Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Training 9

Well, the zebra martingale brought out the wild side of Marge tonight.

OK, not really. More like the combination of a happy dog, an underexercised dog (I've been sick all week), a dog enjoying the brisk fall temperatures, and a dog who loves to run producing an absolute nutcase tonight at Week 3 of Advanced Beginner agility.

When I got to the field, my eyes lit up when I saw a Jumpers course out. I was happy to have a break from contact training and the teeter and I thought it'd be awesome (and relatively easy) to run this successfully.

She started out superbly. The first four jumps were relatively straight away and the first challange was our entrance to the weaves. I don't know whether I didn't support her enough (I think that's the case in this run), whether she's not experienced enough (she skipped poles on a couple of occasions), or if we were just "off" tonight.

I'm lucky she ran the next few jumps cleanly, because her stride was HUGE and she was changing direction at the last minute.

That was the first part of the sequence.. then came a back cross to a straight tunnel and a relatively hard turn to a triple. Well, Marge thought barrelling out of the tunnel and not listening to me calling her name was much more fun than paying attention (she actually turned toward the triple and then ran the other way), and she proceeded to run zoomies around the entire agility field, go off to visit people, and the like. She did this several times.

I was instructed to put her in the car by herself for a few minutes after that.. although I don't think it bothered her, it's certainly not the type of punishment I want to use so I probably won't do that again. Though she DID run better after her time-out, I think it was just from being tired after doing so much zooming around before hand. How she could have connected her zoomies with having to stay in the car by herself (after first coming to me and walking with me for several seconds) is beyond me!

We never did finish the sequence, but the jumps she did go over were controlled so I guess it's a victory in that sense.

Next time, I guess I'll have to take a more pro-active approach and really work Marge before class. Now that the weather is cold, she is definitely more free spirited, and I'm going to have to deal with this for a while. (Beats fireworks, though!)

I also think I'm going to bring Marge's crate to agility, once she gets used to it, so I don't have to feed her constantly on the sidelines, and although I will not be using the crate for any type of punishment or time out, perhaps chilling out in her crate before her run will help produce a dog who actually wants to see me and work with me.

I don't think my treats cut it AGAIN this week.. this time, it was steak! I'm really not sure what to do, because I'd love to cut up a whole bunch of hot dogs for her, but I have a feeling it'll give her the runs. I'm thinking about using bland stuff for when we're sitting on the sidelines (I feed her almost constantly.. rewarding her for interaction with dogs/people, distracting her from dogs running zoomies, and a whole host of other things) and maybe use cheese on the field.

I think I might see about doing a private lesson next week after class. My teacher is going to be away the following week, so if we learn a little something extra, maybe we can use our class-free time for a private rental to work on some skills. Based on the last few classes, weave pole entries are DEFINITELY a priority right now.


In other training news, Marge's walks have been relatively good ones lately. This morning, I walked her in the field during garbage pickup in my neighborhood. I thought for sure that the sounds of the trucks would freak her out, but she didn't show anything other than a mild awareness of them.

I'm kind of doing two types of walks with her. I'm doing outright counterconditioning on some of my walks, where I'm literally clicking and treating the whole time. I did this a few times in the busy field, and would like to reincorporate sitting out on my porch and just clicking her for watching the world go by.

On other walks, walks where there are less stimuli, I'm pretty much just refraining from overanalyzing my environment and just going with the flow. The 20' leash helps a lot with this.. if Marge stops to listen to a noise or watch something go by, but isn't outright panicked by it, I can continue walking without reaction but no tension will be sent down the leash, nor will she be negatively "tugged" along. Marge seems to read my unchanged motion as a cue for "there's nothing to worry about here." If something truly scares her, there's nothing I can do except move away from it. While I still treat her for passing people, sitting at the curb before crossing, etc., these walks are just meant for her to sniff around, take in everything at her own pace and perhaps most importantly, get some exercise. So far, I have seen good results from both.


Still waiting on the bloodwork. I checked the USPS website, but they didn't have any information about the package except that it had been cleared for shipping. I thought it'd ship over the weekend, but now I'm not sure. I also don't know how long the analysis will take once it gets there.

Medication still is an option, but I won't do anything until I get the bloodwork back.


This weekend, now that I'm finally over my cold, I really want to get back out into the woods. Not sure of other plans, but it would be nice to have a play-date with Buddy, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Scenes from a Rainy Day

My blog has been on the wordy side the past week, with vet visits, big purchases (I've spent about $300 on Marge alone), and all kinds of other things going on.  So, I think it's time I shut my mouth and let the pictures of Marge speak for themselves.  They're nothing spectacular, but here she is showing off her zebra martingale again (I love it) and chilling out with a toy this afternoon.

Moooom, enough of this.
Toys are better.

Here, There, Everywhere

Yaaaawn.  One big yawn for a busy couple of days.

I suppose the first thing I should get to is the vet visit.  Well, to make a long story short, Marge's blood is on its way out to California tonight for some blood tests, most importantly a thyroid test.  As I found out, my vet does not ship blood out from his office, so I had to do it myself.  It was a very weird thing having three vials of dog blood in my refrigerator all day..

Other than that, my vet honestly didn't have much to say.  I was about to go back to May and recap everything to him, but he stopped me and outright told me that he's not the person I need to be speaking to about these things of things.  Though I appreciated his honesty, that is NOT what I wanted to hear.  He later revoked this statement to some degree, saying that Marge is still leaps and bounds from where she was when I got her last summer and urging me to not make a mountain out of a molehill.  He DID say that her noise phobias do bother him, though, and gave me the numbers for three specialty hospitals where I might find a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.  He threw out the words "amitriptyline" and "clomipramine" as two drugs we could possibly try through his own practice before I go that admittedly tough and expensive route.  

