Friday, January 31, 2014

FitDog Friday: Conditioning Plan

Next month, Koira will be running full time in start position for the first time in her flyball career. I have high hopes that her turn will remain decent. When she gets tired, though, it may drop a bit. In order to keep her running easily and keeping a nice turn for as long as possible, I decided to put together a conditioning plan for the weeks between now and then.

This is our mocked-up conditioning schedule for the next month and next two flyball tournaments

I don't do so well with strict regular schedules, or with just winging it. So instead, I tried to cobble together the best possible plan based on my work schedule and the amount of free time I should have each day. The basic possible activities I used were free running, flirt pole, on the ball, leashed walks, and flyball practice. I didn't want to do something like Monday free running, Tuesday flirt pole, etc, because that bores me, and I have to think it bores my dog as well. Instead, I set it up with us doing free running at the park on the days we have the most free time. Days where my free time will be limited are leashed walks or flirt pole work, and days when my free time is likely to be after dark are on the ball days. Rest days are for those days when I will be working double shifts or right after tournaments.

Free running at the park or beach for us means that the dogs will be off leash and free to play, run, and explore as they wish. I won't be controlling their movement or speed in any way other than keeping them generally near me and preventing them from bothering other people. I generally don't bring toys to the park to play with because I prefer that the dogs run and play with each other, however, some of our friends at the park like to play fetch with my dogs, and I am happy to let them do so while we visit. Park visits tend to last a minimum of 30 minutes and have been known to last up to 4 or 5 hours. 

Flirt pole work is much more intensive than free running at the park. Since I am in control of the flirt pole, I am controlling the movements of the dogs. I try to make sure they are circling both directions and making tight turns both left and right, rather than just having them chase the flirt pole around and around. The goal isn't to make them totally out of energy, but rather, to get them to practice quick movement and bursts of speed. Fifteen minutes is generally plenty of time for an in shape dog to get a good workout with a flirt pole.

On the ball stuff is pretty basic. For my dogs, I like to go through a basic routine of having them sit, stand, down, and turn both directions on the ball, moving slowly and having to adjust their balance as they go. I like to have them do slow motion puppy pushups, down-stand-down, sit-stand-sit, etc, so that they have to readjust. Koira has been getting very good at her sit pretty on solid ground, so I might see if she can give me a sit pretty on the ball. 

Koira giving me a sit pretty at the beach

Leash walks are pretty self explanatory, I think, as are rest days. Rest days don't mean we won't do any training of any kind, but it does mean we won't be focused on physical training or conditioning work. We may still work on tricks or mental games on those days.

What do you think? Think Koira will be ready to not only run full time, but in start position, for her first tournament? Dogs in start position can run up to 3 times as much as the rest of the dogs on the team due to false starts.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Not a ton to say today, except that I wanted to share a few more pictures from our trip to the beach last week. There really is something magical about sunrise, and when it coincides perfectly with an outgoing tide that leaves gorgeous flat, perfectly reflective water on the beach, it just makes the world seem to sing. So completely worth getting up early to enjoy.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sepia Saturday

I headed off to the beach yesterday morning with the dogs before sunrise. We managed to get out onto the beach right as the sun was peaking over the horizon. The light was gorgeous. Living on the West coast, it can be difficult to get well lit photos with the ocean in the background, but hitting the beach at sunrise fixes that particular problem.

Pallo, mid-catch

The dogs got to spend a solid three hours romping and playing and fetching before we headed to the bayfront to check out the shops and have some lunch. Overall, I think they approved of the day they had.

Koira, with her ears flattened out by the wind

Friday, January 24, 2014

FitDog Friday: FitBit Happy

You may have noticed in the past few week's worth of pictures that Koira has a weird black box attached to her collar. At first, I had it on her actual collar, and had her wear her collar all the time. Now, I have switched it over to her tag-keeper collar along with her antler name tag.

