Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Busy Bee

There is just too much to report. I have no idea how I am going to cram it into one post. Hmm..

Lets start with Sunday...

- Didn't do much during the day on Sunday, or at least nothing that was important enough for me to remember. Sadly, one of my elderly neighbors died during the night, so the block was in a bit of a funky state, naturally. I was outside speaking to Lovey, who Marge loves, when her archnemesis with the cap and sunglasses walks by. Sure enough, I was caught red handed with no treats and Marge flipped out again. We backed away, recollected ourselves. She did go up to him at one point, first gave a couple of "woo-woo-woo don't you dare look at me" kind of barks, then decided something on his pants tasted interesting. Wish it would have been left with that, but I didn't move away soon enough and he didn't heed my warnings when he was leaving and instead couldn't bring himself from looking in her direction and saying "BYE MARGIE!" so she woo-woo-wooed again.

Oh well, it's all my fault again. Can't even go in front of my house without treats.. better get that through my head.

- Rally was okay. Ran both courses beautifully, in my opinion, and was alright with the other dogs. She gave a growl to someone at the beginning of class - not sure who, but I think it was the GSD - but was settled down the rest of the time. Said hello to Westie friend Sophie and DID touch noses with the GSD a couple of times - we didn't have our usual off-to-the-side spot, another dog had to use it after a scuffle. She was okay with the GSD, I kept it short and sweet. She did look like she wanted to play at one point but I called her off and gave her lots of yummy treats.

Now we go to Monday..

- We took our first trip to Petsmart in a bajillion years. Wasn't a bad visit.. Marge played cleanup on Aisles, um, 1, 2, 3, 4, ... et cetera ... by vacuuming up stray bits of kibble. As I predicted, no one was there in the middle of the afternoon. Oh, except for this very rude little girl and her King Charles Spaniel, who saw us in the aisle, scooped up her dog and ran away screaming to her mommy, "OH MY GOD MOM A PIT BULL!" Regardless of the fact that Marge isn't really a Pit Bull, the comment stung. But, we wow'ed them by (purposely) walking by, with Marge in heel position, giving full attention and not so much as batting an eye at the girl and her Spaniel. Yep, big scary dog, all right. When will people learn?

- We then had a stop at Clove Lakes Park, where Marge got chest-deep in the stream. Wish I had taken my long leash with me, as she was, sadly, only limited to the 6' my leash would allow.

- On the way home, we got an unexpected invite to go play with the Cavalier x Bichon puppies, Gidget and Ralphie. Marge adores them and since they are small, they don't scare her. She had a good time racing around their backyard for about 20 minutes. It was a nice visit, and I'm glad it went off without a hitch.

Now, we turn to today, and all there really is to report is from the Agility Class.

- We essentially had a private lesson. The rain (which ceased a half hour before class started) scared the other students away, so we were the only one in the 7PM class. We got a lot done.

- We did this jump sequence, which I have done a terrible job or recreating. Follow the path from yellow, to orange, to red, to brown, to blue. There were some crosses in there and I learned that I am often too late to execute them. But we got through it alright for a first try.

- The Teeter was the big success. Marisa had the table underneath the banging end of the teeter and had Marge stand on the table and hit the teeter with her front paws so that she moved it and it banged. Marge seemed to get really into it and enjoyed it. We got her over the teeter a couple of times, and at one point while working on the weaves she ran over to it and jumped on, unprompted. Very cool!

And that, my friends, is another gargantuan blog post. I promise to answer your questions about Marge and play PoochesforPeace's blog game before the week ends. We've been soooo busy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

In Celebration of the Dog

So here it is, one year after the acquisition of my dog, my Marge.  

In celebration of that year, we asked several of our friends to tell us their dogs' story, and what their dogs mean to them.  Here is the long-awaited June 29th MargeBlog Collection!

"We adopted Bailey in November 2008, quickly followed by Martha in December, They are both very different. Bailey is a little madam who does not like being told what to do! One of the reasons she ended up in rescue looking for a new home! She is such a personality! Bailey is very loving and very cheeky. She is so much fun, loves to play,

Martha is very quiet! She had been in kennels for six months and is scared of everything and very shy - she doesnt like meeting new people or new situations. What she does love is to be out on walks where she absolutely loves to run about and sniff everything. She used to be scared of everything, even toys and treats!

We had been six months without a dog and our house felt very quiet and empty. Our walks seemed very boring. There was an essential part of our lives missing.

We love Martha & Bailey very much. We are happy we were able to offer them a forever home and they, in turn, have given so much to us. They make us laugh every day! Every walk is an adventure. We have loved seeing Bailey settle down. We love watching Martha grow in confidence with every passing day.

Well that's it. we just adore the bones of both of them!"

"Here is a fun picture of my girl Bellerina. We would like to wish Marge the HAPPIEST of BARKDAYS.

(Bells turn to bark..)
Mom says the main reason she loves me so much is because I’m her little girl. I give her loves and cuddles when needed and she plays with me and feeds me when I need. BOL, to a dog that’s all I could ask for (I get toys and bones out of it too, so it works out pretty good w/my mom).

"Donatello's a great pooch, the best I've ever had and will probably ever have... I can't imagine life without him right now. He's like my "Knight in Shining Armor", yeah, yeah- He may be small, but he's my little-ankle-biter! We both have our moments where we get under each others' skin, but all is easily forgiven by bed-time..."

"Does this dog look happy to you? I thought she might. This is Maggie's expression all the time. She has two speeds- One being everything you could guess from this picture, the other being sleeping. I often hear people say they think dogs who were rescued or helped in a big way seem to realize it, seem more grateful, or just plain happy. I believe this is the case for Maggie. 

She was found wandering my neighborhood and looked like death itself. She was skin and bones and obviously very sick. My stepmom took her in originally as a foster, and found out she had a bad bacteria that was demolishing her digestive system. She couldn't eat, and when she did eat, she had a lot of bloody diahrrea- Did I say a lot? I mean diahhrea covering the better part of a bedroom floor (wood floor!). 

