Friday, February 26, 2010

World of White

New York City plunged into whiteness yet again with the second blizzard in two weeks. Totals from early this afternoon were around fifteen inches, but I think it was closer to a foot and a half.

Unlike the last blizzard, this snow was extremely light and fluffy. So, despite the fact that it was over Marge's head in some spots where drifts were high, she fully enjoyed herself running around in it and moved effortlessly through it.

I am absolutely exhausted - I think I shoveled about half a dozen times today - so rather than write, I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cabin Fever

Posed my cat in an old basket...

...and then asked the dog to pose next to her.

What good sports. I love them both dearly.

It looks like we're going to have to come up with more creative ways to have fun, as we're supposed to get smashed with yet another winter storm. Today was the first day I got to take Marge on a walk of a decent length, and the first time in two weeks that she's been able to romp on her 20' leash. If the field is going to be snowy and swampy yet again, it may have been the last of its kind for a while.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Training 27

Do you know the saying, "It's not you, it's me?"

Well, I think that applies to the recent rockiness (if you can even call it that -- it's not THAT bad) of my agility with Marge.

I got to thinking the other day about how well Marge did when we ran Rally on Sunday with our friend and her Westie. Marge was totally attentive, and every time we ran it, it would have been a Q if it was really a trial. Monday, on the other hand, when I opted to run agility during my ring time at the club, Marge wasn't terrible, but she certainly wasn't as good. And, of course, as I already wrote about, Saturday could have gone a lot better than it did.

The reason for this? I'm stressing out too much about this stupid trial and forgetting to have fun.

Marge has spoiled me in the sense that training her to perform basic behaviors has been a piece of cake. Really. Things that totally haunt other dogs and their owners like stays, basic recalls, and attention have come really, really easy to me. So, when I encounter a difficulty in training, I sometimes forget that there is, indeed, a training period. Marge isn't necessarily going to just "get" tunnel/contact discriminations or 2o2o contact behaviors. Sometimes, I forget that it's okay to break it down. It's okay if she doesn't get it the first time around, because there's nothing out there that says a dog has to learn a given behavior at a certain rate.

Louie also pointed out that Marge actually does BETTER when she's being observed by others. Surely, I don't think this is her trying to show off. Rather, it is ME who is different when others are around - lots of praise, encouragement, and treats. Since she has had her issues with some people and some dogs, it would be silly to not reward her for doing well around them. And, what do you know -- she blossoms! When I'm training alone, I think I'm sometimes harder on myself and on Marge. There are no distractions to worry about, so everything else is supposed to just come easily. That is not the case.

So, it's a problem with me. It's a problem of my own stress, my own human desires to want to go out there and kick butt, and my own (sometimes extreme or unnecessary) worries that things will go badly.

I'm giving both of us a breather from agility this week or else one of us is going to burn out. I don't know why I get this way -- sometimes I think I just want Marge and I to succeed so badly that I lose sight of the fact that this is just ONE trial, there will be OTHERS if this one doesn't go well, and, overall, the idea is to have FUN. At least I was able to recognize this flaw in myself before things got ugly.

I'm going to have a private lesson with Marisa on Monday, and, in a few weeks, I think I'm going to play hooky from school (just to justify this - it's just one class - and I ALWAYS have awesome attendance) to drop in to agility class. I think I'm going to avoid doing agility alone for a while. After all, we still ARE a novice team, no matter how far we've progressed in our first year of agility.. and I think we both still need guidance.


I did promise video. Well, here it is - I did genuinely try to break things down - I set up a novice-type course and mostly worked on things individually. The only thing I need to improve upon for next time is being motivational for Marge and rewarding her more heavily and more often.

One thing I need to watch out for is the teeter. Although her teeter was fantastic on Saturday, she was really slow over it on Monday, and, at some points, basically hovered at the pivot point as the board moved back and forth (ie., not enough of her weight was shifted forward to completely tip the board down). I've had a lot of success motivating Marge when it comes to the teeter, so hopefully next time, she'll be back to normal with it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Agility Challenges

Before I get into training news (yeah, I've had a lot of that lately, I know -- blame the snow that's still on the ground), here are the pictures I promised from last week's Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

Marge's favorite breed was the Border Terrier. She liked the terrier group last year, too. Out of all the hours I spent watching, this was the breed that she watched the closest. I don't think it's a coincidence that she had played with an old Border Terrier friend the day before. It was really cute to see her watching the screen so intently.


