Archive for June, 2009

Dead tail, drop tail, cold tail, limbertail, broken wag — this painful condition has lots of names and not-completely understood causes.

Cooper’s tail dropped after today’s personal best dock-diving practice.


You can see that his tail is hanging straight down and to one side — this is a classic presentation. He doesn’t lift his tail, and it doesn’t wag. He’s walking a little stiffly, too, and doesn’t seem comfortable sitting. And the weirdest thing is this grumbling noise he makes every time he tries to find a comfortable position.

I’ve read that it’s caused by cold water (even baths). But I don’t think that cold water is enough because even some flyball folks have reported it. In Cooper’s case, I think it must be the combination the over-exertion of today’s obsessed dock diving, plus the cold water, plus the fact that he often puts a lot of strain on his tail by using it as a rudder.

tail as rudder

tail as rudder

Rosemary confirmed my suspicion that this is dead tail — she said her dogs have gotten it in the past. And she cautioned me against one remedy — pulling on the dog’s tail. She said that someone had done that to “cure” her Stella’s dead tail, and that Stella didn’t let anyone near her tail for years afterward.

The best prescriptions appear to be rest, perhaps a baby aspirin, and maybe some chiropractic treatment or massage.

And as to preventing it? There’s lots of suggestions — I don’t know if any of them work, but here’s what I’ve read: giving aspirin ahead of time, giving the dog fish oils (Cooper already gets that daily), getting chiropratic treatment before sports events, making sure the dog is warm and dry after getting wet, keeping the dog in good physical condition, and not letting him over-exert.

Cooper’s in great condition, but didn’t want to rest — he wanted to keep jumping and jumping and jumping. Next time, I’ll just have to dry him off frequently and insist that we (both) rest.

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Cooper and I spent today dock diving with the Cascade Dock Dog club at the pond, where he got a new personal best!

Cooper just loves, loves, loves this, possibly to the point of obsession. As soon as we got off the dock, he dragged me back to get onto the dock to do it again. I mean that literally. At one point, Jeremy offered to help me hold Cooper, and Jeremy got dragged, too.

(I know, I know — I should be using a pinch collar, or a harness, or something…)

Some amazing jumps

All that practice paid off: By mid-afternoon, during the mock competition, Cooper’s two jumps both measured in (unofficially) at 19 feet!

taken by Laci Wentland

taken by Laci Wentland

The people who were doing measuring were caught by surprise — they were expecting the 14.5 feet he did last time, and had to do a quick shuffle along the side of the pond to get a good measurement.

What we did this time

I followed Tammy’s advice to make him down-wait at the back of the dock. Then, only when I was ready, did I release him to run. (It took several repetitions to convince him that I really meant down and wait.) By the time I was ready, Cooper was a coiled spring.

I want to thank one of my fellow X-Fido flyball team members, Laci, who brought her camera and her lab-pointer mix Marley to the practice.

She got some great pictures, and Marley, a first timer, got an amazing 18′!

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I groaned yesterday evening during flyball practice when Cooper decided to go running off AGAIN into the other lane to play, instead of returning down his own lane to me…

One of my teammates asked me how old Cooper is, and I told her, “2 and a half.”

She said, “Oh, just wait till he’s 3. He’ll be fine when he’s 3.”

Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah — I remember. Rosemary, Tammy, and pretty much every owner of a male IWS has assured me of that.

I’m sure if he’s doing the same thing at 3, they’ll all say, “Oh, just wait till he’s 4.”

And then 5, and then 7, and then (god willing), 14.

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Andy, the hunt trainer, told us to get Cooper excited about ducks. Real ducks, not rubber squeaky ones.

Every day, until Cooper goes off to hunt school (scheduled for mid-July), we’re supposed to spend 5 minutes enticing Cooper with a duck, and allowing him to carry it around a bit.

So far, success. Cooper loves ducks.



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The vet tech stuck her head through the waiting room door where we were waiting for Cooper. “Next time,” she said, “would you please warn us that he’s going to jump onto the table?”

