another fur fun adventure

we are on a road trip to texas! our chevy 15 passenger van (aka honey’sbus) is loaded down with 9 dogs, a flyball box, 3 crazy girls, and all our junk; a small platoon of fur funnies on our way to the reliant flyball tourney in houston, TX. leerie is meeting us there (he’s judging and flying in tonight to judge friday-sat-sunday). our fur fun teams are racing until saturday. tonight we will stay in montgomery, AL, then finish the drive tomorrow. road trip buddies are penny and erin. dogs making the trip are dexter, visa, hotblack, scandal, badabing, june, cameo, sonic and tony.

we are all pretty excited for this trip. we have some great flyball friends in texas, including former fur fun team member, Linda May. our buddies on top dog racers will be there (and i am extremely excited to maybe pick the brain of the incomparable pam martin about visa’s freestyle dancing routine). joining us on our open team is heather weir and davis. true story…….back when heather lived in VA and ran with k9kamikazes, davis stayed with me for a month and i taught her to play flyball. dave thomas and his smokin golden, ginny are going to play on our open team too. it should be a blast
we’re really looking forward to racing against some different teams and some fast division 1 teams. although we don’t *quite* have our A team (danno couldn’t make the trip so Badabing will be running in start in stead of stetson), we still should be able to run well enough to be competitive in R1.

i leave you with a picture of that iconic landmark, “the great chapped ass in the sky”

that's a pretty big butt

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an unreasonably long personal history of freestyle

a long, long time ago, in a kingdom far far away………not really. it was actually morgantown, PA in 1991 at the wiz kids dog camp, where i saw musical canine freestyle for the first time. the camp’s obedience instructor, the amazing Janice DeMello with her heart dog, Trivet, demonstrated a routine set to music incorporating a variety of heelwork. at the time, i was working hard training my second obedience dog, a belgian tervuren named scorch. i loved competitive obedience and had a lifelong passion for music…….combining them sounded like a great idea! i was 11.

fast forward a few years to springfield, Mass, 1994 at the Gaines Eastern Regional Obedience championship. the cream of the crop obedience dogs and handlers are in the house, duking it out in the pressure cooker of the regional, the atmosphere is intense. at lunch time, we are treated to a demonstration of “canine freestyle.” i think there were 4 routines. the one that stuck out to me was donna duford and her pbgv Che. their music was In the Mood, and the routine opened with donna and che simultaneous lying down and rolling over. then che took OFF and zoomed around the ring like a nut.  everyone laughed, including donna, she corralled che, attached a leash, and started the routine over again.  donna’s attitude stayed upbeat, che’s tail went a mile a minute, and while their routine demonstrated various tricks incorporated with heeling, it also showcased a bond between dog and handler.  both of them were so joyful it was impossible to watch without smiling.  in the world of competitive obedience, no one ever laughed at themselves or their dog like that, they were too busy taking themselves ultra-seriously.

so i said to myself, “you could totally do that.”  in scorch, i had a good obedience dog, but not one who would reach the top of the sport.  but his heeling was GREAT and i had a love of music, so why not?  i went home, picked some music, and started to design my first routine.  my mom was my coach.  neither of us knew anything about the sport other than what we gleaned by watching the demos.  i taught scorch to heel on my right, spin, weave through my legs, and move backwards and laterally.  we set it to  music and had a routine!

enter patie ventre.  in my opinion, without patie, there wouldn’t BE competitive freestyle today.  she is a tour de force.  patie told us to come to the eastern regional in Raleigh, NC in 1996, where scorch and i did our first routine in public, and man, it felt great!  for the first time, i saw mike pape and his amazing border collie, ketch.  ketch did tricks like you might see in a freestyle disc routine, jumping over mike’s body, standing on his hind legs and performing complicated tricks 50 feet away from his handler, and mike wasn’t just heeling around with his dog, he was DANCING!  the crowd went wild and i went back to our crating area and immediately starting teaching my 11 month old border collie, sprint, every trick ketch did.

