Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Overview: Silvia Trkman seminar

I promised a recap of my day auditing Silvia Trkman's seminar!

I'm not sure where to start really. My intentions for attending the seminar were perhaps unique to most attendees – or perhaps not.

Why did I travel the distance I did to attend this seminar, even though I found out about it too late to be able to secure a working slot? Why, even though I've only been involved in agility just over four months and have never entered a trial, did I make the trip?

I consider myself a newbie in the world of agility, training, or even the dog world in general (having adopted Diesel only two years ago). I love our agility classes and I don't see an end in sight. I can't say my goal is to compete and, although I suppose that would be a natural result, it's not my focus. I just enjoy the unique interaction with my pups, I enjoy watching our relationship grow, I enjoy figuring out "what makes them tick", I enjoy seeing them feel proud of themselves, and I enjoy feeling proud of us as a team. Because of all of this, I very much connect with Silvia's overall philosophy. She inspires me.

I wanted to meet her (and La!) and be motivated to further my relationship with my pups. And of course I learned a thing or two about agility as well!

Agility dog Johann and his Mum attended the two-day Masters Level Handling and Problem Solving seminar the days prior to my Novice seminar.
They have some very well-put-together notes from their experience here and here. Many of Johann's mum's notes mirror mine so I will cheat a bit and direct you, my dear, small group of readers, to their site. Their blog is very popular so I'm sure they would welcome more company.

There is also a very nice recap here, written by Cat on her experience at Silvia's Slow/Novice seminar in New Hampshire.

From my own novice perspective, I have a few more notes to add on the agility front that feel specific to us and our level of training:

  • Offer as much information to your dog as possible – both verbal and through body language.
  • Repeat commands as your dog is running the course to keep him engaged. This goes against the "run silent" training exercise we did in class a few weeks ago, but since Marvin seems to be letting his nose drive him lately, more feedback from me as we go might be very helpful and make me more interesting to him. Nothing wrong with saying "here, here, here" repeatedly if it helps your dog. I thought it was great how Silvia directed La by calling "La, La, La ...". "Marvin, Marvin, Marvin ..." doesn't have quite the same ring!
  • Call "here" to change direction before naming the next obstacle, i.e. "here, tunnel". Don't depend on just the obstacle name to direct, offer the extra information in advance as well as an extended hand to direct.
  • In training, if you find yourself confused (forgot where to go or off the correct line) don't stop/try to figure it out/spin all around (oh, I know how to do that!). When you know you are lost, carry on to complete the next obvious obstacle, reward your dog, and start again. Running and then just stopping tells the dog that agility is confusing and not all that fun. You also loose the connection to your pup and off he may go sniffing because he doesn't know what to do.
  • Before starting a run get your pup hyped up by playing, doing tricks, anything that gets him excited and motivated to work with you.
  • Use a happy, excited, animated voice when you are running the course. Running with you on the agility course should be the most FUN thing for your dog. If your pup does start sniffing or is distracted, be boring. Dogs interpret "Marvin, Marvin, Marvin, here, Marvin, Marvin" over and over again in an excited (in my case desperate) voice to get them back almost as praise. Best to just keep running and (hopefully) he'll see how fun you are and catch up to run along. If that doesn't work have someone else lead him back to you and start the happy, excited running again.
  • Don't wait for your dog. Keep up the pace and keep moving forward.
  • If you have the choice, choose a front cross over a rear cross. The rear cross is easier for the handler but more difficult for the dog. A front cross gives your dog more information and is "flashier" keeping your dog connected and interested in what you are doing.
  • Consider teaching "turn" or "left" and "right" so you have an increased directional vocabulary to give your dog more information.
  • Consider training the cik/cap method of wrapping a jump, which was really interesting to see in person. She demonstrated with La "cik, cik, cik, cik ..." while La took many tight jumps in a row to the left, as well as "cap, cap ..." to the right.

Also, Silvia's approach to teaching puppies or new dogs agility, is to teach many of the elements used in agility without using any of the obstacles. Teach directional commands, teach wrapping tightly and circling objects, teach tricks (lots of tricks!) that increase back-end awareness. Once you have these basics, going on an agility course is simply running with obstacles along the way. Learning that this was her approach made me wish I had made myself available to attend the puppy seminar the next day. I think I would have learned a lot of great basics I could have passed on to my pups.


I guess that's about it. As I had read her entire Web site already, and she's very generous with the information she provides on her site, I can't say anything Silvia discussed on Saturday really took me by surprise. But seeing her work with people and their pups was indeed inspirational. She was gentle and forgiving. She offered suggestions openly and criticism thoughtfully. She was down-to-earth, yet motivating.

