Monday, February 20, 2012

Day Two, Season Three

We went back to the hotel shortly after my Jumpers runs with Marge and Arrow.  I was initially nervous about how Marge would fare, but she actually really enjoyed the experience.  She thought the hallways and staircases were the coolest thing ever, and settled right in in the room after a few minutes of jitters.  I'm sure it helped that there were other dogs around.

I put a blanket down on one of the beds and let her go to town on a chew.  She remained on the bed pretty much all night and had herself a long, deep sleep.  I would not hesitate to stay with her in a hotel again.

The next morning, we got up really early so that we could get to the trial early (which meant time for obsessive walkthroughs -- woohoo!).  Our Jumpers run was first.  The course was more difficult than the day before and a lot of people were complaining about it, but I didn't think it was too bad.

Marge ran it like a pro!  She even worked through my lousy late front cross and a bad rear cross to the weaves.  We qualified for 6 MACH points and our 4th MXJ leg.

Arrow had her turn next in Jumpers.  Although everybody that watched said it wasn't that bad, I felt like we crashed and burned a little bit.  By moving forward just a couple of steps, I sent her off course over the jump next to the tunnel.  Then, she took down three bars.  Not sure what that was about.  She clearly enjoyed herself, though!

My last run of the day was Excellent Standard.  With a double-Q on the line, I felt pretty good about our chances.  Unfortunately, one wrong course ended that idea... BUT, there was so much good in the run that I didn't even care about the QQ.

For starters, she did the teeter even after I sent her off course, getting on it from a weird angle and riding it all the way down to the bottom (a huge deal, considering if she's even the least bit stressed or confused, her teeter performance is the first thing to go). She also did the table, even with the auto table count that I swore scared the pants off of her a year and a half ago at a 2-day, outdoor trial. (I'm still not convinced she's unafraid of the auto table count; I do think the loudness of the trial site helped her deal with it better, though). Her contacts weren't wonderful, but she was speedy and really running well.

Shortly after Standard (and after watching my friend and instructor get a MACH 5 on her Novice A dog!), we headed home. We were all pooped. We stopped for one little picture with our several-hundred-dollar little green ribbon from the weekend.

I thought it was a great way to start the trialing season.  Marge had a great weekend for many different reasons - the agility was great and she also enjoyed herself hanging out at the trial site and hotel... a little vacation for her, if you will.  We'll be back out in two weeks, for one day, at this same trial site.  Hope our sync continues!

Another Season Begins

What a weekend!  Our 48-hour plunge in to the agility world began Saturday morning around 5:40 AM, when I woke up and got the last few things ready for our trip to Dream Park.  Marge, knowing exactly why I was up at that time and what we'd be doing that day, whined in anticipation from the time I woke up until the time we got in Louie's car and got on the road.

Marge was all business when we got there an hour and a half later.  Forget the fact that we hadn't trialed since November; there was no adjustment period for her.  I even set up a crate for her in the crating room for the first time, thanks to Amy, who save me a spot.  That didn't bother her either.  In fact, I found her sound asleep in her crate on a couple of occasions.

Our first run of the day was Excellent Standard.  It was probably the toughest course I've ever seen at a trial, with lots of International-esque wraps and turns.  The opening, as well as the sequence in the back after the table, was eating lots of people up.  The Q rate was quite low.. less than twenty 20" dogs qualified out of about 100 dogs.

We didn't fare too badly, though Marge completed neither of the obstacles that I really wanted her to complete.  My bad handling set her up for a really bad angle to the teeter, hence her not getting on.  Then, she appears to read my motion at the table as a cue to go, so didn't complete that obstacle, either.

I chalked most of it up to it being the first run of the first day of the first trial of the year, and although I was slightly concerned about her not getting on the teeter, I didn't freak too badly.

We had a little bit of time between runs, so I wanted to make sure I kept Marge's stress level down and took her for a long walk around the big trial site.

(Yes, that's a Flexi I've got in my hands! Worked wonderfully for getting Marge some exercise around the muddy site. Promising a whole post on that later.)

The Jumpers course was pretty much the gimme-gimme course for the day.  It played so well to Marge's strengths that I knew we'd do well on it.

And, we did.  We ran the course clean in our typical rear cross style.  A Q in the bag for the weekend, I thought.

Oh wait.


Marge left the ring at the end of the run.  It's not totally unheard of her for to sort of run aimlessly at the end of her run, but it has never cost me a Q because she has never ran off without coming back.  In her defense, it looks as though she tries to come back to me once I call out to her, but couldn't figure out how to get back in the ring the way that she exited in the first place.  There goes the whistle. Huge heartbreaker.

Someone that I know who was watching us had a really weird comment about the whole thing. Instead of being surprised, asking why I thought it happened, or saying something like "what a bummer," she almost seemed like she was personally insulted that it happened.  I'm not sure what that was about. Maybe I'm missing something.  Whatever.