Maggie stayed in the doggie hospital until she could eat on her own and keep food down. There were days we thought she wouldn't make it, but she pulled through. In the end we decided to adopt her- rooting for a dog to get through such an illness created a bond between her and our family. Now, when my stepmom takes her to trainings people often comment on how she always seems to be "just so happy." Even when it's not her turn during training and she has to sit off to the side, she does so with her tail slightly wagging. Even when one of the other dogs steal her treat or bully her for a better seat on the couch, the tail is pitter pattering. And when she was spayed she came home...tail still wagging.

So lets wish Marge and all the other rescued dogs out there a happy "coming home day" and birthday."

"It's hard to choose a photo. I don't have any with all the dogs together, so I chose one of the pups when they were little and one of everybody waiting to go in the house. I've had dogs all my life and have always loved them. It's all I can do to walk past a puppy without holding it.

When I got Samba, my second Portuguese Water Dog, I knew I wanted to have a little pack of PWDs of my very own. The best way was to have a litter of puppies and keep some. I had only planned to keep two from the litter, but they all had such neat individual personalities that we couldn't choose and wound up keeping six of them.

Now I get such pleasure from watching my little pack play together and work with me on whatever I ask of them. I still will always have a rescue or two because it's important to give these wonderful animals good homes, too. They give back more than they get."

"Since Mom's writing here, gotta say that Samantha has contributed so much so my hubby, Bill and my life in the last two years that we've welcomed her home. Sam was offered up for adoption in February of 2006 due to a rabid case of kidney disease when she was just nine months of age. She recovered enough after a stay of three months in her foster home that we decided we loved Samantha too much to let her out of our sight! She's been with us ever since May 2006 and we hope she feels the same about us as we feel about her. She loves everybody, every toy and shys from other dogs in a community situation. But she adores hikes into the mountains, swimming and, of course, her kong!

Sam is a quintessential golden - curious, spontaneous and energetic. She can't leave any moving thing alone (and neither can her mom... so?) which spells a lot of common ground hehe! If I could run as fast as Sammie, I'd chase the kong too!"

"What do I love about Stella? Pretty much everything. The way she snorts like a piggy when you scratch her ears, the way her face is a squishy, the way she loves me no matter what, heck, even the way she looks at me like she's so innocent after the bathroom trash has mysteriously exploded all over the house while Rufus was in his crate.

And then there's Rufus. He's just so SMART! He may lack Stella's common sense (like: don't eat bees), but he can learn a new trick in a week. I love how now matter what kind of mood I'm in, Rufus will undoubtedly do something that's just so goofy or random (like jump right on Andy's, er, lap right after he's made fun of me) and cheer me right up!"

And, here's mine.. MARGE
"What has Marge done for me?  She's pushed the limits of my strength, knowledge and emotions, that's for sure.  She's taken me to places that I've never been before, be it the middle of the woods, the center of the agility field, or the squeaky aisle of the pet store.  She's been there to cuddle with me when I'm down and make my smile even brighter when I'm happy.

Sometime long into the future, I will look back at Marge and know that she's the one who'll have started it all for me.  I owe so much to her already now, so I can't imagine how much I'll be thanking her for then."


Thanks so much to everyone who submitted.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone's stories.  Maybe we'll try something new next year.

And, in celebration of Marge's year with me, I created this video.  It took a whole month to make.  I'm pretty darn proud of it.  It spans all the way from her days at the shelter, to her first day here, to all the adventures that follow.  Even though the video doesn't start with her as a puppy, I think it's easy to see how she grows and changes.  As for the songs, they just fit perfectly, though they're not the kind of music I ordinarily listen to.

(A lot of you have been asking questions about Marge's early life. In an effort to not make this post more gargantuan that it already is, check back tomorrow or Wednesday for some answers.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Observe the canis fearfulus margus in its natural habitat; the woods.  

We went on a mini-hike in High Rock Park today.  With no one around (for the most part), I worried less about people coming up to us or dogs shouting rude comments in our direction and more about relaxing and exploring.  We did chat with some people (two of which being my friends, who Marge warmed up to very quickly - she's met them before) so Marge got to exercise her TOUCH abilities in order to get treats.

We met up with this little guy on one of the trails.  I don't know if he's indigenous or not - maybe someone dumped him? - but it was a nice deviation from the usual squirrel, sparrow and occasional chipmunk or rabbit we see. 

Marge stretched her neck realllly far to get a sniff, but wouldn't get too close in case the living rock decided to pop up and eat her.  I moved him off the path afterwards so he'd be safe from the feet of other passers-by.

We didn't wander too far in; I was too lazy to acclimate myself with all of the trails and trail symbols, and although it's virtually impossible to get lost in Staten Island, it was hot and the woods were thick, buggy and muddy at some points, so we weren't taking any chances.

We did wander up to Lake Ohrbach.  Although it's beautiful and pristine, there wasn't much we could do there except watch the fish go by.  Marge got her feet wet, but the lake drops off more quickly than the other bodies of water she's been in, so she wasn't too thrilled about or confident with it.  I bet it's beautiful there in the fall and winter, so my sister and I agreed that we'll go back during the later months of the year, at least.  (We also agreed that we'll bribe my boyfriend into coming along - I think I'll feel more confident in the woods with him.)


I must admit that I've been pretty upset about the anxiety I'm seeing in Marge.  The thing is, I don't know if it was always there, or if it's truly beginning to manifest itself now.  She's not terrible, by any means; sleeps through the night fine by herself, isn't in much of a hurry to come greet me in the morning, and is perfectly content slurping on a Kong no matter who is (or isn't) around.

