Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Holiday Musings

Well, I had the day off again today so spent it at home with the dogs doing some cooking and organizing and just hanging out. Nothing major to report just trivial stuff.

1. I'm so used to Gata being big compared to all the other Tervs that we used to hang around that it seems really strange that she now seems small compared to Tor. She is definitely quite significantly shorter than him. I guess I've become home to "big" Tervs that are still as fast and athletic as any of the pocket rockets so popular these days  :-)

2. Tor is the noisiest dog I have ever known. He definitely likes the sound of his own voice and is more than happy to lodge a complaint if he thinks I am giving Gata too much attention. But, even aside from that, he is just a noisy dog. He "talks" in his sleep and in his dreams, he sighs/moans when he changes position while sleeping ...   He's just noisy, not in a bad way, just kind of a goofy Tor thing :-)

3. Gata is definitely showing signs of her old injury and all the time off. It doesn't help that she likes to rough house with Tor but inevitably comes out on the short end of the stick. I think getting her back to her former level of fitness is going to be a challenge but one that I am committed to.

4. Took both dogs out with the bike today. Gata has the movement to really enjoy this kind of exercise and took to it like a fish to water for the most part. We went around the block 2x, ~1.5 miles, and she seemed a little sore on her right hind at the end. So we'll just play it by ear and see how it goes. Tor did fine. He was comfortable enough to start looking around. There was much more going on in the neighborhood today so a little more challenging all the way around. He doesn't move like Gata and is as likely to run/lope along as trot. So when he got the looky lous I just sped up a bit and made him work a little harder. We passed  quite a few dogs, which is a little challenging for him since he really wants to check them out. But I sped up a little and gave him plenty of verbal  feedback (both positive and negative) and he did fine.

5. I have to admit, the idea of biking with the 2 of them together, seems absolutely crazy at this point. I can only imagine how fast and powerfully they could move the bike if they really got going forward and worked together. That might be fun in a sled over snowy fields, but scares the crap out of me in the context of neighborhood streets.

I think that is about it for the time being. I'll try to post about the Clothier Workshop sometime later in the week.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Picture :-)

Christmas Update

Can't believe that it has been so long since I updated the blog, but lots has been happening - both good and bad. On the good side, things are going well at work. I really love my job and am looking forward to running my own program in 2012 rather than finishing up someone else's as I did this year. On the bad side - my health has been pretty bad since moving out here. My asthma and allergies, which I had come to take for granted out in California, have resurfaced and made things very difficult - much as they did when I was a kid.

For the last 6 weeks or so I have been fighting a sinus/upper respiratory tract infection. Ironically, I thought that everything around me smelled funny (didn't realize it was in my own sinuses) so I went out and bought a couple of air purifiers for home and work!! Sigh ... A couple of weeks later I was in the docs office begging for antibiotics. The first drug, Augmentin, worked OK but not completely. Just before the end of the 2 week course it became pretty obvious that there was some drug resistance so I started a new 10 day course of Levaquin. A few days into that and my lungs were so tight that I could barely walk from the car into work and had to start on oral steroids. We went with a very conservative 2-day taper but by the time I was down to 20 mg my lungs were exceedingly twitchy again. So back to up to a higher dose for 5 days and then a slightly longer taper. So far so good. 1 more day on the higher dose and then I start the taper again. Hopefully, I can get off them without any trouble this time.

 Anyway, the dogs have tolerated all of this pretty well. Since my lungs are extremely reactive to cold air, I haven't been able to exercise them as much as they would like, but they have really been pretty good. We've been doing lots of stuff inside at night and some work outside during the warmer part of the day on the weekends. I have been able to get them out in the mornings for some real work only infrequently.

 Also on the bad side is some stuff that I have been seeing with Gata. She is more out of shape than ever before in her life so that may have something to do with it. But, I have seen 3 episodes that look very much like seizures. They seem to be restricted to her hind legs. The first occurred while she was sleeping and I really wasn't sure if it was a dream or a seizure. She did this once before that I am aware of when she was 3. The 2nd incident occurred in a similar fashion but she woke up during it and looked back at her hind end as if to see what the heck was going on. The 3rd incident she was getting ready to take a nap and was definitely drowsy but not yet asleep. In addition, all 3 incidents occurred within a few hours of doing a little more physical work with her on some of those nice weekend days. It makes me wonder if it is in some way related to what I had been seeing as EIC during the heat out here.

 Anyway, after more consultation with the vet and further literature review on my part, I have decided to start her on low dose Phenobarbital (PB). She has been on it just over 2 weeks and her initial blood work suggests that she is tolerating the drug well. PB is known to impact liver function so we will keep an eye on that. This also means that I will be less likely to give her any NSAIDs when she tweaks something. So, it is a pretty serious situation. So far though, I have not seen any more seizure-like activity.

 I'm not entirely comfortable with this decision, but it is the lesser of 2 evils, in my opinion. I know that plenty of people believe that seizures (of whatever origin) are not that big a deal. I don't agree. It is one of those situations where my science training is definitely in conflict with the prevailing public opinion, especially that most common in Belgians. So, I will monitor her closely and watch both drug and liver enzyme levels closely. I am not talking about this much but have decided that I am not going to keep it a secret either. Belgians are known for both epilepsy and EIC at some undetermined prevalence/incidence level. While I recognize that some people will hold Denise responsible for "producing epilepsy" in her lines, I DO NOT believe that there is ANY information available on any of the dogs in Gata's bloodlines that would/should have raised red flags. And, truthfully, I am almost certainly more aware of any bloodline health or temperament implications in Denise's bloodlines at this point than she is. Pedigrees have always been something that fascinated me - in horses and now in Belgians.

 In addition to the PB, I will modify Gata's nutrition to help support her liver function and will begin a serious conditioning program. I expect to do a variety of things to build her overall conditioning back up to acceptable levels before we begin any more serious training for either Schutzhund or Agility. In addition, I will have a full set of spinal x-rays done before we begin bite work - just in case there is anything there that would preclude returning to active work.

 Our conditioning program will make use of several things:

1. Road work on the bike - I intend to work both dogs with the bike, primarily at a brisk trot. I will likely alternate them in the evenings - 1 biking and 1 going for a long walk with me. I need to get back into shape, too ;-) Tor got his first session with the bike today. He did quite well - only tried to stop a couple of times and quickly realized that wasn't going to happen. All right hand turns today - 2x around our big block - about 1.5 miles, I think. Gata just went for a walk around the block 1x with me.

2. Interval Training - We started this before I got sick. Basically, this is something that I can do with both dogs at the same time in the dark - morning or evening. This is classical interval training - a specific number of long throws with the chuck it emphasizing sprinting followed by a timed rest interval and then repeated. During their timed rest interval - 3-4 minutes, I will exercise :-) Again, serving 2 purposes :-) Before I got sick, I was able to get the dogs up to 5 sets of 5 reps throwing the chuck it ball as far as I could in opposite directions for each of them. This takes about 35-40 minutes. I'm not quite sure where I will stop with them. At some point, there will be diminishing returns with respect to their sprint endurance but I'm not sure where that is yet.

3. Bite work - I will do a bit of bite work with them before working them on a helper. I don't anticipate delaying Tor's work with a helper to any significant extent. As soon as things get back to normal after the holidays I hope to get him on a helper again. It is definitely time. I will wait awhile with Gata until I believe that her conditioning is appropriate and I am certain that there is no residual soreness in her body from her lack of work or rough housing with Tor.

 All right there is lots of other stuff to write about - most notably a workshop by Suzanne Clothier that I attended. But, I'll write about that sometime in the next week or so. It won't be nearly as detailed as the Connie and Peter Scherk and Florian Knabl discussion - partly because she provided handouts :-) But it was still incredibly interesting and definitely changed my perspective on a few things. I am really looking forward to attending more of her workshops in the future :-)

 Between my improving health, a beautiful day outside, and my 2 wonderful canine companions it has been a lovely Christmas day. I talked to family and friends and have generally had a great Christmas :-) Now let's hope that 2012 turns out to be a good year for all of us :-)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Indoor Games

I've been trying to figure out more indoor training activities to do with the dogs this winter. It's not here yet but I can definitely feel the chill in the air and there is no doubt that the days are much shorter. So we're trying to figure out new routines that will keep us all sane and healthy. Plus, one of my primary goals for the cool season is to get Gata in great condition before it gets hot again. Hopefully, all her collapse issues will prove to be an acclimation issue.

So what am I going to do about all of this?

Longer term goal: Get the garage set up for training activities. What does that mean? Get all the rest of the stuff put away and the empty boxes out of there. Get some sort of padded and less slick flooring - it is just a regular cement floor in there. Get a small space heater to help take the chill out of the air.

I also signed up for one of Silvia Trkman's remote training courses. I decided on the puppy class since it is unlikely to interfere with any of our other training activities and I think it will be just plain old fun. Plus, I really like her philosophy and can imagine continuing to take her remote classes. We're just auditing but that should be more than adequate and I'll probably do most things with both dogs just to reinforce the training concepts in my mind. I'm of the opinion that going back to the basics is always good.

The layout of the course is as follows. Every two weeks a set of exercises is provided. People that are active participants are allowed to post videos to the training site and Silvia and others can view and comment on them. Auditors have full access to everything but can't post video, which is fine with me since I am technologically challenged when it comes to video anyway ;-)

1) Load the Clicker - both of the dogs are very fluent in the use of markers but I have been using "Yes" more than a click recently. So will definitely do some of that with both dogs.

