Saturday, November 28, 2009

One of Those Nights

Tonight was just one of those agility practices where my setup and I just didn't gel that well.  

I had two courses in mind with the set up.  The first turned out to be pretty good, and is the one in the video.  

Breaking it down:
  • I liked starting with the tire because, previously, Marge's start lines at tires have not been good.  Didn't seem to be a problem tonight.  
  • Came in between the 180 to go out to the red tunnel, and here I encountered some trouble.  It seems that I turned my body/shoulders too quickly, before Marge committed to the tunnel, and that led to her veering off to the side in the first take.  I added an OUT command (something I almost never use) and that seemed to help.  
  • Coming into the second, blue tunnel was tricky for Marge.  I had to wait back to pull her in to it, but I couldn't wait too far back because the weaves were next.  With subsequent repetitions, she started to get it.  
  • Her weaves were alright tonight.. not as good as I would have liked, not too terrible either.  I don't know whether to be worried about it or not, because her weaves are fine at all (albeit usually at reduced speed).  Starting to wonder if the spacing is different..
  • That front-crossy thing between the weaves and jump seemed better than a back cross, those possibly less efficient.
  • She hasn't seen the table in quite some time.  The fact that it was a low table did throw her off a bit, but there was NO way I was lugging out the heavy, big one.  
  • She did nicely down the line from jump to tunnel, and had no problem figuring out that the tire was the next obstacle.  The rest is straightforward.
Critique, please, critique!

My second sequence was disastrous, way too hard for Marge and way too small for the room I was in, so I scratched it.  But, I couldn't really think of anything better to put (I had some other courses scribbled on paper, but they, too, seemed to be too big for the room) so we did a lot of drill-type stuff.. back crosses into the tunnel, weaves after the tunnel, bounce jumps..

Speaking of bounce jumps, does any one know how the heck to figure out the correct spacing?  Marge either seemed to be constantly straining over them or, if they're too far apart, taking extra strides in between.  Perhaps I should have left the bounce jumps at 16" for another week..

I felt so bad.  On one attempt, Marge went crashing through the final jump and seemed a little discombobulated after, a little hesitant to go over the jump again.  I then decided that we'd all had enough of the bounces and spread them out for her to boost her confidence back up.  I ended the night with a couple of easy 270's.  

I guess I am caught in a never-ending battle between a) wanting to work on specific skills, b) wanting to run a 10-14 obstacle sequence because it's more fun for both of us, c) dealing with the reality that the space is VERY narrow and d) the fact I have no experience putting a course together.  Perhaps next time I should stick to the saying that less is more, and do more drill-type stuff with Marge, since it's what the space is really best for, and end with a couple of very easy 7 or 8 obstacle sequences in the end to keep it fun for her.

I'm definitely missing the input from my instructor, and am relieved that plain ol' classes are starting back up hopefully a week from Monday.  If anyone has any drill/sequence ideas, I'd appreciate the input.  Right now, I have 5 jumps, a tire, 2 tunnels, 12 weaves and a table available.  I'm hoping that the number of jumps and tunnels will increase when the equipment is brought in from the field outside.  Oh, and the space is about 85' x 25', though I prefer to only use about 60' of the long direction.  Ideas, please, ideas!

And, for fun, some pictures from the night, courtesy of my sister..

My only hope is that Marge still had fun tonight despite the technical difficulties of setting stuff up; I think she did, for at least a good portion of the time. However, looking back, the biggest problem I have is probably not rewarding her enough (not so much in this sequence, but in others, especially with the weaves) and being a little bit stressed out about getting stuff out, putting it away, leaving on time, doing some productive, etc. Maybe next time we'll take a step back and do a sequence we've already done, or just one big circle, or smaller set ups that are less intense in every sense of the word.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There's Sand in My Turkey!

OK, the turkey was actually sand-free, but I thought the statement was a catchy way to introduce the slightly unorthodox way that I spent part of my Thanksgiving.

