Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring at the Secret Swimming Hole

I never get tired of this place.

The dogs don't either.

 I have no idea why there isn't a dog sitting on this rock.

That's better!

Which way?

Almost there


Hurry up!

Throw it!

Happy dogs

No, we don't want to come away from the water

 I kind of love this picture, but I kind of hate it because they look like old dogs. 

There, now they look younger

What happens when I try to convince them to take a break

Monday, April 1, 2013

Coyote trail

A few weeks ago the dogs and I tracked a coyote. At least, that's what I thought was happening. It's entirely possible that we were only pretending to track a coyote, but even if it was make believe, it was one of my favorite walks with my dogs, ever. Almost as good as going to the secret swimming hole.

I frequently see coyotes in the open space near my house. Every single time I see one, I think "Where's that dog's person?" and then "That's a funny looking dog," and then "Oh." But slowness aside, I do eventually recognize them, and on this day I'd clearly seen a coyote crossing a grassy hill during my afternoon group walk. I went back in the evening with my own dogs, and after meandering for a while realized that we were near where the coyote had passed just a few hours before. I decided to let Sunny take the lead, to see if she showed any interest in the coyote path.

Sunny rarely gets to lead. Mostly I lead, sometimes Bella leads, and often our route is dictated by avoiding other dogs. But on this day the open space was largely empty, and even though Sunny had to stay on a long line, there was no reason not to let her pick our route.

Sunny sniffed and dithered and sniffed some more. She is not a brisk hiker. But eventually she started moving  towards the hill the coyote had crossed, in the direction I'd seen the coyote move. 

Sunny stopped and rolled in the grass almost exactly where I'd seen the coyote stop and turn and survey the park. I'd like to believe this was significant, but Sunny rolls in the grass a lot. Maybe she was just rolling in the grass. Maybe she was rolling in coyote scent. Who knows?

Then she took off up the hill, still following the coyote's path and moving quickly. Even Bella started getting interested in the trek. Whether they were tracking something or not, they were certainly moving with uncharacteristic speed and determination.

They kept moving, not stopping to sniff, not hesitating at all at a trail intersection, but forging on and telling me clearly THIS WAY!

I followed obediently until they abruptly turned off the trail and plunged into a gap in the brush. They were eager and frantic and clearly on the scent of something. Sorry girls, but this is the end of the road. 

It's one thing to let them follow an hours-old trail over open grass and fire roads, but hunting through the underbrush is not allowed. Critters need their privacy and safety, free from harassment by domestic dogs who've never missed a meal in their life. So when I thought that we might actually be close to a coyote den or resting spot, I called off the hunt and we went back to being domesticated and civilized.

As a consolation prize, I took the girls down to the far edges of where the open space abuts zoo property. There are well-fenced buffer zones between the zoo enclosures and the open space, but in a few spots you can get a decent view of some of the exhibits. On this day, we saw bison and Asian elephants. Sunny thought this was every bit as fascinating as the coyote, and could have stayed sniffing at the fence for hours.

On the way back, Bella pretended to be a wild creature streaking across the savannah,

and Sunny posed.

Best dogs ever, no question.

Monday, November 5, 2012


 This is a $15 bed from Ross:

 This is a $15 bed from Ross in a crate:

This is a pile of three $10 beds from various discount stores:

This is my bed:

This is under my bed:

and this is a $90 orthopedic foam dog bed:

Friday, October 5, 2012

San Lorenzo and Fremont DTC Obedience/Rally Trials

Saturday Novice A
Bella rocked it. She got her second novice leg and a first place ribbon, and never you mind that it was first place out of two qualifiers, and that her score was only 190.

6.5 of those points off were in the heel on leash portion, and the rest were minor deductions that I'm not worried about, and that frankly I'm not going to get rid of with this dog. (Not the she isn't the smartest, bestest dog in the whole wide world, but given her age and her temperament and her training history, I have no interest in training her to the level of precision that would be required to routinely score above 195.)

She started out wobbly and distracted, and on the first halt she almost kept going. But then she caught herself and came back to me, and from there just got better and better.

Saturday Rally Novice A
I made it over to the rally ring while novice B was running, checked in, grabbed a course map, and waited around for the novice A walk through. Only, there wasn't a novice A walk through, apparently both A and B walked while I was still over at the obedience ring. I only found this out when someone told me "you're up now!" (Bella was first in the class). I'd planned to warm her up after I walked the course, since I never need the full ten minute walk through. Instead I had to grab her and run to the ring, with neither of us prepared. Then there was a sign that somehow I've never seen before and I didn't know what it meant.

Somehow, we scored 91 and got second place. And that was the third rally nice leg, so she got her RN title.

I'm kind of embarrassed about the 91 score. Bella scored 99 and 98 in her previous two legs, and I expected something similar. Oh well.

Sunday Novice A
I was so sure that Bella was going to get her third leg and her CD on Sunday, but at the same time I was sure that I was too confident, and that something would go wrong. Before Sunday, she'd qualified and placed in every run in every class in AKC competition, and I knew that was a streak that wasn't going to last long.

