Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Keeping Homestead weird

Gryffindor the cat is obsessed with Banner. He was previously obsessed with Phoenix. I don't know if it took him this long to figure out Phoenix is gone (seriously, he's not the brightest thing) but in the last month, Banner has become the object of his affection. 

Talk about no concept of personal space. I think Banner's tolerance is due more to his refusal to move from his spot atop the patio table than any genuine affection but he puts up with Gryffin's antics with good grace and lets him nibble, lick, knead and snuggle, usually without bothering to actually acknowledge him.

dinna move. i steps over.
Srsly? Havin’ me a napper.
i comes to say hi. hi.

i lurves you.
You weird. If I ignores, you go ‘way?

lurves you this muches.
Dude! Why you all up in my whiskers?
gives nibble. you likes. yes. likes much.

Pft! Gittin’ cat fuzzes in my snooter. Stop!
won’t. luuuurves you. 

Git off my face, you furry freak show!
i gives kitty nibbles. you likes.
Can I bite? Mom says no bite. Doin’ me a frustrate.

i has dog! my dog! snuggle the fluffs.
Bro, stop it. There's no excuse for you.

we makes fine looks. paparazzis love us.
I looks fine. You looks mental.

i not going away. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

This is your brain on obedience

I saw a cool post on Facebook this week about how playing piano engages different parts of your body and brain. Of course, I immediately began translating it into dog training. I’m sure it could be applied to riding a horse, shooting a bow and arrow, painting a picture or any of a hundred other skills but it was fun to think of the ways it can be applied to working a dog.

Obedience (or any other kind) of training allows us to use our bodies and experience our senses in a variety of wonderful ways. I’m sure this is just a partial list.

Eyes: widening in delight as your dog approaches at warp speed, then your pupils dilating in terror as 65 pound Fido shows no sign of slowing for a front, meaning he is either going to knock you on your ass (see, you’ve engaged another body part already) or leave bruises that will linger for weeks, necessitating a lengthy conversation when your doctor asks, “Do you feel safe in your home?” Your eyes are frantically telling your legs to get out of the way while your brain is delusionally convinced you can still do enough damage control to salvage the front.

Ears: It is a well-known fact dog trainers have hearing that rivals their dogs’, while at the time managing to be stone deaf. The same trainer who can hear a dog vomiting three rooms away at 2 a.m. can’t hear a damn thing her instructor tells her in class. No. Wait. I’ve been informed she DID hear me, she just didn’t think it applied to her. Well, at least she heard me.

Hands: Hands are the most valuable tools you use in training. As a result, they will cause 98 percent of your problems by being in the wrong place. Top tier trainers have mastered the art of hand zen. The rest of us wonder why the appendages at the ends of our arms are fluttering around like birds on crack. By extension, elbows are never quite where they belong either. 

Hands generally need to go somewhere and stay there but that’s a constant battle and generates so much brain conflict it’s a wonder any of us are still sane. Hands are also useful for writing cryptic notes upon, such as the order of the Command Discrimination.

Keeping time: A friend and obedience mentor told me a long time ago to keep a silent “one-two” count in my head while heeling to keep my pace steady. She had no idea what she was dealing with, since my brain is a poster child for “one-two-one-two-SQUIRREL!” or “one-two-one-two-three-oh-look-we’re-waltzing!”

Fingers: You should begin and end each training session with 10. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong and need to find another hobby, although minor bleeding is allowed. In the meantime, fingers generally make dandy treat holders. When delivering treats, fingers should remain in the desired position you are trying to reward. This takes more concentration than the non-dog-training public might imagine. Fingers are in cahoots with hands and do not always stay in the correct place. During heeling, fingers and hands on one’s left side should behave themselves (i.e., if you don't stop waving them around, your instructor is going to get out the duct tape) while the same digits on the handler’s right side often engage in all kinds of reflexive twitching. 

Spatial ability: I’m pretty sure we’re talking about dumbbell throwing here and gauging the sweet spot where the dumbbell won't bounce into another zip code. Also, the ability to judge the required 15 feet for the Command Discrimination when you’re the 22nd dog in a 24 dog class and the judge’s chalk marks disappeared sometime before lunch. 

Strong spatial ability allows you to judge a go-out that 20 feet past the jumps while getting your turn and sit command uttered before the dog crashes the gate. People with good spatial ability (also called “eyeballing it”) are often driven to distraction when training with people who pull out a tape measure and insist on setting up the ring right down to the last inch. If you train long enough, your spacial ability will develop to the point where you can set up your dog's broad jump without measuring and be within one-quarter inch accuracy.

Artistic interpretation: By now most of us have seen the video of the boxer in the BN ring who flies in on the recall, then does a series of whirligigs at the handler's side instead of sitting. Yeah. That’s artistic interpretation. Many instructors have decided to write it off as artistic interpretation when their students’ dogs exhibit some bizarre behavior and they proudly tell you, “I taught it just like you said.”

Proprioception: This is a fancy word for being able to walk backward without falling down. Dog trainers usually execute this exercise when working fronts. It's relatively safe as only a few backwards steps are required. There is a method of teaching heeling where the handler walks briskly backward while the dog trots in front, then the handler pivots into position and off they go. I tend to avoid that method as I would like to live a little longer. Also, I do not wear a helmet when I train.

