Thursday, January 28, 2010

Workin' Hard or Hardly Workin'

Well, I survived Week 1 of Semester 2 at Cornell. Apart from Queezle's hysteria at being left behind, moving back in was painless, and I am taking full advantage of the heating - let's just say my dorm room is the tropical paradise that Ithaca, NY is most definitely not. I have an awesome schedule: 9th Century Baghdad on Monday/Wednesday, and The Gothic Novel, Renaissance Poetry and Chaucer on Tuesday/Thursday. I love this stuff, and having Fridays off is extremely exciting.

The one complication in my schedule is Creative Writing. Apparently everyone and their mother wants to be in it. I didn't get in during the initial enrollment period, but the day that Add/Drop began a spot opened up. I immediately sent an email to the department, and after that yielded no results decided I would just show up at class on Monday and claim my spot.

Wrong. Firstoff, the class is actually capped at 18, rather than the published 21. Second, 43 people showed up for those 18 spots. That session's professor said that we should get on as many waiting lists as we could (there are 13 sessions of the class at different times and on different days), so I took up a new hobby: stalking any and every Creative Writing class that I could possibly fit in my schedule.

Amazingly, 9 different sessions fit my schedule, in 6 different time slots. On Monday I attended two sessions, and emailed the professors that I had missed because I hadn't realized just how desperate the situation is. Tuesday only had one class that I could fit in, but go I did.

I was gearing up for 5 sessions on Wednesday, 4 of which were right in a row, when I started to get email responses. Several professors said that there was no hope for me, especially since I'm a freshman. This was probably a good thing, as it saved me from getting an overload - I only had to go to 3 different sessions. By the time the second class had rolled around, the numbers had dropped to more reasonable dimensions - ranging 21 to 27. I decided I'd stick with it through the first two weeks.

The catch to all this is that I'm doing work for three versions of the same class. Combined with my "real" classes, I'm doing the work for a 24 credit schedule! My friends think I'm nuts, but if I get in, it will have been worth it. It's a good thing I enjoy writing!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Queezle's Back in Blue!

Between the litter, losing coat and my starting college, Queezle didn't get in the breed ring much in 2009. Literally, we got to two days of shows! This was a huge drop compared to the previous two years, where we showed enough for her to be ranked as one of the Top 25 Belgian Tervuren in the US. So you can imagine that I was excited for the three-day Nickel City Cluster in Hamburg, NY.

It felt so good to be back at a show. As Queezle and I walked in the building, I relaxed, and I could see her go, "Oh! A dog show!" and settle into the routine. She is very good about walking through the crowds - either she follows me or goes straight ahead, not bothering any of the other dogs and occasionally sniffing people's pockets to see if they have food. We crated with some other Terv people, caught up on how everyone's dogs were, and settled in for the weekend. On Friday one of the male specials (term for dogs that already have their Championship), Wayne, took the breed. I cheered for him in the Herding Group with all the other Terv people while Queezle snoozed in her crate.

The next morning Tervs were on early. Though I don't like mornings much, I can handle them for dog shows. Queezle just needed a quick fluff and puff after her thorough grooming the day before, and we were ready to roll. In Best of Breed there were three male specials and the Q. After going over all the dogs and having us gait around the ring several times, the judge pulled Queezle and I out to the front! He then called out the Winners Dog (the best male who doesn't have his CH yet), choosing him for Best of Winners. Next he pointed to one of the male specials, intending him to go in the third slot as Best of Opposite. Instead, the handler tried to bring his dog up in front! Queezle and I both puffed up, but luckily the judge corrected him before I had to. In the end Queezle was indeed given Best of Breed, which meant we could go on to the Group!

Queezle and I both love showing in the Group. For the Groups they open up two of the rings, so there is plenty of room. This is great for large dogs and ones with good movement, as you have tons of space to stretch out. And to me at least there is very little pressure - once you've gotten out of the breed, anything beyond that is icing on the cake. You have already gotten a stamp of approval.

