Monday, July 29, 2019

Dog handlers don't do math

This title of this post may be deceptive.

We do math.

We just don't do it well.

I've made it seven months into the year without offending Jack Onofrio. This is some kind of record and I figure my days are numbered.

Yes, I realize the man himself has passed on to the great down-and-back in the sky but his organization lives on to frustrate dog handlers in perpetuity.

I have been known from time to time to perform fuzzy math when calculating entry fees, which inevitably results in a snippy notice from Onofrio Dog Shows informing me I have failed to pay the appropriate amount and as a result (insert loud crashing chords of organ music here) my armband will be withheld and I will be required to do the march of shame (or, more likely, the desperate run) to the superintendent's table approximately two miles as the crow flies from the obedience rings before the show starts to hand over the requisite amount so I will be allowed to play that day's reindeer games.

Privately, I think every time this has happened it's been a sign from A Higher Power that we shouldn't have entered in the first place and Someone was trying to prevent the inevitable train wreck from occurring, but I haven't tracked those stats closely enough to prove it.

Good grief. I'm not trying to swindle the IRS. I'm trying to make heads and tails of a dog show premium list. There's a reason I went into writing for a living and if you've ever tried to figure out the fee schedule for a five-day cluster show involving multiple host clubs who could barely agree on a date and show site, let alone entry fees, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

My monetary offenses are minimal. I am an obedience handler showing one dog, not a steely-eyed breed ring professional in a power suit with a chunk of liver clamped between her teeth and a pin brush tucked in her armband hauling a string of dogs around on a circuit.

One dog, two classes per trial - Open and Utility. How hard can that be?

I just figured out Banner's dance card for late August and early September. In three consecutive weekends, we have the opportunity to enter 11 trials.

No. I didn't do it. How stupid do I look? (Rhetorical question. Don't answer that. Seriously. Shut up.)

I entered six. This involves five different clubs at three different sites with two separate show secretaries. One is the corporate entity whose services most larger kennel clubs use. The other one is a sensible, privately secretary'd affair that knows what they're doing and is on a first name basis with half the exhibitors.

I agonized over the entry fees. I used a calculator. I added and re-added. First entry of the first dog = $X. Second entry of the same dog in the same trial = $X. Times three because I'm showing three days, right? No. Wait. Club A has different fees than Club B. Club C's entries the following weekend are an entirely different matter because I'm entering non-regular classes there. Isn't there a break for the non-regulars? No? WTH. There used to be a break. Okay. No break. I'll stop whining. So this plus that times two carry the one, add the decimal point, it's the dark of the moon, Mercury is in retrograde, throw salt over my left shoulder and so mote it be.

These are the kinds of math story problems I should have been given as a kid. By now it's probably obvious I wouldn't be any better at them than those stupid trains that left different stations at different times and different speeds but it would have been a lot more fun.

If Sally enters Dog A in Novice B and Dog B in Utility A, each as a first entry at regular price at Friday's trial, then enters both dogs in the same classes at Saturday's trial hosted by a different club, then adds a second non-regular class entry for Dog A at Friday's trial, and enters Dog B only in the same classes at Sunday's trial, oopsies, different host club again, how much will this weekend's entertainment cost?

Probably a good chunk of change because Sally is going to be so frantic in the week before the trial trying to settle up with the superintendent she won't have time to train her dogs and they will be miserably unprepared. Sally should have stayed home and enjoyed an adult beverage. It would have been better for her blood pressure and her bank account.

I figure I'm doing good if I get all the i's dotted and t's crossed on the entry form. I have an AKC entry form set up as a fillable PDF on my computer so all I have to do is change the hosting club and date and print it out. Since Bann and I are relegated to Open B and Utility B for the rest of our born days, there's not much variation on theme.

Once I get the thing printed, all I have to do is check the box next to his AKC number (which my computer obstinately refuses to do), fill in the amount of the entry fees enclosed (pick a number, any number, it's probably not right anyway) and sign my name. Then I can write the check, pop it in the mail and spend the next month wondering if I'm actually entered because this superintendent is not well known for sending entry confirmations any time earlier than 72 hours before the show, if at all.

However, I've discovered if you don't send them enough money, they correspond much more quickly, confirming you are entered even if you are not in their good graces.

My last offense was to the tune of $1. I received a large window envelope with several sheets of printed paper detailing my fiscal offenses via first class postage. I owed them $1. I figure it probably cost them $1.50 to tell me that.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mayhem, mowing and men

The Gypsy has been slacking and apologizes for not posting last week. Life got in the way.