My sincerest thanks to Silvia for making the long journey that took her away from the rest of her pups to offer her wisdom to us. And again, huge thanks to the members of QCDTC for making me feel completely at home and opening up their amazing facility to us.

At the end of the seminar many people brought their dogs to Silvia and asked if she would pose with them for a photo. Since I didn't have any pups accompanying me, yet still wanted a photo souvenier, I asked if she'd take a photo with me. :)

As I often do with my camera, I turned it towards us, put my arm out, and "click!". Unfortunately La heard interesting kitchen noises just as I clicked and turned away (can't blame her). And I was a bit too shy to ask to take another photo ... oh well!

What a great day!

Monday, February 25, 2008


A 12 hour fast is not a beagle's idea of a good time.

This morning at 8:15 I took Diesel to the vet to have his teeth cleaned.

Shortly after we adopted him in January of 2006, Mark and I thought we would like to have his teeth professionally cleaned. Although the foster group we adopted him from thought he was close to a year old because of his playful, puppy-like demeanor, our vet pegged him at closer to 2 or may 2-1/2 when we adopted him. I tended to agree because since he's been with us he's had an amount of brown-yellow tartar present on his back teeth. So today we're going to "start from scratch" and can
hopefully forfeit any more procedures like this if we keep up with the daily brushing.

Back to the fasting.

As of 8:00 last night Diesel was not to have any more food in preparation for the anesthesia. I gave both Marvin and Diesel their Greenies early but that didn't keep Diesel from giving us the evil eye for not giving him another Greenie at the time he normally has one – after their final walk for the night. He eventually curled up in his crate defeated and probably holding a grudge.

This morning Diesel woke up shortly after I did and went right to the counter where the Greenies are kept. Drat! He didn't forget.

Thankfully getting ready for our morning walk distracted him and off he, Marvin, and I went. As soon as we got home I went into the bathroom for a shower. Typically I give them breakfast and brush teeth before my shower but this morning I needed to hide. The pleading, questioning eyes were killing me. I'm sure both pups were quite certain I was losing my mind by forgetting their breakfast altogether.

The rest of the time I was getting ready for work Marvin sat in the front window and Diesel watched me from his crate, eyes never leaving me. If I was out of his sight he would put himself in my general direction, in beagle-rug fashion, just in case his presence would jog my memory that I had yet to feed them.

I'm quite sure he was starting to question my integrity and/or my qualifications.

Time for us to leave and he full-body wagged in his typical style when I reached for the leash. Happy little guy in the car. Immediately suspicious when we pulled up in front of the vet's office. Shaking like a leaf in the waiting room. Not fun for a beagle. Not fun for a dog mum.

I'll be glad when 4PM rolls around so I can take him home to the comfort of his familiar routine.

*It's only 10AM and the vet just called saying everything went very well and Diesel's resting now. Great news!*

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I arrived back home at 11:45 last night from a two-day roadtrip to Cincinnati (15-1/2 hours roundtrip – it should have been no more than 14 RT except for the blasted ice storm between Indianapolis and Cincinnati on Friday).

I audited SILVIA TRKMAN'S NOVICE/OPEN AGILITY SEMINAR at Queen City Dog Training Club yesterday. I type in caps for good reason – it was a BIG DEAL!

Since discovering Silvia through Barby and Xsara's blog, I've been an avid fan. Seeing her in person, working with people and their dogs, further solidifies my admiration for her – she's a kind and gentle soul who has the best interest of dogs in mind. Her passion is undeniable and inspiring. And what a treat to meet the darling La and seeing her love for working with Silvia.

I hope to put together a synopsis of my experience later today ... I have many notes and videos to sort through.

Check out one of Silvia's seminars if ever you have the chance. Or at least watch some of the tricks videos on her Web site.

Also, I can't say enough about the folks at Queen City Dog Training. I couldn't have felt more welcomed or better taken care of yesterday. What an amazing (and fortunate) group!

Feb. 27: I finally finished my overview of the seminar ... you can find it here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

With puppy-like wonder

What is going on with our weather this winter? The forecast for today called for rain and mid-30° temperatures until noon, switching over to snow and falling temps this afternoon and beyond. We have the potential to get another six inches to add to our snow collection by tomorrow morning.