I'm not going to think too much about it right now. We'll wait for the blood work and then make our next move.  Though my gut feeling says no, it's always possible she could show up with a wonky thyroid.  I've been amping up the clicking and treating on walks rather than simply avoiding the problem by walking Marge at dead times, and it seems to be helping.  She had a treat-free romp in a decently busy field today with no problem whatsoever, and I have started walking her at night again too.  


The next order of business actually might deserve its own blog post, but I can't wait to spill the news...

I took a ride out to New Jersey to watch an AKC trial, where an upcoming NADAC trial will take place.  (Thanks so much for taking me out there, Louie.)  Though the name "East Freehold Showgrounds" sounded daunting to me (it's big enough for a horse show) and I was expecting to be let down, the place actually seems like somewhere that Marge would absolutely love.  Very quiet, a decent amount of fencing (the rings will be fenced with snow fencing, as usual), lots of trees and greenery to sniff, and it promises to be a small trial because there's an AKC one (and a Golden Retriever Specialty) that same weekend.

Of course, nothing is set in stone yet, but we may be debuting quite soon in the agility ring.  It may seem weird that I'm considering this based on our setbacks lately, but I honestly cannot convey just how different Marge is on the field (or even at a trial).  As long as I think she can handle it from a mental point of view, even if she knocks every bar and visits every ring steward.. as long as I think she can have a good time, we will go.  I've got five weeks to get it all together.  

I bought the super cool martingale leash in the picture above from Shadow-Max, a vendor who was there.  I have been looking for zebra stripes for a while now.. I like the way it looks on a black coat.  The price was too good to pass up, so the deal was done.  I like it so far!  Marge seems to get excited by it, too, but I'm sure it's just because she think she's going for a walk when she sees it. The woman was very nice and said I could mail it back for a new one if it didn't fit.

In other purchases, I bought a soft-sided, 42"(l) X 30"(w) X 37" (h) crate for Marge tonight.  Whether we trial next month or not, I think it'll really help if I get her used to staying in a crate.  We planned on doing this in the beginning, but, since I was a new dog owner, I kind of wriggled my way out of it thinking I was doing Marge a favor.  When it comes, I'll start by clicking and treating for her investigating the crate, work my way up into feeding her in it, then have her stay in it with the door open, giving her kongs in it, etc.  I expect it to take a good amount of time for her to be able to stay in it, but I think it's a good option to have, especially if we have any incompatible visitors to our house.


In non dog-related news, I ask that you please keep my grandmother in your thoughts.  Though I am admittedly closer with my mom's mother, my dad's mom has been sick in the hospital and the news isn't so good.  I'm not quite sure where they're at right now, but I know the whole thing is a very much unneeded stressor to my family, especially my dad.  As a person with a problem-solving personality, it bothers me that there is little to nothing that they can do for her.. but, I know the reality is that she is ninety years old and her body just cannot take any more surgeries or treatments.

Along with this, though I don't think I mentioned it on the blog, my mom's car was hit a couple of weeks ago while she was parked (and in it) after two cars collided with each other and came smashing into hers.  She is REALLY lucky to have escaped unscathed.  Though the incident did lead to a nasty dispute with the insurance companies, my parents now have whatever (little/unfair) compensation they received for the totaled minivan and are looking to buy another car.  Since the dealers just cleared out their lots with the Cash for Clunkers program, the prices aren't looking so good.  It's times like these where I think to myself about how happy I am to still be nineteen.. I've got a couple more years of fully avoiding those full-blown adult problems.

I hope all of you in the blogosphere are doing well.. several of you seemed to have disappeared to some degree!  I've finally gotten myself back into the swing of reading the blogs again, so I hope to hear from you all soon.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In The Fast Lane

Since all I'm going to be thinking about later is my vet visit tomorrow morning (I tend to dwell on things to a ridiculous degree) I figured I'd make my agility update now.

Here we are on Tuesday night.  This run was a particularly good one.. many of the others had a lot of mistakes.  

- She was pretty much fine with the first six obstacles every time.  She REALLY barrels over that dog walk, thanks to all the running I've had her do over the similarly-shaped baseball player benches in the field.  Of course, they don't have ascent and descent ramps, but it has definitely helped her balance.

- 2o2o is getting a lot better!  She hit it real nicely on this one.  It was a little bit crooked, BUT she hit it on the first shot.  I think it was the only time tonight that she got it without having to try again, but it's still a massive improvement in the relatively short amount of time we've been working contacts (1 month-ish?).

- I had A LOT of trouble on some of my other runs sending her into that tunnel under the dog walk.  You can hear Marisa yelling out to me that I'm using the wrong arm.. well, at least I got her in there.  I don't mind that she's hard on me (and all the handlers), though.. I can take(and appreciate) the criticism, Marge can't!

- She is supposed to go to the teeter after those next two jumps.  We stopped her at this point though.  We ran the teeter a few times (with peanut butter) at half-height after class.  She really had no problem with it.  Maybe I'll try it in sequence next week.

- That 180 is tougher than it looks.  It was a TIGHT front cross to get to the triple, and we screwed this up MANY times.  Between my novice handling and Marge not knowing everything fully yet, she, many times, winds up on the wrong side of me when I try to front cross.