The story

Turns out that when she took Cooper into the exam room, he immediately leapt up onto the exam table. He didn’t notice (or care, perhaps) that the vet had just placed her tray full of records and instruments onto that same table. The clatter, the vet tech explained, what all that stuff flying onto the floor.

We tried to nod soberly. But as soon as the tech left, we both broke into smiles. Instead of trying to escape the exam room, Cooper had happily jumped up onto the exam table in a scary place, with strange people.

This all happened yesterday afternoon. Later in the evening, we realized that we had trained Cooper to do this — without realizing that training is what we had been doing. That means it is possible to train what Colleen at the Academy of Canine Behavior described as a “tough” dog to train.

How we think we did it

Cooper’s been getting various supplements and medications by mouth, and we discovered that it’s easier to give those on the grooming table. At the same time, he needs a little food to help him swallow the pills. Might as well be small pieces of his favorite beef roll.

So, we started by lifting him up on the table, giving him his pills, and then giving him the beef treat. After awhile, we started just asking him to get onto the table by saying “table” and/or patting the table, and he’d do it.

grooming table

Then, when he saw us getting out the pills, he would jump onto the table without being asked. Now, after a couple of months, all it takes is for him to hear us rattling the pill bottles.

The power of association — pills/table/beef treat — ain’t it great?

No reason to stop now

I’ve made it a bit harder recently — now, after he’s on the table and has gotten his pills, and before he gets his treat, I ask him for various small behaviors, like sit, stand, “five” (shake with right paw-right hand), and “ten” (shake with left paw-left hand).

Perhaps soon I’m going to have to train a command to not jump up on the grooming table so the vet tech isn’t surprised. But training on purpose is way harder than training unawares.

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Kristine, my X-Fido teammate, wondered something on her blog: “I don’t know how many Irish Water Spaniels there are running flyball, but I know of at least one…”

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

Good question. I had to check. So I went to the North American Flyball Association database, and looked at their breed statistics.

IWS in Flyball

In the NAFA league, Cooper is the 10th IWS ever, and the only one currently active in NAFA flyball.

Some other IWS have done really well in NAFA in the past:

  • Madcap Rowanberry (retired) with Evelyn Velez-Crawford got 7033 points for a Flyball Master (FM)
  • Ballyhoo Encounters Renegade (inactive) with Renee Nappier got 2640 points for a Flyball Dog Champion-Gold (FDCh-G)
  • Martha (retired) with Patti Bourne got 2192 points for a Flyball Dog Champion-Silver (FDCh-S)

Cooper has 1 (yes, you read that right, “1”) NAFA point. I will be happy if (when?) he gets his Flyball Dog (FD).

I also checked the United Flyball League International (U-Fli) database, and they have no active IWS.


I also heard from a New Zealand IWS owner, who plays a similar sport, called “flygility.” It’s like a combination of flyball and agility. It looks like a timed race, instead of being a relay race. And instead of only jumping over hurdles, the dogs also work through agility-type obstacles.

Here’s a video of flygility from YouTube:

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Yesterday evening, warm with clear blue skies and white fluffy clouds, was the perfect time for the first outdoor X-Fido flyball practice of the year.

We set up on the lawn of the Garden Home Rec Center, including:

  • the fluorescent orange fencing (to keep the team dogs in and non-team members out),
  • two courses of bright white hurdles,
  • the two ball-launching boxes,
  • various flags,
  • several kinds of tennis balls (small, regular, squeaky, soft, etc.), and
  • a plastic tub for water.
(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

(c) 2009 Kristine Gunter

It was a good practice. We did:

  • a bunch of runbacks (where the dog runs only the last half of a run, from the box, over the hurdles, and to the finish line),
  • some practice box turns (where the dog practices getting all four feet onto the box in order to launch the tennis ball), and
  • a few full runs with 4-dog teams (from the start line passing a dog, over all the hurdles, to the box to grab the tennis ball, back over all the hurdles, and passing — with tennis ball — another dog at the finish line).