You might be interested in a little trivia. In a typical winter season, Milwaukee sees around 35 inches of snow. Last winter we had it easy, with a meager 26 inches. As of this moment, pre-afternoon snowfall, we are at 76 inches this season. The record, set in the late 1800s, is 109 inches. If we get our predicted six inches of snow today, we will be in fifth place for the all-time snowiest winter season for our area.

So there you go. It's been pretty non-stop.

Just as they predicted, the beagles and I were walking in pouring rain this morning. The 34° temperature actually felt rather warm considering what's been typical lately. We were still surrounded by snow banks on the lawns but the road was in a condition I can't say I've ever seen before. There were intersections in our neighborhood that were covered in a good six inches of standing water. There were portions of the road (mainly the middle, where we concentrated our walk) that were clear, just wet. And there were big sections of road that were best described as a giant flat icecube. You couldn't always tell where the icecube sections were by sight, so it was a soggy, slow-going walk.

Still, despite that, it was amazingly pleasant being in the elements because 34° felt warm. Go figure!

As we rounded the corner that would take us back home, we approached the circular manhole cover that Diesel checks out fairly regularly. There are three holes in it about an inch in diameter that he like to press his nose into and breathe and snort deeply (this is one of those moments where I pause, imagining what he might be experiencing).

This morning Diesel passed the cover over completely but Marvin found it intriguing. Rainwater and snowmelt were rushing over it and the three little holes turned into mini-vortexes. Marvin tried to press his nose to each hole, but just as he got close he jumped back as the wet whirlpools deterred his attempt. Over and over he tried and over and over he pulled back, tipping his head and perking his ears in wonder. The vortexes created water bubbles and those were fascinating too. He went to sniff a bubble and on contact it would pop puzzling him all the more. His brow furrowed, he gently pawed the whirling vortexes, and all his attention was forward, focused on this fascinating phenomenon.

I could have watched him all day, just as he could have likely stayed there all day in his fascination. But I convinced him to join me and we finished our walk, the beagles and I. Once home, a towel-down and the typical after-bath zoomies ensued.


Fast forward a couple hours.

I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter to search the dark reaches of the cabinet's top shelf for baking soda and vanilla to complete my list of ingredients for banana bread. As I stood on the edge of the chair intent on my search, I felt a presence on the chair with me. There appeared Marvin, in a perfect sit right behind me. Same perky ears, the same curious expression I witnessed outside. Except this time he was wondering what it was I might be doing.

I love this dog. His curiousity might require more understanding on our part or make him more of a challenge occassionally, but it's so a part of him. He fascinates me as much as the world fascinates him.

Dear Marvin, I encourage you to forever live your life with a sense of puppy-like wonder. And you can teach me how to do the same.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Toothbrush attack

For the last four months I've made it a goal to brush two sets of beagle teeth every morning. Yes, every morning. It used to be a once-in-a-while thing until I had a change of heart after doing some reading.

From my research into raw feeding, I found out that dry kibble doesn't have the teeth-cleaning properties clever advertising has always told us. In fact, quite the opposite. Once I started imagining eating dry crackers and then not brushing my own teeth for two weeks, it seemed entirely disgusting to me to not brush the beagles' teeth at least once a day, especially since we were back to feeding all dry kibble again (Diesel had a reaction to his raw chicken diet ... we'll try another raw option in the future).

So toothbrushing is a morning ritual for the three of us. Marvin finishes his breakfast first so he's the first to sit in front of me waiting his turn (yes, he does wait for me!). Once the brushing starts he makes a game of trying to kill the toothbrush, but with two hands I pretty much know where in his mouth to stick my fingers so the toothbrush wins the game.

By the time I finish with Marvin, Diesel is waiting. He's such a patient and still little dog fellow. It's a pleasure.

This morning I had the camera in one hand as I was brushing teeth. The toothbrush didn't stand a chance!

First Marvin, happy that, today at last, he can chew the toothbrush!

Dental mayhem.

Then Diesel realizes chewing the toothbrush isn't such a bad idea.

Tug-of-war is more like it!

(Look at Marvin in the background ... what a face :)

The toothpaste was gone anyway and the new tube came with a new brush. It was the perfect day to have some fun!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dog dissing in the kitchen

Happy Valentine's Day!

I woke up to find this as the wallpaper on my iPod Touch this morning!

That husband of mine was busy after I went to bed last night. This is my favorite kind of surprise and he's so good at catching me off guard with them. On our first Valentine's Day after he moved to the U.S., I went out to my car to go to work and he had filled the entire front seat and dashboard with little red and pink heart-shaped stickers with loving Valentine sayings on them. I was so taken aback by the sweetness of it all I cried! I love you BF!


