Monday, December 8, 2014

Manhattan Bound

Wow.  Been a while, hasn't it?

I've opened up this window several times since the last time I posted, but I sort of never really knew where to begin.  So much has happened, both in my life and in Marge's, that finding a clear topic to post about was a struggle I just didn't want to have.

So what better way to pick up than to bring up a brand spankin' new endeavor for both Marge and I?

Marge's entry was accepted in to the Westminster Kennel Club's 2nd Annual Masters Agility Championship.  A big deal for our team.  A VERY big deal.

Let me preface this by saying that Marge was not hand picked or specifically selected for this competition.  Something that drove me off the wall last year was the incorrect notion, being circulated intentionally or unintentionally, that dogs were hand picked for this.  Nope.  Marge's entry got there before some other dogs' entries, and therefore, we are entered in the trial.  She is no better than any other dog out there.


It's a big deal for us because...

  1. We've never competed in a tournament of any kind
  2. We need to travel to Manhattan, the busiest, most bustling borough of New York City (read: holy crap we're leaving our mostly-suburban Staten Island paradise)
  3. We have a shot at being on national television - which is just freakin' cool.  
When Marge's bid for Nationals last year was cut short by too few points and an injury, I decided we needed a different "big" agility goal to work on.  It seems that Marge may not have the mental or physical stamina to be on a rigorous trial schedule, and I certainly neither have the enthusiasm nor the wallet, either. Maybe it was just going to be getting titles.  Or maybe it could be Westminster.

And that's about all I'll say about that.  I could go in to all of deliberating I did in deciding to enter, but that's boring and excessive so I won't. Don't worry.  If I get on some sort of posting schedule again, I am not going to sit here and continually write about how starry-eyed I am about this competition because that would be annoying, childish and hypocritical.  But like I said, bringing this up gives me a place to start.

What I do intend to write about is Marge's agility progress, as I do think we need to kick things up a notch for the next 8 weeks or so.

A short, dirty list of things we need to work on most are:
  1. Wraps
  2. Backsides
  3. Across the box
  4. Front crosses of every size, shape and kind
  5. Nasty weave entrances
We had our first agility practice in quite a few weeks last night.  I think we ran really, really well.  Marge always runs well when we move indoors for the winter, so I'm hoping that further practice will help to tighten things up.

I also may venture from the comfort of AKC to try UKI, a new, different flavor of agility with an international flair.

So, that's where we're at.  There's lots of other exciting things that have happened, like Marge performing at public demos, making equine friends, and adjusting to apartment life.  Some not so exciting things have happened, too, some relevant to this blog and some not. Hopefully, I'll be able to hit a couple of those topics, too, at some point.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Draining Me

I probably alluded to this in previous posts, but today, it really hit me.

The truth of the matter is that agility sucked the life right out of me this year.

I wound up attending a lot less trials than I originally anticipated -- a couple canceled by the host clubs, a few scratched off the calendar due to Marge's injury, and others doomed from the reality of my ever-shrinking checking account. But, despite the fact that we didn't trial nearly every weekend as I had planned, it felt like agility was always on my mind. When does the next trial open? Where's my entry confirmation? What hotel are we staying at? What time are my runs? Where are Nationals going to be? Am I going to have enough points for Nationals?

Nationals, Nationals, Nationals. That's all this year became to me. A race to the top... or to the bottom, depending on how you look at it.

Suffice it to say, my thinking has changed quite drastically. It is quite clear that we are not going to AKC Nationals and quite frankly, I'm happy about it. I've stopped entering trials just for the sake of padding my calendar.. because as I was nonchalantly filling every weekend with agility, I was shutting other people and things out.

I'm over it.

As of right now, I'm entered in a grand total of three days of agility with Marge for the rest of 2013. That may go up by a day or two after I enter another trial or two. But that's it. As much as I enjoy agility trials, spending all eight weekend days of a month in a park (or planning to do so) means not getting to keep up friendships (and many of my friends live far away, so the opportunity to see them is not always there), not getting to horseback ride (because I can't really ride during the week with my school schedule the way it is), and not having adequate time for my relationship and my family.

It also means having to scrounge for money for things that probably matter a lot more, since, let's face it, I work one day a week at a not-so-high paying job and have a little extra cash from my newspaper route.

