Saturday, December 22, 2012

Joe Strummer Day

Today's 'Joe Strummer Day' is the 10th anniversary of his untimely death at the age of 50.  This gives me an unpleasant jolt as I fill out my race applications for next summer with the race age of 49.

I could post some maudlin tribute thing that will have me bawling by the end but screw that.

Lola sez you should go put on 'London Calling', turn it up to 10 and shout along at the top of your lungs.

Strummer prefers their debut album, way more punk.  And don't forget to bring a toy.

I've got a soft spot these days for his later work with the Mescaleros.  So sad he had to go while he was still treating us to such great music but at least we can enjoy what he left behind.

'Johnny Appleseed' live on David Letterman

 'Coma Girl'

Rock On.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rabbit Mountain

First time on these trails even though they're a mere 20 minutes or so away.  Probably the last time too, so rocky, eroded, unpleasant to walk on.  Great place to twist an ankle.  We only saw 4 people in 2 hours and 2 of them were a couple on their way down, woman was crying and could barely walk.  I asked if they needed help and the guy said, 'No, she's probably just sprained her leg', but her leg was jutting out at such an odd, unnatural angle and she was crying and looked in such pain, I'm guessing more likely it was broken.

Nonetheless, some pretty views.

Taking in the views.

Silly dog breaks out in stress dander a lot these days when we go hiking.

You would think most dogs would love to go hiking but Strum gets worried if Jonny and I separate on the trail by as little as 20 feet.  When one of us catches up to the other he wags his whole body and jumps on the straggler as if he hasn't seen them in weeks.  Or sometimes he breaks out in the dander for no apparent reason at all.  We were sitting on a bench taking in the views when he broke out in that dander.  Such a freak dog.

I love his goofy ears.  So many people tell me it would drive them crazy but I think they suit him perfectly.

It was nice to go somewhere new, I had been here biking a million years ago but I was on a smooth dirt road, not the super rocky trails.   Probably won't ever go back but glad to have hiked them the one time.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

'This American Life' Goes to the Dogs

For those who missed it, last week's 'This American Life' featured stories that were compelling, upsetting and thought provoking about 'what animals sacrifice for us and what we sacrifice for them'.

The website has photos to accompany the story about the war dogs including upsetting (to me anyway) photos of dogs wearing bomb vests to be sent on suicide missions.  I realize attitudes towards dogs and war and the government were way different back in the 40's but I still have a hard time imagining sending the family pet off to the U. S. military to let them do their bidding.

But I'm not so sure what I would do if I was in host Ira Glass' shoes as the owner of a fear aggressive pit bull with serious health and behavioral problems.  On the surface I can't imagine going to the lengths he goes to to live with and care for a dog that might bite me at any moment, especially knowing that there are so many great dogs out there that need a home.  But I've never been in that position so it's hard to say what I would do when you factor in the animal.  At the very least it makes me feel not quite so crazy for the energy I put into my own pack.  Who, let's face it, are spoiled rotten by 1940's standards.

But thank goodness I'm not to the point of riding an hour each way on a subway to buy them kangaroo meat.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Flipping Out in the Backyard

I've not been doing much backyard training lately because my yard is very small and only good for working on foundation type behaviors and we're at a point where training sequences is more important.  I've found that with a fast, big strided dog the backyard foundation stuff is not enough, I need to take it to somewhere where he can stretch out and run and learn to execute the obstacles at speed, especially the weave poles.

However I do want to participate in Blog Action Day and after last weekend's DOCNA trial which had many dogwalk - 180 degree turn to tunnel scenarios, I had a few people asking about Strummer's flips with the running dogwalk.  He was 5/5 with that dogwalk/tunnel scenario at this trial and you can see a few of his runs in the post below.

So I thought I'd re-post the backyard portion of the training I did for that.  I also have posts about taking it to the full dogwalk and you can find those by clicking on the 'running dogwalk' label and looking around October 2010 or so.  The following are 2 posts from October 2010.


I've been on a mission to get the 180 degree flip from dogwalk to tunnel on a verbal.  I thought I mostly had it but DOCNA Champs showed me that oh no I don't.

Even though I have a practice tunnel I decided to use a plastic lawn chair for him to run around because for one I could get in a lot more reps without having to wait for him to run through the tunnel and also because it's a wider turn and easier on his body.  In theory anyway.  That silly dog refuses to have any respect at all for his body no matter how I try to help him.

