Thursday, September 30, 2010

Week in Review

Seems to be the theme lately, but forgive me once again for the sudden disappearance.  My schedule was jam-packed with things to do this week that, unfortunately, did not involve Marge.  It was mostly school stuff, and, thankfully, a lot of it is out of the way now.  I've felt SO bad going in and out of the house 5 million times and not devoting enough time to my girl.

For those wondering, the trial is this upcoming weekend, not last weekend - sorry if I confused anyone.  Honestly, I'm really worried about it.  Class was cancelled last week, so we haven't practiced since last Tuesday (the last time I blogged about agility class).

There is a part of me that is considering not going.  My first run is at 12 noon, so I'll get to the trial around 10, when every one will be there already.  It's a busy, 3-ring trial.  I'm not bringing a tent, and will be set up with friends.

The other part of me is saying I should just suck it up and go - I'm not going to lead out on course, it's at a park I know, and I have to trial sooner or later.  I can't let one bad trial stop me.

Marge herself has actually been having a fantastic week, so much so that I'm considering lowering her dosage of L-Theanine now that the summer is gone.  She even heard FIREWORKS last night and didn't react.  That's unheard of!

And, of course, relating this all to the trial.. one part of me says that I should keep this momentum going and have a great day on Saturday, the other part says that me worrying about the trial is going to just ruin the whole mood of Marge being happy and calm and stuff.


Yes, I need to just relax.  I know. Do they make a Relaxation Protocol for people?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Nose Knows

I've been interested in nose work for a long time.  A lot of people have told me that it's great for confidence building and relationship making - so it's perfect for us.

I'm hesitant to sign up for classes because that would mean taking Marge to a different training club (which I suppose could be good for her agility/rally career, but I'm not ready to do it yet), so we played around a bit today for the first time at home.

It didn't take her long to figure it out at all.  I started with three shoe boxes, and by the end of the session, upped it to six boxes of all different shapes and sizes.  It's VERY cool to see her little brain going.

I only recorded one time outside, but she actually did it several times, got VERY excited each time, and started to mark a bit when she found the correct box (looked towards me when the bowl was in the shoebox and she needed my help to open it).

Someone I know offered to send me notes from a K9 Nosework class, so I hope we can build on the fun that we had today.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I definitely think it's a good sign that Marge was ten times better at agility class last night than she was at the trial.  She certainly had no qualms about being at the agility field (except for the smell of pee near the start line - I hate when dogs go on the course - and the smell of 8 week old GSD puppies).

I wouldn't say she was 100%, but she was happy to work with me and seemed excited to be there.

The first time I ran, Marisa told me to break things down in to little tiny pieces - I think I ran 1 to 4 and then 5 to 8 (and the second half of the course was separate altogether).  I used a toy my first run to see if maybe that would amp her up some.  It initially did catch her interest, but after a couple of short play reward sessions she decided the toy wasn't worth it anymore (perfectly normal for her).

Marisa had me throw the toy after the dog walk and then again after the weaves.  When running the second half (8 to 19), I didn't have her do a start line stay, I just ran her up to the tunnel and started the course.

Our only problems were in the corner near the tire.  Dogs had peed over there and she wasn't happy about having to do those obstacles.  BUT, she did down on the table, which earned her an enormous jackpot.

I also am no longer going to run with food in my hand during class, and, although it's going to be in my pocket, I am going to give her her biggest rewards AFTER the run.  In other words, I am going to train the same way that I trial.

My classmates had a lot of constructive things to say, particularly the nice lady with the PWD (a dog who is usually Marge's friend, but last night Marge snarked at the poor girl - not sure if it was stress or resource guarding).   Marisa, too, said that yes, she's stressing, but she's a dog and it happens, and to just try not to worry about it too much because worrying will make it worse.

So I am going to make some changes for the upcoming trial.  I am not going to take any long lead outs - if I can, I don't want to lead out at all (for once, I am praying for tunnel openings!).  I am also going to cut down on the number of treats that she gets before she goes in to the ring and bring something super high value to show her and get her interested in and reward her with after the run (I'm thinking meatballs).

