Posts Tagged ‘dog training equipment’

Getting a handle on the crate addiction!

November 4, 2009 2 comments

36" folding fabric expen (mine is camouflage)

If admitting the problem is the first step, then let’s go:

My name is Pat, and I’m addicted to crates.

Two weekends ago I moved my Sun Spot vintage trailer to its winter home in my rented garage. I packed some other things to winter over in the garage – my two larger coolers, a lounge chair from my patio, and crates. Four crates. I have so many crates I no longer need them on a daily or even weekly basis.

Five years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I did take stock and gave away many of my ‘extra’ dog things. As my dance with cancer has had its ups and downs, I’ve gotten a good feeling from seeing my former stuff in active use at shows and trials and in the SOTC training building. I had this green Sharpie that truly did have indelible ink – the fading but still readable STEER printed on my former crates always surprises me when I see it in someone else’s setup.

But it’s been five years since I scaled down my dog equipment, and slowly, my crate addiction has resurfaced. Once again I find myself harboring (or maybe it’s hoarding?) extras. I have two english cocker spaniels (easy keepers in 200-size crates) and a pretty large orange tiger cat who fits in a 100-size crate but is much happier in a 200. My oldest functional but damaged crates are the house crates – at this moment that includes a 25-year-old 400 side-door wire, a 10-year-old 200 Deluxe VariKennel (Casey and M.’s houses, respectively), a 200 plastic PetMate (Churro’s ‘cat house’), and a 100 Varikennel and smaller than 100 cat crate which are cat-transports to the vet or kennel. That’s actually a sort of controlled chaos – it’s the car that reminds me, daily, that I may be taking ‘Be Prepared’ a step too far.

Two plastic 200 Varikennels are secured in the car all the time. Stored around them are a medium Guardian Gear soft crate (big enough to hold a gordon setter, it’s now my hotel crate that holds both Casey and M.), a 200-size Noz2Noz soft crate with a strong aluminum framework (for venues where I need crates that stack), three 200-size off-label Petmate soft crates, and my brand new folding 36″ soft ex-pen. That gives me one crate for the car, one crate for the show site and one crate for the hotel for each of the three in my current entourage – and an extra in case space is a problem.

The fabric ex-pen is an upgrade/replacement for my 25+ year-old folding metal 36″ covered ex-pen – how could I *not* want to reduce my weight and load from 25 pounds to 4? You heard me – a 4-pound ex-pen. I love it! Although the website recommends the 36″ size for ‘Shelties and Mini-Schnauzers,’ it’s just fine for larger breeds who respect a soft crate – and the solid bottom and zip-off screened top make it more escape-proof than the average wire ex-pen.

But I have to admit, today was a one-day-at-a-time crate day. The email came in the digest of the SOTC mail-list: MidWest Metal is clearancing its 30″ black-expoxy-coated wire expens for $37 and change with free shipping. I caught my breath, I clicked the link – and then I closed the ad. In the car-port, waiting for their own trip to the garage, are a 300 Deluxe Varikennel, a 300 folding wire, two 200 folding wire crates, and two uniquely sized tall and narrow wire crates that often fit into tight spaces and are no longer manufactured. I need to move them to enclosed storage before winter really hits.

If you’ve been keeping count, I own 20 crates for two medium-sized dogs and a cat. Full disclosure: Casey will turn 15 in a couple weeks – his crating requirements are much lower than when he was actively traveling, showing and going to classes two or three times every week. But once a crate comes into my home, it always stays years after the dog who first lived in it has passed on.

I’ve rented crates to students, and never bothered to get them back. I gave away the partner to my metal expen, and I’ve given away at least as many crates as I currently own.

Okay, my name is Pat, and I’m addicted to crates. But at least I’m always prepared. 😉

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The 3 things that help me take training from backyard to competition

October 11, 2009 9 comments
7 may
Image by shutterflood via Flickr

My name is Pat, and I train dogs for competition performance events.

No, I’m not on the Agility World Team. I don’t make the list for the annual AKC Obedience invitational. I haven’t made the Front & Finish top dog in breed rankings since Casey was in Novice obedience and agility (1999.) The last time dogs I trained made first-in-breed listings in any venue was January 1, 2005 when Casey and Reu became the first English Cocker Spaniel and Gordon Setter in the US to earn AKC Rally Novice titles.

