Monthly Archives: February 2013


A friend of mine called yesterday and asked what I would say about picking out a puppy; he’s going to meet his future puppy this weekend. Of course I wish desperately that I could go with him, but the distance is just too far. I was faced, instead, with explaining how to look for good structure and good resilience–and he’s not particularly a dog person (and he’s not planning to do any dog sports), so I didn’t want to send him three or four books. As far as structure goes, that was actually somewhat easy: look for a puppy that moves well and is comfortable in his skin.

And resilience? Well, I know it when I see it, but it’s hard to explain how to spot it. I want a dog that can be startled–but calms down immediately and looks to humans for guidance how to react next. Me, I don’t want a fearless dog that hurries to investigate (although I know people who do want that dog); I want a dog that stops and thinks for a moment before charging in. (There’s a joke about poodles: if you ask a poodle to jump off a cliff, he’ll reply “after you!”)

Today in practice, I was working with Dancer on two of her least favorite obstacles: the double jump and the teeter. I’ve been working on her attitude toward the teeter for years. Today I saw that the latest surge aimed at making her more comfortable with the teeter has been paying off. She was happy to do the teeter, happy to stay on the teeter and eat her treats, happy to run on to the next obstacle.

I then set up a line of jumps with the double included. The first time through she did the double well, without stutter-stepping at all. The second time, though? Well, I got too far ahead of her (by her standards) and she knocked both bars down. She looked stunned for a moment, and I apologized to her. Then I took her around and asked her to do it again, while I ran right by her side. She did it beautifully.

That’s more resilience than she’s shown in the past. I’ve been working hard on making agility more rewarding for her and it’s paying off. Her anxiety is lessening and her resilience is increasing. We can go on our evening walk and she will look at other dogs, then turn back to me for my response. I try to be calm and my new way to tell her to be calm is “let it go” or even “nothing to see here, move along” (which always makes me laugh, which is great).

We have a two-ring AKC trial in a few weeks–a situation that has been a challenge for her in the past–and I am looking forward to seeing whether she does the teeter.

Salt Sugar Fat (minimalist book review)

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

I have just begun to read this book after listening to two different interviews with the author. The food companies–in it to make as much profit as possible–manipulate processed food to be addictive; this book documents how that process works. I have had a giant “aha!” moment: now I understand why the only way I’ve been able to lose weight is by eating whole unprocessed foods and taking the time to cook them for myself.

Eat less, move more

In my never-ending quest to be the handler my dogs deserve (and somewhere near as fast as Rush needs), I have been trying to lose weight. I saw a nutritionist back in July; as of today, I am down twenty-five pounds, which puts me somewhere in the vicinity of 1995 or so in terms of putting the weight on. (Alternatively, I could look at it as about the same amount I weighed when I was nine months pregnant with Stacia, which would mean that I am now trying to lose the baby weight I put on almost twenty-eight years ago. This is ridiculous.)

Anyway, people are starting to notice that I’ve lost weight and then ask what I’m doing, so here’s the summary, briefly:

Measure both activity and food: track activity (thank you to my Fitbit) and record everything I eat.

Establish baseline (which for me was about 2200 calories and 9000 steps/4 miles per day).
Decrease calories; increase activity. I’m eating about 1500-1600 calories/day and trying to average about 11-12,000 steps/day.

I’ve mostly eliminated junk from my diet over the years, so really the food issue is about amounts. Yes, I am measuring and weighing and being obsessive about food. Yes, that’s what it takes for me to lose weight. I’m using every single strategy I can find.

I measure everything. I use smaller plates. I eat a lot of soup (very filling). I carry measured snacks with me. I walk the dogs twice a day, sometimes three times. I don’t walk that fast, but I get off my ass and I walk the dogs. If we go to a restaurant, I check the menu earlier that day and I plan what I’m going to eat. Mostly I’ve been avoiding restaurants because it’s so easy to go nuts in them. Just ask and they bring you more food! Not helpful.

Oh, and I tell people I’m trying to lose weight. I’ve never done that before, because trying to lose weight is SO BORING. But, hey, anything that works. And this all seems to be working.