Yet, she is literally following me from room to room.  She's not on top of me - she doesn't need to be on top of me - but the second I get up, she follows.  My mind won't let me remember if this has always happened or if it's worse now. I've tried walking from room to room, trying to break the cycle, and it does work to some extent because she gets bored with it, but I'm afraid I'll only induce more anxiety this way.  I'm really not sure what I'm doing, what I should be doing or if it even warrants any doing.. and I'm scared.

On a different, but similar note, my vet is prescribing medication to have on hand for the upcoming Independence Day.  I didn't really want to do it and instead tried to ask about other solutions, but he insisted that this was the way to go. I don't know what it is, and I'm going to be reading up on it more before making the decision whether or not to use it, but I'm told by him that it's "very safe," relatively inexpensive and should take the edge off when the fireworks fire.

Still planning on going to the Health Food Store and at least inquiring about the Bach Remedies, but my wallet has recently taken a bruising so I can't say I'm in a complete rush.  Also planning on Control Unleashed, but haven't put in my order through Amazon yet for the same reason.  Flea/Tick prevention and dog food had to take the priority, obviously.  Oh, and I guess I prioritized the Yoghund Marge ate today pretty high, too.. but it was only $2, a negligible amount.  And my sister paid for it.


Tomorrow's Marge's birthday, and the day after tomorrow is her Gotcha! Day.  If anyone else plans on sending something in for our blog collection on Monday, please do so soon.  We have a good bunch of entrants with lots of heartwarming pictures and beautiful stories.  It's totally noncommittal - no passing along to anyone else, having to answer questions or post something on your blog.  It is a one-time, no strings attached, tribute to our dogs.  I thought it was a nice, simple idea.

BTW, sorry I haven't blog-hopped much.  I will get to everyone's blogs as soon as I can.  Hope you're all  having fun and enjoying the weekend.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rough Times, Part 2.. Still on the Mend

A month ago, I posted about the rough times we were going through with Marge's behavior.

Well, some things are better, and some aren't.


Agility yesterday was just about the best she's been since the first weeks of class. She flew at Tang, the instructor's GSD once at the beginning of class when Tang was running jumps really close to Marge, but she snapped out of it quickly and came right back. I put her in a down and she watched the rest of Tang's sequencing like a calm spectator. The JRT was not present (and may not be at all anymore) so this may have contributed to her good behavior.

A scuffle broke out between the Staffy (who Marge REALLY doesn't like) and the Border Collie, and Marge barely batted an eye at them, which earned her a hot-dog jackpot.

She only interacted with Maddie, a small cocker mix.  Seemed to have an attitude of toleration rather than sociability most of the time, which was odd for her.  (Then again, little Maddie kept trying to jump up on her, and Marge did not get snarky, so I suppose that's a good thing.)  I'm pretty sure I caught her in half a play bow at one point.  She butt-sniffed Marisa's (the teacher) Japanese Chin and GSD, but neither paid her any mind.  And that was it on the dog front.

From an Agility point of view, we didn't do much, it was hot, there were people all over the place with dogs, so I didn't want to push it.  We're starting the next session next week.


In terms of my dad.. Marge has been iffy, I guess.  She's very privvy to getting treats and walks from him, but doesn't want to be handled.  In the car, though (and this isn't a new occurrence), she sits right next to him and accepts pets in a very aloof (not fearful) sort of way.

The amount of conditioning we have been doing is extensive.  Any time the front door starts to open, we hurriedly shoot treats into Marge's mouth.  It works, it really does.  Many times she'll come to us if we call her if someone's coming in, because she's expecting the treats.

We're far from the end of this, though.. she was playing with a treat dispensing toy last night, heard someone come in, and gave a grunty sort of growl, even though she did not yet see that it was my father (she was locked in the basement with us).  I passed it off to him by saying, "Oh, she's just playing with her toy" when he asked, but, really, it indicates to me that she still has to be behind a barrier and NOT on the basement stairs when we're expecting him home.

She has shown promise, though.. she saw him come in a couple of times and had no reaction.  She also saw the mailman outside the door putting things in the box, and had no reaction either.  That earned her lots of cookies. 


I am sad to say, though, that the fence issue and/or fear barking doesn't seem to be resolved.  I have been absolutely religious in keeping her away from what I am pretty sure are her triggers, but we had a mishap today.

One of the men that Marge originally bugged out over near the fence was walking on the opposite side of the street today.  I was sitting on my front steps with Marge, waved to him.  She wouldn't take her eyes off of him.. I was out of treats and underestimated her tension, I guess.  He gets across the street, NOT in front of our house (maybe 30 feet down), may have said something to us (can't remember) and she flipped out.. barking, growling, hackles raised, the whole bit.  It may have been just a coincidence, but she started all that as he walked by the fence where all of this stuff started.

I was taken by surprise, so I body blocked, moved her back so that she couldn't see anything, and put her in a down.

I'm wondering if she just plain doesn't like this guy. Is that possible?  Is there ever a time where a dog is social except towards select individuals?  I know it'd be a fear-based dislike... but I'm wondering if just because it happened with him doesn't mean it will necessarily happen with other people.  She has seen other people go by this spot and did not have as intense of a reaction.  Her reactions have probably been the most intense towards this guy out of any others.

Then again, if I had treats on me, probably nothing would have happened.


Lastly, Marge might be developing a new issue.. anxiety when I am gone.  I'm hesitant to use the word "separation," because, to me, separation anxiety is a severe condition that needs a lot of maintenance.  That is not what this is.  She is not being destructive or mutilating herself or anything drastic like that. (thank God..)

My family members have reported to me about Marge whining, pacing, and panting while I am gone.  She IS distracted by treats, though, so that is a promising sign.  I have been leaving her stuffed Kongs many times before departing.  I actually plan to pick up another Kong, so I can alternate one in the freezer, one being used.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I offer structure and novelty when I'm with Marge.  I feed her out of treat dispensers, I switch between agility and rally training, and we go for walks to different places at different times. Her day is, usually, broken up into little parts.