I am going to be more motivational (she seems to like when I clap my hands to get her to move toward me) and use her name less and use my usual agility commands (i.e. "here", "go" etc.) more. I feel like I over used both her name and her whiplash recall word ("come") WAY too much at this trial.

I am also going to try really hard to be the most interesting thing at the trial, which means I am not going to let any one besides me give her high-value food.  HOWEVER, I am going to let her say hello to all her favorite people (I did less of this at this trial than at other trials - perhaps she felt like she didn't know any one there).

Here's some pictures from the trial.  I'm not sure if I'm going to order any just because of my own feelings about the trial, but I think they came out great.

Oh, and my internet appears to be fixed, so you'll hear from me in the coming days (though I do have a HUGE test on Friday - ahhhh).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Stress and Worry

Sunday's two runs weren't much better.  The trial site was a bit quieter as Newark Airport changed their landing configuration, but there were trains going by to make up for that.

Open Standard really didn't look bad at all.  I thought that if we made it past the opening, we'd be fine.  I went in to the ring as smiley and confident as I could be.

It wasn't a bad run, really, but it was more of the same - Marge running off and not paying attention, and more trouble at the table.  We also incurred a failure to perform fault because she went around the first jump.  From the second she got in to the ring, her eyes were all over the place - I didn't want to lead out, but I thought I had to in order to help her over the #3 teeter.  I know it doesn't look bad in the video - heck, we would have Q'd if not for the first jump - but we weren't connected.

Open Jumpers looked terrible on paper.  It really didn't have much flow to it at all in my opinion, and my initial reaction was to take her over 5 or 6 jumps and walk out.  Every one told me that I should just try to do the course, and so I did.

I'm not even going to upload the video because it's pointless.  Marge was completely unresponsive to her name when I called her from the start line, and made it over two jumps before she went darting to the other side of the ring.  A quick "here" brought her back, and then I just sent her over the last three jumps on the course and walked off.  There was no way we were going to be able to do anything.

One thing I did that I'm unsure of was not treat her at all when we got out of the ring.  She went over  expectantly to my cooler where I had her treats, but I picked it up and walked back to the tent without giving her a single morsel.  One part of me thinks I shouldn't treat her because she didn't do the course, and the other part thinks I should have because she did complete the last three jumps.  I don't really know.

It's like I'm not interesting enough to her at all - even while waiting to go in to the ring while I still have treats, I felt like she wasn't really engaged with me.  Someone suggested giving her less treats before going in to the ring.  Someone else suggested giving more treats while milling around the trial site.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't really worried about all of this.  Everyone says that this will go away with some time and patience and more trial experience, but I don't know.  Looking back at my previous runs from trials, she seems distracted at the start line, too.  There also were some running away incidents, but they were so minor that I didn't think anything of them.   That would mean that this is an existing problem that appears to be worsening. It's not the NQ's I'm upset about - it never has been - it's the idea that Marge is stressing out in what I thought to be her favorite environment.  If she was goofing off and having FUN, that wouldn't be so bad.  But it really looks and feels like stress to me.

I had so many people coming up and asking me what was going on, what was wrong with Marge, and I snapped at someone and said "I have no f^&(ing clue."  I think people were surprised by how down I was about it.   I hope I didn't anger anyone. But the runs just felt so unhappy, like I was forcing Marge around the course.

Today, she seems jumpy and stressy, too, but I suppose it could just be me confirming my own beliefs.

My next trial is in 2 weeks, at a park we've trialed at twice before.  I will have two agility classes before then.

I'm supposed to be sending my entry in for a November trial at a park we've trialed in before.  I almost don't want to send it.  Maybe I'm jumping the gun by assuming these 4 runs are indicative of a very big problem, or maybe I'm not.  I just can't imagine bringing a stressed out dog to a competition because I really don't want to make Marge do anything that bothers her.