So in we went, making sure we were behind the larger and faster dogs such as the German Shepherd and Bearded Collie. As it turned out, our position in the lineup put Queezle and I at the corner, where there is a diagonal strip of matting that meets the two long mats. I like getting the corner as it allows you to set up your dog so that it can be seen well no matter which side of the ring the judge is looking at - and in the Group ring getting noticed is often the hardest part. I also sometimes tell Queezle to stay and then step back so I am hidden by the dog in front of us, which draws attention because it looks like she is in the ring all by herself. After the first look, the judge started going over the dogs and Queezle and I settled down to wait, which consists of doing tricks to entertain both Queezle and the crowd and, whenever we were at a good point in the matting, posing the Q so the judge would see her while watching another dog do its down and back.

When the dog ahead of us went for the down and back, I stacked Queezle for her exam. Our judge, Janet Turnage Nahikian, asked us to do the down and back going the long way of the ring. As Queezle is very clean coming and going, we went all the way down. When we got back to the judge I had Queezle freestack. Her front was off, so I told her, "You can do better than that!" She fixed it and the judge laughed, then sent us around to the end. After that we were on break for a few more dogs.

The final look is when the suspense really builds, with all of the handlers trying watch their dog and the judge at the same time. She went down the line slowly, pulling out some of the dogs. She pointed to Queezle! Glad to have at least made the cut, we joined the other selected dogs at the other side of the ring. Once she finished her cut, the other dogs were excused. She looked the six remaining dogs over, then sent us around again. After looking at the dogs a moment more, she pointed at Queezle and I and said, "One." I beamed and we flew out to the little Number 1 sign, Queezle leaping in the air and our friends outside the ring screaming!

Though Queezle and I have won the Group before, it is still incredibly exciting, and I was on cloud nine. I had been hoping for any placement, and never would have expected getting first! After doing our photo I put Queezle in her crate to rest up while we waited for Best In Show. All of our friends were thrilled, and I called my mom at home to let her know the good news.

Sadly, we did not go Best In Show. The judge ended up going with the very nice Rottie. Queezle didn't mind - in her opinion she is always Best In Show. One of these times we'll get it.

The next day Queezle took the breed again, and while everyone else packed up to go home we lounged about waiting for Group. Just because we did well the day before didn't guarantee anything, so I didn't have my hopes up too high as we entered the big ring once again. After examining all the dogs, the judge pulled out the Australian Shepherd, Queezle, the Old English and the German Shepherd. After looking at the lineup once more, she said, "That's how I want it - one, two, three, four!" The only thing better than getting the Group II was seeing the face of Bryan, a friend of ours who was showing the Aussie. He couldn't believe it! Since it was getting late, Queezle and I ended up heading home after wishing him luck in Best In Show. The results still aren't up, but I don't think he got it because there haven't been any posts to our local Aussie list.

Two Group placements, and one of them a Group I, was a fabulous weekend. In honor of her stardom, I got Queezle a large roast beef sandwich on the way home. She says it's about time she got some appreciation!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Exercise in Humility

This weekend reminded me why I haven't done any serious obedience with Tia in a few years. She got her Companion Dog (CD) title a few years ago, with terrible scores mainly because she refused to sit on the heeling. Tia's theory is that there's no point in sitting if she's just going to have to get back up again. Otherwise she did a pretty nice job, but those no-sits cost us a lot of points. Each run was also always a trial as she feels she shouldn't have to do anything for free (and unlike Flash or Queezle, she doesn't feel obligated to do something because I asked her to). But we got through it.

After that, we took a break to concentrate on more fun things like agility and herding. I gradually started teaching her the exercises for Open - she thought the dumbbell retrieves were pretty fun and has a fabulous drop on recall. This fall when my mom's dog Hokey got lymphoma, she was looking for dogs to work in obedience. Queezle was pretty much ready for Novice, so she entered her and got her CD. Next project - Tia. So Mom brought her out and had her do all the Open exercises, which she did beautifully! So we signed her up for a class to get more experience and started seriously working on it, mainly with me handling while I'm on break. This past weekend was our local club's (Syracuse Obedience Training Club) obedience trial. Since Tia knew everything and had been doing fabulously in class, we entered her. I figured she may not qualify because she hasn't been doing Open for very long, but was expecting a semi-decent performance.

She was awful. As soon as we entered the ring, my cheerful, perky Aussie deflated into some sort of furry mush. On the heeling she was barely with me, wandering around the ring looking lost. On the figure 8 she goosed both of the people acting as posts, which she thought was hysterically funny (they didn't). The judge's comment was, "It's like she's never seen people before!" Setting up for the drop on recall, she refused to sit, and even braced her hind legs when I tried to push her down. Once I finally got her to sit, she did do the drop correctly. On both of the retrieves she refused to sit, and needed a second command for one of them. When I said, "Over!" for the broadjump she just stared at me blankly.

