Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy OCD Border Collie X-mas and Garage Door Rip-Off Artists

Strummy got a new toy for X-mas.

He loves it so much, he cannot stop playing with it.  Literally.
If one is fun, two must be super funtabulous.

This has been going on for nearly 4 hours with no sign to an end.  I know, I should take them away but it's keeping him occupied if maybe in a not so healthy obsessive-compulsive way.

I didn't buy these, the former dog walker did which was very nice but since they squeak I'm supposing that dog people all over Boulder County are cursing her name this fine morning.  I'm not, I don't mind the squeaking and a present is always nice, especially when it comes in fashionable animal prints.

I didn't buy any X-mas gifts this year, I figured I'd just give all my money to these guys.  They're also known as:
and they operate in the following markets:
Atlanta, Ga.
Chicago/North Shore, Ill.
Denver/Boulder, Colo.
Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Houston, Texas
Jacksonville, Fla.
Las Vegas, Nev.
Minneapolis, Minn.
Orange County, Calif.
Orlando, Fla.
Phoenix, Ariz.
Sacramento, Calif.
San Antonio, Texas
San Diego, Calif.
Seattle, Wash.
St. Paul, Minn.
Tampa, Fla.

Here is an article about what a nice businessman the owner is.  Do you like the part about how he was fined $20,000 for deceptive business practices?  I sure wish I'd read that part before calling these guys because wow were they sleazy and boy did they rip me off and I'd do something about it but apparently the fine and the exposes on t.v. and the nuclear holocaust of a recession in the construction industry hasn't killed these cockroaches off yet so I don't see what good it would do other than raise my blood pressure.

An extension spring on my garage door sprung and the only happy part to this tale is that there was no one around to get decapitated when it happened.  Apparently they're supposed to be installed with a safety cable running through them but mine were not.  Anyway, I called these sleazebags and they gave me a quote over the phone of possible costs for springs ranging from $30 to $89 and since I have just a single car garage door I figured we'd be on the $30 end of things.  A quick search of the internet revealed that the most expensive springs cost just under $40.  Labor would be $75 and I had a $35 off coupon so I was expecting to pay just over $100.  Of course Mr. Shyster says I somehow need the $89 (per spring) springs and it's an extra $50 for the safety cables and he angrily refuses to honor the $35 off coupon because the safety cables normally cost $89 and he's giving me such a great deal on them.  Trouble is these cables actually cost $9.50 and I don't see how it is he can randomly decide he doesn't want to honor a coupon and I am furious when the bill comes to $321, more than twice what I am expecting to pay.  But I was tired and my head was dizzy from my lingering head cold and I could see I was dealing with an aggressive sleazebag with anger control issues who was well seasoned in arguing and not going to give in and what could I do at that point other than be happy to see his trail of slime leaving my driveway?  I should have eaten the $29 service call and sent him packing when he initially quoted all those ridiculous charges and it was obvious he was a con man.  I had no idea the garage door industry was such a racket and I'm usually savvy about not getting ripped off which made me all the more angry. 

Anyway, my loss is your gain, if you need garage door work done stay away from these creeps.  Trouble is if you do an internet search for garage door repairs these guys come up at the top of the list and they also have huge ads in the yellow pages and promises of coupons/discounts but don't be fooled by all that and watch for all the different company names they have.  Do some research on whatever company you do pick because it looks like they have zillions of names for their operation and the one in your area might not be on the list.  I don't know, maybe they're all shysters but no point giving your money to someone you know for sure will rip you off.

On a happier note we're having a bunch of people over for dinner tonight and I made a nice mascarpone chocolate pie that I did not screw up so far.  Jonny is making something complicated and there are a lot of bad words coming from the kitchen and the smell of garlic is enough to kill a whole cave full of vampires but it'll probably taste wonderful in the end as it always does.  Hope you are all enjoying your day, I'm off to walk the pups in the frozen icy tundra.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Neat Freak

You would think I would have all this spare time on my hands what with not having to deal with a job but I've been engaged in a major cleaning out of the house.  I don't have huge, horrible amounts of stuff accumulated because I have a small house but there are some storage cabinets that have stuff I haven't touched in years and it's time for it to go.  Plus I've been watching that t.v. show about the Hoarders.  You watch that show and I promise you you'll be running for your closets and throwing out every last bit of clutter.  I don't know why, maybe because you see all the clutter in those houses and you want to throw it all out so badly because the sight of the mess hurts your head and since you can't throw out their mess you start in on your own.  Or maybe you live in fear that you'll become one of those people, completely oblivious to the decaying pumpkin right in the center of your living room and the other rotting gourds over in the corner or the 10 year old mummified cat corpses or the 3000 pounds of your own feces along with all the assorted smells, insects and e-coli.  There is digital hoarding too-music collections, articles, photos, etc.  I went through a major purging of my digital photo collection and it's so much nicer now.  I can click on a folder and look at only the nice photos without having to waste time wading through a bunch of crappy and/or boring ones.  I know, I should do it right away whenever I upload photos and from now on I promise I will, honest.  I also threw out a ton of film photos and organized a lifetime's worth of memories into 3 shoe boxes including Jonny's photos.  I could probably cull it down even more but I don't want to waste any more time on that project.

Then I found the shelf full of old punk rock fanzines from the 80's.  I saved a few gems out of the pile and dumped the rest into the recycling bin, about 90% of them.  Then I discovered people were selling the very same fanzines on eBay for $15 a piece!  Those were actual bids on the things, not asking prices.  So I went through and pulled out the ones that looked valuable but I don't know, it felt so good to get rid of them and now I have another project on my hands.  Photographing them and setting up ads on eBay and shipping them out and even though I don't have an actual real job at the moment and could use the money I can think of about a million better uses for my time.  Isn't this exactly the sort of  'logic' that leads to rotting pumpkins in your living room?  I predict these things end up back in the recycling before they ever see the light of eBay but we'll see.

