Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Digs

Having a blast with the dogs these days. Trying to get in 1 exercise/conditioning session and at least 1 classical training session every day. The training is sometimes straight up Obedience stuff and sometimes more unusual activities that I am doing for fun or to achieve some other long term goals - core strengthening, etc. The straight up exercise/conditioning sessions are typically either running/trotting beside the bike, or some sort of ball play - interval conditioning, cones game, etc.

Today, we went to a different park a little farther away but still an easy walk. I think it will be a little less popular than the school park and that the surface of the field might be a little less torn up as a result. The field isn't as big or enclosed but it is farther off the road so it seems like a reasonable trade off.

The other aspect of this park that will make it very popular with the dogs and that Gata has already discovered - is that it is near a few bodies of water. These are smallish ponds and near the water treatment plant, so not sure that they are safe for dogs. But it is already clear that Gata will want to cool off and hang out in them. I will have to find out about whether they are safe for dogs - clean and potential snake habitats??

The latest training activity has been around proprioception and core strength. I'm trying to increase rear end awareness and create a means by which I can potentially control the placement of each individual foot/leg. I've started with a back feet "Perch" behavior followed by a pivot around the back feet.

Both dogs are developing fluency with the "Perch" behavior on the large balance disk with the smooth side up. Because it is inflated it also ends up being a core strengthening exercise. It is pretty funny to watch them try to get on the disk and keep their balance as they are adjusting their position. Both are getting better at it. But it is definitely there, especially when I ask them for a step or two of pivot around their back feet.

So we tried out the new park for the first time this morning. Straight up interval conditioning, with me exercising while they rested :-)

Objective: 4 sets of 5
Achieved: 4 @ 5
Ground: Frozen with a fresh dusting of snow, relatively dry
Temperature: 26 - 28 degrees F

It was the perfect routine for them today. Gata trotted back for the last 2 reps in the 3rd set. I shortened her throws just a little in the last set and both were pooped at the end of that set. Both flopped down in the snow with their tails wagging and their tongues hanging. It was a very good kind of tired - not evidence of collapse. They rolled in the snow and were ready to trot ahead on the walk home (until I put their leashes on). Unfortunately, before I put their leashes on Gata found 1 of the ponds and waded in, soaking herself from the chest and belly down. She actually had frozen icicles hanging off of her by the time we got home :-) Tor tries to do everything that Gata does but he doesn't like the cold water nearly as much as she does. He just got his front feet and legs wet :-)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thankful for Many Things - Including My Hearing

Took the dogs to the park last night to do some interval conditioning work. I had given them the morning off since they did so much on Sunday. But thought they might like to blow off a little steam in the evening.

Objective: 4 sets of 4
Achieved: 2 @ 5
Ground: Frozen with slight softening on top
Temp: Forgot to check

Got there and started our first set and some folks showed up with their dogs. I wasn't too worried - big field and my dogs won't go out of their way to bother other dogs when they are working. So I just moved a little farther upfield and tried for tighter throws. But they just hunt out with their 2 dogs with lights hanging off their collars. It was dark so I couldn't tell anything more than that. I was getting a little uncomfortable 'cuz I couldn't tell what they wanted or were going to do. So I did a set of 5 and took a break. I figured if they started working their dogs or coming farther my way, I'd just call it a night. They just hung out and didn't seem to do anything in particular. So I did a 2nd set of 5. Both dogs were pretty tired after that, so I decided that was probably about enough for the day.

Anyway, up early this morning. Each dog got a run beside the bike. Tor did his regular 1.5 miles though he seemed a little tired. He actually trotted about 25% of it today - very unusual for him. Gata did her regular 1.25 miles and seemed quite happy to go - ran about half of it.

Riding along with Gata and suddenly realizee she is no longer attached to the bike. Apparently, our little spill with Tor the other night damaged the clip and it basically fell apart while working Gata. Thankfully, it held together through Tor's run this morning. I tried to jimmy it to Gata but it didn't really work. So she basically just ran beside me for most of her outing this morning. She was on a slip lead but could easily have gone pretty much anywhere if she wanted to. Thank goodness she is such a cooperative girl :-)

I am really good about all of our safety gear and don't know how anybody could be out and not see us. However, this morning, at the first stop sign with Tor, when he is really raring to go, a car came blasting through the intersection without stopping. If I had been paying less attention and had decided to go since we were waiting at the Stop sign first, we probably would have been killed. But I heard the car coming and thought it was going too fast so I held Tor back. Thank goodness I did. Honestly, we would have been dead.

