Friday, October 30, 2009

A Pleasant Day

I should really be getting to bed, because I'm waking up super early tomorrow to take Marge on a long walk before the droves of children make their way out to (in Marge's eyes) terrorize the neighborhood, but I couldn't help but post.

Today, Louie and I took Marge to run-throughs at the site of Sunday's trial.  Though I was fully prepared to get there, feed Marge cookies, walk her around, and leave, she was very relaxed (50mg of L-Theanine in her system, note to self).

She was excited getting out of the car when we first got there and showed no hesitance to go over to the set up area.  A little grey-faced, black Whippet was standing there with his handler, and Marge was originally very leery of him, but he was actually her only real dog-dog interaction of the day.  His owner informed me that he is very polite when it comes to other dogs, so I didn't think it would be a bad thing to let them say hello to each other. He, too, was a very shy dog (his owner called him "neurotic"), but his owner said that he lights up on the agility field.  It was good encouragement for me, and Marge seemed to enjoy his company very much.  He offered his back for her to sniff almost immediately, putting her at ease.

I walked the course almost immediately after I got there, which was nice since I didn't have to have Marge wait around.  I admit, because Marge was out there with me while I was walking (I figured it'd be a very good time for her to get out there to sniff and see the equipment) I did a terrible job of strategizing.

She was great watching people go by and other dogs run, getting a tiny bit too interested when she saw a Boston running zoomies, but the clicker came out, Look-At-That commenced, and all was well.  Seeing some dogs offleash as we walked around the park did make her lick her lips and change her body language, but I knew they were well-trained and would not approach us and she soon realized the same.

Most importantly, the fact that there was noise - and a good deal of it - did not bother her.  There were park vehicles moving about in the background, the lawn was being mowed on the other side of the park, people were setting up tents, and a dog was letting out a highly irritating, high-pitched whine.  I expect there to be less noise the day of the trial, except maybe for more dogs barking.  But, I don't think there will be much big activity going on as there was today during the last bit of setup.

Here is the video of our second run (there were two):

I think she looks great.  There was a little lip-licking going on at the beginning, but she had also just eaten bits of wet dog food (yep, I stood there for 10 minutes this morning taking chunks out of a can of Merrick to use as treats - worked like a charm), so it could be from that.  They must have gotten caught in her throat or something, so she coughed a couple times on course as well.  

Nevermind the actual agility.  My handling was poor - in my head, I could practically hear Marisa screaming "RUN TO THE FENCE" as Marge and I continually blew that stupid tunnel under the A-Frame - and my hands were flailing all over the place.  Though, I must admit, for a NADAC Elite course, I think Marge did a mighty good job of navigating it.

I think she looks LOADS better from a behavioral/emotional standpoint than she did at class two weeks ago, further enhancing my belief that there was either something out of the ordinary at the field or the grass was wet and bothering her.  It's very encouraging that she has been to this place only one time before, and was able to run with the great fervor and enthusiasm that she usually gives at class.  She looks like she is having fun.

 It's also encouraging that she ran 23 straight obstacles without a single treat (while she likes toys, she is not hugely toy motivated). Of course, with speed comes no 2o2o contacts, but she hit the yellow, even if she didn't stop at the bottom.

Of course, Sunday is going to be a whole different ball game.  There will be lots more waiting, lots more dogs, and no squeaky toy to bring out with me on to the course.  If it is too much for her, we will leave and not set foot in the ring.  It's as simple as that.  After today, I am optimistic that this will not be the case, but it is certainly a possibility.

After Sunday, no matter what the outcome is, we will not be doing anything quite like this for a while.  Though Marge has progressed considerably in all areas of her training, I know it is in her best interest to fight the "trial bug" and take things very slowly.  The next trial I am even considering will not come until the spring - there are a couple of "sets" of trials at two other locations in New Jersey, and I think the fact that more than one weekend of trialing will happen at these places will work in Marge's favor for her to get used to the sites.  I would like to do more run-throughs and find opportunities to train at various new locations, but that's for discussing another time.

Marge, as I write this, is on the couch in the next room fast asleep ,in the midst of what seems to be a very vivid dream.  I hope that her sleepy woofs and squeaks are from dreaming about having fun on the agility course.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday Training 13

I want to preface this post with a mention of how I spent my morning. Last night, my dog-loving second cousin called my mom to ask a favor of me. Her nearly 13 year old Rottweiler, the last of a pack that once totaled 5 or 6, had suddenly began to decline. She was calling to ask if I could drive her to the vet for the dog to be euthanized.

My first reaction was total shock - not that she was euthanizing her dog, for it was the right thing to do, but that I had been the one called on to help get the dog there. By "favor" I expected to pick her up and take her to a store, pick up dog food, or something relatively day-to-day.

After some thought, I decided to do it. Though I admittedly deal awful with anything emotional pertaining to animals (I've given up watching most of those Animal Cops shows, and Marley and Me has been downloaded for months, but never watched), it would have been selfish of me to not have helped this poor old dog and her owner, who would have had no other option except to ride in a stranger's cab car.

I woke up this morning with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat. How would I react to the sight of an old, sickly dog, one that would spend some of her last moments in my back seat? I hesitantly got into my car and drove the very short way to my cousin's house to pick her and her dog up.

Despite her weakness, the old girl tried valiantly to get into the car, making it halfway in. I then had to get out and help her lift her back feet over the impossible hurdle facing her.

She rode relatively quietly, and I tried my hardest to stay calm and unemotional. I got a little misty at a couple of points as my cousin spoke to her, but managed to compose myself otherwise.

When we arrived at the vet, she didn't want to budge from my car. She had positioned herself in a quasi-down position on the floor of the car, with her big, blocky Rottie head resting comfortably on the seat.

They got her out, carried her up the flight of steps in front of the office, and that was the last I saw of her.

For some reason, after I had dropped cousin and dog off, I got really upset. I did not know this dog well at all, though it is fair to say that my experiences as a youngster with the Rott pack as a whole were fond ones. Yet, I was positively distraught. I think the image of that dog looking at me with sunken and old eyes will say with me for a while.

Perhaps it was a combination of the sight of an old dog, her lifelong owner, and my own thoughts and experiences loving my own pets. But, it did shake me up, as I drove home, the tears on my face mimicking the oh-so-fitting rain that cascaded down my windshield.

My cousin called me later to thank me, and tell me that the vet said she had been riddled with cancer. The poor girl was probably living with tumors inside of her for a long time, but continued to fight it and gave no indication of her illness up until now. She slipped away peacefully into the next world.

Marge, of course, was having none of my sappiness or sadness when I got home. She was quite confused by the smells of dog that she found on my clothes. I eventually convinced her that no Rottweilers lurked in sight (ironically, they seem to be her least favorite breed), and that it was okay to cuddle instead of lay next to me on the floor, so we enjoyed a snuggle session in front of the TV for the rest of the gloomy morning.