The lesson here kids is to throw out all your crap when you're young.  I promise you, you will not care about those punk rock fanzines when you're 45 years old.  You won't even remember who half the bands are and you really won't care about interviews with the other half.  At least I don't.  Plus, through the magic of the internet and somebody else's case of OCD you can access a boatload of those old zines online anyway.  As an aside, I had a moment of panic when I realized that there was a picture of me singing in my old college band in one of those magazines but I think I lucked out and the issue that I was in is missing or maybe whoever did the scanning left out that page because I checked the issues near the time period when I think the picture was published and I couldn't find it.  Scary to think of how far reaching the internet is.  Anyway, I wasn't saving this stuff out of sentifmentality, I just lost track of it then got busy with all the dogs and whatnot and next thing I new I was old and found myself with all this ridiculous stuff from my youth and you will too if you're not careful and next thing you know, rotting pumpkins in your living room.

I realize hoarding is a serious mental illness and I'm not trying to make fun of it.  It's horrible on the family members and if you're dealing with it in any way or form my sympathies are with you.  Just having a bit of fun at the expense of my own neuroses.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Rez

It's warm enough for a trip to the Rez so I take the Trouble Twins for a nice jaunt this morning.  They need to run their monkeys out and I need to not run my monkeys out.  Head is still clogged with a cold and I'm feeling bleh.  It's a huge luxury to be able to go to the Rez mid-morning when the sun is warm and bright and the morning chill is long gone.  I soak it in and enjoy it while I can.  The dogs are so happy to be free to run, ears back and tongues hanging out, after a week of booties and coats and short leash walks in the arctic blast.  They start out with a ball each but soon someone loses theirs so they trade the other one back and forth, one teasing and taunting the other with the prize then giving it up so they can have a turn at chasing.  The Rez is frozen so I can't throw the ball for them since I can't use the water as a buffer for them screeching to a halt so they run and play and amuse themselves while I walk along enjoying their energy and trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

The Rez is frozen but melting and the sound of the ice creaking and groaning is eerie.  It sounds sort of like the noises that whales make, not at all the way you'd expect it to sound.  The dogs are alarmed by it initially but they're soon distracted by more imortant things.  I spot a bald eagle at the top of a tree along the beach as we head back to the car.  I'm able to walk right next to the tree and other than giving me a quick sideways glance he's not bothered.  It would be a beautiful photo, his white head against the bright blue sky and I'm so close but of course I don't have my camera.  I guess I'll have to go back tomorrow.  I know a couple of fuzzy, waggy tailed souls who might be persuaded to join me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Finally some agility training

Training outside has been an impossibility due to snow and crazy single digit arctic cold that finally broke last week.  Since we were all going stir crazy I decided to drive the 45 minutes to Golden yesterday for morning course run-throughs at an indoor arena that we sometimes trial at.  I seldom train indoors and it's nice for a change.  Lola has a USDAA trial coming up so I wanted to work on her table issues and Strummer's crazy issues.  Joy says he needs more practice in trial type environments and she's right.

Lola has had ongoing problems with the table and last January I started a retraining program with her.  Her next USDAA trial was in April and since that trial she's had 100% table success until October where she started having issues again.  I was unsure if she'd do the table at all at the run-thru or if we were back to square one but I brought sardines and she did all her tables with no problem.  The first run-thru I rewarded her on the table and had her redo it several times.  Second run-thru she tore away from me towards the table as soon as we got near it on course.  I was thrilled to see her sucking to the table but she's not allowed to make up her own course so I didn't reward that and called her off it.  I got her back on course and she did the table again with no problem but this time I didn't reward right away.  I had her do it another time or two with some jumps in between, finished the course and gave her a huge jackpot of sardines outside the ring.  Hopefully this will be a sufficient tune-up for the trial in a few weeks and of course I'll try to get in some practice sessions in the yard.  One of these days I'll write up a post about her table retrain.  I was hoping to see more long term success before posting about it but I have the time now so maybe I'll do it anyway.

Strum did great overall.  2/2 on the A-frame, 4/5 on the dogwalk, though his teeters have gone right out the window.  He was not nearly as amped up as at a regular trial but he was more amped up than at regular practice but not so much that he completely lost his head.  It was the perfect atmosphere for him to learn to keep his head and focus while being excited.  I have to get off my butt and get him to more of these things.  We also need to work on his teeters some more and rear crosses at a chute.

I'm guessing the practice field will be melted by tomorrow so hopefully I can get some more training in.  It's probably o.k. today but I've got a cold or something and my head and ears are blocked up and I'm tired and wah wah wah.  I think I'll take it easy today just because I can.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adventures In Baking

Mmmm, don't they look good?  It's a little recipe I like to call 'Leprosy Cookies', thus named by Jonny who claims this is what cookies would look like if they could get leprosy  Believe it or not they look worse in person.  I'm not sure what went wrong but I'm supposing it had something to do with the baking soda expiring last month.  You would think, one lousy month, surely it doesn't matter.  Or maybe I needed to make some adjustment for the altitude.  Or maybe it's because I took Physics in high school instead of Home Economics.  I remember the Physics lab was right next to the Home Ec lab and I'd come out of class with equations whirling and scrambling in my head while the Cookie Queens came out of class with delicious smelling treats.  Somehow it seemed like a defining moment for me as the Cookie Queens looked at me like, 'Physics? Really?' and I looked at them like, 'Cookies?  Really?'.  The Physics Nerds vs the Cookie Queens, sounds like the stuff of a t.v. afternoon special.

I remember my good friend, also a Physics Nerd, and me trying to make Peanut Butter cookies when we were in high school with even worse results and I'll just bet it was down to the baking soda.  But I guess we'll never know because of the Physics Nerd thing.  As I recall none of our joint culinary projects, of which there weren't many, ended well.  I don't think even the possums would eat the results out of the trash.