Jess, Marge and I took TWO walks down to the beach.  Since we were having company, I wanted to get Marge some exercise beforehand.  That was the first walk.  It actually would have been longer if not for offleash dogs on the beach that I thought it best to avoid.  So, we just barely scraped the sand on that walk, and headed back through the field to home.

On the second walk, too, we spotted an offleash dog on the beach in one direction, and a huge throng of people in the other, so we got to walk on the sand even less. Again, we figured it was best to avoid the scary things and have a short, but enjoyable, time.  But we (mostly my sister) got some cute shots on this walk, since we were now appropriately armed with the camera.

Pretty sunset view!

Marge sniffs the beach wood and rocks.

A trail of wet MargePrints in the sand.

She poses on the back "wall" of sand behind the beach. If it looks like it drops off suddenly, it's because it does. Recent storm surges have caused the water to swell higher than usual, pulling the sand away from the bank. Kind of scary!  Marge had to jump 3 or 4 feet to get up there.

One more pose atop the bank..

And then a sandy plummet down!

Posing in the warm glow.

And, a gorgeous sihlouette!

Our time on the beach was short, maybe ten or fifteen minutes at most.  We did, however, play around in the field before returning home. 

There was ANOTHER offleash dog (they were all out today, it seems), and, although Marge actually looked like she wanted to join in his little running game, I called out to the owner and said that she is not so friendly, so we kept away from each other.  The situation hyped her up, and she proceeded to run a few laps of zoomies once we moved farther away.

Her tail looks funny in this picture.

And, she ran some more.

One last pic -- here are those pesky geese-like birds that I was looking for an ID on a couple of weeks ago. Anyone have any ideas? They are pretty birds, but I don't appreciate having to wade through their poop all the time!

And that concludes the tale of our Thanksgiving walks.  In terms of the actual food, Marge didn't get TOO much, but I've promised her some yummy leftovers to use as treats during our agility practice on Saturday.  I think it's a fair deal.

Thanksgivin' Thanks

I have had such awful writer's block here on MargeBlog for the past week, possibly because of the extraordinary amount of writing I've done alone for what was supposed to be a group project. Fortunately, I get to give myself an extra day to think, because I promised Frankie that I'd let Marge speak for herself today and talk about how her life has changed.  


Hallo. Marge here. FINALLY the hooman has given me another opportunity to write here for myself. It has been toooo long.

My blog so often focuses on what my life is like now.  With lots of training, walkies, agilities, that funny thing that my hooman calls "behavior modifications."  But, I wasn't always here.  In fact, I was far, far away from Poo York City when I was just a pupper.

I can't remember it all now.  We dogs' brains are only so big, and, surely, I have more important things to remember like back crosses and which treat I feel like having on a given day.  But, the jist of it is, I was sent as a tiny young'n, with my eyes still shut, to a scary place called "Animal Control."  I'm not sure what I did to make them think they needed to control me, my momma Nellie, and my six brothers and sisters, but life's not very fair, I guess.

Somewhere along the line, some rescroo people came and got all of us.  I don't remember much about my puppyhood with them, except that one of my littermates got adopted and so did my mom, eventually.  Oh, there also weren't a lot of people around, very much less than the number of people here in Poo York.  My hooman often says I was "raised on a mountain in Georgia," and I have a feeling it might be this that she is thinking of when she says that.

It's not that the rescroo people weren't nice.  They even had us do some basic 'bedience training, just like the ones that I did last year with my hooman's club.  But the problem was that there weren't so many of them around.  How was I 'spose to know which ones were nice and which ones weren't?  We were all really confused growing up there, and we wondered why none of us were getting adopted.

Turns out there's this thing that makes people not like dark colored doggies.  So that's why all the other dogs were leaving, but we still had to stay.  Eventually, when we were almost all growned up, they put us in cages on a big car-thingy and we went to Poo Jersey.  Except, they didn't want most of us there, either (they said they had no space -- but I think they just didn't want black doggies!) and, in the middle of the night, we wound up in Poo York.  Scatten Eyeland, to be exact.  

