Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer's Last Hurrah

An exchange today in the park..

The setting: a wooded park, next to a stream where Marge is dipping her feet and sniffing for stinky things.

The characters: myself, my sister and Marge, and a man and woman with a large Yellow Lab.

*woman begins to approach with her dog, who is pulling on the leash to come over to Marge* Woman: "Is your dog friendly?"
*with her approach, I begin to gather up Marge's 20' leash and move farther down*
Me (not wanting to go into the whole fearful dog spiel, nor thinking that I need to): "No, I'm sorry, she's not friendly."
*Marge, at this point, looks up at the Lab*
Woman (obviously mistaking Marge's apparent curiosity for wanting to come over): "Are you sure?"
*I now begin moving away more quickly as she is obviously not getting the hint*
Me: No. She is not friendly.
Woman: Well.. you could at least say it nicely!!!
Me (puzzled): Well.. you could ask before you start approaching!
Woman: I DID ask!
Me (not wanting to argue with this horrible example of dog ownership): Okay then. You have a nice day. *walks away*

I was appalled at this woman's pushiness.. yet, I was wrong for not allowing her dog to approach mine. People are so quick to question what a dog's owner says about it's behavior, yet if anything were to happen, who would be blamed? There are plenty of times where I do let Marge approach other dogs, but I know her triggers (large bumbly Labs are one of them) and I do not need a total stranger commenting to me in this manner. I was not rude, either.. I was moving away because she was moving towards my dog.

This was not our only problem today at the park.. before arriving, Marge had the displeasure of seeing our dreaded, scary neighbor from inside my car, and that set the mood for the subsequent trip to be tension-filled. She actually full-out reacted towards a man she saw in the park.. he wasn't paying her any mind at all, either. I believe this is a trickle-down effect, so to speak.. because any time she sees (and reacts toward) this particular neighbor, she is usually edgy for some time afterward.

Hopefully, with the colder weather coming, we can regroup, avoid these unwanted encounters and start off on the right foot into next year's Spring.

Now, I'd like to acknowledge a couple of my blog friends.

First, a very overdue thank-you to Rufus and Indie, who sent us a gift when we placed in their Summer Photo Contest. Marge finally got to try the biscuits they sent over to us for the first time the other day, and she certainly enjoyed them. Thanks again, guys! (And we're glad to see you blogging again after a long hiatus!)

We've also been tagged by Bijou to play in this game.

I don't do these all the time, but this one is just irresistible. We have to blog about a time where Marge stole human food that she wasn't supposed to get.

It's probably happened a couple of times.. reaching up to lick something on the table, pre-washing the dishes before they go into the dishwasher. But the most memorable time was when she stole my mom's bagel. My mom left her bagel on the counter and went to use the bathroom. I was going out the door for college, and didn't think anything of it. Well.. as soon as I left, Marge reached up and took a piece of the bagel. My mom came out of the bathroom to find her chowing down. So, yes.. Marge is a convicted countersurfer, and probably knows she shouldn't be doing it based on the fact that she always waits until everyone's gone to do it.

Fotunately, she pays no mind to the vegetables or bread (wrapped up, of course) that are often left on the counter.. it is only prepared foods, left completely out in the open, that catch her interest.

And so our summer ends. It was a roller coaster ride for Marge, thanks largely in part to the incessant fireworks and construction that continued all througout July and August and spoiled our walks. With the cooler mornings and nights setting in, I'm starting to see glimpses of my beloved "Winter Marge," who is much more carefree and happy than the summer version, who is bogged down by heat, humidity, and the constant threat of a loud noise or scary person to come our way. So, even though I hate watching the sun go down those few dreaded minutes earlier every single day, and I'm not thrilled with the prospect of returning to another 16 credits of college work tomorrow, I know I'll have my girl back soon, away from the demons that seem to haunt her the most when the sun is shining the brightest.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

All By Ourselves

I suppose the title is somewhat misleading, as we did have my mom, grandma, and sister there too, but for all intents and purposes, we had the training hall all to ourselves for one hour last night.

Following a mostly unproductive agility class this week, last night was both refreshing and challenging.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of originally jumping Marge at 24" instead of our usual 20", which led to her tiring all the more quickly.  Because these uprights don't have labels for the heights, I honestly get confused sometimes. Realizing my mistake, I lowered the bars and we plugged on through the rest of the night.

