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.

1 comment:

  1. That is a fabulous recounting of the way things are. Now consider, if you foolishly move over from obedience to agility. All the things falling over all the time.