I had fallen in to a holding pattern -- every weekend was meant to be spent doing agility. It cannot be that way. Especially when it was being done for all of the wrong reasons.

I'm in no rush to go back to agility, honestly.  I don't yearn for it right now, after almost a month of my dog not running, as I thought I would. In fact, I'm thinking more about other things - like going hiking with Marge. And taking a vacation.. finally getting my ass on an airplane.

I'm not giving up agility. Not even close. But, I am scaling back. Trialing less seems like the way to go for a while. It'll help Marge's body catch back up, help my wallet catch up, and help ME see that there are other things in my life that need my attention.

For those that do have the time, money, and correct attitude (and the correct DOG) for heavy trialing: that's fine. Nothing wrong with that. This post isn't supposed to be about how heavy trialing is a bad thing.  It isn't. I've just discovered (the hard way) that I am not in that position at this point in time. And that's OK.

And that doesn't mean Marge is, in any way, shape or form going to be robbed of having fun. No. I want to start to do other things with her in addition to agility. Like taking lots more walks. Going on hikes. Maybe have her accompany me on an overnight non-agility trip somewhere. Maybe dabble in other dog sport activities, too. To be perfectly honest, she doesn't seem to be too terribly bothered by not running agility.  Even if I stopped agility altogether (which I'm not), she wouldn't be the kind of dog that'd be really upset about it.

For me, the phrase "I can't, I have a dog show" isn't how it has to be all of the time. There can be balance between in my life. And here's to finding that balance.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nine Days to Go

It's been exactly one week since Marge's appointment.  We have 9 more days to go until our next appointment on the 30th.

She seems to be doing pretty well.  I no longer notice any significant limp.  However, I'm not sure if she's 100% sound yet on that left front shoulder.  Between the fact that her activity is limited (which means I can't truly assess her gait) and the idea that I'm basically looking for something to be wrong, I'm convinced that she is still slightly off.  But, I may just be putting that idea in my head.

We've been very good about following the rules, which include:

  • Two short leash walks a day
  • Avoiding the stairs completely (except for the stairs in to and out of my house)
  • No strenuous activity like running or jumping
  • Shoulder stretches
Of course, Marge occasionally has a mind of her own.  While I wasn't home yesterday, I found out that she ran laps around my house right before dinner time.  I definitely was not happy to hear that. However, I've taken a decently active dog and dropped her activity level to basically nil.. it's to be expected that she is going to be raring to go.  

My mind continues to wander to our next appointment and what will come of it. Hopefully, I'll be told that she is looking good and can start a strengthening program. However, if I'm told that the resting phase of this is not yet over, I'm not sure what I'll do.  I'll likely get another opinion (probably my own regular vet's opinion first).  Obviously, we may not be back to really strenuous activities like agility for a bit longer, but I think Marge will go nuts if we can't at least add back in some long walks. 

My goal for Marge in the upcoming weeks is actually not what you might expect it to be.  What I would really like most is for Marge to be able to go on a hike with me by sometime in October.  Rather than overload on agility trials, I'd really like to spend most of my free time in October with Marge hiking, with some trials scattered here and there. Fingers crossed...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Two Torturous Weeks

We're a couple of days in to this now, and Marge seems to be dealing pretty well so far with her limited activity protocol.  She is spending lots of time in her crate by choice.  I think she's actually enjoying having it up on the main floor.  When not in her crate, she mills around the house pretty calmly. She is on a muscle relaxer called Robaxin, which may be helping our cause, as sedation is a possible side effect of the drug.  Still, I wonder if after a week or so, she'll start getting stir crazy!

I, on the other hand, am not dealing with the situation as well as my dog is.  I am really missing her! The weather has been so beautiful the past couple of days and it plain old sucks that I can't take her for some long walks.  I'm trying to make sure that I spend other types of quality time with her instead, like sitting outside with her or brushing her.  We also practiced "watch me" and "touch" today, since they are two behaviors that don't really require any physical movement.

I also worry about how much deconditioning will take place over the next two weeks - muscles very quickly begin to atrophy when not being used, and thought two weeks isn't an extremely long time, I still think it's significant.

My final worry is how well my family will continue to adhere to our protocol.  My dad took Marge for a short walk today, and though it was only a short walk (within our time limits), I can't really know for sure how fast or slow he had her walk.