My sister is having a hard time mimicking any of these.  Either she doesn't want to, or doesn't know how/what to do.  Admittedly, she can't do a lot of the Rally and Agility stuff that I do, but I'm sure there's something she can do.

I have been ignoring Marge before leaving and when coming home.  When no one is home, Marge sleeps on the couch and, as far as I know, is not anxious.  This is only when other people are home... my sister, I think, more than anyone.

All I know is Marge has been following me like a shadow, and I'm just a tiny bit concerned about it.


So, yeah, that's where we stand right now.  I guess I have a lot more work to do.  I might look into the Bach Flower Remedies for intermittent use.. maybe it can give me some help with the behavior modification.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

All Breed Show/Dilly Dally Rally

I thought I'd start out with showing off some pictures from the AKC All-Breed Dog Show I went to this weekend. We have a lot of Agility/Obedience trials around here, but if I'm not mistaken, this is the only conformation show we have on Staten Island. There was Agility and Obedience here, too, but I always feel weird taking pictures of a total stranger's dog when they're in the ring by themselves. So, I've only got conformation pictures.

My advanced apologies for not being able to snap photos of everyone's favorite breeds. We didn't get to see all of the groups.

Later on in the day, Marge had her turn in the ring at Rally Obedience class. Because of the dog show, Father's Day and whatever else, there were only two other dogs in the class. Marge was very well behaved and said hello to her acquaintance, Sophie, a Westie who she is slowly getting to know between Rally and Agility classes.

Our runs on the course were admittedly sloppy, partially due to my errors and partially due to Marge just not feeling like performing. I screwed up a whole bunch of signs, and Marge decided sniffing was better than heeling. Her sits/downs/stands were also horribly crooked. Hey, I'll take good behavior over good Rally performance any day, so I'm not upset.

***We will let this post also serve as a reminder of our upcoming blog collection. There are only a few days left to submit. We already have some players, but we'd like for more of our friends to join. All you need to do is shoot us an e-mail with your favorite picture and a short blurb. You can read more about it here. Please play and help celebrate Marge's special day!***

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Jack Russell Effect

We had a mild, but thought-provoking incident today... well, yesterday, as it's past midnight already.

We went for a walk along the asphalt path at the top of the beach. Lots of dogs going by; I should have known, seeing as we're having a huge multi-event dog show this weekend at a field very nearby. She was doing well, albeit a little distracted with a pair of small dogs walking just in front of us, but we soon passed them and it was fine.

She saw a Jack Russell Terrier, though. We were walking behind him, trying to keep our distance. She was responding to my "leave-its" and "watch mes".. all until she leapt out in front of me and ALMOST got to the end of the leash.

Again, this was not aggression, and it was most certainly not fear. She didn't make a sound, she wasn't particularly tense (not any more so than when she sees a dog at all: whether she's feeling good or bad about it, she always perks up), no hackles raised, no real lunging or anything. Just kind of speeding up obviously wanting to do SOMETHING to or with this dog.

So, I turned around, walked a couple of steps the other way, asking for her attention, and it was fine. We then passed him (they were walking quite slow) and she was fine as we passed and after we passed.

Now, I'm thinking to myself, crap.. she's got a thing for JRTs. I think she is drawn to their scrappy spirit, [usual] socialite attitudes, bouncy energy/speed, and small size - they're less intimidating, more fun to chase. She used to go walking with my friend's JRT, then experienced the greatness (in her eyes) of a JRT at agility. Hmmm.. could it all be adding up?

Naturally, I'm a little worried about this. We're going to keep up as-is, with NO leash greets whatsoever on walks, (though I have resumed SOME greeting at classes, as long as she is 100% calm and so are the other dogs), heavy enforcement of the management commands (leave it watch me come), and no opportunity for chasing at agility.

I hope I didn't make the wrong choice in signing her up for another session.

In spite of this, I need to look at the positives, too. We encountered an ornery, off-leash little dog on our walk the other day. At my instruction, Marge paid him no attention and kept walking. We also had to pass a certain lunging dog behind a fence.. and she just kept walkin'. She also totally ignored Rusty the JRT when he came running up to us while we were doing teeter work on Tuesday.

Tomorrow should present its own challenges: we have both thunderstorms and fireworks in the forecast for here. I'm hoping that, at least, the former prevents the latter. Or, if there's no rain, we'll likely head to Grandma's house and weather the fireworks there. Ah, the joys of summer and a noise-phobic dog. Marge has, for the most part, made me prefer the winter. Dog ownership is much easier in the cold months.

On a bright note.. Marge actually went up to my dad today while he was on the couch and started to play with him by licking his face and pawing at him. She then said to herself, "Oh crap, what did I just do?," started barking at him and got real testy in general, but I think it was more over-excitement than anything. He then threw her surgically-repaired squeaky bunny for her, and all was well.

On another bright note.. Rufus & Indie, here is the picture for your Summer Photo Contest that you asked us to post on the blog. Sorry it's so late - we've had a busy week over here!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seven Heaven

Tonight was Week 7 of Beginner Agility. I think this video can do most of the speaking for itself:

Once again, do not mind my appearance or handling. :) Marge is the one that's progressing, not me! I tend to run like a duck with a stick up its butt. That needs to change.

Anyway, some notes. Since the video covers everything except a) some teeter work which went EHH, and b) a sequence which went EHH as well because we missed a jump, the big thing to talk about here is her behavior.

There were some positives and negatives to tonight at agility.

For one, Marge was SUPER hyper tonight. I thought that fetch games and training in my living room would have tired her some, and I didn't want to overdo it and have a fatigued dog for agility. Turns out that wasn't the case. The second we got on the field and I said "go tunnel!," Marge was off at the speed of light through the tunnel and ready to run some serious zoomies. Thank goodness she came back to me to get her treat.

That tells me that she likes what she's doing. So, I'm happy.

