Tuesday, October 27, 2009

another weekend, another flyball tournament, another batch of injuries

Last weekend was our first tournament of the 2010 NAFA season, which runs from October 1 of the previous year through September 30. This one was the annual "South of the Boo!der" Halloween-themed tourney hosted by the Cascade Comets at Argus Ranch in Auburn, which is southeast of Seattle. This year turned out to be a little difficult for me, as Chris had to work all weekend due to staffing issues at his company, which meant I was on my own with the three girls. Luckily our friends Jeff and Julie were willing to let me stay with them on-site in their RV, so I didn't have to do an hour+ of driving twice each day.

Ezri did very well this weekend, and I am very proud of her. She handled her first dirt-surface tournament without blinking twice, and ran happily in both start and second position. On Saturday I started her in one race, where she ran 4.14 - 4.10 - 4.10 - 4.11 - 4.14 across the five heats, setting a new personal best of 4.10 and being VERY consistent with her run times. She also earned her Flyball Dog Champion Silver (1000 points) title on Saturday morning, and is well on her way to her Gold (2500 points) title. Sunday I started her in two of the three races she ran, and she pulled out a 4.06 second run in her first heat of the day! This makes her the third fastest dog in the club by personal best, with Indigo in first with a 3.76 and Curzon in second with a 3.92. Unfortunately, she strained her shoulder trying to avoid our anchor dog for a rerun in her third race, which ended her racing day - the silly little girl completed her race despite the pain, apparently crying with every step down and back until she returned to me. Our onsite vet checked her out and found the strain, and with some aspirin and icing she's already healed past the injury. Ah, to be so young and heal up so quickly!

Jadzia was on our Veterans team, which we ran with four older girls running savage since a veterans team only get 16 heats in a day. The girls did great, with only one missed pass on Saturday (my fault!) and no errors on Sunday, for a total of 780 points over the weekend. We've had "normal" racing teams not earn that many points in a weekend, so we were pretty thrilled to pull this off! Jadzia's racing was very smooth and she was very animated and happy to run, and broke 5.0 seconds three times during the weekend, with most of her runs in the 5.2-5.3 second range. I think now that I have Ezri to "stage-manage" and soak up my ambition, I'm no longer putting pressure on Jadzia that she cannot meet, and this is making flyball way more fun for her.

Phoebe also ran well all weekend, being our little height-dog tank and consistently pulling in 5.8-6.1 second times even with 40+ heats each day. She handled multiple sudden "grab and go" incidents where she was needed to replace our other height dog, and ran for me, Jeff, and Lindsey throughout the weekend without a single dropped ball or snarky comment. Unfortunately, it looks like she broke one of her back molars on Sunday, which I just discovered last night when I noticed she'd made another ball bloody while playing in the living room. Hopefully I can get her into the vet this week for a dental and a removal of the remainder of the tooth, as I don't want her to be in pain - or to bleed all over the toys!

Our next tournament will be the first of December, going up to Abbotsford for the annual Christmas-themed tourney put on by the Dogwood Pacesetters. I can't wait!

Monday, October 12, 2009

herding lesson one: sheep are toys!

On Sunday, I took Ezri and went along with Ben and Deb to join them for sheep herding lessons with Diane in Carnation. She's the one who bred Epic, and they've been taking Indigo there for quite a while now both before and after Deb's stint in Boston. I've done HIC tests with Jadzia and Curzon before, and they have both had a chunk of herding instruction with someone else, but this was to be Ezri's first time seeing sheep.

The first thing that happened when we got there is that Indigo and Ezri were tied up while Ben and Epic worked sheep in a big field, and Diane introduced me to herding in a small pen using her oldest bitch Tessa (who is Epic's dam). Ezri was not so pleased about this, especially with the size of the chain as compared to her! After all, princesses do not get chained to a fence in cold weather with frost on the ground, the very idea is abhorrent!

