I mentioned a while back that I’ve recently started competing in APDT Rally with my two dogs. I’ve wanted to do Rally for ages–I bought myself Click Your Way To Rally Obedience about two months after getting Nellie and have been slowly working my way through it. I got Nell to the point where she had a handle on the entry-level signs, and, feeling full of myself, I started calling around to find a) classes we could take and b) places we could trial. And that is where I first encountered the labyrinth of dog sport venues and realized that things had just gotten a lot more complicated than I’d thought. I’m in the US, so I apologize for this being US-centric, but I bet wherever you are, there are similar multi-venue issues afoot: just replace AKC/UKC/ASCA/APDT with your local organizational alphabet soup.
Though I’d done a little bit of agility-for-fun with Lucy, when I started researching Rally, I still hadn’t quite grasped the whole idea that dog sports have multiple sponsoring organizations, that every organization has different rules, and that these organizations are, in many cases, highly regional. The organizations also have, for lack of a better term, particular vibes: some are just-for-fun, some are very competitive, some are preoccupied with breed, some don’t care, some are easy for new handlers to get into, others aren’t, etc. If you’ve got an athletic young border collie you’d like to do sports with, you don’t really have to worry about this: every organization will accept you, and you have the luxury of shopping around to find the organization that best fits your style and geographic area. The rest of us, as I was soon to find out, are not that lucky. I didn’t realize it, but at the time, I was living in AKC country. Compete in AKC Rally with Nellie? In 2009? Ha. Nell has three strikes against her, as far as the AKC is concerned:
- She is a pit bull (and very definitely NOT an AmStaff). The UKC believes that the American Pit Bull Terrier is a breed; the AKC does not.
- She is a pit bull mix; until 2010, the AKC did not allow mixed breeds to compete at all. Now mixes are allowed to compete under the ‘Canine Partners’ category; individual clubs have the autonomy to run them in their own all-mixed breed classes or disallow them altogether. Mustn’t sully the purebred dogs with their filthy mongrel germs!
- She has three legs. This is still a disqualifier from participation in any AKC event (including, depending on who’s interpreting, the Canine Good Citizen exam and the STAR Puppy program.) If you’ve bred a dog who’s dysplastic or can’t breathe, no problem (especially if he’s a purebred)! A dog with vision issues, however, or a dog who’s going a little deaf as he ages, or my healthy-as-a-horse, vet-cleared, speedy little tripod? Uh-uh.
(*I am not a real big fan of the AKC, in case it’s not obvious)
This also, as I found out, excluded us from taking AKC-based classes (this is up to the instructor’s discretion; the discretion of the three instructors I called was that if Nellie wasn’t eligible to compete in AKC Rally, there’d be no point in training her in AKC rally.) AKC did eventually withdraw its ‘no mixed breeds’ rule, so if I’d wanted, I could have trialed with Lucy, but by this time I had an understandably bad taste in my mouth.
So then I moved! And I moved to an area that had some APDT! And choirs of angels came out of the clouds to sing! OK, not really, but after my crummy experience with AKC-affiliated stuff, it was such a breath of fresh air to go to my first APDT trial. APDT Rally is open to all dogs (mixed/purebred) and explicitly welcomes dogs (and handlers!) with disabilities. Judges are empowered to make small course changes to accommodate physical needs: if, say, you’re running a 12 year old dog and would like to jump him at a slightly lower jump height, that’s permitted (on judges’ approval). And at least at the trials I went to, that open, inclusive attitude permeated the whole atmosphere. Everyone cheered for everyone; there was certainly no grumbling about how Maybe Some Dogs Just Shouldn’t Be Here; it was friendly, open, social, non-intimidating for newbies and a huge amount of fun. I loved it. My dogs loved it. I was totally hooked.
In August of this year, APDT sold its entire Rally program to the US Dog Agility Association (USDAA, soon to be known as Cynosport). This was not unexpected: Rally began with the APDT, but they are, after all, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and running a sports organization with all of the attendant paperwork, etc. is not exactly their primary mission. I’m sad to see Rally leave the APDT, but I understand that decision: what I do not understand is the decision to sell to the USDAA (except, presumably, that the USDAA had the cash and the desire to pay it out.)
