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The Last Dance and the Secret Weapon

Another year, another USDAA Cynosports finished. Or, as I called it, Rebound’s Last Dance.

OK, yes, I did say that he was retired after last year’s Cynosports. And he did spend some serious time doing what he enjoys most: sleeping on the couch, on my feet under the covers, and in sunspots.  And eating. And play bowing at voles in the field.

“Retired life is great! I will just have a nap while you young critters go do the hard work.”

And, Rebound certainly deserves a rich retirement, as life certainly hasn’t always been easy for him. Any time in the agility ring with him is simply a bonus, as he was *thisclose* to death a few years ago.  He survived that, thankfully, and now lives healthily thanks to the amazingness of modern science and good drugs. Maybe one day I will write the tear-jerker about what happened, but today is not that day.

Canadian Nationals in Saskatoon, first big event!


Over the summer, the schedule for the 2011 Cynosports event was published and once again it looked to be a long week with one 30-second run (maybe 2!) per day for much of it… so I entered Rebound in Veterans just to keep myself from going stir crazy (or from eating like a wildebeast because I was bored.) Rebound was going to get lots of cookies no matter what happened in the ring, so I figured that he might be happy to get off the couch. 

And I chose to ignore the fact that he hadn’t run a standard course for me or done contacts or weaves (in competition or in practice) since the previous Cynosports…

Please, buddy, do all 12 weaves. Thanks.

I didn’t mention any of this to Rebound until he was near the ring for his first run – “By the way, buddy, I need you to run this course. Pretty please. It is only 30 seconds. And I promise you will get string cheese when you are done then back to the couch as quickly as possible.”

The other part of the deal was that he would run under “The Outback Rules” – also known as “No Wrong, Just Right” – followed by permanent return to retirement.

He accepted the deal and ran for me in the four Veterans classes. Here was the plan he agreed to: he promised to do all the weaves when asked (except in gamblers) as long as I promised to implement my fancy “Run-Yell-Point” handling to show him each obstacle and contact.  

The R-Y-P Handling System might be a little more noisy and tiring than some of the other methods out there, but it is extremely effective with certain dogs.

R-Y-P is a subsidiary of the A-O-F (Ass-On-Fire) handling system I use with Export and Matrix. Generally AOF works really well, although the results indicate that I was a little too AOF in Steeplechase semifinals. Oh well, there is always next year to implement my SLAOF method (Slightly-Less-Ass-On-Fire) with its primary rule: Remember to tell the dog he is supposed to turn.

Anyway  – Rebound ended up actually winning two of the classes and he was entirely unimpressed with his ribbons (it is all about the cheese for him.) He did stop to see if the golf tee with pink tape (under a jump in jumpers) was edible, as it looked far more interesting than my handling choice at the moment. He was correct, as I was neither Running nor Yelling, simply Pointing and Praying (P-and-P is not an effective handling system, as praying is commonly misread as deceleration by the dog, leading to errors and loss of drive.)

His Last Dance came in the Veterans Showcase, run just before the Grand Prix Finals. We got a special white polo shirt (white? seriously? not the best color choice for a dirt arena with a dog that spends most of his waking hours walking around with his front feet on my belly…) and had the chance to run the GP course in front of the lights, cameras, music and cheering crowd.

And it really is special to get to run a course in that environment – the energy in the air is palpable and we are all united by the excitement. Rebound was joined by Cueball (JRT) and Rhymer (Sheltie) in the 12″ Vets Showcase finals – and it turns out that Cueball and Rhymer were probably also having their Last Dance.  Each dog had a different journey to the Last Dance, but there we were – sharing this really cool moment with our beloved buddies!

Rebound’s body cannot release the proper hormones/steroids to control his response to stress. So, I do my best to help him regulate his response to each environment so he can relax, enjoy and run fast. It was time to whip out the super special secret weapon! 

I am now ready to share my motivation secret with the world. The secret weapon is…

Pop Tarts.