(And yes, I am getting faster and yes, it is getting easier to do agility and yes, my knees hurt a whole lot less.)

Susan Salo, third seminar

Rush and I have now done three seminars with Susan Salo. I have been unable to identify anything she does not know about training agility dogs in jumping. This astonishes me, but it also makes me feel that my seminar dollars are being well-spent.

Rush’s jumping ability is coming along beautifully. He is a relaxed and confident jumper who almost never knocks the bars. He jumps singles and doubles and broad jumps and triple jumps, winged and wingless, and tires, all with confidence and assurance. Slices–jumps set at an angle to his path–do not faze him at all. I asked him to jump 24″ this weekend–he’s been jumping 20″ for months but I was waiting for a bit more physical maturity to move him to 24″–and he didn’t even seem to notice.

So what did I learn at this seminar? To get the fuck out of Rush’s way: to shut up and run; to give him really clear signals by just keeping my hands down and quiet and running parallel to his path, while Rush takes responsibility for the jumps. This lesson sinks in more and more every time I try new challenges with him.

Core strength and balance work

When I took Dancer to work on her teeter issues at Barb White’s arena, I got a bonus from Barb. She suggested some exercises to work on Dancer’s core strength and her balance. Here’s a quick video of her balance work. Those pink inflated disks can be bought here.

I also started work on teaching a “sit pretty” (or “be a bear”) or “gimme five” (or “gimme ten”) as a way of improving core strength. You can see Rush doing that here.

Serping the weaves

Yesterday at the barn I set up some weave challenges for Rush. Dancer stayed home to rest; she had a few benign cysts removed Friday and has stitches that need to heal.

Specifically, I set up a six-pole set as the middle obstacle of a three-obstacle flat serpentine–so jump, 180 turn, weave 6, 180 turn, jump.

If I were handling jump-180-jump-180-jump, I’d stay on one side or the other and and run a straight line, expecting my dog to handle the turns her(him)self, just signaling the jumps with a slight shoulder turn. But add in that set of weaves, and I was prepared to run down the weaves, then turn the dog to the next jump and sprint down the line.

Instead, I trained it as a serp. I asked Rush to do the jump, enter the weaves, let me cross behind the weaves and pull him over the next jump. It took some training, and I realize now I could have made it easier for him (by doing the same kind of gradual steps I’d use in teaching a serp of three jumps), but we got there in the end.

Then I turned it around and did it going the other direction (off my left side instead of off my right side). Like so many things, it apparently was a completely different problem as far as Rush was concerned. A hard problem. It did take somewhat less work that the first side, though, so perhaps he is getting better at generalizing.

Rear crosses at the weaves

Wednesday (in handling class) Debbie set up a diabolical little course that required a tricky weave entry and a rear cross to get to the next obstacle, so that the ideal handler path was perpendicular to the dog’s progress down the weaves.

Not a one of the dogs managed to stay in the weaves under those circumstances. Rush, in fact, simply ran across them without really seeing them as weaves–right between poles one and two, but with pole one on his right shoulder.

As usual, Debbie was thrilled that she had exposed yet another gap in our training. We go home with homework every week. This week, of course, our homework involved training rear crosses at the weaves.

I set up six poles (because I was training entries, not completions), and a gentle rear cross situation–jump, weaves. It turned out that my original rear cross training must have been very bad, because that didn’t work either. I had to go back to the very beginning: dog on right, dog has straight path to weaves (and they’re only about five feet away), send dog to weaves, cross behind dog, move parallel to weaves. That worked. Same thing with dog on left. That worked too.

Next step, gradually increasing the length of my cross and then distance I was sending. I gradually increased the angle of my path until I was at about a 30-degree angle to the weaves. Then I added the jump before and the jump after back in. Finally, I added in a wrap around the second jump and a second rear cross, same handler path.

This all took about fifteen sets of six poles, which meant to me that it was time to give Rush a break. I worked the same drills with Dancer; she did very well and we were able to progress to the last set in only six sets of poles. Next training session I’ll work on increasing the angle between the weaves and the handler path.