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Archive for January, 2012

Cooper and Tooey love jerky — especially those chicken breast and duck breast jerkys made by Cadet. They’ll even race into their crates when they know I have a piece of jerky in my hand. When no other treat will motivate them (particularly Cooper who is often not motivated by food), these poultry strips will work.

Unfortunately, the Cadet strips are made in China. I personally have never had any trouble with them, but widely reported incidents of dogs becoming quite sick from treats made in China have made me wary.

So I thought, what if I bought chicken and made the strips myself?

One requirement is that I must start with flash-frozen chicken breasts. My vet has explained to me that, if I must feed my dogs raw meat, I should feed them flash-frozen  meats. Those will have had the least exposure to bacteria during processing. Fortunately, flash-frozen, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are easy to find.

Then I need a dehydrator. Check — got that.

Then I need to figure out a way to slice them easily. It turns out that if you thaw the chicken breasts until they give just a little bit but still have ice crystals in them, they slice very nicely into 1/8″ thick slices using a very sharp (and very clean) knife.

Thawing took overnight in our refrigerator, and slicing 4 breasts took only about 10 minutes. An added bonus of the flash-frozen breasts is that they were apparently frozen on a flat surface — giving them a flat side that stays very stable on my (also very clean) cutting board.

Then all I have to do is lay them out on the dehydrator racks, and turn the dehydrator up to its highest setting — which is 145 degrees on mine. I started that process this morning. I expect the drying to take all day.

At the end, for an extra precaution of safety, I’ll pop the strips into the oven at 200 degrees for several minutes, just to kill any remaining pathogens.

I’ll store these in the freezer (if I can find room around all the frozen ducks and pheasants we have in there), and put just enough for several days into the refrigerator.

(If you want to try this, I’d recommend reading this post about dehydrating chicken strips. Of all the Internet resources I consulted, this one is the clearest to follow.)

Now to the economy part. The frozen, skinless, boneless chicken breasts came out to $2.44 per pound. That pound will dehydrate down to about 1/2 pound, making the homemade strips about $4.90 per pound. To compare, the Cadet brand strips were about $16.00 for 2 pounds, or $8.00 per pound) of dried chicken strips.

So, if we don’t count my labor, then these strips come out to be much cheaper than the Cadet brand treats. And I think next time, I will consider buying organic chicken breasts. It’ll be more expensive, but still probably not as expensive as the Cadet treats.

Now all we have to do is see if the dogs like them.

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Several circumstances converged yesterday that allowed Tooey and myself to head to Central Oregon for a day of pheasant  hunting. Cooper had to stay in Portland for an Obedience match, the weather gods brought a rare winter day of sun (i.e. no rain), and I had Friday off from work. Hence only Tooey and I headed to the dry side of the Cascade range for a day of upland bird hunting.

For the readers of this blog who are not familiar with the geography of Oregon, the Cascade range traps the wet Pacific winter storms and makes for our winter rainy reputation. But those very mountains block these storms and force the clouds to drop their rain and snow, leaving the east side with a high altitude desert, perfect for dry land farming, and perfect for upland bird hunting. The mountain in photo below is Mt. Hood, fifty miles to the west of where we hunted. (There is currently 8 feet of snow covering this dormant volcano, a twin of nearby Mt. St. Helens.)

Tooey is suspicious there is a stealthy pheasant in the grass

Tooey started the morning by working back and forth, down a draw between me and our hunting partner Norm. She flushed a bird on my side which I gauged to be too far for a lethal and accurate shot, so I let it fly away while Tooey shook her head in dismay. She then flushed up two more on Norm’s side, but they both eluded Norm’s shots and so Tooey continued her search.

She then locked on to the scent of bird in the cattails along the creek and plunged into the cover. A nice rooster pheasant flew out and over a small pond when my shot caught up with it. Down it went. Rather than making a big splash, it hit the crust of ice near the edge of the cattails. Miss Tooey took off for the retrieve and was somewhat shocked at breaking through that transparent sheet of ice as she made her way to the rooster. She picked it up, and then crunched her way back through the ice for a delivery to hand of one soaked bird.

