Friday, August 27, 2004

Thursday is my favorite day of the week

I just love Thursdays!!! That's the day that my team has practice for new dogs (like me), so that we have time to really practice our skills. Our team is getting ready for a tournament in Vassar (I don't know where that is, but here's a link to their local newspaper. The flyball tournament, hosted by Ballistics, can be found at the "area happenings" link in case you'd like to come out and watch).

I didn't know that yesterday was Thursday and thought is was going to be another bust day. Both my people went to work--one of them came home to let me and Renzo out at lunchtime, but she left again right away and I had to go back in my crate--with no Kong or anything (I know the "crate" command pretty well, but sometimes I like to hold-out to see if I will get something enticing to keep me company. I've been trained entirely using positive reinforcement and "clicking"--check it out at Karon Pryor's website.)

Anyway, I was SOOOO excited when we got loaded into the car--I even barked along the way.

I got to have three turns. On the first one, I was pretty flakey, but it was kind of my people's fault because they tried to get me to run over the jumps facing a group of people, who were busy cutting my teammate Darby's nails (she's a shiba inu, kai inu mix--very rare indeed). Way more interesting than the jumps and the not-so-great treats that my people brought along. Plus, some of my favorite people in the whole world were there. Then, our captain suggested that my people use the ball as motivation--talk about cool. I LOVE the ball and so I got to show off a little bit and prove that I'm not a total ditz.

On my other two turns, I did pretty good. On the last one, I got to "push" on the box. That's the command flyballers use to let us dogs know that we're supposed to bang the box so that the ball will come out. It's basically a command that means "stamp on this spot". My person used the "push" command to teach me to shut cabinet drawers. It's related to "touch", which means "hit this with your nose".

It doesn't really matter, of course, what words you use as long as you know exactly what they mean. Even though we are pretty smart, dogs don't have the ability to generalize semantics (though we may be able to do "rapid mapping", as a recent study about a BC named Rico suggests) and a lot of training mishaps occur because our people think that we understand language the same way they do. We're pretty good at making it look like we understand everything they say, but really, we mostly rely on pattern recognition, which we are very skilled at (so we figure out pretty quickly what kinds of expressions and behaviors elicit what kinds of responses).

When we're learning flyball, we use a target (a CD wrapped in duct tape) to show us where we should hit the box. My person wasn't quick enough to let me know that I was doing it right, but the captain told her to tell me just as I hit the box. Once she got her timing down, we were a pretty good team.

At the end of practice, all the dogs who were still there got to have free playtime while the people cleaned up. That was great--I love running with the pack (even though I'm not so sure of myself yet that I really race everyone--not like those Jack Russell's--boy, they really, really want to have the ball. I usually give it up to them--seems like the polite thing to do and I know I'll get another chance at it).

My people like to go out to dinner after practice, but yesterday, it was pretty hot and they were tired (and for some unknown reason wanted to spend time with the *cats* who live with us), so we just went home.

Big woofs to my buddy Renzo, who did great at practice. He's been training for a long time (about 2 1/2 years) and it looks like he's starting to get pretty close to running. I'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

What'd I learn today?

Well, today was kind of a bust for me because my people were off at work (one of them was at home, but all she does is work on the laptop--it'd make me nuts to sit still for so long...). I did have a good long walk and do some complicated fetch games.

I also got some practice running to the tug. That's one of the skills I have to learn. There are lots and lots of others and I've got a start on all of them, but haven't yet mastered them. My buddy Renzo, can play the whole game, but he's still working on ignoring other dogs. I think when I get that far, I won't have as much trouble as he's had--but then again, we're all different.

Flyball requires attention to several different tasks: running, catching the ball, jumping over hurdles, jumping on a weird box, passing another dog, catching the tug. And basically, you learn it backwards. So, you start by running to your person, then you add in going over jumps, then you add in the box, and then you add in the ball last of all. I'm at the stage of practicing running over the hurdles to catch my people. Here's a step by step guide

Before you can do any of it, though, you have to learn to pay attention. My people have been working with me since I was 8 weeks old--I've been to four obedience classes and I'm about to start an agility class and a flyball class in the fall. So, I know a lot of commands, but right now, the world is often far more interesting than the jobs my people think up for me (isn't that often the case?). So, they are working hard to make themselves more interesting to me and I'm working sort of hard (well, at least I'm working) at being interested in paying attention to them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


What's flyball? A totally wacky, frenetic relay race between teams of four dogs--the best antidote to academia and politics that there is. You can find out about it here . My team is Frontrunners. You can find me on the "dogs in training" page along with my good buddy, Renzo. I am 91/2 months old and have been going to tournaments since I was 8 weeks old. Both my parents play flyball. Their team is Rocket Relay in Ontario Canada (the website isn't super up-to-date). My pop is N-R-G and Mom is Ness from Moy Hall Farm. In fact, my full name is Pippin Moy (but at home I'm known as Pippin Noodle).