As you can tell, I'm worried all around, as I tend to be with anything involving my dog! The next two weeks cannot go by fast enough.

In the meantime, here is a picture of Marge and Arrow sitting by the cornfields in Quakertown, PA last weekend.  Hopefully I'll get a chance soon to write about what may have been Marge's final agility weekend for a little while.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rally, Rehab, Reflection

Prior to this whole shoulder-iliopsoas fiasco, Marge finished her Rally Novice title (finally) in AKC Rally.  If you recall from her past rally days, most of her time in the ring was in APDT Rally, so it took us quite a while to finally finish the RN title that I knew she could get if I was willing to spend the money on the entry fees!

We had a Rally trial at our training building last Friday night.  Marge has trained very limitedly in Rally over the past year and a half or so, so I'm very happy with our 4th place and score of 97 for her third qualifying score, despite the fact that she is trained through Rally Excellent.

Here's Marge with her loot.. including an adorable stuffed walrus that I can't wait for her to be able to play with.

Perhaps most exciting about the night was the fact that a whole bunch of my Novice A rally students went in to the ring for the first time - and qualified!  I've been teaching dog training classes for a few years, but nothing has made me more proud than helping these teams get in to the ring.  Here I am below with all of my Rally newbies :-)

As for Marge's first night on a restricted schedule - she's doing okay so far.  She had no issues sleeping in her crate, and was loose in the house earlier today with access to her crate (and lots of pillows blocking her favorite spot on the couch).  Luckily for me, she seems to be seeking out her crate to sleep, so I'm pretty confident she won't jump up on the couch, especially with the pillows there to deter her.  Still, when no one is home for a long stretch of time, she'll probably be crated.

She gets to go on two 10-minute leash walks a day, which I'm sure is going to help both of our sanity a little bit.

When I am home, she is glued to me.  The next couple of weeks are going to be all about my life revolving around my dog and her care - which, honestly, isn't so hard, since my life has pretty much revolved around her since I brought her home.

I AM worried about starting school again on Tuesday, since I'll be gone for many hours at a time a couple of days a week and will have to rely on my family members to make sure Marge gets out of the crate but doesn't break precautions.  I'm hoping that my classes will end early and that I'll have some time in between to stop home and check on things.

Her limp is not completely gone yet, but seems to have improved, so hopefully we're on the right track and will be move out of the resting phase on August 30.

Hopefully, there will be a lot of learning from this experience - not only learning from a veterinary/rehabilitation standpoint, but also an adjustment in attitude, too.  Because of how mostly normal she is now, it is so easy for me to forget that this dog, 5 years ago, growled at any one who approached her, could not function in a variety of settings and sure as heck wouldn't be comfortable sleeping in hotels or RVs or near other dogs and people.

At this point, she has both of her Masters titles in agility, several Rally titles, and an obedience title, too.  When I started this journey with her, I never expected any of that. She never owed me a damn thing to begin with and certainly owes me nothing now.  Every time I go in to the ring with her, regardless of the result, I need to remember that.  Yes, I have goals, but my biggest goal needs to always remain, first and foremost, letting my dog have the fun that she was denied during that year of puppyhood that she spent locked in a crate.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


My sweet MargeDog is hurt.  Last Monday, after playing really rough and then laying in a crate for a couple of hours, she came up gimpy on her left front leg.  She seemed to work out of it for the most part, but I didn't do too much with her the next day in agility class, just as a precaution.

She seemed fine the rest of the week, so I ran her at agility on Thursday and then at the trial this weekend.  No weave pole or contact issues.. and she was running really fast.

This Monday, I noticed she was lame when she got up off of the couch. She seemed to work out of it somewhat, but not completely. When it continued in to Tuesday and today, I decided to get in the car and take her to a canine PT.  My regular vet knows nothing about soft tissue injuries.. so there was no point wasting time and money going there.

As it turns out, she's having spasms in her left shoulder (one of her Teres muscles, to be more specific). Her iliopsoas (hip flexors) are also ouchy.  Basically, her body is telling us to slow down... let her rest.

For the next two weeks, Marge will be on very restricted activity.  No running or jumping.  Leash walks will be limited to ten minutes, twice a day. She'll also be sleeping in a crate instead of on the couch (since she isn't allowed to jump up on the couch).  We'll also be doing some shoulder and back stretches.