Here it is, the Secret Weapon. This box will be framed next to all the pretty ribbons.

Yes, Pop Tarts. He gets a quick bite of a Pop Tart for that sugar rush just before a big run and the promise of the rest of the Pop Tart after the run, and it has never failed us. In fact, I am thinking of approaching the Pop Tart people for some sponsorship opportunities for future World Teams.

Rebound prefers the Strawberry or Blueberry flavors, frosted or unfrosted. (I prefer frosted for myself.)

This time, the Georgia contingent of supporters chose the strawberry flavor and hand-delivered them to Rebound while he was on the couch. And the Pop Tarts came through, as always. Rebound and I both held up our end of the deal – he did all of his weave poles, and I ran hard and showed him everything else on the course. Our Last Dance was fast and fun, finishing with zero faults and the fastest time of the 12″ dogs in the Veterans Showcase. 

And now, I will make good on the last part of the agreement. Thanks for the dance, buddy. The double-digits rules now apply. Welcome to your real retirement. Time to take up your spot in the sunshine!

And here is Rebound’s song for the Last Dance at his final event. It was singing in my ears all week!

Thanks, buddy!






This one time, at dog camp…

Do you remember the character Michelle from the teenage-angst film, American Pie? She is the one who started almost every sentence with, “This one time, at band camp…” then launched into a story that was probably only entertaining to her fellow band-campers.

What, you don’t remember? Here’s a clip:

Yeah, well, that was probably me in my middle school, high school and university years… “this one time, at band class…” and then “this one time, at the theater…”. I played the flute and some other instruments to a nice level of mediocrity, and did better for myself (and fellow musicians) as a conductor. And NO, I wasn’t as, um, “adventurous” as the character in the film (for those of you who might be wondering!)

This one time, at band camp... my first year in Marching Band!

It has been decades since anything resembling band camp, but I have noticed lately that life has become more about “this one time, at dog agility…”  True, it doesn’t have to be “dog camp”, it can be “dog class” or “dog doctor” or “dog show” or “dog seminar” or anything dog-related. Has anyone else noticed that we can spend 8 or 9 hours training the little buggers and obsessing on exactly which arm should go where and when… then go out to dinner and spend another three hours talking about dog agility (or dog training or dog toys or dog people or dog bodily functions)? 

Exie and I in the French Quarter, on the way to dog camp in NoLa. Exie earned those beads!

 “This one time, at dog camp…”

Then we all get up the next day, rarin’ to do it all again.

We are crazy! But we love it and are damn lucky to be able to do it…

Lucky to be able to pursue this sport and game with our four-legged buddies, to the level of obsessiveness of our choice…  you can choose to keep the “this one time, at dog camp” lifestyle close to home, with local classes and local events. Or, you can choose to go national (or international!) with the game – there are at least 4 major international events (in 2012, I will get to go to 3 of them!) and in the US, each agility organization as many opportunities to compete regionally and nationally. That is a whole lotta “dog camp” conversation starters!

Chillin' in Prague, on the way to the major Dog Camp known as the European Open

The hardest thing here is to keep it all balanced with family, friends, work and other hobbies. When a group of dog camp buddies go out for dinner with our spouses and significant others, we have tried to place a moratorium on any discussions involving dogs (especially any conversations involving dog poop or puke while others are eating.) As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for ya?” 

At least we try 🙂

And it is fun to find spend time with our dog pals and meet people from around the world. Our shared passion for the game, as well as text messages and the ease of social networking  has opened up amazing opportunities to maintain friendships with people all over the planet. The variety of people I meet is mind-boggling, and then to think that we all gather to run our dogs on obstacle courses… well, it makes this ol’ head spin a bit.

Exie and his new friends from the Swiss team at the EO! I wonder if they bark with an accent?