In Wildcard Open - where you don't earn legs toward a title and can choose one exercise to get full credit for without actually doing it - she was even worse. I opted to use heeling as my Wildcard, but to do it onlead so she would be forced to stay with me. She didn't do anything the first time. For the retrieve on the flat, she just sort of meandered around the ring. For lack of a better idea, I ran up and "stole" the dumbbell, a technique often used to make dogs be quicker about getting their dumbbell. She didn't care and just sort of looked at me like she was saying, "Why would you want that?" When I finally got her to move on the broadjump, she zombie-walked over and through the boards. When the judge pinned the class and came over to give us our score, he said, "Ah..." and sort of trailed off. I smiled and said, "Yes, we were the disaster." He laughed and just left it at that.

Her only redeeming quality for either run was her stays, which she did perfectly, even casting disdainful looks at any dogs that got up or moved. Despite this minor victory, we did not show again Sunday.

By classtime on Thursday I'm sure I will have the attentive, eager-to-work Tia back. However, it will be a long time before I'm fooled by her cute face again and take her out in public. While Flash and Queezle can be taught something and be able to fairly quickly do it in a competition setting, Tia is clearly the type of dog that has to go through much more training and proofing and drawing-the-line-in-the-sand before she'll quit the mind games and work. My dignity in shambles, my wicked grinning dog at my feet, I am going to do what any self-respecting obedience handler would do in my situation -

Go to a conformation show. With Queezle.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Educating Queezle

In light of obedience class with Tia, I was inspired to get back to teaching Queezle to hold and then eventually retrieve a dumbbell (plus, after she finished her Companion Dog title in three straight shows in November, we need to start seriously preparing for Open!). As the dumbbell that will be hers was MIA, I just pulled out a metal article - they are the same basic shape and size, and dogs tend to like the metal less than the plastic, so it's good practice. Plus this way I can say that I'm training her for Utility, the highest level of obedience, as well!

I had started her out with the article a couple years ago, so tonight's brief work session was mostly review. For teaching the dogs to pick up a dumbbell or article, I use a clicker. The clicker is used to mark when the dog is doing something right, and each click is followed by a treat. The article starts out on the ground, and at first I click if she touches it at all with her nose or paw. After a couple repetitions, I get pickier, and only click if she touches it with her nose. From there she has to touch the centerpiece of the dumbbell, and then eventually pick it up. The amount of time spent on each step varies dog to dog - Flash likes to pick up and throw things, so with her I got that far really fast. With Tia it took a little longer. The idea with clicker training is for the dog to figure out what you want, and then perform the action to "make" you click and treat.

Queezle already knows that I want her touching the middle of the article with her nose, and now we're working on actually picking it up. She is being very sneaky about it - she has figured out that touching the article with her teeth (and the resulting noise) gets her a treat, so she will just click her teeth on the metal bar and wait there until I click and give her a treat. I'm starting to be stingier with my clicks, and often only clicking if she moves the article with mouthing it. If we work on it a little bit every day, she'll get it very quickly - she loves the game, and gets very excited whenever she sees me pull the clicker out.

As for the other Open exercises, Queezle already has a good foundation. She knows heeling, though that can always use more polish (especially because both the dogs and I are bad and tend to work more on the exercises that we find more fun - like the retrieves!). She already knows the drop on recall, and stays are coming, though we have to work on out of sight stays (where the dog is supposed to hold position even while the handler goes out of the room). Once she has mastered take and hold with the dumbbell, retrieves will be very easy to teach as she loves to play fetch. The broadjump will take a little work though she has seen it in an agility setting. For now Tia is my main focus for obedience, but the Q is off to a good start!