scorch indulged learning freestyle and he seemed to enjoy it, but sprint’s intensity and confidence made her a super quick study.  anything i could dream up, she could learn in just a few minutes.  our first freestyle routine was Kids in America and it was full of crazy jumps, distance work, and difficult tricks.  patie ventre took us under her wing and brought us on as members of the newly formed pup-peroni canine freestyle team.  don’t laugh, we had UNIFORMS, really cool ones……track suits and polo shirts, all embroidered with our snazzy logo AND our names, i’m tellin’ you, we looked sharp.  this team of freestylers, located all over the country, traveled to demonstrate and teach the sport at various events.  who else was on the team, you might ask?  carolyn scott & rookie, sandra davis & pepper, mike pape & ketch, donna duford and chie, anna schloff & lacey………we were the shizz.  sprint and i traveled with patie to pet expos, APDT conferences, dog show clusters, anywhere the sponsor money could send us to promote this fun new sport.

in 2000, the world canine freestyle organization was founded and i was a founding member of the advisory board.  we worked really hard to come up with judging standards and criteria, performance guidelines, and titling requirements.  i also became a judge.  then i traveled around the country some more judging and teaching and dancing and teaching and judging and competing and judging.  appeared on live w/ regis and kelli in new york (sprint landed on regis’ back, he was NOT amused), competed on pet star in hollywood.

Eureka, a picture! me and truffle the pig practicing a little freestyle dancin' in japan.

in 2003 i traveled to japan and had the pleasure of teaching and judging some extremely talented teams. then possibly got a little burned out.   i came home from japan, moved to NC, got married and freestyle fell by the wayside.

SUDDENLY it is back.  patie called me up and asked if i would consider attending the 10th anniversary celebration of WCFO freestyle in hershey, PA.  the format?  a no-rules, anything goes, audience choice competition a the banquet at groom expo.  an event sprint won both times we competed, in 2000 and 2001.  super fun.  no judging or scoring (the worst part about freestyle competition, IMO) the only judges are the audience members.

it’s hard to say no to patie, it really is.  i couldn’t.  even though my beloved best freestyle partner, sprint, passed away 2 years ago, i knew i couldn’t stay away from this special opportunity.  a few minor details;  i don’t HAVE a dog trained for freestyle.  i also don’t have any routines.  and i haven’t done any freestyle in 7 years or so.  i didn’t let any of these trifling facts stop me from saying, “of COURSE, patie, i will be there with bell’s on!”  she asked me at the beginning of june.  the event is september 11, 2010.  i had 3 months to pick a dog, train the dog, pick some music, choreograph a routine, and polish the finished product to a high shine.

a month has gone by since then (maybe a month and a half) and we have made strides!  visa, my 2 year old border-jack, is the shining star dancer in the house.  she already had a knack for learning tricks, so she had a pretty good foundation on which to build freestyle skills.  we picked our music (stevie wonder’s sir duke) and we’ve started putting tricks together into phrases to match the music.  still working on a  costume, but after watching so you think you can dance this week, i’ve decided the costume MUST include sparkly chuck taylors.  they will probably have to be pink (kinda my thing). visa loves the heeling, she does great forward and backwards weaves, she can back up away from me all the way across our 60 ft training room.  she works effortlessly on her hind legs and learns new behaviors so quickly.  luckily, since the event is not a sanctioned competition, i’ll be able to carry a reward with me while we perform and that will be extremely helpful.  we are having a blast with this project

developing this routine and working with visa has been very rewarding so far, and i remember what drew me to this sport in the first place.  the creativity and freedom to develop your own unique style is so appealing.  in a dog sport world dominated by rigid rules and handling systems, breaking away and doing your own thing feels pretty good.

*this post is bleak without photographic evidence.  it sucks.  there should be pictures.  i’m working on it…….if you have any old timey pics of julie and sprint, send them to me!  sorry!*

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domo arigato, mister roboto

i have a big birthday coming up. it’s not until september, but it’s already playing about the edges of my mind. it’s an age that ends in 0 and may or may not mean i am DEFINITELY a grown up.

whatever.

anyway, if some beloved friend or family member wanted to buy me a supercalifragilistic birthday gift, i would suggest a MANNER’S MINDER aka dog training robot

it looks like this

i have so far spent a good amount of money on raffle tickets at flyball tournaments and placed ALL my tickets into the bag for the Manners Minder and i still don’t have one. at this point, i would feel pretty dumb just buying it for myself because of the amount i’ve already spent trying to win the damn thing. i know, my logic is sketchy, just stay with me.