The next day, my hooman came in for work, at the shelter - kind of like animal control, except less controlling and much nicer with toys and a play pen.  The nice man, Frank, told her that there were nine new dogs from a big transport.  She went to go see us all, and she says that I immediately caught her eye.  She still remembers what cage I was in, too.  

We all had to go out for our morning potty breaks, and she chose to take me out.  It was nice walking behind the kennel and smelling all the Poo York smells.  Much different than anything I'd ever smelled before!

I saw my hooman a couple of other times that week, coming in to the shelter to either work or volunteer.  She would sit with me and play with me and my brothers.

On the day of her high school gradumacation, she braved up and asked her mom if she wanted to come see us at the shelter.  That Saturday, she introduced my brother, Homer, and me to her mom.  Her mom didn't like Homer, because she thought he was a lot more scared than me. (Don't worry, though - he found a home, too, and is doing great!) Her mom did like me, though, and the next day, I went to their house for a trial visit.  I needed to win the approval of the queen of the house.

It went pretty well. The cat was confused, and I wanted to eat her poop, but it worked out okay. That was Joone 29th, the first day I got to see my new digs.  I went to the shelter to sleep for one more night, and after work that Monday, my hooman took me home with her. Joone 30th - I was home for good.

It was the start of the rest of my life, and little did I know how much things would change!

Ok, now that I've given my story, it is officially time to return to kitchen duty. I tend to run laps up and down the stairs if I smell ham being cooked and can't get to it. Tonight shall be no different! Especially when Grandma (my hooman's grandma) comes back over to our house tomorrow.. she can never seem to resist giving me a taste!

OK, the "hooman's" turn again. Goodness knows I can only part with my beloved blog for so long.

It really is amazing to sit back and think about all that Marge has been through in her life. This is a dog that was essentially deprived up a puppyhood. She didn't know what toys were when I first got her. She wasn't housebroken. She didn't know what to do with herself except sit in front of the TV, staring at us, probably still wondering in her own doggy way who she was, where she was, and how she got there.

The setbacks in training have been immense, yes. There are times when I want to scream and cry and rip my hair out of my head because I don't know what to do or if what I am doing is right or if it will help her. But it is still a miracle that we've gotten this far. A little black dog from Georgia, grew up on a mountain, still on that lifelong journey to learning about life in the face of innumerable sights and sounds. A dog whose courage reaches its peak as she begins to descend the A-Frame, a dog who can still have fun despite the vast shortcomings of puppyhood. My great friend, my biggest challenge, my resilient partner, my number-one teammate in the great big world of dogs.

I've got a lot to be thankful for this year. A healthy dog, a healthy cat, a mostly healthy family, a great boyfriend and a life more fortunate than many get to experience. When it all gets put into perspective, I can really see how lucky I am.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Agility Rainbow

I love seeing Marge's smile come out when she knows we're going to start agility practice. Last night, we had the hall all to ourselves for an hour, and I think we got a lot done!

Here's the course set up with three sequences.  The set up is not completely accurate, but it gives you a general idea.  I downloaded a free trial of Course Designer 3 and have been having SO much fun with it.  This set up was inspired by part of a CPE Level 1 sequence that I found somewhere on the net - for the life of me, I can't remember where!

And, of course, the accompanying video, with several explanations to follow.

GREEN sequence
This was the sequence originally inspired by the previously mentioned CPE course.  I liked it because it was long and narrow, just like the space with which I have to work.  The tunnel was purposely curved outwards - I wanted to work on "strange" directional stuff in to and out of the tunnels after last week's confusion at class.  The green sequence was very short and straightforward.  

At one point, I tried a three jump lead out and had some pretty cool results - a lot of speed from Marge!  The front cross between 4 and 5 wasn't necessary for these 6 obstacles, but was something I would have needed to do if there was room for another jump after the tunnel.  I considered it good practice.