USDAA is a fine organization, and many people love competing there. It was designed as a performance venue for all dogs, so mixed breeds have never been a problem for them. In all other ways, however, USDAA Agility is the opposite of the friendly, inclusive environment that the APDT has worked hard to foster in their Rally program. USDAA is widely known as the most competitive of the various US agility venues: their courses are longer, their obstacles are more challenging (narrower dog walk, smaller tire), their weave poll spacing, at 22″, is smaller than that of any other venue (which has caused some controversy, as smaller weave entries are harder on a dog’s frame, and the risk of injury subsequently goes up.) Their jump heights are also famously high and don’t account for body type: Nellie is 16.5 inches at the withers, and as such, she’d have to jump 21 inches (almost higher than her own head). Of course, Nellie wouldn’t be able to compete anyway: the USDAA does not allow three-legged dogs (here’s an awesome story about a tripod who got kicked out of USDAA after she lost her leg to cancer and went on to rock out in CPE). The APDT’s press release about the sale says that Cynosport has agreed to keep APDT Rally’s rules through the transition period: they also say that they expect the transition to be complete at the end of 2012. No word on whether or not those rules will stay consistent once Cynosport has taken over completely.
USDAA also has a reputation as being an organization that exists primarily for border collies. This is not entirely fair, but also not entirely unfair: have a look at the 22″ and 26″ classes in this year’s Masters’ Standard Top Ten. See many non-Border Collies? In fact, take a look at all the classes. See many mixed-breed dogs at all? (note: every mix is classified by USDAA as ‘All-Breed’) There were so many border collies at this year’s Nationals that Susan Garrett (who runs border collies) posted about wanting an Anything But Border Collies class. And yeah, I get it: border collies are often good at agility. And yet, other sponsoring organizations don’t seem to have these same all-BCs, all the time results: here’s a photo of the AKC’s 2011 National Champs. Here’s the UKC’s 2012 Agility All Stars list: lots of breeds on there. Most of the people on the Fortune 500 CEOs list are men. Are we going to argue that that’s just because men are naturally more talented and capable? Or might issues of corporate culture and work environments play a part? I know border collies are awesome. I don’t think they are awesomer than 99% of all other dogs at agility. I think the attitudes of the sponsoring organization and the people who participate absolutely play a role, and I’m going to suggest that anyone who doesn’t feel similarly has never been to a trial or dog event where they felt unwelcome.
And finally, regarding issues of breed: USDAA held its Nationals in Commerce City, CO this year. Commerce City, CO, where city regulations make it “unlawful for any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport or sell within the city any pit bull [Any dog that is an American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, any dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one (1) or more of the above breeds or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics that substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club (A.K.C.) or United Kennel Club (U.K.C.) for any of the above breeds. A bill of sale of veterinary record that identifies an animal as a pit bull terrier mix shall be sufficient to establish that the animal in question is a pit bull terrier or a pit bull terrier mix for purposes of this chapter].” Katie wrote a great post on this over at her blog, and the only thing I can add to that is numbers: USDAA reports that 83 APBTs, 97 AmStaffs and 101 Staffy Bulls have titled with their organization. They also have titled 30 bulldogs, 332 boxers and a huge number of (presumably some) square-headed mixed breeds that might be affected by this legislation. They chose to have their Nationals there anyway, and when there was some controversy over that decision on their facebook page, they shut it down. No worries about the hundreds of dogs that would have been put in harm’s way if they’d chosen to show up! They’re a competitive organization, after all, and didn’t you see that most of the really good dogs are border collies? It’s right there in the top ten list!
I don’t know if anything’s going to change when the sale of APDT Rally changes over fully to Cynosport, I really don’t. I hope it doesn’t. I hope that the atmosphere and the rules stay exactly the same and the change in ownership is only reflected in what’s printed on the ribbons. All I’m saying is that my little three-legged rescued pit mix loves playing Rally and I love playing it with her: the deck has already been stacked against her enough, and if this sale becomes yet another thing that keeps us from living our lives and doing the things we love to do, I will be unhappy. So act right, Cynosport!