I'm going to have trouble getting to everyone's blogs as my internet connection is not working right yet again.  An angry phone call to Verizon will ensue this evening, I'm sure.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mixed Feelings

I really didn't have fun at the trial today.  My emotions are pulling at me in so many different directions. Part of me doesn't even want to go back tomorrow because some of it's out of my control, the other part sees the mistakes I made today that contributed to our admittedly crappy day.

First of all, everyone is raving about this trial site.  It's close to the highway, so it's easy to get to (I even drove over the bridge today for the first time to get there).  It's near the water, so there's a lovely breeze.  The grounds are well kept and flat for good running surface.  There's nearby bathrooms.  You can park ringside.  The food vendor was good, so I'm told.

BUT, there were some things that my sensitive doggy didn't like.  For one, the park is right in the path of Newark Airport, so when they're using a certain runway for arrivals, the planes are LOW and fly right over the rings.  Next, there was a fair amount of people walking around the park who weren't there for the trial, some of them getting a little too close to my tent for comfort.  There's also booms and bangs coming from the industrial plants surrounding the park that you'll hear if you leave the hustle-bustle of the trial.

Marge warmed up to the trial site more quickly than she ever has in the past.  Seriously.  There was NO adjustment period for her.  She knew exactly where she was and what she was there for.  I thought the day would go well.

...But it didn't.  Open Standard was first, and I was really confident about it.  I had a plan set and thought we would do well.

It was an ugly, ugly run.  For one, Marge stopped on top of the A-Frame and surveyed the park.  Then, she would not down on the table and definitely was stressed out - it's a new, automated table and it felt different and I can't imagine the loud count was much help, either.  Then, a #$#%#$ plane flew over the ring and though I didn't hear it while I was running, I definitely hear it in the video.  After that, she was just totally not following any directions.  I really don't think my handling was particularly bad or anything.

On the bright side, she did hold both of her contacts.

Everyone gave me the whole spiel of oh, she's young, she's having an off day, etc.  But she NEVER pulls this kind of stuff.  Three refusals and a table fault?  Oh, we were totally making the judge do the YMCA dance today.

The day moved by really quickly - Marge was completely social, met new people and dogs, relaxed in her crate, she clearly wasn't upset about being there and at the end of the day, it wasn't as though she was really looking to go home or anything, either.  So it's not like she was terribly scared.

I walked the Open Jumpers course and I wasn't confident.  I probably should have just pulled, because it was really, really ugly.  Tough weave entrance and a REALLY tough closing.

I decided I was going to be more motivating, run slower, and see how it went.  It definitely started better - until we hit the jump before the weaves and she didn't read my back cross at all.. and went to visit the ring steward.  Who would have EVER thought that that'd be a problem for my dog?

Then, we bumped in to each other after the weaves (at least partially because Marge preferred to run in straight lines rather than change direction at all).  Then came the ugly would-be back cross in the corner.  Looking at it on video, it was a MUCH harder turn for the dog than I thought... but really, a front was not an option at all.

Then she went and visited AGAIN, giving us another runout.  And we managed to finish the rest of the course somewhat cleanly.

I was, and still am, feeling really bummed about the whole day, but after watching the videos closely, I think that a) the environment definitely played a role and b) the Open Jumpers course just didn't make sense to neither her nor I.  I still think it's really weird that Marge really didn't read my crosses at all, though.  We have been so in-tune lately in class and I'm worried that today didn't reflect that at all.

I'm worried about going back tomorrow, but hopefully today was just an adjustment to a slightly more difficult trial environment and we'll get on the same page tomorrow.  I'm going to spend more time warming her up, practicing recalls and back crosses on the flat, etc before our runs (I do think I skimped on the warm-up stuff today). If our first run stinks, I'm going to just pull her from Jumpers, go home, and pray that things will be better at our next trial in 2 weeks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dogs and Kids (Never Thought I'd Say It)

I was kind of misleading when I said I was working "full-time" at an internship.   I'm working 5 hours, one day a week, which is the amount of time required for the class that I am taking in conjunction with it.