The last few weeks have involved, in no particular order of work/life balance (I figure if I’m still alive and vertical, I must be somewhat balanced): five Fourth of July celebrations; a county fair; a kennel club picnic; a family reunion; another county fair; sleeping on my right arm inappropriately and rendering it useless for about 48 hours (don’t laugh – just wait until you hit middle age); Aussie spa day (Banner was dismayed I put the clean on him); the discovery I can pack for a show weekend in less than 30 minutes (looking back, I wouldn’t recommend it);

Also, Banner’s 9th UDX leg; Tuesday Taco Summit (very important business luncheon and meeting of the minds with former co-workers); another kennel club event; a fun-filled afternoon with the IRS disputing agricultural exemption for heavy road use tax (the IRS erred in OUR favor, yay, I should go buy a lottery ticket); Mother Nature trying to find out at what temperature human beings will spontaneously combust; challenging the record for how many showers I could take in one day (the record stands at 4); another freakin’ county fair and finding time to train Banner in spite of it being hotter than the surface of the sun (neither humans nor Aussies combust at 5:30 a.m., in case you were wondering).

Everything in the above paragraph wrapped itself into a work-not work-home-travel-deadline stressball that had me going six different directions at once and wondering why I didn’t just get a nice relaxing job like defusing bombs in Afghanistan while being shot at by insurgents.

Plus I’m juggling a few on-going writing projects that are bringing in zero dollars but need to be a high priority in spite of their current lackluster financial state, a manuscript proofing project for a friend and damn it – who the $#@! keeps throwing all their dirty clothes in the basement?
Yeah. It's been kinda like this.
Did I mention the printer broke? And the pipe under the kitchen sink did its own special little thing where it comes unhooked and water goes everywhere? And Banner pulled one of his “I’m going to throw up everything I ate since last Thanksgiving” episodes for no apparent reason except that he could.

So there you go. That pretty much covers July in a nutshell. August is going to be much calmer. Probably because I’ll be sitting in a corner, drinking.

But you know what? Those damned ring gates I pounded into the ground last month are still standing. I had to rush outside in a panicked state last week when I saw my husband headed toward them with the lawn mower, though. He waved me off, thinking I’d come to move them, and yelled, “Don’t worry, I’ll mow around them.” I was waving back like I’d just run through a dozen spider webs, yelling, “Look out for the wire!”

He immediately stopped, looked at the mower’s tires, yelled, “They’re fine!” and took off again.

Of course he couldn’t see the strip of woven wire laying atop the grass to block the left side of the center stanchion to keep Banner from swinging wide on the go out. It was green. It’s green for a purpose – so Bann can’t see it either.

For the exactly three of you who have met my husband (he does exist), you may or may not know he views mowing the lawn as a NASCAR-like event during which he attempts to top his own personal best time each week. Given that we have about five acres of lawn to mow, it’s commendable he doesn’t dawdle but holy crap weasel, the man does not see mowing as a relaxing pastime. 

We’ve had so much rain earlier this summer, mowing the grass was a matter of preventing jungle growth and he’s got it down to a calculated science. The mowing, the mower and the lawn are his domain. I do not mow any more. Do not go there. Just don’t.

Enough said.
Having said that, the man has one speed when it comes to mowing: forward. It would be appropriate to insert a comment involving the damning of torpedoes here but I don’t think even that could do it justice.

Really. There are no words.
But I digress. There he was, barreling straight toward something guaranteed to wrap itself around the mower's blade assembly and result in the end of a relatively happy nearly 30-year marriage and the first murder Iowa County has seen in a good 10 years.

I sprinted across the lawn and snatched up the offending wire only moments before disaster struck. As he sped by, I was the recipient of a WTF look that would have dropped a lesser person in their tracks.

Sigh. Marriage. The struggle is real.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The other end of the leash

(Editor’s note: Against my better judgment, I’m letting Banner write this week’s post. He’s remarkably well spoken, although I’m a little chagrined to hear some of my own favorite expressions tossed back in my face.)

By Banner MacGregor

Seriously? On top of everything else I do around here, now I have to write a Thing. As if being the Executive Officer in Charge of Butt Wiggles and Master Sergeant of Alarm Barking wasn’t enough of a full-time gig. Being a Writer’s dog but doesn’t make me a Writer any more than dropping a cat in a stock tank makes it a fish. Not that I’d ever do that.

I’ve managed to wedge this writing Thing in between napping, eating stuff I’m not supposed to and barking at Things that aren’t there. If you want something done, give it to a herding dog. We can prioritize the hell out of a busy day. Maybe it will give Her more time for us to do The Things.

You know what I’m talking about, right? The Obedience Things? She says a lot of dogs don’t ever get to do them, that no one cares enough to teach them. Can you imagine that? The Things are like, life, man. There’s stuff every dog should know and then there’s stuff only special dogs are taught to do. Like we’re the elite canine special forces. I got your Tier One Operator right here, sweetheart.