After we put away the clicker and article (much to Queezle's dismay), I came into the living room, which is where my laptop is set up. A little while later I heard my mom in the kitchen say, "Take this to Kate." A minute later Queezle came trotting in and brought me a rubber peppermint dog toy. She was very pleased with herself, and I told her how smart she is and thanked her for the gift. Of course, she then expected me to give it back - I guess we still have some work to do on the theories of sharing and giving.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lots of Indoor Fun

Today we went to Diane's for another agility session. She had us doing lots of contacts and weaves, which was excellent practice for my girls. I worked Queezle again and brought Flash to do mostly contacts at the end. As Hokey had chemo this week, my mom worked Tia. All three dogs were thrilled to be there and had a blast. Queezle and I had some lovely runs and - knock on wood - Flash hit all of her contacts. We have until mid February until our next trial, but the more times she does them right the more likely she will be to succeed at the trial. It never ceases to amaze me how much energy she still has at 12 - even now it takes about a full course for her to settle down and focus.

Once we got home, Tia started throwing toys around the house and in general playing around. Eventually she ended up on the footstool. One of her favorite things to do when getting off a couch or bed is to put her front feet down and then slowly drag her hind legs off - it's quite a production and she always looks very proud of herself once she is finally off (she is capable of jumping off like a normal dog). So today she was trying to do that on the footstool - the problem is that the footstool isn't even a foot high. So, as you can see from the picture, she kind of got stuck. She would probably be horrified if she knew this was going on the internet.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Steam Cleaning with Deb and Kate

Step 1: Establish who in the household knows how to operate the steam cleaner. If the primary user is absent, determine who has used it once a long time ago (Deb) and who has avoided any knowledge of the device whatsoever (Kate). The latter may exit at this time, but should stay within earshot of the room being steam cleaned. The next few steps are directed at Deb.

Step 2: Put water and soap in the appropriate locations and begin the steam cleaning process.

Step 3: Realize that, although the water is exiting the initial tank and getting to the rug just fine, it is not then being sucked back into the recovery tank. This should be done after the entire room has been gone over, and so is soaking wet.

Step 4: Start taking steam cleaner apart to find out what the problem is - after all, it is similar to a vacuum (for more information, stay tuned for "Vacuuming with Deb"). Consult the world-wide-web for information on the suction system of the steam cleaner.

Step 5: Successfully remove upper tank, and then develop complications with the retrieval tank. It has to come out somehow, otherwise how could you dump it? Consult the world-wide-web in vain.

Step 6: Get mildly pissed off with the lack of useful information and call Kate to look for an obscure button that may or may not be on your steam cleaner model.

Step 7: Kate - Get filled in on what Deb is trying to accomplish. Poke around the cleaner some, then pull on two gray wings/tabs that free the retrieval tank. Deb - Discover a test to see if your suction whatevers are clogged, thus negating the need for the removal of the retrieval tank.

Step 8: Deb - In reassembling steam cleaner, flip the top tank over, causing a small leak. When Kate exclaims against this action, panic and fling the tank at her. Luckily your tank should be mostly empty by this point. Finish assembling the steam cleaner.

Step 9: Kate - Poor a cup of warm water on the floor of slanted kitchen. Deb - Try to get the steam cleaner to suck up the water before it all runs south (this will fail). Kate - Clean up water.

Step 10: Flip stupid machine over and start taking it apart to unclog it if at all possible. Discuss whether a Philipshead screwdriver more accurately resembles a square or a star. Establish that it doesn't matter as long as both of you know what it is.

Step 11: Successfully remove the outer clear cover thing that the water should go through. As that isn't really clogged, clean it while you're there and then put it back before continuing the search for the clog. Kate is in charge of not losing the screws and cleaning up any water.

Step 12: Attempt to remove the green scrubber-dealies. Of course, the sadistic nature of the manufacturer and designer will have ensured that this is impossible. Consider forcing them out with the screwdriver, then decide that that must not be the problem area. Put steam cleaner right side up and look into it with a flashlight just for kicks. Kate - Get excited about a screw before realizing it doesn't actually connect to the green things.

Step 13: Decide that maybe cleaning the clear piece will have made a difference after all, and start putting the steam cleaner back together for another attempt.

Step 14: Deb - Comment that the retrieval tank doesn't seem to be shut tight enough, even though that's how it was when you dragged the cleaner from its lair in the back room. Both - attempt to force lid down further. Deb - Mention that the tab part always seems to go down right. Kate - Check out tab, decide that maybe it's really a latch and the back part is a stoneage-style hinge (a machine with this many screws ought to be sophisticated enough to have real hinges on the lid, don't you think?). Take lid off and reapply it with the appropriate method for a latch of this manner. Lid closes tight.

