Digging In with the DesMan

It’s apparent that I’m absolute crap at writing about my recovery from fusion surgery and Des’s debut in agility.  I have a reason, but not a very good one.  Each time I’ve sat down to write about the positive strides I’m making in my return to normality from getting four screws installed in my back, I worry I’m risking the wrath of the cosmic monsters and I’ll experience some epic joint setback.  So…I’ve been quietly drinking gallons of milk, sweating and swearing my way through rehab exercises and getting out there to play with the DesMan as often as possible.  As if I could resist this face??

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013.  Photo by Randy Gaines.

Desmond, South Jordan, UT, May 2013. Photo by Randy Gaines.

When my husband was on the Helena Hotshots their crew motto was “Opera non Verba“, which loosely translates to “shut up and dig“.  So, following that wisdom, since I can’t seem to find the words to explain how Des and I are doing, I will simply show you.

As you’re about to see…he and I are DIGGING this agility thing!!

For those who can’t view the video with music, here’s the same video in a version that should work for you.  I hope you enjoy!

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Got Rubber?

Around my trialling neighborhood, rubber contacts aren’t the norm (yet).  While I think hope like mad that rubber will eventually come this way, it’s not currently on most of the equipment we trial on.  With Des’s running contacts, I considered that training on rubber might make him think he has traction in places he won’t on sanded wood and could launch himself the wrong way when he hit the gas.  But in the end, I went with rubber for two reasons:

1) I wanted the dogwalk that Des runs over most often to be as cushioned and safe as I could make it.

2) My DW sits outside in the sun and snow all year round.  After six months, my well painted and sanded plywood ramps were already showing cracks.  My DW frame is beautifully made (thanks, Tom!), but there’s really nothing anyone can do about the quality of ‘marine grade’ plywood these days.  I’m just happy I’m not trying to build a boat!

So in the fine tradition of peer pressure (tell your friends!), I hope the following how-to may take some of the mystery out of sticking down that rubber and that traction-riffic contacts could become the norm in our agility neighborhood too.  (come on, everybody’s doing it!)

I chose pre-made dogwalk skins from Rubber On the Run.  Why?  Dunc has run on  NADAC spec rubber belting, rubber granules glued to an epoxy base, and rubber skins, and they all have good grip.  For me, the granules were out…I’ve messed with epoxy a time or two and it’s easy to get it really wrong (reference above boat building fears...I had a bad experience)!   I wanted a flat, non-sticky-uppy surface that was sealed firmly to the plank on all edges.  It was a bonus that I think the skins are pretty, and who doesn’t love a pretty contact obstacle?   You can get a kit and form the skins yourself, but that was more than I wanted to take on, skill, time or garage space-wise.

Enough about the why – let me get to the how…at least in reference to the skin type rubber.  First off, my plywood topped DW didn’t have slats.  If you have slats, I’d strongly recommend taking them off to sand your wood base as flat as possible.  Trying to cut and fit rubber sections between wooden slats – and get the rubber tight to the wood joints – would be a nightmare.  If you want slats, the skins have a slat option.  More details on this later.

First, sand the boards as flat as possible so the rubber will have a uniform surface to adhere to.  If your plywood is warped at all, it might be better to just replace it.  I used a palm and belt sander.  The belt sander did the majority of the work, and the palm helped get the edges and areas around the screw heads.  When you buy sandpaper (and you’ll want LOTS of it),  find a grit as coarse as your sanded surface.  Then choose one coarser than that…it will look like paper with small rocks glued to it.  Just a warning if you’ve not used a belt sander before…before firing it up, HANG ON.  Holy crap, the darn thing took me for a ride the first time I pulled the trigger.   I used to run a chain saw at work, and I think that sander called the shots in a way that no Stihl ever did.

A good sanding will look like the center plank in the photo – some paint and sand base remaining, but a much smoother and glue-friendly surface overall.