And, many of us here in the USA are getting ready for one of the biggest “this one time, at dog camp” events of the year: USDAA’s World Cynosport Games in Louisville, Kentucky. It is a mere 14 hour drive from my house, far better than the 40 hour drive to Scottsdale, Arizona, which was the site of several years worth of major dog camp experiences. 
We are also sharing a group dog camp experience by following the FCI World Agility Championships, running this weekend in France! The USA has sent a terrific team, and so has Canada… and the UK… and so has many other countries… best of luck to all of them!
And my understanding is that part of the FCI’s “this one time, at dog camp” experience is group line dancing during course changes. Seriously, this needs to become part of the North American experience. Anyone care to lead the charge on this one? If you’ve seen me dance, you know that I am better off NOT volunteering for that gig.
I’m also taking volunteers for the job of telling Rebound that his retirement is over and he will be running at Cynosports this year. I haven’t mentioned it to him yet, it just hasn’t come up in any of our “this one time, at dog camp” conversations.

Um, buddy, um, you gotta get off the couch, you've running Snooker in 5 minutes...

So as I pack and get ready for the Kentucky adventure, I am looking forward to sharing the week with all sorts of folks that I’ve met through this game we all play. Some will get to share it in person (Group D, baby!!!) while many others will be at home watching the livestream or following along on Facebook or Twitter.
See you all at dog camp!

Exie on the teeter in the Grand Prix last year. Rock on, white dog!


Rehearsal, Glamour, Comfort Zones and Psychic Connections

I forgot to mention the biggest “I will NEVER” from my life…

“I will NEVER be a teacher!”

That came from my lips after taking one of those “aptitude” tests in high school, to try to figure out which college and career path would be best. The aptitude test, in all of its wisdom, said, “TEACHER!” and the subject (me!) in all of my teenage stubborn stupidity, said, “NEVER!”  

The aptitude test was correct, of course, and every job I’ve ever had involved some type of teaching: teaching music, coaching singers and orchestras, teaching doggies and their handlers… 

Which leads me into two things I was laughing about over the weekend… rehearsal. And glamour.  OK, rehearsal first: in both my past and current professions, rehearsal has always been important. Rehearse the correct behavior, not the incorrect behavior. Back then, it was rehearse the orchestra. Rehearse the singers. Run the scenes. Previews. Then perform. Now it is rehearse agility obstacles and handling moves for dog and handler. Run sequences. Run courses. Then compete.

When people learn about my background in theater and music, they often ask how working with dogs is different than working with musicians. The answer is: not much of a difference! Dogs and musicians both want you to be prepared for rehearsal, and passionate about it. And focused in performance. Both are somewhat forgiving if you screw it up, as long as you don’t blame them for your screw-ups. And, experienced dogs and musicians will often try to save your butt if something goes wrong – teamwork!!

And of course, both will work for food. Maybe a future blog will be about the time I played saxophone in the Duke Medical Center’s production of “The Wizard of Gauze” and was paid in fried chicken and beer.

So I am a firm believer in good rehearsal. At this point, dog agility rehearsal is pretty fluent for me – but if you don’t rehearse regularly, your “chops” get rusty. Which brings me to what I don’t rehearse regularly, and how rusty I’ve gotten at the skill of… glamour!!

I was a guest at a wedding on Saturday, and weddings require “proper” attire (no high-tech breathable fabrics, no hats with pony tails, no running shoes, no t-shirts with pictures of dogs on them, and MOST DEFINITELY nothing from Wal-Mart.) Because I have not rehearsed getting glammed up on any regular basis, the process took several hours over 2 days. I started the day before at the hand and feet people, getting fingers and toes glammed up and ready for wine glass holding and open-toed “real” shoes. The morning of the event, I had to go to the hair-tamers salon for help (it takes a village!) then home to put on the war paint (make up!) then clothes (stockings, dress, heels, all carefully chosen to hide my tan lines from summer of aforementioned “improper” attire and to hide the bruises from tugging with Matrix.)  My lack of rehearsal made it take a lot longer than I had expected, as David stood by waiting and patiently gave me updates on the time.