Usually I'm o.k. with baking, everything all measured out and precise-easy peasy.  It's not like chocolate chip cookies are rocket science.  But I'm afraid even the Ghirardelli chocolate chips couldn't save these puppies.
Oh well, they're bad for me anyway, right?  I guess we'll find out just how tough the neighborhood raccoons are.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Alternative Contact Training Method

Marco Mouwen showed us his contact method at the end of the seminar last weekend.  It was a short 10-15 minute explanation and Strummer and I were the demo team.  Part of me was mortified but part of me was happy for the hands-on opportunity to try it out. My understanding of it may be a bit fuzzy but I'll try to explain it.  I was hoping to shoot some video on my contact trainer or the dogwalk at the training field but both will be buried in snow for a good long while and I didn't want to leave it too long or I'd forget what I'm doing so I set up a little demo in my living room.

The final dogwalk behavior is the dog switching from a run to a trot on the down plank of the dogwalk and trotting through the yellow at the bottom with no stop.  The A-frame is the same.  I found a video of one of Marco's runs on You Tube and it gives you a good idea of what you're aiming for.  You can clearly see the dog transition from the run to the trot at the down plank of the dogwalk.  There are also some good examples of how he sets a line on course and uses the off-arm.

To start training this method you use a target at the bottom of the dogwalk, get the dog on the dogwalk a step or two above the yellow, release him to the target and have him down.  Reward him in the down position.  At the seminar I was holding Strummer on the dogwalk while Marco baited the target.  Then I released Strummer, he ran down the plank, I told him to down and Marco let him have the treats when he was lying down.  You gradually move the dog up the dogwalk until he's at the top of the down plank.  As he descends the plank you say 'Liiiiieeeee' and then 'Down' when he's at the end.  The extended 'Lie' is the verbal cue for the gait switch to the trot.  Next step is to move the target away from the end of the plank.  In the video I moved it a little but you would work towards moving in farther away.  Then you fade the target but you can still ask the dog to lie down.  Then you fade the down.  I'm a little fuzzy on those last steps but I'm pretty sure that's how it was supposed to go.  I put together a little video of the first steps that we practiced at the seminar.

Alternative Contact Training Method from colliebrains on Vimeo.

I'm not sure if the lying down part is necessary for all dogs or if Marco decided it was something specific that a dog like Strummer needed.

For the A-frame you do the same thing, starting with the frame at roughly the same angle as the dogwalk.

Obviously this method is not as fast as a true running contact.  But it's still pretty darn fast and doesn't involve slamming the shoulders like 2 on/2 off and the dog doesn't have the demotiviation of having to stop so it could be a good method for dogs with motivation/speed issues.  Could also be good for handlers who can't run fast enough to deal with a running contact. 

After giving it much thought I've decided that I'm probably not going to switch Strummer over to this method mostly because I don't think it's a great idea to switch horses at this point in the game.  It's going to be confusing for him and I lose a whole bunch more time with the retrain.  But it's an interesting method and something I would consider if I was starting out  a new dog.  The other issue is that I don't know anyone local or on the internet who has trained this method so if I had problems I'd have to troubleshoot them myself but maybe by the time I'm ready for a new dog there will be more people familiar with it.  It also involves a lot of training methods that I don't like using-targets, luring, fading things-but I suppose I could come up with my own way to accomplish the same end result.  Would be interesting to figure out a way to shape the switch to the trot, maybe starting on the flat.  Might be an interesting winter project just for the heck of it.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I have to drive to the airport so that means it must be snowing again

My luck in this department is uncanny.  Fortunately my mom was o.k. with taking the bus to the airport because this time the roads looked snowpacked and icy the whole way.  It's an hour to the airport on a good day and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of maybe 4 hours of driving to get there and back.  As it was it took me 25 minutes to do what is normally a 15 minute drive to the bus station.

It was fun to have her here but we spent way too much time in stores rather than the mountains but the weather was not cooperating and nobody felt like driving through the snow and ice to go somewhere colder.

When the temps. go into the teens the dogs start having trouble with their feet freezing up so walking is a challenge.  Strummer will wear his booties but he walks funny in them and I worry about walking him too far and getting an overuse injury due to his funny stride.  Cody is a big baby about walking in them and sometimes freezes on the spot and refuses to move.  Lola's are off her feet before we even get out the door.  They need coats as well, especially Strummer because he has pretty much no body fat or undercoat.

Strummer looking spiff in his fancypants coat and booties.

They're fine running around playing in the yard because they can build up enough body heat to keep warm but the slower leash walks are another story.

If I have to suffer the indignity of these clothes we get to play, right?

Cody sez no boots for me

Who's going to win this contest?

The smart money's on...

But every once in a while the underdog prevails

With more snow and cold temps. predicted I won't be able to do any outdoor training so I may try to hit up some of the indoor run-through places this week.  I need to work on training stuff rather than running courses but not much I can do about it.  On the plus side the nordic trails at the park near my house should be good for skiing next week.  Time to wax up the skis and put the contact trainer to rest.

I think my plank/table set-up is somewhere in there

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Walk The Line-Marco Mouwen Seminar

Talk about getting your money's worth.  I joined an agility club just so I could get a working spot in this seminar and being a member meant I spent only $40 for a 1/2 day Intermediate Handling spot.  Two hours into the seminar I was dripping with sweat and Strummer was panting.  Panting I tell you.  Do you know what it takes to wear Strummer out?  Frankly, I didn't think it possible.  But Marco's got this super efficient way of running things so you get lots of turns and you better get your butt on the line ready to go when it's your turn or else.  Now I knew what I was signing up for since Cody and I attended one of Marco's seminars a few years ago and this fast paced training environment was great for Strummer since he didn't have a lot of down time to get worked up over the other dogs working without getting to work himself.  I wish most classes worked this way, I'd get a lot more out of them.  Strum did great with this format and didn't start going over his excitement threshold until the 2 hour mark and though I certainly had some moments with keeping him from losing it when dogs were going over the contact equipment he was much improved from his behavior in indoor classes last year at this time.

