Friday, March 25, 2011

Frisky Friday

I totally bummed around today and did absolutely nothing productive after going to pigeon lab and running a couple of errands this morning.  I'm continuing that trend here in my laziness to upload an amusing 1.5 minute video of Marge running amok in the field today with her new monkey head squeaky plushie, but here are some screen shots to enjoy while I get some sleep.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Pound of News

We had some very big news on Friday, when Layla got taken to the vet for a re-weigh.

She weighed in at 7.1 lbs, up significantly from her last weight, 6.15 lbs.

This likely means that the Prednisone is working (reducing inflammation in her bowels and allowing her to absorb nutrients).  It also means that we hopefully don't have to think about endoscopy or biopsy right now.

The vet called the news "not good, but great."  He wants to see her back in a month and hopes she'll gain more.

She'll get another B12 shot at that point as well.  I administered two by myself in the past month.. it was scary, but I think I did a good job.

I nearly cried from relief and happiness when I saw her weight on the scale.  She's not quite 100% - still the occasional throw-up, sometimes a little uncomfortable after eating, and the occasional wobble - but she's much more filled out than she was and quite active.

I'm committed to not taking her for granted.  Unlike a dog, it's so easy to "forget" about a cat because they don't go on walks, or to training classes, etc.  I want to ensure that her golden years are as good as they possibly can be.

Give your cat a hug in honor of our big news!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Love Is Not Enough

I have a ton of things to update about (including some AWESOME news - my cat gained a pound!), but one topic has been weighing on my mind a lot lately.

I have moved up the ranks rather quickly at my dog club.  I am back to assisting in the non-competitive agility class as well as occasionally helping out in puppy class.  Because of this, I see people from all different types of dog ownership backgrounds - those that know what they're doing, those that don't know what they're doing but want help, those that don't know what they're doing and don't want help.

Of course, it's the dogs with behavioral issues like fear, aggression and reactivity that catch my interest the most.  I admit to being a much better trainer of classical conditioning-based dog training techniques, probably because of the fact that I started out with a "damaged" adult dog who knew some basic behaviors but had emotional baggage rather than a puppy who needed to learn from scratch how to sit, down, and stay.

There are some students who I've given names of books or articles to so that they may continue to help their dog overcome their fears, anxieties or intolerances outside of the classroom.  Some have absolutely gobbled this information up - buying books, asking questions, practicing often.  One student yesterday was very excited to learn about dog body language and I was thrilled to give her the name of a book that I am familiar with. Others have wavered in their decision making, have not tried anything, and essentially allowed their dog to suffer, whether they believe they are doing so or not.

When dealing with a student having these kinds of issues, I always mention several different pathways for easing their dog's problems.  Medical tests to rule out chemical imbalances or pain issues.  Training techniques including the Relaxation Protocol, information about desensitization and counterconditioning.  Details about supplements that I am familiar with and have used successfully.  I never mention anything I am unsure about or unfamiliar with and I always stress to students that they should consult with their veterinarian before making any changes.

I am attempting to help one student right now who is totally opposed to any orally-ingested medication or supplementation and seems equally hesitant to try any sort of specific training protocol.  However, the doggy half of this team is clearly suffering in the class environment, and, from the sounds of it, in other environments (like on walks), too.

Suffice to say, none of my advice has been taken.  None of the aforementioned pathways have been explored appreciably. I was especially hoping that the dog would be brought in to the vet to rule medical causes for this sudden regression, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Because I have a dog who has improved with the careful use of training, supplementation, and environmental management, I am, to say the least, frustrated by this lack of willingness to make changes and find the right "recipe."

The bottom line is that love is sometimes not enough.  Some dogs need a little something extra to enjoy life to the fullest.  It is unfortunate to me that not everyone realizes that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Horseshoes On My Heart

2006.  Too long ago.  Ugh.
Well, kids, it's that time of year again.  The snow and bitter cold are gone.  The days are sunny, breezy and cool.

