Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Shut up and take my money!

Back in the day, I had a T-shirt that had “All you need to do obedience is a dog, a collar and a leash” printed on the front.

On the back it said, “All you need to do obedience is a dog, a collar and a leash . . . and treats, toys, a crate, crate cover, lawn chair, cooler, water bowl, portable fan, poop bags, floor mat, crate for the car, crate for the motel, crate for the show site, dumbbell, scent articles, multiple sets of gloves, portable jumps, Cato board(s), ring gates/stanchions, backup dumbbell(s), replacement scent articles, long-line, Flexi, another lawn chair in case your phantom spouse/partner goes along, copy of the regs, obedience trial score book, training journal, breed-specific jewelry, jeans that match your dog, show-ring-only shoes, canine sports vet, new car, therapist, winning lottery ticket and/or sugar daddy/sugar mama. Alcohol optional.”


It might not have said ALL of that but hey, if you know, you know.


And I wonder why my gear bags weighs so much.


Let’s look at collars. First you have to decide if you’re going to train on a pinch collar, slip collar, buckle collar or martingale. Sub-decisions include regular or micro prongs on the pinch collar?  What about the ones with the rubber tips? Chain, leather or nylon slip collar? Leather or nylon buckle collar? Rolled or flat leather? Bling-y or plain nylon? Leather or nylon martingale?


If you have a coated breed and decide to kick it old school and train on a chain slip collar, do you prefer regular or fur saver? If you choose fur saver, do you want the big, oblong links or the sparkly hexagon jeweler's chain style? 


If you start training with a six-foot leash, you’ll soon need a four-foot leash. Once you obtain a four-foot leash, you’ll need a 36” leash. Flat? Braided? Flat braid? Double braid? Two-tone? Two-tone metallic? Latigo leather? Bridle leather? Kangaroo? (For all three non-dog trainers reading this, yes, kangaroo leather leads are a thing. An expensive thing.) Colors to match your dog or make an individual statement? 

All this to train a dog who will, if all goes as planned, spend most of his show career in the ring performing the exercises . . . without a leash. But you want it to look nice when you hand it to the gate steward, so there’s that . . .


It’s worse than ordering a meal in a restaurant where every choice requires three more choices and pretty soon you’ve forgotten what you ordered in the first place. And if you’re like me (scary), you probably bought one of each in the process of finding out which style of everything works best for you and your dog.


And just when you think you’ve got everything you need, you don’t.


You get a new dog. You try a new venue. You go to a seminar and have to buy all the presenter's recommended gear. Your old stuff wears out, breaks or gets eaten by your dog. The cat chews it up. Your spouse runs over it. Worse, you run over it. You leave it at a show site in Timbuktu, never to be seen again. The garage possum steals it. (The latter is my go-to when I lose things. Damn garage possum got it.)


Dog trainers are famous for waving wads of cash and credit cards at show vendors, Etsy shops, local crafters and even each other. “Shut up and take my money!” While we know the right leash or a new article bag won’t guarantee a 200, it makes the journey more fun.


After so many years in the sport, one tends to accumulate an overabundance (which sounds better than sh*t load) of gear we no longer use. Maybe it wasn’t quite what you wanted. Maybe it was the impulse buy you were convinced would fix that pesky training problem for once and for all, only it didn’t. Maybe it was inevitable—anyone who has trained for a CDX has experienced the ends-are-too-small, bit-is-too-wide, plastic-versus-wood, OMG-my-dog-needs-a-gold-plated-blessed-by-the-Pope-dumbbell crisis. 

OTCh. Phoenix, working hand-me-down articles,
circa 2010, before wood was approved.
(Photo by Sheryl McCormick)

 Anyone who has trained more than one UD knows the angst of trying to get multiple careers out of a set of scent articles. Articles are arguably one of the most expensive pieces of equipment obedience trainers will buy and we all pray each new dog will "fit" our existing dog's articles. More insight for my non-training readers: even if you’re buying a stock size from a retailer, a nice set of leather and/or wood/metal with spares can easily run into the triple digits. 


If you need a custom size or want to fancy them up with artwork, have earplugs ready so you can’t hear your checking account screaming. (No, wait, that’s your husband, looking at the bank statement. Or maybe it’s the Garage Possum when supper is late.) If you prefer to have several sets to switch off during multi-trial weekends, take that initial investment and double or triple it. Go ahead. No one’s judging. Really.


My first and second UDs were Shelties. Due to size differences, they each had their own sets of articles. My Tervuren, Jamie, necessitated another set. When Malinois Phoenix arrived, I was delighted to discover he could use Jamie’s articles. Look at me, being all thrifty. About then, the AKC approved the use of wooden articles and I decided to switch from metal to wood. It’s only money, right? Here, take it. I’m not using it for anything important like groceries or the heating bill.

OTCh. Phoenix and OTCh. Jamie put lots of
good mojo in their handed-down set of scent articles.


Then Aussie Banner came and miracle of miracles, the Belgians’ articles fit him, too. Wow—I had three generations of UDX and/or OTCh. dogs using the same articles. I was feeling pretty clever.