In 2000 I actively taught and trained two dogs in three to four obedience and agility classes each week, a schedule I’d maintained since I’d started training Taryn in 1981. I showed my dogs every other weekend in some combination of breed, obedience and agility. In 2009, after an intracerebral hemorrhage (stroke) and five years of cancer diagnosis, surgeries and treatments, it’s a good day if I have enough energy left after work to take a long walk with the dogs, let alone get my dog-in-training to one regular class each week. The day after a class (when I can take a class) feels like the day after I’ve been hit by a truck. I pick one cluster to show at each month, try not to combine too many venues in the same weekend, and generally need a day off after a circuit to ‘recover’ from my dog show vacation.

It may seem odd that a person who now trains mainly for her personal satisfaction actually considers herself competitive. Then again, you’ve probably never seen me cook – put me in the kitchen and I’ll trash-talk you all the way to the first-place ribbon. Yes, when it comes to certain things I’ve got a serious competitive streak. Where that shows up in my dog training is that I want my dogs to do their best, to improve every time we go in the ring. Our ‘bests’ may not lead to first place ribbons every time, but I don’t need more flat sateen ribbons. What I’m looking for are titles, letters after their names which tell the whole world that they are trained companions who work for a living.

How do I get my dog to a title when I can’t manage a class? Maybe even more important, how did I manage to teach skills to my dog when I spent the better part of 2008 on the couch recovering from either a surgery, a chemo infusion, or both?

The answer lies in keeping my training organized, but simple. During my recuperation, I made use of the three things that have always helped me understand where each of my dogs is along his individual training continuum:

1) A training log: This blog is an extension of the pen-and-spiral-notebook that I keep in the basket on my coffee table (you know the place–mine is where I corral the remote controls, pens, back issues of Clean Run and the spill-free zone where I set my coffee mug.) In a simple Dollar-Store notebook I jot down in my personal shorthand the results of each day’s training session, no matter how short or small. Even if all we did was practice a down-stay while I made my breakfast protein shake, I write it down. Which dog(s). Where. How long. What position. In or out of sight. If outdoors, what weather. Whenever an exercise doesn’t seem to be making progress or seems to break down for no reason, a quick check of my log lets me know whether I’ve been devoting enough attention to that skill.

2) An exercise binder: The hardest thing to do when energy is at a premium is create a practice on the fly. I save every course map (agility and rally.) I save copies of exercises from the ‘net and from issues of performance magazines like Clean Run and Front & Finish. I have every curriculum I’ve every written, every instructing and seminar handout I’ve ever received. They’re filed in the binder by venue and class. When I don’t have the energy to practice, I read through my saved courses and plans, and flag the ones I want to try next (Post-it notes are my friends.) Later, when I do have the energy to practice, I can quickly find something to work on in my files.

3) A calendar: The toughest thing about being out of dog-showing in any venue is getting back onto the superintendent’s mailing lists and into the swing of which show(s) are on which weekends when you decide to come back. My calendar is pretty low-tech — a two-year paper monthly vest pocket calendar with a separate notes section. It’s in the same plastic cover with a telephone/address section saved from an earlier organizer. I keep closing and circuit dates in the calendar, and update it regularly from the AKC website and various online agility calendars. I make notes about each run in the calendar’s notes section. I keep notes about judges in the telephone/address section (that section stays with the planner; the two-year calendar and notes sections come out and are stored in my office file cabinet.) By knowing when the shows are, I can plan my entries, evaluate where my dog is in ring-readiness, and get a reality check by looking at my notes about individual show/run results. My notes in the show calendar help drive my practices.

A really organized person would probably keep all three of these elements in a single binder — but I like them to be more flexible. I also like them to be closest to the spot where they’ll be needed, or where I’ll be likely to fill them in with notes. For now, the training log lives on the coffee table, where it’s most likely to be completed after a training session or class. The calendar lives in my purse, so that it follows me to work (where I make entries) and to shows (where I make notes about judges and runs.) The binder of courses lives on the lower shelf of my coffee table, with the current issues of magazines — ready to review and flag new courses and exercises to practice.

Sure, there are a bunch of other things I do to keep my dogs working when I’m laid up, but these three items — training log, reference binder and calendar — are the three things without which I would never get my backyard-trained dog into the ring.

What are your strategies for training when you can’t take a dog to classes? How do you keep your dog(s) in training when their training is limited by your own physical condition? Please share your ideas!

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From the training bag…

September 7, 2009 Comments off

I don’t usually write about products when I write about dogs (although a day at February 2009’s Global Pet Expo certainly gave me lots of material!) But today, I’m in my training bag, and I thought I’d share a little happiness and a little dismay.

First, the dismay — I noticed yesterday and confirmed today that the last of my old-style Flexi(R) 3-5 leashes is beginning to lose its zing when called on to retract. The spring inside is finally wearing out after 10 years of longeing various breeds from 80-lb. Gordon Setters to 22-lb. English Cockers. Well, just go buy another! you say. Ah, would that I could.

