Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crate Buckets!

Since starting this blog, I have noticed a trend, some of the best products at the best prices are not geared towards the general dog-owning pet enthusiast, and instead, seem to be inside secrets geared towards your dog fanciers and those who compete in various dog sports. Insiders continue to have great secrets, at great prices, but your regular dog-loving pet-owner is forced to shell out big dollars on mediocre products. I’ve seen this with grooming supplies like brushes and shampoos, leashes and collars, and now, crate pails/buckets.

About a year ago I discovered crate buckets, or crate pales. At this point in time, I had read of the benefits of elevating your pet’s food and water to prevent rushed eating and drinking, and possibly reducing the risks of bloat (whether or not elevated food and water does prevent bloat is controversial, but it certainly won’t hurt your dog), and a crate bucket seemed like a really great product. These stainless steel buckets are great for providing your crated dog with water throughout the day, without the spills associated with a regular water bowl. Most of them are flat on one side, enabling them to hang flush against the kennel or a fence in your dog yard without tipping or rolling. Being made of stainless steel, crate buckets don’t rust, crack, or chip. They’re also very easy to clean (I toss mine in the dishwasher), making them more sanitary than traditional plastic dog bowls. Some crate buckets come with a hook built into the flat side so it is easily attached to a metal cage or fence; while others are attached from the bucket handle using a double ended snap.

When I first started seeing these buckets hanging in the crates in dog fancier’s photos, I recalled seeing similar set-ups in the cages at veterinarian offices, but could not recall a single pet-owner I know using this method. I decided to purchase a crate bucket, and headed to my nearest Petsmart, where I asked, “Do you carry crate buckets?” The sales associated looked at me like I had two heads, and lead me to the crate aisle, and the bowl aisle, but neither aisle contained crate pails. I started looking online, where after some research, I found many options, but was uncertain what size to order. Months went by, and I managed to push the idea from my head.

Recently, I ordered my first crate bucket, and I am sold. I decided to get the 1-Quart size (they come in larger sizes), and it’s perfect. I would probably go up to the 2-Quart if I start using one for food, but for water, the 1-Quart is perfect. At just $7.49 this is cheaper than many dog bowls on the market, and because it is stainless steel, I anticipate having it for years to come. I am amazed that crate buckets are a trend that has not caught on with more pet owners. I wish I had discovered them much sooner!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dog Show Fashion or Faux Pas

So much goes into showing dogs, and I’m only just starting to crack the surface. But, one thing I have found that seems to go hand-in-hand with a thin show lead is terrible fashion sense, especially in regards to female handlers. Yes, this is a MAJOR generalization, and I know many people who show dogs with very good fashion sense, but there are quite a few terrible outfit choices out there… so many that there are even Facebook groups devoted to policing the terrible fashion at dog shows! Acid wash denim skirt suits, nude panty hose with tennis shoes and a bedazzled velvet blazer, orange ballet flats… yes, these are all fashion statements I’ve seen in the breed ring, and on some big name people, to boot (pun intended).

As some of you know, I love fashion – I even interned with Jill Stuart in college. I have a very eccentric sense of style – part classic and preppy, part trendy, and very quirky. I’ve been told many of my outfits look more like costumes one would wear when playing a role, than actual apparel, but that’s me! I’m creative, and unique, and to me, life is one big performance.

This said, I pride myself on having a good appearance, things I pull off might not be for everyone, but I do put forth an effort. With this in mind, I absolutely do not want to fall into the category of terribly dressed dog show person.

For our final conformation class, a judge is coming in, and we’re doing a mock show. Complete with show apparel and all! In picking an outfit, I’m looking for something that makes Hush pop. What would be appropriate for showing a Golden Retriever may not be appropriate for showing a Dalmatian. Hush is a light gold, but she’s rapidly maturing to a medium gold color. In picking an outfit, I’m looking for something she stands out nicely against – and I’ve found blues and purples look great beside her. Of course, finding an outfit that goes nicely with her would be easy, but finding an outfit with pockets for my bait, that won’t attract dog hair, and that can be worn with flats I can run in is a whole different story!

One outfit I am considering is very similar to this dress.

So far, I’ve narrowed it down to:

· A long sleeve cotton dress (with pockets) that has navy and green stripes, but I’m worried it is a bit too busy.

