Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I have so many thoughts about today, Memorial Day. We have so much to be thankful for in this great nation... our natural resources, the visions of our founding fathers, the callused hands and aching backs of the immigrants that came to our shores for a new life and made our land better by being here... and more, much more. But perhaps nothing is so precious to our country as the brave warriors who have left the safety of their homes and families to go into harm's way on our behalf.

I wish that I had the words to express my gratitude, but so many others have said it so much better than I ever could. One of my favorites:

"We sleep safely in our beds only because rough men stand ready to visit violence upon those who would do us harm" [author unknown]

Thanks to the rough men and women who stand somewhere today, ready to "visit violence" upon those who would harm us. You make our life more peaceful, our homes more safe, and our country stronger.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reba Redhead

School is out and Sarah and Reba have come home for the summer- to my great happiness, and Maggie's disdain. It isn't that Maggie doesn't like Reba, it is just that Miss Reba has no "off" switch. Not even a "pause" or a "give me a sec." I guess Maggie was like that at one time, but honestly, I don't remember it.
She remembered where the dog toys are stashed and can clean the entire basket out in a few minutes. Her favorites are the deer antlers which she leaves laying right where a person would step on their way to the bathroom at night.
She has been very good about giving respect to the old cocker... one glance from a cloudy eye and Reba backs off or lays down. She's given Jake a little trouble now and then, but the minute she tries to herd him with a nip to the foot, he lets her have it and then she avoids him for a few hours. Maggie on the other hand, isn't so assertive, so Reba nips her ankles, pulls her tail, even gets in her face and laughs while Maggie is offering her most menacing growl and toothy snarl. Somehow Reba knows it is all bluff and play bows and swings her butt into Maggie's face. Eventually, she will tire, and leave Maggie alone for a few minutes. But as soon as Maggie goes ANYWHERE, Reba is right beside her. You can almost hear her "where ya' goin'?" "want to play?" "whatcha' lookin' at?" Maggie pretends to ignore her, but I think she sort of likes being the leader now and then, so she takes Reba for a walk-about.
One thing different about Ree than my dogs is that she likes to watch television. A recent NatGeo special with cows mooing really sparked her interest. Since we know she enjoys TV, we wern't surprised to see her glued the TV watching her namesake. I wouldn't even be surprised if she started singing along.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ASCA Agility

There are several different organizations that sanction agility trials and they all have their own rules and quirks. Normally, we trial at only AKC events, but this past weekend we had our first experience with Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) Agility. I have to begin by saying that this trial was out of the ordinary for any club. After days of rain, and continuing rain during the trial, the ground was saturated, making an extraordinarily muddy course. Obviously, this in not the norm for any organization. However, I will try not to let the course conditions color my opinion of this experience.

I have mixed feelings about ASCA agility.
The courses seem to be designed for speed with huge looping turns and long straight ways. It appeared to me that the standard course times (the time you are given to finish) was shorter than in AKC- meaning that a slow dog would have a difficult time finishing the course in time. For us at least, it was much easier than AKC because speed is never a problem. Also, ASCA does not call a "refusal" meaning that the dog can stop, look away, or even go around an obstacle as long as they are taken in order. I would never make it through those long straight runs without it, because Maggie will stop when she is 2 or more jumps ahead of me and encourage me to catch up. In AKC, that is a refusal, so we would be eliminated.

At least on this trial, and this judge, I did not see any difficult handling sequences... no off-course jumps set up to "trick" the dog or difficult discriminations (two obstacles side-by-side and the dog has to do the right one). Though the gamblers courses did seem more difficult than an AKC FAST run, requiring the dog to get some serious distance from the handler to complete the gamble.

ASCA is also less "serious." Now this might be because the only ones willing to run in the mud had to have a sense of humor, but everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. There was joking and kidding, almost everyone pitched in to set up courses, and it wasn't a big deal if dogs ran out of order if someone needed to change running order (a complete heresy in AKC-YIKES!) I liked the idea of having a "high in trial" and "high in level" award. Not only are the ribbons and honor nice, but it keeps everyone there until the end of the day to receive their award (so they can help work the trial). One of the things I did not like was that the judge changed the rules about running times for someone after they didn't make course time and complained. I could understand the judge adding some seconds for course conditions, but to change rules in the middle of the day because someone complained was unprofessional. But then keeping a trial fun/flexible and staying professional is a thin line to walk.

Another plus to ASCA is that you can run more than one per day (per event). In AKC, we have on Jumpers run, one Standard run and maybe one game. In ASCA, we got two of each, so instead of 2 or 3 runs, we got in 6 during one day, twelve for a 2 day weekend.

Overall, I'm okay with ASCA. I would do it again if it were in town and didn't conflict with an AKC trial, but I would not travel all over for a trial. I guess because an ASCA championship title would be much easier (for us) to earn, it didn't give me the same level of satisfaction. But you can't deny that we had a lot of fun!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Agility photos

Kevin Devine Photography

I buy a lot of agility photographs. Those of you that do agility will understand this... we put a lot of time, effort and money into a 26 second or 42 second run. And while we are at it, our mind is on "don't forget the course" "will I have time for that front cross?" "oh crap, I'm not in the right place" etc. etc. and we never find the time to admire our beautiful dogs. Without the videos and the photography, we might never know what our dogs look like on the course.

Normally I buy a lot of action shots, jumping over bars, streaking out of tunnels. And rarely are these shots in sharp focus. I can't really blame the photographer; agility facilities are usually not lit well, and Maggie's speed can be up as high as 5 yards per second, so it takes some pretty sophisticated lenses to even get a shot. This is one of the few shots I have of her being still, and I just love it. First, it is tack-sharp focus... you can see individual hairs. It shows her nice muscles and shiny coat. But most of all, I love the anticipation on her face... she looks pretty relaxed, but you can see in her face that she is waiting for the end of the 5 second count when she can leave the pause table and head to the next obstacle to jump, climb, and tunnel her way to the end.

I know how much she loves to "go" and how much she hates the "sit and wait" so to see her so patiently waiting when I know that every muscle tensing for that command, makes me realize what self-control she has. And it makes me realize again, what a special dog she is and how lucky I am to have her.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It's been a dry spell....

I can't believe that there was a time when I updated my blog almost daily... these days it seems that I don't have time to ... to.... well, ANYTHING! (except dog shows.... always time for that).
The last few weeks have held some interesting events. First, Maggie and I have been to a LOT of dog shows, but those priceless double Qs seemed to elude us. We were at near 50%, and we had the same number of Jumpers Qs as Standard, but we couldn't get them on the same day. Then this weekend came and we didn't Q at all on Friday or Saturday. Ouch! We've almost never had it that bad before. I was threatening to quit agility (I didn't mean it though... it was a meaningless threat like when I say I'm never eating chocolate again). Anyway, I guess Maggie overheard me because she had two great runs on Sunday and we got Double Q number 15 - even though I had at least one handling bobble in the jumpers run which she overcame (I love that dog). So I may threaten to quit a lot in the future, maybe it helps with the mo-jo.
More importantly than agility (ha, I'll bet that surprised you.... there is almost NOTHING more important than agility!) my little Jake boy is healing well. Jake, who has always had a taste for fabric managed to swallow a mans tube sock whole and get an obstruction. But thanks to the folks at Webster Groves Animal Hospital, Jake is getting back to normal, albeit with a shaved belly. But for a few days I was a basket case with worry over him.
Hopefully, things are settling back into "normal" now, we have upcoming trials, but we have a weekend off now and then to catch up. Meanwhile, kiss your furry kids today, because you never know when it is time for them to cross the rainbow bridge.