The seminar focused on setting lines to achieve the most efficient path.  He also had us working on using the outside arm to get collection and tight turns.  I remembered a lot of things from last time and I had incorporated some of his ideas into my own handling but it was good to get a refresher course and to see the concepts being applied to different situations.  I know some people aren't a big fan of setting lines but I can tell you I owe one of Lola's Super Q's to setting a line.  We beat out a boatload of way faster dogs because they had a wide turn coming out of a tunnel into a serpentine and I set a line for a nice tight turn.  I don't do a whole lot of it but there are times when it comes in handy.  Same for the outside arm, I don't think I overuse it but every once in a while it makes all the difference, especially with a dog like Strummer.

Now you would think that with all the experience I've had with these ideas that I breezed through the seminar, everything right the first time and gold stars all around.  Instead I felt like the slow kid in class, having to do things a second and third and maybe even fourth time and getting pointed out to the group as an example of how not to do something.  I had a few depressing moments of thinking 'Uh, how many years have I been doing agility now?'.  On the plus side I got a lot of personal attention, solid helpful feedback and a lot of practice.  Part of the problem for me was that we weren't able to walk the course for the small 4-5 obstacle exercises so I couldn't easily visualize in advance where I needed to be or how I needed to move, where to speed up, slow down, etc.  I had to figure those things out on the fly and with a speedster like Strummer that's no easy task.  I think it's good to work on this visualization skill though and maybe if I do it more it'll help in a more global sense.  And let's face it, I seemed to be the only one having this issue so let's not blame it totally on the format and maybe some of my bad habits like trying to outrun the speeding bulletdog rather than thoughtful handling came into play.  The good news is that I was able to do the exercises correctly eventually after screwing it up the first time then being told what to do and maybe screwing it up again then finally getting it right.

The first 2 1/4 hours of the seminar were devoted to short exercises then we worked a full course, running it ourselves with no feedback the first time then a discussion about it then the chance to run it again, this time with feedback if needed.  Once again we needed.  The interesting thing that came out of this was a suggestion to abandon the running contacts.  You can imagine how I felt about that given all the work I've put into them.  I explained my issues with Strummer potentially ruining his shoulders with the 2 on/2 off method and Marco offered to show me his contact method if I was willing to stay after class and of course I was willing.  It was an interesting method and I'll give an explanation of my understanding of it in a separate post.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Why do you mock me oh weather man?

Does this look like 1"-3" of snow to you?

That's what I was supposed to wake up to.  Tell that to my back after I shovelled 7"-8" off my driveway.  Then another 1" or so an hour later.  And it's still coming down.  Now normally I'd be all 'Yay!  Let's break out the skis and go to North Boulder Park and maybe try skijoring and break my neck.'  But I have to drive to the airport today to pick up my mom who cut her vacation in southern Arizona short to come visit me and who also probably doesn't share my enthusiasm for the snow or the skijoring or the 18 degree temperatures.  Normal high for Boulder this time of year?  50 degrees.  But we had high 60's last week so now I guess we're evening out that average.  Just wish my mom didn't have to suffer through it since we also had an arctic front move through last time she was here.

Snowy dog portraits


I'm going through a 'dog catching ball' phase at the moment

Or  'dog shaking ball' as the case may be

Strummer is taken aback by Lola's embarassing snow mustache

Big Mouth strikes again

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park

This is the second year in a row that we've taken a hike up to Dream Lake/Lake Haiyaha on Thanksgiving weekend.  Does that make it a tradition?  I'm not big on traditions but I suppose if I have to have one this one isn't so bad.

It looks bleak and cold in the pictures but in reality the sun was out and there were blue skies in places, just not over Hallett Peak.  I didn't even wear mittens and I had to take off my hat for the uphill part.  I took my nicer SLR camera so the pictures came out better than last year.

The trail starts at 9,475' and climbs to 10,240' in 2.1 miles.  We turned around at Lake Haiyaha but you can do a nice long loop if you're up for it.  Unfortunately the trail for the loop is a bit rough even when there's no snow and it looked a bit iffy for not having snowshoes.  The trail we were on was hard snowpack so we only brought the Yax Trax and they were perfect for the conditions.  The hike took about 2 hours including stops for photo shoots and moments of whimsy.

Dream Lake (about a mile from the trailhead, most people stop here)

Hallett Peak

Do I look like I belong in a hiking magazine? A woman from Backpacker magazine stopped us to take photos for the magazine.  The article is about how to use photo editing software to make your photos look nicer, not about hot middle aged women working off their Thanksgiving meals so I guess I won't let it go to my head.  At least for once I wasn't sporting the Crazy Dog Lady look.

View from Lake Haiyaha at 10, 240'.

Proof that there were blue skies


Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Scottish ukulele fun for your Black Friday

For your viewing entertainment-Scottish duo Gus and Fin covering all your favorite tunes on ukuleles.  The Ramones, the Clash, the Cramps, Beck, Kraftwerk, Dick Dale, the Specials, Elton John and the list goes on.  You can check out their You Tube channel and you'll probably find something you like.  I'm warning you though, Jonny and I were up until nearly midnight on Wednesday so maybe don't go there if you have Important Stuff To Do at the moment.  On the other hand this is way more fun than getting trampled to death at Walmart.

In the meantime, I leave you with 'Blitzkrieg Bop' by the Ramones.

Or, a little late for Halloween, Bauhaus' classic 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Not a whole lotta Q's this time around but some nice runs and a fun trial.  Strum did very well as far as his self control issues go and he was running with his brains on which was the main thing I was hoping for.  Lola picked up some much needed Jumpers Q's and a Strategic Time Gamble Q.  I don't enter her in Jumpers that much any more and we'd fallen behind in the number of legs she has.  I wasn't initially planning on shooting for a MEX (DOCNA's big championship title) with her because of the sheer number of legs involved and her starting the venue as a vet on limited runs per day.  But I checked her records and she's closing in on it.  She's got 11/15 Standard legs, 7/10 Jumpers legs and, ahem, 3/10 Gamblers legs.  Not sure if it's doable because of the number of Gamblers legs required, we'll see how it goes.  Her 3 Standard runs were nice but each one had a little glitch here or there.