Sometimes there’s food for doing The Things and sometimes there isn’t. I wanna know who the hell’s idea that was. No food? YOU work for free? Didn’t think so.

I love doing The Things with Her even when there isn’t any food (shhh, NEVER let the Humans know that - it's Item #7 in the Dog's Code) but ya wanna know what confuses me about the whole deal? I spend a lot of time picking up after Her. I mean, I thought this was a team sport and She loses shit like you wouldn’t believe. It’s always, “Banner, get it!” and “Banner, find it!” and then I have to go racing around, fetching stuff up She’s managed to lose AGAIN. It happens ALL the time. Some days I don’t know how She manages to get out of the house with both shoes on.

I’m gonna put that dumbbell on a rope and tie it to Her wrist. The minute She gets hold of it, she throws it away. One minute She’s holding it like it’s a Pulitzer Prize, next minute, yahoo, there it goes, sailing off into the wild blue yonder and ya know who’s gonna have to go get the thing no matter where it lands.

Same with those gloves. Three gloves. It’s always three gloves. She doesn’t have three hands. She doesn’t need three gloves. Maybe there’s a spare in case She loses one? That doesn’t make sense either, because She can’t hang onto ANY of them. What’s worse, She’s always giving them to other people and THEY can’t hang onto them either. Next thing I know, the gloves are gone and guess what? I gotta go get them back. It’s the same freaking mission over and over – different infil and exfil but same damn objective. Get the glove. Why does She want it back so badly after She gave it away in the first place?

She tells me which one to get and God forbid I bring Her a different one. Hasn’t anyone told Her THEY’RE ALL THE SAME?! I think She’s relatively bright, as far as humans go, but seriously – those gloves are all the same, no matter where they’re placed. Sometimes it would be so much easier just to veer off course a bit and fetch up the one that’s closer, with the thumb sticking up. Grab and go. But no. She wants the one the Cat’s sitting on.

Dumb stupid Cat. He shows up whenever we do The Things outdoors at home and he gets in the middle of everything. He sits on the gloves. He flops around in the pile of Find Its like he doesn’t have any bones. He's always sniffing around my supper dish, too, like he's done one damn thing to earn it. I don’t know what the purpose of Cats is.

If I’m not fetching things for Her, we’re Marching. Marching is okay. It pays really good. I know it’s called Marching because I’ve watched the TV and seen people walking in long lines. They all walk the same speed and turn at the same time and stop at the same time and no one ever goes faster or slower than anyone else. She calls it Heeling but I know it’s really called Marching and obviously Humans need to practice a lot because they’re really not very good at it.

Marching is complicated when you’ve got twice as many legs to keep lined up as the Human. I have to stay in the exact same place at Her side, no matter how fast or slow or crooked She goes, and whoa buddy, let me tell you, Marching brings out Her OCD big time. Let me put one paw out of place and She’s on me like a fat kid on a cupcake.

“Hurry up!” “Slow down!” “Back up!” “You’re too far out, get close!” “You’re too close, get off my leg!” “$#@!! it, Banner, this is not a race!” That’s my favorite one. I make sure she has to say it at least once every time we do Marching.

So get this – Her big thing now is to ask me, “Where’s your butt?” I bring her a glove or the dumbbell or a Find It and while I’m sitting in front of her, reminding her for the 487th time, that I was the one who did ALL the work while She just stood there, She’s asking me, “Where’s your butt?” I notice she never asks anyone else where THEIR butt is.

So when She asks, I play along and adjust my butt. I gotta tell ya, I don’t know what difference it makes but if I move it one inch to the left or two inches to the right, that seems to make her happy and I get crunchies and it’s all good. If I put my butt in the right spot in the first place, She gives me a LOT of crunchies right way but dang, when you’ve got a butt like mine, it’s hard to get the thing under control.

Okay, I’m done with this. I don’t want her thinking I did too good of a job or she’ll want me to do it all the time and I’m a busy guy. There are Things to bark at.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Of hammers and other dog training equipment

Half of the secret to being a successful dog trainer lies in getting your shit together.


Training for Open and Utility requires a routine commitment to setting up jumps and at least a minimal length of ring gating. It’s the nature of the beast. While Obedience Barbie would have an adorable little ring set up behind her beach house where she could train her golden retriever while Ken made mojitos (after setting up the ring for her), the rest of us who do not have A) a fully matted, climate controlled training building at our disposal or B) a Ken, have to do it ourselves when it comes to dealing with heavy, awkward, half-broken, often dirty ring gear that lives outside where we train.

When I set out to train, I want to train NOW - not after I’ve hauled all my gates and jumps out and got everything arranged to accommodate for appropriate distractions and to ensure no windows are in immediate peril of an errant dumbbell throw. There are things I don’t want to explain to our insurance guy. He still hasn't gotten over the raccoon that fell out of the rafters in the garage and broke the outside mirror off my van.