I took this picture a couple of nights ago in my car as the rain pounded over everything, but, the picture still fits today too. Of course, the weather gods had to serve rain up the Tuesday before my first agility trial, and class (along with my private lesson) was canceled.

Since I have no agility news and I covered a good deal of behavioral stuff yesterday, I figured I'd turn to the lighter side of training.

I've admittedly been lax on the trick training since Marge has learned all the basics, but I have been working on "clean up" for the past few months on and off. It started as simply shaping her to pick up the toy, then strategically placing the basket so that the toy would fall into it, then having her full-out retreive it to place it in the basket.

Our good friends over at Champion of My Heart have also taken on learning this one, though I think they've made considerably more progress than we have.

Marge can pick up any one plushie toy and deposit it into her toy basket. She has not, however, generalized the behavior to other toy-basket items, like treat toys, rubber toys, balls, and similar items. She also cannot pick up one right after the other. She tends to focus on one toy (which ever one she puts away first) and continually take it out and put it back in.

Today we had a little bit of a breakthrough with the Hol-ee Roller ball. The video below shows Marge first putting away one of her beloved frogs, and then deciding (after almost making a mistake and taking the frog back out) that the ball can go in the basket, too.

It's a fun thing to teach her on a rainy day, because it both gets her mind going and gets her moving around, too.

Also, the other fuzzybutt in this house must make an appearance on MargeBlog today. Layla, who I have done no training with in the eleven years that I've had her, seems to be acquiring an enjoyment for trick training as well. After my sister alerted me that she now picks up her paw in the rudimentary form of a high-five, I tried my luck with her..

How cool is that?! I don't know how much she's actually "getting" it, but with the combination of the treat above her head and my verbal cue, she soon began sitting more and more quickly. So it seems like there's something there.

The agility trial news will come a little later in the week. With the morning's events and the absence of agility class tonight, I admit that my mind is a little blurry in that area right now, nor do I really have anything worthwhile to blog about yet. Either way, it looks like we'll be going to the trial on Sunday, with intent to run. If Marge is too scared, she'll chill on the sidelines and eat spoonfulls of yummy wet dog food, the most super high-value treat that I can think of. I really hope that she's able to get in the ring; I'm not looking for a Q this week, just some inclination that my dog is enjoying herself. The weater seems to be in our favor (sunny and 60) so we'll just hold out hope that it all goes okay.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Wonder Drug?

I was going to wait until Tuesday to post this, but since we've got a lot of agility news potentially in store for the training update, it seemed like there was no time better than now to share my musings on this subject.

It's no secret that I struggle mightily with the decision to add medication, supplements, nutraceuticals, and other calming substances to Marge's fear-fighting arsenal.  I thought it was the scariest thing ever when I even added something as benign as melatonin.  I tend to worry about the side effects, or whether they're really necessary, or if I'm simply not diligent enough with behavior modification (I try, though).  

I was all set to try Marge on a full-blown psychoactive medication (probably amytriptyline or clomipramine) when the blood tests came back negative for thyroid problems.  But, I lost my mind researching, my vet wasn't totally sold on the fact that she needed them, and neither was I.  

Long story short, I'm not quite ready to turn to medication.  It's not because I don't think they work - I know many people who have had great success with them.  I feel like my hesitance to go to the real stuff lies partially in the fact that she's not scared a great majority of the time, and also the fact that I'm not here all of the time to monitor her (call it stupid, but I guess I just feel a heightened sense of responsibility if my dog is taking psychoactive medication.  It's a shortcoming on my part, I suppose).  It is just a big step to take.

Last time we spoke, the doc basically gave me license to start exploring the vast world of nutraceuticals.  St John's Wort, Valerian Root, and tryptophan (5-HTP, which I almost wound up trying) were some of the things that he mentioned.  Granted, he does not know a whole lot about these kinds of things, but the fact that he has listened to my suggestions and researched things for me in the past (melatonin) is what keeps me with him, at least for now.

L-Theanine is an amino acid found in many animal calming products, such as the famous (and expensive) Composure Liquid.  It is used in humans as well as an anti-stress, anti-anxiety supplement.  It is marketed specifically for pets in chewable tablets under the name Anxitane.  However, as with melatonin, because the dosage was exactly the same and there were no outside active ingredients, I opted for the much cheaper human tablet version.  

Marge has now been on 25 mg twice a day (about half the suggested dosage for her size) for about a week.  Since these things are, admittedly, significantly less studied than true medications are, I wanted to play it safe with a smaller dose.  

Though it's been only about a week, I do think I am seeing some changes.  

For one, Marge doesn't seem to be taking notice of things as quickly.  Or, I'm simply mistaking her aloofness for general disinterest. 

Tonight, for instance, Louie and I walked her up the main street near my house.  Though not many people were out, two girls did walk by, talking rather loudly, and, at the closest point, were about two or three feet away from Marge.  The whole while, Marge was standing at a telephone pole sniffing to her heart's content.  It took her considerably longer than usual to pick her head up and look at the girl, and, after staring for a couple of seconds, put her head back down and continued sniffing.

I don't think this was sniffing as a calming signal.  Nothing about her body suggested she was paying any attention to these two girls, even though they continued to approach her.

I've also seen a recent resurgence in her very important ability to make eye contact with me when passing people or interesting things.  I'm not sure if this started simultaneously with the beginning of the L-Theanine administration, but it's still something to think about.  

Otherwise, she has not reacted terribly on walks in quite a while.  She HAS had a couple of hackles-raised, tense moments, but she's been easy to keep under control and reassure that everything is okay.  She had one flighty moment today when she heard someone in the field blow a whistle a little too close to her for comfort, but, after initially assuming her I'm-high-tailing-it-home attitude, she settled down enough so that she walked by relatively calmly and was able to take treats.

It's still too early to tell, but I'm holding out hope that this little pill just might be the extra oomph she needs to get her by.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Windy Woods

The plan for yesterday, despite the weather, was to take Marge out to the woods again.  My parents had someone coming over for some banking business, so I felt the best thing to do was to get out of the house.

I stopped by my grandmother's first, where Louie (and the yummy pizza he brought) met up with us.  I then drove my grandmother to the store.  Marge remained in the car with Louie and I, but I clicked and treated her as people mozied about in the parking lot.  She actually did pretty well.

Off to the woods, then...

Despite the overcast sky, the color was amazing! As soon as we set foot on the trail, vibrant shades of yellow hit us in the face.  It is so fascinating to go to this place and watch it change through the seasons.  Just a couple of months ago, the foliage was a dark green, and various species of mushroom were growing along the trail's edge.  Now, the trees are much brighter and the floor is covered by yet a new layer of shed leaves.