It’s available, among other places, from our good friends over at Cleanrun.com

BIRTHDAY GIFT!! 🙂 to offset the grimness of an age ending in 0. just puttin’ it out there.

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recalls with the puppy

this is our puppy, Hotblack, how cute is he?! we’ve had him for just over 2 weeks and he has learned alot since he arrived. one skill we practice more than any other is his RECALL. i’ve really enjoyed recent blog posts by susan garrett et al on recalls, and it inspired me to do my darndest to put a stellar recall on this pup.

recall game #1: chase me, then we tug
while walking hotblack around outside for his potty or exercise outings, i carry a small fleece tug toy. i’ll ignore him for a few seconds and let him get interested in something, then i position myself 6-10 feet away, call his name, and as soon as he turns to me, i take off running. when he gets to me, the tug toy appears before him and we have ourselves a big game. this game lasts a good 30-45 seconds and goes something like this: he grabs the tug and we tug for a second or two, then i let go and praise him for his brilliance in winning the prize from me. then i run away again, he chases, carrying his tug toy, and when he reaches me, we tug some more. repeat til you are tired.

recall game numero dos: gimme dat colla
i am working to build a very strong and positive association with collar grabs. to me, few things are more frustrating than a dog who comes to you but won’t be “caught.” all my dogs LOVE having their collars grabbed because they recognize it as a precursor to AWESOME THINGS. many fun games at our house start out w/ mama holding your collar and the reward history for it is very strong. it’s pretty easy to do, you just do approximately 1 million repetitions of “grab your collar, give you a treat.” also effective, “grab your collar, throw your toy.” whenever i’m using food to reward hot’s recall, i sneak in plenty of collar grabs.

game # 3: come away from the fun stuff
really, the world is full of fun stuff for a 10 week old puppy to do. this morning hotblack discovered our neighbor’s dog, Julie (i know, funny, right?) on the other side of the chain link fence. julie is young (6 mos) and very playful and unfortunately her owners have decided even though they bought her as a companion for their young daughter, she should spend her entire days isolated in the backyard. don’t get me started. anyway, julie is lonely and today she convinced HB to play with her. they had a great time bowing at eachother and showing off some really nice soft, popping body movements. they also found the joys of running the fence line together and taking turns stumbling or running into stuff and looking silly.
so i say to myself, “you should probably go out there and work on some recalls at this point”. fence running, not necessarily a great habit for any dog, but i was reticent to break up their fun, mostly because i feel bad for julie in her lonely state.
i took a slice of cheese outside and called my puppy. he totally did NOT come. he looked at me and i clearly heard him say “just a minute, i’m having a really great time out here.” hmph. puppy recall, possibly not quite as stellar as i thought.

i positioned myself along the fence, about 20 feet from the puppy party’s location and i waited.  as they made their way back down the fence towards me, hotblack was all “hey mama!  whattya doing here?”  i lavishly rewarded his attention to me, took a few steps away from the fence, rewarded him for coming with me, then i dismissed him and told him to go play.  he hung around for a few extra seconds just to make sure no more cheese was forthcoming, then he went back to the fence and did a little more jumpy-crouchy-cute play.  i called him and he whipped around to me.  BIG cheese party for that, multiple rewards and lots of compliments.  dismissed him and sent him back to play, and i moved a little further from the fence.

we ended up doing about 5 recalls away from his play session to me and increasing distances across the yard, then the slice of cheese was gone.  i felt really good about this little nubbin of training, i think that hotblack started to learn an important lesson:  coming when mom calls doesn’t mean the fun is over.  i was using cheese to reward him, but my secondary reward, dismissal and sending him back to his playmate, was almost as valuable to him.  this is application of the premack principle, but that’s a whole ‘nother super-geek dog training post.

lesson learned:  you don’t have to be the most important thing in your dog’s world to effectively train recalls, you just gotta be smart about it.

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