On another note, this morning I scurried off to our kitchen at work because of a rumor going around that a vendor brought in a giant cheesecake.

As I was filling my plate, I realized my presence started a dog conversation, beginning with Uno's win. That was all fine and good but then one work friend disappointedly mentioned that her husband is lobbying to get a dog.

The room was filled with gasps of horror. "A dog! You can't do that!" "Too much work, you'll be stuck home forever!" "All the poop to pick up, forget it!" "Way too high maintenance, you'd be better off with a cat."

On and on they went.

Guess what. I used to feel the same way. Exactly. And not even that long ago. But then suddenly some wires in my brain crossed or the planets aligned or something ... and I got my priorities straight.

So I proudly stood tall and said out loud to my dog-dissing friends, "My dogs are my life! They are my whole world (and my hubby too, of course, but that's understood). I take them to agility classes twice a week and I might be assisting an obedience class an additional night a week. They are my social life and that's the way I like it. My life is ALL DOG!"

After I stopped talking I stood there, taking in their semi-bewildered facial expressions. And then I said something to the effect that I'm sure that seems crazy to some people but that's just the way it is with me.

I offer no apologies. I'm sure you understand.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


... or should I say AHH-ROOOO?!!

That judge knows where it's at ... and so did the crowd!

Go Uno!

Uno jogs on a treadmill inside the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York.

My fellow beagle-loving friend, Katherine, sent me an e-mail announcing that Uno, a lovely 15-inch beagle boy, won Best in Group last night at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Apparently this sort of thing never happens. In fact the FOXSports article Katherine forwarded me actually says this: Westminster has presented best in show 100 times and a beagle has never won. In fact, no beagle has even won the hound group since 1939 — that drought is 483 years, in dog years.

Hooray for Uno! Hooray for beagles!

He also won Best in Group during the AKC/Eukanuba Dog Show, which we did manage to see on Animal Planet. If I were a judge, all winners would be beagles.

But then I'm a bit biased.

Breaking the nose barrier

Beagle noses are special things. They elicit from me all kinds of emotions and feelings.

Appreciation: Known fact – the most important part of the beagle is the nose. The nose is how they get their work done ... the work they were created to do. If I am to love a beagle, which I do, I am to love the nose – for better or worse. Besides that, the beagle nose has plenty of aesthetic appeal – ridiculously large and wet poised at the end of a kissable snout. What's not to appreciate?

Wonder: Many, many times I've stopped in my tracks to watch the beagles on a sniffing frenzy. What are they experiencing? From watching various dog programs on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, I've learned they don't smell a "stew" of smells at once, rather they discern one scent from the next from the next all at the same time. That's something us humans just don't experience. So I watch them and imagine what it must be like.

Joy: Mark and I have used the noses in countless games of hide-and-seek, jumping, weaving, and all sorts of fun training. It binds us and bonds us. Oh, and those noses love to work and play for treats.

Finally, not to finish on a negative note, but it cannot be denied ...

Frustration: It's true, the nose can tend to take over at times when I, the human who paid for that agility class and really would like to get the most out of it, just doesn't appreciate.


Marvin and I started our second 8-week session of intermediate agility last week and, in all fairness, no one can expect the first class to go all that smoothly. New dogs, new people, new smells to become familiar with. By the second week of a new session you can expect things have calmed down a bit and it's back to having fun running the courses.

Apparently I've lost my charm or my treats have become boring as the last two weeks of class have been punctuated by Marvin snouting before, during, and after each of our runs. Remember those videos I posted mid-January? I feel we've gone backwards in the focus department since then. Granted, a beginners session which takes place just before our class also started. Those beginners drop a whole lot of treats and Marvin makes it his personal mission to clean the floor. Thank you class-before-ours – you've provided me with a new challenge! I know, I should be grateful for the "opportunity", but I really just wish they'd clean up their act!

Honestly, I blame myself for this blip on our agility screen. We haven't been doing nearly as much focus work outside of class as we did in the warmer months (seriously, our snow and negative temps are not giving us a break). Nor have I switched my choice of treats. And last night when the sniffing started during our runs, occasionally I stopped trying to get his attention and found myself watching him do what he was doing. That is until I remembered I was in a class, wasting people's time.

So we've got some work to do, Marvin and I. Which really just translates to a chance to spend more time together and build our relationship. If only the weather wasn't making me so LAZY lately!

In many ways I do think Marvin and I make a great agility team.

Even better if I could just break the nose barrier.