Just like last time we hiked the Blue Trail, Pump House Pond loomed before us.  The water danced from bank to bank as the strong wind pushed it.  The color today was even more spectacular than it was last time, though the cloudy sky above it did darken the scene a bit.

Onward we marched.  These three very dark-colored trees stood in an otherwise light-colored patch of the woods.  I've often thought about how it might be interesting to begin to familiarize myself with the names of the different species growing here, but, for now, I'll just appreciate their beauty.

We continued, Marge leading the way, as usual.  As we ascended Todt Hill, which the Blue Trail traverses, the wind began to pick up even more.  (By the way, in my last post from this hike, I mentioned that Todt Hill is the highest points on the eastern seaboard.  Turns out I was wrong - it is the highest point on the seaboard south of Maine. Don't know who thought that title up, but I suppose it's still pretty high!)

By about this point, the sounds of the maintenance on the adjacent golf course started to catch Marge's attention.  She didn't get completely freaked out, but they did startle her.  I wonder if I can attribute her somewhat dampened fear response to the 50 mg of L-Theanine she has been getting, but more on that next week.  Of course, it is also entirely possible that the prospect of continuing to explore the woods was, for Marge, simply worth listening to the noise.

We walked on a little bit more, but then we, the humans, started to get scared ourselves!  The wind had really picked up, and thin-trunked trees were swaying back and forth way too much for our liking.  We may have even heard a couple fall down in the distance. Between the trees, the wind, and the manmade noise, we decided it was in our best interest to head back and get to our goal point - Priory Pond - another time.  

Just like last time, we made a second stop at the pond. We wandered slightly off-trail to explore the banks. Here, Marge looks out across the water. She was propped up on a recently downed tree.

And, in identical fashion, she took to the water yet again, despite the fact that the temperature was only about 60 degrees outside. She made sure not to go any farther than chest deep.

Here, she stands amid the collection of colorful leaves that have made their way into the pond...

...And then poses yet again for me once she's on dry land.

The final stop on our trip was to another bank of Lake Ohrbach.  The first trip we took to High Rock Park, we wandered all the way up to the other side.  Due to my newfound full-adherence to the major trails, I chickened out of going too far up.  As if you could get lost at a lake - in the city, no less!

And so concludes yet another excursion.  I'm so lucky to be able to go to a place as nice as this.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Here are some pictures from our hike Tuesday morning.  The weather was absolutely wonderful, and, since autumn is finally starting to set in, it seemed like a good day to catch a glimpse of life among the trees. 

(Don't mind our squinty eyes!)

I'd go to the woods so much more often if I wasn't wary of going alone, but, thankfully, Marge and I seem to be getting there a fair amount lately, anyway.  Hoping for a long hike this weekend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Training 12

Due to time constraints and the fact that Marge and I had a weekend that was nothing at all to brag about (we won't go there), I'm mostly going to focus on our agility class today.

Just have a couple of things I want to jot down..

Back on the Block
Walked Marge around the block two times over the weekend, both times at night. This is huge, because we haven't done so in about 3 months. She was nervous, but didn't panic. I fed her lots, clicked for just about everything, and ended each walk with a trip to go sniff the trees along the edge of the field. Looking forward to building on this in the future, especially as the weather gets cold and there is no one out on the side streets for us to be concerned about.

Due to some more research, I decided to buy a bottle of L-Theanine instead of 5-Hydroxytryptophan to try as our next nutraceutical. (For my fellow psych nerds, it supposedly boosts the levels of Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), the same neurotransmitter that benzodiazepines like Xanax work on, thus producing a relaxing effect.) L-Theanine is used in several pet calming products, including the well known Composure Liquid. It's also marketed specifically for animals as Anxitane, but because the "people" version of L-Theanine is a whole lot less expensive, that's what I decided to go with. She got her first doses today, 25 mg in the morning and at night. The suggested dose for a 40 lb dog of Anxitane is 50 mg twice a day, but I will continue at this lower dose for a while just to make sure everything goes okay with it.

On to the agility...
Thanks to my lovely boyfriend, Louie, I actually have two videos to share from the night of each half of the course we ran. We did put all 19 obstacles together at the very end, but since we were running late it was kind of rushed and Marge and I didn't do so well anyway.

Marge acted normal tonight waiting on the sidelines (though, I must admit, she hates staying in her crate while there), but she ran significantly slower than usual. It was nice to have a dog who wasn't running zoomies, but at the same time, she didn't look as enthused as she usually does.

It is more noticeable at certain obstacles. Even when we weren't running but were out on the field setting bars and such, she seemed to like prancing rather than actually driving forward. It looked, at some points, as if she was tip-toeing across the grass. She does this often in my backyard when the grass is high, too wet, or if she had just pottied there, so I'm not sure if we experienced something similar tonight. My suspicions of this were further enhanced by her extreme hesitance to get off the table (you'll see).

If you guys can keep this in mind while watching the videos and tell me if you see anything funky, I'd appreciate it!

First of all, what a FUN course. I originally walked it and thought, "oh crap," but it was actually pretty easy to run with just a couple of rough spots.

- She acted very funky over those first two jumps.. she pretty much refuses to sit-wait at the start line (think it's the grass thing), but since her stand-wait is solid, I don't have a problem with that. In addition, the jumps were facing the very enticing crowd, so I think that's partially why she looks a little spacey over them

- Tunnel to tire, I was impressed.. though, I think her success with this has a whole lot to do with the fact that speed was not much of a factor tonight.

- Weave pole entries were tough, especially for me, the handler. Marge bailed me out quite a few times and found the entry almost every time. I seemed to be going too far into that pocket between the jump and the weaves, which, in turn, pushed her farther out.

- Back crosses were the name of the game tonight, as you can see, which is why I didn't front cross the weaves and instead flipped her over the next jump (I think this was the only run where the tried to run off at that spot). I was also susprised with how well she back crossed from the jump to the table.

Next vid..

- She seems to really like the table. Only problem is, she didn't want to come off of it tonight. It was definitely her space-out point in the sequence.. she seemed to be looking off into the distance at something, but, it really it looks to me like she wanted to avoid the grass at all costs.

- We tried the jump-tire 180 a couple of different ways, first with a front cross before it and then with a back cross. I'm pleased to say she didn't go barrelling into the tunnel any of the times.

- She really picked up her speed at the triple. Her teeter is quite slow in this video, but, in our final run of the night, she performed it much more quickly. I always jackpot her after the teeter, and she really does seem to be getting more comfortable with it.

- SO happy she hit her A-Frame contact! She almost NEVER hits it on the first try. Her contacts have really come along in the past month or so.

- The final two jumps were relatively straightforward, but Marge decided to run right by the last one in our final run of the night. She also would NOT follow me over to pick up her leash, and when I lightly grabbed her collar to entice her to come with me, she dug in her heels and did NOT want to go any farther on to the grass!