2) Recalls - Can you ever do too much work on recalls? I wasn't intending to turn it into a game of hide and seek but did move to other rooms in the house to make it more fun (faster) for the dogs. They definitely like the game :-)

3) Step Pad - Silvia recommends using a plate but I just went straight back to the step pad for this. Both dogs know it well and I can use it for many more things with them, e.g. positions changes while reinforcing the idea of not moving forward or back, rear end awareness work, Braille heeling, etc.

4) Food Refusal - This is definitely something that I want to do with both of them. I just need to figure out a better way to do it than what Silvia recommends since I am using their dinner raw meat mix as their reward but that might be as simple as putting it on a plastic lid or something to keep it from staining the flooring.

5) Standing in a box or drawer - I need to find the right sizes of boxes for this but until I do I started with the round rubber feed tub set right side up. The dogs are already used to using it as a step pad so the challenge will be to get them to step into it with their back feet. So until I find a box, we'll just work on getting the pairs of front or back feet in it at the same time. That should take a few days to get it comfortably for each of them. Though, I actually got Tor's two left feet in it tonight. I think this is going to be a great back end awareness exercise.

6) Frog Stretch - This is something that a lot of puppies do but neither of my dogs do any more. So I think that I will skip this one.

The dogs are really enjoying their evening dinner training sessions. They are totally up for it and are working hard at pretty simple exercises, which means they are getting rewarded quickly and that only makes them work harder. So it is all good.

Now, I just have to get better about getting up early enough to make sure that they get an opportunity to chase a ball in the morning most days. Sigh ... 4:30 just comes too fast. Oh well, that's the price I pay for these two :-) 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Silly Games can be Training, too

We continue to do stuff in the bedroom at night. There's not much room but that works out fine for very precise heeling position work. I barely move my left leg up/back; rock forward/ rock back, twist/turn, etc. and the dog has to stay in heel position. It is really hard, detailed work for both of them. Gata likes this game and knows it well. Tor is just starting to play this game but is definitely picking it up very quickly. Every now and then I made a move that he didn't respond to but he definitely got it about 85% of the time. Which I think is quite good considering he's not done this before.

We also continue to work on the take and hold of the wooden dowel. Tor finds this boring. I am not at all surprised by that ;-)  But yesterday morning I emptied a roll of paper towels and he wanted to grab the cardboard tube. So being just a slight bit cleverer than he is, I decided ... Ah, hah, we will practice the take and hold. I didn't have any treats or anything, just my voice and hands. It didn't really matter - Tor likes those just fine :-)  So we practiced the take and hold with a cardboard tube. He really wanted to play tug with it but was quite accepting of the game. Mostly, he's just happy to be playing games at pretty much any time. Silly boy!

Both dogs are doing better and better about waiting in the crate. Gata totally gets at this point. Tor gets it but wants to lay closer to me so keeps breaking his down and coming out of the crate when I am "too happy" with Gata - his definition. He really is quite the character.

On other fronts, some of the dynamics at home are shifting and I will definitely have to keep an eye on them. Tor has clearly overwhelmed Gata a little too much in ways and things that I have not noticed. Even when she tells him off for something she sort of ducks away from him at the same time. So now when I have them loose just hanging out with me, Tor is close and Gata is hanging back. I can tell that Gata is unhappy with this arrangement. So I am attempting to institute an arrangement where both can be close most of the time and neither is allowed to own me. Don't know if I will be able to get this right but I am going to attempt it. I just can't stand to have Gata staring at me dolefully from 10-feet away.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Good Times

Poor dogs, they probably think I am torturing them. They liked our old routine in California much more than the new routine that we are getting into here. More just crazy, flat out fun and exercise for them. They like the yard fine but Gata returns to the door within 10 minutes waiting for me to come out and play WITH her. Too much time spent at work and too few remaining daylight hours to go outside and play with her all the time :-)  Though I do try to sit out on the deck with them in the evening and eat my dinner out there. The changing weather may put an end to that soon, too.

Anyway, so last night I worked them in my bedroom. There's not as much empty space as in the spare bedroom but there is a crate. I thought the crate might make it a little easier for the dog that isn't working to recognize that and turn off for a few minutes while the other dog worked. I can't really say that it was dramatically better right off the bat but it was easier to have the second dog out of the way. 

Though I think both dogs would still prefer to go work for the ball in the park, they definitely like working for their dinner. I used a locally-produced raw food, Aunt Jenni's, last night for the first time. It was kind of runny and a little difficult to work with as a result. I mixed it with some of my other meat, just in case. The dogs liked it just fine and they didn't seem to have any problems with it. But I guess I should wait until I get home this evening to decide about that. It definitely has more non-meat stuff in it than they are accustomed to.

Anyway, just did little stuff - positions, heel position and very small movements with perfect position, out of motions, and holds. Tor would rather mouth my hands and try to lick the food residue off of them than take the wooden dowel. So, I decided I'm not going to force it, he knows this part. If he chooses not to do it, that's fine, but he has to go back in the crate and he misses his turn. Gata also thinks that this particular exercise is kind of boring but she is more than happy to do whatever. So she came out and worked holds very nicely and got lots of rewards while Tor stewed in the crate and kept trying to sneak back into the game. Then it was Tor's turn again and he said "Nah, I'd really rather not play this game". I gave it 2 or 3 tries and back in the crate he went. Gata's turn and she said "Oh boy, let me at that dowel". Love that about her. Tor's turn and he said "Oh boy, let me at that dowel". Great, the start of him understanding that when he plays the game the way he has learned it he gets to continue to play. If he chooses not to play by the rules he doesn't get to play. This is going to be a core concept in protection work for him. Love it when a plan starts to come together :-)

Took them to the elementary schoolyard park this morning. Played the 4-corners game (but only did 2 corners, 2 throws/corner for G and 3 throws/corner for T) with each of them to get a little of the edge off then did about 5 minutes of OB. It was pouring down rain but they don't care about stuff like that. Love the "Whistler Ball" from Chuck It since they are both very good at following it by ear in the dark and I rarely have to help them find it. We were all soaked when we got home. Tor is so easy to towel off, Gata isn't much worse - more hair but she still dries quickly. Then towel off my hair and get ready for work, feeding the dogs on my way out. I give them their RMBs in the morning so they have a little something to occupy their time while I am gone.

I was also very thankful for my new muck boots (free of all holes) this morning. Nice to have dry feet after working in the rain again. It's been too long since I could keep my feet dry while working dogs - LOVE my new job :-)  Hopefully, it will be a more peaceable kingdom tonight :-)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Info from U of MN

Just got off the phone with the folks at U of MN. Super nice and helpful folks there; can't say enough good things about them. They have answered all my questions and sent me PDF files of their articles. Pretty much anything I could have thought of. I'm going to try to jot down the highlights of our conversation very quickly, perhaps in a less organized manner than usual, so I don't forget them or get called away to something else.

1. EIC, of all forms studied, is generally characterized by an increased sensitivity to heat and humidity. It has been known to occur in colder conditions and even in retrievers doing water retrieves in cold water but that is in the minority of cases.

2. A current working hypothesis is that there may be a variety of different mutations that result in a similar phenotype across different breeds/types of dogs. The underlying connection being that these mutations increase the temperature sensitivity of processes involved in neurotransmission, specifically in the CNS and not at the NMJ, of affected dogs resulting in a similar collapse phenotype. The differences between the specific breed/type syndromes being more specific to the actual mutation involved as opposed to the collapse. In general, dogs' ability to thermoregulate and dissipate heat is reduced compared to other mammals.

3. There are some identifiable differences between EIC in Labradors (for the duration of post EIC_L refers only to Labs) and what has been termed Border Collie Collapse (BCC):
  A. EIC_L results in a collapse involving relaxed, almost flaccid muscles, particularly in the back legs
  B. BCC results in a stiff-legged, rigid movement and ultimately collapse
  C. In almost all cases of BCC studied so far, the dog shows some evidence of disorientation, e.g. does not respond to name or other commands or may actually lose consciousness in more severe cases
  D. EIC_L results in a loss of patellar reflexes upon collapse

I also asked them specifically about one of the observations the vets made the other day when I worked Gata between cardiology evaluations - the constricted pupils and slight delay in return to normal function (reactivity to light stimulus). At this time, that was not a feature that they recognized as being characteristic of either of the collapse conditions that they have worked on.

We talked about potential treatments a little. They are encouraging people to try a low dose of Phenobarbital with their dogs. Two lines of reasoning for this - 1. in BCC it is looking like a seizure disorder; 2. it is the only thing that has worked in a few EIC_L. We talked briefly about other options and she suggested "calming drugs" but said she wasn't sure about which or the appropriateness of that since she is a bench scientist and not a vet. Maybe that's why I enjoyed talking with her so much :-)

Talked more about a video. They feel that they have everything that they need on her case. Dr. Eeg's office sent them the entire file on all the diagnostics that we have done so far. She said that they are always happy to have more video but not to "go out of my way to cause a collapse just for a video". What a nice thing to say after some of the "crap" that I've gotten from other folks. We both agreed that if it is some form of EIC that there will be plenty of unavoidable collapses to get video of in a few months.