BLUE sequence
What fun this course was!  Again, the jump-tunnel opening was intentional, as the tunnel wasn't the obvious next obstacle for Marge and forced her to watch my handling and position.  There was a front cross in between 5 and 6, I don't know how well the video shows it.  Going from tunnel 7 to jump 8 was pretty cool, too.   I tried to use my position, especially my shoulders, to tell Marge where to go.  We ran it correctly every time we did it, so I think that's a good sign.  

The 180 was pretty tricky since there was another jump so close to it.. but I managed by bringing up my other arm and keeping her focused on me.  (I noticed that this isn't a popular handling style.  It's how I was taught, but I very seldom see people use it.  I wonder if I'm doing it correctly.)  

I didn't necessarily have to front cross to get her from tunnel 11 to jump 12, but it made more sense for me to run up there and cross because of the way I had the jump angled.  I think it worked and made it clearer for Marge.

PINK sequence
This, I thought, was the hardest sequence that I thought up.  I built on what I did in the blue sequence and had Marge take two jumps before having to change direction and go into the tunnel.  It really wasn't as challenging as I thought it would be.

I'm still not sure WHAT I did in between jumps 4, 5 and 6.  That was not how I originally intended to handle it, but it kind of just worked out that way.  I feel like my arms were in all the wrong places!  The back cross into the tunnel (though it was more like a push) was pretty cool, too.  All those back crosses on the flat that I practiced after my very first night of agility class back in April seemed to have paid off.

All in all, it was another learning experience.  I'm no good at setting up courses and the handling gets harder when the course is so tight, so I think the fact that I ran all three courses that I set up was an accomplishment in itself!

We did work on some other things, too.  I'm trying to figure out how to handle threadles, but, for the life of me, can't learn to put it into motion.  That'll have to be a topic for a future private lesson with my teacher.

Something really cool that we did was the beginnings of bounce jumping (for those who don't do agility, bounce jumping is when the dog doesn't take a full stride in between two jumps - supposed to help gain strength).  These jumps proved to be too close together at first (I don't have any way to measure) and Marge was straining herself, so I spread them out a bit and we had some fun.  I started off at 12", and, by the end of the session, was up to 16".  Marge even took it upon herself to do a bounce when we were working a 270 - at full jump height!  Pretty cool! 

Marge invented her own course, too, jumping over the tunnel when I asked her to come. By sheer luck, Louie got a picture of it (too bad I'm in it).  Silly dog!

While we were cleaning up and putting away equipment, she spotted my high-value treat stash of cold-cut turkey. When we came back, we found the entire bag empty!

Oh well, she earned it. We did a whole lot yesterday.  Besides, how can I be mad when I've got a dog with such a happy, innocent smile?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beauty All Around Us

Let me start off by saying that I am so sorry for not getting around to everyone's blogs this week.  I've been short on both blog fodder and time, so I'm happy to even have a minute to come here and make a post.  Feels like it's been forever!  I'll come around and visit everyone today and tomorrow.

This is off-topic, but yesterday, I finally went to see two of my very close friends from high school in the city (and, conquered a fear of my own - riding the subway all by myself!).  I figured that showing off a couple of pictures (I definitely felt like a tourist with my camera out) might be a special treat for you country dwellers.

I am always amazed when I go to Manhattan at the number of dogs I see walking around.  The noise, the commotion, the sights, the smells, are all intense, even for a human.   I know one doggy who would never survive there - and, neither would I, as I find it to be very stressful if I go too often.  

The day was fun, though, filled with Thai food, self-serve frozen yogurt with lots of toppings, and good friends.


Today, we traveled into more familiar territory on our first outing to the woods in nearly a month.  I would have liked to try a new trail, but some sort of race was taking place on the White Trail, which crosses several other trails and takes a good chunk of the woods away from us.  There were what looked like campsites in two locations.  I don't think it's normally legal to camp out there, so it must have been in connection with something else.