By the time everything is hauled out and arranged, the motivation to train may have vanished amidst smashed fingers and miscounted stanchions, wondering if I have the right number of jump boards and repeated trips back to the house or garage or machine shed to find other assorted miscellany that is always someplace other than where it needs to be.

Brief diversion - did I mention we live on top of a hill? It’s a lovely hill. We have pretty views of the countryside. We usually catch a breeze even on the hottest days of summer. When Iowa was besieged by rivers overflowing their banks in the flood years of 1993, 2008 and seemingly every year since, we sat high and dry.

Someday the twister might get us but the floods never will (with apologies to Merle Haggard).

Bear with me as I circle back to my initial premise. I’ll get there eventually. It’s Monday, give me a break.

I am a three-seasons outdoor trainer - spring, summer and fall. In the winter, Mother Nature tries to kill everyone. I avoid training outdoors then.

Actually, Mother Nature tries to kill everyone pretty much year around in the Midwest. If it’s not -40, it’s 105. Or its raining sheets of ice. Or the weather radio is screaming TAKE COVER NOW because a tornado sees your house as one of those “hold my beer” challenges.

I manage to train outdoors in between those minor inconveniences.

And now we’re back where I started:

Half of the secret to being a successful dog trainer lies in getting your shit together.

With that in mind, I set out last week to set up ring gates so Banner and I could work on directed jumping. I had a clever plan. That afternoon, I got all my stuff schlepped out of the nearby machine shed and set up on the lawn so that evening after it cooled off, and after supper and dishes and other domestic nonsense had been squared away, everything would be ready for training.

I set it all up. I went back inside because did I mention, there was no breeze and the entire state was set upon by swarms of horrid little bugs called buffalo gnats? Maybe folks up north call them black flies and folks down south call them no-see-ums. Whatever. They’re angry and they have no sense of direction. They fly up your nose. They fly into your ears. And apparently this is all your fault because they bite you for it.

My training plans for the evening were entirely dependent on a breeze kicking up, otherwise Banner would not stand a chance of understanding my random arm gestures while I flailed about, trying to get gnats off my face. Poor dog. We often have enough trouble when just one of my arms is moving.

Before supper, I went outside to check weather conditions. Ahhhh! A breeze had sprung up. But dang. It had also knocked over my ring gates. I carefully reset them. Just to be safe, I grabbed a garden stake and jabbed it into the ground to brace the most windward section of gating. That should hold it.

We had supper. The temps cooled. I gathered up dog and treats and out we went.

Damn it.

The gates had blown over again. My garden stake had been about as effective as a stick of butter in holding them upright. Not only had it not prevented them from falling, it had been bent into something resembling a pretzel. Living on top of a hill tends to amply things like wind.

I re-set the gates. No sooner had I turned my back on them, they fell over again. I said some bad words.

Banner gave me the side eye.

Drastic times called for drastic measures. I went back in the house and got a hammer. I went out behind the machine shed and rummaged through a pile of cast off electric fence post stakes until I found two that didn’t look like they’d been run over by tractor. I went into the machine shed and rummaged around until I found a couple pieces of wire, alternately blessing and cursing all the men on my husband’s side of the family whose favorite thing in the world to say is, “You never know when you might need a little piece of wire,” then they immediately put them where no one can find them.

I gathered up hammer, stakes and wire and stomped back to the back yard. I’m pretty sure if anyone had seen me, they would not have believed I was going to train my dog. I suspect I looked more like a confused vampire hunter.

Did I mention the breeze was blowing lustily now, dispersing gnats and ring gates with equal ease? I got the stakes pounded in and wired the gates snugly onto them. I’ve wired enough cattle gates shut to understand the power of the double strand triple twist. Those suckers weren’t going anywhere.

I retrieved Banner, who’d wandered off to pester the cats, and we had a delightful training session. Although all my dogs have had ring gates fall on them at some stage in their careers, none of them were ever psychologically scarred by it. Still, when you’re trying to perfect a dead-on square turn and sit, it complicates things to have the gates crash over at an inopportune minute.

In fact, we had delightful sessions all week. My engineering skills were put to the test when a recent thunderstorm slammed through the county with 70 mph winds. Yepper. My gates were still standing.

Then, due to the 478 inches of rain we’ve had this month (an exaggeration - we only had 463), we had to mow the grass. I went out to move my gates and discovered to my dismay I’d done such a good job of pounding those stakes into the ground, my gates were never going to fall over. Ever.

Because the stakes were not going to come out of the ground. Ever.

A great deal of grunting, sweating and swearing ensued.

Dog training. It’s not just a hobby, it’s an exercise program.