About the BCC study: The have nearly completed the physiology portion of the study and are preparing a manuscript for publication. They have DNA samples from over 100 dogs but they do not have the funding to start the full genome analysis to identify the mutation. So it will probably be quite awhile to get that work done.

Catching Up and Moving On ...

OK, now that I know Gata is not a Labrador, and does not have the Labrador version of EIC what am I going to do?

With the weather cooling and the days shortening it is not really all that hard to avoid collapses and probably won't be for the next 6 months or so. During that time I plan to have a blast with the dogs and bring Gata's conditioning level as high as I can. With my landlord's permission, I hope to buy a pool in the spring. That should help to keep us all active during the heat of the summer.

Last night, we played games in the spare bedroom. Did little position types of activities with both dogs for their dinner. While one dog works, the other is in a down stay. We've been doing this for a few days in the kitchen/dining room area. It's a bigger area with a clear separation between the two areas - kitchen cabinets/ breakfast bar. But it is a little harder to work on because of the hardwood floors. So we moved to the spare bedroom, which is smaller but has carpeting.

Both dogs found it much harder to maintain a down stay with me so close giving position commands to the other dog. But both started to get the hang of it and I'm sure will continue to get better. I actually think this is a great exercise for both of them - impulse control and having to discriminate between cues. Both are fully focused on me the entire time but have to differentiate between when I am focused on them and when I am not. I suspect that this is a difficult concept so am definitely just repositioning them quietly when they break and reinforcing for good behavior with more of their dinner.

Also worked on the "hold" exercise with both dogs. Gata really doesn't need much work on this but I've decided that it never hurts to reinforce the basics so don't mind repeating stuff with her as I work on it with Tor. Plus, it helps me to recall things that I have done with her that worked and make sure that I incorporate them with Tor.

Tor wasn't really all that excited about holding a wood dowel in his mouth to earn part of his dinner. That doesn't really worry me. I've only started working them for their dinner in about the last week or so since it is quite dark out by the time I get home. He prefers to do more active stuff so finds the hold work kind of boring.

That reminds me of something I was thinking of last night. I have noticed, both in horses and in dogs, that the Germans (in particular, but maybe other nationalities that I am not as familiar with) have a tolerance for repetition that is quite amazing. In horses, I always thought that they could get away with it because they tended to work with a different breed/type of horse than I did. But, I'm pretty sure that's not the case with dogs, at least not with Belgians. So what is it that they do that allows them to do the kind of repetition that became so obvious as a key element when I attended the Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl clinic? Hmm, I have to think about that. Is it that the dogs get bored with repetition or that I get bored with repetition? And, either way, how do I make repetition a more normal part of our training plan??

Unfortunately, this type of work is not really a good outlet for all of their physical energy ;-)  So I continued to get mauled throughout the evening by one or the other of them ;-)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gata is Not a Labrador Retriever

And neither does she have the Labrador version of Exercise-induced Collapse. Got the notification from the U of MN this evening. It would have been nice to know what she has but I guess that is not going to be the case. I have alot of research and thinking to do ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jumping Jiminy!

Got home early yesterday, while it was still daylight. So I quickly loaded up the dogs and our "Clip & Go" agility jumps and went to one of our favorite local parks. It is this HUGE soccer field - room for about 4 or 5 soccer fields laid out end to end and wide enough for 2 or 3 soccer fields. There are 3 or 4 sets of goals to avoid but it's really not a problem. I've never seen anyone else using it except when they were setting up for the big parade in town a few weeks ago. I've certainly never seen any evidence of soccer being played there.

Anyway, I set up the 4 jumps in a big (roughly 20 - 30 meter) circle for Gata. When I let her out of the car, she was in ecstasy at the mere sight of them :-)   We did a bit of distance and change of direction control work and she was just flying. She was SO happy :-)  Then I switched them around and did a line of 4 jumps at roughly 12-foot intervals. She could barely contain herself.

She tired quickly since she has had quite a bit of time off to try to avoid any complications with the heat and her "EIC". I went to put her through one last time and she dropped 3 of the 4 poles at 20-inches. I decided that was enough. She was getting tired and I don't want to let her continue when she is dropping poles so I decided to end it. But, for a change, I didn't end it by putting her back in the car, I put her in a down near the bag for the jumps. I was a little concerned that she was too hot to go back in the car and wanted to keep an eye on her, but it is also something that I want to be able to do with both dogs - put them in a sit/down stay while I am working the other dog. It makes a lot of sense to start with her first, especially since Tor has serious self-control issues ;-)

So I brought Tor out and let him do a little work on the jump line. He is nowhere near ready to jump a line of 4 jumps so we just started with 1. I've done very little jumping work with him but have done some. His problem has been that sometimes he is having so much fun running that he forgets how to jump and looks an awful lot like an Ox when he takes the jump. Well, he didn't have that problem yesterday. His physical coordination has come a very long way in the last 3 or 4 months. And, boy oh boy, did he look pretty jumping. He gets himself so streamlined and aerodynamic that I swear he accelerates in the air. And talk about FAST.

We did 1 jump in various positions in the line from both directions and he did fine. Then a woman came onto the field walking 4 or 5 Greyhounds. I was very pleased with both dogs - they noticed but really paid no attention to the distraction. That's a very good thing since both dogs were off leash. Tor isn't always friendly with other dogs but he won't usually instigate anything. But I was really THRILLED with his desire to keep working and his complete and total focus on me. She stopped a little ways away to watch for a little bit but it  was totally fine with my dogs.

I set up a 2nd jump in the line for Tor at about 24-feet. He's not really ready to start pushing control too much. I want him to enjoy the activity and build his technique and if he has to do that with a little speed for now, I'm OK with that. Anyway, he did that beautifully in both directions. I don't think he dropped a single bar on any of the jumps. He is freakishly athletic so once he figures this out he should be an amazing jumper.

I really don't know very much about agility at all. But, if Gata can't do Schutzhund anymore because of the "EIC" but can sustain the intensity and drive for agility for the brief period of time it takes to complete a course I may have to learn more about it. One thing is for sure, both dogs would be incredibly good at it.

I have to say though, I find it a little weird and discomforting that Tor is better at almost everything than Gata is, so far. Well, except for being friendly. But, I really want her to be best at something. He is now faster than her, is freakishly athletic when he figures out what the heck he is doing, and has (if anything) an even higher desire to please me than she does. I feel disloyal to my sweet and AMAZING Gata Sombra ;-)  What is wrong with me???  How many people feel guilty for having 2 such fantastic dogs?  Oh well, that's me ... guilt stricken :-)

Bleepity, bleep Video!

This videotaping a collapse episode is turning out to be much more difficult than it sounds. It might not be so bad if I had help but since I am trying to do it by myself most of the time it is a big PITA. Yesterday, everything was perfect. I took her to one of the nearby school yard parks. I had everything set up. The camera was on a tripod pointed at a nice shady area where I thought she would go to collapse. And, she did collapse, but by that time there was more shade (about 20 minutes after I set up the camera) and she decided to collapse in a different shady area outside of the view of the camera :-<   This is turning into a major pain!

I may have to try to hire one of the neighborhood kids to help me with the videotaping over a nice weekend afternoon. Hopefully, we will have a few more of those to come before winter really settles in. Otherwise, it will just have to wait until the weather warms up again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cardiology - Solid as a Rock

Poor Gata, she goes from working to collapse, to not working, to working twice within a few hours, and then being poked and prodded on top of that. But she continues to be that dog with a super solid temperament and took it in stride. Though this time I made sure that the techs would be a little more relaxed around her by putting a muzzle on her. She didn't mind the ECGs and blood pressure readings nearly as much as being held down for the chest x-rays. But she did great.

She had 2 vets today - our excellent diagnostician, Dr. Peter Eeg, and a visiting cardiologist, Dr. Weise. We started out with a round of ECG, cardiac ultrasound, and blood pressure. Then I worked her pretty hard in obedience with lots of long throw rewards. Both were impressed with her movement and conditioning (and her obedience work). Then we checked her overall status, eyes, temp, movement (a little less free but definitely not collapsed) and took her back inside for another round of ECG, blood pressure and finally, chest x-rays.

Her temp was back over 105 again. Dr. Eeg and I have gotten used to that but it definitely freaked out Dr. Weise. Her pupils were very constricted after work and stayed that way a little longer than we expected. It was a sunny day but we expected them to relax a little more quickly and become more responsive to light stimulus. We kept her in the shade for a couple of minutes outside and they remained constricted. Once we took her back inside they returned to normal.So, kind of hard to tell if that means anything. Her patellar reflexes, though hard to find with all that hair, were normal.

Anyway, we have sent blood off to the U of MN for analysis using the Labrador EIC DNA test. We have also sent enough blood for them to use in the BCC project. And, now, we just wait. We all agree that it is most likely a CNS issue but which one and how do we treat it? I guess I have the upcoming winter and early spring to try to figure that out. So, there will probably be infinitely more musings on EIC and CNS conditions on this blog than anyone would ever expect from a dog training blog :-)   Oh well, my blog ...