Here's our best run:

Here's my makeshift course map, if you're interested. I originally thought we weren't going to be able to do a darn thing with this course.  When I ran Marge through it the first few times, she was totally not listening and I was screwing up. She was undoubtedly feeding off the laughter coming from my family members as she barreled through the chute over and over again even when not asked to. Thankfully, we pieced it together, though I do see some things I could have done better.

For one, my first cue to send her into the tunnel came late.  I think the reason for this is that I was afraid she'd flip back around (how you'd practice a back cross on the flat) and ignore the tunnel.

Also, that weird cross in between the jumps at the far end of the room.  I think there are a number of ways I could have handled that without having switched hands so abruptly.  I was trying to do a front cross in that spot, but, due to the lack of space, that's how it came out. Ha!

All in all, though, I think we did well.  Fortunately, I know we won't see anything as tight or turn-filled on any Novice course, so if we were able to do this appreciably, I think we're okay.

Oh, by the way, this was a melatonin-free outing.  I intended on giving her 1.5 mg because thunderstorms were in the forecast, but I didn't remember until we were in the car on the way there.  Fortunately, she had no qualms about working in the hall, and the thunderstorms escaped us.

(She did let out a nice hefty growl at my dad later that evening when he came home.. guess you can't have everything.)

Last but not least, I'll leave you with this endearing picture of Marge on the mini-teeter.  Though probably best for smaller dogs, every time I drag it out Marge gets this look of determination and wants to go across it, even if she doesn't like the sound it makes.  She looks like she's trying so hard to be brave!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's in a Name?

With agility trials potentially coming sooner than we ever thought, I've begun thinking about what Marge's registered name will be.  Most organizations require an official or "full" name in addition to the dog's call name, even for mixed breeds like Marge.  I had previously thought that getting to choose a full name was an activity reserved only for owners of purebreds, but I was wrong.

I could simply register her as "(insert prefix here)'s Marge," but getting to choose an actual name that holds some meaning would probably be a lot more fun.

The original name that I thought of was "Northbound Fly by Night."  Northbound - for coming north from Georgia.  Fly - for speed, flying around the agility course.  Night - for being black in color.  I thought it was abstract yet witty, kind of dark and mystical in feel.  I feel like it holds a lot of meaning, without readily giving up that meaning to the whole world.

My only issues with it were "Northbound" sounding like a prefix or kennel name, when it's not, and it's length.  It's kind of a wordy name, I feel.  I also think it might be too formal sounding for a mixed breed only competing in performance events, and might be construed to be a joke when it's really supposed to be serious.  It also has nothing to do with her call name.

Another name I thought of was "Just Call Me Marvelous."  Because finding a name that incorporates Marge's call name is next to impossible without also including the word "Simpson," I figured that finding an adjective that started with roughly the same letters would be a good choice.  

My only issues with this name is that it has no prefix whatsoever, which looks weird to me (though I'll probably correct this), and for sounding a bit more on the joking and upbeat side.  Allow me to anthropomorphize a bit, but Marge does has a sense of humor, in my opinion.  The only problem is that people do not see that side of her, because when she's out and about, she's generally a pretty serious dog.  So, in one way, the name almost doesn't fit her.

Lastly, I would like to include some sort of prefix.  My first choice was SM, for "Silly Marge," and, honestly, also because I like the way the letters look. My first and middle initials are also SM, but that wasn't intentional on my part.  I can't really think of anything better.

Any ideas?  (SM) Northbound Fly by Night, or (SM) Just Call Me Marvelous?  I'm open to other ideas, too.. a newer name that I thought of was simply something like (SM) Midnight Marvel.  Still not sure on the prefix, which is why it's in parenthesis.

Do YOUR dogs have full names?  What are they, and how did you come to settle on them?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Training 5

Well, we had a good day, if not long and perhaps a bit unproductive.  Unfortunately, I have no images or videos to share from Agility, because we had a crazy class (I'll get to that later.)