Now, probably in keeping with the fact that she was hyper, she was also aware of other dogs.. most notably, the JRT Rusty. I didn't let her play with him this time before class started and it seems like it helped. Her leave it was rock solid tonight, so even when she DID perk up and go to the end of the leash, she quickly cut it out and came back to hot-dog jackpots. She did it a few times, but they were all very minor in intensity and she was very responsive.

This whole chase thing Marge is doing is, undoubtedly, play and prey drives. This is not fear or fear reactivity and it is not dog aggression. This is, "Wee! You're going fast! It looks fun! It's a crisp 65 degrees out and I want to GO PLAY TOO!" So, we need to work on control. And we have been. And it's hopefully working.

When the JRT ran zoomies, I put Marge in a down in the corner and handed out goodies to her. Keep in mind that if I thought she was the least bit afraid of what was going on, I wouldn't ask for such a "submissive" (though I don't like that word) position. She astounded me with her attention. I mean, yeah, I was shoving food in her face, but she didn't care one bit about the dog who I know she so desperately wants to chase.

She is not the only one doing this, either.. honestly, it's almost every dog in the class. The Staffy yips when other dogs run, the JRT pulls a Marge and races to the end of the leash (though can get aggro with males) and a couple of the others perk up, too. So, we signed up for next session. It's the same dogs at the same time. The class might actually be smaller, but there shouldn't be any new faces, which was a major factor when I contemplated going to Adv. Beginner now. I was not going to continue if we wouldn't be with the same group.

I know how to manage it now. It takes a combination of being proactive, cutting up millions of hot dog pieces and not loitering on the field. When she's actively engaged in doing something, the other dogs do not matter. If she is to play with the other dogs, it will come at the END of class, not the beginning, as I so blatantly learned last time we were at class.

I'd continue rambling on, but I think you guys get the idea.

As for Rally on Sunday.. it couldn't have been more perfect. Marge had a great time and did not show one ounce of fear, reactivity, snark, anything. She ran both courses like a dream. I needed that from her. I so desperately needed a day like that. We've got three weeks left of that one, and then it's hasta-la-vista to indoor classes for a while.

Marge has been having fun, lately. I'm trying to enrich her life in as many ways as possible. Whether than means a new squeaky toy, a meal in a spaceship, left finishing or jump-tunnel-jumping, I want her to continue to learn and flourish and have a great time while she's at it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A New Training Endeavor

I have become ambitious enough to try to put the 'retriever' into my Lab.

My dog, while probably a Lab mix, does not exude the "typical" Lab quality of an ingrained desire to retrieve things. She will bring a toy back to me if she wants me to throw it, but it's not the same as truly fetching.

I had the bright idea to try to make it into a manual process rather than just a random game she wants to play sometimes.

I used shaping. I've always lured my dog to get her to do something - treat above the head for a sit, on the floor for a down. This time, I let her do all the thinking. I clicked her for looking at the toy, for sniffing it, for pawing it, for putting her mouth around it. Then I only clicked her for picking it up with her mouth. It is, honestly, one of the coolest things I've ever done with her.

On Day 2, this is where we stand.. as you can see, I'm clicking her for picking it up in her mouth AND moving with it as well. I clicked too late a couple of times, but it's very hard to figure out how long she's going to hold it before she drops it. If I wait before clicking, she'll bring it back to me after dropping it a couple of times. She's picking up quickly, I'd say.

So that's what we've been doing the past couple of days. I haven't put up the weave poles in at least 4 days, and the Rally exercises this week were rather easy so we didn't practice too much. (Hope tonight's class goes okay.)


**Don't forget to get your submissions in for June 29!**
Read about it here: An Upcoming Collection
samscicchigno@gmail.com or equineaddict90@gmail.com

Friday, June 12, 2009

Who Rules This Roost?

Since this is a dog blog, I don't talk much about my cat, Layla, who has been around here for over 10 years.  

When Marge first came here, it was Layla's decision, ultimately, if Marge was to stay.  If bringing a dog into a house with a cat who had been here for a decade alone was too much, I would have respected that.  She also has allergies, so that was a very large consideration as well.

I'm not really sure why she decided to let Marge stay.  The whole first day Marge was here, she was astonishingly comfortable with her presence.  She did tend to stay high up on furniture, but that wasn't bizarre behavior for her, anyway.

As months go by, the relationship between cat and dog has grown.  Marge always wants to play with Layla, but usually gets greeted by pinned ears, angry eyes and a swatting paw.  Honestly, it doesn't scare Marge away very well.. I've caught her going down into play bows around Layla on multiple occasions.

The thing I'm most happy about is that Marge and Layla can both cuddle up with me on the couch.  In the beginning, Layla wouldn't come sit on me if Marge was laying next to me.  Now, I can fall asleep on the couch at 12 AM (like I so often do) and wake up to fur all over the place.  I wouldn't want it any other way!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Upcoming Collection

Like I mentioned in a previous post, I'm going to host a collection on the blog on June 29th, which is the day after Marge's 2nd Birthday and the anniversary of the first day she came to my house. (How convenient that they fall so close to each other.)  

Any and all of you out there are welcome to participate.  I cannot wait to hear what you have to say about your beloved pooches.  (Cats are welcome, too).

So, send me an e-mail at samscicchigno@gmail.com (or equineaddict90@gmail.com if my last name is too hard to spell - LOL) with a picture of your dog, blog link, and blurb about why you love your dog(s)/what they mean to you.  If you have multiple pets and would like to write separate things about them, be my guest!  The more, the merrier.  If you prefer to not write anything and just send a picture that speaks for itself, that's fine, too.

Get them in soon!  As I learned with Sue's Blue Bandana Day, the date seems so far away, but actually sneaks up pretty fast.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Agility, Week 6

We did get an Agility class in tonight.  It cleared up enough that they decided to not cancel classes. 