Last week, at our run-throughs in place of class, she totally tore up the course, so I don't think she's having some sudden aversion to running agility, especially since she did pick up the pace at several points in the sequence. Dogs had pottied on the field tonight (it isn't supposed to happen, but does), and I'm thinking that combined with the rain we had over the past week made the field rather icky on Marge's paws. It wasn't that she was scared during the actual performance of the obstacles, it seemed to be more of a problem with walking on the grass. Let's hope it doesn't bleed over into next week.

The trial is 12 days away. I am still very unsure whether I'm going to run Marge or not. There's a significant chance that I might just bring her to the trial and feed her zillions of cookies and do nothing else. I'm also unsure if I'm taking her to the trial site for run-throughs next Friday - we aren't allowed to use treats, since the ring will be used for actual competition the following day. I can use toys, but Marge isn't particularly toy motivated. So we'll see.

I'm going to do a private lesson at the field after class next week, hopefully, so we'll just continue to play the whole darn thing by ear.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flying By Night

As her full name suggests she should do, Marge took the big field by storm tonight at dusk. These pictures do not do her or her speed any justice. She had a full-out zoomy fit and ran endless laps in a state of perfect bliss. I am happy to report that this is becoming a regular occurrence now that the weather is cold.

This might be a pivotal time of year for Marge. Though it is not shown here, there were still a good number of people in the field finishing up their soccer games. Because the cold weather turns Marge into a very different (and much happier) dog, I'm hoping that the fact that she can co-exist with the outside world peacefully right now may eventually carry over into spring and summer.

I am trying to make a conscious effort to a) not completely avoid situations where we need to walk around people/sounds and b) not get frustrated, discouraged or hyper vigilant when Marge begins to get concerned about something in her environment. So far, I've had the most success with both of these while out in the field. Marge knows that the 20' leash affords her more freedom, so I think that alone makes her more comfortable. Also, any tension that I may be unconsciously sending down the line doesn't really transfer to her the way it would on a 4' or 6' leash.

When Marge sees something that strikes her interest (usually in a bad way), she tends to stop in her tracks and stare at it. What I notice now from all our walks on the 20 footer is that often times, she looks back to me to see my reaction to whatever the stimuli is. Doggy social referencing, so to speak - she has been asking me all along what things are okay and which ones aren't, and I haven't always been providing her with the right feedback.

Now that I've recognized the connection she makes with my own body language and general opinion about the things around us, I have started to use it to my advantage. When she stops, I usually keep walking - the nice thing about the 20' leash is that I can keep walking and the leash will stay slack for at least a few seconds, in which time she usually looks to me, deems the situation acceptable, and continues on her way. Sometimes, at this point, I'll throw a treat out for her to go grab - she loves chasing them down as she watches their path. It is amazing how quickly she finds them against the green grass, too.

Of course, it doesn't work for things that are very direct (like if a person is walking right at us) or immensely scary (like fireworks). But, it's definitely not a bad thing to have in the behavior modification toolbox, even if it only works in the big open field.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Totem Poles, Tongues, and Thanks to You

We've been invited by our good friend Brutus to participate in the celebration of his 100th post on the blog by sharing something ridiculous.

I don't know how clear you can see everything in this picture, but it goes like this: I am sitting in a small desk chair, there is a 40-pound Labrador mix in my lap, and, on top of that 40-pound Labrador mix, there is a 10-pound cat. It's just a totem pole of ridiculousless - me for letting Marge sit with me in that particular chair (it's not comfortable!), Marge for allowing Layla to get comfy on her back, and, in some ways, Layla for not freaking out that her prime real estate was being settled on by a big stinky dog. The result of this is usually painful pins and needles in my legs, but, hey, she enjoyed climbing up to cuddle, so it is definitely worth it!

Additionally, miss Anna the GSD is also running a contest on her blog, involving tongues. I found just the right picture to send to her. (Marge is actually getting a taste of ice cream - I caved in and bought her some after a long agility practice. She only got a few licks, but she really did enjoy it.)

Lastly, we don't do contests or awards here, but I did want to simply acknowledge the fact that MargeBlog has reached 30 followers. Coming on here and seeing your comments really does brighten my day, and I just wanted to say thank you for that. I am happy to have met so many friends on here who have shared their stories, encouragement and wisdom with me as I go on this journey with my girl.

I am always looking to make new blog friends, so if anyone has any "suggested reading" for me, please feel free to leave links in the comment box or to shoot me an e-mail.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Snug as a Bug

We're just chilling out at home tonight.  It's cold and damp here in New York, and the forecast looks even worse for the next few days.  Fingers crossed that it clears up by the weekend and we can go hiking again in the woods.

A very, very brief recap of our day.. I know yesterday's post was long enough for the entire week!

- Couple of walks, some better than others.  She heard a sound that sounded a lot like a firecracker (though I know it wasn't) and it spooked her, but she recovered.  That is a very big improvement over how she was over the summer.  Scared of people/kids (and especially kids screaming), but, again, she recovers while on the walk instead of pulling like crazy to get home automatically.

- Doing some new noise desensitization using good ol' Youtube.  I didn't think noises originating from the computer would scare her since the sound is localized, but I'm going to try it anyway.  First sound.. smoke alarms!

- Spoke to the vet, he said the blood work was very good.  Gave me the OK to try 5-hydroxytryptophan.  I'm still thinking about it.  Definitely going to put a better plan in place for the warmer months, he said we'll discuss it more in the spring.  If I go ahead with the 5-HTP, he and I will talk again next month.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday Training 11

The Results
Well, the big news this week is that Marge's blood tests have arrived back from Dr. Jean Dodds' Hemopet lab. Because the Postal Service got it there so much later than it should have, the Complete Blood Count (CBC) results were a little bit wonky so I'm not sure how much stock to put in them. A couple of the levels were a bit high. Everything else, however, was normal, according to the report.

This means thyroid issues are pretty much out at this point. One thyroid level was a low normal, (I believe the Free T4) but Dr. Dodds indicated that it could be due to a "concurrent non-thyroidal issue." She clearly stated in her message that there were no signs of thyroid problems.


I have a call in to my vet and I expect to hear back from him tomorrow. I'm really not too worried about something being very medically wrong since the blood was so old when it finally reached the lab. Dr. Dodds did suggest another round of testing next year, so if nothing else changes, it looks like we'll do this yearly.

Next time, I might use UPS or Fed-Ex though!

Food Woes
I don't like getting into food talk here on the blog since feed choices can be a very touchy subject. But, I recently added in Taste of the Wild to Marge's usual Merrick Grammy's Pot Pie Kibble. (I later found out that TOTW is manufactured by Diamond, which bothered me a little, but I decided to give it a shot anyway - I have spoken to LOTS of people who love this food). Though I think Merrick is a fine quality food, it is about middle of the road in terms of meat content, and, given Marge's up-and-coming agility career, I thought her body would benefit from a grain-free, protein-packed boost.