The infamous "Aww, so sweet" article pic from USASA nationals in 2021.
The real translation was more like, 
"Eff you, lady, and the articles you rode in on."
Long story.
I'll tell it.
Some day.
(Photo credit: Pix 'N Pages)

These articles had logged hundreds of training and showing hours. They had been bounced off cement floors, used in wet grass, rolled in dirt, left out in the rain, run over by the lawn mower (bad trainer—bad, bad!), slobbered on, handled by stewards, judges, training friends and occasionally pounced on by barn cats. They’re cracked, gnawed, stained, scarred, the numbers have faded or peeled and the wooden ones have survived two dogs with hard mouths. They’ve seen things. They look . . . vintage . . . because “like hell” doesn’t seem very respectful to the sport.


We both know you don’t get extra points for having shiny new equipment in the ring but here I sit with Raider's Utility training progressing nicely . . . using scent articles that were purchased around the turn of the century and are on their fourth generation of dogs. 


Yeah. You know where this is going. I’m gonna buy a new set of articles for him. 

Chaos Goblins deserve new scent articles.

Which means I’ll need a new article bag, too.


Shut up and take my money! Take all of it!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Random thoughts from the driver's seat

We made it through another harvest season here at Wichmann Farms. There were the requisite amounts of heat, dust, wind, sun, cold, frost, rain, random breakdowns, late nights, miscommunication, mobile meals, chaos, mayhem and swearing. 


No one got hurt and the fire department was not involved this year, always a good thing, especially when harvesting in an area that’s been in extreme drought conditions for multiple years. 

The view never gets old.

Through it all, I logged lots of pickup-driving hours which provided lots of time to think about lots of things.




If a farmer pulling a loaded grain cart leaves a field two miles from home, how many ham sandwiches will it take before there’s a chance of rain and the feeder housing chain breaks? 


Great. It's starting to rain and I’m driving a truck where the windshield wipers were apparently installed like secret weapons in one of James Bond’s Aston Martins. I’ll just start flipping levers and see what happens.


If you want supper right now, you’re getting a ham sandwich. If you want supper in five minutes, you’re getting a hot ham sandwich. 


If you wanted your supper five minutes ago, do you want your peanut butter on white or wheat?

The view from atop my ladder, filling a fuel tank.

Here is a sweatshirt, batteries for the flashlight, the moisture test results from the co-op, a bottle of water and a sandwich with a dog hair in it so you feel at home.


Sloppy joes, barbecued beef, grilled chicken breasts, hamburgers, Casey’s pizza. Cookies, cookies, cookies. The five-star tailgate menu.


I am a very small woman driving a very big truck. Maybe if I pile up all the cast-off sweatshirts and sit on them, I’ll be able to see over the hood.


No, seriously, where are the windshield wipers in this thing?


Yes, I can give you a ride. Again. I live to serve.

I do not drive the semi.
Neither does Raider.

If you wanted me to be at a farm 15 minutes away in 5 minutes you should have called 10 minutes ago. Farm wife math is a special skill.


Oh holy hell, did something just fly out of the back of the pickup? 


Swear he said to pick him up at the east corner of the 40 on the north road. Or was it the north corner of 40 on the east road?


Crapweasel, the fuel gauge is on E. This is only marginally better than the check-engine light coming on randomly.

Iowa traffic jam.

There’s a field gate along here somewhere, right? In the dark. And the dust. Okay, I’m turning, that gate had better be where I left it or this is gonna be real not fun in a hurry.


Holy mother of God, why can’t GM put the $#@! wipers in the same place in all its vehicles?



Being a farm wife means you speak fluent Farmer. It’s not so much a different language, just requires a different skill set when it comes to interpretation. Most of it involves directions. Folks who live in town will struggle to appreciate this because for much of the civilized world, addresses are exactly that—1028 North Willow Street—and the like.


It’s a bit different out here in the hinterlands. 


“Can you walk out and get the Gator? It’s just over that hill” translates to “Better start now, it’ll be dark soon.”

Banner is not allowed to drive the Gator
even though he is sure he could.


“I’ll be in for supper at 7:30.” Do not get excited about this as no specific day is mentioned.


“I’m gonna need a ride to (insert obscure location somewhere in the county) after chores.” Do not believe this for a minute. Nothing is as simple as a single ride. Ever. There is always another farm, another field, another bin site, another tractor that needs to be ferried from Farm A to Farm B and wherever your Farmer is, he needs to be somewhere else.

“Can you come pick me up at the Jefferson 80? That’s south of Trenton’s past the Immanuel Church on the west side of the section.” The fact I know exactly where this is means after three decades plus of being a Farm Wife, my super power is that I can get in a pickup and actually FIND the Farmer at virtually any time of day or night, under any weather conditions with directions like these. 


Just saying "the Jefferson 80” would be sufficient but I think he gives the additional specifics because once, a very long time ago, he neglected to and it did not end well.


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

'We train at dawn!'