After the triple we're supposed to back cross to the weaves, which I couldn't do at all.  I THINK I understand it a little better now, but I'm going to need to practice it.  The rest is relatively straight away, with the exception of one go out-take far side of jump-come-front cross that sometimes we got, sometimes we didn't.  By the night's end I decided to skip the front cross and run on the other (harder) side of the last few obstacles without too much of a problem.

Her behavior was very good at class.  She was uncharacteristically happy all day Tuesday (and last night, for that matter.. she tried to initiate play with my father, even) and that definitely carried over into class.  She kept trying to exit the field to go scavenge for goodies in the crowd, which is why you might hear a slight tinge of frustration in my voice and a "leave it" at the beginning of this run.  She settled down as the night went on, though.  And, as Marisa pointed out, it's not the worst thing in the world that she was going off to mingle with other people.  

She snarked once.. and it wasn't her fault.  Louie held her for me while I walked the course.  He was feeding her peanut butter, and another dog in class came up to say hello.. she told her off with one bark, and then Louie moved her away.  I don't think she reacted to anything else.  She has no problem watching the other dogs run anymore, but I still play Look at That to make sure it stays that way.

All in all, I think we had a great class.  This advanced class is turning out to be a lot of fun.  It's very challenging for both me and Marge, so I'm going to try to rent the training hall soon so we can do some easier stuff.  She is VERY confident right now, and I don't want out constant doing things over or stopping at contacts to discourage her.  I always end the night with a small, easy jump sequence.

I'm so nervous about the vet this week.  Her behavior has been on an upswing, so this, of course, is making me second guess the possibility of medication, and instead give it one more shot and be more diligent with the melatonin.  My rationale is that she'll have the entire winter to recover from this summer (her stress hormones can return to a normal level), and then next year I can catch her before she gets to the point she was at this year.  The logic may be flawed, though.. I always told myself that if I didn't deal with it now, I'd be lulled into a false sense of security this winter and then everything would come crashing down again.  I'm going to just go in with an open mind, though, and see what comes of it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Training 8

I purposely skipped updating the blog over the weekend. I wanted to kind of give myself a mental break from thinking about all things Marge, especially given how up-and-down her behavior has been.


Saturday was.. interesting. Louie, Jessica and I went for a hike in the woods with Marge. I can't even begin to describe how nice the crisp forest air felt on my skin. The weather was BEAUTIFUL. We traveled to some new places, took some nice pictures, climbed up some really steep inclines (we took the wrong path, but that was alright, I enjoyed the challenge). We had an absolutely smashing time. Until..

At the park's entrance, there was a large, loud group of very little children playing. Marge heard them before she even saw them, tensed up, and the walk back to the car was awful, with her pulling away, totally terrified, trying to get home. Not wanting to leave the park with her in that state, I tried walking her a bit more away from the kids, but she never really bounced back. I probably made matters worse, because instead of leaving when she looked a little bit better, I wanted her to be almost one-hundred percent again, and I never got that. I declared the day a failure, and drove back home miserably.

The reason I felt so badly was because I always use this particular park as a place for Marge to get away from her troubles, and for me to just walk with her without having to do any kind of behavior modification work. When it was spoiled by the kids screaming, it really hurt me. In retrospect, she probably wasn't as bad as I thought she was, and most importantly, I think the incident really showed me that NOISE from people is Marge's number one biggest fear, above the people themselves.

I walked her a little more that evening, and she was better.


I wanted to take her back to the park Sunday, but instead settled on the beach. Marge was okay passing people on the beach.. even a man wearing a hat, sunglasses and carrying a plastic bag (much like our neighbor on this block who she hates) didn't rattle her. However, on the way back, Marge spotted three people off to the side, lifting their hands and stretching, perhaps in preparation for a workout. This she did not like at all, even though they were facing away from her. Though she never fully shut down, she didn't recover, and was further bothered by a little commotion in the parking lot.

On her walk later that evening, she was fine walking in the field, even when a young man passed just a few feet next to her. I ran her around a bit, passing people on the soccer fields playing ball. She was fine until she heard whistles in the distance.. they spooked her, and, again, although she didn't completely shut down, she found it impossible to enjoy herself.

I figured out why the whistles/screams/other high pitched noises of that variety bother her. Last week, at 2:30 in the afternoon (?!?!?!$#%$#) Marge and I were lounging out in the backyard when someone set off what sounded awfully like a firework just a few houses behind us. The loud POP was preceded by a whistling sound (think "EEEEEK----POP") so I'm assuming she made a connection. Similarly, sirens have also started to bother her a little bit.

She did meet a new friend on the way home, a small Shih-Tzu type dog who lives on one of my routes. Although she wasn't as bouncy and happy as she usually is around little dogs, she was very happy to see him, wagging her tail and loosening her body. Cutting off all dog-dog interactions at the beginning of summer didn't do much to quell her fear and reactivity around larger, jumpy dogs, so she does make new friends on an infrequent basis as long as I know they're suitable. Strangely enough, although a few dogs do set her off, the presence of stable dogs (and interacting with them) usually calms her down, which is why I think she does so well at classes and trials.

I took her back out that evening briefly when I spoke to neighbors. Since it was quiet, she was fine. I have started to take her on very short nighttime walks, either up to sniff the first few trees in the field or a down the block about 100-200 feet. The fireworks seem to have stopped, but I'm still being cautious.