I simply cannot get horses and riding off of my mind.

It seems worse than usual.  As the years go by, I find myself yearning more for the feeling of digging my heels into a western saddle more and more and more.

But what do I do about it?

I have neither the time, money, nor desire to own a horse.  I can't lease a horse for the same reasons.  Heck, only now after all this time (it's been almost 4 years since you-know-what) am I even beginning to open my mind to the possibility of forming a relationship with a new horse (I tried in 2008 and it failed miserably).

I've been looking at a couple of stables about hour away from me and it's possible that I'll find one that would let me arrange a 2-day a week kind of thing (sort of like a half lease) for the duration of the summer.  I really can't commit to more than that with the immense amounts of schoolwork in my near future (as well as my commitment to Marge's activities, which I would never seriously compromise).

But is it time?  Am I foolish to think that now is the time to do it?

I mentioned my stable-hunting plan to my mother, who neither embraced nor disapproved of it.  In my family, horses are an extremely touchy topic.  I barely ever bring the subject up.  So when I do bring them up, it goes without saying that there is a huge force of emotions propelling the words out of me.   Her silence this afternoon reminded me of her stoic and somewhat jaded response to my desire to buy a horse in 2008 (which obviously never went through): "If you have enough money to do it, I'm not going to tell you not to.  This way, you won't have to deal with anyone else coming between you and a horse anymore."

I don't know; I'm so conflicted.  Scared, even.  Scared of having another bridge burnt, ending on less-than-desirable terms with yet another group of people.  Scared that I will grow attached and suffer heartbreak again when it's time for me to move on (which would likely be in the fall).

On the flip side, I'm also scared of NOT doing it, because I know that as time goes by, my riding and handling skills will continue to erode.

At the very least, I am determined to sit in a saddle at least once this year. There are $30 trail rides about 30 minutes from my house.  There's no excuse!  I need to know that there are horses still out there, ready for me whenever I'm ready for them again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sweet Escape

After judging one Beginner Obedience class of a 4-H show on Saturday, I went home with my next destination already in mind.

It has been FAR too long since I've taken a hike.  Between the snow and rain, roads and/or trails were impassable.  I expected some mud (which there was plenty of), but knew there'd be somewhere to walk.

I'll just shut up now and let you look at the pretty pictures.

(that's the sun.  Marge isn't exploding!)

Friday, March 11, 2011


I really should be asleep, since I have to wake up at 7 AM to get ready to run eight pigeons in the operant chambers at school, but I figured I could squeak out an update.

Saturday, we all caught a bit of a break and headed to the park for a while.  My sister and grandmother tagged along as well.  It was a new park that Marge had never been to.  She was so excited to get out and start walking, though.  We milled around for about a half hour.  There were people everywhere and whistles galore from the sports games that were taking place, and I'm proud to say that Marge wasn't fazed at all!

my sweet girl..

Afterwards, Marge accompanied us to PetCo, where I picked up cans of food for Layla. I was originally going to leave her in the car, but she seemed so relaxed that I didn't think a 5-minute trip inside of the store would bother her. She did much better on this visit, probably because of all of the company that was with us.  She was in close quarters with lots of dogs and did just fine.  This might become a regular activity for us, as PetCo is the only store that supplies Layla's food around here.

Monday was Layla's Gotcha Day.  She's now been living with us for 12 years.

We started Prednisone treatment for her over the weekend.  I simply could not justify spending $2K and putting Layla through anesthesia and tons of mental and physical stress without trying the less invasive option first.  She will be re-weighed next weekend to see if the steroids have had any effect.  So far, all I'm seeing is a hearty appetite and not much, if any, weight gain.

This, of course, is one of many things that is totally consuming me right now.  There are so many reasons why I should and shouldn't agree to biopsy.  Still hoping it doesn't come to that.. we have about another 8 or 9 days of steroid treatment before she is reevaluated at the vet.