All that training for retrieving ducks out of water pays off with a pheasant

Later in the afternoon, we moved onto another draw and hunted over Norm’s Boykin Spaniel, Scarlett. (She has been highlighted numerous times in past blog posts, including this post from last year.) Scarlett flushed up five birds, I missed 2, but Norm connected with one that she had no problem finding and returning. The rest flew away unharmed as they were out of range.

After we returned Scarlett to the truck, we took Tooey out for one last stroll down the same draw. While Scarlett had been successful at quartering and finding birds in the grass, I thought I could get Tooey to go into the heavier cover along the creek bank and look for some birds that may have eluded us in our first pass. As we got near the end of the draw, Tooey’s nosing around the cover paid off, and she spotted a bird sitting tight. She hesitated briefly before plunging in, much like the pose in the first photo. Because I had a chance to see her hesitate before the flush, I had the shotgun ready and easily brought down the bird within 20 yards. Tooey picked it up out of the tall grass and brought it back for this posed picture before she delivered to hand.

Tooey with the final bird of the day as the sun begins to set

Life is good. (Cooper is not privy to our day of fun on this day of winter sunshine, so please be discreet if you see him.)

Note: Handling a shotgun safely and effectively while carrying a camera, while also thinking about making nice photographs is difficult and not something I would endorse. These photos were shot with my compact point-and-shoot and not as nice as they could have been if I had been using my larger cameras and left the gun in the car. But at least we get to eat pheasant and have proof that Tooey is great bird dog.

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Almost one year ago today, at the Rose City Classic dog show, Cooper got his show championship. And that’s the last time I spent any time near a regular conformation ring. (I did show Cooper at the IWSCOPS specialty show in August.)

Today, even though the sun was out, our field training group was flooded out of its training grounds, so Russ and I decided to go to watch the Irish Water Spaniels at this year’s Rose City Classic. We left the dogs at home, hopped in the car, and drove the few miles over to the Expo Center.

About half way there, the area around my solar plexus got tight, I found it harder to breathe, and my stomach started to churn.

This went on for a few minutes until I realized, “Hey! I’m feeling nervous. Why am I nervous? I’m not showing any dogs in this show.”

Hmm…

I guess that I have been nervous driving to dog shows for a long time, ever since I started showing my dogs. So some part of me has made this dog show = nervousness into an automatic connection, one that I seem to have no control over.

It’s like watching Tooey start to drool when I start getting out the field training bumpers. She often gets treats when she retrieves those bumpers, and some part of her brain has made the connection bumpers = salivation.

We’ve both been classically conditioned.

I am beginning to realize that if I’m going to keep showing my dogs at dog shows, I had better deal with this. It’s understandable to be nervous when there is something to be nervous about. But when I start reacting for no reason based in reality, well, that needs some attention.

I think it’s connected to the high rate of failure at dog shows. Conformation shows are the worst at this — only one dog and one bitch can get points toward their championship — everyone else loses. I lost a lot — it took more than three years of regular showing for Cooper to get his championship.

And for Obedience, the problem has been me. Every dog who passes the trial, earns a leg toward the title. But the dog and handler have to be trained and ready to pass. I’ve been eager for Cooper to earn his CD title in Obedience (for a lot of reasons), and so I started showing him as soon as I thought he remotely had a chance — as it turns out, before he was ready. Resulting also in a high rate of failure.

So mostly my experiences with dog shows have been uncomfortable, linking a strong desire to succeed and a fear of failure, with the regular experience of failure.

So. What to do?

I am taking some steps. I haven’t shown Cooper in Obedience for quite awhile. And all that time, we’ve been taking classes, going to private lessons, attending matches, and practicing at home. Am doing my best to make sure we are prepared when we go next time.