That weird black box is a FitBit. Specifically, it is the FitBit Zip, the cheapest of the FitBit product line. Back in November, I purchased a FitBit Flex for myself. It is basically a pedometer that you wear as a bracelet (meaning you don't forget to put it on in the morning, which has always been my problem with pedometers). Automatic syncing with my computer lets me keep track of my movement throughout the day using the Flex, and the Flex also tracks my sleep at night- how long it takes me to fall asleep, how many times I wake up in the night, and how much total sleep I got compared to total time spent in bed. Basically, a cool little gadget.

In a drugged state after dental surgery (which involved semi-sedation due to dental anxiety issues), I decided it would be a great idea to purchase FitBits for my dogs as well. I ended up getting two FitBit Zips on Ebay for a decent price, and once I had them, I figured I should use them. Unfortunately, I only got one clip to hold the device, so I have only been able to use one so far. I am still figuring out how to attach the other FitBit to Pallo- possibly inside of a collar made of tubular webbing? In any case, ever since then, Koira has been wearing a FitBit on her collar 24/7. The battery only needs to be replaced every 3-4 months, so I can pretty much just put it on her and forget about it. But the device still automatically syncs with the computer and I can easily track how much activity Koira is doing each day. 

Now, obviously the FitBit isn't meant for dogs. The algorithms that determine how far you walk based on the number of steps you take, which is based on an accelerator in the device, are all way off for dogs. I fixed it a bit by inputting Koira's custom stride lengths for a trot (put in as walking stride length) and for the run. I also put in her shoulder height and her weight, but I am unsure how accurate the calorie counter is for her.

Of course, there is no real purpose to having these devices, for myself or for my dogs. They are not magical things that make you be in shape just by owning them-nothing will do that. But, they are a fun way to track your (or your dog's) activity throughout the day, week, month, and year. It really lets reality set in when you have been skipping one too many walk, or cutting it short. And there is something extremely satisfying about seeing the little dots light up or the little widget on the FitBit dashboard turn green and smiley face when you hit goal (10,000 steps/5 miles per day). It doesn't work on its own. But if you let those little things motivate you to walk another block further or go take an extra walk before bed, it can make a big difference in your life.

*Disclaimer: I purchased my FitBit Flex new on Amazon, and two FitBit Zips used on Ebay. I was not asked to post a review or provided with any compensation or free products for doing so. FitBit has never heard of me. I just enjoy this product as a helpful tool for getting in shape and staying fit, and wanted to share in case others of you out there are similarly motivated by the little things in life.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our Week So Far

I kept my promise to the dogs and we got out and to the park on Tuesday. 

On Sunday, we had flyball practice in the morning, and I worked in the afternoon. We did a little bit of trick training Sunday evening, but called flyball practice good for their daily exercise.

On Monday, I was planning to head to the park with the dogs since the sun was finally out (we have been buried in a bank of fog for the past week). But instead I got to wait around the house all afternoon after work, waiting for a plumber to come by and fix my leaky sink. We did some trick training, but that was about it.

Tuesday we got back out to the park. It was bright and sunny, the sun once again having broken through the clouds. It was still really cold though, just barely above freezing. I bundled up and put Koira's sweatshirt on her and let the dogs romp. 

Running in the setting sun

Sunset is so early this time of year that it really makes it hard to get out and play for very long. By the time I get off work, we only have a couple hours of daylight left. I should just be thankful that I get off work with any daylight left at all, I guess.

In her pink sweatshirt, FitBit attached to her leather braided tag collar along with her antler tag.
 All of these pictures were taken with my new camera and new lens. I don't think I've mentioned on the blog yet, but I got a new camera a few months ago. I also purchase a new lens for a steal on Ebay and have been playing with both of them quite a bit.

Pallo in the sunset haze- you can see the cloud of his breath in the cold air
My fingers basically froze despite my gloves, but the dogs played and ran and kept busy enough to stay pretty warm. I think Koira even wanted her sweatshirt taken off at one point when she ran so much she got hot, but I think she ended up liking staying warm as sunset got closer and the temperature started dropping.

Pink is such a good color on her
 There was no ball playing on this park visit. I don't bring balls along to the park most of the time. Koira won't go play and run if she knows I have a toy, but will instead stay right by me pestering me the entire time. I am fine with them playing fetch with other people and their dogs, as long as they are all okay with it. But, with no fetch, that doesn't mean the dogs didn't run. These two are great playmates. They play a crazy game of chase, wrestle a bit, go and sniff, repeat. No matter what else may be true about Pallo, he really was a great choice as a playmate for Koira. That role he filled, and continues to fill, extremely well.