DW1

I then gave the ramps a couple of coats of paint each to seal the wood.  A small foam roller worked well.  If you need to adjust your contact length, this is the time to do it.  In my case, I was changing from 42″ to 36″ contacts, so painted the top and sides of the wood to match.

DW2

Gluing:  I followed the manufacturer’s advice and bought the “Wozzit” glue instead of using a rubber cement type glue.  The huge plus is that the Wozzit glue allows for some adjustments once the rubber is stuck down…I could move the entire rubber sheet back and forth to make sure I had it on straight and lined the edges up carefully.  Once the rubber cement glue adheres to the rubber skin, you’re literally stuck with what you’ve got.  I can’t even stick a decal on my car window without messing it up…I was NOT going to screw around with a giant sheet of rubber!

The instructions that were included weren’t bad, but while they mention you’ll need clamps, they don’t mention how many clamps.  You’ll need a lot.  Fewer if you don’t have the skin with rubber slats, but if you do, you’ll need 1-2 clamps per section between rubber slats and some wood pieces to put between the rubber and the clamp.  What worked best was to spread glue on the ramp in foot long sections, unrolling the rubber and clamping as we went.  When we ran out of clamps, we stopped gluing for the day.  The next day, we continued where we left off, with no problems.  I’d imagine an A Frame could be done in a similar fashion…if you don’t use contact cement, a couple people could unroll/glue as they went, and adjust the edges as needed.

Here’s a picture of our gluing operation in action; note all the high tech devices that were employed to weight the clamped wood down.  It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.  Where ever the glued wood was in contact with the rubber, it stuck, but a few small areas near the edges didn’t get direct adhesion and weren’t stuck.  The next day, I shoved a knife blade with glue into those spots, re-clamped and viola!  Perfect!  One more tip – it was a little cold when we glued, so we put the glue bottle in a bucket of hot water.  The glue flowed and spread beautifully.

No soup for you!

No soup for you!

And here’s what it looked like when done.  The rubberized plank on the right still needs trimming.  We did that with a builder’s utility knife, but I’ve also seen some pretty handy trimming on YouTube with an old electric carving knife, if anyone can convince their Mom to part with that ’70’s must-have.

DW4And done!  The planks look beautiful, the rubber surface is almost flat on top.

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I’d mentioned slats earlier.  I’m not a huge fan of slats, but decided to get them because it’s required by the majority of the US and international venues, and didn’t want Des’s first taste of slat to come in a trial.  The rubber slats are formed out of the same rubber material, and literally fused to the surface of the contact rubber.  There are no gaps between the rubber surface and rubber slat, and the slats have a small bit of give, just like the surface itself.

DSC_2141And how do the boys like the rubber?  Des demonstrates below.  Well, maybe that’s not the best picture to illustrate paw grip…now that I think about it.

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I can’t address longevity yet, but upkeep in my sand field means I break out the broom to sweep it off every now and then.  It’s sat through quite a lot of snow and two weeks of sub-teen (and zero) temps this winter, and the edges remain where I stuck them.  We’ll see how it handles the thermal nastiness of summer, but so far, rubber does indeed rock!

Road to Nowhere? Who’s Car Are We Taking?

For the past year, Desmond and I have been taking online classes from Silvia Trkman.   We began with some puppy Tricks, went on to our first Foundations class, spent most of the summer Running Contacts and just yesterday finished our second round of Foundations.  It’s taken a buttload of hours, we trashed two pairs of shoes and countless holee rollers along the way.  Before my surgery we hardly missed more than a day of training in a row, and I was back on the field two weeks after, having interpreted the Dr’s direction to “walk daily” quite loosely.  Thankfully, my husband understands when I run outside at all times of the day muttering things like “diabolical weave entries” and leave old envelopes with scribbled sequences in random places around the house.

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Des and I aren’t done by far, but finishing this class made me reflect on how far both Des and I have come in the last year.  And how many MB of disk space I’ve devoted to video of the speedy merlie.  (I now have a 1 TB hard drive!  A terabyte!!  That seems like insanity to someone who still has floppy disks in a drawer somewhere.)  And…I just dated myself.  Awesome.

