Thursday, December 30, 2010

To The Future (2011 Goals)

I did not set training goals for 2010; I tend to have a problem with a) setting goals that are ridiculously low or b) goals that are impossibly high.  But I'm going to give it a valiant try.

I will say that Marge was enormously successful in our training endeavors this past year.  In 2010, she completed three titles and got very close to finishing three more.

I essentially have our trial schedule for the first half of 2011 already set.  We'll probably be doing about 10 days of agility from February to June, as well as at least two (hopefully more) days of APDT Rally.

With that in mind, my performance goals for the first half of 2011 (January - June) are:

- to complete the OA title
- to complete the OAJ title
- to accumulate TWO qualifying scores in Excellent A, regardless of class (Standard or Jumpers),

- to complete the RL2 title
- to accumulate TWO double-qualifying scores towards the ARCH title in APDT Rally
- to begin training for APDT Rally Level 3

- to attend ONE obedience match with Marge at my club
- to drastically improve heeling footwork
- to maintain performance of stays, fronts, and finishes

At the end of June, when we have a month or two off, I'll come back and see which goals we met and which we didn't meet and hopefully form some more goals for the Fall trial season.

General Training
In terms of general training/management.. it's hard to form specific goals.  I hope, however...
- to continue to find ways to socialize Marge (such as attending more club meetings with her)
- to push our boundaries; to better recognize when we can dive a little deeper and when we need to back out of a situation
- to keep her active and outside as much as possible without having her scared
- to continue to make progress regarding her situational fears around my dad

Here's to a successful 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weather Wallop

The snow has been around for so many days now that I can't even remember when these pictures were taken.  Yesterday, I guess?

We got 20+ inches here.. the 6th worst storm all-time in New York City.  Or, if Marge is keeping track, the 6th best storm in NYC history.

She did lots of hopping around in the field.  In the backyard, it was more of a climbing expedition than anything else.

Yep, no shoveling had to be done in my backyard, as snow drifts created a huge bare patch that makes pottying convenient.

Marge says, I peed, I pooped.  Now I have to POSE?!

The front of the house was another story, and my back is still out of whack from the amount of shoveling I did on Monday.  My dad has a snow blower (and probably clocked in about 12+ hours with it), but it's obviously ineffective for the house steps and underneath the tires of my car and stuff like that.

We did have one mishap.. I took Marge out for too, too long of a walk this afternoon around the perimeter of the field, thinking the road would be plowed (it wasn't) and walked so far that I was too exhausted to walk back.  Thankfully, I was very close to a main road, which made it easy for someone to come and pick me up (my dad).  Yeah.. not one of my brightest moments and I shudder to think about what I would have done if I didn't have my cell phone with me!  Marge enjoyed it, though.

I'm kind of ready for it all to go away now.  I like snow because Marge likes it and I'm weird in that I appreciate how full of wrath/power/beauty nature can be, but there is just SO much snow that walking Marge is going to be pretty darn hard for awhile.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Training 41

I've had this post scheduled for a few days now.  I was going to scrap it in favor of a post about the snow storm, but the snow will be around for so long that I think it's OK if I wait to post about it.

We've had some visitors, lately, and Marge did well with all of them.

Last week, my good friend B stopped by for a quick visit.  Despite an initial grumbly display by Marge, heard from behind the basement door that confined her, she settled down quickly and accepted lots of pats and praise.  B interacts with her in a way that doesn't scare her, which makes his visits enjoyable for all of us.

On Christmas Eve Eve (yes, that's intentional), my mom's good friend stopped by to deliver some homemade quiche to her.  Marge was initially sent outside since she reacts so strongly when someone goes through the door, but when she came back in, she did a quick sniff of the friend (with hackles raised), then did a whole-body shake and acted completely normal.  She even showed off her up-and-coming trick, a directed "fetch" that I hope to put to good use to obtain her APDT Rally Level 3 title.

That same evening, Marge's wee friend, Nappy the Chihuahua, stopped by outside our house with his owner to deliver Marge a gift.  It was adorable - Nappy had a big stocking attached to his leash and dragged the presents over to Marge, like a tiny Santa Claus.  Marge was totally unfazed by his arrival and interacted with his momma, too.  Over all, she wanted to go inside, since it was so COLD, but it was nice for her to respond so favorably to their presence.

Lastly, in the wake of the giant snowstorm we've just experienced, our elderly neighbor stopped in to pay me and my sister for shoveling out her front door.  Again, Marge was in the basement while Lily came through the door, and then came upstairs with me.  She was more than happy to accept the treats and pats that came from her.

I'm still wrestling with how to tackle the door issue.  If I'm there and someone comes in, she tends to rush the door growling (which is just a display because then she starts sniffing, but I can understand why some people wouldn't like it).  If I'm NOT there, she tends to stand back, growl once or twice, and not really approach the person (this situation seldom comes up, though).  Right now, I usually send her outside or down the basement to allow the person to come in and then invite Marge back up slightly thereafter.  Sometimes, I let her stay in the kitchen and feed her treats while the person comes in the door, but she tends to get more freaked in that scenario than when I simply send her out.

Despite her imperfections, I think all of this is proof of the success she's made in dealing with people.  She's far from perfect, but also far from where she started!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Handwritten Note

Last week, I finally went to the store and picked out a card to send Taco's old owner.

I wrote him a short note and left my phone number, telling him that I'd love to have lunch with him and his wife and how I couldn't believe that so much time has gone by since Taco's death.

A couple of days went by and I didn't hear anything, so immediately assumed that he wasn't going to write back.  Ah well, I thought to myself, all of my links to Taco are now gone.

Today, in the mail, I did, indeed, find a tan-colored card envelope with his name on it, addressed to me.