The tents were not far from the lake, so we had to change our plans and couldn't walk around it. My sister snapped this quick shot before we headed farther into the woods. The trees were barren and the sky bright in comparison to when Louie and I visited this spot last month.

And, of course, almost every scenic picture we take needs to be twinned with a similar picture including our favorite canine friend, Marge.

We continued on, the forest floor totally covered by fallen leaves. If not for the absence of trees along the path and presence of trail markers, it would have been impossible to determine what was a trail and what wasn't.

Pump House Pond stood before us, also an alien sight from what we saw in October. However, no matter the season, Marge still had no hesitation going for a dip. It was actually surprisingly warm, and I think the water on her legs and chest helped keep her cool and gave her motivation to continue on.

Here, she poses on the trail. She was a little nervous during some parts of this trip, so we offered her extra motivation in the form of treats and funny phrases that get her attention.

The color wasn't completely gone from the forest; here, the last vestiges of these trees' growing seasons danced against the picture-perfect sky. Jess spotted this photo-op perfectly and nailed it before I could get my hands on the camera.

Marge, too, did some dancing of her own, as she shot over to this cliff-like point just off the trail in hot pursuit of a squirrel.

We continued down the Blue Trail. These trees reached up towards the blue sky, with the fancy golf course looming behind them. I've always wondered what kind of trees they are; they remind me of KB's aspens because they're tall, skinny and situated so close to each other in their own little grove, but they never seemed to have turned a vibrant yellow this fall.

I mentioned these trees in my account of our last adventure. They stood out to me because their bark was so much darker than the surrounding trees' were. They blended in a bit more this time around, but I still remembered them for their odd stance (if trees could have a "stance").

This seemingly random sign hung on one of the trees. It reminded me of the Army of Four (get it? A 4? Hee hee!).

We climbed on and on, eventually reaching a clearing next to the golf course. What a spectacular sight that stood before us! We were high enough to see out across the lower New York Bay to New Jersey. (No, I didn't figure that out on my own - Louie had to help with the georgraphic aspects of it. I thought it was the Atlantic Ocean. Which I guess it still is...)

Marge had enough of the picture taking after a few minutes and silently pleaded that we continue.

We did eventually go on, but not before one more cute pic on the deck overlooking the golf course. (Marge actually fell behind the bench into the foot or so of space between the bench and the fence.  I asked her to lay down on it and her back leg slipped, but, in typical agile-girl fashion, didn't have much of a problem crawling underneath it and back out to where she was supposed to be. So happy she didn't panic.  Sitting, of course, sufficed for picture taking.)

This is where we turned around. We climbed farther this time than we did other times.  It was probably a little more than three miles round trip, 45 minutes or so each way.  I would have continued, but we're supposed to be doing agility practice at the training building later and I didn't want any of us to be tired. I was also surprised at how cleared out this section was. The building in front of us seemed to be storage for picnic tables. I thought the spot was secluded - do they really expect THAT many picnickers in the warm months? (For our sake, I hope not!)

Marge posed one last time in the spot, probably a little upset with me for telling her to sit and stay instead of allowing her to continue her sniffing spree.

And, our final photo of the day - Marge peeking out from behind a split-trunked tree. An adorable remembrance of a priceless voyage!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday Training 15

Woohoo!  What a pick-me-up after last night's bummed out posts about our walks.  Our final outdoor agility class of the season was a total blast.  Marge was social, mostly nonreactive, and looking to take treats from everyone.  Oh, and the agility went pretty well, too.

This course was HARD. Count it - THREE A-Frame/tunnel discrimination exercises (four if you count the initial tire-frame).  I just about fainted when I walked the course and discovered that horrifying fact. 