Here's what went wrong: I've been experimenting with leaving jackpots in Bella's crate when she runs. I used to do this in agility and it usually worked well (except for the time that she tried to leave the ring to go to her crate early, which apparently I'd blocked out). I did it on Saturday with nice results. But on Sunday it happened that the crate was set up a little closer to the ring, and the jackpot was extra yummy, and I'd done some warm-ups with releasing Bella to her crate. So in the ring, instead of staying focused on me, she kept getting sucked towards her crate. On the heeling she lagged or forged or was wide, depending on our orientation to the crate. In between exercises she tried to break for the crate every time I praised her. On the recall she ran past me and almost out of the ring, before returning to no-man's-land somewhere in between heel and front. Despite all this she still would have qualified, albeit with an ugly score. Except that she lay down on the sit-stay.

Here's what went right: Bella was up and motivated and fast on a very hot day and on the second day of competition. True, she was focused on the crate instead of me, but that was my mistake. I love that she was motivated and energetic. I also love that she's starting to take responsibility for staying with me. When she almost ran out of the ring on the recall, I was frozen and didn't do or say anything -- Bella stopped herself and came back to me. She did the same thing several times over the weekend; she'd get distracted, but the she'd catch herself and come back to me with no prompting. I'm really starting to feel like we're a team! Of course, we've been a team for years. But somehow this obedience teamwork, this quiet, focused parallel attention, feels more powerful than the fast, noisy, drivey teamwork we had when we competed in agility.

I don't know how far we'll go in obedience. Bella has a bad shoulder, and she started limping during class on Wednesday. We've got an appointment with an orthopedic specialist in a couple weeks, and until then I'm taking it easy with her. She has the intelligence and the drive and the willingness to train and compete for years to come, but I don't know if her little body can keep up. I'm hoping that with lowered jump heights she can keep competing beyond novice, but we'll have to wait and see. Whatever happens, I couldn't be prouder of my girl.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Bella was bored today, and will be even more bored tomorrow. Today she did a brief run though of her novice routine and had a short walk. Tomorrow she'll get another short walk and some puzzle toy play, but no training.

She's tapering.

Rather, I'm tapering her. She doesn't understand the concept, and I don't hear people in the dog sports community refer to it. But it's a useful concept, and I think it's a very good idea for Bella to taper before her trial this weekend.

Human athletes train for competition. They gradually increase the intensity of their training as the competition approaches, but only to a point. Some days or weeks before the competition, they reduce their training. They do enough to keep themselves in shape, but they focus most of their time on rest and nutrition and hydration. You don't prepare for a marathon or triathlon in the week or two before the event; if you're not ready two weeks out, you're not going to get ready in two weeks. Far better to use the final week or two to replenish and build up strength.

Bella's competition this weekend is more mental than physical, but I think the concept holds true. If she doesn't understand the novice exercises, there's nothing I can do in the few days before the trial to change that. Far better to use these final days to rest her and prepare her to be at her mental and physical best on Saturday.

I haven't tapered her before. I've always been one of those flaky and disorganized competitors who feels ill-prepared and tries to cram in too much training at the last minute. But this time I'm resisting that urge, and trying to trust in all the training we've already done.

We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Bella is 10 years old, she has her CGC, multiple agility titles, two legs towards her RN, one leg towards her CD, and is generally all kinds of highly trained awesome. Yet, I find myself working on baby dog exercises with her. There's stuff that I never trained or trained poorly when she was young, and it turns out that I need that stuff

First problem: Bella is overly distracted by new environments, noises, and people. This was never a problem in agility. When we went into the ring we were moving quickly and it was easy to keep her focused on the game. But in obedience I can't jolly her up or run with her or any of my usual tricks, I have to keep her attention on me while I'm quiet and calm. When we go into the ring, she's pretty sure that she should take a few minutes to sniff and look around, she's certain the ring steward wants to pet her, and she's convinced that it's only good manners to go visit with the people on the sidelines. Not that she's done any of these things, but she thinks about them and gets distracted, and we've had some low scores because of it. Here's an example:

I know why this happens. Bella is a mostly good dog who doesn't do bad things when she gets distracted. She's interested in people and dogs and noises and sights and sounds, but she doesn't lunge/bark/panic/run/bite or anything else awful in their presence, so I never got serious about teaching her to relax and focus on me around heavy distractions.

The other reason it happens is that Sunny and I are anti-social. We prefer to walk and train and exercise in remote places away from other people and dogs, and we like our routines and our familiar routes. Gregarious Bella is outnumbered, and gets dragged along to same-old same-old with Sunny and me. So when she does go to a new and crowded place, it's exciting and different and she channels her inner distractable puppy.

So what do I? I go back to baby dog attention exercises. I ask her to focus on me and get a treat when people or dogs walk by. I shape attention around increasing levels of distraction. I take her to new and busy places for her daily walks, training sessions, or just to hang out.