Monday afternoon, under the influence of Melatonin, Marge went back to the beach for another romp. This time, nothing spooked her and she enjoyed her time there. We didn't walk too far, because there was a dog in the distance who looked like he was offleash. But, she sniffed around, we wandered into the small patch of woods, and she didn't seem to mind that a few people were around, either.

We took it easy the rest of Monday. Did some backyard agility, until I got freaked out by a 6-inch long grasshopper chilling out by my weave poles.

We went back to the beach AGAIN today. Marge got another 3 mg of Melatonin. The tide was really high so there was only a strip of about 10 feet to walk on, but we managed. No one was really around this time, other than a couple of men sitting in various places doing their own things. Since there wasn't much space, I opted to leave the beach and take Marge across to sniff the near adjacent abandoned airplane hangars. Though there was a man in the parking lot with a fishing pole, she wasn't terribly bothered this time. A man also walked by stretching his arms out, much like the people did on Sunday, and it did scare her, but she recovered. She went back to the car happy, not scared, and although the tiny outing (20 minutes) didn't even put a dent in her energy, I found it to be a good one nevertheless.

So, based on these past few days, I wonder if I've underestimated the power of Melatonin all summer. It could have just been coincidence, but the two outings where Marge did get a dose were much better than the one where she didn't get any. Though I know it doesn't do anything when something REALLY startles her, it might make a difference between some triggers being simply scary or downright terrifying.

Vet Visit
As I wrote about last time, Marge's vet visit is scheduled for Friday at 9:30 AM. I've jotted down a lot of my thoughts pertaining to Marge's triggers, my concerns about possible prescriptions, and the like. I also printed out information about Dr. Dodds' thyroid test (thank you SO much, Kathy) and this EXCELLENT article regarding behavioral meds (which I found while browsing the Fearful Dogs blog, thanks for leaving it as a comment, Roxanne). I really want to get the thyroid test done, and I'm hoping that he'll at least glance at the article, and that all of this combined will help both him and I make a well-informed decision on how to handle everything we're up against.

Agility Update
Agility news is going to have to wait until tomorrow or Thursday. Youtube is taking a painfully long time to upload (another hour left), and since it's almost midnight, I need to get my sleep before my long day tomorrow at school. So, check back then.. I have a lot to talk about!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Make Life Good

Today might be the only day where I actually stopped to look at a scribble of graffiti and smiled to myself.

I took Marge to the beach today, after putting in my phone call to the vet and making an appointment for next Friday at 9:30 AM (he is not in this week).  I drove us down there and she was immediately terrified by a fisherman loading up his car, coupled with the sound of sirens in the background.  Though she recovered from it once she hit the sand, the fact that she initially got so scared and started shaking made me further realize that I made the right choice in booking an appointment.

We walked for about a half hour along the deserted beach, any scary sounds of the outside world muffled by the crashing waves.  Marge even saw two men on the beach and didn't pay much attention to them.  She sniffed, jumped, ran around and was mostly carefree.  

On the way back, I noticed big black letters on the old building ruins that I never remembered seeing before.

I found the phrase horribly appropriate for all of our setbacks. (Though, the cynic in me did find the blue splotches in the background to look a whole lot like fireworks.)  I coaxed Marge up on to the piece of concrete next to it, and then had her pose...
She looks good up there, doesn't she?

All in all, we had a good day today.  She got to play with her buddies Ralphie and Gidget for about twenty minutes, and then popped in to say hello to grandma for a few, too.  Hopefully she'll be able to have a play date with Buddy soon as well.  We just need to get through the next week and go into the vet's office fully prepared to discuss all of our options for getting things back, as close as possible, to the way they used to be.  We've got to make life good... it's too short not to.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Training 7.. (On A Happier Note)

I don't have time for a full-length update, but I wanted to share this amusing video from agility class tonight:

Things of note:

1) I did that opening sequence better the four times I ran the course before this.  No idea what was going here!

2) Very proud of my handling into the second tunnel!  Marge has a tendency to pull to contacts, so the fact that I kept her head and sent her into the tunnel made me really happy.

3) As you can see, she flew off the A-Frame.  There was originally a zone honor up, so she performed a running contact (and did it well) but due to time constraints (we ran this course in the last few minutes of class) we did this run without it.

4) Getting better at the Dog Walk 2o2o!  

5) She was NOT supposed to get on the teeter - we swung wide to the jump next to it initially - but I was totally thrilled with how well she did it.  Unfortunately my treat bag fell out of my pouch at the beginning of our run, so I had very little reinforcement for her.  

6)  I should be mad about her taking off out of the ring.. but she went over to greet people!  Obviously that's not something I want to encourage, but it just amazes me at how social Marge can be when she's not feeling scared.

We really had an excellent class.  Marge reacted to one dog who had zoomies (the same little fluffball from an earlier reactive incident) but settled down after a little while and was fine with the dog when they were up close and sniffing each other.  

My vet is in Wednesday through Saturday (split practice), so I plan on calling up to make an appointment tomorrow or Thursday.  

Thank you all for your kind words on my last post.  As you saw, I was really feeling down in the dumps about what's been going on with Marge.  I have a very hard time dealing with setbacks.. her pain, essentially, becomes my pain.  I'm so thankful we had a good class tonight and I saw the happy, loving-life side of Marge.  It's really tough to not be able to see that side of her more often outside of my home and yard.

Sorry for neglecting everyone's comment boxes - let me just get through the long day at school tomorrow and then I should be back in the blogosphere.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where We've Been

Long story short, we did NOT have a good weekend.