Strummer only picked up a Strategic Time Gamble Q with a not so very fabulous run.  It's such a stupid class I've decided.  I think I've worked out a way to make it more interesting for me though, maybe some more on that in another post.  His Standard runs had mistakes but they were due to training issues and green dog issues rather than crazy running amok off his head issues.  Joy said he needs more exposure to trials and trial like environments and she's right.  There are 2 drop-in options in indoor arenas for me but I'm watching my funds so we'll see.  I joined a couple of agility clubs so one of the drop-ins is only $4 per run for club members, not too bad, and it's only 20 minutes away at the same venue where the trial was held this past weekend.

His Jumpers runs were so nice but again 1 stupid bar down in each so we're still in Starters Jumpers.  One of his runs came in at 6.66 yps, heh.

Dogwalk contacts were about 50/50, not great.  I think the only A-frame he missed was in the regular Gamblers class because the A-frame was in the gamble and just before the last jump.  It shouldn't matter but apparently it does so we'll have to work that set-up and same for the dogwalk.  I've got some video of both dogs below.  The dogwalk in Standard is interesting, he hesitates on the flat plank just before getting on the down plank and then misses the contact and I've seen him do this in competition before.  It makes me think that he knows he's supposed to do something on that down plank but he's either unsure of what it is or he's not sure how to adjust his stride to make it happen or maybe a little of both.  I've not been able to work on my table/plank set-up in the backyard because that area still has snow but we'll get back to that in the next couple of days when it melts.

If you click on the link for the video it takes you to the Vimeo site and the video screen is larger than watching it on the blog.

Lola video (2 Jumpers runs & Strategic Time Gamble, all Q's):
DOCNA NOV. 2009-LOLA from colliebrains on Vimeo.

Strummer video (2 Jumpers runs, 1 Standard and 1 Strategic Time Gamble):
DOCNA NOV. 2009-STRUMMER from colliebrains on Vimeo.

I put in a slow motion version of his 6.66 yps Jumpers run at the end just because it fit in nicely with the music.

That was our last trial for the year, now it's time to get down to practicing.  Next trial is New Year's weekend, just a few runs with each dog in a USDAA trial.

Monday, November 23, 2009

USDAA Nationals Grand Prix Finals video overlay

Local competitor and instructor Alan Tay posted some great videos of the USDAA Nationals Grand Prix Finals here.  There are individial runs of the top 5 finishers of all height groups as well as Dartfish overlays of the 1-2 finishers and 2-3 finishers.  It's funny, while I was watching the live feed of the finals I was thinking it would be great to see overlays of the runs.  The course map can be seen here.  I was particularly interested in the second half of the course from the #12 tunnel to the end because that was the area with the different handling choices. 

Strummer's instructor, Rob, from last winter's classes was in the Grand Prix Finals and he's convinced that you need running contacts to place but I don't know.  The only place where I saw a dog overtake another dog on the dogwalk was in the 22" class, 1st and 2nd place overlay run and it looked to me like both dogs had stopped contacts that were quick released.  I could be wrong though, if anyone knows those dogs (Juice/Rider) you can set the record straight.  Looked like all the other 1-2 placing dogs had running contacts so it's hard to compare and I suppose maybe that says it all right there but I don't know, could be coincidence.  They certainly help if you have a weak spot somewhere else on the course but do they win the class or place you in the top 5?  I don't know.  If I had a fast dog with nice, fast, safe reliable 2 on/2 off contacts I wouldn't retrain a running contact, even if I was gunning for a spot on the podium at Nationals.  But if I had a new puppy-I don't know, I'd probably shoot for the running but mostly because I think they're way more fun.  My prediction is that we're going to see more running contacts, at least at USDAA Nationals where speed in the finals is so important.

If anybody else has some thoughts from watching the videos please feel free to post.  And huge thanks to Alan for putting these runs together.  It must have taken a lot of work.

I'll have a report on my DOCNA trial later once I get my video put together.

Friday, November 20, 2009

DOCNA trial this weekend

Did somebody say agility?

 I shall dominate the 20" Vet class.

Shhh, nobody tell her she's the only one in the 20" Vet class.

I'm entered in a million classes and the trial is full so it's going to be some long days.  DOCNA has a lot of classes.  Too many classes.  Why did I enter so many?  And I didn't even enter them all.  But it's not like I have to get up early for work on Monday so what the hey.

It's Strum's first shot at the Intern or Advanced classes so we'll see how that goes.  I didn't realize he'd gotten his Strategic Time Gamblers title at the last trial and I'd already emailed the trial secretary to move him up in Standard.  Had to email her again to move him up in Strategic Time Gamblers then realized that I think I can move him up in Traditional Gamblers too even though he has only one leg because DOCNA combines Gamblers classes for your Gamblers title, doesn't matter which class they come from.  But I was too embarrassed to email the secretary a third time and I figure with only one Q he's probably not ready to move up anyway.  I also realized he needs only 1 Jumpers leg to get out of Beginners so hopefully we can pick that up in the first Jumpers class so we don't have to hang around until who knows when for the second one at the end of the day.  I remember running at 7:30 p.m. or so last year.  Ridiculous to think he's still in Baby Jumpers but he keeps knocking one bar.  Argh.

I'm feeling more confident about his contacts for this trial.  I shouldn't say that because now they'll be a disaster but he was so good last trial and he's been doing well at the practice field, nearly 100% on the dogwalk and I think 100% on the A-frame.  I don't do many A-frames and I don't typically practice them on their own so I don't keep proper records of them but I can't remember him missing any lately and he was perfect at his last trial.  Weaves are still a work in progress.  Still not getting those 2x2's at the practice field.  I've got an idea of what to try next but that doesn't help me for tomorrow.  The goal as always is to work on him keeping his head and the same for me.  If we can both keep our brains in focus the agility will follow.  I'm also focusing on my handling, in particular my deceleration cues.  Joy was helping me with this the other day and in my rush to keep up I sometimes forget to slow down where I need to.  Going to try to keep the flailing arm under control too.