But I am puzzled as to what to do with that extra layer of nervousness that appears to affect me without reason. What to do with that nervous feeling that arrives just because I am driving to a dog show. It’s got to be a mental game of some kind, but what, I don’t know.

Perhaps you do.

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Most of this morning we watched frozen precipitation. It ranged from tiny particles, to fat flakes, to hail pounding on the roof.

But then we noticed sunshine. Odd… Hmmm… better go training now.

Tooey obeying the "Hold" command for a few minutes after an 100-yard blind

Cooper learning that he has to pay attention to his handler before said handler will throw the ball

We worked on

  • a repeat of yesterday’s long V-blind, but in a new location for Cooper,
  • a couple of 100-yard blinds for Tooey,
  • a “Hold” practice for Tooey
  • an honor for Cooper while watching Tooey go off for her blinds, and
  • paying attention to the handler for Cooper

This paying attention is hard for Cooper when it comes to toys. For about a week, we’ve been working on a new rule: Cooper has to look at his handler before the handler will throw a toy.

Usually Cooper is so focused on the toy, or whatever else he’s distracted by, that he doesn’t even really know his person is there. This does not work well in Obedience, particularly during heeling, when the dog has to be paying attention to the handler so that the dog stays in correct heel position, no matter where the handler goes. So if we can convince Cooper that very good things happen when he looks at his handler, we are hoping that he will actually want to pay attention to his handler. This would, in theory, make correcting his tendency to get distracted during heeling much easier.

But you know, teaching a new thing can be dangerous. Students “forget” things they’ve long known while they are learning new things. This is normal, and it happens to people and dogs. Eventually, the new thing becomes integrated and the old things come back.

In particular, I’m hoping that teaching attention will not mess up his marking ability. Marking is crucial to fieldwork, during which he’s supposed to be looking out so he can “mark” where birds fall. We may have to re-introduce the “Find your mark” command, which tells him to look out and around for birds. He’s never really needed that command because he’s always been looking out without being told to.

So we got in about 1/2 hour of training. Then we noticed that the sky was getting suddenly darker, and that all the other people and their dogs had gone.

Hmmm… better leave now. And just as we got the dogs back in their crates and the bumpers and chuck-it put away, the hail started up again, pummeling the car and dancing off the windshield.

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Hank and his Standard Poodle, Taura, met Russ and I (along with Cooper and Tooey, of course!) out at one of Hank’s favorite training grounds. A very large, mown (and rare) field with trees, out in suburbia.

It was a short session. We knew the rain was coming, and wanted to get our work done before that started.

While we were waiting for Hank to arrive, Russ ran Cooper on some blinds. He ran it in a narrow V-pattern, each leg about 75 yards long, with one blind about 30 degrees apart from the other. The pictures below, taken with my very stupid smart phone, don’t show the V. The birch tree in the top photo is the left blind, and the V-shaped birch in the second photo is the right blind.

By the time Russ and Cooper were done with blinds, Hank had arrived, and we set right to work. First we ran some 30 yard blinds for Taura and Tooey (who was disgusted that there were only bumpers to pick up, and not birds).

Then we dreamed up a long double for Cooper. He ran two very long doubles through the trees and into two small clearings. The two legs were about 125 yards and 85 yards long. The area of the fall of his long mark was very strange — in fact, we used that as the area of the fall for all three dogs, and all three of them got confused.

In and amongst the trees in this field are very wide, tall clumps of blackberry bushes. For this long mark, the thrower stood in front of one clump and threw the frozen bird over in front of another clump. From 125 yards away (for Cooper) and 80 yards away (for Tooey and Taura), all three dogs thought that the bird had fallen on the far side of the clump. They all ran around to the back of the clump, searching for that bird. Cooper stepped on his bird on his first time out to this mark, but then lost it the second time. Tooey had to be helped a bit by the thrower, who simply took a few steps toward it. Taura had to search for quite awhile all around the clump, but she finally found it.