Shortly after she was tied up, however, she was provided with a new distraction as the large male turkey living in the pen behind the fence was very interested in her. Ezri was really unsure what to make of this particular creature, especially with his strange noises and being about three times her size!! She soon decided that he wasn't a threat, and commenced ignoring him and whining at Deb and I for not playing with her or otherwise paying attention to her. My time in the pen with Tessa was instructive and quite helpful, as the concept of a space bubble as well as the positioning needed for "come bye" and "away" are much better experienced than simply explained. And as with flyball, it seems that having an inexperienced handler work with an experienced dog to start can be quite helpful!

Ezri's first session in the pen started off quietly, as she was more interested in the sheep droppings than in the sheep themselves. The sheep, however, knew that she was a Sheep Dog even if she didn't realize it yet, and were avoiding her with the same alacrity that they had evaded Tessa earlier. Diane encouraged me to grab a sheep's back leg and play tug with it to get Ezri to realize that she could interact with them - and I saw the light bulb go off in her head when she realized that sheep were toys! Ezri then got to spend another few moments getting excited, barking at the sheep, and chasing them a bit before her first session was over, and she was back to being tied up while Indigo and Epic took turns again. As this photos shows, she was not happy to be pulled out of the pen and away from her newly-discovered interactive toys!

Our second session was spent with Ezri on a long line, learning to walk quietly near the sheep and go into a down when she got close to them. As she was still very excited - and still quite young, at not quite fifteen months - Ezri tried to lunge for the sheep almost every time. Diane had me be more forceful in my commands, and use a flag as a correction, which Ezri responded to very well, and by the end of this session we had one walk-down sequence that did not involve a lunge and quick correction. The first photo, however, is definitely from one of her lunges!

Second photo: learning to listen, and respecting the flag.

And final photo: a hint of the sheepdog that Ezri may become one day!

I really enjoyed our lesson time, and Diane is exactly the sort of knowledgeable, no-nonsense instructor that I prefer to learn from. With a lot of training and practice, Ezri will probably be a good sheep herding dog, should I wish to take her that far. I definitely enjoyed exploring a different aspect of border collie handling, and I want to continue that to some extent with Ezri, as well as Jadzia and Curzon. However, while I might trial in Novice once or twice for fun, I'm pretty sure I'm not interested in going to high levels of competition, and at least for now I'm definitely not interested in herding in the cold, wet, and messy Northwest winter months. Assuming there is space available, I'd like to take Ezri (and possibly the other two) herding once or twice more this fall, then pick it up again for fun next spring.

But for now, Ezri passed her herding instinct test with flying colors, and has justifiably earned her new title of HIC. Congratulations, Ignited's Ezri Dax FDCh HIC.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

pack resettling progress

So as I posted a while back, our dog pack has been reorganizing itself with the advent of Ezri's adulthood. Phoebe decided to take the opportunity to attempt to move up in the pack order, or at least to force the border collies to acknowledge her. This led to multiple spats where Phoebe would attack Jadzia, Jadzia would defend herself, and sometimes Ezri would also jump in to defend Jadzia. What a mess!

Curzon is a smart boy and has been staying out of the girl fights raging around him.

Originally we were separating the dogs and punishing Phoebe, but that was not solving the problem on a long-term basis. So about two weeks ago, I decided to take the "supervise and wait" approach where I would simply watch the fight occur, keep Ezri out of the fray, and not interfere unless someone was seriously injured. In one day Phoebe initiated two fights and Jadzia decisively won them, bringing a measure of peace to the house with only two injuries to Phoebe and none to Jadzia. Since then we have only had one fight in the house, which was shorter than the previous ones and which Jadzia also decisively won. Phoebe has been much better behaved as a result, typically hanging out quietly on a dog bed or playing when we're active and able to play with the dogs.