 Happy whatever day this is. I admit to having to consult my phone to confirm it is now Nov. 1 and the Christmas season has launched in all its Hallmark-y, consumer-driven glory. Bah, humbug. It's still meteorological fall and I’m sticking to that for another 30 days. 

 Harvest madness, obedience trials, a mild case of The Plague and a family member’s routine surgery, followed by violently un-routine complications, have had the Gypsy running around like a headless chicken the last few weeks. As a result, this week’s post may be a collection of random thoughts captured as they speed past with no guarantee of cohesion. Writerly people make it a point of avoiding that but I’m flying by the seat of my pants this morning. You have been warned.


Gnomes. Valet parking at UIHC. Incinerated electronics panel on the grain dryer.


See? And for the record, I had nothing to do with that last one.


So . . . last spring some wonderful friends at the Good Dog Center in Decorah, Iowa (look out girls, I’m naming names) launched a summer training challenge to encourage students to work their dogs in different places. Cuz we all know about the perfect backyard 200 dogs that disappear the second we step into the show ring.


The Chaos Goblin may or may not have nibbled on his winged training buddy
during the taking of this picture.

Students who documented training sessions in 50 new sites during a spring through autumn timeframe got a free class at the training center. For those who tackled the challenge with the intent of completing it, it no doubt paid dividends that went beyond the free class. If you are an instructor, you know how blessedly hard it is to get students to train in new places. Because. It’s. Work. And sometimes our dogs look at us like we’re speaking a foreign language when we ask them to perform away from the confines of a familiar training building.


I decided to create my own version of the challenge: train in two new places each week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. That would equal 36 new places away from home over three months. It wasn’t so much about setting up training equipment and creating perfect run-through as it was about continuing to build Goblin engagement under the pressure of people walking by, kids on playground equipment, squirrels doing squirrelly things, etc.


Raid thinks the sidewalk was named after him.
I did not tell him otherwise.

To make a long story short(er), Raider and I made it to 32 new places. The final prep for mom’s estate sale in late summer and a few weeks of truly hateful hell weather kept me from achieving 100% of my goal but I felt good about what we managed.


If you have a dog who can train routinely in one or two sites, then go into the ring and score 40-point heeling, that’s fan-freaking-tastic. My hat is off to you. I have never had that dog. I love a fully matted, climate-controlled training building as much as the next guy but that’s not within the scope of my reality. I am absolutely sparkling chartreuse green with envy (not a good look, trust me) of folks who live in metro areas where they can attend drop-in training, run-throughs and rent ring time in a variety of training centers every week.


Over the summer, we trained in parking lots, city squares, local parks, fairgrounds and on business district sidewalks. I asked Raid to work under some odd conditions and we struggled. I am sure passersby were thinking, “That woman needs to get professional help with that dog.” We did not look ring ready. Some days, he didn’t even look leash trained.


I swore one site was plagued by ghosts. It was the front lawn of a museum sited in a local historic building so I suppose anything is possible. Raid spent a lot of time staring at the doorway and I don’t think he was fascinated by the gorgeous hydrangea planted there.


No ghosts here. Move along. Nothing to see.

We encountered the Squirrel Mafia in a local park. You think I’m kidding. I am not. The squirrels there are large and in charge. They are fearless. It is their park and they know it. They sat on the picnic tables and hurled insults as we heeled by. A couple of times, they threw nuts at us from the trees. Or maybe it was just gravity but when you get a nut bounced off your head, you suspect the worst. I kept expecting one of the little tree rats to accost me and demand a toll for walking on his sidewalk. 


Other summer highlights included the rabbit . . . err . . . dumbbell . . . retrieve incident that nearly dislocated my shoulder. And a deer running straight through the “ring” at a local park. 


Pro tip: if planning to utilize sidewalks near restaurants, time your training NOT to coordinate with peak dining hours. It is not easy to focus on heeling when the scent of fried chicken, sauerbraten and wienerschnitzel is wafting from the Amana Colonies’ finest commercial kitchens.


The sidewalks in a nearby tourism-driven town are not,
in fact, rolled up in the evening.

 Some sessions went well. Others . . . went. Either way, Raider is an absolute riot to train and it is a privilege to have him at my side. I enjoyed our summer outings because they improved our teamwork AND gave me a respite from the on-going clean-out at my parents' house.


Will we ever show at a site that is rife with ghosts or wildlife? Probably not. And that’s not the point. The biggest benefit was learning Raid is generally a red hot mess when he arrives at any training site. That’s just who he is. He’ll never be the dog who can arrive at a trial and go straight into the ring. (Like that would ever happen—he’s owned by the woman who is genetically programmed to “get there early to get a good parking spot.”)


And now here we are, sipping coffee and eating Halloween candy for breakfast on All Saints Day (don’t judge, someone has to eat the leftover miniature peanut butter cups.) For all intents and purposes, outdoor training season is done here in the upper Midwest. This winter I hope to explore more retail sites that welcome dogs.


Whew. That was more cohesive than I thought. Have a grand whatever day this is. I think eating Halloween candy will clarified the thought process . . .



Raid and fren.