To make matters worse, on the way in to work after that, I had a very small fender bender. But the man I hit has had 2 previous neck surgeries and wanted an ambulance. So, that definitely was not a welcome addition to the day. Barely scratched his bumper but there you have it ...  Sometimes when it rains it pours.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weather - 3, Collapse Video - 0

It finally stopped raining but the sun never came out. The temp stayed about 45-degrees Fahrenheit all day. So though Gata had a nice working session, no collapse. However, even though it was a relatively easy session, just some heeling, out of motions and stays with relatively few rewards her temp still exceeded 105 when I took it after we were done. It may have been somewhat higher earlier but we finished up with stays. I wasn't planning to do a temp study today so only took it at the end of our session. I'll keep hoping for a warm, sunny day and a chance to get a good collapse video. Hopefully that will actually happen on a weekend or I will have to take some time off work to get the video. Gata, Gata, Gata ...

Another Spectacular Video Failure

The weather was raining and cold (45- to 50-degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday so no collapse. However her temp still got up to 106.3-degrees Fahrenheit. A friend of mine was there to help with the video. The only thing any of us got was cold and wet! I'll wait until it warms up as much as it is going to today and try again then. Hopefully I can get video of something other than a dog working in the rain :-)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Boredom is setting in ...

Poor, poor Gata - she just doesn't understand why I'm not working her. She likes find the ball games just fine but she also LOVES to chase the ball, and heel, and jump, and retrieve and ...   Plus, I still have to figure out how I am going to work Tor and not work Gata without breaking her heart and mine ...  Comments, suggestions???

Thursday, September 29, 2011

More Normal Results ...

Gata's blood work continues to come back normal. CBC looks good. Thyroid levels all well within normal and ratio of T3, T4 and TSH is good.  Should have the Cortisol results back tomorrow. Glad that nothing is wrong but what is causing the collapses and why are they happening so much more often in a way that does not appear to be weather dependent???

Also heard back from the University of MN that they have only tested about 10 Belgians. So, I guess, we will probably submit samples for that if the rest of the blood work and cardiology workup all come back normal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gata - Vet Investigation #1

Mother Nature played with us a little today. I'm not sure whether or not it was for the best. It was cool and rainy. The video didn't turn out at all - think I went from StandBy to Off instead of Record. But Gata did have a mild collapse while working and I was able to record her temperature at various points along the way.

Pre-exercise: 101.5
~5 minutes: 105.0
~8 minutes: 105.9
~12 minutes (mild collapse): 106.3
~20 minutes (~8 minutes of recovery): 105.8
~40 minutes (~28 minutes of recovery): 103.8

I'm not exactly sure that it is the most accurate thermometer but you can definitely see the change from baseline and how rapidly her temperature goes up.

All of her blood work today looked normal. She had an Ehrlichia test again, pre and post exercise Glucose and Electrolytes, CBC and Chemistry.  Not all of the results are back yet but so far everything looks absolutely fine except for her temperature.

Next steps:
1. Try to get a good recording of a collapse incident with her (will try on Saturday, not supposed to be raining and the clinic is open if things go bad)
2. Do Cardiac Imaging and potentially a cardiac ultrasound and ECG. Currently scheduled for next Thursday.

The vet is thinking everything else is going to come back normal. Trying to brainstorm on what might cause thermo-dysregulation. Potential candidates so far - strange auto-immune (Thyroid/Cortisol) defects?? Tick-borne disease since I distinctly remember pulling a huge tick off after picking her up from a friend that she stayed with for a few weeks when she was about 9 months old when my Dad had a heart attack.

If nothing else shows up we will submit blood and tissue for the EIC tests (and probably for the BCC project, too) and see if that shows anything. Time will tell. And time to go to work!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

EIC probably not the problem

I heard back from the diagnostic lab at the University of MN Vet School. They have tested several Belgians (Tervs and Malinois) for EIC and none have come up positive. They didn't exactly say that it would be a waste of my money and her blood but did encourage me to consider submitting her blood for the research being done on BCC instead. So that means no clear diagnosis since they are still working to identify a genetic defect.

May try to have a follow up conversation or email with them to clarify it just a little bit more. Just keep banging away at it. Hopefully, we will get to an answer soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gata's Time is Approaching ...

It is going to happen. I have made the appointments for Gata.

Wednesday morning I will take her in relatively early (7:30) for a fasting blood test. Then I will take her out for some work and work her hard enough to cause a collapse. I will videotape and monitor her temp, mentation, and other vitals. After she recovers, I will take her back for another blood test.

Friday morning I will take her in for Cardiac Imaging. If her heart and lungs look normal we will do a complete blood chemistry and another Ehrlichia titer. While she is sedated, the vet will listen to her heart for an extended period of time to see he if can detect any arrhythmia.

If all of that comes up normal, we will submit blood samples to the U. of MN to test for EIC (Exercise-Induced Collapse) and/or BCC (Border Collie Collapse).

I am already nervous.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Delaying Gata's Collapse Video for a Few Days

I have decided to wait a couple more days to do a video of Gata collapsing, for several reasons:

1. The vet clinic will be open if she doesn't seem to be recovering quickly.

2. I can continue to do some training work around taking her temperature. She is getting much better about it but I haven't even tried it out in the middle of an open field during the middle of a training session yet.

3. The weather is definitely changing, and if this is EIC her recovery will be more certain if the air is cooler.

4. And last, but not least, I am just a little freaked out by the whole idea of working her specifically to cause a collapse. I'm not sure that I will feel any better about it in a couple of days but, hopefully, I will have become more accustomed to the idea.

Equal Time for Tor

Back to my dogs after all that writing about the clinic, this will be much easier! So, the title of this post is equal time for Tor, but he probably still won't be equal since my concerns around Gata are so significant. But, Tor is doing marvelously well. He is growing up and looks absolutely fantastic. He is definitely a handsome dog! He doesn't have lots of coat yet but definitely has the tail and feathering of a Terv.

He is a delightfully goofy and intense dog. It's almost like he is doing everything within his power to become that once in a lifetime kind of dog. The funny thing is that all of my dogs have been that. He is so affectionate and pushy and playful and just downright goofy that he constantly makes me laugh just before he forgets and rakes his teeth across my arm raising a bruised welt the entire way. I feel almost schizophrenic as we transition almost instantaneously between good/no so fast it makes my head spin. He is, by FAR, the quickest dog that I have ever worked - both physically and mentally. He learns thinks freakishly fast and when you think it is time to generalize a behavior he just goes out and does it like he has been doing it for years and it makes perfect sense to do it under these circumstances as well.

He continues to be a very stable dog and Gata's influence just reinforces that. However, between the move, his age, and his inherent aggression he has become somewhat more protective of me than I like. He is absolutely fine if we are working or even just going for a walk. He notices things and you can see he is evaluating whether or not they pose a threat if we are just on our neighborhood walk but he generally doesn't do anything more than that. However, if I am just standing around talking to my neighbor he doesn't have enough structure to know what to do and will tend to make the decision to try to drive them away from me. So I am working on that.

His training has suffered a little as a result of what is going on with Gata, the weather, my transition into a new job, etc. He hasn't gotten any bite work outside of the seminar. But, in all honesty, I think that is all right at this point. He is one of those "biting monsters" so building the relationship and other skills that I plan to use to gain the necessary control and accuracy are probably even more important at this point in his progression.

His obedience is coming along very well. I'm not exactly sure what his heeling looks like, it has a much different feel to it than Gata's does, but his position is perhaps even better than hers. I started him very differently and it is definitely paying off in terms of his certainty about where he belongs. And that confidence definitely shows and his energy and general happiness to work also show through. So I think I have succeeded in what I was trying to do with him and have avoided the "stalking heel" that I thought might be most natural for him. I plan to set up the video camera one of these days to see just exactly what he is looking like. He feels very bouncy beside me :-)

He is also learning the basics to many of the more advanced OB exercises. His retrieve is coming along beautifully. I am pattern training the actual retrieve portion as described by the Germany team that I spent so much time writing about. The hold work is also going very well. That I am doing in a manner that combines the Michael Ellis approach, starting with something definitely not a dumbbell and including lots of different items and textures, and the approach of the German team in terms of attention to detail with respect to position of dog and handler and so many other things. It is going well but I plan to work on it a lot more over the winter when we won't be able to do so much outside.

His out of motions are also coming along, in general, I have done a great job on his down, but need to spend more time on his sit and stand positions. They are good but not excellent. Something else we will be spending a lot of time on this winter when we will be spending more time training in the garage.

He is also learning the send out. It is also going well. He is adding in more and more speed as his confidence in what he is doing increases. He occasionally looks back over his shoulder but that is diminishing with his increasing confidence. Given the excellent down that he has, I think he will have a very beautiful send out someday :-)

He definitely needs more work on his jumping. When he is unsure of what he is doing, for any reason, he jumps like an Ox. I'm not really sure what to do about that, partly because I'm not exactly sure what his future looks like. Like Gata, he could compete ia variety of sports quite easily. And I don't want to limit his potential in Agility by focusing exclusively on SchH jumping. But, realistically, he has the potential to be a PHENOMENAL SchH dog and I don't want to jeopardize that either. So, for now, I procrastinate and try to decide how to proceed.

Anyway, that is pretty accurate update on where things stand with Tor. I need to get some pix of him but in lieu of that here is a link to one of his early bite work sessions on Dave Deleissegues.


Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 5

OK, here we go, the final installment on the Schutzhund clinic with Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl. I'll start with a very general discussion of handler focus and obedience during bite work. This is a very important aspect of bite work these days. Many points can be lost very quickly for a lack of accuracy or control in these elements. It tends to be the characteristic that separates a real biting monster from a great trial dog. Dogs that don't exhibit superior control in the bite work don't end up on the podium very often any more. Peter, Connie, and Florian recognize that and start working on the control elements of the bite work from day 1.