Initially, I loved how she was doing on the food. Her poop hasn't looked this good in a year! Everything else appeared the same. Coat looked good, eyes looked clear, et cetera.

However.. and a big however..

After about a week, I started to notice some behavioral signs that I did not like. Marge was antsy. She was constantly seeking attention and seemed like she could not be satiated with any amount of anything (food, exercise, attention, etc). And, most importantly, there was a resurgence in reactivity. (Some of this I mentioned in my last Tuesday Training post from agility class.)

I didn't immediately make the connection that the food could be causing the problem, but once I did, I pulled her off of it and put her back on her own food.

My hunch is that TOTW is too much protein for Marge. I don't want to get all psych-nerdy here, but apparently high-protein foods flood the body with amino acids, which may dilute the affects of tryptophan, another amino acid. Tryptophan plays a role in the production of serotonin, a feel-good/calming neurotransmitter.

I have read before that fearful/fear-aggressive/aggressive/anxious/etc. dogs do better on low protein diets. Merrick is about 10% lower in protein than Taste of the Wild is, BUT, TOTW is by no means a very high protein food. Am I sure it was the food that did it? No, not at all. Am I comfortable using the food? I'm not sure yet. The search for a new food may very well continue.

Because the fact that she did well (from a digestive point of view) on 3/4 Merrick and 1/4 TOTW, I feel like Merrick is missing something rather than my initial hunch that the fruits and veggies in it were too rich for her. If Merrick was, indeed, too rich, Marge's poop wouldn't have firmed up so noticeably by just adding in a percentage of a new food. So, I think I might do 1/2 Merrick and 1/2 something else - whatever that something else might be. (No, raw is not an option for me right now.)

Helping Out with HTP
On a related note, I've begun researching the supplementation of 5-hydroxytryptophan, which is over-the-counter. 5-HTP is what comes after tryptophan in the metabolism of tryptophan and ultimately becomes serotonin. Studies indicate that 5-HTP can cross the pivotal blood-brain barrier, which is why it is able to produce behavioral effects. It is slightly more risky than my current go-to, Melatonin, but it has been suggested to me so I am taking a look at it.

Our Walks
Walks haven't been had as of late.

We hit one rough spot yesterday, but I think it had more to do with me than it did with Marge. She was getting all antsy, asking for dinner two hours before she was supposed to get it, and I decided to grab a handful of kibble and take her for a walk. Perhaps the fact that I was being bothered by her incessant begging trickled down the leash to her.. she saw a girl get into a car and drive away and that set the stage. She then saw kids playing across the street in the field, and that made things worse. She got all flighty and shut down Of course, this frustrated me, which probably made her more scared. Eventually, we both chilled out enough to walk around the field clicking and treating.

Nobody's perfect, I guess. Human or canine.

Here are a few more pictures from our nice walk in the field a couple of days ago. I use my red 20' leash a lot, and as you can see, Marge really enjoys running around on it. (I just bought a 50' one last night.. should be a lot of fun in the snow!)

Agility class was canceled for tonight due to Marisa's trip to a competition. But, I went to the field anyway for run-thrus.

The course was EXTREMELY challenging, with VERY hard tunnel entries especially. Unfortunately, the camera battery was dead so there are no videos. I tried really hard just now to draw the course in paint, but, ultimately, I failed at it. Ha!

I'll just recap it as best I can:

  • Led out over first jump, second obstacle was the tire. UGH, Marge hates the tire. I've started saying jump to get her to go through it, because I think "tire" makes her think of "tunnel" so she decides to crawl under it.
  • Next was pull to jump- another back- A-Frame. She was a monster over the A-Frame tonight. Completely haphazard. She did hit her contact once I put her back on to it, but never on the first run over it. Has to do with speed, no doubt.
  • After that, it was jump-tunnel-teeter. She had so many problems with the tunnels tonight, and I'm not sure if it was my handling, the fact that the tunnels were super dark and spooky, or a combination of things. She did NOT want to go in them! Of course, once I got her in she went barreling out at full speed to the teeter. The first time she did it she flew off, but in subsequent runs, she actually operated the pivot point beautifully and stayed on until I released her. WOOHOO! Big progress there.
  • Jump-table. Apparently she likes the table because on more than one run, she totally bypassed the completely obvious jump to go straight to the table. Nice downs on the table, too.
  • After that was another tunnel that she gave me a ton of trouble with. She decided on most runs that when I said "tunnel," it was more fun for her to go barreling across the ring and totally ignore the tunnel.
  • Jump-weave. No problems here, for the most part. She flew by the weaves once or twice but after I made her redo it, she was fine.
  • Jump- HARD backcross to tunnel. She wasn't so bad with this tunnel as long as I was right there to get her in it.
  • HARD turn to chute. Poor girlie got caught up in the chute on one run through no fault of her own, but, thankfully, wasn't spooked afterward.
  • HARD turn to jump. This was fine as long as I screamed her name at the top of my lungs after she came out of the chute.

    Not a very forgiving course, I'll tell you that much. You absolutely had to be in the exact right spot to run it clean (at least for a novice dog and a novice handler). She did pull some of her zoomy crap at the end, but I did a few more obstacles with her before we left and she was under control.

    No reactivity tonight whatsoever. I brought her crate, actually, and although she much preferred to be outside of it with me (and begging for cookies from everyone else), I think it definitely cut down on the snark.

    She saw her old friend, Russ the Viszla, who hasn't been at class lately, and that made her super happy.. in the middle of one run she went running over to him to play bow and jump around. Silly girl.

    Over all, it was a lot of fun for a night I wasn't even supposed to be at the field!

    Late Night Rendezvous
    I returned home to find the family friend over who Marge had a bit of a run-in with in September. Fortunately, this time, it went better. They were on their way out as we were coming in, and I simply had him feed her (but NOT ask her to do anything) a few pieces of cookie, and that was that. It was a bit of a relief to see that Marge didn't fly off the handle and go nuts as soon as she saw him in the house (though I know that the biggest problem is when people enter).

    There you have it.. another very long, very technical Tuesday training post!

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Hiking Ol' Blue

    It was an absolutely divine day for a hike in the woods. Sunny and sixty-five with a cool breeze moving through. Since the colors of the fall are not yet at their height of beauty, we decided to save our next trip to the spectacular overlook, Moses Mountain, for a later date. Today, we chose to hike the Blue trail. Since our starting point sits smack in the middle of the trail, there are two directions which we can go.

    We've often taken the Blue Trail to Walker Pond, but that hike is not very long and begins to get commonplace after you've done it a few times. This time, we decided to go the opposite way. It is a longer hike, and it is uphill - Todt Hill, which the trail ascends, is the highest point on the eastern seaboard, if I'm not mistaken.