Saturday, as planned, I went for run throughs in northern New Jersey. Since there were several trials in the area this weekend, I knew that I wouldn't have to share the time with many people. Turns out I was right - I was with one other dog, a black Labrador.

Here was the layout, as best as I could remember it. I didn't even get CLOSE to running this whole course. It was one of the hardest courses I've ever seen. All of the contact approaches were extremely difficult.

I walked the course as if I was going to run the whole thing and then set Marge up at the start. She was NOT getting that tunnel under the dog walk. I mean, she was at the point where she was jumping over the tunnel to get on the dog walk. I worked it a while, but I wasn't convinced that she was getting better at it as I was having to practically stick my hand in the tunnel for her. For some reason, tunnel discriminations really bother her, especially when the tunnels are under the contact equipment. Guess I should work on this on our home turf, maybe gating off the contact obstacle so she can't make the wrong choice.

Louie suspected that the repetition of the opening sequence stressed her out. He was probably right. I felt like Marge was disconnected from me for a good chunk of the session. She did a lot of sniffing of the obstacles that were along the walls, not in use, and a lot of eyeballing, even though there really was not a whole lot going on.

She also ran up to another handler who was walking the course while we were breaking stuff down. This is something I'm really worried about, because I have this sinking feeling that she's going to do the same at the agility trial when she sees the judge.

For the rest of the time, I tried to just break stuff down and make it easy for Marge. We skipped some sections of the course entirely, and worked on the table which they were nice enough to bring out for me. On the bright side, Marge didn't have too much trouble when the man in charge counted down for me ("5 and 4 and 3 and 2 and 1 and go"), and that's something she's never done before at all.

Something else that I really liked was that Marge was able to do the teeter this time. Last time we went to this facility, she was absolutely terrified of the teeter, as it's both loud and squeaky. This time, I made it a lot of fun, and she seemed to be a lot more into it.

Her contacts were pretty good. I brought my post-it to use on the A-Frame, and she did it without a problem. I tried it a couple of times without, and she was about 50/50. So, I'm going to just gradually reduce the size of the post-it until she's solid without it. Her dog walk was fine, pretty speedy, but she did take a tumble off of it - the approach was REALLY hard and I probably shouldn't have even done it. She didn't seem fazed, as I ran her over it a couple more times to make sure she wasn't spooked by it.

I left the practice feeling sort of disappointed by Marge's inattentiveness. I didn't really think there was a lot of distractions, yet her nose was running her into every corner to sniff every scent. In reality, it was probably the tunnel/dog walk that set the stage for things to go badly, but I really hate it when she's stressy and all over the place - it makes me wonder if we truly are ready for what we're doing.

I don't think the sniffing is going to be a big problem, as she's loads better outdoors, but I do have a genuine concern about her running up to the judge and standing there sniffing for an obnoxious amount of time. (At the NADAC trial, the judge stood in one spot and did not move - in AKC trials, it doesn't look like this will be the case.) It's hard to practice with a "judge" in our training hall, since there really isn't all that much room. I guess I'll try, though.


Today, we had Rally practice with our friend and her Westie, S. It went pretty well. Marge seems to be doing a bit better about having someone "judge" her in Rally, so I'm hoping that will transfer over to agility. Tomorrow, I have time at the training hall again, but I'm unsure what I'm going to do with it. I feel like we both need a break from agility, yet I don't want to set up a Rally course. Maybe I'll do some work on tunnels with her, to make her feel super motivated about them. Or, I may bring her obedience dumbbell along and do some of that, in addition to working on the wicket. Either way, there will most likely be video - I know that's an area I've been lacking in lately!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sunshine and Clouds

So, the whole week has gone by and I still haven't found the energy to catch back up with blogging. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I've been neglectful! You see, I'm back to a five-day schedule at college, after a winter of sleeping in every single day (and before that, a three-day schedule). I need to wake up before 8 more days than not, and I still haven't gotten accustomed to it. I've taken naps both yesterday and today.. and I NEVER nap.

The weekend's looking pretty busy too. I'm probably going for agility run-thrus on Saturday morning at the same place I went to last month, so long as I don't manage to catch a cold in the coming days (I feel the warning signs, but have felt this way for about a week). I really wanted to take it easy on Saturday, but practicing in a full-size ring is a luxury I don't have very often right now; with the April trial fast approaching (we got our confirmation today!), I consider it pretty important. Then, Sunday, we're doing some Rally training with our Westie friend again, and Monday, I have ring time at the hall in between classes. Hopefully, after this, things will slow down for a while.