I won't get too technical and describe all of it - it'd be painful to write, and I reckon wouldn't be all that fun to read, either. But it seemed like one thing after another just piled on. Reactivity, extreme fear, noise phobias, [MORE] fireworks. It was endless. The lowlights included Marge lunging at a visitor in our house and being so terrified at the park that we had to go home. It's never been that bad.

It's finally time to kick things up a notch. If we continue like this, Marge's universe will keep shrinking, and the only place she'll feel safe is in the house - if even there. Since I'd be absolutely beside myself if our agility classes or hikes in the woods were spoiled by fear, I think it's finally go to the next step. I need to defend what we've got left and win back what the opponent - fear - has taken away from us.

I'm working up the nerve to call my vet and go in for an appointment. I get nervous enough about vet visits as it is for either of my animals, but since behavior problems can be such fickle things to deal with, I'm extra worried this time.

I'm worried about figuring out what to say. I'm worried about having to medicate her and possibly see averse side effects (zonked-outedness, paradoxical aggression). I'm worried about the vet telling me the wrong thing or deciding on a faulty course of treatment. I'm worried that he'll think our problems are so severe that we need the help of a behaviorist, and the consultations will come at $400 a pop - or maybe he won't think anything of any of it. I'm worried that my worrying will make Marge worry. I'm just worried, in general, about how things will change.. for better or for worse, change has always been something that I've struggled with.

I'm slowly preparing myself to do whatever I have to do. I'm trying to muster up the courage to get us out of this rut we've been stuck in all summer and peer out over the top of it, see what's in store for the future. No one said this'd be easy.. it hasn't been all along, and it sure won't be now. But I love my dog more than words could possibly describe, and I'll never give up on her. Ever. No matter how things turn out, no matter how frustrating the road to a life without fear may be, and no matter how far we make it on that road in the end.. at least I can say I tried.

We're in this for life, Marge.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Just a quick post here. Marge had awful diarrhea the entire day yesterday (of course, on the day when I happen to be at college from 10AM-6PM). We're still not sure what caused it.. I did have agility the night before and sometimes too many treats can mess with her stomach, but nothing like this. My mom called the vet and went to pick up metronidazole for her to take, and she was told that Marge was only to eat boiled chicken and rice.

The squirts stopped as soon as she took the pill last night, and she hasn't pooped since. I stayed up all night with her, letting her out every 2 hours.. but she has not gone. I know it might take a little while for her to go after emptying out yesterday, but she's eaten a good amount now and hasn't gone in over 24 hours.

She's been acting fine up until now. The past couple of hours she seems a little restless.. whether she is bored from not doing anything or feeling ouchy, I'm not sure. Her appetite is good, water intake is down but I'm trying. We went on a nice walk in the field, and I thought that'd kick things into gear, but apparently not. It seems like she wants to go outside and potty, but can't do anything, though she isn't actually trying. The vet office said that if she doesn't go by tomorrow, I should call them back and we'll go from there.

So here's hoping for pooch poop by tomorrow... I admit, my background with horses leaves me a little more worried about this than I probably should be. Colic still haunts me after all these years, I guess.. not to mention, the fact that I just hate to see my girl not feeling well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Training 6

Whoaaa. Though this picture of Marge suggests otherwise, we have had an awful lot going on here.

Usually my Tuesday posts focus on Agility, but since there has been so much commotion the past couple of days, I'm going to have to break it up so it's easier to digest!

Labor Pains

Let's first rewind to Sunday. We were invited to my Grandmother's house for a nice shrimp dinner - my favorite. I asked if I could bring Marge along, and so she came. She was having a great night, running around the backyard, begging for table scraps, you know, the usual. Until, of course, some individual, somewhere out there, decided that it would be fun to set off a round of loud, illegal fireworks. Of course, this had to be just as I was practicing recall with Marge outside, so she heard the bang, went flying to the door, ran inside more frantic than I've ever seen her. I finally convinced her that a corner in the back room was a nice place to chill out, and there she stayed, pupils dilated, body shaking, and heavily panting.

I tried, in desperation, to give her the remaining treats I had in my pocket, but that didn't work. Thankfully, my good-hearted grandmother offered up some of her freshly made chicken soup for me to use. That worked a bit better.

After awhile, Marge decided it was okay to come out of the corner, but she wasn't comfortable for the rest of the night and stayed under the table near our feet the rest of the night.

I was very upset about this, because my grandmother's house has always been a safe haven and an extremely fun place for Marge. For her to get so freaked out and, essentially, not have her own house to hide in was not a nice sight to see. Looking back, at least she worked herself somewhat out of it and was able to join us again.

Fireworks will always be our worst enemy. Marge has made leaps and bounds with so many other triggers, but fireworks still send her into a frenzy. I wish people knew the implications of their decisions to shoot off meaningless and law-breaking noisemakers. Dogs aren't the only one with noise sensitivities.. there are noise-phobic people, too! It just makes life so much more stressful having to worry about that sudden blast in the sky.

In The Crazy House
Unfortunately, Monday wasn't much better for Marge. It started with the doorbell ringing early in the morning - my uncle had come to drop off a pressure washer to my dad. He didn't actually come into the house, but it led to a scramble to get Marge and feed her cookies. My uncle is not particularly dog friendly, so it was best to avoid the interaction altogether, especially since it was not planned, at least on my part.

Next, the pressure-washing itself happened; although Marge did much better with the sounds than I thought she would, it still wasn't a pleasant experience.