I spoke to the judge afterwards and told her how shocked I was that it happened.  I've shown under this judge before and am somewhat acquainted with her and generally find her to be a pleasant person.  I guess I just wanted to say SOMETHING to her, to make myself feel better, to the effect that although I was 100% in agreement with her ruling, I wanted her to know it was an extreme fluke!

Last, but certainly not least, I got to run Arrow in Jumpers as well.  I was seeking redemption for my Q that wasn't a Q and also looking to get Arrow her 9th MXJ leg.  Neither happened, but this was definitely my favorite run of the day.  Popping out at the weave poles and a bad cross at the end doomed us.

When the agility for the day was over, we did a little bit of this... because how could I deny Marge some time with her best buddy?  Adorably enough, she attempted to follow and sniff every single Golden at this trial.  At one point, Spirit walked by and I bent down and whispered her name in to Marge's ear... and Marge locked on immediately and wanted to catch up to her.  So cute.

Stay tuned for more...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pillars of Strength

This Valentine's day, the proverbial day of love, we're dedicating a post to "K", KB's loyal chocolate labrador who is currently battling osteosarcoma.  If you haven't visited their blog yet, it can be found at  It is truly one of the most powerful blogs I have ever read, both for the beauty in the photographs KB posts and in the remarkable way that KB is able to so effectively convey how special her K is to her (and vice versa).  If you're looking for a good example of a "heart dog," look no further.

I have, most fortunately, encountered very few tragic situations in my young life, both human and animal, and I really cannot even imagine how it must feel to deal with a chronic, long-term and serious condition such as this in an animal that is so emotionally close to you.  In some ways, I'm struggling to find the words to post, because I don't know what I could possibly say to KB to lessen the burden of this nasty diagnosis on her.  In the most literal sense, I've never been through it.  I hope I never have to go through it because I don't think I could be even half as strong as she is.

Yet, I feel like I can't make a post about "heart animals" without mentioning my one and only Taco.  My relationship with him was so magical that sometimes, five years later, it's hard to believe that he even existed in the first place.  The only chronic condition he faced during my time with him was his advanced age and the ongoing thought that he may or may not make it another year.  I guess it might be a bit of a stretch, but, in that respect, I understand at least a little bit the emotions that KB must be going through.

Taco exceeded my expectations, though, and I spent six great years with him when, in reality, I probably only thought I'd have a couple at most.  Although the black cloud of "that time" always loomed in my head and, quite frankly, even at some points consumed my thoughts, I tried my hardest to put it aside and simply enjoy my time with him.

He and I did nothing exceptional together.  I never rode him, never even got on his back.  Yet it is those seemingly mundane and day-to-day experiences that made my relationship with him so great.

I hate to post something that I've already posted before, but I just want to snag a couple of paragraphs from my tribute to Taco that I wrote a couple of years ago.  It completely sums up my relationship with him and I think truly brings home that "hug your pet and seize the moment" idea.

"Taco taught me so many lessons in those six years I spent with him. For one, he showed me that friends can come at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. He taught me about what it meant to be motivated, to be dedicated to something that you find important. He taught me to never take for granted life's simple pleasures. At death, he showed me that even the most horrible of endings cannot take away from what was a magical, storybook friendship. I am a different person - a better person - for having known Taco. He has had a profound impact on my life.

I guess it's those themes that I wanted to convey to you all by retelling this story. That when you love, you should love deeply. That when you make a decision, even if no one else agrees with you, what matters most is that you yourself believe that what you did was right. That when do you something, you must do it to the very best of your ability. And that when you come along someone who needs your help, you just might be able to change both their life and your own with a little bit of time and effort.

Taco, where ever you are, I hope it goes without saying that I love you with all my heart. Thank you for everything that you did for me. It was an honor to have been by your side, an experience that I will never forget as long as I live. No matter where my life takes me, my heart will always be in the aisles of that old barn, in the middle of that green paddock, in the places where I was with you."

It was KB herself who, when I originally posted this story, said that "I think that Taco taught you important lessons that now are guiding you with Marge. You're giving similar devotion and love to her as you gave to Taco." She couldn't be more right. I see so many parallels between Taco and Marge.. the "one man's trash is another's treasure" idea, the struggle to overcome problems that, at times, seemed insurmountable, the unwavering dedication we have to each other even when things do not look so good.  I have my heart horse to thank for laying the groundwork that made my relationship with my heart dog so brilliantly beautiful.  He lives on in everything that I do.

KB, try your hardest to not dwell on the diagnosis K has received and think only of the days of romping and rolling with K that you have to come.  Her zest for life has trumped her condition so far, and through the life and lifestyle you've given her, you have every reason to believe that that will continue for quite a long time. You are one of the strongest individuals I know, both because of the personal struggles you've been up against in your life as well as your "carpe diem" attitude as you and K go on this journey together.  I know that you are giving her the best possible chance to live a long, healthy, and happy life in spite of the "C" word that changed your world a couple of months ago.  She is a special dog and you are a special person - and it is so amazing and so perfect that you found each other!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Friends on Wednesday

And, this one takes the cake..