Lola will give me whatever Lola feels like giving me and that's fine.  I signed her up for probably too many runs and I may need to pull her, we'll see how she's feeling.  I love running her in DOCNA so I'm looking forward to her runs.

The trial is only 20 minutes away so I can sleep in a bit which will make the long days not so terrible.  Should be nice weather so I can crate outside, at least until the sun goes down and it gets too cold, so Strum will have a chance to relax in the car and his brain will stay in his head.  At least that's the fantasy I'm laboring under.

On a totally different subject here's a video of a guy who's got some crazy mad dog training skilz.  Riding his bike through town and on urban biking/hiking trails with 16 dogs in tow.  I told Jonny we need to get 13 more so I could try this out and he thought that was a fabulous idea.  I'm a little concerned though that this guy isn't carrying any poop bags.  Unless he's also taught them not to poop out on their rides in which case he surely is a dog training genius.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who else geeked out and watched the Steeplechase/Speed Jumping Finals?

I'm not sure how I come to the point in my life where I spend my Saturday night in front of a computer watching dogs run around an arena but there you go.  I totally get how people like to be there in the stands-the noise and excitement of the crowd cheering, the loud music, the drunken revelry.  It's like the difference between going to see a band live and watching a concert on DVD, believe me, I get it.  But I guess I'm old and cranky because for me it was a huge luxury to sit in my fuzzy slippers and watch from the comfort of home.  Somehow I was less bored than when I was actually there in the stands.  Go figure.  My only complaint was the appalling camera work.  It was zoomed in too close to get a good feeling for the handling and the switch between the different camera angles was jarring and unnecessary.  They did this when they used to show it on t.v. and I can understand why because the average t.v. viewer wants to see the dog.  But I'm supposing most people watching the live feed last night were agility geeks with a different agenda.  Anyway, it was free so I guess I shouldn't look that gift horse too much in the mouth. 

I didn't know very many people running so it was hard to get too excited about the competition aspect of it but it was interesting to see how the different handling options panned out.  I loved seeing the mix win and the other mix come in second and the dude with the Malinois winning the 26" Champ. class.   But the highlight for me was the interview with the junior handler who won the ridiculously competitive 22" Champ. class.  The announcer was asking her about her win and she said something to the effect of it's all about getting out there and having fun with your dog.  It was great to see someone that age competing at the level who gets it.

Watching all that high level competition is inspiring but also a bit depressing.  It feels like I have so far to go and I'm progressing at a snail's pace.  Strum's last couple of lessons have had me feeling like I'm beating my head against the wall.  On the other hand it's good that I'm being challenged.  No point paying for lessons and I do everything right and never learn anything.  But it feels like the list of things to learn is long and I'm at a frustrating platueau in both my training and handling.

On the other hand I took Lola out to the field the other day for a rare practice session.  It was in the low 30's, cloudy with a storm blowing in-perfect agility weather for my dogs-and she was fiesty and full of herself.  She flew around that course hitting all her weaves and contacts, following my every move like the awesome little girly that she is, running with a pure joy that she saves for those times when it's just me and her alone at the field.  It was one of those perfect agility days where I know exactly why it is I love the sport.

Then I went back the next day and tried running Strummer on the same course and I'm in a good mood right now so we won't talk about how that went.  My kingdom for some younger legs and faster reflexes.

This week we had 60's-70's shorts weather, today we have snow.  Biking weather to skiing weather in 24 hours.  But the sun is shining now and the snow is beautiful so I'm going to throw on a fleece and burn off some of Strummer's boundless energy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Race Across the Sky: Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race movie

I went to see this movie last night primarily because Jonny wanted to go.  I had a vague idea that it was about the Leadville 100, wasn't even sure if it was the mountain bike race or the running race.  'It's got lots a beautiful footage of the mountains around Leadville', was all Jonny told me.  I agreed to go because he was excited about it and I didn't put any more thought into it.  And here's where paying attention may have paid off because the last thing I was expecting was 90 minutes of a Lance Armstrong Love Fest.  Ugh, Lance Armstrong, I am not a fan.  That's putting it politely.  Listening to his arrogant blowhard yammering is like extra long creepy vampire fingernails screeching on a blackboard.  I had no idea he'd done Leadville this past summer.  I also had no idea that the bulk of the movie would involve following him and the other top contenders through the race.  I'm also not a fan of watching other people racing or listening to pro racers talk about racing.  Especially 100 mile long bike races that last 7-12 hours with panel discussions with the racers before and after the movie.  It was a long night.  The theater was packed though and there were people outside hoping to buy tickets so I assume it sold out.  I guess this sort of thing appeals to somebody.

There were some good bits to the movie like the scenery.  It was interesting to see the course.  Jonny raced it back in 1995 and 1996 and all this time he's been telling me that it's not a technical course and all this time I've not believed him.  But it turns out it's mostly dirt roads and wide dirt trails with little technical challenge.  It's not to say the race isn't hard.  Leadville sits at 10,200 feet and the race is 100 miles long with a total of 14,000 feet of climbing with some of the climbs going above 11,000 and 12,000 feet, well above treeline.  There's a 4 hour cut-off at the 40 mile mark and if you don't finish in under 12 hours you're not considered an official finisher and don't get your finisher's medal.  So yes, if you finish this race you are entitled to some major bragging rights.  But I can see why the lack of technical challenge makes this race appealing to the likes of Lance Armstrong because he does not have pro level mountain bike skills.  Way back in the day there was a real mountain bike stage race up in Steamboat Springs, 4 days I think.  Lance Armstrong entered it and talked a lot of smack then ended up pulling out after 2 days or so, tail between his legs.  Watching him fall repeatedly and endo into a creek was probably one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed on a t.v. sports program.  Anyway, Leadville suits him perfectly because in addition to the lack of mountain biking skills involved there are long flat stretches where he can employ his road biking tactics and sit on everyone else's wheel and let them pull him along while never doing any work himself, saving his energy for his eventual breakaway just like he does in the Tour de France.  Which is unfortunate because that sort of thing is the antithesis of mountain biking and so boring to watch.  But I digress.

