Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

The Optimism of Spring

May 18, 2012

This is the first part of a three part series. The Optimism of Spring will be followed by: The Carnage of Summer, and The Wistful Regret of Winter.

We think of a garden “plot” as a bit of scraped earth with seeds carefully sown in a masterfully choreographed dance of nature and intent. The master gardener in the minds eye is a green thumbed wizard who is already planning recipes for the abundance of fruit that will be drawn out of the earth by his planning and labors.

Note that “plot” has more than one useful definition.

For me the garden plot is more a calculating scheme much like the planning of some felony robbery where little effort might return undue and undeserved reward. The plot begins about the end of November when the previous year’s garden plot lays failed, weedy, and unyielding, and waiting to be tilled under.

Some years ago I became an advocate of a scheme called “square foot gardening.” It’s an inviting concept designed to eek vegetables arranged in supposed compatible harmony from every square inch of available earth. I’m only now ready to admit that these gardens are almost impossible to tend, being densely plotted and incredibly labor intensive to weed. It might as well be called “square foot weeding”.

The gardeners’ scheme unfolds with careful calculations of square footage, the “footprint” of an individual plant, and the interval distance required between each and every until a picture unfolds like a pattern on a woven cloth, intricate and geometric. The plan must include engineering of irrigation and the distribution of water so that each plant will get its’ share, and none will be drowned.

My own diabolical plot hatched this past winter is to put a fair share of my garden in containers; and in the tilled earth I will give big expanses between each plant, making them easy to hoe. I will rely on some partnership with the almighty to water my garden when obligations of business and my favorite hobby carry me away from home.

Tending the garden becomes a matter for New Year’s resolutions. The idea of careful maintenance of these plants is in immediate conflict with my working schedule which might have me out of town for weeks on end during my busy season, which is predictably the very busy season of a garden.

I’ll let you know.

Circular Logic

While contemplating the silliness of World Team/International course design, I heard this wheedling voice at the back of my head… “Train, don’t complain.” Okay, fine then.

I immediately took my boy out into the training building and introduced him to a new command. I called it “Circle!” mostly because it has a distinct sound and seemed fitting for a distinct, new skill. The performance I’m trying to teach is for my dog to go around a jump, and take the jump coming towards me. This picture optimistically shows the handler at about 15 or 18′. To be very honest, after a couple of days I’m more at 15 or 18″.

Always uppermost on my mind is training my dog for an independent performance. So these blind/managed approaches might become, simply, blind approaches. The “Blind approach,” to my mind, means simply that there’s no natural or intuitive approach to the next correct obstacle, and so the dog cannot be released to work (which to me is the essence of dog agility.)

If I can actually teach my dog this skill I will not have to manage my dog through these moments of silly course design and can actually release him to work. The first essential rule of distance training is that the dog must understand his job. This then is a new kind of job.

I’ll let you know.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

Teacup Lessons

May 6, 2010

This week I have a couple from St. Louis here for a series of private lessons (and the relaxing vacation part as well). They’ve brought along a pack of Yorkies and so the lessons have resolved to TDAA-style course work.

The real difficulty in the TDAA is in understanding how to move well; and how to find the real estate to move at all. A course like this is bad enough in the big dog venues where many of us want to emulate the lazy handling habits of the big fast dog handlers. On a teacup course lazy inside-the-box handling will be positively deadening.

I’ll often tell my students who’ve managed to move in a particularly uninspiring manner to try again… but avoid at all costs any kind of back crossing strategy. For example:

On this course the handler makes the attack on the course with really basic fast dog handling tactics… behind and pushing. The handler might even take a long lead out to ensure that he starts the course in as lackluster a fashion as possible (black lines). Then the handler draws the dog through jump #4 and crosses behind (red lines). And finally the handler sets up to cross behind the dog on the turn from jump #6 to the collapsed tunnel at #7 (blue lines).

Okay then, if the dog requires a speed cue from the handler (and at least half of them in our sport do)… then the handler couldn’t have failed more utterly at giving that speed cue.

Truly, when the strategy is behind-and-pushing (fast dog handling)… then the handler has to slow down to allow the dog to move forward. And as the handler sets a pace that indicates nobody is in a big hurry… then the dog will be happy to take that cue.

What would it look like if you’re in a hurry? So here we have a handler doing all his movement forward-and-pulling (slow dog handling). And frankly we’re going to ignore the hysterical admonitions of all the numb-nuts in agility and do the whole opening sequence with a series of Blind Crosses.