Then, while we were eating a very late pancake breakfast around 2 PM (yes, I know), the same family friends from last week (and also from early in August) come through my backyard gate unannounced. Marge was inside (THANK GOD), but was able to see them coming, and let out a LONG, hefty growl. I had her go out to them, where she was fine. She demonstrated her weave pole abilities. But.. she thought she saw something go by under the gate and went running over with her hackles up to investigate. She was on edge.. and I guess I can't really blame her.

On a slightly humorous note, I blew up an old ball that I found lying around in an old storage box, just to see what Marge would do with it. It entertained Marge for about two minutes.. until she caught her tooth in it and it deflated. She just couldn't win this weekend!

The day featured three short walks in the field, and the last one was the worst.. for some reason, she was just totally not liking walking in the field with other people there. She didn't outright panic, but she was not her usual spunky self when walking. This left me feeling really bad; after so much improvement lately following a horrendous summer, I guess I just wasn't expecting any regression.

I popped her a 3mg pill of melatonin after the family friends arrived, but it didn't seem to change things any. Although I do still give it before agility class, I think it's beneficial only during thunderstorms, for whatever reason.

The day took alot out of her.. here she was last night, snoozing away on her favorite mat.

Agiliday/Wrapping it All Up
Fortunately, Marge had a much better walk in the field today around 3 PM. She had to pass a landscaping truck and the ice cream man on the way there, and, while it did scare her, she recovered. We only walked around a little bit, but she passed a couple of people who were also out in the field and didn't seem to mind very much. I threw around treats, playing the FEAST game, which always seems to bring out the happy Marge. So, hopefully, our icky walk yesterday was just a fluke, the result of an extremely hectic weekend, and our walks the rest of the week will be okay.

As for agility class, Marge was quite comfortable when we first got there. Louann had her Standard Poodles out, who are some of the most well behaved and well socialized dogs I know, so I invited Marge to "go sniff" them in exchange for a treat. Seemed to work well. She went and sniffed the male dog, Cody, on her own during class (he ran with us tonight.. it wasn't a private, after all).

We did a lot of work on contacts. I told Marisa that I prefer to do a 2o2o with Marge simply because it is more reliable. Originally the plan was to do running contacts, but 2o2o just seems better. Could my agility friends weigh in on this?

I'm pleased to say that she's starting to get what the 2o2o is, even on my steps at home. She's much better on the Dog Walk than she is on the A-Frame.

We also did some weave work.. although we practice every day in the backyard on the PVC set, the competition 12-pole set is a little different. With speed comes mistakes, and Marge frequently skips poles because she's too busy flying through them like a bolt of lightning.

Other than that, it was a light class. Marge had an excellent recall, which I was happy to see, so I was a little less paranoid about her being offleash (especially in the presence of another dog!). We did some short sequences, but, since the contact obstacles were all out, they weren't fluid sequences.. I'd have to stop everytime we got to the contact obstacle to get her to perform the 2o2o. From the dog's perspective, I don't think it was the most fun class we've ever been to.. but, at least we got alot done in terms of learning.

She had a couple of moments where she almost got reactive, but I was able to bring her back down to earth quickly. On a VERY good note, she did NOT react when she saw Cody the Poodle running zoomies before class.. I got her attention and she kept herself focused on me, almost as if she knew that looking at him run would be too much for her to handle without trying to jump right in there with him.

By the end of the class, something spooked Marge. I'm not sure what it was, but I offered her a treat, and she wouldn't take it. Instinctively I grabbed her collar to make sure she wouldn't run off, but I can't imagine that helped matters any. It was a VERY weird little blip. I think part of the reason was that one of the handlers in the next class (who we'll be joining next week) pulled a hood over her head a few minutes earlier... Marge does not like hoods, caps or sunglasses, or any face/head covering garment, for that matter. She graciously came over, took her hood off, fed Marge treats, then put her hood back on, and fed Marge more treats. To make her more excited, I asked her that pivital phrase - "are you hungry?" - which is reinforced every night at dinner time to make it a really happy, feel-good bunch of words. So she really bounced around after that.

I took her over a couple of jumps just to make sure she was feeling better, and we departed.

Understandably, I'm worried about next week. We'll be in a class with, I believe, SIX other dogs.. a far cry from the, um, nonexistant class we're in now. Forunately, as I've mentioned in previous posts, Marge knows many of these dogs, AND many of them are small dogs (a Cocker mix, Papillon, Westie and Lhasa mix, to name a few) so that makes it a little better.

Additionally, the class is being extended to 1 1/2 hours, to allow for the beginner dogs (such as mine) to have more time to learn. This should be beneficial for us, as it allows us to take breaks or even bow out early, if needed.

After class, we made a quick stop to my grandmother's house again because I needed to pick up a couple of books from her. Thankfully, Marge zipped to the door as she always does, so I don't think there are any residual affects from Sunday night.


And, there you have it. All up-to-date on the training news. You've just gotten a good sized slice of what it's like to live with a fearful dog.

I hope to go on a long, brand new hike sometime in the next week, so look out for a post on that over the weekend. I may also rent the training hall again for some private practice time before joining the big agility class. I also haven't forgotten about Mango and Dexter's tag for us to post the six things Marge loves most, so that'll be up soon, too.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Back to the River! Back to the Forest!

(Invisible brownie points for you if you can name what movie that quote is from.)

Yesterday, following our slight mishap Thursday, I was eager to get back out and immerse myself in the forest once again. This time, I was determined to keep my head and not panic should we take a wrong turn. Louie came with us, too, which made me feel much better. He is definitely not as panic prone as I am.