It was a puzzling view for me, too. When I was sending Tooey out to this mark, it looked like a flat plane of blackberries, simply two clumps right next to each other, with a clearing in front. When I got out there to throw for Taura, though, I could see that the area was actually sort of circular. What looked to me at the line to be flat was actually kind of a half-circle of brambles around the clearing.

It’s always a lot of fun to watch the dogs work, which is why I keep doing this.

  • Cooper is like a laser. He doesn’t always get it right, but he always wants to retrieve — birds, bumpers, balls — whatever you want to throw. And he doesn’t want to quit — Can we have just one more throw, please? That’s his motto.
  • Taura is elegant to watch, full of energy and grace. She doesn’t always know what she’s doing, but she does it with enthusiasm. When she finds a bird, she sort of pounces on it with a “Oh, goody! There it is!” kind of happiness, and then runs back with it, full out.
  • Tooey is out there to be included in the game. Birds are definitely better than boring old bumpers. And today, she was riveted on Russ, who threw her first bird. She kept looking at him, wanting him to throw all her birds. I had to actually kind of hold her muzzle and point it in Hank’s direction, so that she could see him waving him arms and and making quacking sounds, getting ready to throw her second bird.

And then we were done. And just as we were loading up the cars with our dogs and equipment, the rain came, cold, wet, and pouring down. But the car was warm, and by the time we got home, we were all happy, dry, and ready for a snack.

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That’s what you get when you don’t comb out your Irish Water Spaniel for two weeks: mats and knots.

Especially if that Irish Water Spaniel is Tooey.

Cooper, now, he’s easy. For whatever reason, his coat is not thick. That has its down sides, like not being thick enough to protect the skin between the pads of his feet. But one of the up sides is that he’s easy to comb out.

In his grooming session earlier this week, he was so easy and fast to comb out that I had it done one morning before I went to work. I found one measly little mat between a couple of toes on his front feet. So small that I could work it out with my fingers.

Tooey, the sweet darling, is another story.

Her coat is so thick that if I don’t keep up with her grooming — if I don’t comb her out completely every week — then I pay. And so does she. I end up having to spend at least an hour, or more, combing, brushing, or cutting out the mats and knots, and she has to put up with it. And neither one of us likes it much at all.

Her last brush-out and bath was the day we got home from our last hunting trip. That morning, she’d rolled delightedly in something not visible. It wasn’t poop, but it probably was urine of some kind. Stinky, musky, pervasive, and she loved it.

So without even letting her out of the car, I quickly unpacked the car, whisked her to you-bathe-it place, and got her clean. That was 15 days ago.

I spend the intervening time procrastinating. I should have known I would pay.

So last evening, I spent a good 1-1/2 hours working with the detangling spray, slicker brush, pin brush, poodle comb, and regular comb, working out all the knots and debris.

She had knots behind each ear, more between her front toes, and one or two in each arm pit.

She kind of likes getting her ears brushed and combed. That spot in the back of her head, where the ear is attached to the skull — that’s one of her favorite places to get scratched. So the combing probably feels good to her.

But her feet and armpits? Brushing, and combing especially, appear to be torture. I spray the detangler liberally on those spots, brush it through, and then go on to less sensitive areas while waiting for it to do its job.

But eventually, I have to get the knots out between the toes. That is a battle. At the least pull on a mat, she starts trying her best to get her feet away from me. If I can’t get the mat out quickly, I usually resort quickly to scissoring them out. She’s not a show dog anymore, so it’s okay if the coat on her feet looks slightly misshapen for awhile.

The underarms are almost worse. Last night, I laid her on her side on the grooming table, and had Russ feed her treats while I combed her armpits as gently as I could. When I got all the knots out, I clipped the fur under there with the hope that this will cut down on future mats.

But really, the only cure is to brush her once a week. No excuses. No procrastination. I know better — I just need to follow my own advice. And we’ll both be happier.

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How to know the best thing to do is WAY different from actually knowing.