Note that this handling plan has one more element than the previous. The handler will have to run farther and run faster. The handler will actually have to run. The Blind Cross is a racing movement… and the handler had better be prepared to win the race for it to work. And it will give such a speed cue that many dogs will improve to a remarkable extent in just the first seven obstacles of this course.

On the Home Front

I’ve put a finish to putting in my garden for the year. I’ve added a couple dozen sweet corn plants, and some cucumber and watermelon. Last week I got in a healthy bed of Vidalia onions; red potatoes; three varieties of tomatoes; and three varieties of green peppers; broccoli; and cauliflower. I’ll try to stay after the weeds and grasses this year. I’m looking forward to fresh vegetables right out of my own garden.

On Monday Marsha and I are going to pick up her new pup, a Border Collie who is half-sister to my boy Kory (they share the same sire). And as it happens, we’re going to pick up a pup from the same litter for Marsha’s sister Janice, who is retiring from her teaching job in a couple months. That will be an absolute hoot. Janice probably doesn’t know it yet… but she’s heading for a fun retirement hobby in dog agility.

I’ve been too busy to attend my blog properly. Oh, and I’m way behind on all the free Notebook copies for daily winners of my so-called “Google-proof” trivia contest. I’ll catch up within a few days I’m hoping.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What will Marsha name her new pup? The breeder names her dogs after weather systems or phenomena. WWWSD?

The first correct answer, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the April Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – April 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special04” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Ring My Bell!

March 18, 2010

Okay it was pretty cute in class tonight as Rene’s Tuzi did the teeter and rang a bell that had been placed in easy reach from her 2o2o dismount. It was just a lark… Rene had taught Tuzi to ring a bell for a food treat. So it makes a nice finish for a contact performance. Maybe we need to get it on You-Tube eh?

My boy Kory has a tendency to come off sideways in his 2o2o dismount if I am too far away, lateral or behind. I’ve got this scheme working in the back of my head that I could teach him to ring the bell. Then I could use it on contact dismounts to teach him to come off straight. The bell becomes a secondary reinforcer and frankly a lure to shape the performance that I want.

I’m having a lot of fun with Kory’s directional commands; left and right. It is bizarre to me that at just over one year of age he’s just nailing his lefts and rights… while he hasn’t even learned all the obstacles yet. Yes, I’ve saved the weave poles for last; he doesn’t completely understand the tire; and he treats the table like a trampoline.

Here’s a fun sequence for directional control. On the dismount of the A-frame I’ll layer to the opposite side of the tire and #1/#6 jump. As he gets in the 2o2o I’ll wait a long pregnant moment and then tell him “Right! Tunnel!” Getting him to see the #6 jump is somewhat more problematic. Like I said… it’s bizarre.

Spring Chores

Okay I’m tired tonight. That accounts for my rambling tone. I started the day chopping vines in the woods. Yeah, that’s right. At a little “Y” intersection down below the training building the vines have killed three 40′ pine trees and a large oak. I’ve had to hack my way through the bramble of multi-flora rose and debris to find the mother plant… a sprawling creature with vine boughs bigger around than my biceps. I’ve already been three days cleaning up that bit… and dragging the cut-away to a bonfire arrangement below the training field.

I’m transplanting some of the small trees coming up in that area. I have nearly 50 trees temporarily arranged until I can figure out where I want to move them to. A bunch won’t survive… but where they were, none of them would have lived more than a year or two as there would be no light for them in the understory.

This evening I had a private lesson and two classes and our league game of the week. That was a good break.

Tonight I’ll sleep well. Tomorrow morning I’ll go down and resume my war with nature.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

I have 300ish DVDs in my collection which is arranged in alphabetical order. With what titles does the collection start? You only get one guess.

The first answer to name one of the first four in my collection, posted as a reply to this blog post, wins a free copy of the March Jokers Notebook.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – March 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special03” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.

Crazy Ilze Rides Again

June 20, 2009

There are a very small number of innovators in the creation of new games for dog agility. One of my real favorites is Ilze Rukis who has invented games like Time Warp, Comin’ and Goin’, Cowboy Dog, and Wild West Pinball. Anybody who competes in the TDAA or does JFF League Play (and soon enough C-WAGS CCAP) might recognize most of these games

Now something has come across my desk that is very interesting; another Crazy Ilze game (as I am fond of calling them). The game is SuperDog. SuperDog is a strategic point accumulation game.  In concept it is based on the old PACMAN computer game that if the smiley ate a “power pill”, it could move faster and gobble up things in its path.



This game will be played for the first time ever on June 27, 2009 at the Family Dog Center in La Crosse, WI, a TDAA trial.