We originally started out on the Green Trail, which was the path that played tricks on us last time. However, I wasn't really comfortable going through that trail again, and since we had just attempted it two days ago, didn't feel like seeing the same things again so soon. We walked on it a little bit, and then headed back to go somewhere else.

The three of us - my sister, Louie and I - settled on taking the Blue Trail down to Walker Pond, a place my sister and I had been before, but not in a while. The Blue Trail is a long trail, but one that is fairly easy to follow because it is not particularly overgrown and the blue markers stick out on the brown-grey bark quite well.

We reached the pond and wandered off the trail just a bit to investigate it. Frogs shrieked and hopped into the water with our arrival. I tried to coax Marge into the water, but because the pond was surrounded by a thick layer of mud, she didn't want to go more than just a foot or so beyond the shore. The Greenbelt's bodies of water are not particularly ideal for Marge, unlike the streams and ponds at Wolfe's Pond Park or Clove Lakes Park, where it is relatively easy to bribe Marge into the water up to at least her elbows.

I had Marge pose in a delicate bed of wild flowers, but the flowers didn't show up as well as I would have liked in the picture.

We walked on on the Blue Trail until we reached the border of the park. The trail continues, but not before crossing residential streets. Deciding it was pointless to leave the forest, we headed back to the entrance of the park for a break and to decide where to go next.

Because it was relatively hot and humid and we had already walked a considerable amount, we opted to take the Lavender Trail, which simply loops around a large swamp inside the park. We've walked this trail very many times, but there are lots of sights to see on it so we figured it was worth our while.

There is a small, cleared, mossy patch of land just off the trail that we always like to go exploring on. Last time, we saw several different kinds of mushrooms due to all the rain we had. This time, there wasn't much there, but the spot was still nice for a break.

Marge plopped down on the ground and found something interesting to sniff.

We completed the Lavender Trail quite quickly, barely having to stop to look for the trail markers because it is so incredibly straightforward.

The last leg of our journey was traveling on the Yellow Trail, which got us back to our car safe on Thursday after getting so disoriented. Now that we'd already discovered the quirky parts of the trail, I felt more comfortable and knew exactly where we were.

We took the trail all the way up to the road this time. We could've continued on to climb Moses Mountain (which is more like a hill, but it is the highest point in the Greenbelt), but after having been there so long, decided this would be a good place to stop.

We headed back, this time without incident, climbed into the car and headed home after yet another nice day in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lost in the Woods

I made my fearful dog look as brave as a superhero today.

I don't always do the best in stressful situations.  Don't get ideas and start saying my personality makes Marge the way she is (it doesn't!), but I can be an extremely nervous person sometimes.  I black out every time I get blood drawn, I get myself so worked up when getting injections or dilation drops at the eye doctor.  I can be pretty extreme sometimes.

Though I posted yesterday that I thought we'd go to High Rock Park over the weekend, my longing for the woods got the best of me and I decided to head out there with my sister and Marge today around 3 PM.  We originally were going to head up the same trail as last time and hang around Walker Pond, but there were screaming children in a neighboring backyard but I didn't feel like listening to them as I hiked and I don't think Marge wanted to, either.

So, we meandered up near the very beginning of Lake Ohrbach, which we had the luxury of seeing the very first time we went to the park.  But, since we'd never been that way around the lake before, I didn't want to get lost, so we didn't go far.

Here's Marge catching a whiff of that rare woodland breeze that sometimes comes through every once in a while, with the marshy parts of the lake behind her.

I then decided we should check out the Green Trail.  It runs right along with the Yellow Trail at some points, but bypasses the spot that left us extremely confused last time.  It runs in a loop, so despite a rocky beginning of not knowing exactly where we were going, I figured we'd be fine.

We walked on, and then the trail got really narrow and dark.  We were all set to go back, but since the trail winds up at the same place that it started and was rather short, I figured we'd be fine to plug on. 

And onward we plugged.  We bordered a road at one point, and figured out how to get to Moses' Mountain, which we hope to do soon.  

We entered the homestretch, I was feeling a little nervous since the woods apparently get dark pretty quickly.  It was about 4 PM at that point, and since the sun was obviously still up, but lowered, the shadows made it kind of hard to find the trail markers.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a large, graceful creature run by.  I thought it was an offleash dog and instinctively looked behind where it was running for an owner, but thenI  exclaimed to my sister, "OH #$%^! A DEER!"  

This, of course, scared the poor animal even more (my sister says she saw antlers, so it was a buck) and he continued to dart out of sight.  Marge thought it was the most peculiar thing in the world.. she wasn't expecting something so much larger than a squirrel or chipmunk to come darting through the trees, but she tried to run after it, nevertheless.

We found our way almost all the way back to the beginning of the Green Trail that we were still on.  But, for some reason, we couldn't find where the trail went next, wound up going in a circle, and found ourselves going the wrong way.  

At this point, I was really scared.  I felt my legs get all wobbly, even got a little lightheaded at some points.  I tried to call my boyfriend, and tell him to come pick us up on the road we were near.  But, he didn't pick up, either due to bad reception or simply missing the call, neither of us are really sure.

I then told myself that trying to backtrack on the Green Trail again, when it was already this late, was pointless, and I had a hunch that the part of the Yellow Trail we were nearby would take us back where we needed to be, so we hopped on that.