I am not a "kid-person."  Historically, I've had a ton of trouble relating to them. (And don't even get me started on the months-olds; I have no experience with infants, and the thought of holding a baby in my arms pretty much terrifies me.  I think I have a slight phobia.) But really, yesterday was kind of cool.  At my internship, I'm working in a group setting with kids (ages 4 to 8) who have been affected by substance use in their families (parent, sibling, etc).  This week was my first time with them.

Of course, I can't say too much about it, because there is a big fancy word called C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-T-I-A-L-I-T-Y.  I mostly observed the group, since I'm still new, but I really realized that I already know a good deal about the things that I'll face as I help them work to overcome the things that are bothering them... because they really aren't that much different than dogs.

That's not an insult.  In fact, it's probably a compliment, and, at the very least, a testament to just how powerful learning mechanisms are.

Here's some food for thought (infused with pictures from Marge's early morning walk this week for your visual pleasure):

When they're messed up, it's because someone else messed them up.
Why do dogs have behavioral problems like fear, aggression, and anxiety?  Many times, it's because something set those things off.  Living in a cage.  Being abused.  Having to fight for resources.  Growing up without littermates or parents.  Getting sick.  Even if we go to the biological level and say that fear/anxiety/aggression may have a genetic base, it is many times a person who makes the decision to breed two ill-temperamented dogs and brings a litter of puppies in to this world with a disadvantage.

So, just the way I believe that the environment in which a puppy lives is extremely critical to their success as an adult dog, the same goes for people.  Kids don't just wind up with behavioral problems; their environment plays a huge role in what they're like.  Family situation. Money situation. The larger social/political/economic context of the time in which they live. The neighborhood.  The food they eat. Where they sleep. Witnessing violence.  You get the idea.

When they're messed up, they all respond differently.
Some dogs could be beaten over the head with a baseball bat two hundred times and still wag their tail when ever they meet a new person. Others will develop terrible anxiety and fear as a result of it.  Still others will become reactive and/or aggressive.

Each one of the kids I saw yesterday had their own way of coping with the difficulties in their life.  One was hyper, talkative, and clownish. Another was completely stoic and seemingly unaffected to the point that it was actually a little scary. And, the last was pretty much "normal," if not maybe a bit on the emotional side.  I would have never guessed it.  All along, I thought that kids were all just crazy little people, without ever really thinking about it.

They're annoying.  Irritating.  Make you want to rip your hair out!
There have been plenty of times where I've been frustrated by a dog's behavior.  Whining.  Barking.  Lunging.  Inappropriately-timed zoomy fits.  It's inevitable that we'll sometimes feel stressed out about it.

Now, I wouldn't be a good candidate for this internship if I was already feeling that way, after so few sessions.  (I'm certainly not!)  But, I can see how it'd be frustrating to deal with a kid who can't sit still, or talks at the wrong time, or swears, or won't follow directions, or won't open up to you.  Understanding the "WHY" behind these behaviors is essential (see Point #1, of course) in having some empathy with them and patience for them.

Operant techniques work with them (when you're teaching voluntary, non-emotionally based behaviors, of course).
We reward when we like something; we withhold or take something away when we don't like something.  That's how I train my dog, anyway.  And it works, because it makes a behavior more likely if we're using a reward that's reinforcing enough.

There was plenty of operant conditioning going on yesterday.  Kids got a prize at the end of their group session if they were well-behaved (positive reinforcement).  Kids could not get a prize if they had acted badly during the session (negative punishment).  Kids were given time-outs for bad behavior (punishment, positive or negative depending on how you look at it).  Since they knew these rules in their head, there were very few problems and they were, for the most part, well behaved.

Structure works with them.
Dogs with behavior problems like to know what's coming next.. it minimizes anxiety.  This makes schedules and structure work so well for them.  If they can be certain that the scary man on the street is NOT going to approach them, ever, under any circumstance, they may feel better about walking in close proximity to him.  If they know where they're going to dog training class, who will be there, and what they'll be doing, they may be less reactive.   Walking at the same times, taking a nap in their crate each evening, it all plays a role.  Making life predictable for dogs who have faced so much unpredictability is a good thing.