Here she is at Lake Merritt, lying on the grass, watching the world go by, and getting a treat every time she checks in with me.

Second problem: Bella can't chill. At least, she can't chill in new places or around new people. (When it's just me and her and Sunny at home, it's often hard to dislodge Bella from her bed.) This is also related to Bella being a pretty good dog with an anti-social owner. I don't take her new places often enough for it to become routine, and Bella's pushy, restless, demanding behavior is kind of adorable, and easy to tolerate. Bella can go in her crate and relax, and she can hold a long down-stay around all kinds of distractions. But if I'm not restraining her with a crate or a stay, she is up and bouncy and wiggly and whiny and hunting for tennis balls and crawling into laps and mugging for treats.

The solution to this is another baby dog exercise: I'm teaching Bella to relax on a mat. These days, this skill is taught in many basic manners classes, but back when I first adopted Bella it wasn't yet part of the curriculum.

There are many ways to teach a dog to go to lie down and relax on a mat. I'm using the protocol described in Nan Arthur's book Chill Out Fido, but many other approaches would work too. I'm not cueing the behavior or using a clicker, I just bring out the mat and drop treats on it. At first, I would drop treats anytime Bella was touching the mat, even if it was only with one paw. I gradually upped the criteria, so that she had to be sitting, then lying down, then lying down and relaxing on the mat in order for me to drop more treats.

Because Bella is a mature and training-savvy dog, we moved through the initial steps quickly, and within one session she understood that lying down on the mat got the food. Here she demonstrates lying down (but not yet relaxing) on the mat.

Shaping her to relax on the mat has been slower going, but we're getting there. I drop food for slow blinking, looking away from me, and decreases in wagging. Bella is somewhat confused by the idea of earning food for relaxing, and every time I drop food, she wags fiercely and stares at me with bright, wide eyes. But we're getting there. She actually napped a bit during our last training session.

Baby dog exercises are fun! Especially when you have a mature, experienced dog who learns quickly. And treating her like  puppy means she'll never got old, right?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What to stay to people walking multiple dogs

It happens all the time. I'll be walking three or four or five dogs, or maybe I'm just walking my two dogs, and I'm with a friend who's also walking several dogs, and we pass a person who just has to comment on this giant pack of dogs. You can always tell the commenters - they stop, they look, they mentally count, they assess whether or not they can reasonably complain about the behavior of any of the dogs, but if they can't they still feel the need to comment. More often than not what comes out of their mouth is just plain stupid.

So, as a public service to those who cannot resist commenting, here is a list of what to say and what not to say to multiple dog walkers:


"Who's walking who?"
Not only is this a very tired and old line, but it contains the not-so-subtle implication that that I don't have control over my dogs. If I actually don't have control, feel free to point that out bluntly by saying something like "Get your fucking dogs off of me/my dog/my lawn." But if you don't have a genuine complaint, you don't get to imply that I'm incompetent and disguise it as a friendly greeting.

"You've got your hands full!" 
While slightly nicer than "who's walking who," this contains the same hint that I'm not in control of my dogs.

"That's a lot of dogs!"
I can count, and am most often aware of how many dogs I am walking.

"You almost look like a professional dog walker."
I am a professional dog walker. Way to slip in an insult with the "almost."

"Are all those yours?"
This question just begs for a sarcastic response.
Are all what mine? *double take* Aaaauuuuuuggggghhhhhhhhhh! Where did these dogs come from? Get them away from meeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


"Are you a dog walker?"
Most likely you have no real interest in my answer, and I have no obligation to satisfy your idle curiosity. Keep in mind that I hear this question every day of the week, and unless you have an intelligent follow-up to my "yes" or "no," there's really no point. However, if you do have a genuine interest in talking dogs or business with me, start the conversation with a smile or a hello or any of this "say this" suggestions bellow.

"Is that a __(insert breed here)__?"
This is a tricky one. Talking breeds can be a great way to strike up a conversation with fellow dog owner, but there are a few potential pitfalls. Make sure your breed question is at least semi-intelligent; if you don't know a boxer from a bull terrier or a schnauzer from a poodle, ask "what breed is that?" rather than hazarding a stupid guess. And as above, consider whether you actually care my the answer and are interested in having an intelligent, respectful conversation before you start peppering me with questions.


"What well-behaved dogs!"
This might not always be true, and I'm not asking you to lie. But if the dogs are well-behaved, you will make a dog walker's day by saying so.

"Such happy dogs!"
"Cute dogs!"
"Lucky dogs! I bet they'll seep well tonight."
Just as nice, and appropriate for dogs who aren't perfectly behaved.

Always polite, whether or not I'm walking dogs.

"Do you know what time it is?"
"Can you tell me how to get to ______?"
Believe it or not, I can converse about things other than dogs, an it's okay to talk to me about non-canine topics.

"   "
That's right, you can say nothing all. That urge you feel to comment on the fact that I'm walking multiple dogs does not always need to be acted on. Just let it go.