Experienced dogs first, then novice dogs. Cooper is a novice, and he got a turn at two full runs.

Cooper did one run 98% perfectly. The only thing not perfect was that he slowed slightly to look at the teammate dog passing him. The whole run, I had been yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!” Then, when he turned slightly to look at the other dog, I could see that his puppy brain was calculating the possibility of stopping to play. I boomed out a really loud, “NO!!!” That took his attention off the dog and toward me, and my running away, wildly waving the pink puppy toy, and again yelling, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Then, the other run… Instead of returning over our course of hurdles, Cooper ran over to the other course to chase a dog running over there. Nancy was closer, so she ran over to him, waved her arms, and yelled, “Cooper! No! What do you think you’re doing?”

Cooper stopped abruptly. Nancy said that his golden almond-shaped eyes got really big and round. Then he decided that running to me was the best possible idea. Good choice, Cooper.

He got a drink and then took a break in his crate, watching the other dogs run. Sigh… better luck next week.

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At first I thought it was lightning.

Last night, I woke up from a sound sleep to the dog barking and lights flashing around the house. And Cooper was not merely barking — he was doing that stiff-legged alarm, woof-woof-how-ow-ow-l, continuously, over and over.

The light seemed to be coming in from one window, and then the next, all around the house. Then, instead of thunder, Russ heard voices, and we realized that this was not lightning. This was people with powerful flashlights.

Just like the idiots in the movies, we got out of bed to investigate, rather than call the police. Which, in this case, worked out reasonably well — our visitors were the police: three officers and a K9.

They were in our yard, and all the neighboring yards, flashing their lights into all the dark corners. Back yard lights turned on, and then off. Whispered voices outside, and Cooper inside, barking, howling, barking.

Through an open window, one officer asked us about the empty house next door, and asked us if a 19-year old male lived there. Russ said no. But we guess that that’s whom the police were chasing.

Over the next half-hour? hour? (not sure how long it went), we went back to bed, got out, back in, and out again several times. Gradually, Cooper’s alarm bark calmed to a more low, intermittent bwoof-rumble as he continued to patrol the house after the police cars drove away.

We shut the windows and tried to go back to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, though. I was remembering my recent dream about people breaking into my house. I was remembering that, in that dream, because Cooper was quiet and unconcerned, I was safe and didn’t need to worry.

Now here it was in real life. Cooper was definitely not quiet and unconcerned. And because of that, I felt safe.

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If you’ve read Mary McCarthy’s memoir, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, you might remember the point/counter-point structure. First she told a story from her young life, and then, in a following passage, she reported what others, especially her brother, remembered about the same episode. Their recollections ranged from complete agreement, to something completely different, to not remembering it at all, and all the degrees in between.

She told the story, and then she told the rest of it.

McCarthy’s book is what struck me when Mom gave me the one picture she had of King, my first dog.

My sister and my dog, King

My sister and my dog, King

I look at this picture, and I don’t see the dog of regal bearing and pointy ears that I wrote about naming on June 1st. What I see is an adolescent dog, perhaps still a puppy.

When Mom gave me the photo the other day, she said that Dad had found King running loose at the gas station my Dad owned, and brought him home. We didn’t keep King long — he kept jumping up on us kids.

Of course King jumped up. He was an untrained puppy. Neither Mom nor Dad knew much about dog training, nor did they have the time. Dad worked long hours at the station. Mom was a stay-at-home mother with three little kids to take care of.

But I do know the name, King, is right — that’s what written on the back of the photo. And I know I must have had some reason for naming him that. Perhaps his ears and chest lifted up at the moment I named him.

And I’m sure I loved King. The rest of what I wrote may just be the story I’ve always told myself.

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Last night was supposed to be the X-Fidos first outdoor flyball practice of the season. But we had to cancel due to predicted thunderstorms.