Marge kind of just chilled out today.  I took her on only one walk in the field, and she was HOT.  She sometimes seems to show concerns for things - for example, a dog walking at about 200ft behind us - but hasn't reached that panic mode in a long time.  I'd say our walks the last couple of days were NOT as good as the walks we took in the days before, but they weren't terrible, so I'm not worried yet.

Tonight, my mom's cousin, my second cousin, accompanied my sister, Marge and I to agility tonight.  Marge was fine with her.. wasn't too scared when she entered the house, and was totally fine with her in the car. I actually had quite an audience, as both my mom and my dad showed up, too.  Unfortunately, we didn't have a whole lot to show them, as the first half of the class was spent with my instructor dealing with the fact that she just got chomped on the arm by one of the other dogs.  Yep.. she had a nice sized puncture wound.

So, we just fooled around with the weaves and jumps.  I got Marge to do a back cross to the left, for once.  She can do them just fine to the right.  

She knocked quite a few bars tonight, but it was undoubtedly because she was FLYING around the course with reckless abandon.

Marge hasn't been on the teeter in almost a month, so I'm thinking that I'm going to get her back on it next week.  We did do some work with it though, with Marge standing on the table and banging down the high end of the teeter.

We did a short sequence with Marisa.  Jump-AFrame-wrap around to tunnel underneath AFrame-jump-out to far end of tunnel-come back in to Jump-AFrame-Jump.  It was REALLY hard.. the same sequence that the Excellent dogs in the class before us were running.  Going through that second tunnel was hellish, as I could not get her to go into the right end.   I'm not too worried, though.. I've only had 14 classes and I feel like I'm WAY ahead of where many people are at that point.

No reactivity except when Blue the Pit Bull got too close.. she snapped at him.  No biggie, I should have kept her farther away.  She's never liked him.  As long as she doesn't react towards people or when dogs run their course.  Of course, no reactivity at all would be best, but those are my two big things.

She had her usual 3 mg of melatonin tonight.  I'll continue doing this during every agility class and unusual/special outing that we go on. I don't know if it helps, but she has been a whole lot less reactive, so I'm not about to change anything right now.

It was a dribbly-drabbly kind of class, as you can probably tell from this dribbly-drabbly post!

I'm trying to rent the training hall again this Friday, so I hope to have a more cohesive Agility update then.  Next week, we may very well be the only ones in class, so I'm hoping for a productive class then, too.

And now, to make up for my enormous lack of agilivids, Marge demands I show the rest of the pictures from her squeaky slaughter yesterday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Destruction and Dilapidation

It started out innocently enough, with Marge chasing her toy as I threw it around the yard.
But, sure enough, chasing turned into tugging..

And tugging led to this..

Which led to this..

I usually don't allow Marge to rip up her toys and have patched up some of them on numerous occasions, but this one was so far gone that I took the squeeker out and let her pull out the stuffing. She doesn't eat it, but really gets great joy for some reason in gutting the toy.

So, Marge won this time. Good thing we get our toys cheap!

We had a weird day today. Lots of short walks, with the first being better than the other two. She was mildly frightened on our walk around 4:30 and also on our walk around 7; however, the incidents were isolated and she seemed to bounce back decently. She has gotten much better in terms of walking near people playing sports in the field, so that's a plus. She also made a turn on her own terms onto a sidestreet, where I let her sniff a tree and then called it quits. Oh, I also lost my keys in the grass, so I brought Marge home (the field was too busy to continue walking her), waited for someone else to come home to let her inside, and then had to go back out and retrace my steps with my mother and my sister in the fading light. I found them just as the sun was going down, luckily.

More on walks n' stuff (minus the losing keys part) tomorrow for Tuesday Training.. oh, and we're going back to Agility after yet another two-week layoff. Woohoo!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Eating My Words

Marge, to my complete surprise, was cool as a cucumber at the trial.

In the above picture, she is laying in the vicinity of many other dogs and people, right where dogs line up in preparation for their run.

Very few things there bothered her.. and those that did bother her didn't make her panic.  She initially didn't like the idea of walking near so many people and their tents, but once she realized there were many people and dogs that she actually knew and that there were treats to be had, she changed her tune.

She had no problem hanging out ringside with the competing dogs and their handlers.  She was a little intimidated when some men from the club came over near us, but it was nothing some hamburger bits and the TOUCH command couldn't fix.  Our only other negativity came from a dog running up to us suddenly.. Marge didn't appreciate this, but was no worse for wear afterwards and actually made friends with my trainers' big yellow lab.