Like many people these days they actually start working on the back transport before they do much focused heeling with their young dogs. That way they avoid the conflict between focused heeling and the transport exercises. There will still be some conflict when the dog starts to do focused heeling but they mitigate that by increasing the level of distraction over time. So by the time that the dog actually has to do focused heeling in the presence of the big ball that they initially train most of the protection exercises on and ultimately the helper they understand the difference. You can also emphasize the difference by using different commands.

They start on the back transport using a very mechanical/physical technique that requires at least one excellent assistant. The assistant's job is to help control the dog's position using a back line attached to the harness and to keep the dog in a standing position during the early phases. The dog is supposed to maintain their position with the handler's left leg and will only be released to the toy/ball when the handler's left leg is back and right leg is forward, effectively putting the dog in an artificially lagged position. They believe that this is critical to minimize forging and point loss. As the dog starts to learn the position, lightly brushing the handler's left leg, and in a marginally lagged position, help from the assistant is faded.

I think you could probably do more shaping and achieve the same result in terms of position but I think that their focus on when you release the dog to the ball or helper is unique and probably very smart. An awful lot of dogs forge in the back transport no matter how you train it and I think this might help that problem.

They work the side transport as a variation of the back transport.

From there we moved on to the element of focused obedience within the confines of the protection work. Like most people, once their dogs are doing focused work they start adding in distractions of varying type and value. They do lots of that before ever working on focused obedience in the presence of the helper - pretty much the highest value distraction for most SchH dogs.

That was pretty much it for the bite work stuff that I saw. We left a little early because Gata had the first of her more serious collapse incidents here on Sunday afternoon. So they may have done a little more that I didn't see. However they did use a few tools that I thought were interesting and worth talking about.

Dressage whip - I already mentioned how I felt about the abuse of this particular tool. However, when used in the way I would envision I can see it being very useful in creating total body awareness and extremely precise movements and positioning. I think it is something that I will play around with over the winter. I did a lot of this sort of work in horses so think it should come pretty easily. Though I think that there is the potential that you could inadvertently teach the dog to move away from the helper's stick as well. So I will have to keep that in mind.

Big ball - as soon as the puppies have developed a few fundamental skills they start pattern training parts and ultimately the entire protection routine using a big ball (soccer, Jolly, etc.). I think they usually have an assistant on hand as well who can add energy/movement to the ball or remove it when necessary. But the point is the dog already knows the rules of the game before it starts working on the helper so it is much easier to do so without using corrections. I did it that way with Gata but mostly to make training more efficient - I train at least 10 times on my own for every time I train on a helper. Whereas the Germany group do protection work 3 times a week.

Special bite wedge - Team Heuwinkl has a special relationship with the folks at Frabo and have lots of custom made equipment. Most of those designs eventually become marketed items, partly because they are just well designed and executed to meet a general need and partly because of good marketing. I'll do my best to describe the wedge that I saw them using since it doesn't have a specific name. But the folks that are really involved in SchH that read this will understand, I think. It is one of the hard (rather than pillow) wedges with 3 handles that have become so popular recently. The customization is in the cover for the wedge. It has a strip of plastic sewn across it, about 2 inches from the biting edge so that dogs that don't immediately go for a full bite will connect with the slippery surface and either slide off or regrip quickly. Ultimately, it encourages dogs to go for a better grip from very early on. This is something that I will probably invest in since I do so much with my dogs on my own. I have sort of avoided using the pillow wedges with Gata because it is too easy for me to present it badly and/or her to get a strange grip on it. So I really like this idea. Though I didn't actually pick it up when I was at the clinic so don't know what it would feel like to use.

Final take-sways from the clinic. I really like what they are doing and it is definitely revolutionizing the sport of SchH. I don't think it is the most sophisticated training in terms of theoretical elements and basis in learning theory. But I'm not sure that is as important as successful outcomes in the sport of SchH for now. I would definitely audit their seminar again if they came anywhere near me. I would not hesitate to take a working spot with a young or green dog as long as it had a good out or I needed help getting a good out. I wouldn't pay for a working spot with a more advanced dog. For me, it was a very nice way to spend the weekend and start tapping into the SchH community around here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gata and Heat Sensitivity or Exercise-Induced Collapse or ???

Gata continues to worry me. What I have been trying to minimize by describing as "heat sensitive" is probably something much more akin to Exercise-Induced Collapse. The only good thing about it is that they have done a lot of research on it since the last time I looked into it and have a much better understanding than they did at the time of Gata's first collapse over 3 years ago. They have a genetic test for it now, but it seems to be pretty specific to the retriever breeds. There is something else like it in Border Collies that is definitely NOT the same thing based on genetic markers. As far as I can tell they don't know what it is yet. But I will try to call the University of MN to find out more.

Anyway, Gata had another incident of it at about 6:00 Wednesday morning. It was neither hot nor humid. She's been off since then as I have been doing my own research and trying to figure out how to proceed.

I stopped at the local vets office on the way home yesterday, on a whim. I don't like the set up of their facility or the way their tech tries to manhandle the dogs but did like the vet. And since he had worked at the NIH I thought there might be a pretty good chance that he would be academically inclined. He wasn't there so I ended up talking with the owner of the practice. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he knew quite a bit about EIC and BCC. Apparently there are quite a few working stock dogs and field trial Labrador Retrievers around here. And at least some of them suffer from it. Apparently, the current estimates are that 30-40%of all Labradors today are carriers.

Anyway, he talked to me about some other things that can present similar symptoms - dilated cardiomyopathy, some heart arrhythmias, glucose/insulin problems, and ... Ehrlichia canis (again with the Ehrlichia). So we mapped out an approach to sort through most of the possibilities pretty quickly and easily for her but probably not so easy on my bank account.

The one thing that is really worrying me about it is that I am going to work her long enough to cause a collapse and monitor a number of things including time, temperature, mental status, etc. I've decided that if I am going to do all of that I might as well set up the video camera and record it. I was planning to do that tomorrow, but have to admit it is sort of freaking me out a little bit. It just seems wrong to go out of my way to cause a collapse even though I know that it will be very helpful to the vets to be able to actually see it. Several of these conditions are known to cause fatalities.

I think I can set it up so that it is relatively safe. Have ice water in a cooler on the field to help cool her off as soon as I get her temp and do a mental status check. But still, it seems awfully risky. Oh man, I hate these sorts of decisions ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 4

OK, on to the bite work.  I guess we should start with the most important part of bite work, the out. They start teaching that at a very young age when the puppy is still playing with the rag. They tell the puppy to out and stick a piece of food in front of its nose. When the puppy opens its mouth they more or less push its head back with the food. They want their dogs to look like they are almost spitting the sleeve out. So this drawing the head back from the toy is very important to them. Again, lots and lots of repetitions until you have a pretty nice out.

However, they do some things that are quite a bit different than many of the people that I know in the sport.
1. They discourage an automatic out and train the dog in a way that avoids it
2. They rarely out the dog when it is in front of the helper
3. They rarely out the dog when the helper is locked up
4. They almost actively teach the dog to increase their fight when the helper is locked up
5. Teach the dog to out in almost any phase of the engagement with the helper so that it doesn't matter what is happening when the judge signals you to out your dog

They practice with the dog on both sides of the helper, while being actively driven. It is quite impressive. Especially with the international rules changing it seems likely that dogs will be penalized for an automatic out soon.

Fixing a bad out was not something that they had any patience for.  Though, I don't know if they would do the same thing at home.  I think clinicians feel pressure to show results with the dogs at the clinic and if the dog won't even reliably it is hard to get very far.  They just corrected the crap out of the dog and reprimanded the handler for not teaching it properly in the first place. Age might have mattered, there weren't really any young puppies there. But they seemed to want to go thru the entire list of dogs and just correct every one for outing problems.

They asked me to demonstrate Gata's problem with the out. I replied that she doesn't have a problem with the out and they told me to put her away. I was told by the host to get her out, that it was her turn and that we could work on other things. Gata could use some work on her out when under drive, etc. but that is about training and exposure to stuff I haven't done with her before and not a justification to correct the crap out of her. She certainly would have had a problem with her out, and maybe even her biting, if I had just turned them loose on her. The look on my face must have been pretty frustrated because they at least tossed me a pillow to give her a few bites on. Her outs were beautiful, as usual for her. Didn't win any extra points with Peter on that one either. But I didn't have my dogs there to demonstrate their training methodologies, I had my dogs there to advance their training in one way or another. Unfortunately, I can't say that they did anything at all worthwhile with Gata. She didn't even get to have a good time on a helper over the two days.

I would have been happy to let them work on her out under other conditions, she does auto out a little sometimes. But I think I will feel safer about working on that stuff on my own.

Anyway, enough about that. They do some very interesting work on the bark and hold. They do a number of things very differently than any other group that I have observed. However, I should also mention that I walked away thinking that using their method with a less experienced helper, or one that didn't read dogs as well could lead to disastrous results. So, I'll try to summarize a few of their rules first and then add in more nuance at the end.

1. The dog never gets a bite on the helper for the bark and hold. The toy, ball or pillow or wedge, or a sleeve is always thrown away to the helper's right hand side and the dog is allowed to grab it there. NEVER a bite from the helper!!

