Here in Phoenix, Arizona, this is the time of the year when the cacti in the desert uproot themselves, come into town and hope the dogs mistake them for fireplugs. (That's a joke.) As I write this, birds are sitting on the palm fronds outside my window, beaks open, wings raised, trying to cool off. (That's a fact.)
All this week, the high temperatures here have ranged between 110 and 118 degrees. Generally they hit triple digits before 10 a.m. Bravo! and I train outdoors, and we haven't missed a beat.
Unlike cities all over the rest of the United States, Phoenix has never had an indoor training/showing facility that even comes close to meeting the need. A sparkling, air-conditioned facility should have been built years ago. The club that most logically should have picked up that ball and run with it is Phoenix Field and Obedience. But . . . well, if you've read my books you know. The mere suggestion of such an undertaking would have thrown them into a catatonic state.
The shining example I like to cite (and make no mistake, there are many others) is the pride of the Queen City Dog Training Club (Cincinnati). They got their act together several years ago and built a heated/air-conditioned facility with 9,600 square feet of training/showing space. (Check it out at www.qcdtc.org/building1.htm. A few years ago the people at the Queen City Dog Training Club sent me information on how their project was put together -- the land acquisition, the financing, etc. It's quite doable. Just not here.
Anyhow, we train outdoors, year 'round. And you should know, right at the outset, that never -- not once! in 21 years! -- have I had a dog react negatively to the heat. Why? Because I don't let it happen. I'm ultra-careful.
I guess the worst has passed. When I first started competition obedience training (bumbling?) with my Novice A golden retriever Honeybear, we trained on a polo field at Paradise Valley Park . . . in mid-afternoon . . . without a lick of shade. I'd let the engine run on my Chevy van and turn the air conditioner all the way up. I didn't realize how lucky I was; that van could sit out there running like that in 115 degrees for several hours and never overheat. We'd train for a few minutes, then Honeybear would spend a few minutes in the van cooling off and getting a drink.
My next van wasn't so accommodating. It would quickly overheat. So I had had it less than a month when I coughed up in excess of $6,000 to install an auxiliary generator and air conditioner. Then I spent the next five years coping with chronic generator and air conditioner problems.
When I brought my present vehicle -- a Chevrolet Express van -- I took it to Quality Van, a conversion company in Scottsdale, to have the interior outfitted just right to meet my needs, and to have an air conditioner and generator installed. The shop foreman, knowing how I planned to use it, said, "I have something you might try that'll save you a lot of money. We've installed them on police cars and ambulances, vehicles that sit idling for long periods." What he was suggestig would cost less than $300 versus some $7000 for the auxiliary air-conditioning system. Sure! Why not try it?
The device, which consists of a small control installed on the front of the dash, is called an Advanced Fast Idle System. It's manufactured by Intermotive Vehicle Controls in Colfax, California. The most recent information I have (and that information is several years old) is that the company recommends it be installed only in Fords and Chevrolets.
It's quite simple to operate. The vehicle must be in park and the parking brake must be engaged. Then you start the engine, press the yellow button and you're in business. If the engine temperature begins to creep up, the fast idle system kicks in. The engine revs up to 1,500 RPMs and holds that speed for 15 minutes while the engine temperature drops.
This is my fourth summer of dependence on that device, and it hasn't failed me. Some have said, "But you're burning all that gasoline running your van's big engine instead of using much less gas to power a small generator." To which I respond that $7,000 will buy a lot of gasoline, to say nothing of the repair bills I had last time around.
So much for the technical aspects. The two key words essential to training outdoors here in our summer blast furnace are shade and early. Which is not as simple as it sounds. This isn't Seattle or Vermont. Shade is a scarce commodity around here.
There's a park about ten minutes from our house with an abundance of early morning shade. That shade holds until mid-morning. Trouble is, our training area gets flood irrigation every other Monday from mid-April to mid-October. The area stays flooded for about five days, making it semi-dry by the following Sunday. Which knocks me out of my training spot of choice for most of every other week.
There are other parks with adequate shade. But they have high-pressure sprinklers that go off early in the morning. How long they run is a function of the water pressure in that area. If the pressure is high, the sprinklers finish quickly. If it's low, they run forever . . . while the sun relentlessly rises. In any case, on a hot Phoenix summer morning, for quite a while after the sprinklers have run, the area is like a sauna -- not fit for man nor beast.
On many of the flood irrigation mornings I try to do what I can in the backyard, early. I can practice just about everything there except gloves and directed jumping. That's the problem with having progressed to Utility, your practice setup becomes much more complex.
The factors I've mentioned above are just a few of the dynamics that come into play as one tries to train outside in the desert in the summertime. And then there are the foibles of the human contingent.
We have a Sunday morning training group. It's been in existence for, oh, probably 15 years. From October through April we call it the Wow Wob Bassackwards Utility Group. On May 1 it morphs into the Dog Daze Gang. Nothing changes but the name.
Well, that's not altogether true. Late in June the temperatures become so brutal that we gather for Dog Daze at 6:30 a.m. That's when we experience attrition. And it's not caused by the heat. It's caused by a lack of motivation, absence of commitment. By an unwillingness to roll out of bed early and go train.
It's interesting to note that the three of us who are still cheerfully gathering on Sunday mornings at 6:30 -- Alice Blazer, Mindy Masch and I -- are the three who have the most titles -- by far! -- among the members of the group. We've figured out that Woody Allen was right: Ninety percent of success is showing up. Even when it means rolling out of bed at 4:30 on Sunday morning.