First off, thanks to everyone who participated in our first Team Unruly Reads: we had a really fun, interesting discussion about Rin Tin Tin: The Life And Legend (miss the discussion? You can see it here) and it was successful enough that we’ve decided to make it a regular feature! We batted around a number of possibilities for our next book; the votes are in, and we’ve decided that our next group read-along will be Show Dog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred by Josh Dean.
If you aren’t a show person yourself and are wondering if you’ll enjoy the book, take heart: Show Dog isn’t a manual on showing, or even primarily about dog shows writ large. Instead, Josh Dean, a freelance journalist who likes dogs but isn’t a Dog Person, follows one particular dog on his journey through a year of shows, and the story that results is as much about human relationships and the bond between humans and their dogs as anything else). The dog he chooses, an Australian Shepherd named Jack (who has a blog!), is neither a total novice nor the winningest superstar in his breed: he’s kind of a middle of the pack competitive show dog, and that makes for a much more interesting story. Here’s a blurb for the book, which sums the whole thing up nicely:
Journalist Josh Dean tells the story of a loveable Australian Shepherd, Jack, on his novice tour through the exciting world of professional dog showing, following Jack from his first competitions in local school gymnasiums all the way to the great granddaddy of them all, the Westminster Dog Show. A veteran journalist, Dean shines a warm, steady light on the trials that Jack and his plucky, dedicated owners come to face, and uses their story to explore the larger histories of dog shows themselves; the fascinating and sometimes bizarre history of purebred dogs; and our complex, heartfelt relationships to the pets we grow to love.
Several of us here at TU (including both show people and non-show people) have already read the book and love it; it’s gotten positive reviews from people both in and outside of the show community, and the Amazon reviews include thumbs-ups from Pat Hastings, John Hodgman, Jim Gorant and Entertainment Weekly, a group of names I bet you will never see listed together again. It’s lively and fair and funny and light, the perfect curl-up-by-the-fire-and-read book, and we hope you’ll like it as much as we do.
As before, we’ll post an open discussion thread here on the blog at the end of the month: we’ll leave the thread open for a couple of days, but we think the discussion works best when it’s time-limited so people can actively follow and participate. This month, American Thanksgiving falls on the last full weekend in November (I personally plan to re-read the book while working off my pumpkin pie stupor), so we’ll open the thread on Friday, November 30th and close it Monday, December 3rd. The book is available in hardcover and e-book: if you’re in half.com’s delivery area, you can also pick it up for about five bucks right now.
Here’s the book trailer
And just for fun, here is the, um, more PG-13 cut of the trailer
Composition, lighting, background. All things that are important in a photo and all things that we’ve delved into a bit here on the Team Unruly blog, but it’s time to stop tip toeing around it and get to the subject of the photos, literally. It’s time to talk about the thing you’re all actually photographing, the dogs themselves.
The tricky thing about dogs is that they are alive. They move, they breathe, they don’t always listen, and they don’t understand what the heck we’re doing with that clicking thing in our hands. Landscapes and still photos are easy. You see what you like, you take as long as you need to set up, and you take the photo. People are a little less cooperative, but they most likely know what a photo is and you can explain to them exactly what you’re looking to accomplish. Animals, on the other hand… forget it!!!
The good thing about [most] dogs is that they are trained to some degree. They can be pretty tricky to photograph, but they’re easier than, let’s say, cats. You can tell Fido to sit and stay, but Whiskers is probably going to walk away and flick you off with her tail as she goes.
So here are some tips on working with the dog part of dog photography.
Let’s talk about the simplest type of dog photo, the portrait shot. These are the photos you get framed to hang over your fireplace. The ones that show off your dog as a beautiful and well-mannered member of society, the truth of the matter aside. We see them all the time, the dog sits poised against a lovely background, looking regally into the distance.
This is where the power of the sit-stay or the down-stay comes into play. The best way to get these photos is to place the dog exactly where you want it, tell it to stay, and back up to get just the right shot. But what if your dog doesn’t stay? This is where a second person really comes in handy. You may not be able to explain to your dog where you want him to sit and why, but a friend or family member can certainly get the point across. While you back away from the camera, have your assistant position the dog, then step briefly out of the photo. It may take a few tries, but it’ll save you having to walk back and forth and tearing your hair out.