Marge and I haven't been doing much. It's still nearly impossible to walk in the field, so we're severely limited as to when/where we could go out. A bright spot occurred today when we walked on the main road and Marge felt fine, despite the people that were around. A man walking by accidentally brushed Marge's tail with his leg, and what do you know.. she glanced at him and then IMMEDIATELY made eye contact with me. That is exactly what I want. I was even more ecstatic because the man was wearing a hat and sunglasses - two things that are sometimes very scary to her. More and more, she is looking to me for guidance rather than handling the situation by herself.

(We also walked around the block tonight. Uneventful, as a stray cat basically led the way, which put Marge into tunnel vision mode so that she noticed nothing else around her. Convenient, I suppose.)

Bear with me a little longer. I have super cute pictures of Marge watching her favorite breeds at Westminster, but am too tired to go through the whole shebang of transferring and uploading them now. Stay tuned for that soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Training 26

Monday was quite a full day, with two trips to the training hall in one afternoon.

First, we went for Rally run-thrus. It was stressful. There were a lot of strange dogs and people for Marge to contend with - and for ME to contend with. I don't want to elaborate too much, but I extremely dislike being spoken down to, especially by someone who doesn't know anything about me or my dog. I extremely dislike when someone tells me that they're a "professional" and that they know what they're doing with my fearful dog when I'm obviously not interested in their methods. If I wanted advice, I would ask for it, and, if I did ask for it, I would hope to receive a helpful and polite response rather than a condescending one.

The Rally itself was alright - nothing stellar. Her heeling wasn't bad, and perhaps my biggest complaint would be crooked fronts and finishes. It's AKC Rally, so, if I dare say, it was easier than its APDT cousin. Her attentiveness wasn't bad considering the number of people around. I used treats, but sparingly.

Despite the commotion, she was able to settle in a corner and even get pets from another (very nice) club member, who happens to share her name!

We went home for a few hours and then headed back out for agility class. What an awesome class in every single respect. There were 5 other teams - all either classmates or Excellent level dogs. Not one dog or person made Marge feel scared. Not one bark or one snark out of her. It was unbelievable! She even got to run around with a Border Terrier friend of hers when we were moving equipment.

No photos or video, but here is the course map:

This course was loads of fun.
  • The opening was tough. I had to send Marge into the tunnel and then get into position for the next jump. Finding that position was tricky - the best thing to do was to stand so that Marge would come out of the tunnel and approach me, fully facing her, and then send her on to the second jump.
  • Her weaves were a little funky tonight but not terrible. She missed the entry once and then skipped a pole another time. They got better as the night went on, so I think maybe we were both rushing a bit in the beginning.
  • Her A-Frame was beautiful. I think we did it 3 or 4 times and she hit her contact every single time. I had the post-it target there for her to mark, but I think we're going to make it smaller next time we train.
  • I front crossed the A-Frame and used to wall to help me guide Marge straight to the table. No issues there.
  • Her teeter was a little slow, but she did it. She actually went off course at one point to go do it. Teeter suck, if you will.
  • After tunnel 8 it was a back cross over 9, and then another back from 11 to 12, and then a back into the tunnel.
  • No problems with 14 and 15 - I tried having her come around 15 both ways, and it seemed like pulling her through the middle was the better option.
  • I HAD to front cross after jump 17 to get her into the correct tunnel entrance. I tried pushing and it just didn't work.
It was a very quick course - a lot of twists and turns, but we managed pretty well.

At the very end, Marisa, Karen and I took out the wicket. Turns out I did set it up right last time and just didn't know how to read it. By using treats, we were able to measure Marge with no problem. She's right around 21", so she's at least an inch under the 22" cut off for agility jump heights. Marisa's only concern is that some wickets are more squeaky than this one - so I should really try to clank this one around and make sure she's solid with it. She also told me that treats can be used when she's measured. If that's the case, we're likely not going to have a big problem with measuring.

Over all, Marge and I have been doing a lot lately and having a lot of fun. At the end of the day, it's nice to have a cuddle buddy.. I can think of no one better suited to the job.