Yet, she did pretty well.  She was fast, under control, and totally unstressed.  The first tunnel entry was, by far, the hardest, and we did flub it considerably.  I'll break the whole thing down:

- start line stay tonight was phenomenal.  I cut most of it out, but our friendly Portuguese-Water-Classmate was bouncing around walking back to get her leash for a solid 10 seconds or so while Marge was waiting on the line.  Apparently, Marge's start line problems (ie., wanting to sit instead of stand) had a lot to do with where the start line was located - in the far corner of the field, filled with shadows and, I assume, pretty icky/damp.  She had no problem on the grass this evening, that's for sure.

- She hit her A-Frame contact on the first run, but on this one I had to put her back on it.  Still very much a work in progress.

- Next three jumps are straightforward.. AWESOME weave entries tonight, she definitely showed that she was looking for the entry point and took another step if needed to position herself right. 

- Jump to tunnel was fine.  Marge's problem was that the A-Frame crossed over to the other side, so she was looking for me on the right side rather than on the left.  This created confusion.  I finally got it right by running way up and showing her exactly where I was, rather than sitting back and waiting for her to come flying over the next jump.

- Dog walk was great.  Her contact is really nice on it, especially since she hasn't seen it in at least a month or so.

- The next tunnel entry was a lot less problematic than I thought it would be.  BIG kudos to Marge for reading my back cross (which I call "turn") through the tire even though I cued it super super late.  

- Another BIG BIG BIG kudos for backcrossing the jump after the tunnel!  We worked on this briefly during our last private practice session and I'm hoping it made a difference, because the speed was still there, but the CONTROL was there too!

- Again, a nice weave entry the second time around, but she popped out at the last pole.  We were running short on time, so I wasn't able to go back and fix it.  

I'm sad that we won't be at the field until January, but I understand why we're moving indoors.  It was SO cold tonight.  Can't-move-your-hands kind of cold, making it really hard to hold treats and a clicker and expecting to do something constructive with them.  I did wind up signing up for the winter session.  We'll probably only be able to go for about six weeks out of the eight.  Two of our classmates are in the class, and the class tops out at seven dogs total, but I'm hoping that the midafternoon time scares a lot of potential people away.  NOTHING beats a small-sized agility class.

Agility has opened up an entire new world for Marge to learn and grow.  The past six or seven months out at the field have enabled me to give my dog confidence, give my dog a job, and strengthen my bond with her.   She has met lots of understanding human friends and also many polite and compatible doggy friends.  Getting involved in this has been one of the best decisions I've ever made for her.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Winning Back the Neighborhood

As I hinted in my last training post, I am going to extend my discussion of our nightly walks into a full-length blog post.  Since tomorrow night is our last day at the agility field before indoor classes, I figured I'll have more than enough to blab about in the training update without this.

We've continued our routine of walking in the evening.  I'm still really not sure how to feel about it.  

(If you're new to the blog, Marge is fearful of walking on regular streets thanks to a slew of problems over the summer, so the main road near my house has been a compromise in the evening between the mega-scary side streets and the super-fun open field, which is "closed" after dusk.   There are less people out at night, and, I think from Marge's perspective, things tend to sneak up on her less on the main road the way they would on the side streets - people simply walking by as opposed to people quickly slamming shut their front door and getting in their car, for example.  We've been doing this for a couple of weeks now, attempting to blend areas where we need to pass a few people and distractions AND also relax among trees and telephone poles and other stinky items.

One side of the road has a sidewalk and contains houses, the other side is grassy and borders on the big field.  Our route has been to first walk on the sidewalk side, then, turn to the grassy side for the remainder of the walk.  Generally, few people are out at the time we walk; we typically encounter two or three silent, not-an-issue passers-by and that's it.  If they are out, they're almost always on the sidewalk side, which is why we get that side over with first.)

Marge did very well over the very windy days of last week.  She wasn't anxious at all when walking.  Because the wind was blowing stuff around, there were some things that caused her to spook, but she bounced back immediately.  She reminded me of a spooky, but fresh horse - jumping around, reacting to the stimuli in the environment without much thought, but still having a wild time.  