The point accumulation period is 50 seconds.  Time starts when the dog crosses any point of the start line at handler’s choice.  Point accumulation ends at 50 seconds with a whistle and the team must cross the finish line to stop time.  Fastest time decides any tie points.


The Power Pill sequence is strategically placed on the field. Scoring is a 1-3-5 system; except when the dog has successfully completed all of the obstacles in the Power Pill sequence.  Then the next four obstacles taken by the dog have a ten fold point value (10 – 30 – 50).  While the Power Pill is in effect, obstacles may be taken back-to-back.  During regular play, obstacles may not be taken back to back.

Once the four obstacles have been taken, the scoring reverts to 1-3-5 until the dog retakes the Power Pill sequence.  Only 1-3-5 points are awarded for Power Pill obstacles.  Power Pill obstacles may not be scored for ten fold values.  If intentionally or unintentionally Power Pill obstacles are taken while the Power Pill is in effect, they count as one of the four obstacles but given only the regular point value (1-3-5).  The Power Pill is in effect only when the three obstacles have been correctly performed.  The Power Pill sequence may be bi‑directional, at the judge’s discretion.  If one of the Power Pill obstacles is a jump and the bar is dropped, then the handler must replace the dropped bar.

No points are awarded for missed contacts, incomplete weaves, or dropped bars, etc.  Non-Power Pill jump bars are not reset.  While the Power Pill is in effect, an attempted obstacle counts as one of the four obstacles even if points are not awarded.

Qualifying Criteria

Games  I:  150 points

Games II:   250 points

Games III:  350 points?

The Hamster Wheel

It’s been quite a haul for me. In the past seven weeks I’ve led six camps, conducted a weekend seminar (complete with three travel days); attended two agility trials; stood 14 evening classes and fun runs; and two bi-monthly mini-clinics. It was completely exhausting. The private camp I conducted this past week was a group from Pittsburgh. They were a lot of fun; and I worked very hard to give them just as much bang for the buck as the first camp of the series some seven weeks ago.

As a consequence of this mad pace of work I’m somewhat behind on my chores. Of course during that time period I reviewed something like 15 weekends of TDAA courses. Some things still have to get done no matter how busy you are. In the same period I’ve adopted a new pup and have been working at training and socializing him. When I get up in the 6:00 ayem I look at the creature staring back at me mirror with his hair standing up on one side of his head… and I’m pretty sure that’s the shape of the persona inside as well.

This week we have the Ohio 4H Teen Dog Experience here at Country Dream. We actually have no obligation to train them or to feed them. They come along with several nearly adult counselors who take care of facilitating all of the activities of the week. We had this bunch here last year. They were superb and appreciative guests. This evening Marsha and I are going to go down to the lower cottage to have dinner with them. That should be fun.

I’ve made a list of all the chores I have to attend to.  This morning I moored the dock on the pond. And I did some weed whacking and a bit of emergency gardening. I also reviewed a suite a TDAA courses by Ilze Rukis. I wish that I could take my pups to that trial. It’s bound to be quite fun.

Upside Down Planter Update

Okay, if you follow along with my BLOG you probably know that I made my own upside-down tomato planters. Just to test the concept I had three different varieties of tomatoes; half of them I put into the ground, and half of them into the upside down planters.

Well, the upside-down planters have been very disappointing. The plants that I put into the ground are like 10 times bigger than those in the hanging planters. What I decided to do is move them into the garden so they can catch back up with those that I started in the ground. I used a pair of tin snips to open up the milk carton hangers. In so doing I discovered a very interesting thing… and I understand now why they perform so poorly.

When you first put the tomato plants into the planters you’ll see this remarkable feat as the plant turns around to face up into the sun. What you don’t actually get to see is what happens to the roots. God has declared that roots go down; and so every one of these plants had an awful root ball choking around the main stem of the plant. It didn’t matter how much dirt I had covering the initial root system… because the roots weren’t climbing up into the soil at all, because they were trying to go down, as I said.

I was pleased with myself that I beat the Topsy Turvy tomato planter price of about $9.00 a planter or similar vertical tomato planter schemes that cost more in the $5.00 range. Now my only real satisfaction is that I know it’s a bum concept and I’m glad I never shelled out any significant dollar amount.

The only way it could really work is to put a very rich food nutrient into the planters to that the ball of roots can feed in a hydroponic manner. But you know, if you were going to do it that way… why not invest in an honest hydroponic planter?


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: And Check out my new publication the Idea BookAgility Training for a Small Universe available at