I've been working with the chairs for a few days now, several quick sessions a day and it took a good 3 days before he seemed to have any clue as to what I wanted.  After he failed for the third time in a row I'd give him some physical cues to help him then take them away and he'd be back to making mistakes, ie not turning away on the verbal cue and running straight ahead.

Yesterday's last session saw over 80% success though as did this morning's so this afternoon I broke out the tunnel and he's been near perfect.  Sort of.  After watching the video I'm not entirely happy with the performance.  He's not running to the bottom and turning but rather turning before reaching the end and sliding down the plank a bit.  He hits the yellow but if he takes to diving in the tunnel before running through the bottom of the plank he could easily start missing and in fact he did this on the A-frame at Champs.  He wasn't running to the bottom either with the chair and I was rewarding it.  The last rep isn't too bad and part of the problem I think is that I need to repaint/resand my contacts.  Glad I finally shot some video before I got too far along.

Some of the reps were straight ahead runs to a jump that was off screen.  My camera doesn't zoom out far enough to catch all the action and my yard is so small I can't place it farther away.  I had a lot of reps go straight because I don't want him learning to automatically dive into a tunnel whenever he sees one under the dogwalk.  He was starting to do that last summer.

Though I want the turn on a verbal I have been helping him out by remaining stopped and facing the side of the dogwalk towards the way I want him to turn when there's a turn and facing straight and moving forward when I want him to go straight.  If I want him to turn towards me I call his name and face the direction I want him to turn and indicate with an arm.  I'll get some video of that.  I didn't think he was having problems with that but now I want to see for myself on video what's going on.

Dogwalk Turns 10-2-2010 from colliebrains on Vimeo.


After some thought I decided to try using the prop of the pole to help Strum run all the way to the bottom before turning.  As I said in the comments on a post below I'm not fond of props and this is largely because I'm so crap at both using them and fading them.  I don't have a lot of faith in them either so I avoid them for the most part.  But I thought I'd take the opportunity to learn how to use them.  I wanted to use the running dogwalk experiment to improve my training techniques and here is one that could use some improvement.  Well, you can see from the videos below how that worked out.  In short, the pole only seemed to confuse and cause leaps and jumping off the side early to avoid it.  So after giving it the good old college try for a grand total of 2 days/training sessions I said adios to the prop. and the next session I had perfect turns.  I did have a training session on the A-frame/tunnel with my training partner but the mechanics of that turn is very different from the dogwalk.  Still it probably helped some.

Monday's session with the pole

DOGWALK TURNS 10-4-2010 AFTERNOON from colliebrains on Vimeo.

I had a theory that he was cueing off my lack of motion and shoulder position (ie facing the direction I wanted him to turn) rather than the verbal so I tried running forward and saying 'turn' and sure enough he went forward the first time.  I tried it again with a little less forward motion and he surprised me by taking the turn.  Maybe he is learning the verbal after all.

Tuesday's session with the pole

DOGWALK TURNS 10-5-2010 from colliebrains on Vimeo.

This session saw even more goofiness with the pole.  After that I decided I'd leave the poles to the strippers and figure out something else for next session.

Tuesday evening I met at my training partner's house to practice teaching verbal discriminations and turns for the A-frame/tunnel.  He was 100% with his turning cue, even with some forward motion on my part.  He was not 100% on his verbal for the tunnel vs A-frame so I helped him out with some physical cues but by the end I think he was starting to get the idea.  Verbals are hard, it'll take a lot more work but what I saw was encouraging.  I still question his ability to ever learn to process a verbal that doesn't have some physical cue to back it up during a course when he's flying full speed.  I think where it might work are instances where the physical cue is weak and the verbal will be extra information, like when the dogwalk and tunnel entry are close together and the physical cues to indicate one over the other are subtle and maybe not all that clear, the verbal can help him out.  In theory anyway.  We'll see how it works out in practice.

Wednesday's session, no more pole

DOGWALK TURNS 10-6-2010 from colliebrains on Vimeo.

I cheated a little here and positioned the tunnel opening so it was next to and a bit forward of the dogwalk plank.  This was to encourage him to run all the way down.  I'll inch the tunnel back a bit over more sessions to make sure he doesn't start to dive in from the side given the opportunity.  This session he started anticipating the turn and even turned with forward motion on my part for one rep.  And I rewarded it with a yes!  Next rep he started to do it again then stopped himself.  Third time was a charm and he went forward no problem.  I need to remember to put a lot of forward reps into each session like I did when I was starting out.