Another highlight of the movie was watching Lance struggling to fix a flat.  He didn't even appear to know how to use a CO2 cartridge.  Hilarious.  Of course there is no team support car following him around to fix his flats for him because, hello, this is not the Tour de France.  He ended up riding the last 7 miles on a flat tire which normally I would consider pretty punk rock but because it's the result of not being able to fix a flat I'd call that just plain sad.

The race does have a lot of interesting stories and the movie would have been more compelling if it had focused more on the normal people and less on the pros/Lance.  They did show a small bit of footage of the regular folk, in particular at the 4 hour/40 mile cutoff.  Some people were thankful to have their misery ended for them while others, like the old guy who'd recently had both knees replaced and trained his butt off to be able to finish the race, burst into tears.  I went up there one year to cheer Jonny on and I have a good story or 2 of things I saw .  My friend and I ended up directing traffic at a race intersection because the fireman had to leave to help somebody on a tandem who was probably having a heart attack.  Then the guy who had ridden back to tell the fireman about the fallen cyclist burst into tears because he was going to miss his finisher's time.  And if you want to see the definition of self-inflicted human misery then go stand at the 85 mile mark.  Try cheering on the racers, they're so miserable that they're not shy about telling you where to go.  Very few happy, loving life smiles at the 85 mile mark.  A few, but not many.

So I guess in summary if you're a Lance Armstrong fan you'll love this movie.  If you're a fan of the average endurance athlete who does not have the advantage of endless training time and performance enhancing drugs then maybe it's not so inspiring or interesting.  At least it wasn't to me.

I heard the movie crowd in Orange County was booing Lance when he came on the screen.  Then some soccer mom who didn't have a clue (thought Lance had won the race 8 times) started yelling at them.  Now that would have been an entertaining evening.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A cautionary tale as we head into winter

This was a new one on me and of course it happened to Cody.  You know that old yarn about the kid licking the flagpole on the cold snowy day and getting his tongue stuck?  Well, somehow Cody managed to get that ball in the photo frozen to his tongue while we were playing in the snow storm 2 weeks ago.  If I was a different sort of person I would have laughed and run for the camera but instead I had a minor panic attack and rushed him into the warmth of the house where the ball fell loose from his tongue in a matter of seconds.  Phew.  But I had to wonder how that story would have ended had we been miles from home or the car at a park or on a trail.  It wasn't even that cold, maybe 30 degrees, and we'd been playing 15 minutes or so.  Now the dogs have been playing with toys in the snow all their lives and Cody is over 11 so I'm putting this down to a freak occurrence but still it's something to think about and I don't think I'll let them have toys for very long in the snow when we're far from a heat source.

In other news I got a call from a recruiter yesterday about an actual job in my actual field which was somewhat shocking and I have to admit to a fair degree of skepticism about a company that resorts to a recruiter for that sort of a job in this economy.  But anyway, after sending the recruiter the normal barrage of reference letters and resume she emailed me back wanting a 2-3 sentence summary of my experience, a couple of  'sizzle statements'.  Anybody out there know how to make a career in Structural Engineering sound 'sizzling'?  Oh the indignity of my life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Career Opportunities

The ones that never knock? One of the things they suggest you do if you're looking for a job is to blog about your job search. But how do you do that and not cause your readers to want to gouge their eyes out? Unless your readers are only made up of other people looking for jobs and then it turns into a big misery fest. So after today I'm not going to write very much about the job search. There's not much to write about anyway because there simply is no work in my field. While unemployment in Colorado is something over 7% it's more like 16-17% in the construction industry. If you factor out the stimulus/infrastructure projects which don't help me it's probably way worse. I can't hang out a shingle and start my own business because here's the stupid thing about my profession, it's loaded with liability and you don't get paid very well. I can't just take on casual side work, I need liability insurance and I also need to form some sort of corporation to protect my personal assets, such as they are. The cost of the insurance is huge and the fees I can collect on the few small projects that may be available would probably barely cover it. And if I start a corporation then I lose my unemployment and there isn't enough work out there for me to start a business right now, at least not in engineering. Now if I want to go to the Middle East or some war torn place there are plenty of opportunities. Riyadh, Dubai, Afghanistan anyone? They're all booming. I even saw a job in Antarctica working for Raytheon. Can it get any dreamier? I'll bet I could get a house for cheap in Kabol though.

So for now I've come to terms with the notion that I may need to abandon my profession, at least for the next few years if not forever. Hard to let go of 20 years of education and experience but no point in clinging to a dead profession. I'm still looking and applying for things, you never know what sort of opportunity may present itself but I can't sit around waiting for the unemployment to run out. My plan for now is to see if I can take on some pet dog training clients. Not sure what sort of market there is for people who want private training in their homes or on the trails but I can only take on 2 clients per week and still keep my unemployment anyway so it's worth a shot and gives me something productive to do other than hobbies to keep my sanity. If it turns out there's a decent market and I can build up a client base then maybe I turn into a dog trainer for a living. I don't like the idea of hobbies for a job but it's a skill I have and I really enjoy teaching so I guess I give it a go and see what happens. The nice thing about it is that I don't need to go back to school or get any sort of certification. I've looked into it and there are some certifications you can get but I'm not sure they mean anything to the average pet owner. They all look pretty Mickey Mouse anyway except for maybe the CPDT-KA and I'm supposing that if I can pass the licensing exam to be a Professional Engineer that I can pass the dog training exam without busting my brains too heavily. The sample exam they gave on the website was pretty easy anyway. I've substitute taught pet dog training for a friend when she couldn't make her class and she wanted me to take the class over for her permanently but at the time I was too busy. I've also taught math/science on a volunteer basis to people trying to get their GED and that went really well so at least I know I like teaching and I can do it. There's always a learning curve when taking on something like this but I don't feel like the idea is too far-fetched and at this point I have nothing to lose.