I gave her a break from the commotion and took her down by the pond, where she waded and cooled off.  We then went back and watched a few more runs.  Marge got to do some agility of her own when I snuck her over to the practice jump.. she was thrilled with that, as usual.

All in all, it was a very positive experience.

Almost too positive.

Someone from the club approached me as I was leaving and said I should go home, register with NADAC enter Marge into Tunnelers tomorrow.  She meant it casually, but did say that she thought Marge could do it because it's an easy class.  (Marge saw Tunnelers before we left and her eyes lit up, actually.  Fearing reactivity, that's when I decided to leave.. but I know the Tunnels excite her.)

This comment, coupled with the enormous success of the day, really left me thinking.  This is the only NADAC trial my club has, so if we wait for it to come back to the Island, it'll be another year before we enter the ring.  There are NADAC trials later in the year in New Jersey, but I'm honestly not thrilled with having my dog offleash and collarless (though she is chipped) in a totally unfamiliar place.

Everything points to go.  It's quiet there (a TINY trial), it's in a location Marge likes, and she's shown me that she is comfortable with the setup. Except, it's only T-minus 12 hours (even less) until the trial starts tomorrow. I believe I'd need to be there at 6:30 AM, and I have a funny feeling that no one in my family would be willing to tag along that early.  Marge likely would run around 8:30 AM.

To me, it's very short notice for a total novice to be running a shy dog in their first agility trial ever.  I'll probably sit this one out, wonder what could have been, and hope for another good opportunity to come in the near future.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Missing in August

The MargeBlog posts have been so infrequent this month, and believe me, it isn't because I'm lazy or unwilling to update.

We have a whole load of NOTHING going on.

Our summer has been positively craptastic, following a rough Fourth of July week and a subsequent two months of scary sights and sounds.  I can literally count the canine highlights of this summer on my hands.

Marge has pretty much spent the last week, except for our visit to Petsmart, doing absolutely nothing.  Agility was cancelled this week, and it has been in the high 80s and even 90s with tons of humidity to bog us down even further.  If she walks for a half hour every day, that's a lot.  Between heat, humidity, thunderstorms, fear, the summer.. it's just impossible to stay outside for longer than that.

Tomorrow, I have a similar predicament.  My dog club is having its annual NADAC trial, which I helped to set up today, in fact.  I would like to go tomorrow for a while to see some people and dogs that I know who will be competing.

The question though, is: to Marge, or not to Marge?

I'm really split as to whether I should bring her or not.  That was the plan all along, but I'm just so scared of going 5 steps backward.  I can see the picture in my head clearly.. having her slink around, visibly unhappy to be there, wanting to wander off and soak away her troubles in the nearby pond, where there is not a soul in sight.  I know I shouldn't be thinking so negatively before I even get there, but that's easier said than done when you have a dog who can be potentially scared if the wind blows the wrong way or a sound is too loud or a man comes too close.  

At the same time, though, if we are ever to compete, she will need to be at such trials.  We will likely only hang around the perimeter of the set-up, staying away from the vendors, tents and the population of people that comes with them.  I should at least know how she'll react to being there, and it could quite possibly not be as bad as I think.

To throw yet another curveball in, the chance of precipitation for tomorrow is 80%, with thunderstorms in the forecast.  If the thunderstorms tomorrow are anything like the ones today, Marge will undoubtedly be happiest in my kitchen, with the radio on, getting kibble thrown at her, rather than in the middle of a huge field.

Guess we'll just see what happens.

Oh, and as a final note, I spoke with my vet's office today to check in with them about these fears.  The melatonin was being used to hopefully help her feel better outside.. well, I don't think it does.  I DO think it helps for things like thunder, but, melatonin or no melatonin, we still cannot walk around the block.

The plan now is to wait another two to three weeks, for the final vestiges of summer to disappear, and re-evaluate her.  If there's no improvement in terms of walking in regular areas, we're going to have to explore other options.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marge's Mid-week Musings

Hallo. A very angry Marge here with today's post.

I have come here to tell you about the injustices I've suffered this week. Just lookit my face.. my mad face.. mad mad mad.. hmmph.