And I’m starting to realize that the biggest task in being a beginner is learning how to judge what is best.

I am not one who learns well from books or DVDs. That may sound odd coming from a person with an M.A. in English. But I find instructional books and DVDs difficult to follow, mostly because the authors, despite their best intentions, fail to explain the one crucial thing I don’t get. Or they assume I know things that I don’t. Or they go on and on about stuff I learned long ago.

And with a book or a DVD, you can’t get help.

With a person, when you’re not getting what you need, you can at least ask, and they can explain again. And with a person, they can observe and make comments when you’re doing well or making a mistake.

Now, if there were only one teacher in the world, that would be simple. But there are many more than one. Many have credentials, others have long experience, and some have both. A few of those actually know how to work with people. And only a small fraction are available at the same time and place as I am.

So, those are the people I work with (or try to, anyway).

So here’s the problem: they don’t agree with each other. Here are two example:

In hunt tests, you stand with your dog at the start line, facing the area where the first bird is going to fall. Sounds simple. But no.

You have to stand correctly, and how “correctly” is defined is not universally agreed upon. Let’s take just foot position. I’ve been told three different things by three different (and successful) pro trainers. The dog is on your left in heel position, so the question is just where to put your feet next to the dog.

  • both feet parallel to each other, toes pointing straight toward the area of the fall and even with each other, feet about 6″-10″ apart
  • the left foot (the one next to the dog) is pointed toward the area of the fall, with the other foot slightly behind and angled with toe pointing away from the dog
  • the right foot (the one away from the dog) is pointed toward the area of the fall, with the other foot slightly behind and angled with toe pointing toward the dog

All of these positions have advantages. The first one keeps everything squared in the direction you want the dog to go: feet, hips, and shoulders. The second and third provide a bit more ease in your ability to maintain balance on uneven ground, and still have a foot that can indicate direction.

Okay, now here’s another one — about how to hold the leash when you’re training your dog to heel.

  • Hold the leash loosely so that the clip end of the leash hangs from the dog’s collar in a J-shape. The leash should never be tight, even when the dog is somewhat out of position. For Cooper and me, this equals about a 3-1/2′ leash. You keep the dog in heel position with rewards, food lures, verbal encouragement.
  • Hold the leash so that when the dog is in heel position, the leash is loose, but whenever the dog is out of heel position, the leash is tight. For us, this is about an 14″ leash. Of course, you can still reward the dog when he’s in the correct position with treats or praise.

In the first case, the dog learns to heel without depending on information from the leash and collar. In the second case, the dog is given information when needed by the leash and collar.

I won’t even get into the discussion about what kind of collar to use.

So the point of this post is not to argue about which one of the suggested methods is best — it’s to help me think about how to know which method is best.

One obvious answer is that whichever one works for the dog is the one that I should choose. But it’s not that easy.

  • First off, I am a beginner. I can’t really tell which method works better. With heeling, I’ve just begun to figure out how to see if the dog is in heel position without looking down and back at him when he’s behind me (another no-no). I will get better at this, but I’m not there yet. With foot position in the field, well… there are so many other variables out there that I have no way of knowing which might be enticing my dog off the straight path to the bird.
  • I go to a lot of training classes and sessions because I want training partners and, other than my living room, I don’t have a training space of my own. So I end up in the company of a lot of experienced people who don’t agree with each other and who are trying to help me. I find this both helpful and very confusing.

It seems like I need to just pick one way to do a thing and stick with it. That way, my dog can get consistent information from me.

But then, what am I supposed to do when I’ve picked a way that seems to be working, but the teacher/pro/expert wants me to do it another way? Particularly in the case when I have developed a relationship with this person, am paying them for the expertise, and/or need a training partner or their training space.

I mean, I don’t want to insult these people, and I do want their help.

If I knew how to pick and could justify my choice, it’d be much easier to talk to these people about why I am doing what I am doing.

But that’s the problem.

It’s a circle, and one of those vicious ones, too.

I am getting dizzy.

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