It contained a check for $50 (which I really do not want - he has sent a check every year, but I never wanted any money for doing anything with Taco), as well as a note saying that he and his wife would love to have lunch with me.  There is something quite nice about receiving a handwritten note through the mail, in this age of technology.

I hope to set something up with them once the excitement from the holidays dies down.

I've only met him a handful of times before, usually not under the best of circumstances.  I can't even imagine how it will feel recall all of my memories with the man who, behind the scenes, enabled me to spend as much time with my beloved friend as I did.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gathered 'Round the Tree

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Park-Hopping

One thing I have not been very good about lately is bringing Marge to different locations for walking and/or training, aside from dog events.

Now that I have some more time, I'm going to try to bring Marge to different parks at least once a week.  Even if we start repeating (which I think we will), I'd like to re-expand our choices so that Marge is comfortable walking in a variety of different parks.

Last week, our destination was the boardwalk, where there was a fair amount of people around.  Marge did quite well, if you recall from my last post.

Today, our choice was the long path along the road in one of our "National Recreation Areas," despite the fact that I am in the midst of a long post-reinforcement pause (hah) after finishing all of my work for the Fall 2010 semester and, therefore, want nothing more than to bum around on the couch.

We walked 2 1/2 miles together over the course of an hour, with some running, some sniffing, and some obedience work thrown in.  It was quite cold for me, but I think Marge enjoyed herself, for the most part.

There weren't very many people around and Marge did give oogly eyes to a couple of men that she saw, but she never outright panicked and always took treats.

Strangely enough, I think the lack of people was bothersome for her, as compared with the boardwalk.  At the boardwalk, there was a steady flow of people, and perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing, but I think she "expected" their presence, whereas in this park, a lone individual would slowly approach along the path only every once in a while.

Most times, her strategy to cope with the approach of a human is to direct her attention towards a tree, garbage can, or other smelly object and sniff her heart out (which may be a signal to the humans that she has no intent to bother them, may also make her feel more secure, or may be unrelated - I think it's all three, depending on the situation and her body language).

I am fine with this because it is MUCH better than her fleeing; I also feel that if she was very nervous, she wouldn't be able to do this with people walking by in such close proximity (since it happens frequently in our neighborhood, where people pass sometimes as close as 1 or 2 feet from us).  Sometimes, she looks as though she is indifferent to their approach and is sniffing just to sniff, which may very well be the case.

We are also working on her glancing at the incoming person and then looking back towards me.  I am rewarding her for both behaviors (sometimes for looking at them, sometimes for looking at me), so as to work to build a positive association with whatever's approaching and also to maintain her ability to focus on me.

It worked absolutely smashingly with an aggressive-looking Shar-Pei who walked (er, pulled) by about 30 feet away from us.  She was able to watch the dog and get the information that she needed (because would YOU want to keep your back turned from something that looks scary?), and also able (and quite willing) to look towards me.

I hope to have more posts like this over the course of the winter, hopefully with more photos than I had today!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blood, Brush, Beach

Thank you all for your kind words last night about Layla.  She and I enjoyed a nice slumber on the couch together, uninterrupted by anyone, until nearly 4 AM.  There's something very special about spending that kind of time with her... like she knows, at that point, that she is the sole recipient of my love and attention.   I believe we have a very special bond, and as much as I love Marge, it's nice to spend some time individually with my cat, too.

Much to my surprise, the bloodwork came back better than expected.  The ALT number has dropped to nearly normal, thanks to the help of Denosyl.  This likely means her liver is repairing itself after whatever damage it incurred.  It also means that the bleeding she experienced yesterday is not related.

Therefore, she will need to go for an additional blood test in a couple of weeks.  It's possible that the bleeding is caused by old veins with weak walls, just like a human would experience.  Or, she might have a blood clotting problem.

The vet said he was "happy" with the result from the ALT test, so I think it's definitely good news that Layla's liver is on the mend.  My hunch, now, is that the bleeding was caused by weak and fragile veins rather than a clotting problem, but we'll do the test to be sure.  He said to come back in two weeks, but I'll likely stretch it to three to give those poor bruised legs some time to heal.


As for our canine protagonist, Marge, she had some special time of her own today.  We originally set out on a wide, paved trail running through the woods, but had to turn back when we discovered we were essentially heading straight for a brush fire.

We surmised that something was burning (my island has been riddled with such fires lately, and my hunch is that someone's setting them) and actually saw blackened ground from a fire that rummaged through the area on Thursday, but had no idea that the fire was so close to us.  Once we got a real whiff of that smoky smell, we got a little more concerned and decided to turn around... and just at that point, we were met by a big ol' fire truck driving down the trail.

Talk about unsettling!

Marge actually responded remarkably well.  We moved into the bush to let the vehicle pass on the oh-so narrow road, and then high-tailed back to the car.  I wasn't up for any sort of fiery adventure.

Leaving turned out to be a smart choice, as there were TWO brush fires in the area, and a third not too far away.  Roads were closed, police were directing traffic, and fire trucks were speeding in every which direction.  Not a good day for a hike, for sure.

....So, we went to the beach, figuring that we likely wouldn't meet any firefighters there.  We enjoyed a 4-mile walk, and Marge, for the first time, got to walk on the boardwalk.  There were a fair amount of walkers, joggers and bikers out, and Marge did quite well.

On the way back, we let Marge loose on her 20' lead on the sand.  A zoomy fit commenced.

Roxanne, this picture is for you, since you like muscular canine rumps so much.

She did give my dad a nice set of growls and grumbles when we came home, but I guess you can't have a perfect day, can you? (Thankfully, they seemed to make amends afterwards with the aid of Milkbones.)

I promise I'll get to everyone's blogs soon.  I'm just beginning to feel better after all of the emotions from yesterday.