    Off we went. the start of the trail is quite familiar to us, as we've traversed it several times to get to the magnificent Lake Ohrbach. It really amazes me to have lived on this island my whole life, yet to have never known that this world in the woods exists here.

    I was surprised to find that the changes of the fall affected the lake, too. All of the aquatic plants had varying shades of green, yellow and red to them, very different than the scene we saw last month when we traveled to the exact same spot.

    After this, we continued on. This is the part of the trail we had never been on before. It was only a few minutes until we were met by another body of water - this time, Pump House Pond. Here, Marge poses on the deck sitting at the pond's edge.

    The fall colors were abundant around the pond.

    We continued onward. Marge stopped to smell the air next to Hourglass Pond, which, honestly, looks more like a swamp!

    Up Todt Hill we went, totally surrounded by trees. The path got dark at some points, and the trail markers weren't as plentiful as I like for them to be, so my mind darted back to the mishap we had on the Green Trail in September. Fortunately, we had no problems this trip, and I was at ease. It helped that this trail borders on a cemetery and a golf course in some parts, so although it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, the reality is that we really weren't.

    Here, in this cool shot snapped by my sis, the bright golf course looms outside the dark woods. Marge was originally very keen on going to investigate. We couldn't, since the golf course is private, and Marge decided staying within the safety of the forest was a better option, anyway, than facing scary golfers and their zippy golf carts.

    We walked about 1 1/2 miles from our starting point, based on my rough estimate, making for a three-mile round trip. The trail wasn't totally desolate, as I would have liked for it to be, but I simply moved Marge off trail any time someone approached and fed her. She was unnerved by some people, unfazed by others. We saw two dogs along the way and followed the same protocol. One dog - a black Labrador pulling at the end of a flexi leash - bothered Marge more than the other - a German Shepherd who stuck close by his family and paid little attention to Marge.

    The only exception I made was with two women who we met at the park's entrance. I try to usually stay away from meet and greets while we're out, so there is no pressure on Marge to interact, but I decided that waiting in the car for them to pass would have been a bad option. It just felt unnatural, and I think the stress of Marge watching them from the car would have been substantial. They were very kind to Marge and one of them offered to feed her a cookie. We met up with them briefly again on the trail. They remarked over Marge's black/brown color combination.

    We reached a bed of ferns and saw that the trail climbed upward once again beyond that point. It was already around 2:45 and we were tired, so it was then that we turned around.

    Marge led the way home back down the trail.

    On the way back past Pump House Pond, Marge decided she wanted to go for a dip. I've often complained that the water in the Greenbelt is not particularly conducive to Marge wading in it because it is so muddy around the banks. Today, at this location, we didn't seem to have that problem.

    She left a trail of pawprints on the footbridge as we crossed away from the pond.

    Soon after, we reached the end of our incredible journey. Back to the pavement, back to the car, back to regular New York life. But wow! What a great day in the woods it was.

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Under Blue Skies

    It was a picturesque kind of day today.  Morning showers gave way to autumn breeze and sunshine.  Marge had a spectacular time running around in the field at the end of her long leash.  She hasn't looked this happy in a long time.  

    Not much was out there to scare her, and she bounced back quickly from the things that did.  She's growing and changing right before my eyes, and though the progress can be slow or even sometimes come to a halt, it's nice to get a glimpse from time to time of my dog getting to live a life totally care free.

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    Marge Goes to New Jersey

    I believe today was Marge's first out-of-state trip since her long voyage on a bus from Georgia. Though it was only over the bridge to our neighboring state, New Jersey, it's still a big deal considering how sensitive she is to everything.

    Our first stop was the site of our upcoming agility trial. I had contacted the Parks Department in the area, and they informed me that there were no events going on at the park until the day of the agility trial. So, save for a couple of park workers, there was no one there.

    After nearly an hour in the car - thanks again, Louie, for schlepping your highway-phobic girlfriend (gotta get on the highway.. and soon!) and her everything-phobic dog there -Marge was totally thrilled to be outside and run around. She took to the big field like she had been there a thousand times before. There were a plethora of things to sniff and plenty of room to run.

    She also did OK when two workers drove up next to us in their pickup, informing us that the car had to be moved to a different lot. She did get scared, however, when she witnessed them perform the very scary acts of taking down the flags and talking on their radios.

    The rest of the time, we just mozied in the park, Marge's body language fluctuating wildly between "this is so damn cool" and "I'm interested, but I'm on guard, too."

    Here she is in the small patch of woods behind the park. Despite noises of some sort (construction/tow trucks/along those lines) she was pretty good until we got too close and she gingerly decided that walking the other way would be more fun.

    The visit also reminded me that Marge is not thrilled with the sound of Port-O-Potty doors, a hard thing to avoid at many locations. A stark contrast to the beautiful scenery of fall behind her, Marge's body language here shows much more apprehension and tension. I'm just glad she didn't stay that way the entire time we were there.

    I was taken back to a happy time in my life, too. Since the site is also home to horse shows, the horsewoman in me was easily able to spot the vestiges of their competition in the form of hoofprints and horse poop. It inspires a sense of nostalgia in me, and I thought to myself about how the pawprints being created as we walked through a freshly plowed arena were hoofprints, in my world, only a few years ago.

    And that was it from the park. Next stop.. agility lesson at Marisa's.

    Suffice to say, Marge was freaked when we first got there. Barking dogs (both in her yard and in surrounding yards), a new place, and the temperature steadily climbing (NEVER conducive in Marge's world to running agility). It took her a good ten or fifteen minutes to settle down and get out of panic mode. Strangely enough, though, she actually seemed less comfortable when the resident dogs were brought inside away from her. They were originally in a pen outside, so they could not interact with Marge fully, but she at least got so see that they were there. It further enhances my suspicion that under-control dogs that aren't jumping all over Marge or forcing social interaction with her do wonders to calm her down, part of the reason why she generally does so well when we go to watch at trials.

    Due to Marge's attitude about the whole thing, we, admittedly, didn't get a whole lot done. We did one small sequence - jump, jump, farside of tunnel, serpentine, weave - and spent the rest of the time working on the A-Frame and teeter. Though she was less than thrilled with the A-Frame work (not really sure why), she finally seems to be holding her 2o2o at the bottom of it. Looks like it's hasta-la-vista to running contacts.

    She really enjoyed the teeter work, as usual, despite the fact that she still has her reservations about the noise. Marisa speculated that her fascination with the teeter is due to how much reinforcement we have done with it. It could be a consequence of operant conditioning vs. classical, but standing there and repeatedly banging it and trying to feed her treats really didn't do too much for her.

    She is going over it, now, without much hesitation at all. It seems like her biggest problem is when it clunks after she takes her weight off and it goes back into position.