This post is part of Dog Agility Blog Action Day.  You can go here to see more posts on Backyard Training.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Almost Perfect DOCNA Weekend

I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful weekend.  Weather was sunny with temps. in the 60's, maybe even 70 on Sunday, a wonderful indoor Farmers/Holiday Market next door to the trial and the little Stinkbutt managed to Q on 8/9 runs, got 8/9 dogwalks and missed only one weave pole entry.  The only run he didn't Q on was Traditional Gamblers and it was a difficult sort of gamble for him, something we don't train and not a lot of people Q'ed anyway.  But he had a fabulous opening and I didn't feel the least bit bad about missing the gamble.  The rest of the runs were focused and fast and fun.  A few handling blips on my part but nothing bad enough to cause an off course (except for an accommodating run I was doing for Trigility).  Not sure what else to say about the weekend other than I was thrilled. 

And I had fabulous homemade tamales on Sat. and crepes on Sun. from the Farmer's Market.  This is one of my favorite trials because I always get a wonderful lunch.  And the bonus of a friend unexpectedly dropping in to watch.  I came out of the ring after one of my Standard runs and there she was.  She had been at the Farmer's Market and saw the dogs warming up outside so she came in the arena building and happened to come in right in the middle of one of our runs.  What are the chances of that?

Somebody else had some big fun too (photo from USDAA Nationals)

There was even a tricky part to one of the Standard courses:

The tricky part was the line of jumps after the #13 tunnel through 18.  I tried to do a perpendicular rear cross between 16 and 17 but I think I rushed it a bit and was too far ahead, stopped too soon and didn't show enough motion for the #17 jump so Strum stalled a bit but he got it eventually.  The only people who I noticed had a smooth run through there were folks with little dogs who put a front in between 16 and 17.  I thought about a front there but didn't like the line it set for 17 to 18 since I'd have to push a bit to get the turn between 16 and 17. 

Jumpers was uneventful.  Yet more pinwheels into pinwheels with a little bit extra challenge provided by a box.

Here's some video of a few runs from Saturday for the course maps shown above.  No video at all from Sunday since I was 2nd-3rd dog on the line all day and didn't have time to ask people to tape me.

DOCNA JUMPERS, STANDARD, SNAKES from colliebrains on Vimeo.

After the embarrassment of riches from the weekend I decided to check Strum's records to see how far we were from his MEX (DOCNA's version of ADCH, MACH, NATCH, etc.).  Last time I checked it seemed like we were half way there, especially in Standard but after this weekend he needs only 1 Gamblers and 4 Standard (requirements are 15 Standard, 10 Gamblers, 10 Jumpers).  Not too bad considering we only did 3 DOCNA trials this year and only 1 day of 1 of those trials.  Our next DOCNA trial is in Feb. and they're only offering 3 Standard classes so even with 100% Q rate we can't finish it then.  The next DOCNA trial I have planned after that isn't until August and the next after that in October so it could easily be another year until he gets his MEX but it's funny to think he's so close.  There are a couple more DOCNA trials in May and July but I wasn't planning on them for various reasons and the MEX isn't enough incentive to get me to go since we're in no hurry.

Final Stats

 Specialist Standard 1 Saturday Q - 1st place

 Specialist Snakes and Ladders Saturday Q - 1st place

Specialist Jumpers Saturday Q-1st place

Specialist Standard 2 Sunday Q - 2nd place

Specialist Standard 3 Sunday Q - 1st place

Specialist Time Gamble Sunday Q - 1st place

Specialist Jumpers Sunday Q-2nd place

Specialist Sunday Trigility Q - 2nd place


Specialist Jumpers Agility Merit Award (10 Jumpers legs)

Bronze Specialist Trigility Merit Award (earned at last trial in October)


8/9 (89%)

10/10 (100%)

9/9 - 100%, though the first one of the day was iffy

Weave pole entries
7/8 (88%), 1 missed entry, my fault, handling error, no pop-outs

1 bar down - my fault, handling error in Gamblers

No off courses (except an accommodating run for Trigility, came over the A-frame and was supposed to flip to a tunnel but put a few paws back on the A-frame before eventually going in the tunnel)