2. They work the dogs in true aggression for the b&h. They start the puppies very young, while they are still being socialized in other environments and/or under other conditions. They have someone approach from a very significant distance acting distinctly suspicious. When the puppy reacts at all in a confidently aggressive/assertive way the suspicious person moves away.  This will vary by individual puppy. For some, it will be as little as looking at the bad guy's face for an instant for other puppies they will want more. Initially, the reward will be that the bad guy goes away but at some point they will add in the toy/puppy sleeve. They do all of this outside the blind. They will continue moving it along until the puppy is showing perfect bark and hold behavior outside the blind on a loose back line. Then they will move it into the blind.

For many of the dogs there, they started this work by taking advantage of their natural tendency to resource guard. They threw a puppy sleeve on the ground in front of the dog and then tried to sneak up and take it.  When the dog barked they kicked the sleeve to him.  It worked very well for many of the dogs including Tor. As the dog becomes more and more confident in their aggressive assertiveness they show them more and more aggressive displays from the helper.

The key element is only moving forward in aggression when the puppy is confident and not overly stressed out. Rewarding the frantic or hysterical aggression is not what you want.

I plan to take advantage of the technique that they demonstrated with Tor to build on what they started.  With me, he will not be showing any true aggression. So, I will essentially be pattern training him, which I don't mind. Tor shows plenty of natural aggression and already has a very powerful bark whether he is demand barking or showing aggression. For this particular dog, I'm not really worried, I think he will show plenty of aggression anyway. Though, I realize that this is another place where my approach would differ from theirs.

OK, I'm going to stop here for now. I will do the rest of the bite work stuff later.  One thing that I did want to mention - they pattern train almost all of the bite work exercises using a big ball first. I did that with Gata and people made fun of me but it certainly worked well with her.  Anyway, more on that later.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 3

OK, here we go again. After the retrieve, they demonstrated their approach to teaching jumping. This was another example of what we would call lumping but definitely seems to serve a purpose in terms of patterning a particular jumping style, which is all that is required in the protection sports, as opposed to agility.

Again, they started with the desired behavior - a really fast retrieve over the jump with clean pick up and equal speed on the return.  They want clean, fast, powerful jumps. They don't ever want to lose any points because the judge didn't like the way their dog jumped.

So, they have developed a device that essentially turns the vertical 1-meter jump (or lower heights on the way to a meter) into an oxer for the dogs. They extend various different light-weight contraptions off both the front and the back of the jump. Light-weight is critical because they want it to fall (or make noise) when barely ticked. I know I'm not explaining this very well but know that many of you have probably seen similar home-rigged contraptions. They also cut the boards in the middle so that if a dog ever does fail the jump it gives way easily and minimizes the likelihood that a dog gets hurt.

From the first day that the puppy ever sees the jump, they are encouraging speed, drive and power over the jump. If the puppy ticks the metal rod they simply give a no-reward marker and try again. This the only place that they clearly, and purposefully, used a marker, as far as I could tell  but again, I only saw the final 2 days. The puppy's first jumps will be at a lower height and will essentially be a restrained recall over the jump to build speed and drive. Eventually, they turn it into jumping in both directions and a full retrieve but they didn't actually talk about that. So I don't know if they do anything other than lower the jump at first.  Again, literally hundreds of repetitions and much work at lower heights before going to full height.

The last two obedience exercises they talked about were the send out and long down. It seems sort of funny to lump them together but it works really well when I tell you about something that I thought was very clever. They have taught they're dogs to release from a stay, in any position, with a very particular physical movement from the handler.  For Bendix and his young dog, Peter drops into a quick squat, sort of.  The dog releases to him for a toy. It helps to minimize the likelihood that the dog breaks the long down when the other handler on the field gives their dog a command and also minimizes the likelihood that their dogs would release from the crowd reaction to their spectacular send out and down.  The other thing that it does is create a more active stay as the dog is now intently watching their handler and less likely to be looking around or distracted by other things on or around the field. I really like this aspect of it and have been working my dogs on this as well.

OK, the actual send out. Again, remember lots of repetitions. They have a shallow hole/ditch at the end of their field. They hide a special toy there that is used primarily for the send out.  They teach the puppy to run to the end of the field to get the toy.  They start close so the puppy can see it.  Once they get far enough away that the puppy can't see it they make a big deal sending their assistant running and waving the toy down to the end of the field to "hide" it.  Eventually they fade all of that. In parallel to that, they are teaching their puppy to down fast for that same toy - sort of a version of Ivan's game only more bite work like, with an assistant holding the puppy on a back line and the handler some distance away agitating the dog.

Once they feel the individual pieces are good, they put them together.  One very critical element though, the times that you tell the dog to down the toy is not in the hiding spot - very important that the dog not be able to self-reward. They fully expect that in the beginning, regardless of where the dog is when they call out "down", that the dog will go all the way to the end of the field to check if the toy is there before they down. That gets better with repetition as the dog realizes that the toy will NEVER be there when you tell them down. At some point in the future, they will start to give a harsh second command if they think the dog is not downing as fast as he is capable of. At that point, they will also withhold the reward.

From that point forward they will do about two gos for every send out and down. Again, they place a very high premium on speed and power in this exercise so are always building speed and drive for it. This is also the only exercise that he specifically mentioned doing a lot of foreshadowing to build the dog up. He starts cueing the dog as soon as he completes the retrieves.

He also has specific warm up routines for obedience and protection work, and I think tracking, too. I'm not sure how long they are but know that he activates his dog with barking before he goes on the field for protection. I don't know any more than that, though.

OK, that completes the obedience exercises. I'll try to get you something on the protection work tomorrow. It's a little more complicated with the start of the work week.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Heat Sensitive Dogs

So many things have been going well since we moved to MD that it seems kind of petty to complain about this, but it is potentially quite serious. Gata has always been prone to over heating during work, primarily obedience. Since moving out here that problem has resurfaced in spades. It has been so hot and humid most of the time that I am lucky to get 4 minutes of work out of her before she starts to overheat. Tor is not as bad as Gata but he is struggling in the heat as well. Hopefully, they will both get used to it, at least a little.

In the meantime, I have been doing a little research on the topic again, special thanks to Augusta Farley and Tammy Doherty for their help. Tammy reminded me of some basic physiology principles that had slipped my mind. Things like there are a couple of different ways to help get your dog accustomed to dealing with working in the heat:

1. Try to keep their temperature from going so high while they are working by identifying signs that indicate that the dog is approaching their critical temperature. I had that down pretty well with Gata in CA but out here she continues to heat up when we stop working since it is so much hotter and more humid. So I need to identify a different, earlier marker for her.

2. Reduce her temperature as much as possible before she starts to work so that it will take her a little longer to get to her critical temperature. Things like fans, cool pads in crates and vests can all be used effectively to that end. I have used all with her in the past but not specifically to cool her down before starting. Though the cool pads and fans will do some of that anyway.

Anyway, Tammy recommended a specific vest that she has used that used a slightly different technology than most. It is very popular with military and working dogs. Here is a link to an online brochure for their canine products, the website is being redesigned.


I would love to hear if anyone has used their products. I will almost certainly order something for Gata tomorrow. Until it gets here, I will go back to doing all the things that I used to do with her. I guess I had gotten to comfortable with the idea that I could tell when she was getting too close to her critical temperature and had stopped using the other tools to extend her ability to work.

Maybe, just maybe there is a slight chance that we can get her ready to trial for the DVG Nationals. I would say the odds are strongly against it right now, not enough time. But we'll give it a shot and see how it goes ...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 2

OK, here we go again. The first actual obedience exercise that they explained while I was there was the retrieve. Like many other people, they work the hold and delivery of the dumbbell away from the pattern of the retrieve.  There was nothing all that unusual about their work on the hold and deliver except their attention to detail and the number of repetitions they did. For example, they are very much aware of their position with respect to the dog. They don't want the dog to develop a history of "less than perfect" deliveries of the dumbbell in the front position so they don't start the training in that position. They make sure that they are in a 90-degree position to the dog to start this training. They work the hold and delivery for months, focusing on all the details - where the dog is holding the dumbbell in their mouth (they prefer just behind the canines because the dog will naturally pick it up there and they don't want the dog ever rolling the dumbbell in their mouth to reposition it), the calm hold, the quick release upon command only, quality of the sit, position of the head at delivery, etc.  It is this level of attention to detail that pays off for them in the end.

Then there is the whole pattern of the retrieve, which is what the game that I alluded to earlier is about. Ultimately, they want a fast send, lightening quick pick up followed instantly by an equally fast turn, and straight return. So they have developed a game that creates those elements for them. It is a 2-tug game, but not like the 2-tug or 2-ball game that I have seen many people play with their dogs. In their game, the goal is to have the dog think that the best reward of all is to have both tugs in its mouth at the same time.

To start this game they put two nearly identical tugs close together on the ground and encourage the puppy to get 1. As soon as the pup picks the first one up they encourage him to get the other verbally and by kicking it on the ground. They think it is very important to keep the tugs on the ground at this point. If necessary, they move the tugs closer and closer together until the puppy picks up both at the same time. Then they have a party. However, they do not play with the puppy with the tugs, they want the ultimate reward for the puppy to be possession of the two tugs. So they run in big circles with the puppy telling him how marvelous he is. If he drops a tug, they stop and repeat the game to get both in his mouth.