More Trouble (Good Thoughts Needed)

We had a vet appointment today to re-check Layla's ALT liver enzyme levels.  The appointment initially started out well, and my vet was happy with how Layla looked as well as my description of how she was doing (eating well, drinking well, peeing, pooping, etc.).

However, when it came time to actually draw blood, they encountered a problem.  Layla's always hard to draw blood from, but this time, she formed a hematoma instantly at the puncture site and started bleeding a lot.  I'm embarrassed to say that I had to leave the room because of how dizzy and light-headed I got at the sight of a huge pool of blood on the inside of Layla's thigh.

They were able to get the bleeding under control fairly quickly, but my vet was concerned.  He said that such a reaction was pretty much indicative of a worsening liver problem.  They got enough blood to run the ALT test, so he will call me tomorrow with the results.

I'm horribly nervous.  Once again, the big C word was mentioned, as well as hepatitis, cirrhosis, etc.  I am just NOT ready to deal with something so serious.

Layla's doing fine, outwardly.  She's acting pretty much normal; in fact, the only differences I see in her are an increased appetite and less vomiting than usual, which are both the opposite of what you'd see with a liver problem.

Yet, my vet seems very troubled by the diagnostic signs.  Her ALT was originally tested to be 134, and then increased to 181 on retest.  100 is considered the highest for normal.  I have read about some cats having values in the 1000's and not showing clinical signs, but my vet said he does not want to see that ALT number even slightly high.

I guess we will see what the test reveals and proceed from there.  I'm honestly not very optimistic - my gut feeling says that the value is going to be similar or the same, even after taking the Denosyl for 3 weeks. He mentioned ultrasound as a possibility, to see whether there are any masses on her liver.  I think I'd be alright with doing that - at least it's not invasive.  More blood testing would probably be an option, too, but that will be complicated if losing blood is going to be an issue.

This cat has had such a rough year.  Ever since that stupid food changed, we've been rolling downhill.   First it was the vomiting and lack of appetite from changing foods.  Then, it was the stumbling and falling over.  Now, something's wrong with her liver.  All I want is my little girl to be OK and live with me happily and comfortably for many years to come.  Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brighter than the Moon

We had a NICE little agility class last night.  Marge was on fire!

We ran two courses - in the first, our biggest problem was a threadle.  Otherwise, the courses were pretty straightforward.

Here's the second.  I ran the closing three different ways, hence the three different runs shown.  Thanks, Louie, for recording :)

(sort of ironic that I'd use a song entitled "Firework" for a video of my sound-sensitive dog... but there you go.)

I'm doing a lot more jackpotting after runs, while trying to not keep the treats in my hand as much (I'm probably about 50:50 now with that).

I'm already thinking ahead to our trials.  I looked back at videos from all of our runs this Fall, and I'm really hoping that our connectedness at class is going to keep up and carry into the trial season.

Classes with my normal instructor just ended last night until January, when we move indoors, but I really don't want to wait until then to take classes.  There are still supposed to be outdoor classes at the field on Monday nights because that class isn't finished yet due to rainouts, so I'm hoping to drop in there next week. I think that having Marge work among different people in a familiar environment would be a good thing.

I also found out about other outdoor classes in my area.  They're totally unadvertised and semi-private, but drop-ins are allowed for certain people.  When speaking with the instructor about it, I initially had the impression that I shouldn't know about it, but she seemed receptive enough and talked to me more about the format, price, etc. I'm still thinking about that one.

In terms of the Dream Park trialing discussion, I'm thinking of doing two Saturdays in February.  The first time, I will enter Jumpers only, to avoid the table, teeter, and exciting contact equipment.  The second time, I'll enter both classes, but will scratch from Standard if I'm not confident about it.

After that, we'll be just about ready for the outdoor season.  In terms of that, I'd really like to do some Friday/Sunday weekends (skipping Saturday gives us enough time so that neither of us gets burnt out, physically or mentally, yet allows us to get more days of trialing in).  I'm keeping my goals low for now - most of all, I really want connected, nice runs.  I know that once we achieve that, the Q's will come.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Close To Everything, Far From It All

That's the slogan for Gloucester County, the place that holds the fabled Dream Park that so many exhibitors in my area rave about.  I finally got the chance to go there today with a friend of mine, to scope out the place and see whether or not it'd be a good fit for Marge.

As it turns out, I actually liked it quite a bit.  It's very, very big on the inside - it almost doesn't feel like being indoors.  Here's a video I shot (thanks to Amy who also sent me some videos of it last week):

I'm not quite sure where to start with it!  The noise is, of course, my biggest concern with these kinds of places.  But, there wasn't a whole lot of it going on - at least not as much as I expected.  The teeter didn't bang very loudly, and there was no automated table (apparently there hasn't been at the last few trials down there - perhaps I will be able to find out if they'll be used in the Spring).  The loud speaker was a bit startling when I first walked in, but, I think if she hears it a couple of times, Marge won't be bothered by it.  The only noise that would really be trouble for us is the darn whistles - but, we have those outside, too, so that's got nothing to do with the site and everything to do with what kind of whistle the judges use.

The amount of people?  It wasn't overwhelming.  People would sort of bunch up and then disperse, but it was always easy to get around and there were plenty of lower-traffic places to escape to.  This might have been slightly deceiving because of the people away at AKC Invitationals, but because I plan to arrive late in the day, after many people have left, I don't forsee this being a huge issue.

Other miscellaneous stuff... the rings were really nice and a pretty good setup for a dog like Marge, since activity is contained to only one side and the other three sides are essentially just walls with nothing there.  I don't think she'll be weirded out by the surface, it was just dirt.. and, since grass at outdoor trials frequently turns to dirt, it honestly wasn't that much different than the trials I've been to!