First of all, it has been much to warm for a dark doggy like myself. This means:

  • there are sticky things called humidities in the air, so my hooman doesn't want to walk me, which I do not like.
  • there are no gilities being run, which I do not like.
  • there are booms in the air - I think my hooman calls it "thundar" - which I do not like! But today she bribed me with some treats and at least we got to play the flying kibbles game. This "thundar" is less scary to me when kibbles are flying. Go figure!

Also, my hooman is suffering from a disease known as "computer trouble." This disease makes her angry when she sits in front of the big box with the letter pad that she uses to type up MargeBlog posts. That's why I took over this week! I am sad to see my hooman act like this, but she assures me she's backed up all 1,500 pictures (yes there are about that many of just me) that she has of my pretty Marge mug so they will be safe forever, and the disease will be over soon. She says the computer needs to be "wiped out" for everything to be fixed. I wonder if that's the machine version of spaying and neutering? EEK!

Lastly, my hooman teased me with a very brief visit to the park last night. We don't get to go to the park as much anymore because of the humidities. Being there was kind of sad :( because they told me I wasn't going to be able to stay long because it was getting dark out. And, to top it off.. my hooman pulled me away when I tried to roll in a gorgeous, ginormous pile of horse poop! That is just not right!

We stopped in Petsmart too while we were out, where I got pats on the head from a nice lady - my hooman says it reminded her of when I took the See-Gee-See fearful dog bravery test and it made her happy. I also got some stuff for home, but not nearly enough. When they only spend $9 on me, I know something is wrong. One bag of treats and one squeaky toy just does NOT cut it!

My hooman tells me I need to look on the bright side of things instead of yackin' about the bad stuff.. but c'mon, 'tis a hard life for a dog like me.. all we can hope is that next week is better. More gilities, less humidities, no computer troubles and lots of treats. My hooman will be back soon with a "regular" blog update... worth reading, but certainly not as interesting as mine are!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Money Well Spent

The $30 I spent last night on Marge's training was well worth it.

The fun and new training opportunity I spoke about in my last post was getting to rent the training hall for two hours all to myself.  It was great!  Louie and I had the place all to ourselves from 7PM to 9PM.  You don't realize how big that room really is 'til you're in it all alone.

Unfortunately, I have almost no pictures or video, which I was hoping to spruce up this post with.  Shortly after we got there, we realized the camera was dead.  Oh well, hopefully next time!

Marge really enjoyed it.  She was totally smitten with the idea of getting to run around all by herself, and stopped every once in a while to look at herself in the mirrors. She heard noises from the mechanic next door but wasn't terribly concerned with them.  We built a couple of courses with jumps, weaves, a chute, table and tunnel.  They were relatively small and easy, but it was good practice nonetheless.  She did have 1.5 mg of melatonin beforehand, so I'm not sure if that made a difference.

This will probably be the last training-centric post until a week from Tuesday, since I don't have regular agility class this coming week.  I've missed going on our usual adventures, so hopefully this darn heat will simmer down and Marge can get out to sniff and roll in stinky things - which she loves just as much as running agility.

Here's one of the videos Louie managed to snatch on his phone from the evening:

We will definitely be doing this again.  Today we sort of just got the feel for the place, in terms of how to set up a course in a room smaller than a usual field, so next time I can make it more challenging for both myself and Marge.

(Shortly after this video was taken, I decided to take my sneakers off because my feet were hot.  For next time, I know this is an awful idea, as my feet are so incredibly sore from running around on the rubber mats barefoot for two hours.  Woops!)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I've been a little camera-happy lately.. specifically, video-happy.

Shot this last night. Marge had been cooped up all day due to more thunderstorms in the forecast (that never actually came) and got fed up with me not paying attention to her. She took matters into her own paws.

I thought the fact that she play-bowed to her inanimate friend, waiting for him to do something, was absolutely hysterical.

Leave it to Marge to make me smile.

(We have a brand new, fun training opportunity coming up tomorrow, so check back over the weekend for a [hopefully] good update.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday Training 4

Woohoo! We had a GREAT night tonight at Agility. Popped 1.5 mg of Melatonin into Marge's mouth right before we left. I have now used it for the past two weeks before agility class and I'm hoping it's making a difference.