· A blue cowl neck sweater dress, belted.

· A navy paisley skirt, with salmon t-shirt (with sequined neckline) and a green sweater (with pockets), but this might be a bit too springy.

All outfits will be worn with ballet flats. So now, I just have to make my last minute decision!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Humble Winnings

I grew up riding, training, and showing horses. It was my first love, and is still a passion of mine. Ultimately, my desire to get back in the horse show ring spurred my interest in dogs. While there are many differences in horses and dogs, there are many similarities.

In many ways, I compare what I am doing with Hush to what I did in high school and college with my old show horse, Sundance Kid (aka Monty). I bought him, young and untrained, and with the guidance of an instructor, and lots of blood, sweat and tears, turned him into a well-known champion show horse.

I traveled almost every weekend across the country (mostly on the East Coast) to horse shows, and usually wound up coming home with an armful of prizes, and the championship ribbon. However, Monty and I were self-made, and while we frequently beat some of the best in the country, I still looked at those horses like I look at a dog that wins at Westminster. With awe, and a feeling that I could never compare, let alone beat this quality of competition.

On one of my weekends at a horse show, I found myself up against not just one or two most competitive ponies, but 16 of them! Out of the top 20 ranked ponies in the country, 16 of them were showing against me, plus an additional 20 incredibly talented, though not nationally ranked, ponies. I went in feeling like all I could do was my best, but realizing the actuality of me placing, let alone winning was slim to none. In fact, I had built my competition up so high in my mind, that I didn’t even bother memorizing my entry number, from which they call the winners.

Though I had shown very well that day, I assumed there was no way I would be called back to jog, and left my pony’s saddle on, and sat chatting to some friends as I watched the winners being called into the ring. After an over-fences class (where you jump jumps) the winning horses are called back into the ring to “jog for soundness” where any lame horses will be disqualified. To jog for soundness, you leave the horse’s bridle on, but remove the saddle, and jog into the ring just like you would in a dog show. In some classes, the horses will then be judged for conformation, which will equate for 25% of their score, and can change who the winners are in the class.

So here I sat, chatting away with a friend, Monty still in his saddle, mud all over my riding boots, as the announcer kept calling “Number 749” “Number 749” over and over again for the soundness jog. Finally, someone noticed the number pinned to my back and told me that was me, I was shocked as I quickly unsaddled Monty, and ran towards the ring, in first place.

In my handling class we do mock dog shows, judged by our trainer, an AKC judge, and she explains why certain dogs are winners. Until Tuesday night, I had never placed in these shows. I knew my spot was always in the line up, and that I was never called out as a winner. So, I wasn’t exactly sure what the trainer wanted as we finished our mock class and she pointed to me. I looked back confused, and she pointed again, signaling with her hands for me to come over to her.

I assumed I had done something wrong, and she wanted to correct me, but what it was, I was not sure. Like at that horse show, my jaw hit the floor when I learned I had pinned 3rd. Here it was, me, baby Hush, up against people with champion dogs, which have shown for years… beating them! It was an exhilarating experience, and it made me realize, if I am going to pretend like I know what I’m doing when I go to a real dog show… I better make sure I know what to do when called out as a winner!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are You There God? It's Me, Hush...

Our conformation trainer seems to think Hush maybe about to go into season. No matter what, her hormones are starting to change, and the boys are certainly taking notice to her. This could be why the Dalmatian went after her in class, and why another dog kept eying her and quietly growling. I’ve been keeping an eye on her girly parts, looking for any swelling and changes, and so far haven’t seen any. But, she has been displaying some skittish and uncharacteristic behaviors, which are signs that hormones are changing. Our trainer commented that the issues we are having with gaiting and movement could very well be Hush trying to guard her butt from the audience of male dogs. Another sign that she might be about to have her first heat.

I spoke with Hush’s breeder, and while a bitch CAN go into season any time after 6 months, she thinks this is most likely pre-menstrual changes, where hormones will start to shift for 1-2 months before the actual heat cycle begins. During this time, male dogs will most likely show an interest in her. She told me to keep an eye on her genitals, and if things feel sticky to just clean her with baby wipes. It is very common for a young bitch to get a mild vaginal infection before her first heat cycle, and if that is developing with Hush right now, that could be why the boys are taking an interest in her.