One bad thing was the ring gating.. there were huge gaps for the entries and exits and lots of dogs took off out of the ring.  That scares me a little bit, but fortunately, all judges seemed to be mindful of this and left lots of room after the last jump so people and dogs could collect themselves and leave properly.

I've got about a month until these shows open, but I'd really like to go and I'm confident enough to give it a try, so it's looking like I will be entering.  I think a Saturday JWW run would be enough for our first time down here.  Avoiding the stress that seems to come with our Standard runs is probably a good idea.  But I'm still thinkin' about it.

On another note.. I RAN A COURSE!

Here is my partner.  Notice the lack of black and the abundance of yellow!

I was expecting to run Spirit in Open FAST (Spirit's momma was the friend I came to the trial with), but as it turns out, she wasn't actually entered in FAST.. so, after a nice but non-qualifying run in Open JWW, her momma told me to run her in Excellent A Standard.

The course was awesome.. very flowy and lots of different handling options.  Spirit's been having some trouble weaving, so she didn't really expect much out of her.

Well.. we qualified.  Clean run, 1st place, 21 seconds under course time, and the only dog to qualify in the 24" height.  It was her third leg. She earned her AX title. And I ran her.

Who woulda thunk it.. my first time in Excellent, MargeDog nowhere in sight, and I get a dog their freakin' title.

Talk about a good day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Training 40

Whoa, it's been a long time since I've had a Tuesday Training post!

For the first time in a long time, I have some video from agility class.

We ran two mini courses.  The first, I don't have recorded.  But it was straightforward, except for a 5-jump modified serpentine (yes, 5 jumps!).  It took us once or twice to figure that out, but we eventually were able to run the whole thing clean.  It's been a long time since we practiced all of that sending out-calling in type stuff, which I am sure we will spend some time on once we move indoors for the winter.

The second course, I have on my camera, thanks to Louie.

It was hard!  We did the opening pretty well, but Marge bailed on the last pole (it has everything to do with the set of poles, and nothing to do with her.. they are 22" spacing and as you can see, constantly falling over), so we lost a bit of momentum there.  THEN it took a bit to get the handling down pat for the pull-through and threadle.  The second run, also included in the video, is much better.

And, would you look at all of that table offering?!  She jumped on the table several times tonight unprompted, plopped right down and wiggly-waggled her little tail. I was VERY happy about that.

Going to keep this post short and sweet for tonight.  I'm likely going to have some more agility stuff to ponder about over the weekend, so stay tuned until then.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey Torture

Only I do things like this to my dog.

Close up:

Have a happy, everybody.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When It Hurts

You may have noticed the addition of a new page to the top of my blog.  For new readers who may not know, contained on that page is the story of Taco, the compilation of a 6-part series of posts that I wrote earlier this year.  It's a bit long, but I regard it as some of my best, most personal writing.


Saturday morning, I awoke from a nightmare.  In my dreams, I was back in April of 2007, reliving the painful weekend that Taco died.  As dreams usually are, the details were fuzzy, but the emotion was all too real.  During the first few waking hours of my day and even in to that evening, it felt almost as though he had died just the day before, rather than 3 1/2 years ago.

I feel better now, but I'm still bewildered.  I have no idea where the dream came from.  I haven't been thinking about him any more than I usually do.  I've been having recurring dreams literally for years about horses, due to several unresolved conflicts that led to my departure from the horse world, but never anything like this.

I have fortunately not suffered a lot of loss in my 20-year life.  Taco's death was the first, and it was probably the hardest on me.  As a 17 year old, I was in counseling for about 6 months afterwards because the intense anxiety and grief that kept creeping up on me.  It took me a long, long time to even begin to accept things.

It all comes down to the fact that I really have not moved on.  I probably never will.  I still catch myself thinking very critically about the circumstances surrounding Taco's death; there are so many "what ifs" in my mind.  I acknowledge how difficult it would have been to care for him through my college career, and also acknowledge that I likely wouldn't have found Marge if he were still alive.  But, the thoughts still remain, and I wish I could spend some time with him again, just see him once more.

I still have his owner's phone number, and actually spoke to him earlier this year.  He's a nice man, a religious, generous, 70-something ex-firefighter. He and his wife both like me very much - they've even sent me Christmas gifts for the past three years.  I want to talk about the three decades of Taco's life that preceded my involvement with him.  I would love to spend some time with them both, maybe grab some lunch at a diner or something.  We spoke about meeting up, way back in 2007, but the plans never came in to fruition.  I don't know whether to call him up and invite him out, or to leave it alone.  I'm trying to hold on to bits and pieces of something that's been gone for a long time, trying to keep Taco alive by learning more about him and continuing to discussing him.

One of these days, I might just have to suck it up and dial the phone.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


As may of you know, we frequent the beach in the fall and winter, when no one is around and the sand is firm under our feet.  Yesterday, we tried out a new beach just a few minutes from my house - and had a blast!

It was located on a piece of the Island that sort of "juts out" from the rest - which led to pretty rough seas and some crazy wind!  Look at all the crazy things Marge's ears did.

She ran around like a crazy gal, the wind tickling her tail, the sand moist under her feet.

We walked out, in to the wind, for about 30 minutes.  We paused at this spot, with the boats floating in the marina behind us, before heading back the way we came.  Our walk was a fast-paced one hour total.

On the way back, we detoured along a sandy beach trail, Marge humoring me by posing among the golden grass.

Over the summer, I wouldn't even THINK of bringing her somewhere new.  I'm so happy it's getting cold, and Marge's world is expanding!  Do you do anything exciting in the winter?