After sorting through that digital pile of video, I put together a compilation of our work since last summer.   For anyone following my long overdue fusion posts, all the shots with snow were post-surgery.   Make sure your speakers are on and I hope you enjoy!

Rock on, little DesMan.  You are a joy each and every day.

Weaves…Contacts…and a Deadline!

When my surgery date was set, I had five loooong weeks to wait.  That day, I set a goal of getting Desmond to full height on his dogwalk and closing Des’s channel weaves completely.  While I didn’t want to rush him, for me, a deadline is unbeatable motivation.  As a serious bonus, it’s provided a welcome distraction full of happy puppy thoughts and given me a reason to get out there Every.  Single.  Day.   As if I could resist this face…

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There’s nothing like knowing I’m going to be a chair jockey for a couple + months to motivate me to get outside and run.  And in the last five weeks, that’s exactly what we’ve done!

Des and I began working weaves in earnest around his first birthday.  I’d happened across the channel method as a part of the online classes I’m taking, and decided to give it a shot.  I worked him a couple times a week for a few months, succeeding at some gnarly entires while gradually closing the channel, yet leaving it open enough not to actually make him weave a lot.  In November, I began to close about an inch a week, and he weaved his first completely closed set right after Thanksgiving.  Since then, he’s blown me away with his ability to hit entries…at speed or with the meanest angles I can dream up.

And his running dogwalk?  Each time I’d raised the height of his dogwalk in the previous month, he never flinched, adjusting quickly to maintain his lovely striding.  That is, until we hit 45″; a mere three inches short of full height.  All of a sudden, things fell apart.  His strides became shorter, and he missed the contact over and over.  I pondered what to do. I promised myself he was *not* broken, no matter how heavy the sinking feeling in my stomach.  He needed to build back up his confidence.  With Duncan, I would have dropped the height and built back up a little less quickly.  But this is Des, who charges at most things like his fur is on fire.  So, I decided to take my cues from Des and do the same.  For several days, I ran alongside the dogwalk like a madwoman, making a heck of a racket, and most likely worrying the neighbors and scaring the wildlife.

But it worked.  Des got his striding back and began to fly.  A week later, we raised it to FULL HEIGHT!  

More than six months.  Learning to see his stride.  Learning to reward a good stride.  Des learning to adjust his own stride.  Dragging myself out before sunrise to beat the heat, rushing home and running in my work clothes to catch the last few minutes of daylight…it’s been a long journey.  One that’s been truly worth it.  What?  Video?  Of course!

We aren’t done yet…we still need to work turns, but getting to full height on the dogwalk and competition weave poles were two large and rewarding hurdles.  Ones that will help carry me through the upcoming months of forced idleness.  While I may be watching Die Hard (hey, it’s a Christmas movie…) or Downton Abbey reruns, I’m sure a small part of my mind will be be doing mental handsprings over what Des has done.  And looking oh, OH so forward to running him the moment I’m able to do so again.

Yippie ki-yay….

And….we’re back!

Have you ever looked at the calendar in July and realized it’s already October?  Well, maybe not, but that’s how fast our summer blazed by.  Quite literally.  This girl is not a fan of 100 degree temps and is glad to welcome hats, jackets and hot cocoa weather.

So.  Without further ado…gratuitous puppy shot!  Oh wait, he’s not really a puppy, anymore.  Okay, <ahem> gratuitous Dogwalk shot!  Oh, dogwalk, how do my Merlies love thee?

DesMan or SuperMan? You decide.

If that didn’t give it away, I’ll be blunt…  Desmond is following his older brother’s paw prints and is learning running contacts.  While Des is not a big boy in the doggy world, he’s a lot bigger than Dunc, and strides like he expects to go into flight.  But since I enjoy a challenge (and banging my head against hard objects) I decided to give running contacts with Des a shot.  Holy guacamole, Batman, this kid’s got wings!

4.5 months in the making…in the spirit of “dude, pics or it didn’t happen“, here you go:

Look mama, no feet!