Perhaps the most important part of these portrait type shots is getting the dog to look alert and interested. There’s nothing that ruins this type of photo than a dog who isn’t paying attention or is about to leave the scene. Crinkling treat wrappers, trilling with your tongue, or having your handy dandy assistant wave a toy just out of sight of the camera will accomplish that look.
For an extra twist, try positioning the dog away from the camera, then getting his attention so that he gives you that sexy over-the-shoulder gaze.
To get a more personalized feel for a dog portrait, try cutting out the dog’s body all together and just shooting the dog’s face and head. Dogs have expressive faces, soulful eyes, and active ears for a reason! This type of shot is also a great way to avoid the issue of posing your dog if he doesn’t always listen and you don’t have access to a second person.
Here, for example, Herbie was tied in a barn full of clutter and people. There was a lot going on and getting her to sit still against a nice background simply wasn’t going to happen.
A head shot gives you the opportunity to explore the individual nature of the particular dog you’re shooting. The wrinkles in his face, the color of his eyes, the whiskers on his chin. These are all things that a head shot can reveal to a person who doesn’t know your dog.
The great thing about shooting a living, breathing subject is the potential for action shots. Dogs do a lot of fun things like running, jumping, and tumbling that are a lot of fun to photograph. Much like portrait shots, action shots can be arranged to a large degree for best results.
Once again, having a second person can be very helpful. Someone who can, for example, throw a ball or lure a dog to jump with a tug toy. I suggest someone with a high play drive and lots of energy. My favorite second person is Mike. He loves to get Herbie all amped up:
When shooting action shots, there are a few things you want to keep in mind.
1. When shooting action shots, with the rare exception, the photo is going to be more effective if you can see the dog’s face. Try shooting with the dog coming toward the camera or with his side turned to the viewer. Butt shots are rarely attractive or interesting.
2. Try to keep the dog’s pose in mind. This takes some timing and some practice, but if you can get a dog with all four feet off the ground or his lips flapping wildly in his face, the photo will be enhanced that much more.
3. Keep in mind how a dog’s action affects his background. Sand, snow, water, and even fallen leaves frequently create a fun photo effect if you can get a dog sprinting through them.
4. Action shots don’t necessarily mean that you have to have the whole dog in the frame. Close ups can be just as effective here as they are for still photos.
Of course, the best part about shooting tricky subjects like dogs is that all the things that make them hard to photograph are also the things that make photographing them so rewarding. Dogs have personality, expression, and unpredictable behaviors that make them so much fun to shoot! Sometimes, the best way to get a photo of a dog is just to follow him around and wait til he does something fun.
Like grabbing a piece of a shovel out of the back yard:
Or jumping through a pile of sand:
Or simply curling up in bed at the end of the night:
The best piece of advice I can give you as a pet photographer is to always have your battery charged, your memory card loaded, and your camera nearby because dogs are liable to provide us with photo ops at the drop of a hat (or you know, tennis ball).
…And not to give away the section about must have photo equipment, but I would definitely suggest having a zoom lens, so you can capture all these actions without gaining so much of the dog’s attention that he stops what he’s doing to come see if you’ve got something for him.
When I started my agility training, I really had almost no idea what to look for in a trainer. The only thing I knew I wanted at that time was someone who was into positive reinforcement. I couldn’t have told you when I set out to find a trainer what made a good trainer and what didn’t.
My first experience was with a local school that required me to sign up for their Intermediate Obedience class before they would allow me into their agility classes. They wanted to meet us and see what we could do (this despite having passed the CGC test which should have told them what we could do!). I signed up for the class and made it through one class and about ten minutes of the next before hightailing it out the door. The class was all about prong collars and choke chains and making sure you dominated your dog. No thanks!
I continued my search and stumbled on a place about a half hour away from me. The instructor’s biography began “If the dog can a have positive experience, then you will have positive results” and specifically said they do not allow any sort of “corrective type” training. This seemed far more up my alley and I didn’t really think further than that before signing up for my first foundations class there. It’s been over two years and I’m still training there, so obviously I liked it!
Now that I’ve been training for this long and now that I’m facing down the possibility that we may have to move sometime in the next couple years (my partner just graduated with his doctorate and is beginning the job search), I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is I want in a trainer. Or, perhaps more specifically, what it is I like about my current trainer that I’d like to have again in the future.