Friday, November 19, 2010


Tonight, I took a huge gamble and brought Marge with me to our club's meeting.  There are a lot of people, a lot of dogs, and a lot of commotion at the meetings, but I thought it could be a good opportunity for Marge to get out and experience a new situation.

She lapped up the whole thing.  She was a little worried in the beginning (especially when one individual opted to let her dog pull at the end of the leash rather than keep it close by her side), but really did amazingly and really just begged for attention.  There were a few yawns and some lip licks, but also quite a few play bows, soft eye blinks, and lounging around on the floor. There were LOTS of treats to be had, like string cheese, chicken cutlet, and pizza.

She made friends with people who I've never even spoken to before in my life!  She saw some of her friends, like a Border Terrier, a Yorkie, and a Bernese Mountain Dog, and also met a couple of new dogs, like a young Border Collie and a fellow black Labrador.

During the "Brags" section of the meeting, I bragged about her recent OAJ leg as well as the fact that this was the first time that I'd ever brought her to a meeting - and that if you would have asked me two years ago if I'd bring her to a place like this, I would have called you crazy!

So, yet again, Marge outdoes herself.  In this high-and-low journey of what it is to own a dog with fear and socialization problems, this was definitely one of the highs.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Revisiting Obedience

After our two class drop-ins in September, we sort of forgot about Obedience training and went back to focusing on our agility trials.  Marge did NOT do as well in the second class as she did in the first (where she was called "fabulous" by the instructor), but she didn't do terribly and seemed to still enjoy it.

I watched a UKC Obedience trial at my club this past weekend, so once again, the activity has been on my mind.  I actually went in to the ring with a friend's Dachshund, as the sit-stay exercise was condensed in to one group for the Novice dogs, and she had two dogs to show so needed another person to handle one of them.  The Dachsie girl held the 1-minute sit for me!

I've started running through exercises with Marge again in my living room, drawing on the little bit of guidance I received from our club's instructor two months ago, and adding in some ideas of my own.

I think that, if I ever compete, I will choose UKC Obedience.  The trials are smaller.  We have two every year held at my club.  And, from what I saw on Saturday, the atmosphere was very laid back.  I'm not crazy about registering Marge with ANOTHER organization (it'll be her fifth one - NADAC, CPE, AKC, APDT), but getting to trial at our home club is really the most important thing.

So, if we were entered in a trial tomorrow, how would we do?

Heel on Leash
Pass.  Marge's heeling has come a long, long way.  Her about-turns look really good, providing I get the footwork right.  Her left turns are also fine.  I do tend to lose her a bit on the right turns, so I think she'd get some points off for lagging.  She sits straight when we halt, too.  The one thing I anticipate about competition is losing eye-contact with her, or only getting it some of the time.   So, I think we'd pass, with some deductions.
Figure 8
Pass.  We haven't actually done this with people yet, but my gut feeling says she'd pass this one, too.  I don't anticipate her sniffing anyone, though we certainly would practice at matches and stuff to really proof the whole thing.  She lags a bit on the rights - as you can see, it's a recurring issue that we're working on.
Stand For Exam
Fail.  She might hold the stand-stay, but not without a lot of shrinking and lip-licking (which is not a situation I'll put her in).  We won't compete until I am confident that Marge understands the exercise and realizes that all the judge will do to her is pat her three times on the head, neck, and back.  Oh, and we sure as heck won't show under a male judge, either.
Heel Free
Pass.  I think there'd be more lagging than with the Heel on Leash, but not enough to fail the exercise.  I'm the kind of person who wants only to qualify without the finishing touches (I like my runs to look good and feel good), but, if we set foot in the ring today, I think that's how it'd look.
Recall Over Jump
Pass.  Her fronts have gotten consistently more straight, and I'm not sure that the jump would affect her much in any way.  She might need to get used to the idea of two people standing on either side of the jump, but I think she'd perform the exercise.  Finishes are a work in progress, but she's absolutely doing them.
Honor Down
Pass. In UKC Obedience, the "Honor" dog does a down-stay during the first two exercises of another dog's run.  I saw how it was set up at my club, and the Honor dogs in Novice were definitely not more than 20-30 feet away from their handler.   She has no problem whatsoever with her down-stays.  I'd just like her to get some practice actually being in that position while another dog is working.
Long Sit
Pass. I just participated in this exercise at the trial and am confident that Marge could hold a 1-minute sit-stay with other dogs around.

I'm toying with the idea of taking Marge to a match and just playing around with her.. having some people stand in the ring as Figure 8 posts, maybe just mill around the way a judge would, etc.  My one concern is getting unsolicited advice and being told to do things in a way that I'm not comfortable with while at the match.  If I need help, I'd rather ask for it or go to class.  There are so many different ways to train these exercises, and it can get kind of overwhelming and awkward for me when a more-experienced person tells me something that I don't agree with. Constructive criticism is OK, advice is OK too (heck, I love getting advice on my agility handling), but something in me tells me to do this Obedience thing by myself.

I've changed up our training set up when we train Obedience.  I rarely carry treats in my hand - sometimes, I don't even take them out of the closet at all.  I want Marge to be focused on me with the possibility of reinforcement in her mind, not focusing solely on the cookie (which, I think, has affected us a bit in agility).  So, we'll run though a couple of exercises, then she'll run inside with me to the treat cabinet and get her reward.  We do this several times throughout the day, often at high-excitement times (like when I first come home, or before dinner, etc).  Of course, this has all been in my house, so it'll be interesting to see what will happen when I finally get to work her during some ring rental time at the club.