    All in all, private practices are probably just something that Marge will get used to after repeated visits. I know for next time that I'll need super high value treats, and LOTS of them - peanut butter didn't really seem to be doing much for her, but the little bits of hot dog that I had helped a little more.

    Needless to say, we're all pooped now. What an adventure! I wish it was a little less stressful for my girl, but I think that next time around it will probably be a bit better. Two new places in one day is a huge deal for her.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Dancing in the Fading Light

    We're having a party here in MargeLand, celebrating the arrival - finally - of Marge's blood at Dr. Jean Dodds' testing center in California.  The tests have not yet been run, but I'm assuming the blood is still good and I'll have my long-awaited answers soon.

    Today has been a mostly good day.  Marge went on a morning walk, a mid afternoon walk, and an evening walk right before her dinner.  The morning walk was completely loose, the evening walk filled with lots of clicking and behavior modification exercises in the busy field, and the middle walk a combination of the two.  I am pleased to say that all three went exceptionally well.

    Here's another picture I snapped in my backyard tonight. Marge has her concerned face on because she was looking into the yard two houses over through the slats of the fence.  But, it shows off her very good physical condition.  Amping up the exercise (and specifically, the small sessions of agility training in my yard) has definitely produced more muscle in my already muscular girl.  As she's aged, she seems to have filled out in all the right areas and her strength and curves really make for a good lookin' dog.  If I do say so myself!

    Fortunately, she wasn't too concerned with the other activity going on, and though I tried to play a game of "find it" with her beloved hippo, she decided that running around with it on her own was a better option.. see above.

    In other news, I did send in my trial entry, as some of you have been wondering.  I received my confirmation last night - Marge and I, if everything goes right, will be running in the NADAC Regular class on the first day of next month.  It's amazing and terrifying all at the same time.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Tuesday Training 10

    Where to start, where to start.  

    Bad Blood
    The blood I mailed out last week to Dr. Dodds' Hemopet Lab in California apparently never made its way out there.  I e-mailed them on Monday to ask about the results since I hadn't heard anything, only to find they had never received the sample.  This is horribly frustrating, because the last thing I want to do right now is drag Marge back in to the vet so she can be pinned down by two technicians who will prick her with a needle.

    I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet.  The blood is good for another few days (apparently it "spoils" after two weeks) so I'm going to hope and pray that the Postal Service digs it up somehow and gets it there.  If not, I may put the issue to rest for a little while, at least until after the November trial.

    Good Walks
    Marge's walks have been going a bit better as of late.  I've been trying to take her out for at least a half-hour long walk each day, with smaller ones and training sessions scattered in between.  Especially when we're in the field, she has been less concerned about the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.  She has walked on numerous occasions while there are sports events going on, something that was a no-no for whatever reason last month.

    I am really trying to make sure I don't tense up and just go with things.  It seems to be working.  Today, she passed several people, weird men running around with what seemed like no direction, two little barking dogs and the parks department golf cart, all with no problem. Of course, the fact that she's on her 20' leash and has at least 20' of distance from all of these things (more, in most cases) helps tremendously, but it still says something that they didn't bother her.

    The moving truck two houses away didn't bother her, either.  Nor did the men screaming from inside of it. Hopefully what ever individuals move into the house will be just as easy for her to deal with..

    Really Really Reactive
    Hopefully this will be a relatively isolated slip up, but Marge was extremely reactive tonight, the most she's been in a long while.  

    Her victims:
    • the PWD at agility class: she had SO much fun playing with this dog last week, but tonight Marge thought otherwise.  It doesn't come as too much of a surprise to me based on the situation (happy, big dog zooming and bouncing at the end of her leash), but it sure was weird to see Marge bark and growl after being so happy about this dog last week.
    • the husband of one of the handlers: I put Marge in the car for a little while to hang out with my sister while I walked the course.  I went back to find her growling with her hackles up because this particular man was standing behind the back windshield.  Also a weird occurrence, because he wasn't paying any attention to her and she was taking treats from him just a few minutes before.
    • one of the handlers: she LOVES this girl, but I don't think she realized who it was initially (the girl was wearing a hat) so she ran up to her growling.  She calmed down quickly, but I wish she wouldn't have been so impulsive and would have explored the situation before getting so crazy.
    • a lab who dropped in to our class:  I anticipated this happening because I know this dog's goofy nature.  She was on leash, took me by surprise and lunged, only to go crashing through a jump simultaneously.  Not a big deal.  We played Look at That during the rest of his runs.
    That was it for agility class, but she then reacted toward one of my neighbors who decided to come up to my car as I was parking.  And they WONDER why I don't like to park there..

    I then waited outside with her for awhile, playing some attention games in my driveway, but she then spotted her archnemesis, the Rottweiler, and puffed her self up and grumbled as she finished her cheese.  

    What a change!  Maybe I put too much social pressure on her during class.  I usually hang over to the sides with her, but I was a little closer to the general center of activity tonight.  I also think that the fact that winter jackets, hats, and other poofy clothing items are coming out is making people look bigger and more scary. Guess we'll go back to basics and do a lot of click and treat work over on the side.

    It doesn't help that there are other somewhat reactive dogs in the class.

    Clean(ish) Runs!

    The bright spot in tonight's update is definitely the actual agility itself. Marge was totally on the ball tonight, thanks probably to a long walk, some backyard training sessions and a game of fetch (the Marge version - don't bring the toy back) before hand.  No zoomies what so ever, and she only tried to leave the ring a couple of times.

    I'll just work my way through the sequence..

    - She was a little weird about her start line stay tonight.  She did NOT want to sit in the grass.  It was most likely either wet or previously peed on by another dog.  So, we did stand-waits at the beginning.
    - Dog walk was good, a little slow tonight for whatever reason.  Definitely better about hitting her 2o2o.
    - She performed jumps 3 and 4 beautifully, totally ignoring the tunnel and coming right in to my hand between the two jumps.
    - Tunnel to frame actually surprised me.  I had to pretty much leave her back there while she was in the tunnel, and I guess I just didn't really think she'd know every time to go over the A-Frame.  
    - Front cross in front of the A-Frame wasn't bad at all, though I thought it would be.  She had a little trouble with obstacle discrimination on a couple of her runs, but eventually understood that she was supposed to go in the tunnel.
    - Jump to table is pretty self explanatory.. she had a couple of pretty good plops down on the table, good for a dog who has seen it probably less than half a dozen times.

    And, (sadly), not on tape.. we ran the second half of the course completely clean.  Her weave poles were BEAUTIFUL tonight and she was responding to my changes in direction and body language superbly.  She went on in front of me for two jumps at the end of the sequence.  Not only did she do it correctly, but she didn't leave the ring after going over the last jump, either.  Very happy about that.

    And, there you have it.  We don't have class next week, but I will be likely making a trip out to New Jersey this Friday for a private lesson at my instructor's house.  I will also, hopefully, be taking Marge to the trial site.  (Everyone in my class was totally excited by the fact that I entered.. my instructor said I'm going to be mad that I only entered one class.  Hope it's true.)