Two feet: One is left. One is right. You learned it in kindergarten. Seriously. Feet generally need to go in the same direction but not necessarily at the same time. Your dog has four feet and does a better job of managing them than you do with only half the number so quit complaining.

Touch: Your dog’s fur. The weave of your favorite braided leash. The cold metal of a scent article. The slimy bit of hot dog. The crusty fuzz of a favorite toy. The “OMG what is this?” treat that got left in your training vest after the last session. The minute you realize your finger is stuck in the ring gate someone is trying to fold.

This list could go on. I haven't covered the skill of having eyes in the back of your head or the mental game of getting home from a training session with the same amount of gear you set out with.

Monday, August 5, 2019

'The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning'

 With apologies to Margareta Magnusson, I have not read the book. 

Perhaps some of you have. I like the premise – decluttering your house so when you die, your loved ones’ job of sorting through your belongings is not more monumentally stressful than it needs to be.

I’d like to think I’m managing to do this without formal instruction. Not that I plan to expire any time soon, I just hate living with clutter. I find it physically and mentally draining to be surrounded by stuff that serves no useful purpose. I am a thrower-outer. The Farmer jokes if he hasn't used something in the last 15 minutes, I'll probably throw it out. He may have a point.

Over the last few years, I’ve done a couple of major house purges that have seen loads of stuff hauled to charity, garage sales, re-sale shops and the burn pile. I’m getting better at both eliminating old stuff and acquiring less new stuff in the first place.

The Farmer and I have been married for nearly 30 years and we’ve lived in the same home from day one. Stuff accumulates at a staggering rate. Every item in every drawer, cupboard and closet must have seemed like a good idea at the time one of us put it there.

It's useful. 

It’s valuable. 

We might need it some day. 

One problem with de-cluttering a house is that it’s really hard to give your stuff to anyone else because they're all trying to give away THEIR stuff. I think as a nation, more and more people are realizing we have too much stuff. The Marie Kondo trend of pitching anything that doesn’t bring you joy is popular right now. 

Relatives keep offering me things like furniture and other household furnishings. While I’m flattered they think we look like newlyweds with barely a toaster to our names, I don’t need more stuff. 

“You don’t want Great Aunt Sadie’s wedding china?” they say in hurt tones, as if my refusal has wounded them grievously.

Um. No. I don’t even use OUR wedding china. I don’t need six more boxes of it. Sorry, Aunt Sadie, please don’t come back to haunt me. Some people find comfort in having things just for the sake of having them, whether they use them or not. That's fine for them but it doesn't work for me.

One of the problems is we don’t have kids. (Actually that isn’t a problem, as far as I’m concerned but that’s another post entirely.) While many couples look forward to gifting their children the family heirlooms, when the Farmer and I take off for the big harvest in the sky, the task of dealing with our worldly possessions is going to fall to nieces and nephews.

The idea of someone sorting through all our stuff is enough to prod me into de-cluttering with enthusiasm. Sometimes I sort through a drawer and wonder, “Why the f*ck am I keeping this?” I’m sure the next generation to encounter it will see it as confirmation their aunt was batshit crazy. 

I’m off work this week, which is usually more work than going to work. But it fills me with a wickedly delicious sense of knowing someone else has to do my job so all the pre-vacation scrambling and post-vacation chaos is worth every minute.

One of the things I’m doing is a house purge. I’ve done them before and each one is has become successively easier. With less stuff in the cupboards and closets, it takes less time to sort through it. I’m getting rid of less and less each time, too, because what remains are the things I truly use and/or value. Since I’m the odd sort of person who likes having space more than she likes filling that space up with things, having storage that isn’t crammed to the gills is becoming a pleasant habit.

The first house purge happened about 20 years into our marriage. My father had died and the Farmer’s father had died and both of our mothers’ automatic response was, “Here – we want you to have his clothes.”

(I guess they both forgot we only have one closet on the first floor of our turn-of-the-century house. People back then didn’t have to worry about doing house purges because they didn’t even have enough stuff to need closets in the first place.)

Aside from a few pieces of outerwear, none of it really fit anyway but I understood where our mothers were coming from emotionally, so we took the clothes and shut up. And I started cleaning.

I sorted and pitched and tossed and downsized. I adopted the mindset of “If we were moving, would this item be worth packing up and hauling to a new house, then finding somewhere to put it?”

The answer was a frequent and resounding NO. 

I’m not a minimalist. I like my kitchen gadgets as much as the next girl. I like clothes and boots and books and houseplants and pictures and all the creature comforts. I'm sentimental. I have all my dogs' ribbons. I have my 4-H record book from 1984. I have my maternal grandmother's Depression glass and a vintage quilt hand-pieced by my paternal grandmother.

I also like to see the top of the dining room table at other times besides Christmas and I like my kitchen countertops to be a clear work area. Counter tops, like closets, are a rare commodity in this old house. I think this is a blessing in its own odd way because I’m not tempted to keep lots of useless stuff just because there’s room for it. There isn't. And if it's constantly falling on my head when I open a cupboard, I'm going to throw it out from pure annoyance.

I’d like to think if and when the Farmer and I ever move to a different house, every single item we carry through the door will be useful and necessary. It probably won’t be but it’s a worthy goal.