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cabin Fever

I've been sick all weekend, which hasn't exactly provided me with anything interesting to write about on here!  For the most part, I've done nothing but sleep, blow my nose, and sit like a zombie at my computer.

Lucky Marge actually managed to get a few walks, including a monster of a walk on Friday night that really tuckered her out and a decently long walk yesterday, but I really wish I could have spent some time out of the house, walking Marge in a park or something and maybe going for a ride (I haven't ridden now since the beginning of January!).  This winter has been so nice weather-wise and I haven't really gotten to take advantage of it thus far. I think I'm finally on the mend now, and, after being cooped up in the house for about three days, am actually sort of happy to be going back to school tomorrow.

Just about the only big news from the weekend is that I won $275 in a Super Bowl pool yesterday!  That was exciting.  I'm sure my winnings will all be spent on the individual pictured above..

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nerdy Fearful Dog Post

Something I've thought a lot about is the root of Marge's fears: whether they can be accounted for mainly by nature (biochemical imbalances, genetics) or nuture (bad early-life experiences or simply a lack of good ones).

Now, I know that neither of these are mutually exclusive, and that there is an awful lot of overlap.  But, it is well-known that there are dogs who aren't "wired right," no matter how uncommon extreme circumstances of this mis-wiring may be, and that there are dogs whose outward temperament is a product of their very bad life experiences and, should they have been raised correctly, they would not be fearful.

We can also throw a curveball in to this by saying that the reaction each dog has to its "nuture" is, in part, dictated by "nature:" that two dogs, of different genetic background, reared in the same negative environment, wouldn't necessarily both turn out to be fearful. Similarly, dogs of the same genetic background, reared in different environments, both won't necessarily turn out to be fearful.

In fact, that's where I really think the answer lies.

Have you ever heard of the diathesis-stress model?  No?

Okay.  Imagine a cup.. an ordinary plastic cup.  The cup is labeled "FEAR."  (Don't mind my crappy drawings.)

The cup is filled part of the way with the dog's genetic endowment.  In the case of fearfulness, a dog with a low genetic predisposition for being fearful would have only a tiny bit of their cup filled.  A dog with a high genetic predisposition for being fearful would have a LOT of their cup filled.

Now, for each environmental scenario that might push the dog more towards an over all fearful disposition, the cup gets more full.  Each "stress" added pushes the dog towards the top of the cup, towards the threshold (spilling over the cup = threshold = fearful dog).

Obviously, in a dog with a lot of genetic predisposition towards a fearful personality, it would not take a lot of different stressors to reach that point.  In a dog with a very small genetic predisposition towards fear, it would take an awful lot of those stressors - but, it is still possible, if the dog encounters very bad life experiences.

 The combinations are endless - for example, there will be dogs who, despite a large genetic predisposition towards fear,  never wind up with the fearful phenotype because they are raised in a relatively good environment.
I don't know how much of the theoretical "cup" is filled with each component - genetics and environment - in Marge's case.  Since I only know bits and pieces about her puppyhood and know zilch about her genetic background, aside from what her mom and siblings looked like, I don't know if her fears came more from a genetic predisposition or a shoddy upbringing.

Whatever the cause, there is something about Marge that has lead to a lot of her fears being reversible or at least partially reversible.  She is extremely responsive to classical conditioning, whereas a lot of other fearful dogs aren't.  That leads me to believe that it was her upbringing that caused her to be fearful, rather than a biological reason (which may have required medication to reverse).  But I might just be pulling that out of thin air.

What do you think?  How do you think a dog's outward behavior comes to be - from genetic endowment or environmental stimulation?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Well Wishes and Short Teeter Update

We're sending our very best get-well wishes to Lilly from Champion of My Heart as well as the handsome mister Corbin (from the blog named for him).  Both are dealing with acute medical issues right now and we urge you to go over there and lend your support.

Don't forget to visit K, either, whose journey living with osteosarcoma is an ongoing, up-and-down theme in her life. We're happy to report she's doing really well and received some good news yesterday.

Marge says, we hate to hear about other dogs being sick.
Today, I finally made the hour-long trek to train on *the* teeter that Marge despises so much, which also happens to be the one that she encounters 9 times out of 10 at shows.  I'm happy to report that she performed it every single time without any fear, and was pretty quick about doing it, too.

She had a great time and was very curious about the horses in the field across the street (if only she wasn't so afraid of them up close, I could bring her with me when I go ride).   I really like the instructor and hope to train with her again soon.  She was really instrumental in helping Marge get over this new teeter issue in the first place, back in October, by offering to have us come to her class and let us use the equipment we need.

I'm planning another trip to another training facility next week to continue to diversify the equipment on which she trains and environments in which she practices in preparation for our next show in two weeks.

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