I really don't understand their emphasis on possession as the ultimate reward for the dog. I tried to ask about it but didn't get a response that made sense to me but it was very clear from watching them with their own dogs that this a core concept in their training program. Peter would slip the sleeve or pillow to Bendix and he would trot almost a perfect 20-meter circle around him for as long as Peter was talking. Now and then he might lay down in the shade, it was bloody hot that weekend and had to be especially hot for the folks and dogs from Germany. He didn't chew on it or shift his grip in any way, he just trotted around with it quite happily. I've never seen anything quite like it.

I have personally shied away from encouraging possession as a reward in my dogs since both are quite possessive by nature. Having seen this I'm no longer as concerned about it. The flip side of this, is, of course, training the out extremely well. Something else they do extremely well. But we'll get to that a little later.

Anyway, back to the 2-tug game. Once the puppy gets the idea that 2-tugs are so much better than1 you start doing more and more with it. At this point, they would go away and play this game with the puppy for months. Eventually building the pattern of the retrieve. The puppy is in place, probably not heel position to start, and the first tug is thrown a short distance. The puppy is sent to get the first tug and encouraged to pick it up quickly and bring it back quickly by cheerleading and waving the 2nd tug around. Once the puppy makes the turn and is headed back the 2nd tug is thrown back between the handler's legs and the puppy goes flying through, effectively building the pattern for the retrieve. Eventually starting from heel position is added. They try to break up the anticipation by rewarding for focus on the handler after the dumbbell is thrown sometimes. Once the pattern is sufficiently fluid and the hold and delivery work with the dumbbell is satisfactory you add the two together to get your formal SchH retrieve. Again, I want to emphasize that satisfactory for them is pretty exceptional by most people's standards.

Their explanation of why this is better than others methods is that the dog is never rewarded for just speed or just possession or just a good pick up and turn or ...  You get the idea. That the puppy never practices the pattern without all the key elements. Their primary concern seemed to be rewarding the dog in a way that encouraged or allowed them to spit out the dumbbell before returning to the handler. It makes sense but then so do methods where you teach it in pieces so if you ever do have issues you can break the chain apart and work on the key elements. Anyway, I would be very interested in the opinions of others on this because in many ways it reflects their approach to many foundation pieces. You'll see it again in jumping and a couple other places.

I almost forgot one very important piece to this. Once the dog is retrieving the dumbbell they continue the 2-toy game by finding the right size ball so that the dog can hold the dumbbell and still pick up a ball. So they do lots of ball work in addition to tug work with their dogs. I never saw any indication of a strong preference between ball and tug with their dogs. Sleeve, yeah, for sure, but they took whatever they were given and were very happy with it. This is something that I have always had trouble with Gata. She wants what she wants and it can change in a flash. Though once she fixates on something that is probably it for the day.

OK, enough for now. Stay tuned for another installation later.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Schutzhund Clinic - Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl; Part 1

I thought I would tell you about a clinic that I attended a couple of weeks ago. The clinicians were Peter and Connie Scherk and Florian Knabl from Team Heuwinkl in Germany. Those of you that follow Schutzhund more will know that Mia Skogster and Horst and Michaela Koche are also members of that small but very talented (and successful) club. They were hosted by Hardy Ernstein of the Podium Belgium Shepherd Working Dog Club.

In addition, they brought their dogs to use as demo dogs! Bendix vom Adlerauge and Yannik von Bonum Bono as demo dogs - those are some mighty fine demo dogs. Bendix is a multi-titled world champion and is now retired at 10 years old. Yannik hasn't won any international events ... yet ... but he's been pretty close. I believe there may be some Yannik puppies in the U.S. in the not so distant future :-)

It was a 3-day clinic with about the first 1.5 days devoted to obedience and the remainder to protection. I was unable to attend the first day so can't tell you too much about their approach ti obedience. I can tell you that their dogs perform beautifully in obedience and appear to be very happy and confident in the work. They use a dressage whip as an extension of the hand, in a way that reminded me of some of the work that I've seen demonstrated by Bart Bellon, though I don't know the details of either methodology or who started first.

By the time I got there they were focusing on the obedience exercises within the SchH routine, starting with the retrieve. They had done much on focused heeling and the out of motion exercises on Friday.

Before I get into the specific exercises I want to describe, as well as I can, a few things that I observed that were quite a bit different than other methods that we are all familiar with. First of all, they didn't use markers in the way that we are familiar with. When I asked about it I got a sort of cursory response that wasn't very explanatory. I didn't want to push since I assumed that they had explained it on Friday and they made it clear that they were not going to spend much time reviewing. They did use markers, just not purposely as much as many of us do. They definitely used a no reward marker and the word that they use to release their dog to the toy/reward clearly becomes a marker.

Secondly, they train their dogs ALOT. And coming from me who also trains my dogs Alot, by most people's standards that is saying something. Obedience every day, at least once; protection 3x a week; and tracking about 4x a week.

Thirdly, along with the amount of time they spend training goes the number of repetitions that their dogs get. I have no doubt that the majority of their core behaviors, and maybe all of their behaviors, reach a level of true fluency, as defined by the likes of Bob Bailey.

Fourthly, their methodology is definitely motivational but I would call their application of it very rigid. For example, they really don't seem to worry about generalizing behaviors to multiple locations. They seem to get true fluency first and then generalize to variations later. On one of the games that they showed us for building the retrieve, they talked about playing this game exclusively with their puppies for months before moving on in their training. I think that this is pretty key to their getting the true fluency that I talked about above.

Fifthly, they start working with their puppies on basic fundamentals as soon as they get them. They certainly work on handler focus and the out from day 1 or 2.

Finally, they aren't really theoreticians. I don't know whether this is true outside of the clinic setting but they definitely did not have any interest in discussing other ways of doing things or the reasons behind their methods. They were there to present their approach and that was pretty much it. To be fair, they had plenty to do in the time available. Plus, I came in a day late with no connections to the club or people there so no real opportunities for me to try to discuss things on breaks or  ...  But they are definitely not cut from the same cloth as the likes of Michael Ellis, who if you give him dinner and a beer or good glass of wine will sit and talk about training theory all night after the seminar is over. I have seen him do that time and time again ...   However, this was their first clinic in the U.S. Their English is quite good, but I am sure that it had to be difficult for them. Plus, they don't understand our dog training culture yet ...

OK, I lied, one more thing, when it came to fixing problems in the dogs at the clinic, their approach was pretty traditional - correct the heck out of them on a prong and then make sure that they didn't get a chance to repeat those problems. That was disappointing.

OK, I feel like I am writing a book here. So, I am going to stop with that for now and go unpack a few more boxes. I promise more over the course of the coming days. They had some very interesting approaches and games that they had developed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Change is Good

Well, alot has changed since I last posted.  We (me and the dogs) have moved to Maryland to accept a new job in Gaithersburg, MD.  So we have a new address, a new home, and an entirely new lifestyle.  For the first time in my adult life, I have a back yard and a garage and a washing machine and dryer ...  All things that I am really loving.  The dogs love the yard but still love getting to work with me on a daily basis.  So the yard makes it a little easier but it doesn't change that much.

It has been HOT, HOT, HOT since moving out here.  We drove and about the time we got to western Nebraska the heat index soared to 115-degrees Fahrenheit.  It seems like it has been that ever since, though I know there have been a few brief breaks.  We are all having a tough time adjusting to the heat.  Gata is really having it rough, though, and has had 2 close bouts with exercise-induced collapse (or something like it).  I need to revise my system, I'm not stopping soon enough with her.  The warning signs in CA (trotting back to me with a ball) are too far along for the weather here.  In CA, once I stopped her she would start cooling off.  Out here, because it is so much hotter, she just keeps heating up, and has come close to collapse several minutes after we've stopped working on 2 occasions.  The latest was on Sunday.  The humidity seems to be a key factor with her.  Both times happened on days where you could almost feel the rain and pending thunderstorms in the air when you stepped outside.

Since we're still in the process of settling in (less than 50 boxes left to unpack, yay!) we haven't really gotten to meet many dog people yet.  We've attended a Schutzhund seminar with Peter and Conni Scherk and Florian Knabl (more on that soon) put on by Hardy Ernstein's group and have gone tracking and practiced obedience one day with Marty Segretto and some of the folks from the Alexandria Schutzhund Club.  We're hoping to get a little more focused soon.  But with the heat, the move, and Gata's heat intolerance I guess I'm not in a big rush.  We're definitely looking forward to getting more connected to the dog community out here in the Poolesville, MD area.  If anybody knows of anyone doing anything fun out here let me know :-)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Send Outs

Gata's send out is beautiful - fast and straight and good (not great) down 95% of the time.  The other 5% of the time she adds in some undesirable behaviors, like looking back at me over her shoulder, or spinning circles after running just a little way.  I know that these reflect confusion or uncertainty on her part.  I don't believe that Gata is "messing" with me.  I'm not sure that I believe that dogs do that at all, but I know that she doesn't.

I've been debating whether or not to try to fix this, since it's not really all that broken.  I've decided that there is absolutely no harm in going back and working on the foundation behaviors that we've put together to create her send out.  As long as I continue to work them positively and use variable reinforcers to reward good vs excellent execution I don't think that I will make it worse.