As I've learned, the same goes for kids with issues.  The kids in this group know the exact structure of their meeting.  It never changes.  The content may change (books, arts and crafts, etc.), but the format does not.  The reasoning behind this is exactly the same; if their life at home is filled with turmoil,  they may very well be eating ice cream for breakfast and watching their parents get high before they go to bed.  A group therapy session like this may very well be the only structure that they have, for one hour a week.

They're cute.
Yeah.. this one's self explanatory.  What's better than a fuzzy, four-legged animal whose favorite pastime is licking your face?

And, well.. you won't see me opening a daycare or applying to teach Kindergarten anytime soon, but I have to admit, the kids were cute and sweet.  Especially the one who did a Steve Urkel impression.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Disappearing Act

This is going to be one of those non-stop weeks.  I, the girl who saves money compulsively, splurged big time and am going to a concert tomorrow night with Louie, and Wednesday, I start full-time at my internship, which I have yet to talk about on the blog.  Somewhere in there, I also have to finish writing an essay about an opera, which was started at 3 A.M. this morning, but has yet to be completed.

You likely won't hear from Marge and I until Thursday - please forgive us, we'll catch up, I swear!  For now, enjoy these two shots from Marge's final practice before her trial this Saturday and Sunday.

We worked on wraps, pull-throughs, outs, and some front and rear crosses.  She's really solid.  And she was this happy even after listening to the sounds of the angriest thunderstorm we've seen this summer.  Does she love this sport, or what?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Getting Ready for the Ring Again

I'm not going to be able to make it to agility class next week, so this Tuesday was our last chance to practice with instruction before our trial on September 18 and 19.

I ran two courses - one during class, one during a short lesson that I had with Marisa after class.

Course 1 (White Circle Numbers)
I led out past 2, called her and pushed her through the last two jumps of the serpentine.  Straightforward from there, 'til a rear cross over 7 to get her up the A-Frame.  Then a front cross in front of the A-Frame, dog on right through the weaves, rear cross over 12 to the table.

Led out halfway from the table and did a moving front cross between 14 and 15.  Dog on left to start the serpentine, then a front cross on the landing side of 19 and dog on right 'til the end.

Fun course.  I didn't run in to much trouble at all. Marge goofed off a bit on the hard rear cross to the table, and had a little bit of weave issues (but it's really a horrible set of poles - I almost want to stop training weave poles until my club gets a better set - preferably, a 24" set).

Course 2 (Black Circle Numbers)
 Led out past 2 and pushed out over 3.  Front cross between 4 and 5.  Rear cross over 7.  We ran in to some trouble on the teeter/A-Frame thing .. I was pushing her too far out and she took the tunnel.  She was starting to stress about doing the teeter a million times, so Marisa told me to move on from there.

Back cross to the table, dog on left in to weaves.  She took the 15 tunnel without a problem, to my surprise.  Had to push push push to get her over 16, and I'm pretty sure she stayed on my right through the end.

This was definitely a tougher course.  But, with the exception of my miscommunication with Marge at the tunnel, we did well.

Marisa says she looked great and that we really had nothing else to work on after running these two courses.  I tried to hang out with Marge while she ran her own dog, but Marge heard some noise in the distance that freaked her out, so I put her in the car and smooched on some adorable GSD puppies instead.


I'm excited and nervous for this upcoming trial.  I'm excited that we're finally getting back in the ring, excited that there's a very good chance that Marge will finish her OA title.  I'm nervous because it's a new trial site, that, as far as I know, has never been used for a dog show before.  It's a park near the water, so I guess my biggest concern is boats making noise or something like that.  Oh well - I guess I'll go in to it with the same mindset that I have for my last trials.  Hope for the best, pull Marge out if something doesn't seem right.  Usually, the sounds and sights and smells of the trial block out everything else, so this likely won't be any different.. at least I hope it won't.

We'll have several of our friends and former classmates either tenting with us or next to us, which is a comfort to me, and I think to Marge, too.

We're at a really good place in terms of agility, and we'll spend the next three months trialing in the cool weather.  If not for school, this would definitely be my favorite time of year.