I, stupidly, did make the mistake of walking her past some really scary people who were clearing leaves out of their chainlink fence on one of those days - an absolutely awful decision on my part, because it really bothered her.  We did continue walking, though, and she seemed alright.  Otherwise, I can't think of anything else that stood out as particularly scary or bad.

Now that the wind's died down, the past couple of days have been interesting.  We did have a couple of warm days, so the walks were even more sluggish on top of whatever fear she felt.  

I can't remember much from Sunday night's walk except that it wasn't very good.  She walked, but she choose to walk right next to the curb seemingly with the goal of getting to the other side of the street (the grassy, no-traffic side, the way that we walk back home).  I don't know if this is fear of walking on the concrete side, a wish to get to the trees and such to smell on the grassy side, or an attempt to end the walk prematurely.  I don't remember any other specifics except that I came back saying to myself, "at least tomorrow's another day."

Well, tomorrow came, and I'm STILL not happy.  She was better on the concrete side tonight, though I didn't walk as far as I usually do, figuring that ending on a good note would be better than extending the walk and waiting for something scary to happen. Several people passed us, including a group of three very large men, and she really had no problem with that (clicks and treats were absolutely doled out).  We walked down on the grassy side way past our house and past the REALLY scary (and, if I may say so, scuzzy) delicatessen on the other side of the street.  But, then, there were just too many people -- one man walking his dogs, two women chatting loudly with their large dogs up ahead of us, nuisance teens talking loudly but unseen in the darkness.  Marge freaked pretty bad, and we had to turn around for home.

The heavy hitter of the night was the fact that I had forgotten to give her the L-Theanine prior to the walk because we walked earlier than usual.  I don't know whether that had any effect on things.  She received the dose as soon as we got back.  I headed out for another short walk after that, this time staying only to the grassy side.  She seemed better, though I was using high-value cheese.  She did offer a grumble through her nibbles on the cheese to the nasty Rottweiler who walked on the other side of the street, but that's nothing new, and we played a little tiny bit of Look-At-That, though I don't think it'll ever do any good since the Rottweiler snarks at anything that moves, which is probably what sets off Marge.

I'm so confused on what to do.  Do I stop the walks and simply walk her more during the day in places that she likes?  Or, do I keep up with the walks and just continue taking the good with the bad?  

Aside from tonight's walk, she hasn't shut down or gone into full flight mode, which is a good thing, a sure step above where she was over the summer.  And, other than that dampening episode with the many noisy distractions, the walk itself really wasn't that bad, probably thanks largely in part to the dipping temperatures.  She LOOKS comfortable from an outward view for most of the time - tail up, head down, moving at a trot, sniffing as she walks, hopping from tree to tree.  

My hope would be that continuing the routine, making it predictable, would boost her confidence so that she eventually knows exactly what to expect on the walks.  I'm obviously treating her during stressful situations, like when people pass (which has proven to be almost a zero issue unless noise is involved), or there are noises around.  Otherwise, I kind of just let her sniff and lead the way.  My fear would be having her become so anxious as to begin to have strong fear responses to only mildly uncomfortable things, or try to get home as soon as possible.

I'd choose one direction to go and just stick with it.  But, if I go one way, there are more people, cars, and noise in general.  If I go the other, there are less people and cars, but that darn store ruins everything.  There are always people in front of it, talking loudly and sometimes acting like morons.  Everything beyond that point is pretty quiet, but I just don't feel like it's worth it - walk past an immensely scary deli and wind up on a road of nothingness?  To me, it seems like not much would be accomplished in the way of getting Marge to feel better about distractions in the environment.  Or, skip the deli/avoid it unless no one's there, and walk the other way, where there is a constant low- buzz of motion, but usually nothing outrageous?