Unfortunately, we are still having problems when we are at flyball. At the Gig Harbor demo two weeks ago, I was running Jadzia while a friend was running Phoebe, and Phoebe got pissy over this and decided to attack Jadzia in the ring. I couldn't let them fight it out in public, so Phoebe was removed from the situation and I alternated who ran for the rest of the day. This past weekend at practice, Phoebe would not run if Jadzia was nearby - not in the same lane, and not in the lane next to her. Jadzia will run but will blow jumps to give Phoebe a wide berth when she returns, probably afraid of another attack. So for the moment at least, Jadzia won't run around Phoebe for fear that she'll attack her, and Phoebe won't run around Jadzia for fear that she'll finish the fight.

Again, what a mess!

This will hopefully be resolved soon, as they both ran perfectly when not around the other dog. I'm hoping to run them in a full group this weekend to see if they are OK running on the same team as long as they're not passing each other. They're not only on different teams for the Auburn tourney, but in different divisions, so they should not be running against each other at all. Our next tournament is in December, however, and chances are good that they will wind up on the same team, so we're going to have to settle the problem sooner or later.

Friday, October 2, 2009

(belated) a day to remember, part II

You know, sometimes life keeps getting in the way of things. Like weeding the garden, or updating my blog. Between a very busy stint at work, keeping the dogs occupied, playing warcraft with our wonderful friends, and trying to not let the house fall down, I've not spent much time composing much of anything! With the advent of fall our schedule has slowed down somewhat, and I have time to write the second half of this post, at not quite a month later.
The second reason that September 11 is a day to remember, is that one year ago it was the day I flew to Chicago to pick up my new puppy. When I planned for bringing Ezri into our home, not only did I include vet visits and the new kennel in my plans, I also made sure to plan for picking her up in person. Our breeder, like most, was happy to ship Ezri to me via air freight, but I didn't want her first experience away from her family to be alone like that, so I chose to pick her up.

I left Seattle on a 6:30am flight out to O'Hare in Chicago, arrived around lunchtime, and picked up my rental car for the day to head out. I was able to spend a few hours (and a pizza lunch!) with Mike and Sharon, including playing with Ezri's entire litter as well as several of her siblings from the litter two weeks older. I met Prancer and Dazzle, who are Ezri and Indigo's mothers, as well as Brita (their grandmother) and several other relatives. It was a lot of fun to talk to Mike and Sharon, as well as to just enjoy a whole house full of border collie craziness. As the afternoon wore on it was time for me to leave, and I packed up a confused Ezri into a small soft carrier and left to return to the airport.

Ezri was not at all pleased to be leaving her family with a stranger, let alone in a small container and in something large that moved unpredictably, and was quite sure to let me know. She soon settled down and went to sleep, however, until we arrived at the airport. The biggest hurdle that I had worried about was going through security - not only did I need to do the normal human security tasks of removing my shoes, pulling out my zipbag of liquids, and removing my DVD player - but I also had to deal with taking a wriggly naked puppy through with me while her carrier, collar, and leash went through the scanner. It went well enough, thankfully, and I was quickly able to deposit her back in her carrier so I could put my shoes back on.

The plane flight home began uneventfully, but soon my little princess decided she was hot and scared and planned to let everyone know of her distress. Rescue Remedy, treats, chew sticks, toys, petting, and talking all did nothing to soothe her, making me feel like quite a bad "parent" for imposing this noisy creature on the people seated around me. Soon after we achieved crusing altitude, the flight attendant came to talk to me and my seatmate and at his okay she told me to pull Ezri out and keep her in a blanket on my lap. As soon as she was out of the crate, Ezri quieted down and after eating an ice chip, she passed out flat on her back with her belly aimed directly towards the airjet. And so passed her first, and probably only, plane flight.

We finally arrived at home around 11:00pm, just in time for Chris to meet her before he headed out to work for the night. With dinner in her belly and a warm crate to sleep in, Ezri soon fell asleep in her home for the first time.

And so our journey began.