Taken May 2010; never posted it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Go Crazy

Something I have always wanted to do was to get a brand new squeaky toy for Marge, place it out in the yard without her knowing, and then watch her reaction to it.

I had myself a little fun this afternoon and did just that.. with a squirrel stuffy toy on a string (my makeshift flirt pole).  Can you say, INSANITY?

Marge is not particularly toy driven, but the sight of this thing wriggling across the yard erratically was enough to send her wild.  Here's a short clip of some of the action.

I've decided that she is never to see this toy outside of the yard and will only get to play with it one or two times a week on the string, in order to keep it novel and exciting.

I'm also going crazy for another reason: it appears that the EVO canned food is not working for Layla.  She has the beginnings of a sore on her nose and sounds just a bit stuffed up.  She's eaten about 10 million different things over the past month, but I can't really pinpoint it to anything else.

There is a thickener in the food called Carrageenan that, supposedly, is very commonly not tolerated in animals with allergies or sensitivities.  I also thought I read somewhere that it can lead to inflammation (hence the respiratory response).

I called the vet and he was shocked; there is literally nothing in EVO.  It is 95% Duck.  Something in that other 5% is causing Layla a problem.

I tried giving her d/d canned as a replacement while we get this sorted out, but she puked it up, even after having Pepcid.  So, d/d canned is totally out. That means that she had to eat the EVO again tonight, despite the possibility that it's causing an allergic reaction.  My vet is adamant that my cat does not stop eating.

It's very likely that Layla is not going to be able to eat wet food.  Our next try is going to be Royal Canin's Duck and Green Pea, Dry veterinary formula.  I'm not impressed with the ingredients at all, but the premium foods just are not working and this is the last limited ingredient duck-based food that I know of.

Just continue to cross your fingers that we find a food that works.

Monday, September 6, 2010

There He Goes Again

I know that there is generally a lot of confusion when it comes to laws and regulations regarding Service Dogs, but I would expect the man who is "supposed" to be America's most popular (ugh) dog personality to know better than this.

There was recently an announcement posted on Cesar Millan's home page that his Pit Bull, Junior, had been certified as a Service Dog.  The page was later taken down, probably because Cesar realized how asinine it was, but here it is, courtesy of Google Cache (click to enlarge):

There are so many problems here.

For once, this US Service Dog Registry thing seems to be nothing more than a listing service.  I can even register Marge as a Service Dog with them if I'd like to - and God knows, she is not exactly Service Dog material, nor do I need a Service Dog.  (Someone just successfully registered their deceased dog to prove the problem with this web site.) And, for the low price of $50, I can obtain some sort of certificate stating it formally.  They did not assess Cesar's dog in any way. Surely, the oh-so-great Dog Whisperer can do better than this.

Next, Cesar does not mention anywhere on this page that Service Dogs must be trained to perform some kind of activity to aid their disabled handler in order to truly be Service Dogs.   They may aid their handler as a seeing eye dog, hearing ear dog, mobility dog, or may retrieve things, alert their handlers to oncoming medical issues (such as seizures, panic attacks), among many other behaviors.  But they must do SOMETHING.
"A Service Dog is defined in the Americans With Disabilities Act as "any guide dog, 
signal dog, or other animal
 individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the 
benefit of an individual with a disability."
Whether or not Cesar is disabled is none of my business, but he should NOT be giving people the wrong idea by telling them that they can go out and get their dog certified so that it can accompany them in public places.  This is extremely dangerous for true Service Dog handlers, who already have to battle with "fakers" bringing misbehaved pet dogs in to public establishments unlawfully.

I'd like to hear the thoughts of those who have Service Dogs or are more familiar with the laws.  I am glad that this unimpressive page was taken down, but I am upset that it was posted in the first place because, to me, it shows a true lack of understanding on Cesar's part as to what a Service Dog really is.  Not cool at all.  Really, it just adds more fuel to the fire of my dislike for this commercialized, unscientific, and overly negative "dog psychology" empire.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pigeons

Pigeons seem to have taken over my life lately.  Yes, pigeons.