What he said: “Just so you know, sweetie, it is 5 after 12, I know you wanted to be on the road at about noon…”

What he meant: “Seriously, you’ve been working at this for 2 hours, let’s move this along…”

It took David about 3 minutes to get ready and look dashing in his suit, clearly he has rehearsed that recently. But I bet it would take him a while to navigate his way through the Nike Factory Outlet, while I have mastered that skill (rehearsal!)

Eventually, we were dressed, dodged the dogs who wanted to get some dog hair on the nice clothes, and  were in the car and on the way. The wedding was lovely – and several of my agility peeps were there. I didn’t recognize them at first – what, no pony tails?? But I’m not sure they recognized me either. I wonder how long it took them to get ready? Of course, we recognized our agility friend, Tina – because she was the beautiful bride, and made that big entrance and all.

The next day, I was back in my comfort zone – managed to get dressed in my agility clothes, get 5 dogs into the car, grab some coffee and be on the road to an agility trial – all accomplished in 20 minutes in early morning darkness. Those skills have been regularly and recently rehearsed!

A well-rehearsed fashion statement

A well-rehearsed fashion statement

I woke up at 2:46am on Sunday morning, sensing that something was wrong, oh so wrong… with my Blackberry.

It seems I have a psychic connection with my Blackberry, which really isn’t all that surprising considering how much time we spend together. And yes, my Blackberry needed me at that moment! It had some kind of error or meltdown or stress moment and had shut down – which presented a problem for the alarm that was supposed to wake me up at 4:30am for the agility trial. So, I performed the high-tech Blackberry CPR routine, consisting of taking out the battery and putting it back in – and the BB came back to life, happy day!

Of course, I would prefer that I had a psychic connection with the dogs to help them navigate the courses, but I guess that will take more rehearsal 🙂

Rehearsing... check out the guy behind Export, who appears to be praying for a good run!

Wow, how things have changed….

Welcome to my blog!!  What’s LOTP, you ask? Leader of the Pack, which is the name of my school for dog agility!

And yes, I was the one who said I’d never blog… but I have also said such things as:

* I will never own a terrier

* I will never live outside of the city (“the city” is New York City, of course!)

* I will never join a gym

* I will never go jogging

* I will never own a mini-van

* I will never own one of those “smart phones”

* I will never train running contacts

* I will never….

Well, you get the idea. I own a terrier (ok, 3 terriers), I live in the middle of rural upstate New York, I love my gym, I not only jog but I also run in 5K races, I obsess on running contacts, and I can often be found craddling my Blackberry as if it was a beloved small child.  I do pretty much detest my mini-van, but it gets the job done!

So now I am a blogger! And I have to laugh at myself at how much has changed in life thanks to this agility journey… and I’m excited about what is coming in 2011, 2012 and beyond! There is a whole lot on the list of what’s coming up… traveling throughout North America to teach and compete (as well as on my home turf here in Central New York), coaching at 2 World Championship events in May, competing with Export (and hopefully Matrix!) at the European Open in July, 2 major online projects coming up (wahoooo!!), and <shhhhh…> a new puppy too!

Exciting stuff to be sure, but I am also excited to blog about the less-than-global aspects of agility life, such as choosing agility sites based on footing and best access to Indian food and adult beverages. Also, I hope to share some of the insane things I am doing to get faster in this crazy sport – currently training with a former semi-pro football player (American Football, that is, not soccer) on footwork and speed and “explosive strength” as he calls it. He taught me a terrifically useful drill today for speed through front crosses – I kinda stunk at it, but I promised to obsess on it and come back to the next session looking like a pro. Of course, I will share it with you all after I get over the pain from the workout. Eek!!


And of course, there’s balance in life – not the type of balance where your dog is perched atop an inflatable peanut – but the balance with things outside the easily all-consuming game of agility. Family, friends, hobbies… its not *just* about making doggies run faster and turn tighter, but it sure isn’t easy to keep it all in balance!

Thanks for reading this far! I’d love to hear your “I will never…”  statements that are now reversed thanks to this fun game that we all share!