I am happy to report that she had no reactive incidents tonight. There were only two of us in class tonight as opposed to the usual three plus the occasional drop-in. She is able to watch the other dogs run much better now that she used to. Certain dogs set her off, yes, but on the whole she can watch and not react. Playing Look at That from Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed has truly been a Godsend in this scenario.

Because of the heat and humidity, we didn't do too much. There was only a Jumpers course out, and we did a couple of different sequences on it. This one was the first:

I'm thankful for Marisa being there to yell out to me, as I would have had so many more mistakes without her there. I kept screwing up and not helping Marge though the weaves enough, and had the same issue repeatedly with the tunnel, as you'll see in the video. She took the reins from me at one point and took Marge over the triple and through the weaves. Marge worked really brilliantly for her. Still, I'm really proud of my handling down those straight three jumps and doing that front cross. Marge was on her A-Game tonight and I'm glad we were able to get a sequence as large as this one in.

She was charged by Chase, the BC, after a similar run, but didn't seem bothered by it afterwards. I praised her for not reacting towards him, even though the two of them get along pretty well. I couldn't really complain - Marge has ran up to Chase on more than one occasion, I guess it was time for a taste of her own medicine! I'm just thankful it was a dog who she knows and likes.

I also did a smaller sequence that we did not get on video, but featured a back cross. Marge turned away from me just fine, since it was her "strong side." We still have to work on the other side in regards to back crosses, but at least she's getting it right one way.

At the end of class, she socialized again with little Maddie and Russ, the Viszla, who she play bowed for. She has such a thing for intact males.. she got treats and pets from some of the other handlers and just had an all-around good time.

Class took alot out of her, and she's got quite a few bug bites, so now she's out cold on her green mat across the room from me. We stopped at Grandma's on the way home, but Marge was so tired she just plopped down on the cool tile near the doors and didn't do much else.


As far as the melatonin, I'm still using it on and off. I don't think it makes much of a difference around my neighborhood, but has worked well for thunderstorms and may be helping her to focus at agility. I'm due to call the vet back in another week or two to let him know how it's working for me, but I don't really know yet what to say.

We still aren't walking around the neighborhood, as Marge has shown absolutely no desire to do so. Construction is taking place on all sides of us.. it seems everybody decided to build a house this summer. So, it really hasn't been the best time to go experimenting with how she'll be walking around the block.

She has been exponentially better in Miller Field the past couple of days, both on her early morning walks at 6:15 AM (she's had two so far) and smaller ones scattered throughout the day. I'm trying to hesitate less with her (running away from people at the first sight of them) and kind of just let her experience things for myself a little more.. it's possible that my attempts to get her attention or play the Look at That game might have only made her worse in these situations. Hopefully these good results will continue and we can then decide what our next step will be.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Into the Sunrise

I went out to Louie's for most of the day yesterday, so I wanted to leave my family with a tired out Marge who wasn't looking for something to do or trying to find me. So, I woke up at 6:15 AM to go on one of the most memorable walks I've taken with Marge so far for forty five minutes across the street in Miller Field.

It was absolutely gorgeous out. Everything was coated in golden. The sun was just creeping up, so the heat of the day had not yet set in. There were not many people out at all, and the only sound we heard was the garbage truck picking up waste from the perimeter of the field. No clicker needed, no treats, no distraction games. Just, for the most part, me, my dog, and an abundance of smells for her to poke at.

We had a couple of good walks today during the day, too, but I kept them ridiculously short, maybe ten minutes each. However, Marge's toy drive has increased so chasing toys in the backyard has become a means of exercise for her as well. She had a zoomy fit that I know must have taken some steam off. Later, too, we will stick close by the house, as the humidity is on the rise and the forecast for tonight doesn't look so good.

Tomorrow is supposed to be one of the hottest days of the summer, and I am sure the next week will be littered with thunderstorms, so I may have to wake up for another early morning walk. I've never been a morning person, but the prospect of walks filled with nothing but beauty and peacefulness are enticing.

Friday, August 7, 2009


My sister, Marge and I are starting to get ourselves better acquainted with the endless miles of forest trails we have going through our otherwise traffic-ridden island. We went to High Rock Park for the first time not too long ago and decided to head back out for an early hike this morning.