Some notes:

- Less tunnel refusals this time, there was just one tunnel that she stopped and went around.  Other than that she was fine, doing tunnels in sequence and going through the chute pretty well too.  I don't think it's a fear thing, and at worst, it's a very mild fear thing.  More likely, though, it's either being confused or not wanting to go through soggy equipment.  Or maybe it's one tunnel specifically.  I can't remember if it was the same one as last week.

- Weaves: my instructor doesn't want me running alongside Marge when she's weaving and instead wants me to call her to me through the weaves.  I don't really see the logic in it, but she says it's so that the dog doesn't becoming dependent on you being next to them to weave.  But wouldn't they become dependent on you being in front of them, then?  Either way, I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing, switching it up between calling her to me, running alongside, and sending her through.  I'll place an emphasis on what she says, though.  She weaved all 12 today, albeit bent poles.  She needs some work but she really likes the weave poles and is progressing well!

- A-Frame: only did it a couple of times, but Marge must like this one, too, because she went running up the frame after a tunnel refusal.  LOL.  I can't be mad at that!  I am happy to see her going over on her own.

- Jumps: Did a jump, tunnel, jump sequence with a front cross in there.  Well, I think it was a front cross.  She would go over the final jump in the sequence and I'd swing around and switch hands and send her back into the tunnel.  Cool stuff.

- Teeter: I accidentally had Marge go over it all the way, so she jumped off when it started moving alot.  Afterwards, though, she was pretty good about it, as long as the end was being eased down.  She's definitely nervous around it, but not tremendously.  There are other dogs in the class who are petrified of it.  We ended on a good note with it and with lots of yummy treats.

And, a behavior report.. we did have an undesirable incident today with Marge, as she saw her JRT friend Rusty running the jump, tunnel, jump sequence and she went to the end of the leash, running whichever way he ran and obviously wanting to chase.  There is NO way it was a fear reaction.  She had played with him only a few minutes before and I gather that that's what contributed to it.  In one way, it's good, because it wasn't the hackles up, growly reaction that she'll have out of fear.  But I do wish it wouldn't happen altogether.  

The only other thing was a tiny little woof after Rusty started getting snarky towards another dog, but she redirected quickly.

Her focus is fine as long as she's working.  Standing around or idling AT ALL between exercises is what does Marge in.

I think it's time for Control Unleashed.  I REALLY don't want to have to pull her from the class over stupid things like this!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Remembering What's Important

I wasn't proud of myself today after a rough training session with Marge. I had set up a cute little Agility course in the back yard, thinking Marge and I would have a ton of fun playing on it this afternoon. Well, she had other ideas and wasn't exactly ready to comply. Looking back, maybe the treats weren't good enough or the weather was too humid or she was tired. But, I didn't see it that way then. I started to get frustrated and was just so upset with the whole situation.

I went inside and calmed down, figuring that staying out there and continually trying to will her through the weave poles was going to be anything but a positive experience for her. I felt pretty damn bad for the attitude I portrayed as someone simply fed up with a training session gone awry, forgetting to remember the dog underneath and the feelings that dog feels. So, I went out to the store, picking up some treats and toys for Marge to make myself feel better (since she, of course, wouldn't have been able to connect the two things).

I had lost sight of what's important; I hadn't stopped to think about how far Marge and I have come in the year she's been here. I didn't appreciate the fact that she was able to be outside without fear and I failed to fill my role as her friend, guiding her through all the new and exciting things life has to offer.

Thankfully, my negativity hadn't rubbed off on her, and she was her fine, happy self when I returned from my shopping, eager to play with the colorful stuffed fishy that had cost me just a dollar.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing. Marge welcomed the tutor into the house quite amiably and laid outside in the sun with my mother, my grandmother, and I for about an hour. We took a trip down to the boardwalk where she was a pleasure to walk with. Very attentive and not tremendously worried about other dogs. She got to go to Grandma's again, too, where she passed out on the rug with her head resting against the end of the couch. Was really cute.

So, if this ever happens again, I'm going to remember this day and how badly I felt for my feelings towards Marge's mushy mood. I'm going to remember how it could have affected her or made her uncomfortable doing agility, or make her worry that she was going to do something wrong. I'm going to stay positive 115% of the time, because anything else just isn't fair to a fearful, low confidence dog.


On another note, I have some things planned for Marge's 2nd birthday/1st Gotcha! Day coming up later on this month. First, I am working on a tribute video of sorts. I'm VERY big on videos of my pets. (I have two of Taco, memorializing him.) I have a feeling the endless pictures are going to be tough to sift through, and having to do it on my Mac means it's going to take 10 times longer because I still don't know how to use the thing completely. But it should be fun, and I will post it if I get ambitious enough to complete it in time.

The second thing I was thinking was to play a little game with any of our readers/fellow bloggers who are willing to join in. It will be a collection here on the blog on June 29th, which was the first day Marge was here last year. Anyone who wants will submit a picture of their pup (or pack) to me via e-mail with a short passage, no longer than a paragraph, about why you're lucky/happy to have your dog(s). I will post all of the pictures and blurbs with a link back to everyone's site. Is anyone interested? If so, I'll set it up later in the week, and if not, I'll scrap it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chock Full O' Mishaps

Our day wasn't terrible, but it was the kind of day where you wish you could just start over and tweak a few things.

We started the day off on the right foot (pun is intended here, as you'll read in a second) and went to Wolfe's Pond Park. Louie and I went yesterday and Marge had a blast playing in the stream, so my sister and I figured hey, why not, let's go again today. We made our way up the trail to the stream, where Marge, once again, went in without hesitation. This is big for her; she used to despise water, probably after we (stupidly) bathed her with the hose way back when we got her last June/July. It's nice to finally see her get elbow-deep, and I'm hoping one day I'll have a swimmer.