It would be nice to add the letters U-CD to the front of Marge's name, but only time will tell how far we really get.  The next trial at our club likely won't be until April -- and probably the same weekend as one of our favorite agility trials, so hooray for conflicts -- so we have lots of time to practice and mull it over.  We'll update on this again after we do some ring time or attend a match. Guidance is definitely appreciated!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No More Wobbles

Thankfully, Layla the cat has fully recovered from her episode two weeks ago, when she suddenly began to fall and stumble.

She is currently taking Clindamycin, 1/2 tablet twice a day, to treat for a possible middle ear infection and her recurring urinary tract infection.  To ensure she keeps the antibiotic down (she was starting to throw it up), she gets 1/4 tablet of Pepcid with each dose. She is also getting Mometomax liquid in her ears once a day.

Her blood test was repeated, and the ALT liver enzyme, which was high on the first test, did not change.  So, my vet put her on a supplement called Denosyl (S-Adenosyl methionine, or S-AMe), which aids the liver as it repairs from any damage it might have incurred.  It also has possible brain/mood properties, which makes it useful for neurological functioning issues.  We will repeat the blood test sometime after Thanksgiving to see what the ALT number reads.

That's a lot of pills for such a little kitty, but she's managing very well.  Her spirits are extremely high - she's active, running up and down the stairs, taunting Marge, etc.  I think that her ears must feel a lot better, and she's not worried about falling down any more, so she can be herself.  She even got pretty feisty the other night when I took out a toy for her to play with.

Here she is giving me one of her signature "hugs" - she can't resist but to climb on me and outstretch her arms when I'm laying flat on my back on the couch.  It's one of my favorite things that she does.

Paws crossed that her health continues to improve.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Muted Monday

I want to put up a blog, but all of the things that I can think to write about are really just bits n' pieces of bigger topics that I don't have the energy to discuss.  So, instead, I'll shut my mouth and let these photos from our sunset walk over the weekend have the spotlight.

And for those of you who are interested in Marge's titles, I added a "Title Tracker" page to my blog.  I'm not sure if I'm going to keep it, but it's got a little bit of info about what titles we've earned and what titles we're working on.

Friday, November 12, 2010

They Learned, I Learned

MargeDog with student "S", doggy doppelganger (except the color) and fellow fearful dog!

I haven't spoken recently about the non-competitive agility class that I teach.  It actually just ended - after 6 months of teaching it, the head instructor and I both decided that we needed a break.  Two other club members were interested in teaching it, so they'll handle it for now and we'll hopefully eventually go back to it after they decide to stop.

It really was a great experience.  It got a little commonplace towards the end, mostly because there are only so many obstacles that you can introduce, and teaching them got a little bit repetitive.  But, the teams were a lot of fun to work with, and many of them show great promise that they'll be successful if they continue training.

Some of my personal favorite teams:

  • A rowdy, anxious, dog-reactive Shepherd mix with an equally anxious/nervous momma, who struggled with control issues at the beginning of his 8-week stint in the class.  Some clicker training and Control Unleashed exercises later, and he was able to function pretty well in the group class setting.  He didn't stick around for another session, but continued obedience training.  They've still got some work to do, but his momma's thinking about getting him in to Rally or maybe a special class for reactive pups.
  • A married couple very new to dog training with a yappy but extremely biddable Miniature Schnauzer.  They had some real handling issues in the beginning and had no idea how to get a handle on their dogs' barkiness and make themselves more interesting than the larger environment.  A few classes later, and they were able to get him to focus on them after he began barking.  He also shows some really nice obstacle focus for a dog with no agility training.  I told them that I really hope they continue with him - he'd make an awesome little agility dog!
  • A student with Down's Syndrome training his Dachshund.  This dog absolutely *adores* this boy and works his heart out for him.  His handling improved greatly over the 16 weeks that we've worked with him, and he's continuing another session of the class.  We hope that he might be able to show his dog in one of the smaller agility competition venues one day.  Definitely one of our "feel good" stories!
  • A shy mixed breed who needed some serious intervention from Pavlov to help her get over her fears of the various agility obstacles.  I helped desensitize/countercondition her to both the tunnel and the chute, and she's made some great progress with jumping (she doesn't seem to like to pick up her feet!).  She definitely enjoys the class, and her momma holds out hope that she might be able to dabble in Rally, too.  Her mom has become a much more confident handler who is learning how to read her dog's body language and help her correctly when she starts to get nervous or scared.  We're going to be doing some training together so that I can introduce her to the sport of Rally, which is exciting - they're a nice team and the dog has a lot in common with my own girl!
As you can see, the class sort of became a safe-haven for those who might not have been ready for mainstream classes.  Reactive dogs, shy dogs, handlers with special needs, new dog owners - we were extremely accommodating of a wide variety of dogs and people, which made the group a lot of fun and, quite honestly, gave me a lot of opportunities for learning. And, let's face it - not every one has the time to devote to serious formal training.  So, some people got a taste of training in agility in a safe environment that they otherwise could not have gotten, without the rigors of foundation or competition prep classes, and several of them have decided to go on to basic training classes (some are already in foundation agility!).

The class taught me to be:
  • innovative, like using large cones to keep a tunnel without tunnel bags in place (in a class full of small dogs, we didn't have to worry about the tunnel rolling around!)
  • creative, like making "new obstacles" out of PVC, hula hoops, broad jump planks, or the striped bars from the obedience bar jump
  • quick on my feet, because yes, we did have a scuffle and I was in the right place at the right time to break things up
  • motivating - it's easy for people to get frustrated when their dog won't perform for them, so it's really important to explain why their dog acts a certain way and how they can change their dogs' behavior using a reward system
It'll be nice to have my Monday nights to myself again for the winter, but in a couple months' time, I think I'll be itching to do it again!

Monday, November 8, 2010

More Pros Than Cons

First and most importantly, Layla is definitely doing better than she was a couple of days ago.  Sunday was probably her best day, except for the pile of hurled-up food that I found on the floor a few hours ago.  She is walking better, more active, and I haven't seen her stumble nearly as much.