Today is a good day to consider all that I have to be thankful for :-)

Monday, February 6, 2012

FUN, FUN, FUN Weekend :-)

OMG - what a great dog weekend we had, well, mostly :-)  It started off Friday night with what is becoming our weekly get-together with Cindy and her dog, Groovy. Mostly, I am supposed to be helping her with her OB, but usually it just turns into a really fun dog training get together. We were supposed to be working on step/perch, into pivots and then heeling. I'm trying to get the back feet perch and pivot around with the front feet with my 2.

I brought the larger of the inflated balance disc pads and we tried to get the dogs to work that. They don't really like it - because it is inflated and they actually have to work a little to keep their balance on it. Gata worked on it a bit with her back end but then worked on the side panel of Cindy's treadmill, recently moved to the garage while they do a project in their basement. That was pretty cute and she demonstrated her ability to move up and onto it with either back foot, etc. Then Cindy worked with her with regular front end step/pivot on the balance disc.

As a reward for all this hard work, I let Gata demonstrate proper bite wedge technique for Cindy. Of course, Gata LOVES the bite wedge and was more than happy to comply - moving me all around the carpeted area with ease :-)  Then to make matters even more fun for Cindy. When we swapped dogs and she brought Groovy in he went straight for the bite wedge and wanted to play with it, too. So I played with him on the wedge a little. Totally different kind of feeling but he was clearly having a very good time and showed great confidence and his fun-loving nature :-)

Then she worked him on pivots and ended by showing me a great way to train some foot/leg work with your dog in the down (things like crossed legs, etc.). This was based on some stuff that Kay Laurence talked to them about at the seminar a couple of weeks ago. Really cool - and not at all obvious sequencing. Basically- push dogs leg way back into an unnatural position and when they move it, click, push it back again and treat back there. Shape it, in terms of where you actually want them to move it TO. Of course, I'm wondering if Gata can raise up off her elbows in the down if she has her legs crossed???  Definitely something to think about here ...

Saturday was just some fun OB in the park in the morning. Nothing major here - just continuing to work on the basic skills with both of them. Quite a few sends to the toy to build the speed for SchH send out. Working on the foreshadowing cue with both of them.

Then in the afternoon I took them each for a run beside the bike. It was just starting to snow and was quite beautiful out. Gata did great - trotted most of the way. Better for both us - she works her body more symmetrically and I actually have to pedal :-)   Tor was off like a shot - running the whole way. Unfortunately, when a car passed us he decided to try to chase it. Which, of course, led to a wipe out for both of us and the bike. Fortunately, he didn't get loose from the Springer early enough to get run over by the car. But he did almost get run over by the bike. I need to do a minor repair job on the Springer but got it put back together well enough to get us all home safely. A couple of cars passed us on the way home - and he hung back a bit both times, so, hopefully, he learned something.

Sunday we went out to Schutzhund club - Alexandria Club, helper Marty Segretto. It's a relatively small group with mostly German Shepherds, at least from what I've seen. Did a bit of OB with both dogs to start. There was some fresh snow on the ground so I didn't do too much - kind of slick. I find it both amusing and annoying when people think that my dogs' best phase must be OB since they are both Belgians and both have nice OB. Actually, had a few people tell me that they'd had some Tervs in the club previously that were "shitters". I just commented that nobody had ever accused Gata of being a "piece of shit" and that most helpers really like her ...

Worked Tor first in bitework (about 8-10 dogs in) - didn't want Marty to be too tired for him, just in case. But I was thrilled with the way he worked. He outed great - a little slow once or twice, but clean and straight into a silent guard. Marty doesn't like silent guard, but I prefer it and really don't want to give Tor permission to be bouncing around and building/leaking drive all over the field with his barking. Self-control is key with him, and I think his silent guard will be as good as Gata's, if we train it well. In addition, his increased physical maturity and all the bites on the wedge in different presentations really seem to have contributed to his ability in some short sends. I was VERY pleased with him. We even did a TINY bit of obedience for bites at the end and he got the basic idea even if his ability to focus on me was pretty minimal.

Gata was the last dog to work (since I'm a visitor). She was THRILLED to be there and didn't really want to have to work for a bite ;-)  Silly girl ;-)  But, as usual, she gave me that ultra focused, intense heeling in the presence of the helper for a few short sends. Then we went back to basics on back transport. We haven't trialed in 1.5 years so no point in trying to fake it. I can work it on the ball in the yard, but still need to build it up again in the presence of the helper. She did great and seemed to have a great time working with Marty.

Keeping everything short distances and basic with both dogs for awhile. First, they're both out of shape, especially Gata. So no point in risking yet another injury with her by sending her long. Short stuff will give her plenty of satisfaction and help rebuild those jaw, chest and neck muscles. With Tor, it's just time to start teaching him stuff. And, for him, keeping things at a lower level of arousal will be key to his learning the elements of the routine and to stay clean.