Today was a banner day.  We’ve spent the last two weeks learning how to glue rubber onto a dogwalk.  It involved several days of sanding (belt sanders are tools sent straight from hell), and then several more days of gluing.  My fingers may never be the same again since a combo of sandpaper and glue has removed my fingerprints, but we debuted the finished dogwalk today.  (and maybe my life of crime??)  First time with slats, first time with rubber, and first time at 33″.  This is what Des thought of his newly improved contact:

I think that’s a big “Whoo Hoo” from the DesMonster.

 

The Little Dog That Could…Fly.

It has been a long couple weeks in DuncanDes land, as all of us are adjusting to a life without out little Frenchie girl.  But, if Lucy taught us anything, it is to live life to its fullest, to get out of the armchair and into the yard (or even better, the mountains or canyons)…to snork in the flowers and crawl in the new grass, and above all – love your pups and people as much as you can.  Lou, we miss you so much, but you as always, would be right.

Would you like to share your supper?

So on the note of doing things you love, how about an update of Dunc’s Running Contacts?

Image by Great Dane Photos, 2012, used with permission.

Duncan, Desmond, Angus and I spent the weekend at the BARC Spring NADAC trial this past weekend.  I couldn’t think of a better place to be, and NADAC courses are beautifully made for pushing the speed on our running contacts.  That was our goal for the weekend:  Fast.  Happy.  And Confident.  I’d say we were successful.

Duncan and I have been working on his running contacts for about a year now.  I don’t admit to being the most diligent at working these throughout our trialling season last year, so it’s been a long road.  Last fall, I started to see progress, and began to push him in trials, moving from a barely managed run-through-the-contact-please-don’t-jump hope for the best method to the independent contacts in this weekend’s video.   We’re still not done, still have yet to work full height at home, but through trial and error (and a pile of cookies) he’s learning to find his striding on his own.  And as a result, instead of Shy Dunc, we have Super Confident Fly over the Apex Duncan, showing more speed throughout the entire course.

While true running contacts aren’t very common in my area yet, I know the word is out and there are several good agility folks contemplating training them.  While I am in no way an expert, I have whacked away at this project for many moons, and have learned a thing or two along the way.  In my finite wisdom, here is what I have figured out:

1)  Running contacts, true running contacts (with no management) are a lot of time and effort.  Prepare for many months of foundation training, trial and error, and a steep learning curve no matter what method you choose.  Two on/two off is a heck of a lot clearer as a criteria, but if you have good reasons, RCs can be the right choice.

2) If retraining a dog who had stopped contacts, prepare for failure in the ring.  If you are currently trialling, you’ll lose some Qs while you both figure it all out.

3) Running contacts are not just for World Team competitors.  I chose RCs because Duncan found stopping at the bottom of the contacts to be a real bummer, and I wanted to find a better way to keep his motivation high.  We are learning Sylvia Trkman’s method, because she recognizes RCs can be highly motivating for tentative dogs and drivey dogs alike.  I think this may be the case for all the other great RC training methods out there, but Sylvia is highly supportive of all speeds and size of dog, which was important to me.

4) During early training, a pivotal moment was being told we didn’t need RCs because Dunc wasn’t yet confident enough to run the contacts full out.  Nothing digs me in deeper than being told I can’t do something, and I’m even more stubborn when told Dunc can’t do it.  Inspiration can be found in random places…take it, run with it, and believe in your dog.

5) No matter what criteria you choose for your contacts, if you believe it’s right for you and your dog as a team, then go for it.  Deciding to abandon a 2o2o and train a RC was a leap of faith for Dunc and me, and maybe I was just stubborn enough, and Dunc trusting enough to make it work.  We still have a ways to go, but so far, so good.

Photo by Randy Gaines

It’s been a heck of an adventure, full of jumps and leaps and finally, YES finally, feet down a little more often than not. I couldn’t have chosen a better teammate to learn with.  Duncan is truly the Little Dog That Could.