As far as training and showing goes, with a young dog especially, you don’t want to show them or ask them to do much training during their first heat cycle. Just like with teenage humans, there are a lot of changes happening in a bitch’s body leading up to and during her first cycle. These hormonal and physical changes often leave the bitch on edge, as she is confused about what is happening to her body.

My training club has a rule against training bitches in season, many clubs have this rule, but some allow them to train so long as they are wearing “Bitches Britches” (undies, usually with a maxi pad) to prevent any bleeding, and most importantly, prevent and unplanned mating from occurring.

I can’t help but cringe, as I look at my baby, still so much a puppy, and think about the unscrupulous breeders who breed bitches on their very first heat cycle. I see just how undeveloped Hush is, still a baby in so many ways, her body still growing and changing, and want to kill any scum who would force such a young dog to carry a litter of puppies, when she herself is still a puppy.

Hopefully, we’ve got some time before her first heat cycle is here. I don’t know if I’m quite ready, but I’ll keep a bag of Carob Chips on hand for Hush, assuming dogs have chocolate cravings, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect!

Last night was handling class, and WHAT A DIFFERENCE! I’ve been practicing every day for the past week, and the results are finally becoming really noticeable. I focused my practice this week on a few things standing still, forced stacking (where the handler physically moves the dog’s legs into place), showing the bite, and gaiting. I learned last week that Hush is pulling and throwing off her movement when we gait, so to remedy that I’ve worked a lot on loose leash walking when she’s on her regular collar. By revisiting the concept of not pulling and remaining at my side on all walks, this should translate over to gaiting when I put on her show collar and lead.

Class began with only one hiccup, another dog eyed Hush while his handler was putting on her armband, and saw that opportunity to try and start a fight. Hush was a bit shaken up, but okay. I wish I could say the experience didn’t happen, but that’s part of having animals, things like this happen, and it gave our trainer and excellent opportunity to discuss how important it is to always keep a watchful eye on where your dog is looking. You do not want to let your dog make eye contact with another dog, and you do not want to let your dog get into another dog’s face. In our case, the Dalmatian had been eyeing Hush for quite a few minutes, and pounced on the opportunity of a distracted handler. It was interesting to see, that even in a very controlled environment things like this happen, and it made me shudder at the thought of all of the people who let their dogs pull them to me and don’t ask permission before their dog’s head is right in my dog’s face. It’s always good to remember that just because your dog is great with other dog that doesn’t mean the same is true for the dog on the end of someone else’s leash.

Once our armbands were secured and Hush had a slew of people love on her and comfort her, we began by entering the ring in numerical order. The other bitches that are normally in class were absent, so I was the only even number, and had selected 24 (the last number). Once around the ring, line up, stack your dogs, and as each dog came out for the judge we were instructed on which gaiting pattern to do. So, I might do the triangle, while the person in front of me did down-and-back. This required us to pay attention to what the judge was saying.

As we stood with our dogs stacked in line, the “judge” immediately commented on the vast improvement she had seen in Hush. Not only was she stacking very nicely (YAY! I’m getting the hang of it, slowly, but surely), but she also was much calmer than she has ever been before, and stood patiently while she was looked over. When it was our turn to come out of the line and stack for the “judge” the hard work I’ve put forth all week was very apparent. We were asked to show the bite, and did so effortlessly, like old pro’s. Gaiting went okay. I knew all of the patterns, but Hush was a bit skittish at the far end of the ring (where we had problems last week). We’ve been practicing outdoors, so we’re going to need to find some indoor arenas to get some more inside experience. General socialization and exposure to a variety of places and surfaces will help with this. During the mock-show we even placed 3rd, and were provided with reasoning as to our placing! Beating out some really great dogs and handlers made me especially proud.

There is still a lot to work on, but we’ve come a long way… and I feel like the parts are starting to fall into place.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Three Steps Forward; Two Steps Back: Conformation Class with Hush (Part III)

“Next, we are going to work on our “L” pattern,” the instructor tells us. She pulls someone out to demonstrate, selecting a student who has gone through this class on numerous occasions with her other show dogs. To do the “L” you go down the long side, turn left, down the short end of the ring, turn around, change the hand your leash is in, and come back. The idea behind it is to display your dog to the judge with the dog always closest to the judge. We’re told, this complicated pattern, is usually only used in “group” or “Best In Show” classes (meaning you’ve already won your breed and/or group) or at big shows (like Westminster).