We stopped to talk to some people for a while, and Pallo was whining. When he gets really upset and impatient, he does full open mouthed whines and little mini barks.

No pictures from Wednesday, but we did take a nice long walk in the afternoon. A friend of mine recently moved just a few blocks away. We've been trying to get out and take walks together a few times per week. That sort of fell apart with the holidays, but hopefully we will be getting back on track with it now. About halfway through our walk, my FitBit threw a party for me for reaching 10,000 steps (the goal to reach every day). By the end of the day, I had over 15,800 steps, which is really pretty good for a day that was spent half at work.

Oh, and I started a new Facebook group to help remind each other to get our dogs' nails trimmed every week. The group is called Thursday Nail Trims. The idea is to have a community that will help remind each other to stay on top of nail trimming. It is so easy to forget and let it slide sometimes. So far everyone in the group is pretty great- plenty of reminders to get the nails trimmed, motivational posts as people get their weekly quota done, and some great positive reinforcement when you get it all done. Of course, there is some teasing and mocking of those who forget, but it is very much in the way of friendly banter. Feel free to join the group if you think it would help you get nail trims done regularly!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tasty Tuesday Chewy Review

The dogs are always excited about reviewing treats and foods from and this month, we got to review not one, but TWO different kinds of treats. Technically, one of the treats is for cats, but in this house, that meant that both the dogs and the cats had a chance to sample it.

So, first up is the brand-new treats from Orijen, Original Freeze-Dried Cat Treats. I think most people who have ever used Orijen know that they make some great products. I was excited to hear about their new line of freeze dried cat treats, both to use with my cats and to use as a smaller training treat for my dogs.

Martha sampling an Orijen freeze dried treat
These treats are made of the classic good quality ingredients (chicken liver, turkey liver, boneless chicken, boneless turkey, boneless flounder) that Orijen always uses. They aren't nasty stinky like some freeze dried treats can be, though they do have a slight odor. The size is great for cats. A few of the treats were a little larger so I broke them in half, but they work as cat treats in the size they come in as well.

Koira with an Orijen freeze dried cat treat on her nose
 The size is also perfect for a small training treat for dogs. They are big enough for the dog to get a decent taste and be willing to work for them (and my dogs are certainly willing to work for these!), but small enough to make it reasonable to give a lot of them in a training session. I would likely add this to a mix of a variety of training treats, since I like the dogs to get different tastes and textures throughout training to keep things fresh and motivating.

Martha didn't appreciate me giving cat treats to the dog.

Our other treat to review is from Fromm, another great brand. We tried their Grain Free Lamb with Cranberry Treats. These are a crunchy baked treat rather than a soft treat, but the dogs really liked them. I used a few of these as bedtime trick treats (asking for a series of basic tasks like sit pretty, down, stand, etc before giving the treat) and the dogs were big fans. Such big of fans, in fact, that one of the dogs went counter surfing and stole the rest of the bag off the counter! My dogs aren't normally counter surfers, so you know they really enjoyed these treats.

Of course, it does mean I not only have no pictures of the bag (which was shredded into tiny little green and black pieces decorating the carpet), but no adorable pictures of treats balanced on dog noses either. Safe to say, though, that these treats were a win for my dogs. I also really liked the size of them for a baked treat- small enough that I felt I could give a few of them at a time without fattening up my dogs, but big enough to make my dogs actually crunch them rather than attempt to inhale. The dogs liked these enough that I will likely be purchasing some more to use as bedtime snacks- at only $4.99 for a bag, they are a pretty affordable treat for the great quality.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014


Reality check. Pallo is fat. 

Now, he isn't super fat, not yet. But he could stand to lose a few pounds for sure. His endurance (and Koira's, for that matter) isn't all that great right now. So, we need to work on this moving forward.

We went to the park yesterday. I realized while there that we haven't been to this park in a month, which means the dogs haven't had a long off leash walk in that long. Poor pups. 