Not knowing much about hiking, I don't know if these symbols are familiar to you all, because I don't know if they're used in other places besides here. But they are the trail markers. The blue trail is one of the longest and we ventured down part of it today, working our way towards the small but pretty Walker Pond. Marge dipped her feet in and came out with paws full of mud.

Though nothing more than a mere stroll in the woods in comparison to some of the adventures other people go on, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we were quite pleased with the fact that we were able to navigate the trails without much difficulty. Everyone has to start somewhere.

I tried to get on the Yellow trail, which the Parks Department calls a "moderate-to-difficult" trail, but we seemed to reach a dead end at one point and could not continue. We followed all of the markers, but kept winding up at the same spot, surrounded by downed trees and lots of mud. The Yellow trail leads up to Moses' Mountain, the highest point in the Greenbelt, where we'd really like to go sometime soon. If only we could figure out how to get there!

Unsurprisingly, Marge appreciated being away from the sights and sounds of regular living and had a great time wandering through the park. We walked through the woods at ease, met by very few other individuals - only 2 or 3 (all men) - who Marge wasn't really shaken by. She did hear the sounds of the Boy Scout Camp in the distance near Lake Ohrbach when we decided to wander up that way, but since the goal of this trip was to stay away from everything and just take in nature, I didn't press the issue. We had already been there almost two hours, the temperature was climbing and we were all tired, so we packed up and headed home. She slept contentedly in the living room for a few hours afterward.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday Training 3

We finally got back to Agility this week after a long layoff. It was good to be back at the field, and I'd say it was a positive experience.

I always make sure I get there early with Marge so she has some time to get used to her surroundings. I initially thought we were going to have a rough night, but she seemed to get all of her reactivity over with before class. Her victims:

  • a Northern Breed dog (maybe a Malamute?) who she has never seen before. As soon as she saw him setting up in the ring for his run, she got VERY aroused. Didn't bark/lunge, just kind of tried to get at the fence, hackles up, a little bit of forward pulling. It was easy for her to recover from this as we simply played Look at That for the remainder of his run.
  • the owner of one of the dogs in our class. She knows this woman, and this woman has given her treats before, so I'm a little baffled over this one. The only thing I can think is that she was carrying a really huge tug toy in her hands and was walking straight towards us. Oddly enough, Marge was VERY happy to see her again at the end of class, when she gave me a piece of burger to hand to Marge. I hope this was just some kind of fluke, because she has never been reactive towards people by themselves at agility.

The actual class pretty much went off without a hitch. I mostly kept Marge away from the other dogs and worked on very simple things, like the tire, chute and tunnel, but she did do some work in close quarters and did just fine.

We did one sequence each with the instructor. It was supposed to be just a simple 3 jump serpentine, but she extended it for Marge and I:

I think my handling is improving substantially. I no longer hunch over when I run, I'm a little more fluid I think, and now I just have to work on my hand positioning. Either it's all over the place, or, like in the case of this video, I'm consciously telling myself (and being repeatedly told) to keep it up, so it looks artificial.

Does her stride look okay to you guys in the video? She seemed like she was popping up over some of the jumps rather than gliding over them. The flew through the chute and tunnel every time we did it, though. She didn't seem to have a problem with anything else, but did look a little shaky at one point on the Dog Walk. I'm not too worried, but I'll keep an eye on her. She had no hesitance to do anything until the very end, when she refused the tire.

We also did serpentines with front crosses, and I invented a couple of my own, very simple, one-sided sequences to work on. One was taking a jump and pushing her hard into the chute - no problem with that, probably because of the novelty of the chute. Another was some tire/jump/tunnel combinations. I don't like to get too creative at class, because I'd rather have a non-reactive Marge doing simple sequences than an off-the-wall Marge doing harder ones.

After class, Marge socialized a little bit with the dogs in the class after us, who are MUCH more stable than the ones we're in class with. She met a very handsome Viszla boy for the first time and seemed rather smitten with him. We've seen him before at the field, but never said hello. Sweet, gentle dog.

And that was it from tonight. In related news, I am probably going to be renting the training hall so Marge and I can work solo, without the threat of reactivity, uncontrolled dogs, strange people or hopping bunnies in the background. The rates are very affordable, and I think if we get some extra time in, it'll make being at the field easier for her.