Of course, this student makes it look easy. I watch closely, but I keep missing the tricky part as each classmate goes through the exercise, and I’m still not exactly sure how to change hands with my lead. It’s my turn. Hush stands, somewhat, until she decides to sit.

“Start with your courtesy circle, and then an “L” pattern,” I’m instructed; the wording makes me realize my teacher has now morphed the roles of “judge” and instructor into one, for me, her challenged student. I don’t know how to do a courtesy circle. She shows me.

Flustered, from not knowing how to do my courtesy circle, I take off, and we’re doing okay. Hush is pulling, and moving terribly, but, we’re headed in a straight line, like a person who denies being intoxicated during a sobriety test, we weave left and right, confident in our motor skills, and sure we will not be deemed inebriated… like I said, we’re going in a straight line.

At this point, Hush slams on the breaks, rears up, and tries to run backwards. I’ve been through this before with the many horses I’ve shown. I decide to try to make her work through it. A firm correction on the lead, I look forward, and pull, hoping to encourage her to get back to work. If Hush was a child in a supermarket, she would be the one who wraps their legs around a stationary object, refusing to move, while a temper tantrum erupts. But, she is neither a green pony, nor is she a demon child… she is, a puppy.

“Stop. Come over here.” I halt in my tracks. Gather my lead, and walk over to the instructor. “This is why I do not like puppies this young in my classes.” I want her to have her puppy spirit. This needs to be fun for her. You can ruin a good show dog with just a few bad experiences. Instructor/”The Judge” transforms into Mother Hen, she bends down and wraps her arms around Hush, showering her in affection, praise, and love. She explains to me how and when to encourage vs. correct, and asks me to do it again.

I start, Hush slams on the breaks and refuses to move again, but this time, I soften on the lead, hold a hot dog in front of her nose, and urge her forward with enthusiasm. I get to the end of the ring, and line up, at which point I’m told I forgot to finish the exercise.

Crap. I forgot we were doing the “L”. I somehow get through the exercise, it is as if the rest of the class are trained marshal artists, moving seamlessly through each step, as they kick their way to a black belt. I, on the other hand, am a damsel in distress, I’ve encountered an attacker in an alley, and I throw punches into the air, most of them missing my assailant, my only driving force being my will to live, and in the end, I survive, but I’m horribly bruised and shaken up.

After we are dismissed, I wish my Cruftsbound classmate words of encouragement and congratulations. And head over to my instructor to get last week’s handouts, the ones that covered just about everything that I don’t know, and should. We chat, she reassures me that I’m doing fine, Hush is doing fine, but it is so important that we not crush her spirit… as that can make or break a show dog. And then, I get the compliment I’ve been waiting for, “She is a very nice and extremely promising show puppy.” Which, coming from this woman, is quite a compliment.

I leave class, feeling like I’ve just been through a war zone, alive, but missing some limbs, and my ego isn’t simply bruised, I think it has died. I’m comforted by the after class chat with my instructor, but I feel so inadequate. I am in this class, which is supposed to be for beginners, but I’m the only true beginner that signed up for it, so it was open to more advanced handlers, too. I’ve made a complete fool of myself, and I want so badly to go home and practice, I want so badly to blow everyone out of the water next week in class. But, it’s hard. When you aren’t even really sure what you’re doing, to practice correctly. It’s hard, when you know nothing, and you have a dog that also knows nothing, and has the attention span of a four year old jacked up on Pixie Sticks.

On the drive home, scenes from Toddlers and Tiaras flash through my mind… beautified children, throwing temper tantrums on stage, and mothers, bribing them into submission. As someone who competed in pageants (as an adult), this mental imagery gives me a bit of understanding as to why it is so important not to push a puppy too hard, and to keep things fun. After all, I cringe when I see those toddlers, dressed like street walkers, with haunting eyes and robotic motions on stage… all of the wonder of childhood sucked out of them. I might not have a clue what I’m doing, but I’m trying… and, from now on this will be fun for Hush… I don’t want to put her in a position where she throws another temper tantrum again. We have many years ahead of us, when we have to be serious, but for now, I’m embracing her youthful spirit. I think this is the first of many lessons I will learn on my journey to the breed ring.