    Tomorrow's my long day at school, so hopefully the events of today will leave Marge pooped out enough to not require much from me tomorrow.  Oh, the excitement!

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Trial Tribulations

    I should be studying for what promises to be a brutal Psychopathology midterm tomorrow, but, no. All I have on my mind are the two envelopes sitting in front of me - one with Marge's NADAC registration fee (she has been registered as Northbound Fly By Night, my original name choice), and the other with a $14 check inside for an agility run that may or may not happen next month.

    I have given a lot of thought to this November 1st trial. Probably too much thought.

    Everyone I've spoken to has told me to take this opportunity.  My friends, my dog-savvy friends, my agility friends, my trainer, my vet, and most importantly, even some fellow fearful dog owners.  The response from those who have said anything about it has been completely unanimous - go for it!

    I've mulled over which day to go (settled on the fact that Halloween was probably a terrible idea), mulled over which classes to enter, mulled over how many classes to enter.

    So, my final decision: one NADAC Novice Regular run on November first.

    I had it narrowed down between Regular (or Standard, as the AKC folks call it) and Jumpers.

    Tunnelers was my first choice in August, but I was informed that it would likely be the last class of the day at this trial, so I do NOT want to keep Marge waiting around for hours the first time she ever competes. Additionally, watching dogs barrel through tunnel after tunnel is a great recipe for overexcitedness and reactivity. And, what's more, I can definitely see my girl getting bored with it after taking the second or third tunnel. I know dogs generally love the Tunnelers class, but Marge has never seen so many Tunnels in a row and I'm afraid she might wonder what the heck was going on with it.

    Jumpers was another option, because, simply put, Marge seldom knocks a bar and is generally fine with crossing. But, since Jumpers is so fast paced, I (and especially my boyfriend) thought that that might leave her wanting to run zoomies instead of perform obstacles.

    So, Regular it is. Does she have her contacts down 100-percent? No. Might she fly off the A-Frame? Yes. Might she totally ignore the hoops that could possibly be on the field? Yes. Might she screw up her weave entry? Yes. But Regular offers the greatest amount of control, the greatest amount of easy crosses (at tunnels and contact obstacles), and the most naturally paced agility for us. There are no teeters, tires (at this trial, though they are legal in NADAC) or tables for us to worry about - our three weakest obstacles, so that is nice.

    As of now, I've pretty much made the decision to just go with it. Since this will be Marge's first run ever, I do not want to go back and repeat faulty weaves or missed contacts. I want her to think what she is doing is absolutely wonderful and completely right. I don't want to confuse her by breaking her stride, saying "uh-oh!" and having her possibly wonder about what she did or didn't do. We might finish with fifteen faults, but if she is attentive, unafraid, and enjoying herself, than it's a Q in my mind.

    (Of course, I'm not totally planning on an NQ, and do think it is entirely possible that we could run the course clean. I'm just saying that her level of comfort is the absolute number-one priority in my mind right now.)

    I am also perfectly prepared to take her to the trial, see that for whatever reason, she is not ready to do it, and stick around a while feeding her massive amounts of hamburgers and cheese. I do not anticipate this, as she has gone to two trials and was very relaxed at them, but things like this have to always be in the back of my mind with a dog such as Marge.

    So, that's where we stand right now.  There are four more weeks until the trial.  The last few things I'd like to get in:
    • Take Marge to the trial site - I went there last week to watch a trial, but the County Parks Department informed me that I can take her there and walk her around as long as there are no events going on.
    • Have a private lesson, hopefully at my trainer's house in NJ.  If I'm lucky enough to squeeze this in, I think it will help me accurately gage how comfortable Marge will be about going to a brand new place and doing agility almost immediately.
    • Rent the (new) training hall for some private practice time.  Though this would be more beneficial if I was running Jumpers, since I won't have access to the contact obstacles, it will still serve to work on changes of directions, send outs, weave pole entries, and, again, getting to work in a brand new place.
    • Take her to the trial site the day of set up for a run-through.  Louie is nice enough to drive us out there (yeah, this nineteen year old still hasn't driven on the highway...) so I'll bring Marge in her crate, help out with the set up, and then I'll get to run her.  I'm still not exactly sure how I'm going to work this, because I don't want Marge to freak out having to stay in her crate without me right there or while listening/watching the set up going on.  For now, we'll play this by ear, get as much of the other stuff in as possible and then see where we're at.
    I'll update more about this in the coming month.  It will sure be interesting to see how everything plays out.

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Cratework Commences

    Marge's big 42"crate arrived at my grandmother's house, so after a short detour in Buddy's yard (she was quite happy to see him) we went to go pick it up.

    It didn't take long for her to start investigating it, and only a few clicks and treats later, she was able to lay down in it.

    It is on the large side and is quite tall (37 inches - that's three feet!) so I considered returning it and buying a smaller one, but length and width wise it works out well for her. She cuddled up in it and took an hour-long nap last night, which really made me decide that I should stick with it since she likes it so much.

    She doesn't like when I zip up the front door, so I'm letting her lay in it for now with the door either rolled up or hanging down unzipped. I don't think she'll like being in it when no one's in the room with her, but that will most likely not be its main use (I really bought it for agility trials) and I'll have plenty of time to work on it with her.

    I'm going to feed her in it later with the door closed and see how she does.

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Overcast, Having a Blast

    It really is a nasty day in New York.  The sun is nowhere to be found, and the clouds are hanging low overhead, almost ominously.  The air is dry and frigid, and the general lack of warmth is compounded by a breeze that'd make you think it's winter.

    No better day for a walk than this one.

    I had planned all day to take Marge to the beach, as Tuesday's agility class woke me up to the realization that the weather is finally starting to cool and Marge is going to be in need of much more exercise.  Since it was so quiet out, I decided to take the short walk to the beach rather than drive my car there.

    (We did almost have an encounter with an off-leash yellow lab, but thankfully the lab was far enough away from us that he never got too close and actually seemed to be under decent control for a change.)

    She frolicked on the beach for a while, stopping to sniff every rock only to take off in a casual lope towards the next one almost instantly.  

    The crashing of the waves mutes the sounds of the surrounding city, so there is nothing for Marge to worry about while she's walking on the sand.

    She recalled beautifully before this shot.  She was off sniffing, and I called her, and once she realized what I had said, it registered with her that moving towards me would be in her best interest because she would be rewarded cookies.

    Before we left, I played her favorite game with her where I throw pieces of treat and she has to chase them to get them. She went down into many play bows in anticipation of the food coming her way.
    We had a nice adventure.  It was one of the longest walks we've been on in a while that wasn't behavior-modification intensive.  It's so nice just to stroll with my dog, with almost no care in the world about anything else.

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