I'm still giving Melatonin on and off, mostly before long walks and storms. I'm not sure that it has much of an effect, but we're only a week into it and the vet said to give it three weeks.

In terms of regular walking, we did none today and will likely do very little tomorrow, due to heat/humidity and possible thunderstorms. I had a huge breakthrough with Marge last night using a cup filled with wet food. I put a little bit of wet food onto a spoon and that would be Marge's reward. She was perfectly comfortable walking in the crowded field using this high-value reward. To save the novelty, however, I will probably only use it sparingly and mostly use it for walking on the actual streets.

I guess we're headed in the right direction. I hope so!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Laugh it Off..

Marge has the right idea here.  That's what I need to learn to do.

My parents had sudden visitors to our house last night, and, long story short, I was bombarded with such comments as..

"If she's this bad with her dog, how will she be with her kids?"
"You're constantly up your dog's 'butt' " (edited to be family friendly)
"You're a nut"
"Leave her alone, she's fine"
"I've had four dogs, so I think I know a little about them"
"I've grown up with dogs, you're new to it"
"You have too many stupid rules.. can't pet her, can't talk to her.."
"She's just a dog"

And I wasn't supposed to get upset by any of them.  They were supposed to be "just jokes," just someone "busting my chops."  Well, I did a great job of not getting upset.. I went down into the basement, my best friend Marge close at my heels (because she WANTS to be, not because I'm following her around), and moped by myself.  Sat there like a child with tears in my eyes, frustrated over the fireworks we had just heard outside (AGAIN), the fact that I can't walk my poor dog to remove her from the stressful environment due to those fireworks, and for the beating I just took for my apparently very strange pooch precautionary practices.

Funny thing is, I wasn't even doing anything.  Marge was exploring the room and I was sitting on the floor (as the nineteen year old, the "adults".. I use this word loosely.. were given first dibs to sit around the table) giving her a few treats.  She wasn't on leash, she wasn't inhibited by me in any way. The only time I reacted is when another, totally unexpected visitor came through my door unannounced.  

Damn right I'm going to grab my dog and bring her to the yard.  It's dark, you're a stranger to her, no one knew who it was, and I, quite frankly, don't need the heartache of having her growl and bark in a fit of fear.  I'd rather be proactive than reactive, but sometimes, as this situation showed, that is not always possible.

Regardless of the context of the comments, regardless of who has had more dogs, regardless of who really knows what they're doing, I am really appalled that someone would speak to me like that.  Marge is not this individual's dog.  This individual does not deal with Marge on a deal basis.  This individual knows NOTHING of classical conditioning, of Pavlov, of positive reinforcement.  Nothing.  But it's still okay to rat on the college kid because apparently she's paranoid and, instead, should be yanking on her dog's neck like Cesar Millan and forcing her to interact with people who scare the life out of her.  Because she's doing things differently than what is considered traditional, she's automatically wrong.  I did not ask for your opinion, nor do I want it.  I'd rather take training advice from a pile of dog poop.

Whatever, I guess.  I'll put it behind me eventually.  I need to keep reminding myself of what's important - I need to be Marge's champion, I need to be strong for her.  Because I'm one of the few who understands.


Anyway, on a brighter - or stormier - note, Marge has been significantly better with thunderstorms.  We've had a few rumbles the past few days and a full-fledged storm today.  The really loud ones still bother her, but she recovers more quickly than she used to.   She did not go and hide, though it was easy to see she was thinking about doing so.  The FEAST game made her decide that staying with me was a better idea.

We went on a long walk down by the beach yesterday.  Marge seemed fine on the actual beach, not terribly concerned with the people around, though I did take measures to keep our distance.  We found walking trails that we never new existed.  Because it was so hot and humid, we didn't walk all the way through them, but it looks like we can have some fun there in the future. On the way back to the car, she wasn't taking treats and had a little bit of a "go go go home" mindset, but I think the heat had alot to do with it.  She walked right past a man unloading beach chairs and such from his car without batting an eye.  I don't know if it was because she was shut down and didn't care, but it seemed more like she just wanted to get to the cool air conditioning.  Who can blame her?

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