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