless..."  Which made me laugh.  Although actually it was more of a snort.    I'll need to go back in a few days for more X-rays, etc...then back to physical therapy...

SIGH.  Couldn't sleep at all yesterday or last night.  Couldn't find a pain-free position, so I sat up in the family room watching a movie about Babe Ruth, and reading.  It's a 'humerus head fracture' - which totally sounds like a joke.  Might think of one, someday.  Too bad I'm left-handed, but how nice to have the right arm in good shape for driving!

We had to scratch Woodland.  Sad, sad.

Something wonderful this way comes, least I sure hope so.  What is the saying: "that which does not kill us makes us stronger"?  Something like that.

So...I've decided that this is just a bump in the agility road.  A little detour, that's all.  I need to slow down again, for a little while.   I'll keep my eyes and ears the universe trying to teach me something?  Other than "lift up your damn feet"?

In the meantime, Riff will keep me playing.  He's a good dog....ear fluff and all!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Attitudinal Fluff Up

Good boy!
Let's go!

Just saying those words and watching Riff's face light up puts me in a better mood.

ATTITUDE can be tricky when you're competitive.  If you're any kind of perfectionist (yeah?  you?  could that be you?)  it can be really tricky.   Your goal may be to run like the wind through every course, full of confidence and grace.....but reality strikes whenever you watch your runs on video.  You see that you barely kept up with your dog, you look like a goober, and you actually got lost on course...twice. 

Your goal may be to WIN!  But when you don't even Q....  ....  ......   Disappointment and frustration may haunt you.  You may even spend the evening listening to an early Tom Waits CD, thinking about much fun you used to have getting drunk at Red's Recovery Room....

But you don't have to do that!  Here's a little trick:  Find a way to use your dog's FAVORITE words, and watch his face.  You can do it the backyard, in your living room, even sitting slumped in your car.  Find something your dog does well, and praise him for it.  Find something your dog wants to do, and go for it!  Fluff him up.  Watch his his tail tug with him....and I guarantee you'll get in a better mood.  

Well, hell, we ALL have our moments of feeling disappointed or frustrated.   Everyone tells us we need to stay positive in order to excel in our sport of agility - but (shit!) we're not perfect.  THAT'S OKAY!    What's that old saying?  Without the valleys there would be no mountains?  Without the down there is no up?    

Listen - all we can do is the best we can do.  No one can be little Miss Sunshine every minute of every day at a trial.  I think it's totally okay for us to be genuine - to let feelings of disappointment run through us - as long as we can quickly LET IT GO.  We don't want our dogs to suffer from it. 
So just figure out what you need to learn from your run....then try using your dog's favorite words, watch his face, and get yourself in a better mood.  Everyone around you will feel better, too. 

Agility can be a wicked mistress.  It can squish the strongest of egos.  If you focus primarily on the titles and the trophies, you may be eaten alive. 


My dog knows me well, and he knows when I'm feeling happy or sad.   So I say these words to myself.  Learn!  Laugh!  Love!   It helps me keep my heart in the right place.  It helps me stay motivated. 

We can help each other stay fluffed up.  It starts at agility class, and gets carried over into a trial.

Watch each other's runs, and cheer for the good parts!  Laugh at the funny bits!  Clap at the finish!  Watch the slow dogs, the beginner dogs, the fast dogs, and the out-of-control dogs.  They'll all give you something to cheer about.

Maya Angelou said something along the lines of: "People won't remember what you did. People won't remember what you wore, or what you said...but they will remember how you made them feel." 

Try to be understanding if someone gets sad or frustrated.  Let her have a moment to get over it, then help her think about the part that went right.  Did her dog have a dynamite startline-stay before he went off-course?   I'll always remember the day a friend of mine caught up with me after a disastrous run, just to help me celebrate a good startline.  It made all the difference!

If you can figure out how to make somebody smile....go for it. 

PROJECT:  HANDLER MOTIVATION.  Agility will keep us young at heart, if we let it.   

Stay fluffed up!  TRY THIS:  Fluff your dog!  Fluff other handlers! 

PS......It's a Blog Action Day, so lots of folks from around the country are writing about ATTITUDE:  check it out.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thoughts on Aging Dogs

Keeper's eyes

Wouldn't it be nice if dogs could comfortably live for at least 30 years?  I miss my gone-dogs.  And it's not easy watching my lovely Keeper become creaky and slow. 