Well, we were about to get going, Marge made a dash across the stream happily for one last time, and I look down to put my shoes on (yes, I had waded with her a bit) and my toe is bleeding. Pretty badly, too. I must have stepped on a rock or something - the stream is pretty clean, so I'm not too worried about it being anything hazardous. I had some paper towel with me, tried to put pressure, it wasn't stopping. So my sister and I figured we should probably head back. I limped down the trail, walking on my heel, which I have come to discover is very painful. It kind of stunk to have to go home after only staying barely a half hour, which is about the time it takes to get there in the first place.

Well, we got home, I soaked my foot. It still hurts a bit, but I'm just keeping an eye on it and putting antibiotic cream on. I'm really hoping it doesn't look funky tomorrow. Better me than Marge, though, without a doubt. I wouldn't have been able to forgive myself if Marge came out with bloodied paws.

Then, on to Rally.. I was all set for a good, successful night hopping around the course with a bum foot. However, as we pulled up and got out, Marge got to listen to the very loud, very strange sound of a metal grate being pulled up. (It allows for ventilation in the training hall, which isn't air conditioned.) That freaked her out, she wanted to run away, get back in the car, anything. It was that full-fledged panic state.

Waited a few minutes, got her inside the training hall, where a couple of minutes later she decided that she wanted nothing more than to leave. I calmed her down with the cheese stuffed Kong and she was "workable" for the rest of the class, but veryyy distractable. I had to keep the Kong with me the entire time and use it as a reward or else she'd try to pull back to the audience area to retreive it. And the noises didn't end there.. there must have been a lot of flights going out of the airports, because we heard planes (which sound quite similar to low thunder) the entire class. Marge was certainly aware of that.

We did two courses, both of which Marge did fine on. She was a little distracted, but I tried to amp her up and give lots of treats and praise. After the second run, she looked REALLY freaked so I took her outside for a few minutes to calm her down. She seemed a bit better when we came back in.

She got nose to nose with an intact GSD through my own fault - I was waiting with her right outside where the course ended. She looked like she tensed up a little bit, but didn't snark, so I praised the heck out of her. She was very interested in going over to Chase, who she knows from Agility, but I didn't allow it. Seemed fine around all people.

That's what really killed me about the class; if not for those stupid noises, she probably would have been fine.

Before going home we detoured at my grandmother's.. I figured that maybe a visit there would make her happy. She was excited to see my grandmother (and promptly decided to pee on her front lawn, which may also have contributed to her all-over-the-place attitude at class) but wasn't 100%.

She did run around the back yard, which I think she enjoyed, but overall was just very excitable. Not even necessarily in a fearful way.. but in an anxious way. My dad stopped by and she wasn't afraid of him.. she was going up to his face and giving kisses, but was whining and making these little arf noises every time he spoke to her.

Fortunately, I'd say we ended the night on a good note. We came home and practiced Agility in the backyard. She's doing very well with the weave poles and I actually did a jump, jump, weave sequence with her. I had the first and last poles bent to try to teach her the entry point. She did great.. though a little tired.

Now she's passed out on her green mat behind me. Calm, at least. Hopefully all the maladies incurred today stay in today and don't carry over into the week.

***(A BIG thank you to Rufus and Indie for shouting out to us with these blog awards!! (I think that's even French?) Thanks guys!)***

Friday, June 5, 2009

Inside Activity

Ok, I'll admit, the above picture was staged. But either way, it was quite an accomplishment for my cat to stay with Marge, even if it was just for a few seconds. Wish the picture turned out better.

It has literally been raining the entire day, nonstop. The weave poles are tucked away in the shed, and the makeshift jumps have been taken down. Marge only went outside for bathroom breaks and to take a car ride with us. We didn't do much training, just a short Rally warm-up in my living room. The only other doggy stimulation came from playing with toys and eating dinner out of a food-dispensing toy.

Since I had the day to work, I decided to repair some of Marge's toys. I threw out a few of the really bad ones, but there are some that she really likes that I knew I could fix with a little sewing. She is rough on plush toys, but not rough enough that she isn't allowed to have them. Instead, we supervise her and make sure she doesn't start ripping the stuffing out. She doesn't play all that much, anyway, maybe just a few minutes a night.

This bunny was Marge's first "real" toy, so I guess it holds some sentimental value for me. I am reluctant to get rid of it, and I know she still likes it. Recently when playing a little too rough, the bunny's leg came off, leaving him with a big open gash where fluffy stuff could have come pouring out of. So, he'd been delegated to the waiting list for a future stuffy surgery, which I performed today.

I have some replacement squeakers, so I took one out and got ready to put it inside. For extra protection, I took the remains of one of Marge's old toys, cut it up and sewed it around the squeaker. This way, she is less apt to puncture it while playing, and should she rip the toy open, it will deter her from trying to eat the squeaker. I think it's a neat trick. Maybe some of you with more-aggressive chewers could do something like this to still give your dogs the pleasure of playing with squeaky stuffies.

And here is the finished product. Looks good as new!.. well, except for the old battle scar across his face, but that was from a separate sewing session. I'm no seamstress, but I can patch up dog toys just fine. Just one of the many great things dog ownership can teach you.

After I finished it and Marge patiently waited, I gave it to her to play. I was thanked by her running off to go squeak the heck out of it. I like how her ears pop up when I say "okay."

The weather here is supposed to be nice the next few days, so we might go out to the park. It will make up for the lack-of-outdoors we experienced today. We have Rally class on Sunday.. here's hoping it goes as well as the previous two weeks. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Weave Weave Weave!

We got the weave poles in the mail yesterday and have been having a ton of fun with them. In just two days - yesterday and today - Marge is nearly able to weave with the poles straight up, instead of in a V shape. I have heard good things about the channel method, but unfortunately these poles can't do that. She seems like she's picking up the whole idea quickly, anyway. It's really cool to see her bend the way she does. She really likes it, too, because she's willing to go out and do it when its drizzling (which she normally hates). It will be interesting to see if she does as well with them while we're at class, and how well she graduates from 6 poles to 12.

