Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nineteen To Go

This past weekend, Marge and I attended a huuuuge AKC agility trial at Dream Park, located about 2 hours from my house.  Normally, I'd attend only one day of a weekend trial at this facility, but this time, I got to stay in my friend's little travel trailer for 2 nights.

This trial was a big deal for MargeDog, as it marked the biggest trial she'd ever been to (1100 runs per day!),  the longest she'd slept away from home (2 nights), and the most runs she'd had over two days (five - the usual two classes plus an extra class, Time 2 Beat, on Saturday).

We went down to the site Friday night, in preparation for our first runs of the day at 8 AM on Saturday morning.  We hung out inside the RV, ate spinach ravioli and talked about horses until almost 11 at night.  Marge and her friend, Spirit, had an awesome time with each other.  When they weren't laying next to each other, they were wrestling and slapping each other with their paws.

I didn't sleep well at all Friday night, but Marge didn't seem to have any problem getting comfy.  To save space, I decided not to set up her crate, and had her sleep, curled up in a little tiny ball, next to my pillow.     I thought for sure that she'd be antsy, especially with another dog around, but she had no problem getting comfortable.

Saturday morning came, and I was super worried about the gunshots that I was hearing that sounded very, very, close by.  Living in New York City, I totally forgot that it was deer hunting season.  Marge had a bit of a breakdown, but was definitely comforted by Spirit, who didn't react to the noise at all.  Once I got her back inside the RV, she was totally fine.  (In a bit of a milestone, she actually managed to poop outside on the grass despite the fact that she was unnerved by the sound.)

Now for the agility!  My first run was at 8 AM Saturday morning - Excellent B Jumpers with Weaves.  I don't have it on video - my friend asked if I wanted her to record it, but I told her that she could just watch this run, and record my later run.  Boy, am I eating those words now!  Here is the course.

I ran with Marge on my right until the takeoff side of jump #7, where I put in a rear cross.  I also reared on the takeoff side of 11, 15, and 17 (I think).  We ran in to a little of of trouble after the 180, where Marge was *so* close to taking the off course #19, but ran it clean for 6 MACH points.

The next class was Excellent B Standard - our first time in the Standard B class following our 1-2-3 AX legs at our last trial.  It was a tough course with a lot of tough discriminations.  Here is the video.

Again, not the most beautiful of Q's (I think I'm very very lucky for not getting called on that tunnel refusal), but a Q nonetheless. We came in at 11 seconds under time for 11 MACH points. Our first double Q of what I hope to be at least twenty of them!

I was absolutely thrilled to have QQ'ed and quite honestly wished I hadn't entered a third class.  But, one more run was to be had, and just a little while later, I walked the course for Time 2 Beat (T2B), AKC's newest titling class.

I had entered T2B so that I could have more practice on a Standard-esque course without the stress of having to form my own sequences in FAST (another AKC class, for those who don't know).  The course was fun and fast, but it was clear that Marge was tired; we did qualify and picked up 4 out of a maximum 10 points for the class, but it didn't feel like a great, connected run.

I was absolutely pooped after that, and headed back to the RV, ribbons in hand, and took a nap.  I slept like a rock that night, with Spirit and Marge curled up beside me.  Spirit had a successful Saturday, too, scoring her first 17 MACH points in Excellent B Standard, as well as wrapping up her Open FAST title.

Sunday, we couldn't repeat our stellar triple-Q day.  Mostly, our double-NQ was due to my own bad handling.  Unfortunately, though I asked people to record me, none of the videos came out (a lot of people have trouble working my camera, for some reason.. I think it's easy to use, but whatever!).

Jumpers was an interesting course.  It started out tight, then got big and flowy with pinwheels and 180s, then tightened back up for a tough weave entrance, then spread back out again.  Marge and I aced all of the hard parts, but we incurred a jump refusal as well as a knocked bar due to a rear cross that Marge just couldn't pull off on a tough angle.  We definitely ran really well, though, considering the difficulty of the course.

Standard was one of those beautiful courses that you can't wait to run and qualify on.  I thought we'd be a shoe-in for a Q.. that is, until, I tried to front cross and pulled poor Marge right off of a jump.  We then incurred a tunnel refusal, most likely due to bad handling, and, then, the worst of all.. Marge walked on to the teeter, remained motionless for a good 2-3 seconds, and then bailed without tipping it :( My guess is that she was worried and stressed from the mistakes I made and that's why she bailed.  On a happy note, she did nail all of her other contacts, including the table, and we had a pretty nice finish to the course.

BUT, now, of course, I'm worried about the teeter again!

We hung around until Spirit's Excellent Jumpers run (which she aced, save for one knocked bar), then got back on the road.  Here are the two amigas posing in the RV parking area before we headed home.  We had a GREAT time together, and I am so fortunate to have a friend who enjoys my company and lets me come along and stay over at trials with her.