Monday night, Marge came with me to teach the non-competitive agility class.  Not an uncommon occurrence.  However, she ran agility for FOUR people other than me.

We had a simple course set up with just low jumps, NADAC hoops, and tunnels, and wanted to give the students a feel for what it's like to run a competition level dog.  Marge did beautifully.. running for one male (the special needs boy who she befriended a few weeks ago - very, very proud of her) and three women.

I helped direct her around the course a bit (like calling out a "turn" to get Marge to switch leads - these students don't know about rear crosses or anything), but she worked pretty well for everyone and didn't seem terribly stressed by it.  She sure did like getting to sample other people's treats.

Tuesday night, we dropped into obedience class for the second week in a row.  We played more front games, which Marge thoroughly enjoyed.  We also worked a lot on heeling (not my strong suit).  My footwork goes to pot as soon as Marge gets added to the picture.  By myself, I am fine, but stick the leash in my hand and I don't know where my feet are!  I'm working on it.

The plan is still to do a UKC obedience trial in June.  I have the UKC paperwork all filled out to register her with her FIFTH organization, now I just need to part with the cash.

That's really the long and short of everything we've been up to this week.  I am so overwhelmed with school right now (took three tests this week, taking another Tuesday).  One of my classes is ending on March 22nd and I am leaving my internship on the 30th, so I'm hoping to get my life back in a couple of weeks!  Of course, I'm not expecting too long of a honeymoon, as we're already just about half way through the semester and finals are slowly approaching, never mind the grueling summer class schedule that I might put myself through.. AND the required Physical Therapy hours I need to do.. AND the GRE studying that I should have already started.. Junior year of college really isn't all that different from Junior year of high school.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Eat My Dust

Today, we went back for another day in the dirt at Dream Park for AKC agility. (I really have the best boyfriend ever for him being as involved with all of my agility stuff as he is.)

I kept the same routine as last time - went in to check in, then took Marge for a long walk through the vast property.  Unfortunately, not many of our friends were here this weekend, so we went out solo.

This time, we ran in both classes, Standard and Jumpers.  As it turned out, my rant last week about the automatic table was inaccurate; there WAS no automatic table.  Maybe I was just hearing things last weekend.

When I found out that precious little tidbit of information, I felt so much more confident about Standard.

And I had reason to be!  Marge's Standard run was quite good.  She was flying pretty high, as she usually does in Standard, but wasn't out of control.  My working distance from her increases dramatically when she's like this.

She almost took an off course at the second tunnel, but I was able to call her off of the jump. Once we had gotten through the teeter and A-Frame and were headed for the Dog Walk, I thought to myself, if she gets on the table, we've got this.

Turns out I was wrong - Marge LEAPED the Dog Walk contact, causing us to NQ!

I was so surprised by her missed contact that I reflexively said "Hey!!" to her after it happened, which did, in turn, cause her to circle in front of the table to come back to me, counting for a refusal.  However, I had not yet given her the cue to go to the table, so I don't think she was outright avoiding it.  She got right on it when I asked and immediately went down, and I praised the heck out of her.

The ending was sloppy and I ran it differently than I originally walked, but we got it done.

So, no Q there.  I was kind of frustrated after the run because we were so close, but looking back, I am SO happy with this run.  I'd much prefer a missed contact over table stress.

And so began the not-so-terribly long wait for Open Jumpers, our next chance at a title.  Marge hung out with Louie and I in the bleachers for a while, soaking in the sights and sounds of the trial going on below her.  We sat in the car for a bit, too, and took another scenic walk.  Marge was not crated at ALL for this trial, and I'm happy with the way she behaved.  Perhaps being in crates has stressed her out at other trials.  Hmm.

When it was time for Jumpers, I was exhausted, just as I usually am at the end of a trialing day.  But I knew we could squeeze more run out.

Turns out it was our last run in Open Jumpers ever.  We finished our title.