I was disappointed about canceled practice, but now I’m glad. Cooper is not fond of thunder — and we had a bunch of it over our house last evening. He told me how much he didn’t like it the whole time.

So what to do? Walking was out, playing bumpers in the back yard was out, just listening to him bark is unpleasant, and putting him back into his crate seemed unfair.

Then an idea struck. I got out his favorite two squeaky toys, and played what I’m going to call Fast Fetch:

  • Person throws the 1st toy.
  • Person squeaks the 2nd toy until the dog brings back the 1st toy.
  • Dog brings back 1st toy.
  • Person then throws the 2nd toy in another direction.
  • Person squeaks 1st  toy until 2nd toy is brought back.
  • Repeat as often as needed.

Cooper added a new rule:

  • When thunder blams, freeze and bark.

So this is how it worked out: He’d run off to get the toy, the thunder would blam, he’d freeze and bark for a bit until he could “hear” the squeaking again. I could see him remembering — he’d unfreeze and do this micro head-shake-thing. Then he’d remember he was playing a game, and finish the retrieve.

Noisy on all fronts, but fun.

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Getting a puppy almost always means choosing a name. Naming isn’t always that easy. And Cooper is our first purebred, registered dog, which means we had to come up with one of those multi-part names that most of the time bear no relation to what you actually call the dog.

I’ve had some success with naming dogs, after a bit of a rocky start. My very first dog was a German Shepherd. We got him when I was young, probably about 5 or 6. I loved that dog, and I named him Dog.

Until one day, my mother leaned out her back bedroom window and said with some exasperation, “You can’t call that dog Dog.” I didn’t know why not, but agreed to give another name some thought.

I studied Dog carefully. His most prominent features were his regal bearing and very upright, pointy ears. Looked like a crown to me, so I renamed him King.

(King didn’t stay with us for long. I was told that he was sent to live on a farm. There were a couple of other childhood dogs, too, that I didn’t have a hand in naming.)

The next dog was our Malamute mix, Russ’s and my wedding present to each other. We wanted a two syllable name that started with a hard consonent sound. Also we loved boats. I don’t remember how “Kayak” occurred to us, but that’s the name that stuck.

After that, we had Chaco and Cleo (whom everyone wanted, for some reason, to call “Chloe”).

And then, Cooper. Or rather, Realta Rosario Cooper. “Realta” stands for the kennel he came from. And since his litter were Valentine’s Day puppies, Rosemary wanted something romantic or Valentine-y. So we added “Rosario”: That was the name of the resort where Russ and I first discovered each other romantically, and it sounded like it had “roses” in it — a very romantic flower.

And then Cooper. Well, here, on the one hand, I’m weird. I wanted the “call” name to be part of the registered name — this is not usual. And I wanted to keep in the two-syllable, hard “K” sound tradition. We tried on a bunch of Irish male names, but none of them caught our attention. So, as I was reading out loud a list of names that start with a C or a K, Cooper just sounded good.

But alas, on the other hand, I am not at all unusual when it comes to “Cooper.” It turns out that there are hundreds of dogs around here with that name. I discovered this one day, when a strange, off-leash dog was rushing up to Cooper. I asked the owner to control her dog, and she said, “Cooper! No! Stop that!” Well, of course, both Coopers turned to look at her, mine very confused.

And another time, at the dog park, I was calling my dog away from a disagreement, when one of the other owners asked me what my dog’s name was. When I told her, she replied, “It figures.” Turned out there was another adolescent Cooper who went to that park who liked to cause trouble.

And then there’s the old Lab, Cooper, around the corner, another Cooper in obedience class, and a variety of blogs about other Coopers…

Next dog, I’m following Susan’s advice. Before I name my next dog, she said, I should call a bunch of doggy day cares and ask what the most popular names are. And then, don’t use any of those names. Turns out, if I’d done that this time, I definitely would not have chosen “Cooper.”

I bet “Dog” would have been available, though.

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