Thursday, June 26, 2008

Becoming the Leader.

When I was a child, the dogs in the yard were working dogs. No collars, laid around, wandered, hunted, and followed you everywhere when you appeared outside.

When I got older I did not have any contact with the dog world and I wanted a dog. When I finally got my dog, I knew nothing of training. What training? Dogs don’t need to be trained! I ventured into the world of obedience and found that, like children, dogs needed pack leadership, structure, care and love.

Different trainers had different ideas on how this should be done. “I rule and you are subservient” “Oh what a pretty dog you are!” “No treats as this spoils the dog” Tugging creates Aggression “ “ Work with me and we will have a great time!” This last one I like best.

As I progressed through the various trainers I found that, like teaching children, different methods are needed for different personalities and lifestyles and so have taken certain aspects from each, but the underlying core is that dogs, still need a pack leader, structure, love and care.

The little Wolf Pack
“Alpha, Beta, and everyone else”

The ruler in my house pack weighs 10 lbs. She walks into the group or room and everyone takes note. She has the sunniest spot on the rug, the softest cushion, and the choice of where she lays. She is not mean in her leadership and gives everyone a chance to redeem themselves for their indiscretions before she lets them know quickly when they have stepped over the line. The message is delivered without aggression, no blood is shed and it is over in a matter of seconds and then all is right and in order in the pack.

The Beta, second in command, or so he thinks, is the token male. He makes no decisions and has no say. He hunts, barks warnings, sleeps beside the alpha and generally enjoys life. Typical male.
The others in the pack, all girls, enjoy a peace sometimes easy and then not. Who is first out the door today, who marked over the last spot, who got the first reward seems to determine daily placement.

Then there is the last but not least who travels through the pack like a bubble through water. She enjoys all places as she never tries for any. She just assumes everyone lovers her. You know the type? The happy child!

There is harmony in the pack as there is a leader who gives structure, discipline when needed and then there is the ultimate leader, me, who gives love and care which is returned 5 fold.

Ferne and the Rugrat pack

Monday, June 16, 2008

Adventures with Duct Tape

I washed a piece of duct tape the other day. I was taking the laundry out of the drier, when a little ball of squished together silver tape fell onto the floor. It took me a minute to figure out where the heck this duct tape came from. Was it my last adventure with fixing ducts? Nope ... I'm sure I have done laundry since then. Maybe it was from my last attempt to salvage my favorite pair of shoes?

Then it dawned on me. Flyball.

Now, you may be asking, what the heck does duct tape have to do with flyball ... and even if there is some distant relationship, how does that then result in duct tape ending up in my laundry.

Let me back up a wee bit to help explain. My lovely little Romeo dog is a keener. Really, he is. But we've been having a slight issue with convincing him that the fun game we play is the SAME THING when 4 jumps are involved, instead of just 3. He thinks the rules change when jump 4 is included. This can't possibly be the same game ... flyball is "jump jump jump ball" NOT "jump jump jump JUMP ball" ... right? Many ideas have been suggested to help him get over this hurdle (no pun intended ... or is there?). We've tried racing him to the box. We've tried letting another dog go and steal his ball when he refuses a run. We've tried back-chaining excessively. We've tried having someone else release him and have me standing up at the box to call him. Nothing ever works for very long.

My latest attempt at getting him to complete a full run was to work on some target training. Romeo is VERY target oriented, so many little tricks have been taught with a target. And my target of choice is a little square of duct tape (see, this is all related somehow!). Shake a paw was shaped using duct tape, a trick we call "put your head down" was shaped with duct tape. So in my time of need, I pulled out my trusty roll of shiny goodness, slapped a piece on the wall at the end of the hallway, and started working on send outs. We worked this at home a lot, moving the duct tape from the wall to the couch to the floor to the fridge door, anywhere where duct tape would stick (and it sticks everywhere!) to work on send outs. Then finally, we brought the duct tape to flyball practice. I slapped a piece on the box and he looked at me as if to say "Oh THAT is what you wanted me to do? Well jeez! Why didn't you say so earlier?"


I left that practice elated, with a very tired pooch sleeping in the back seat, after having many many full successful speedy runs. I was a genius ... a freakin' genius!

Two days later our team held a demo for a group of youngsters on the grounds of a hockey arena just outside of town. It was a nice evening, a little chilly and quite a few bugs, but nothing we aren't used to from June in Saskatchewan. Our team all got to work setting up jumps, measuring out the lanes, hauling those beastly heavy boxes, even marking distances in the run back.

Fearless Leader gives a little intro and we're off running! Romeo gets called in after a couple of races and we settle into our new position, me kneeling on the ground at just around the 5.5 foot mark. The race hasn't started yet, but I whisper our "are ya ready?" words to Romeo. With more force than I could imagine a wee little fluff could have, he wriggles out of my hands, leaps forward and nose dives into the ground about half a foot in front of where I was kneeling.


Why a nose dive? And why half a foot infront of where we were? Crazy dog needs his brain checked!

No, you see, he did everything I had asked him to do. When our team was setting up, one keen member decided to mark the run back distances, starting at 5 feet, with little squares of duct tape! So upon the "ready" command, Romeo found the closest piece of duct tape, ran there as fast as he could and came back for his reward.