They had us on the start line for that ridiculous amount of time due to the fact that my score sheet had somehow gotten attached to that of the dog before me.  I couldn't proceed until they found it.  However, Marge was AWESOME while waiting, which is why I left the clip in the video.  She offered eye contact, heeled in a circle, and jumped up to touch my hand when I asked her to.

I wasn't crazy about the fact that she shook off at the start line (did it in her Standard run too - stress?), but she remained in place and I lead out just a tiny bit.

I ran the whole thing with rear crosses.  The course was probably better suited to fronts in a couple of areas, but I am just so much more confident in my ability to handle with rears that I thought I could pull it off.  The only place we found trouble is at the tunnel.. but a ton of dogs were having trouble with it.  It simply didn't run well.

Her weaves were fantastic, and I was so proud of the both of us for completing the ending clean after the slightly curved red tunnel.  I was absolutely ecstatic when she took the final jump.  OAJ complete!

I tried to pose her with her ribbons, but the wind wouldn't cooperate.

A few hours and one rest stop later (we don't have Roy Rogers in NYC!), we were home.  And, now I am tired, and need desperately to sleep.  I'm sure I'll be stressing in the morning about how I'll be running in EXCELLENT Jumpers at my next trial in April!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday Training 45

an old pic of some not-so-great figure eight-ing. :)

For the first time since September, we actually did some formal obedience with instruction this week.

Monday night, my friend, who I am teaching the non-competitive agility class with, offered to help me with my heeling and footwork.  She had me walk to the beat of a metronome (I think it was at 130 steps per minute) to keep me at a steady pace.  We also worked on the footwork for about turns and halts (I'm doing much better with the abouts.. the halts, not so much).

Then, tonight, we dropped in to Show Ready Novice, kind of on a whim.  Marge did quite well.

Distracted Stays
We worked our dogs with a partner on stays.  The partner would distract the dog with treats, toys, food, noise, etc.  Marge did very well - she showed interest in the person several times, but only broke her sit once (the first time).  Once she realized that that was NOT was she was supposed to do, she stayed put with a little verbal help and tons of praise.

We then lined our dogs up and put them in a sit stay while the instructor heeled her dog around them, had her dog run across the room, etc.  Once again, Marge showed interest, but she did not break.

She even held her sit when the big, gorgeous Irish Setter next to her got up and started sniffing her.  I IMMEDIATELY went in and fed her.

Distracted Heeling
The next thing we worked was some heeling.  We were paired with a partner who was supposed to act like a "pushy" judge (one that comes in very close to the dog, circles the dog, etc).  I had her only call forwards, halts, and abouts (we've barely even started on lefts and rights).  My footwork was awful and that threw Marge out of position, but she didn't really pay any mind to the woman (who was, admittedly, going easy on her.. but still!)

Stand For Exam
This one was the biggie for us.  We each took turns practicing the entire Stand For Exam exercise.

Marge was great.  She did turn her head and look at the person coming in, but did not move her feet at all.  We did this with three different people. I'm going to work on tossing her cookies while the person is approaching her to keep her focus on me.

I was very proud of this.. it was really the first time we ever practiced the entire Stand For Exam exercise with new people.

Recall Games
This was a lot of fun! We sat our dogs in a circle with their backs to each other, told them to wait, and then released them into a game.

After a few reps, we called front.  Marge LOVED this. We did the same routine individually as well, using the whole length of the room.

Marge's fronts were not bad.. the teacher said she was doing very well, and that it was obvious that I've been working with her.

Her finishes weren't too shabby, either.

The one thing that did scare her about this was when one of the handlers was really pumping his dog up by running around and pounding around his tug stick.  I simply fed her and took her off of the floor when I saw it was bothering her.

Sit Stay
We ended class with a regular 1-minute sit.  Marge, as usual, didn't budge (and was next to a Rottweiler, to boot!).  I will say she was a bit distracted by what was going on on the other side of the room, though.

The plan for us is to enter one day of a UKC Obedience trial at our club in June.  I feel confident that she'll be ready to compete by then and really does seem to like working on it.

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