A couple of things I need to remember with Gata:
1. More than most dogs, she likes predictability.
2. Speed/running is self-reinforcing for her.
3. We have done lots of cone/pot work, so I will need to add those in as distractions on the field at some point in the future.  She needs to be confident in her decision to go "straight ahead" regardless of whatever else is on the field.  I know that cones on the field at MPSC have contributed to this problem.
4. Problem with Gata started when working with Dembouski and switched from my method in which we always did the down to his method in which most of the time the dog just ran out fast and straight to a reward on the ground.  When we again asked for the down all these other behaviors started.  She was no longer certain of what we wanted.

Basic method:
1. Downing on the step pad so that front legs are on the pad - no creeping forward off the step pad entirely or just enough so that back legs are on the pad.
2. Send to step pad and down (particularly important with Gata to always do the down).  Would break this into a few pieces with Tor - go to the pad, put both front feet on the pad, down on the pad.  Plus add in a "Mark" step for Tor.
2. Increase distance to step pad until it is no longer visible to her.
3. Increase distance until I am just downing her before she ever reaches the step pad.
4. Add in heeling with medium-length sends, add distance quickly with Gata.  I think doing too many short to medium-length sends increases the likelihood of undesirable behaviors with her.  It's almost like she starts to count paces and is "waiting" for the down command.

Other things to think about:
1. How close does Gata have to be to the step pad when she downs.  She likes to creep forward.  Do I want to deal with that now, too?  Yes, I think so.  What to do?  Mark the behavior with "Good" but ask her to "Back" up to the step pad, step on it, and repeat the down, until she downs on the step pad.  Which part of her has to be on the step pad?  Black and white, black and white.  Think about this!!!  If the decision is that her front legs need to be on the step pad then I need to work her down on the step pad before anything else.  OK - made up my mind, am going to do that and have amended basic method to reflect that.

2. Fading the step pad.  If I insist that Gata step on the step pad and then down with her front legs on it, I will have to figure out a time when it is appropriate to fade the step pad.  I may have to develop some smaller step pads or come up with another mechanism that allows me to fade it.

So, as long as I am going to be working send outs with Gata I am going to start teaching Tor the send out, too.  We couldn't add in the heeling at this point but will probably be ready for that by the time he gets the rest of it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

We have gotten wet over and over again the last few days.  So not surprising that we should continue the trend today.  It wasn't too bad though.  My timing was good.  Not like last night when I had the dogs on the field during the absolute height of the downpour.

Practiced long sends with Gata to a "Field Closed for Restoration" sign in the field ;-)   The goal is to get her running fast and straight every single time I send with no hesitation, looking over her shoulder or circling.  I know when this started and think I understand why it started but am not exactly sure the best way to get rid of it.  I don't know whether I should be marking the undesired behavior(s) and calling her back at that point or just ignoring those behaviors and rewarding her for going long and fast. 

Since she tends to get better faster with more repetitions, presumably due to increased confidence, I think I will simply reward her for getting there and hope that her growing confidence diminishes those other behaviors.  It's not a big problem but it shows up every now and then and not just for this exercise.  So I know it reflects confusion on her part.  It usually occurs when I see something that I thought was clever or someone convinces me to try something a new way.  Gata likes her routines.  I guess we all do :-)

Tor just got to do more puppy stuff.  Lots of long rewards for both dogs to wear them out quickly before it started to pour on us again :-)  What can I say?  I'm a wimp and I'm tired of having cold, wet feet :-)  The dogs will survive the rain and a few fast workouts.

What Cool Dogs :-)

Went out to club last night.  It was pouring down rain but Dave had prepared a feast and I had promised to bring homemade bread to go with it.  So had to go :-)

The field was essentially one giant puddle with a few islands of muddy ground.  The water was so deep in a few places that we couldn't even find the holes to set up the blinds!  But since the base is pretty hard and gravel packed it's sloppy but not very slippery.  I decided to just play around with Gata.  We don't have any trial plans so no real need to take any chances with either her or the helpers.

So I took her for a walk in a downpour and then went on the field to play around with some OB.  She is just so cool.  She couldn't care less about puddles or downpours or anything else.  If I want to play she is totally up for it!  She poured every ounce of her considerable focus and intensity into the silly games that we were playing and had an absolute blast.  I'm sure that the people there think I am absolutely crazy sometimes but it is really hard not to get into the game when your dog is that into it for you.  We didn't do anything in particular - just silly little heeling games, some out of motions that landed her squarely in puddles, and a couple of short send outs.  But everything got rewarded with big throws into even bigger puddles.  She had an absolute gas and I did, too! 

Then it was Tor's turn.  This was the first real rain that he has been out in.  Previously, he has only seen light rain showers and has mostly avoided puddles.  So I was really curious about what his reaction would be.  I wasn't too concerned - there would be plenty of opportunities for him to get over any dislike of rain that he might exhibit.  However, once he got out onto the field and realized how much fun he was about to have he didn't care about the rain or puddles either :-)  I had switched to the ball on a rope since everything was just so wet and sloppy and I wanted to give them some real throws.  So he had to have a few reminders about playing with that particular toy.  He is great with a regular ball but put it on a rope and it is something else to him.  He preferentially grabs it by the rope and doesn't want to out it.  But he did fine.  I was thrilled to see him splashing through the puddles to get to the ball and bringing it back with his signature leap into me :-)  Didn't really do anything serious with him either. mostly just about having fun in the rain.

Not surprisingly there were only about 10-12 of us there last night, including helpers.  I had planned for it to be an "off" week for my dogs but Dave wanted to work Tor so we did.  We did a little bit of barking work with him.  He's definitely getting the hang of that.  Dave and Dino played the 2 helpers throwing the sleeve around game with him and he was quite willing to focus on whoever had the sleeve and bark.  Then we moved on to outing from various different positions with him.  Normal position (me behind him while he is on the sleeve with Dave), dead sleeve position (from a cradle position), and having just stepped away from cradling him.  I never did any of this sort of thing with Gata and you can tell since she basically won't out the dead sleeve for me (or just smacks me up side the head with it!).  I like it for that reason, but it really just addresses the fundamental issue with so many SchH dogs - "Out" means out.  So, I am more than happy to spend numerous sessions reinforcing that concept with a dog that is very possessive and LOVES to bite.  Dave made sure that Tor had plenty of opportunities to bite the sleeve and own it, too.  He is very aware that we want to make sure that Tor's drives are satisfied by the work, too.

I have to add an editorial comment here.  I hear so many people talking about training their dogs their way and only being willing to work with helpers that will do things their way.  I did some of it when I first started getting into the protection sports with Gata, too.  And, Dave is by no means a positive trainer.  But after about a year and a half, I can honestly say that I have developed so much respect for him and his understanding of dogs and insights into training that I have absolutely no qualms about working with him.  And, though he occasionally thinks I'm nuts, he has always been willing to try to do things my way with Gata.  I am so glad that I overcame my reservations and, truthfully fears about working with someone that had been so successful when I was such a newbie, and started to train with him.  I have learned so much from him in the last year and a half.  And I'm looking forward to learning even more from him as we work Tor.  And, I'm pretty sure that he will learn some from me during that process, too.  It has turned into a real partnership, albeit one in which he contributes more on the field than me.  But the work that I do away from the field is equally important.

By the time the evening ended both dogs were a wet, sloppy mess.  The car is totally trashed from dogs jumping in and out in the midst of mud puddles.  I had rain gear on but totally swamped my shoes.  Need to, at the very least, groom both dogs today and should consider bathing them but there's nothing but rain in the forecast.  Lots of clothes and equipment to clean today but we all had a GREAT time :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Poor, Bored Dogs

Between my cold and the rain the dogs have had a pretty boring few days.  However, I have noticed a few things.

1. The citronella bark collars are working great for these two.  I really debated what kind of bark collar to put on them when I realized that I really had to do it.  I was afraid that if I chose the electronic bark collar Tor, at the very least, would develop a tolerance to the shock or potentially try to break out of the crate with it.  I have philosophical and theoretical issues with them as well, having to do with punishing a natural instinct and making whatever the dogs are barking at a more despised thing than it already is.  But having accepted that I had to do something, I opted for the citronella collars.  I am very happy to report that I suspect that within the next few weeks the only time that I will actually bother to put them on the dogs is in the car at work.  Tor has definitely gotten the idea that it is not OK to demand bark.  What a relief.  I'm sure that he will have recurrences but the quiet at my place the last few days while I have been sick has been blissful.

2. Both of my dogs are too skinny.  Tor worse than Gata.  I think that I had just grossly underestimated the amount of energy they were expending playing with each other.  I have increased the amount that each of them is eating.  In addition, I started adding some cooked oatmeal to their meat mix meals.  It seems to make Gata's stool soft so I am progressing more slowly with her.  Tor is doing great on it.  I think that he has actually started to gain some weight on it.  He's still thin but only about as thin as Gata, not skeletal any more.  What a relief.

In addition, I found out that Tor's daddy, Arras, is a bit bigger than I thought; about 26-26.5" and 84 pounds.  I wasn't anticipating that Tor would get that big and wasn't feeding him enough to start with.  So hopefully, we have that issue mostly dealt with.  I'm sure that as he continues to grow and mature that I'll have to adjust things from time to time.  But he was so thin that I was getting concerned.

I think we will be back to work tomorrow unless I have a bad night or my lungs are bad in the morning.  That's the problem with asthma/reactive airways, once they get going they are very hard to predict.  Oh well ... life's a bitch and then you die ... or in my case I decided to train one ;-)