And that concludes the 2011 trial season.  Though I didn't formally set any goals, I completed my biggest goal - the AX - and, much to my surprise, finished the year with a QQ as well.  We're going to take a couple of weeks off from agility because we're totally pooped out, then train and get ready to head back out to the shows in February.  It seems like Marge is getting a) more consistent, b) faster, and c) less forgiving of bad handling.  We're having a blast together and learning a lot about each other as we go    on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Eight Pounder

This week, Layla's delicate immune system decided that it was jealous that it was Marge's turn for a vet visit.  In true dramatic fashion, Layla started hacking and coughing in what looked to be a pretty severe asthma attack.

In fact, she was so bad Saturday night that I considered bringing her to the emergency vet.

Alas, Marge's weekday appointment was switched to Layla's weekday appointment.  A couple of x-rays later, Layla does, indeed, have some asthmatic stuff going on in her lungs.

Thankfully, the vet did not seem overly concerned, and said that he was actually happy with the x-rays, since they showed a normal-sized heart (yippee!).  We will continue her low dose of Prednisone (which she is on for the intestinal issues) and perhaps increase if needed.  She still takes her liver protectant supplement, Denosyl, as well.

Oh, and the other tidbit of good news was the fact that little Layla, who was down to nearly 6 pounds earlier this year, is now a nice and lean 8 pounds, 3 ounces.

Not to worry, Marge wasn't spared a visit.  She got to go in that same afternoon (talk about an expensive day) for her wellness exam.  She checked out perfectly fine, except for a couple of back teeth that seem to accumulate tartar no matter what I do.  It may be time for a dental.

She was a trooper, too.. so much calmer than I ever recall her being at the vet's office.  She sure has come a long way.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Night With 81

They told me he was going to be put down on Thursday.

Imagine, then, how surprised I was Friday, when I went in to the bird room and found him still there, sitting perched atop his little castle inside his big dog cage.

I have been taking care of this bird for a few weeks through his illness and perhaps it makes me a bad researcher, but I've grown attached to him (and to many of the others).  Though I had lots of other things to do while my experimental bird was busy pecking away in the chamber, I decided that, with 81's future up in the air, that I'd give him 20 minutes or so to do whatever the heck he wanted.

He walked across the floor, eyeballing me in that way that pigeons do and scurrying under the desk when I got too close.  Then, suddenly, he started to look up, bobbing his little head in all different directions.  He squat down, spread his wings, and vocalized as he fluttered right back up to his cage.

I have no idea if he will be there Monday when I return - I am not sure if they are giving him a second chance or have basically just not gotten around to the dreaded task - but at least I can say I allowed him to be a bird, just for a little while.

 My mind has been swirling with happiness over the fact that I am allowed to have this experience of working so closely with my research animals and anger that I have been allowed to do so because of the emotion it creates.

I work with the birds only because they are not discarded at the end of the experiment.   It is not a typical research lab. These birds are not disposable.  They are not subject to pain or aversive treatments. Many have been living there for a decade or more.

Most research animals don't have that luxury.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I will not continue with research after I graduate college... because although I love science and all that it does for our world, and although I am not, per-se, against animal research (my feelings on it are incredibly mixed and it is one of those things I just prefer to not think about), I would be unable to separate my emotions from my research participants.  I am an animal lover first and anything else second.

I really love my birds.  I see them almost every day and can completely discern them from each other.  They have their own "pigeonalities," you could say.  It's not supposed to be that way, but it is what it is.

I am only human.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Marge and I went in to this weekend of agility with not a single qualifying score in Excellent A Standard.

We went out with three.

Yes, in what I consider to be a stunning turn of events, Marge and I qualified in three straight Excellent Standard runs at my club's 3-day agility trial.

We were helped tremendously by the fact that we had a special training session at a not-so-nearby agility club to address Marge's aversion to the new teeter that they have been using in local competitions.   My club owns an old teeter that my dog is familiar with, which makes it pretty much useless for my purposes.

So, I dropped in to a Beginner agility class about 60 miles away to work on that specific teeter.  Thanks to the help of the instructor (whose instruction I REALLY enjoyed, and who I will be having a private lesson with this weekend), I also corrected some handling mistakes that were making matters much worse.  I was hesitating at the middle of the teeter plank and that was causing Marge to lose momentum and sometimes bail off.  It was a handling strategy I had originally incorporated to help coach Marge over the teeter, but I guess it started to backfire.

She was pretty much solely reward-based in her agility training methods and reminded me of some things that I could do to build positive associations between various things in agility and at agility trials.

Coming in to this weekend, I had one goal and one goal only - run to the end of the teeter plank and get Marge to stay on the board and complete the obstacle.

Turns out I far surpassed that goal.

How or why Marge and I ran so well in Standard this weekend, I will never know. Could one little training session have fixed several months of failure in Excellent Standard? I don't know. I just hope that we keep running like this.

(Our Jumpers runs were good, too - one off course the first day, one dropped bar the second day, and one tight little sequence that doomed us on the third day.)

That's it, we're in Excellent B now. The big time. Every qualifying run will come with a point value attached to it. Every Q (and double Q) will bring me closer to the one title I truly covet.

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