And that, my friends, is when I promptly ripped up the duct tape, squished it into a ball, and stuck it in my pants pocket.

Romeo ran very well the rest of the night, ignoring all other traces of duct tape. But needless to say, we are not training with duct tape at flyball any more. I just have to hope that the one practice was enough to make a lasting impact in his mind, as I don't imagine KAOS would appreciate me ripping up all their distance markers at their tournament in a few weeks!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Something Worth Biting Me For.

Well, it may not be official for a few more days, but I believe summer is already here. This thought occured to me while standing underneath a tree today. At the time I was doing a little dance, trying desperately to remove the green worm inching up my shoulder. Trees + Worms = Summer. It's a disgusting natural truth. Summer = outdoor flyball practice, hence my interaction with the worm.

Now, I'm in a weird position. In order to go out and enjoy a worm-filled flyball practice I have to spend 3 hours in the car in order to pick up my dog and drop him off back home again. Every Sunday. Life circumstance's dictate that he live with my parents. I love flyball, and I LOVE my boy, but as you can imagine all the driving is wearing a little thin. To make matters worse... Benny bites.

Not like... bites, bites. Just ... nips. And ONLY if there's a tennis ball involved. So driving to practice tonight I was contemplating what compels me to go so far every Sunday for a dog with vampire-ish qualities. I didn't catch on until I was leaving the city once again, in the dark, with a very tired, very happy little boy laying on the seat next to me doing his best 'Hobbes' impression.

Benny was given to me when I was sixteen. We were on the farm, and as every farm kid knows... there is nothing scarier than walking around the place at night. There are 'things' living out there, you know? No one knows what kind of things... cougars, coyotes, a particularly threatening looking fence post (most likely)... so that walk is a lot easier with a great protector by your side. Someone willing to eviscerate that clump of grass (... I swear to God it moved...) if the need should arise. I would go out with friends and roll home during the ungodly wee hours of the morning, and park my car that 100 dark metres from the house. But it was okay. Because I always had an escort. He'd walk me to the porch, kissing my hand with glee, listening to my stories, feeling so pleased that he had been charged with the care of this girl. When I was safe and snug in my room, he would be outside making sure that all those imaginery baddies never set foot in the yard. Although always sweet as the dicken's with me, I have ALWAYS known that he harbors a certain ferociousness, and I've always found that calming. Whether we live together now or not, we have a history. In it, I'm his little girl, and he's a giant wolf charged with my safety (ya' never know about those fence posts).

So I drive for him. Because he has ALWAYS been my pal, and if he thinks that flyball is worth biting me for, then it's worth fighting for. If he is so driven that he will go through me to get to his tennis ball, then that ball must be pretty special. Because I KNOW he thinks I am.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Embracing the Teal

It was about a year ago that I came to flyball and the River Runners. Actually, it was a year ago last month that my pal and I started to compete, and I was given my first team shirt. Actually, let me clarify. I was given 3. And 2 sweatshirts. As people pitched clothes at me I found myself caught in a storm of teal. As I listened carefully to instructions, fighting back the nerves as I tried to remember everything I would need to know for our upcoming tournament (my first), I thought... there is no way this will look good on me. They're so... brightly coloured. The fact that I'm still 'green' at flyball will stand out enough, thank you, without me being actually, physically... green. But I put on the clothes and I weathered my first flyball competition, and then the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and I realized... I look DAMN good in green.

So what is flyball? Flyball is a relay race for dogs. The dogs run on teams, and one at a time they go down over a series of four jumps, trigger a special box that releases a tennis ball (GASP!), and they return over the jumps. River Runners flyball is based out of Saskatoon, where we offer classes to all those interested in joining the dog sport community. Big dogs, little dogs... we welcome all.

However, the River Runners are more than 'flyball'. The River Runners promote responsible dog ownership, cooperation, and good sportsmanship through classes, demonstrations, and competitions. To be part of flyball is to come together with like-minded people in celebration of our four-legged friends and family. You may think you're doing this for your dog... which you are. But what you'll find is a community of people who are willing to support you, and your dog, in all of your endeavors. Whether that support is within the River Runners club itself, or from the larger flyball community... dog sport is where it's at!

Remember the last time you went out? I know, its been a while hey? Take a moment and think ... I've got time... there you go! Perhaps you were in the bar, or went for supper with friends... a rare occasion in such a busy life. The conversation flows easily, weaving around between your friend's work, family, and vacation plans. You add the prerequisite comments... "uh huh", "sounds fun", "that's great", not really contributing much to the conversation until finally BAM! They ask what's new with you. So there you are, somewhere between appetizer and entree, discussing how your dog ate a highlighter on the weekend and for the next two days her (ahem) 'leavings' glowed in the dark. A truly HILARIOUS story, not? This is your 15th telling and you still snort pop up your nose upon sharing! You're considering calling Ellen to see if she needs material for her morning mono... why are your friends looking at you like that!?

What I'm trying to say is... we'll look at you weird too. But then we'll laugh (in all the appropriate places of course), and go on to share our stories, or discuss how the new food we're trying the kids on has really evened things out. We like dogs. We like dogs stories. In fact, we like dog stories so much that we've created this blog so that we can share our stories, experiences, trials and tribulations as a community that has come together for the Dog. Embrace it. Everyone looks good in teal.