Of course, an ear infection is the best scenario, but it would present problems, too - it would mean that we're back to square one on the issue of finding Layla a new food to eat.  I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Thanks again for your continued good thoughts - it's already 2 AM now, so I'll be visiting your blogs in the morning.


It's strange, but I'm actually really happy to be done with trialing for a while.  I found this Fall season to be pretty tough, especially looking back at our exceptionally sunny Spring trials, in which we Q'd 8 out of 12 tries.  And, even the runs that were NQs, all except for one, were extremely fluid and connected.  The same, unfortunately, can't be said for the Fall trials, but I think we ended with more pros than cons.

Our first run on Saturday was Standard.  I really liked the course - I didn't have to lead out at all and the whole thing was really flowy.

We were on the start line again for a ridiculous amount of time - they had obstacles to fix and the EZ-Up tent near the stewards' table was blowing around a bit.  I decided after this run that I was no longer rushing in to the ring, even if the stewards told me to, and was not shy about bringing treats in to the little gated passageway in to the ring.  Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Given the rocky start, the run was really, really nice.  Marge went around one jump because she heard the hockey puck slamming against the side of the rink just beyond the trees, a few hundred feet away from us (perhaps some of you recall this post about that topic and how it's our nemesis at this park).  You can hear the same thud right after she finishes the Dog Walk.  But, I didn't go back to fix the jump - it would have broken her momentum.  She snapped back in to the agility game VERY quickly given that scary sound, and went on to do the teeter and the table perfectly - the two big things that we really needed to fix.

Our only other fault was Marge putting two paws on the teeter on the way to the blue tunnel after the A-Frame - it wouldn't have been a disqualifying fault, if not for the missed jump.  She did jump out of the ring after completing the course, but she came back in when I called her and thankfully didn't do it again for the rest of the weekend.

Nothing to really be unhappy about with this run.  It stinks, because a Q would have meant our OA title, but hey, I'll definitely take this.

Not too long after was our Jumpers run.  This was a pretty tricky course, with the tunnel entrances definitely being the hardest part.

She ran quite well again.  We had trouble at the first tunnel and got called for a refusal.  Then, I pulled her off the yellow single jump, so we had a runout and a backjump (wrong course - none are allowed in Jumpers).  But, we regained momentum quickly, her weave entrance was super, and the rest of the course was fine.  Definitely a course I wish I could "do over," because we would have Q'd if I didn't pull her off that darn jump.

Do you hear the sound of the swings in the background?  Somehow, it didn't bother her - thank goodness.  I guess she prefers the sound of swings of the sound of hockey!

So, the day was not a failure at all.  Given our last trial, with problems galore in both runs, this was definitely a huge step in the right direction.  I wanted her to be connected and engaged with me - and she was.

Sunday, our first run was Jumpers.  A really fun, flowy course, that lent itself nicely to rear crosses, our strength.

We qualified! It was definitely exhilarating to run this course.  She was totally on the ball.  We had a bobble at the blue tunnel (the entrance was right up against the face, an absolutely wicked angle), but didn't get called for a refusal.  It was nice to have a win attached to such a nice run, after the two "so close, yet so far" runs we had the day before.  A first place!

We went back to the practice jump after each of our runs - an activity recommended to us by our friend, fearful dog-savvy trainer, Stephen.  I really like this idea, as it really makes the whole agility thing a game, and kind of decreases the novelty of the ring, I think.

After a long wait, it was time for Open Standard - our last trial run of the year.  I didn't like the course at all - it was very, very tight, and I had watched the Excellent Standard dogs on a similar course run it, too.

It was not to be.  I thought that maybe we could squeeze out a nice run, but, I guess after a long weekend, Marge's brain was fried.  I think this is both good stress and bad - she held both of her contacts, did the teeter, and weaved like a superstar (all hard, mentally taxing obstacles), but had lots of control issues and some aimless running.

The table was erroneously left at 24", which was a big jump for my little girl, and definitely contributed to her table refusal.  She also didn't like the judge (he was one of those guys who gets up pretty close to you on the contact obstacles).  A lot of dogs gave him funny looks, to be honest.

The spectators also played a role.  After the table, she went to go visit some kids who were practically hanging over the ring gates, possibly with food in hand.

My friend Gloria went to go "yell" at them during the run, telling them how much time and money we spend to get our dogs to do well and have fun out here at shows.  Unfortunately, her efforts didn't seem to help much, as they and several other kids were absolutely causing havoc at the trial site, especially during the Novice Standard class (which I worked ring crew in - and yelled at the kids several times to get them to move off of the fence).  They were making noise, eating food very close to the rings, bouncing balls, running around, oh, you name it.  Then, there were the people with their untrained, unentered dogs walking around, who let their dogs approach and bark at the show dogs.   I will be bringing this up at our club's meeting, because it really adds unnecessary stressors on the exhibitors and their dogs and perhaps we need more intervention.  It's nice to attract new people, but they need to know their limitations. The spectators have NEVER been this bad.

I kind of snapped at one well-meaning guy, who admired my dog and didn't take my "She's shy" to mean that he should NOT put his grubby hands on her.  I moved in the way of his hand and told him, "No thank you!!!!" - he was taken aback, but after two days of trialing, neither Marge nor I really wanted to be bothered and I was afraid that she might tell him off in her own little MargeDog way when he reached for her.  I tried to further explain that I needed to be her little bodyguard in this big, scary world, but bobbled over my words and he left.  Whatever.  People need to get some dog sense and ASK before they approach a dog.