Of course, it couldn't just be a straight run.. There were downed logs in more than one spot, which meant finding the next part of the trail was challenging.  There were lots of twist and turns which left me scouring every tree for that ever important yellow trail marker square. I wasn't looking for anymore challenges, although Marge was still enjoying herself thoroughly, hopping over every log like it was nothing more than a twig in her path.

I finally recognized a spot that I remembered from a previous visit, and knew we were close to where we needed to be.  Once I saw the little red shack from the parking lot up in the distance, we made a bee-line up the path and headed straight for the Oldsmobile.

I snapped this picture of Marge before we left, as a reminder of our scary-for-me but fun-for-her adventure.  
I need to find a better set of nerves.  We were barely lost.. it's not like we were off the trail completely, and we had the luxury of a main road nearby, but I still acted like we would be stuck in the woods forever and that no one would ever find us.  Guess I should remember this any time I question why dogs like my Marge sometimes react irrationally to things.. humans apparently do it too!

(Lastly, a thank- you to our good friends Martha and Bailey Basset for their acknowledgment of us in passing on this award. It's supposed to be sent to five people who've rescued a dog or work in rescue, but since I was the one who needed rescuing today in the woods, I'll pass it on to whomever wants it! Thanks a bunch, guys - it means a lot!)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"College, hooman? That dudn't sound fun."

Marge's face in this picture reflects my sentiments about the past twelve hours.

Forgive me for the off-topic rant, but today has shown me that Wednesdays are going to be the worst day of the week for me. I am in class from 10-2:15 and 3:35-6:20, which means I am at the campus the entire day. Due to the deplorable parking situation, I wound up walking about a mile and a half today with two textbooks and a laptop in my bag. Usually I wouldn't mind the good exercise, but walking around a college campus without my walking buddy Marge just isn't appealing to me. Nor is carrying my bag containing all that bulky stuff.

It's actually ironic that we missed Tuesday Training yesterday, because despite the start of the school year, there has been a fair bit going on.

Laugh it Off, Part 2
Some of you may remember that I posted a whine on here early in August about some family friends who came over and basically (unjustly) tore apart my approach to Marge's training. Well, they were back again this week, but the visit was much more pleasant on my end. I was upstairs when they arrived, so my dad let them in, and Marge did growl at them, but that isn't really surprising. As soon as I came into the room, though, Marge mustered up the courage to go over and sniff them. Due to this, I was told by our company that perhaps I have "the magic touch." A far cry from previous comments, and I'll take it! Marge was relatively relaxed the rest of their visit and only growled on one other occasion, when they made their way into the kitchen where her and I were and everybody wound up in uncomfortably close quarters. But, overall, I think Marge did a great job.

Out and About
Because college has started, I don't have as much freedom to take Marge to the beach or park rather than walk her near my house. So far, with the exception of this morning when a foghorn totally took her by surprise, she has been doing alright. With the cooler weather, she seems more willing to walk on the sidewalk rather than in the field. I haven't really tested how far she'll actually go, and we've only stayed within the range of a few houses, but it's a start. We had a great walk in the field tonight, actually.. I wish I had my camera, because she was being such a goof play-bowing to my sister and I while simultaneously biting and growling at the grass. She can be a funny dog. It was a nice way to end the day after the foghorn spoiled our morning.

Agility Training
Last night, due to the expulsion of last week's bite offender from the agility class, we were the only ones at class and will be next week as well. We didn't go the full hour, but did get a fair bit done in the 40 minutes or so we did have. We started with a box sequence that contained 4 crosses.. I think Marge did an absolutely fabulous job with it. It took us only one or two tries before we were able to run the 9 box jumps and one tunnel successfully.

We also worked contacts using the zone honor, and there now seems to be some debate as to whether Marge needs the 2o2o contacts or can just do a running contact. Marisa said her stride is conducive to a running contact. Honestly, I think we'll probably go with 2o2o because it seems more reliable, but at least using the zone honor is getting Marge to run all the way down to the bottom of the A-Frame for now.

Teeter work continued this week.. this time, we had tables under both ends of the teeter, and I kept running Marge across. She seemed to do pretty well with this game. She really loves going over to the Teeter, even without the tables there, but then jumps off as soon as it bangs. I can't figure it out. If she's afraid of it, why is she so eager to do it? Seems like the underlying association hasn't fully changed, but the operant behavior has been built up. Trying to find ways to counter this.

Class Changes
I found out this morning that my Agility class is no longer being offered because I am the only one left in it. This means I'll have to move up to the 8:00 PM Advanced Beginner Agility class. The dogs in this class are slightly ahead of us, in that they can perform all the obstacles and all have some form of a contact behavior, but I believe Marge is right on par with them in terms of jump, tunnel, chute, tire, weave, etc. performance. To make up for this, I will likely have a couple of private sessions with Marisa after class.

To me, the most important thing is that Marge is not rushed into anything. I've been given the OK for a while now to move up to this class, but wasn't really planning on doing so. Although the class is big, Marge knows most of the dogs in it, so I don't forsee any problems in that respect. I think most runs are done without anyone else on the field (unlike beginner, where we all did small sequences among one another), so that will help Marge, too.

So, that's where we're at right now. Fortunately, after tomorrow's morning class, I have Friday through Tuesday off from school. I'm hoping to do alot with Marge during that time, including a trip to High Rock Park for a hike, which I've been anxious to go on for a couple of weeks now.

Lastly, here are some pictures of Marge on the beach, taken this past weekend. We've gone there a couple of times recently, since the summer crowds have died down and Marge absolutely loves running on the sand.

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