Our CGC certificate, too, came in the mail not long ago. We took some pictures with it and the whole CGC thing felt finally official, but it also served as a bittersweet reminder of where we were just a month ago and what we're facing now.

I forgot to mention about a small reactivity incident we had at Tuesday night's agility class. Marge had gotten through the whole hour superbly in regards to other dogs and didn't really pay any of them much mind. At the end, however, just as we had left the ring, a small-ish, long-coated dog starts running fast zoomies around the field. Marge tensed up, went to the end of the leash like she wanted to chase, I body blocked and offered treats, but I was too late. She barked a couple of times and then I got her settled down. We remained in the spot for a few more seconds until she was completely calm and focused on me; I treated and we walked away.

It could have been worse. The best part about the whole thing was that I know what set her off: the running. Back in our (ugh) dog park days, she would chase other dogs who were running and sometimes vocalize as well from time to time. I guess back then I didn't realize that it could possibly be a not-so-friendly response. Plus, the dog was small and furry.. and uh, she'd do anything to chase a squirrel, so I'm not sure if there's a connection. It seemed different than the other reactivity incidents that she's had lately.. I know she wanted to chase that dog, regardless of why. I'm not really sure if she felt like she needed to "protect" herself (as in a response to fear) like she did near my house and at Rally. I didn't notice hackles up and even the tone of the bark was a little different.

The incident kind of woke me up though. The whole agility class in general did, actually. Between failed recalls, distractability (if that's a word) and not LEAVING IT, I need to work on my attention/management commands a bit more. We've been practicing leave-its and watch me's, and also attention after glancing calmly at whatever' or whoever's going by. I know these kinds of things are going to be so important if we ever graduate to Novice Classes, where almost everything is offleash, so I'm trying to be really diligent with it.

Otherwise, I am happy to say that she has had no incidents in the past couple of weeks. Her attention has been very good on walks; we've taken advantage of the rainy weather and hit the streets a couple of times today.

I'm proud of her. I'm glad that we're taking these precautionary steps and eliminating interactions on walks. I feel like its giving her confidence and letting her know that she doesn't need to worry about anyone.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Agility, Week 5

Not bad for only 5 agility classes, eh? Oh - don't mind my flailing arm and terrible voice (I neither sound like an 8 year old nor say "tunnel" so gruffly in real life) - just focus on Marge. :)

Class went well, I'd say. Marge only interacted with one dog - the JRT, Rusty.  LOVES this dog.  I have come to realize that Marge may or may not be dog selective based on gender.  Almost all of the dogs she knows and likes (with few exceptions) are male.  Some are intact as well, and that doesn't bother her.  She, additionally, interacted with quite a few people and enjoyed it, too.  My teacher keeps saying that agility brought her out of her shell.  I don't think she was in a shell at the beginning of classes.. but I do think that agility is something she enjoys immensely.

Couple of things going on with her agility skills:

  • I don't know if it was because of the heat and soggy obstacles, but Marge refused a LOT of tunnels.  She'd go through with some coaxing, but I could NOT send her into any of them for the life of me (except for the straight one above).
  • Very good work on the teeter yesterday!  Jessica came and helped me out.  Marge has no problem walking across to the middle of it completely alone.  I didn't let her go farther than that, though, unless my sister was on the other end, easing the other side downward as Marge stood on it.  I'd say that was our big success of the day.
  • Her recall STINKS.  I have no idea what happened.. she used to come to me at the drop of a hat.  She wandered off a bit offleash yesterday to try to steal some of Chase's treats.  I also leashed her because she was eyeing some new dogs suspiciously towards the end of class.  Don't know what this whole thing is all about.
  • We did the Dog Walk.. one time, she went over and jumped off, and the next time, she went over perfectly and I fell on my face. LOL!  We need to work on our coordination.  Wasn't too bad though considering we've only done the Dog Walk a select few times.
  • Monday, June 1, 2009

    It's the Dog's Life

    Today's highlights...

  • Quite a few training sessions. Did some contact zone work for the first time in a long time and I'm impressed at how well Marge has retained her knowledge of what to do. Did some jumping, too, and she was pretty good. She needs to learn to watch my arm position.. sometimes she takes a jump that she isn't supposed to. It's fixed with a simple "here" command, but I'd like to get it perfect without any voice too. On the Rally front (hah, play on words), Marge's fronts have gotten exponentially better and she seems to enjoy doing it. We also worked on fast pace walking from a halt.
  • Some visitors. No one all that shocking.. my grandmother came by. It was just before Marge's feeding time, so she was excited. My grandma came through the door with big sunglasses on and Marge gave a couple of woofs. Don't think it was an unfriendly thing; she's done it to Louie, too, also at feeding time. Marge was normal otherwise, jumping up on my grandma, gently playing with her, et cetera. My sister's tutor came today, but I opted not to work on front door greetings and instead had Marge come inside once the woman was seated at the table. Marge went over and gave her a friendly poke with her nose.

  • Boardwalk walk. We've been going to the beach more often, but have stayed off the asphalt path where the majority of people are. Today we took the plunge for the first time in a long time and walked Marge there. She was fine. She perks up a little around other dogs, but I suspect it's more friendly than anything. Usually easy to get her attention back, but not always. We did absolutely zero leash-greets and I purposely kept Marge away from those looking to come up to her. She ended the day with a (leashed) run on the beach.

  • Chow time.. again? I could smack myself for this one. I was cleaning Marge's teeth and I had a 5-lb bag of kibble out, treating her for laying calmly and allowing me to work. Well, I went to go take a shower, and... forgot to put the bag away. Thankfully my sister went into the room to see what the heck Marge was doing and caught her in the act of devouring kibble. It doesn't sound like she consumed a ridiculous amount, but I'm so angry that I allowed it to happen. Going to be up another 2-ish hours, probably, checking on her.
  • And that's about it. Weather looks good for tomorrow so we should be set for Agility. Can't wait.. my sister should be tagging along, too, so hopefully I'll come back with some pictures.

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