So here’s my list of 10 things that I think make a good agility trainer.
1. A willingness to work with dogs of all breeds. My current trainer almost has a MACH (Master Agility Championship title in AKC) on her Siberian Husky (she would have that MACH if her dog hadn’t gotten injured and had to have an ACL repair surgery). A Siberian Husky. She also trains an Hungarian Vizsla and recently got a Border Collie. The dogs in her classes range from focused Border Collies to Corgis who run off at a moment’s notice to follow their noses to adorable little puffball Havaneses. Seeing her approach each dog as an individual and her ability to work with them no matter what their level has been inspiring.
2. Open to working with dogs of various drive/energy levels. When I first found my instructor’s web page I checked out the form you could submit to tell her you were interested in classes there. In the middle of the form there was a little drop-down menu that said “My dog has…high drive, medium drive, low drive.” My impression of agility was always that it was all about the fast, drivey dogs. Meanwhile I had Dahlia, Miss Low Drive herself. Seeing that an instructor was willing to work with lower drive dogs immediately piqued my interest and made me much more likely to fill out that form. Since starting there I’ve seen my instructor adjust her training to fit each and every dog, no matter how fast or slow the dog is.
3. Knowledge. This one goes without saying. I want someone who is constantly learning, who is exploring new ways to do things, who watches videos and takes seminars with other trainers. I want someone who has many tools in her toolbox and can pull different ones out at a moment’s notice. When Dahlia and I were struggling with weaves with her on my right, my instructor came over and worked us through yet another method for getting it done. It wasn’t one I would have thought of and yet it worked brilliantly. I won’t pretend Dahlia is ace at weaving on my right, but she’s about 75% better than she was a month ago.
4. Sense of humor. Agility is supposed to be fun! And as I have the world’s most ridiculous agility dog, I want someone who can laugh along with me at her antics. When she jumps on the tunnel instead of going through it, I want to hear laughter, not curses. My favorite teachers all through school were the ones who had a good sense of humor. I retained much more of the information and had a much better time in those classes. I use humor a lot in my own teaching (music, not dogs!) and my students tell me all the time how much fun they have in my class. Considering most come into my class thinking Classical music is awful, it makes me proud to know I’ve made the subject enjoyable. Make it fun and the students will keep coming back for more!
5. Knows when to push you out of your comfort zone. I started agility classes with no intention of trialing. I was adamant on that from the first class on. I was just doing it for fun. I didn’t have a “real” agility dog. And then last September my instructor recommended that I go to a trial. Because she thought we’d have fun. Because she thought we were actually ready for it. She didn’t push. She just suggested and planted the idea in my head. I went. I had fun. We even got a qualifying score and a pretty ribbon. And more than that, I was hooked. She knew I just needed that little push to go there and try it.
6. Knows how to set you and your dog up for success. I remember one particular class that we did brilliantly in. The courses seemed easy and we were all feeling elated at how we did. Our instructor said “Sometimes we all need a warm and fuzzy.” And I realized she had done that on purpose. We had recently been doing some really challenging things in class, taking us and our dogs out of their comfort zone and while we were having some degree of success with it, we were all getting a little discouraged as we had to go back and redo things several times. Having that one class with more straightforward courses that we could be successful at left us all feeling better about how we were progressing. We were ready for the next class’s challenges and stepped it up a notch!
7. Knows it’s not all about the Qs or the ribbons. Our instructor sees trials as assessments. Yes getting the qualifying score or the pretty ribbon is nice (and I won’t deny that at all!), but we’ve had long discussions at class (and at an “Agility Anonymous” meeting) about how to view trials. If you put in the work, if you relax and have fun, if you just get out there to see what you have the Q’s will come.
8. Open to communication. I cannot count the times I’ve e-mailed my instructor and asked questions about our training techniques, about trials, about frustrations I’m having. She is always willing to listen and offer advice. Sometimes I’ve done online training with her (and so paid her for that advice!) and sometimes it was just a freebie. She’s never let an e-mail go unanswered and has always given great suggestions and advice.