She won't be running any agility for at least a couple of weeks.  We had some trials lined up for early-mid September.. those are likely a no-go.  Early October is a better bet.

She'll be re-evaluated on August 30.  If I do a good job keeping her quiet these next couple of weeks, we may be able to start her on some exercises then to get her back in shape.  One activity she might be partaking in is the underwater treadmill.  That should be interesting..

She was decently well behaved while she was there.. a bit wriggly, particularly when she was being lasered, but she was in no way aggressive, just extremely scared.  My poor girl.

I'm really sad that this is happening because I hate that my dog is hurt.  I also can't help but wonder if I could have prevented it with more proactive treatment.

Keep your fingers crossed for us that Marge can get back to normal after a couple of weeks...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bad Energy

Agility trials are stressful places.  People often forget basic manners because they are so focused on what they're doing with their dog.  In my experience, it's not uncommon for someone to walk away mid-conversation, let a door slam on someone behind them, or cut the line while waiting for course maps or armband stickers.  Some of it is pure rudeness, and some of it is the result of inattention and stress.

A certain level of crazy is to be expected at an agility trial, and to get mad at all of the things I've mentioned above would leave a person in a full-out rage at any trial they attended.  However, this past weekend totally exceeded any level of bad energy that I've encountered thus far.  It was one of those weekends that left me feeling really discouraged and disillusioned with agility. And I HATE when that happens.

Every year, this trial has been a particularly noisy, close-quartered trial. I knew that when I entered, but because I had been there before (and Marge had run successfully there before), I thought nothing of entering. This year, however, it seemed infinitely worse.  It started in the parking lot (where there are barely enough spots for the number of cars at a 990-run agility trial), continued to the crating room (where people took up extra space by laying down more mats than they needed to), and reached its peak near the rings.

There were some administrative issues with the trial -- people being entered in the wrong classes, stewards using the wrong gate sheets for a class -- and I think it made people go crazy.  There was so much rudeness and franticness that it made the trial very unpleasant.

The dogs definitely felt it.  I saw dogs that hardly ever have any major issues really crash and burn in the ring.  My own dog was not immune to it, either, though I think that at least some of her issues were caused by me getting miffed about all of the craze around me rather than worrying about handling her.

Our first Jumpers run we really blew.  My handling was poor and she was high as a kite.  The Jumpers ring seemed to be the epicenter of all of the commotion.  I didn't think much would faze Marge, given the fact that the ring is comprised of walls on 3 sides, but I was wrong.

Our second run, Standard, we qualified for 17 points.  It was actually quite a nice run.  17 points is our new high total for MACH points in a single run, so I was really happy with that.

The next day, our Jumpers run was one of the worst we've had in a while.  Someone snapped at me prior to my walkthrough and I was really angry about it.  For a few seconds, I thought about confronting the person but I decided it wasn't worth it.  When I got in to the ring, it started out well enough, but then I didn't call Marge enough on a turn, so she took an off course.  Then I FORGOT the course, which led to more off courses, and finally, she took more straight lines instead of making turns. It was bad and it felt horrible.

Our Standard run was a bit more of the same.. it started out very well, but a hard line after the chute to the weave poles did us in.  Then, she sorta semi bailed on the teeter, though I don't think the judge called it. Then, I gave up, which lead to another off course.

I'm upset that the environment was what it was and I'm upset that I let it get to me.  I need to learn to worry only about having fun with my dog and tune everything else out.

We have one more trial next weekend, then we're taking a break from trialing for about a month.  I'm really looking forward to it.  We didn't really have any long breaks this year.. we didn't trial every weekend, but we trialed at least a couple weekends out of every month.

I'm also just about giving up on our goal of qualifying for Nationals.  With under 200 points out of 500 needed, school starting in 2 weeks, and only a few months left in the qualifying period, it just doesn't seem realistic.  I don't have the money, the energy, nor the desire to trial every weekend with Marge.. and I'm not sure she desires to trial every weekend, either. So, I think it's time to alter our goals some and just think about getting that MACH and having fun at our own pace.

Over all, Marge has 8 QQ's, 15 Masters Standard legs, 25 Masters Jumpers legs, and 365 MACH points.  We're getting almost to the halfway point.. so that's pretty cool!

Here are Marge and Arrow with their ribbons for the weekend.  Arrow had a really nice Jumpers Q on Sunday.

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