Step 15: Get very excited and return to the sodden room. When machine begins to successfully suck up water from the rug, celebrate and finish the job in high spirits.

Step 16: Return steamcleaner to the back room until the next poor fool gets the bright idea to use it again.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to 2010

I have always stayed up until midnight on New Year's Eve, but usually it is reading in my room with the dogs. However, this year I went over to a friend's house for a small gathering/party complete with sparkling apple cider for the midnight toast. We weren't sure what we thought of J-Lo's unitard, but the cider got 5 stars from everyone. Then once the festivities wound down I made my way home to let all the dogs out and give them each a biscuit (my mom's Terv bitch Dani has been known to slurp various drinks out of people's cups, but for the most part the dogs prefer biscuits and treats for celebrations). Though Queezle felt that 2 am was the perfect time to play frisbee in the snow, we all then went to bed.

I've tried convincing the dogs to make resolutions every year (trying to be less barky for Flash, better work ethic for Tia, being nice to the other girls for Queezle, etc), but they aren't buying it. From Tia I get things like, "I resolve to only eat steak on weekends," from Queezle I get, "I resolve to share my old toys with the other dogs once I get new ones," and Flash just plays the Champion Tracker and old dog cards and asks me if I have any questions. In the end, I'm better off playing New-Year-resolutions in a corner by myself and hoping that Flash doesn't come over to remind me about my success rate for resolutions in years gone by (let's just say the whole self-improvement thing isn't all it's cut out to be). To avoid the somewhat inevitable failure of grandiose resolutions, I generally go with some slightly less intimidating goals.

One of my constant goals for every year has always been to work the dogs more, be it honing our skills in agility or working on harder surfaces in tracking. This week was already quite successful, as we did a private agility lesson with Diane Eggleston on Wednesday and obedience class on Thursday at Dottie's Dog School. Queezle was the main dog I worked at agility. Diane had us doing several drills to work on tighter wraps and back crosses. This brought out a handling goal for me - stop waiting. Instead of trusting myself to give clear signals and the dog to take the obstacles I indicate, I end up waiting and looking back to make sure that they did it. My micromanaging is ultimately slowing Queezle down, as I'm not giving her information on the next obstacle or turn fast enough. She's fast enough that we don't have issues with making time at a trial, but we could be a lot faster.

At the end of the session I brought Flash in to do some contacts (obstacles such as the dogwalk, a-frame and teeter totter have a yellow section called a contact zone that the dog has to touch for safety reasons or else it will be disqualified). Flash is perfectly willing to sacrifice accuracy for speed, and leaping off or over contacts has been a problem for us for years. So I baited each contact with some cheese and also had her wait for me at each one to give her another treat. The theory is that by repeatedly having her stop in the contact zone and rewarding her for it she will get in the habit of stopping and so will hit the contact even at a trial where there is no food. As Flash is now 12 years old and our intervention came way too late, each run is hit or miss (literally). She only needs one more leg in Novice Standard (Standard is the class with the contact obstacles), and after she finishes that title I'm going to retire her from Standard. Though she doesn't act it, she is an older dog and the contact equipment puts unneccessary strain on her body. We will continue to do Jumpers as long as she is in shape though. The one good thing that has come out of our contact issues is that I am much better at training them.

Tia got to go to Open Obedience class. Open is the second level of competitive obedience, and as well as the basic sit, down and heeling stuff also includes fun exercises like jumping and retrieving. Obedience isn't my favorite dog sport, but I do enjoy training the upper level exercises. Tia is coming along quite well, though we are having some issues with the broadjump. Our class is excellent, as it is small and has several very experienced handlers who have been able to give me some good tips. One thing that really made a difference with Tia on the heeling was my arm and head placement - just like in agility, if I am looking back to make sure that she is doing her job I cause her to slow down and lag. I knew this from working Flash in obedience, and so am pretty good about keeping my left shoulder forward. What I didn't realize was that although my shoulder was forward, I kept dropping my elbow back, so I need to work on that. I also need to make sure that I am focusing my head forward, and trust Tia do keep up with me.

What it comes down to is that I need to keep refining my handling and training techniques to give clearer signals to the dogs. The more experience we have, especially with the help of knowledgeable people who can point out my mistakes, the better we will get.

Here's to another year of learning and (hopefully) improving!