So, the weekend didn't end spectacularly, with a pretty crappy run coupled with the spectator stress.  But, the weekend was a decent success, I'd say - Marge was comfortable at the trial site and comfortable in the ring, for the most part, did well at a busy trial, and picked up her second OAJ leg.  She now needs one more in each class to finally say goodbye to Open and head for Excellent.  I'm unsure when our next trial will be (not 'til 2011, for sure), but more on that another time.  For now, we need a well-deserved break from even thinking about it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Layla Update

Layla's a little bit better today.  She's not falling over as much, but she's still definitely unsteady on her feet. She's eating decently well and drinking a lot (seems like a bit more than usual).  She was active this morning, but is now curled up asleep next to me.

We were all set to make the call to bring her to Garden State, but my mom had reservations about it - not that she didn't want to bring her, just that she thought that we should try treating the most benign possible cause first (an ear infection) before jumping to MRIs and neurological testing.  Going there is definitely an emotional strain (it's not even about the money) on all of us, including my cat. I told her I'd only wait if my vet said it was okay.  She called him, and he said it wouldn't be harmful to wait a week (I initially proposed just waiting the weekend).  So, Layla is on Clindamycin antibiotic pills and will get more blood drawn on Thursday  After that, we'll decide whether or not she needs to see a specialist.

There are lots of things it could be: a neurological disorder, vestibular disease, stroke, inner ear infection. My vet said to both my mom and I, "If she has a brain tumor, you're probably not going to operate." I'm not sure why he said that; I just know that that's the worst case scenario.  He said he did have a cat once who presented symptoms kind of like these and he simply had an ear infection.  Layla's ears are REALLY itchy and she does have some brown buildup inside of them, so maybe, maybe, it's something like that.

I really appreciate your good thoughts.  Keep them coming for my little girl.


Tomorrow's the agility trial.  I went to the trial site today.  It was extremely cold (good for Marge!) and there weren't a lot of tents set up (also good for Marge!).  We'll see if those two things stay the same tomorrow.  I watched the judge, who will be the judge for our first class, Open Standard; Marge has only shown under a male judge once but she did OK with it, so I'm hoping tomorrow will be the same (BOTH judges are men).  The table wasn't automatic.. again, it's just the regular judge's count, which is very good for her, too.

There was a bit of noise around (the Parks Department emptying the big barrel garbage cans - NOT good), but I'm hoping that 8 AM on a Saturday won't be too bad.  Marge was VERY good today out on her walk in the field, able to do flatwork with me amidst people walking by in pretty close proximity.  She heard a couple of whistles being blown during soccer games and didn't react terribly, either. I just have to keep my spirits high and not stress out.  I admit, it's kind of hard to focus on agility with my cat not feeling well, but maybe I'll finally be able to relax and just welcome the trial as a place to have fun rather than as a place to get nervous.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Something Happened

Yesterday, around noon, I went to feed Layla before leaving to complete a school assignment with a friend. She jumped up on to the counter where her bowl is kept and I saw that she was stumbling and wobbling.  I thought that maybe she had just needed to regain her balance, but it kept occurring, even while she planted herself at the food bowl.

I had been with her the previous night until nearly 2 AM.  She was fine then; walked down the stairs, jumped up to eat her food, etc. This was very sudden. Alarmed, I cancelled my plans and took her to the vet.  He did bloodwork, which came back today.  It was clean, except for an elevated liver enzyme that the vet doesn't think is related.

He seems to think it's something neurological and wants me to take her to one of the big vet hospitals for tests and to see an internal medicine doctor.  I nearly cried at the thought of bringing her back there - I absolutely hate going to that place; I can't deny the care that they give the animals, but it's just the most heartbreaking environment ever (and this, my friends, is why I wussed out of vet school).  He mentioned the words "brain tumor" as a worst-case scenario.

She's better today; still unsteady, but not falling and stumbling as much.  She's definitely quieter than usual, content with just lying down rather than getting up and demanding food from us like she usually does.  She's eating, but I wouldn't say her appetite's great.  She's walking a bit better than yesterday, but something is definitely not right.  All so suddenly.

I'm scared and I'm upset.  This cat has just had it way too hard in her life. And she's still relatively young - only 12 or so.  It's unfair.  She's been my rock since the 4th freaking grade, since I was only 8 years old; I'd be lost without her.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Yet Another

Despite my seasonal aches and pains (because who doesn't get sick at this time of year?) and mounting piles of schoolwork, I could not help myself but to take another trip out in to the woods.  Fall comes and goes quickly, and I don't think I'm going to be able to motivate myself nearly as often to go on these hikes in the winter!

We intended on only staying a half hour or so, but wound up walking for more than an hour.  Marge had the added delight of being allowed the freedom of her 20' leash, which, after a brief "are you really going to let me run around?" period, sent her in to an absolute frenzy.

We stopped for a quick dip in the lake.  No rashes have appeared on Marge's tummy yet, so I'm pretty sure that it was the murky pond water that was the culprit, rather than this big, crystal-clear lake.  She wound up going out pretty far!

We ventured off the main trails quite a bit, and saw the park from all sorts of new views.

By this point, Marge was cool from being wet, spotted the fowl swimming in the water, and her snooter was on high alert... every movement she made was a burst of energy, making this trip out to the trails the complete opposite of "leisurely."  She's never run through the woods like this before!

A new spot we hiked.  Yes, Marge did indeed drag me up and down this natural staircase.

We stopped by a couple of old favorite locations, too.  I kept adding on little bits of time.  I didn't want to leave!

My queen of the forest, regally posing on a ledge above us.

And, the very last photo from our excursion - my sweet, contented Marge, happy to be alone in the woods with the crisp November air running through her fur.  

We turn our attention back to agility later in the week, with the last trial of this year looming just a few days away.

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