9. Builds a good foundation. I still remember my early agility classes and feeling a bit disappointed that we weren’t immediately running little sequences and going over jumps and through tunnels and all that fun stuff. Instead, we focused on good foundation training before getting to the “real” stuff. Looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way. All of that set up an excellent launching point and I feel like because we had that strong foundation, Dahlia is safe and confident on the equipment. Each class naturally progressed to the next and that was all because we had a strong foundation to build upon.
10. Uses the time in class wisely. For me, a good instructor knows that some weeks they’re going to have to spend much more time with one student than others, but that in other weeks it will be other students having challenges. I remember one person complaining that she got out there, ran her course, was perfect and didn’t get a lot of attention that class. But in other classes that same dog was unfocused and scattered and the instructor spent more time with her than other students. I think a wise teacher knows that the balance in each class will not be perfect, that she will not spend exactly 10 minutes with each student because each student has different needs. That same wise teacher also knows that it will balance out over time and if she needs to, she’ll make sure it balances out by offering somewhat more challenging things to a higher level student or ask for more perfection from that particular student.
And bonus!! You didn’t think I could really leave this with just 10, did you?
11. Has a large variety of classes. This is a sort of special case and I realize that finding this sort of arrangement again is not likely. My current instructor teaches classes a few nights a week and often on weekends when there aren’t trials going on. She doesn’t offer just beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes. She has classes specific to things her students need to work on, like contact and weaves, or TTP (turns, timing, and positions), or speeding up your dog (need for speed!). She offers mini-classes and “happy hour” classes where we can come and work on specific things we need to tackle. It means that the classes are small (sometimes only 3 or 4 students, but usually no more than 6 or 7) and everyone in the class is at a fairly similar level. It means no one is left behind and if you need to step back into a class to brush up on something they’re always there for you to jump into. I’ve loved this arrangement of classes. It’s given me so much to do and I’ve been able to break things down into their various parts to combine together in the handling classes.
Where I currently train is wonderful. I hope to find another place like it if we ever have to move.
On Friday night, my best friend and I took the ponies for a trail ride off the farm. I frequently take Herbie trail riding with me and she’s great around the horses. She doesn’t chase them and she doesn’t stray far. If we ride on the farm or somewhere off-leash friendly, Herbie comes along. Unfortunately, this particular ride meant lots of road crossings and, while I trust Herbie, I don’t trust traffic. So I locked Herbie up in the convenient kennel/run/dog house combo that’s conveniently next to my barn. It was a sunny day with temps in the 70′s. She had fresh water and we would only be gone an hour.
Herbie pranced happily into the kennel when I told her ‘go to your den’. As I shut the door, I noticed a few chickens hanging out at the back of the run. I shrugged and let them be. They looked happy and Herbie doesn’t bother with farm birds. I told her to stay and be good and we rode away.
An hour later we returned and I was horrified to see a dead chicken laying in a heap in the corner of the dog run. Herbie was standing over it with a mouth full of feathers. Mortified, I jumped off my horse and yelled, “NO!!! Herbie! What did you DO?!?!” only to realize…
…it wasn’t a dead chicken at all. The chickens are molting and there was a pile of feathers in the corner and my good girl was simply keeping herself occupied by quietly mouthing the feathers.
I felt bad immediately. Herbie had laid flat, widened her eyes, and licked her lips. Poor thing had no idea what she did wrong. As soon as I saw what was going on I got my super-happy voice on and cheered, “Nothing! You didn’t do anything! Good girl!” and Herbie jumped up, a happy ball of wiggles.
I felt like a jerk for the rest of the day. Poor Herbie was probably sitting there going, “Mom’s gonna be so proud. I’m just sitting here being a good dog. I didn’t even bark when the horses came up the driveway. She’s going to be so… OMG why are you yelling?!?!”
So spill… have you ever yelled at your dog only to find out it really wasn’t what it looked like?
Frankie is my Issue Dog. He lived a hard knock life on the streets (or something to that effect) until he was 5 months old and came to me a completely shell-shocked little dude. Three and a half years later, strange people are still scary. Most other dogs are still awful. The world is just a scary place for a dog who never learned how to cope with society early in life. Thankfully, Frankie and I have found a nice system of management for his intense behavior setbacks and he adores me. I am usually the most awesome person in his life… until I try to clip his nails.