I should be back to blogging more regularly. I was surprisingly busy this past month and the trip to Chicago threw a monkey wrench into what little of a schedule that I'd developed for myself. Even the poor dogs have been neglected but we're getting back on track with their exercise/training schedule. They say that looking for a job is a full time job in itself and this is certainly true. The internet and all the information that it makes available is a double-edged sword. And some of those online job applications, especially through the federal government, can take 2 hours to fill out. I've had a few that wanted not only month and year but the actual day for date of employment, degrees, etc. Crazy. Who keeps track of the specific day they were hired for a job 20 years ago? And you want to know how many semester hours I completed for my Bachelor's Degree and my GPA? Really? I've got 20 years of experience, a Master's Degree, a Professional Engineering license and you still need to know the driver's license number of the boy who took me to prom in high school? I wonder what happens in a good economy when any good candidate with half a brain takes a look at these applications and says who wants to work for a place this screwed up? But such is not my luxury now so I've spent the required hours to gather all the goofy information and answer the pages and pages and hours of questions. But I've got a system more or less dialed in now and these things are taking less time so I should be back to the blogging and training.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A small tour of Chicago

I don't usually take pictures of the city during my trips home. For one thing I have a lot of photos that I took back in the day when I lived there. They're film of course and maybe one of these days I'll scan them and share them here but yeah probably not, mostly because I'm not so sure there's anybody interested in them. Anyway, I took a few photos this time around with the point and shoot. I can't go very far from my grandmother's suburban house these days because the main point of my trip is to visit her. But I did manage a trip into the city to my favorite Mexican restaurant, Tecalitlan.

It's on Chicago Ave. between Ashland and Damen and if you're ever visiting Chicago or you live there then you should go. But shhh, don't tell my grandmother I parked her car in that neighborhood. It's not exactly the 'hood, well o.k., maybe a little bit of a dumpy area but it's not that bad and I've never had a problem except for that one time and really nothing bad happened in the end. And if you happen to do a google search and see the thing about the health inspection closure do not fear, they passed their inspection a couple weeks later. Now it is probably even safer to eat there. At least that's what I tell myself.

You can look up at the ceiling and enjoy these views while you're stuffing your face with the world's largest, bestest avocado burrito. If your friend who you haven't seen in months is lucky you'll come up for air every once in a while and ask him what he's been up to. If you're really lucky your friend will be an architect and he'll offer you some work. Now if only Santa will bring me some liability insurance.

The iconic Alcala's Western Wear is across the street and down the block a bit. I'm not sure who wears Western Wear in Chicago but if you're in need of a cowboy hat and chaps this is your place. O.k., maybe I have seen guys in Chicago wearing a cowboy hat and chaps but that's a different neighborhood. It was dark for the photos, thank you Daylight Savings Time.

The lakefront path in Evanston/Northwestern University is only 15 minutes or so away so I go there often on my trips to Wilmette. It's a great place to walk and clear my head and maybe stop at the dog beach for some doggy therapy.

Chicago skyline from the south point at Northwestern University.

Sometimes it's hard to explain the vastness of Lake Michigan to people who've never been there. It may as well be an ocean.

Grosse Point Lighthouse. I'm sure I've been in it and you can go in it too if that kind of thing floats your boat.

I like this shot because to the right you can see the top of the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette peeking up above the trees and the lighthouse to the left. There are only 7 Baha'i Temples in the world and they're all different. Kind of weird that one of them is in my hometown. It's a beautiful, amazing place, one of these days I'll post some pictures of it. Here's a link to a video showing some nice shots of it in the meantime. What did we ever do before Youtube?

That's all I got for now. Maybe one of these years I'll post some of my old photos or even go into the city and take some new ones.

I'm home now, so so happy to be home. You should have seen the greeting I got, especially from Strummer. I thought the poor guy's brain was going to explode.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fall at the Evanston Dog Beach

I made it to Chicago. Just. I thought I showed great restraint in not strangling my plane seatmate who kept neurotically tapping his foot on the ground with such speed and force that he caused my seat to shake each time he did it. It was like Chinese Water Torture. I get that some people have neuroses about flying but do they have to spread the love? It's not like tormenting me was helping him any. And the can of Coke he had certainly didn't help matters. It also didn't help that the plane took off an hour late then circled O'hare for 20 minutes or so due to some light rain. At least American let me change my flight to Friday for free so I didn't have to drive to DIA in the snowstorm. Despite getting hit by nearly 2 feet of snow on Weds./Thurs. the roads to the airport were clear by Friday morning. I love Colorado.

I only brought my dropped too many times point and shoot camera and I threw that in at the last minute. Didn't think I'd be in the mood to take pictures then ended up down at the Evanston dog beach and wished I'd brought my nicer camera. Didn't realize there would still be some fall colors here either, the leaves are nearly done in Colorado.

When that wind got going on Lake Michigan I swear it felt a million times worse than it did during our snowstorm. But there were some nice sunny spells and given that this is Chicago at the end of October I suppose it could be a lot worse.

This is my friend's dog Annie.

I'm trying to figure out how to stuff her in my suitcase and sneak her home with me. I think she'd be an awesome agility dog. And even if she wasn't, she's such a sweet pea.

This is my friend's other dog Theo. Crazy mutt was swimming in that ice water. For like an hour at least.

Theo and Annie playing it up

Scrap. Need I say more? He was my favorite at the beach today, aside from Miss Annie Banannie of course.

They're both collies but so totally different in looks and behavior. Cody almost certainly has some smooth collie in him so I have a soft spot for them. This particular girl certainly had an attitude. She was obsessed with the Border Collie who was obsessed with his toy and wouldn't give her the time of day.

Tomorrow I'll probably make another trip to the dog beach with my friend then venture into the big bad city in the evening to visit another friend who hopefully will not try to drag me into the Chicago River in a kayak.