A Flexi(R) 3-5 is from the old med-heavy duty group of leads that Flexi(R) made in the mid-80s. The 3-5 is 16 feet long, a combination of 18″ of ‘belt’ attached to approximately 15 feet of retractable cord, and was rated (like its cousin the 3-8) for dogs about 77 lbs. In truth, it was probably not quite enough leash for Reuben at 80 lbs., but it did work fine for him when he was on his Halti(R). And that size served me very well for Taryn (mix, 32 lbs.); the English Springer Spaniels Jazz (45 lbs.), Muni (40 lbs.) and Nola (35 lbs.); my first Gordon Bard (65 lbs. soaking wet); and of course 32 lb. Casey and 22 lb. M. the English Cockers. The 16-footer was less bulky and easier to carry on walks than its 26-ft. cousin the 3-8, but I had a few of them, too.

Unfortunately, and likely due to issues where the leash was overworked or used inappropriately, Flexi(R) no longer makes the combination belt/cord series of leashes rated for anything over 44 lbs. (their Comfort and Classic 1 and 2 series leashes.) These leashes look small, they look like you really shouldn’t put them on a big or even a medium-sized dog. I have a Classic 2-5 (16 ft.) and a Classic 2-8 (26 ft.) While they work okay for one small dog that doesn’t get over-exuberant, they don’t work for my favorite Flexi(R) lead application — walking two dogs with one handle. I’ve tried. The Classic 2-5 felt over-matched, even when the load was trained Casey on the retractable end, and more-or-less trained M. on the static 10 ft. slip leash attached to the handle with a climbing carabiner.

So today, I’m off to a local pet supply store to examine this new, improved, all-tape Classic 3-5 up close. I don’t like the idea of a retractable ‘tape’ instead of a cord…it looks heavier and bulkier than the mostly-cord 3-5s of the 80s and 90s. But maybe it’s worth a look. We shall see how it performs after my product testers Casey and M. have a few morning romps in wet grass. More on this leash ‘improvement’ later…

And meanwhile, I’d like to give a shout-out to the folks who thought up and produced SwheatScoop Natural Wheat Litter, which is scoopable and now comes in a multi-cat version. I needed cat litter this week, and had a coupon I’d picked up at the NY State Fair, so I decided to give SwheatScoop a try in Churro’s litter box.

Churro is a formerly outdoors-living used-to-be barn cat who moved in with me last November. He is a little species-challenged — he acts a LOT like a dog. He lives, as all my new and rescue cats do, in a crate, but unlike the others he hasn’t made a lot of progress at being un-crated and unsupervised (he still thinks vertical blinds are fun to climb.) So when I’m not home, he spends the day in a former dog crate, and he’s got a litter box inside. He comes to his name and to my whistle, does hand-touches and head bumps on commands, goes into his crate on command. He travels with me to dog shows and goes camping right along with the dogs. But a cat litter box in a small condo or my 5×10 ft. Sunspot, a vintage tiny trailer, can be really overpowering.

On the first day I converted the litter box to two-thirds SwheatScoop(R), one-third scoopable clay litter, I noticed an immediate reduction in litter box odor. Since I scoop once a day and change his box completely every three or four days, he was in a completely SwheatScoop(R) litter box within four days, and has now been on SwheatScoop(R) for over a week.

After more than a week, litter box odor is almost non-existent. Or, at least, I don’t notice that I have a litter box the second I open my front door. The litter clumps nicely and doesn’t track much (or any more than clumping clay litter). When Churro decides to play with his stuffed toys and litter ends up all over his crate, it doesn’t melt into any moisture and stick relentlessly to the crate floor — I can sweep up the scattered litter with a small dustpan/broom. Sometimes Churro gets bored and decides to play in his water dish; the SwheatScoop(R) absorbs the water and doesn’t melt into a gluey blob like the clay stuff does. I’m a convert; it’s a couple bucks more than the store-brand clumping clay litters, but the odor control and ease of clean-up make it totally worth the price.

A couple cautions:

  1. Do not flush this litter. Cat feces can contain parasites that shouldn’t go into water supplies.
  2. Keep your SwheatScoop(R) in tamper-proof containers. English cockers have little to no discrimination about what is food and what isn’t; Casey went after the box and tried to eat it. Rodents will also try to eat it, drawn to the clean wheat smell. I transferred mine to an old (plastic) clumping clay litter container.

Now, I’m going out for a second box.

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