There are days when she appears to be in pain when she gets up from a long nap.  A bit stiff in the back-end, and slow to rise.  I wish she could describe to me exactly what she's feeling, and let me know exactly what she needs.  She's on a careful exercise program, and gets several dietary supplements, to make her life easier.  I take her to Ziji as often as I can, for adjustments, and give her frequent massages.  One SuperQ short of a PADCH, she is retired from agility competition.  She doesn't care about ribbons or titles, and I don't want to cause her to be sore.  I won't compete with a dog on doesn't seem fair to me.  Of course if she needs them to be comfortable in her daily life, I wouldn't hesitate.  She enjoys multiple daily walks.  She is free to run with Riff in the backyard - if she wants to - at her own pace.  She knows what feels good, and what doesn't.  At times I wonder if she can hear and see as well as she used to, although she's incredibly astute re:rustling treat bags, mail trucks and the gardener next door.   Maybe she's just not paying as much attention as she used to?  Are her dreams too good to leave? 

These days there's an easy, peaceful feeling around Keeper that I really like.  She seems more loving than ever (although Riff might argue that point).  She even ran a short agility course with Jeff on Thursday!  When she was younger, she wouldn't run a course for anyone other than me.  Even on Thursday she consistently veered off the last 8" jump to come over to me.  But the mere fact that she happily took several jumps was a real coup for Jeff.  In fact, they both looked incredibly happy. 

These days Keeper seems quite content with her life.  She has a soft bed in every room....but she often prefers to stretch out on the carpet under the kitchen table - her favorite spot for all these years.  In the old days, she never let me out of her sight.  She followed me everywhere, no matter how many times I got up and down doing chores around the house, or getting my glasses in the other room, or walking back and forth from potting table to garden.  She stayed close to me.  Nowadays, from under the table, she can keep an eye on us while we hang out in the family room.  She can watch the front door and see through the back door out into the yard.  She can watch the hallway.  The table is her place. 

These days she waits for me to come back into the family room, instead of following me down the hall.  I do miss her constant presence, but - luckily - Riff is keeping Riffish tabs on me.   This young dog will let me out of his sight...but he checks in every few minutes.  He is a touchy-feely dog.  When I'm sitting at my computer, I'll often feel his nose touch my leg.  He's not happy just looking in, he also needs to give me a poke....every 15 minutes or so.  He stays busy checking on Jeff, too.  When Jeff is gone, he'll settle down (sort of) in whatever room I'm in.  Keeper never did care much about what Jeff was doing, and didn't bother to keep track of him.  But Riff loves Jeff.  I would describe Riff is an Everyman Dog.  Keeper has always been a One Person Dog. 

And she used to be just as active as the Riffle.  She taught me a lot about living.  For instance: Keeper always had to get up with the first shy rays of the morning sun.  She insisted that I learn how to enjoy a cup of coffee during sunrise, followed by a brisk walk - even after a late night of rehearsal at the theatre.  She taught me how to walk the neighboring hills as fast as I could.  At first I protested.  I told her I was over fifty, and didn't have to move that quickly any more.  She laughed.  (Border collies have a very special laugh....)  Then she introduced me to agility.  Need I say more??  Life is better, because of Keeper.   

These days, she likes to sleep in.   Riff does too!  Now I'm the one getting them up at sunrise, herding them out into the backyard to enjoy the first gray light of a new day.   I hope they love it as much as I do.  They chuckle, almost every morning, so I'm pretty sure they do. 

Keeper trained me well.  She can rest on her laurels.  We'll do our best to help her age gracefully, surrounded by joy.  I know she's doing the same for me....

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fooling Around on the Practice Field

Yesterday Keeper decided she wanted to go to the practice field with Riff.  She even talked Jeff into coming along.  HAPPINESS!

 Riff practiced contact obstacles, then ran a couple of easy, flowing short courses.  Riff floated over the jumps.  Nice.  

Happy Keeper ♥

Jeff ran with Keeper!  We lowered the jumps to 8" for her,
and kept her away from all other obstacles.
She loved being out there.

Riff sailed over jumps.  He made his required USDAA 26" jump-height look EASY. ♥

Free Hit Counter