 I tried to both give them a good workout and not over do anything, since they haven't run this hard in a while. I think they had fun. We saw a few new dogs, like the merle they are greeting above, and a few of our older park friends, like Manny in the next picture. They ran and played and fetched.

There may also have been some barking when the toy didn't get thrown quickly enough.

And my dogs may have been toy hoarders. Poor Manny has short little legs, even shorter than Pallo's. He couldn't get the ball from my guys even with faking them out and giving him a head start in the opposite direction. But I think he liked chasing them with the toy even better than having the toy himself. A good time was had by all.

Before heading home I got out the flirt pole for my guys. We didn't flirt pole for long, since they had already done some serious running playing fetch, but they both love the flirt pole. Koira gets rather loud and demanding with it which is why we can't really play with it at home. I don't want to annoy the neighbors with the shrieking barks she can make.

Overall, I think the dogs had fun. I just need to step up my game. After I got injured at work a year and a half ago, I couldn't really take the dogs to the park much. I couldn't throw a toy far. I couldn't even really take them for walks without hurting a ton just being vertical. It is easy to stay home watching movies or tv or messing around on the computer when you hurt if you leave the house. I tried to keep most of my injury nonsense off the blog, but I'm here to say, it definitely had an affect on my dogs. The habit of taking them to the park every single day, rain or shine, really fell apart then. And I can't beat myself up for the fact that I really couldn't do it. But I'm as much better as I will ever get, and my dogs need this.

So over the next few months I am going to make myself take them out- we have fun once we are out, it is just so easy to procrastinate going out, checking email, checking facebook, reading blogs. Once the habit is lost, it becomes so much harder to get it back. And my dogs need this.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Barn Hunt

While my dogs tried barn hunt a while ago and more or less failed at it, I still think it is a pretty cool sport. I am doing the photography for an upcoming barn hunt trial in a few weeks, so this weekend, I headed to the trial location to shoot a practice. Lighting indoors in barns can be interesting, so I wanted to get a feel for it before the trial.

For those who haven't heard of barn hunt, the basic idea is pretty simple. Dogs are trained to find and indicate where there are live rats inside a given area, with a course made of straw or hay bales. The rats are kept safe from the dogs in sturdy PVC tubes.

The handler here is holding up the tube with the rat to let their dog get a nice good smell.

To make the entire thing more difficult, there are three kinds of tubes that can be on the course- empty tubes, tubes with used rat bedding, and tubes with live rats. You want the dog to only indicate the tubes with the live rats. This is the part that my dogs failed at, since they were equally excited about the tubes with the rats and the tubes with the bedding. It is something you can certainly train to overcome if you have that problem and want to pursue the sport, I just already have so many sports and training plans that I decided not to with my dogs.

Here is one of the tubes, partially buried in loose hay. There is no real way to tell which tubes have what in them just by looking, so the handlers really have to rely on the dog to tell them what is where.
Depending on the level the dog is in, the number of total tubes and total rats in tubes can change to make the course more difficult. In all levels, the dog is also required to climb onto a bale and go through a tunnel made of bales either before, during, or after finding their rats in order to complete their run.

Butt up, nose down after climbing two bales high and then deciding to check out what is buried in the loose straw a bale below her. The rats can be hidden on the ground, between bales, or on top of bales.

Overall, I had a good time. It was chilly, but not freezing cold. The lighting was kind of crazy since the weather was veering wildly between sun-and-clouds all the way to super-dark-rain-clouds-plus-downpour, and all the stages in between. I'm looking forward to shooting the actual trial in two weeks (and hoping for sun that day!).

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Old School

I was looking back through some old emails looking for something when I ran across these photos.

These pictures are from Pallo's first-ever flyball tournament. It was in Seattle, Washington, and we only competed on one day.

I remember being really proud of his box turn at this tournament. I'm not sure if these photos just caught the box turns that weren't great that day, or if my standards and expectations have changed this much.

And this is our team photo at that same tournament. Pallo is all sprawled out on his back. If you can't tell by the color we are all wearing, this is from before I joined Animal House (my current team). I started flyball with Thundermutts. This was my last tournament competing with them.