The other day, we went out in to the yard and found this guy perched on our fence.

At first we thought he was a feral pigeon who was sick, injured, or lost.  It's very rare that we get feral pigeons in our yard, despite living in the city. On closer inspection, we saw that he was wearing a tag around his leg.  He's likely a show/breed or maybe racing pigeon.  There's only one pigeon keeper in my area that I know of, but I was unable to reach them by phone after a couple of attempts.

He definitely seemed interested in us, periodically shining his beady little orange eyes in our direction.

And Marge and Layla were extremely interested in him.  At one point, he flew up to the railing on my back stairs.. Marge started leaping up and down, and Layla's eyes nearly popped out of her head.

Marge says, "Bird bird bird bird bird"

Layla says, "Lunch lunch lunch lunch" 
(she's pretty much the same today, by the way.. 
no vomit, thanks to the meds, and an improved appetite.)

Kidding aside, I felt really bad for the poor guy when it became apparent that he was lost.  He clucked at me a few times.. at first, I thought he was being aggressive or warning me to back away, but I think he was just scared and was asking for help.

He flew off before we could take any further action.  The pigeon keeper I know only lives a few blocks away, so perhaps he found his way back home if, indeed, he is a part of their flock.


Today, I got to meet a couple of the laboratory pigeons who I'll be working with this semester through school in my Learning & Behavior Experimental Psychology class.  I didn't even know we had pigeons.  Apparently, they're mostly retired breeders birds (pigeons are bred for their meat - who would have thunk it?) who lived in not-so-great conditions and otherwise would have been killed.  These lab birds live twice as long as feral pigeons because of the top-of-the-line care that they get, some making it in to their mid twenties.

(I know that laboratory animals hit a soft spot with some people, but I assure you that I wouldn't be participating in the class if there was any reason to believe that these birds were mistreated.  There are actually a handful of animal lovers in the class, which is nice.)

Psychological testing is performed on them, but only positive reinforcement is utilized - absolutely no aversives at all (my professor is adamant about this!).  They are not shocked, startled, etc.  Testing mostly consists of putting them in to a Skinner Box for short periods of time and feeding them pellets as a reward/reinforcer/consequence for different things, depending on what kind of project is being worked on. In fact, they are so comfortable with testing that when they are given some time off (when they can free feed, mingle with other birds, and fly around a big open room), many become unhappy that they are not working in the lab.

I'm going to be assigned my own personal bird for the semester.  One of the labs in the course is a shaping lab, in which we can shape the bird to perform any (reasonable) behavior that we want.  Having never used learning theory practices on anything other than dogs, I think that this will be exciting.

I'm excited to meet "my" pigeon next Tuesday. Really, I'm excited about the course itself.  My professor knows about my work with dogs and said that I've "come to the right place" if I wish to learn more stuff related to that kind of thing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Useless Thumbs and Medical Drama

Forgive me for not getting around to everyone's blogs this week; I played catch-up earlier in the week, but, as you'll soon find out if you read this post, I've kind of had my hands full here.

We turn our attention back now to Layla, who has been in the midst of some bad tummy troubles thanks to an unwelcome change in the formula of Hill's Prescription Diet cat food.

The new d/d Dry formula never wound up working out; Layla was still vomiting and I didn't want things to get worse.  So, per my vet's advice, I switched her on to Natural Balance Duck and Green Pea, which was the food most comparable to Layla's original d/d Duck and Green Pea.  Things went okay for a few days, but the puking began again after some time passed.

I then added in d/d Duck and Green Pea CANNED food. The ingredients in this food haven't changed and aren't supposed to change, so I thought that perhaps 1 or 2 small meals of canned food every day would help Layla out in the digestive department.

It, too, seemed to help for a bit, maybe 5 or 6 days.  Then, the throwing up began again.

Yesterday, it got to the point where she had vomited on back-to-back days.  Her stool didn't look normal, and I found some sort of bloody-mucous-like-substance in her litter box (still not sure if it was vomit or stool, as gross as that is).  To top things off, she stopped eating.  She vomited twice in the presence of the d/d Canned food, as if merely smelling it was enough to send her delicate system out of whack.