Really liked working with Marty. He has the best feet of any helper that I have worked with except Dave. Quick and light on his feet - well balanced. He also seems pretty open to doing things my way, though, I definitely won't have all the answers along the way. The one thing that I didn't really like was that there was a fair amount of that petty, somewhat nasty, gossiping like at David Dembouski/Kelley Graham's club. I hope I can turn a blind ear to that stuff, 'cuz after that experience I don't have lots of tolerance for it. Not into people taking the fun out of my time with my dogs ...

Thursday, February 2, 2012


I am very pleased with myself this morning. I finally did it - got up early, with a little extra help from Gata who decided that 3:30 was a good time to get up, and took each dog for a spin with the bike! I don't know why Gata decides to do this stuff. But between her peskiness and the alarm at 4:30 there was really no chance of going back to sleep. So at 4:30 I got up, put the dogs out, took my asthma and allergy meds, got geared up and took the dogs for a run beside the bike.

I should inject here that my favorite route is not as long as I thought, but that doesn't really matter much. I'm not necessarily going for a specific goal in terms of mileage, just a fitness goal. Took Gata first. She did about 1.2 miles - first half at a run, second half trotting. I'm happy for the trotting. I think it is better all the way around. I just have to keep an eye on her to make sure that back leg isn't cramping up. I think it probably helps that when starts trotting I supply the power to the bike.

Tor last - about 1.5 miles. I guess I pedaled a little on the last little incline about a 1/4 mile from home. The rest is mostly about me supplying the brakes. The boy is learning to love to run almost as much as Gata does :-)  Silly boy - he almost learned to poop on the run today, too. Apparently, something that sled dogs do routinely ;-)  He was happy that there was a jogger crossing the street at our last major intersection - we paused just long enough for him :-)

Weather conditions - ~45F and higher than normal humidity

Thankfully, the traffic was minimal. There are a lot of Montgomery County Police Officers that live in the neighborhood. Several of them were leaving for work while we were out. But I have done everything I can to make us visible.

  • Bike has a battery operated headlamp
  • I have:
    • Battery operated, flashing red lamp on the back of my helmet
    • Neon yellow biking windbreaker
    • Reflective safety vest
    • Battery operated red LED light hanging off the front of the vest
  • The dogs have:
    • Reflective safety vest
    • Battery operated red LED light hanging off their collars
I guess the extra bit of nervousness that I experience biking in the dark is mostly a good thing - it makes me more vigilant. I make sure that we are all as easy to see as possible and keep my eyes peeled. I have to say though, that jogger this morning, could use some reflective gear :-)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Painful Admission #1

OK, if I am going to do what I aspire to do with this blog I am going to have to make some painful admissions from time to time. So here is the first one, I stayed up too late last night and didn't get up in time to do any conditioning work with the dogs this morning. In my defense, I was trying to catch up with some of my California friends, but still didn't reach them. But I didn't get to bed until 11:30 and that is just too late to get up at 4:30. I got up about an hour later and futzed around with the dogs - lots of petting and playing before truly starting the day. So, I'll have to figure out something for tonight. But ...  I formulated a plan on the way to work :-)   All I need to do is stop and buy some string :-)

Did some more work on Perch with both dogs last night. Probably 15 - 18 minutes of clicker work between them. Both are definitely progressing - Gata faster than Tor on this. I can now get her to put either back foot on the platform by itself. Tor is still trying to convince me that there are much easier ways of getting on the platform than by backing onto it :-)  But he is definitely getting the hang of it.

It is quite interesting to evaluate the differences between them. Both dogs back up fine. But Tor backs up much better than Gata - longer steps and more fluid movement. However, that tends to hinder him in stepping up onto the platform - he doesn't really shorten his stride to step back up onto it. So he takes a big step and has to essentially raise himself up with his foot much farther behind him than Gata does. But he is starting to get the idea that it is easier for him if he takes a shorter step.

After that I did a little bit of bitework on the Heuwinkl wedge with each of them. About 10 minutes each - fast with lots of outs in lots of different orientations - also a nod to Team Heuwinkl. For Gata, the point is to teach her to out no matter what when I call out. And also to discourage, a little, her tendency to auto-out. For Tor, it is just about outing quickly and cleanly, no matter how much fun he is having. He's a real thrasher and fighter so the longer he stays on the wedge (and probably sleeve, too) the less he wants to out. So, we are working on that.

Anyway, we all worked up a "sweat" during our bitework and we were all happy by the end of it :-)