Right now, I've been doing both - start out with the busier part, treat her as needed, let her sniff as much as she wants, then turn around towards my house, pass my block/house, pass the store (on the opposite side of the street) as long as I don't see any potentially scary activity, and walk on the quieter part as a peaceful way to end things (the deli seems to be less of an issue on the way back, usually because I creep into the field for just a tiny stretch if I see that there are people there.  Confusing, I know, and I considered using my terrible MS Paint skills to make a map, but would probably reveal my location more than I'd like to.

Another interesting point is that Marge is exponentially better on ALL walks if she has not been exercised enough in the hours before and even moreso if it's cold out.  An experiment might be to skip our daytime walks on one day and see if that makes her less fearful on the nightly walk.  This, ultimately, has to occur any way on Wednesdays, being that I'm at school all day.  So, aside from a 10-minute walk in the morning, Marge does not walk until I get home.  We'll see what happens then, I guess.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just Beachy

I really wanted to take Marge for a hike today, because it's now been a couple of weeks since our last woodland adventure.  However, I slept in pretty late following a night-owl kind of night yesterday, staying up and browsing the internet for who knows what.  So, the beach would have to be the best substitute.  Marge, my sister and I headed for the shore.

Dogs aren't allowed on open New York City beaches during the beach season, spanning from May to October, I believe. This excludes the strip of beach near my house where there are no lifeguards, park personnel, etc (I suppose you can call this a "closed" beach), but does include other nearby beaches.  So, this marks the first time in a long time that we've been on this particular stretch of sand.  Since it is so vast, I knew that despite the warm weather, we'd be able to avoid the throngs of people out enjoying the end of the really rainy week we had.

The colors were so vivid.  The sun was striking at an odd angle, since it sets so early now.  As long as we could avoid the shadows, we got some pretty nice pictures.  All the while, Marge explored and trotted gingerly from rock to rock, shell to shell.

She looks so focused and determined in this shot, like she's following some sort of strong and promising scent.

Here, she wonders why we've told her to pause and pose next to the crashing ocean.  I have a similar picture of her from the summer of 2008 on one of our very frequent beach outings.  It's funny to see how gangly the yearling Marge looks back then compared to how she's filled out and grown almost a year and a half later.

And, of course, no beach day would be complete without a big wide Marge grin, her eyes glimmering and specks of sand dotting her otherwise pitch black nose.

She explored the rocks next to the jetty, but the waves soon came pouring over them, causing Marge to want to get to higher ground as quick as she could. She leapt from the rocks onto the big cement pier. After all our excursions at the beach, she still wants absolutely nothing to do with the water, since it isn't still and peaceful like the lakes and ponds in the woods.

We kept going, Marge leading the way in a flowing, full-out trot.  She did very well passing a large mastiff and a puppy mastiff in pretty close proximity.  We encountered a couple of other dogs, but most either didn't notice Marge or she didn't notice them, so it wasn't a problem.  She hasn't seen many dogs outside of training class or agility events in quite some time, so it was encouraging that she didn't get too scared or reactive.  I need to get her back out to the parks for walks, where we often do have to pass dogs out for a stroll. 

Similarly, she had no reaction to the people dotting the shoreline, walking or fishing.  She did get a little nervous as we meandered closer to the park headquarters, where they'd begun forming few-foot high barriers out of the sand, in what looks like an attempt to prevent erosion over the winter.  Park personnel vans drove along the asphalt path, and the crowd seemed to have thickened.  Even though they were at least a couple of hundred feet away from us, the noise carried; we had walked far enough, so this seemed like the perfect point to turn around.

Marge seemed tired on the way back, as we navigated through the minefield of bird prints, dog prints, and human footprints. Our walk was about an hour long total, and it was unseasonably warm, so it wasn't surprising that Marge was a little slow as we made our way to the car.

Another day gone, another five o'clock sunset.  But what fun we had.  I hope we're going to have a spectacular offseason all by ourselves along the shore.

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by 2008

Back to TOP