We went to the vet today, where the plan WAS to get blood work done on her (we need to rule out things like hyperthyroid and kidney disease).  Well, she was having none of that.  Two technicians were holding her, trying to draw blood, and I was petting her..

..and she nailed me.  HARD.  On both hands.  On my left hand, I've go two punctures at the base of my thumb, and on my right hand, the nail is partially crushed and it's just a bloody and painful mess.

Definitely the most painful animal bite I've ever experienced.  I don't blame her, she was scared and angry and freaked out.. but OUCH.

I got all light headed from the pain, the blood, etc and had to leave the room and drink some water.  A few minutes later, the vet came out and said that there was NO way they could draw blood from her.  Wrapped up in a towel and restrained by three people was simply not enough to keep her still.  My guess is that he didn't want to sedate her because she hadn't eaten anything.

They did manage to give her subcutaneous fluids, which was a good thing.  They also gave her a shot of something (honestly can't remember what) to stop the nausea, and sent me home with pills to give her for a week to see if the nausea/vomiting clears up.  They also want a urine sample (which Layla is not being cooperative about, as she absolutely doesn't want to pee in an empty box).

The vet basically told me that she needs to eat SOMETHING, no matter what that something may be and even if it meant feeding her crummy foods. Turns out that Layla actually is extremely hungry despite her refusal of food (she ate treats heartily this afternoon), so I picked her up a can of EVO 95% Duck and she ate a few spoonfuls of it in a hurry.  I'm glad for this, because I really wasn't too keen on opening up a can of grocery store cat food. I will give her more in the morning, once I make sure that she doesn't have a skin reaction to the food (as she did back in June with the Wellness CORE).

She's acting pretty much normal now, probably because the anti-nausea drugs are working.  I can't know for sure yet whether or not she can eat the EVO long-term, since the medication might be blocking a digestive reaction, but I have no problem feeding her this food (or ANY food) exclusively, as long as she holds it down and it keeps her healthy.  I'll take anything at this point.

Te vet and I are going to touch base tomorrow to figure out where we're going from here.  I would really like to get bloodwork done on her, for starters.  Though I'm hoping this is all due to allergies, there is a possibility that other things are going on and making things worse.

How terribly frustrating.  My cat's got to suffer through yet another dietary dilemma, and me?.. well, quite frankly, my thumbs hurt.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Heat Wave Agility

We had a rather hot agility class last night.  The summer wouldn't let us escape without one more heat wave.  Even at 8:30 at night, the heat and humidity were still affecting us substantially.  There were only three of us in class, so we got to do two short courses each.

Light Circles (course starting with Dog Walk)

Tough little course!  Started out with Marge on my left, rear crossed between 2 and 3 so she was on my right for the pinwheel.

Had to push out to the tunnel (which, of course, took me a few tries, since I much preferred watching Marge hop over 5 and 6 rather than leaving her back there and moving diagonally forward!  The weave entrance was tough, but she got it.

Did the "backy-uppy" thing between 9 and 10, and front crossed to the table.  Marge on my left up to the tire, then I front crossed to get her over the last jump.

Dark Circles (starting with Jump - Tire)

Louie came along tonight, so for the first time in a long time, I have some video.

We ran this course once before this video was taken (with the bars accidentally at 24", too.. and she didn't knock a single one). She (and I) was pretty tired, but we squeezed out another speedy little run.

I muted the sound because I am just so amazed at how terrible my front cross is after the table.  We practiced a few times, and each time I think I got a tiny bit better. Watching it without the sound really is telling.. body cues are everything.  My arm is not coming up soon enough at all, and Marge doesn't know where to go!  It's definitely my biggest handling issue.

We had a good night, agility wise, but it was kind of a weird night for me, personally.  My handling in my first two runs was really poor, and I almost felt like I wasn't enjoying it.  I think it was a combination of the heat and the stress and fatigue from going back to school.  I also think I'm anxious to start trialing again...

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