(I know I was MIA this weekend. I've begun catching up, but have a lot more blogs to read!)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Friends and Valentines

It seems that Marge has an admirer here in blog land. When I checked my e-mail, I saw that Fudge decided to send her a Valentine's card.

Fudge, the answer is a resounding yes! After making friends with a PWD in our agility class this past fall, I think she has fallen for your breed. She would love to be your Valentine. Here's to lots of Rally Qs for both of you this year!


We spend two hours of our Valentine's Day training with a friend and her Westie, who I'll call S. Marge has been in classes on and off with S for almost a year and has always gotten along with her. S is about to debut in a Rally trial next month, so her mom wants to get some extra practice in. Since training can get kind of boring alone, we buddied up and ran together this afternoon.

We spent a good while on Rally, setting up one course, running it a few times, and then modifying it. Both dogs did great! I pretended to be the judge so that S could get used to someone else being in the ring while she works, and she did wonderfully. I bet she's going to qualify at her trial next month.

While I "judged," Marge held a several minutes long down-stay. I was very proud of her. I tried a sit stay as well, but she began to squirm around so I had to go back and remind her what to do.

When it was my turn to run, S's owner did a little bit of pretend judging for me. Marge had the added distraction of S in her owner's arms, as the little pup didn't want to be left alone on the other side of the room. She eyed them a few times, but never got really stressy. Her Rally was good, as usual. S's owner even commented that she had a "happy tail" the whole time.

After Rally, we put out some Agility equipment. Just a few jumps, a tunnel, weaves, a table and a teeter. I didn't really do much with Marge, as my course design skills stink and I didn't want to wear her out too much since we've got more training coming up tomorrow. We worked the teeter a bit. I think it was low, but she did well. Her weaves were amazing, and she was solid on the table.

I also took out the wicket (which looks like this). Something didn't seem right about it, though. I'm not sure if I set it up right, though it did look pretty self explanatory. Marge was a little better about it then I expected. I did some clicking with it at first to get her to go over to it. By the end of the session, she was holding the measuring piece on her back as she nibbled on a cookie in my hands. She was a little slouchy, but I don't think she was really scared of it; I think it was mostly just annoying her. When I go back tomorrow, I'm going to ask someone to set it up for me so that I can see if I'm doing it correctly.

The best part of our session is that Marge and S got along smashingly. They played chase with each other while we set the Rally course and were fine to be off leash around each other. Marge started to get snarky when S came too close to my bag of Zuke's treats, but that's not uncommon for her, and I know better next time. Over all, I'm glad that I've found a new buddy for Marge to play with. We're likely going to run some Rally together again next week! It's so much fun having someone else there and it's great for Marge to play and train with someone else.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Trudged To Paradise

It's hard to believe our walk this afternoon took an hour, because we really didn't walk all that far. Plodding through the remnants of a blizzard is tough! But, in the end, it was worth it..

I figured the beach would be deserted, and I was right. (Sorry for the cruddy cell phone pics!) Marge, who walked at a snail's pace through the snow, picked up her heels a little once on the beach. She even had a small burst of zoomies. I actually thought she'd be more energetic than she was, but I'm guessing she was already tired after having to walk the whole way there.

It's not really the amount of snow that's the problem - Marge normally likes running through it - it's the fact that it's crusted (iced?) over on the top. So, sometimes it'll hold your weight, and other times, your leg goes crashing through it. The same happens when you're a dog with four legs - so I'd assume it makes it uncomfortable for little doggy paws to walk across it. Our friend KB mentioned snow shoes, but I don't have any.. it seldom snows this much, and there should be enough melting that we can walk along the grassy side of the road with no issue within a couple of days.

This weekend promises to be busy. We're going to practice some Rally and Agility with a friend of ours on Sunday. Then, on Monday, there are Rally run-throughs AND agility class at my club.. we'll see how much we get done, but I'm most excited for class.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Legs

Yeah.. looks like walks are going to be tough for a while. The final snow total was seventeen inches.

There are mountains of snow seemingly everywhere. Our front lawn has been turned into a mountain range - there's just no where else to put it all.

The roads were SO bad last night that even the snow plows (ie. NYC garbage trucks with a big shovel on the front) couldn't get by without issue. My dad's car's door now has a huge dent in it; thankfully, the car was parked, so no one was hurt. Yep.. we were outside last night at 2 AM waiting for the police to come to fill out a report. The cop who came was the definition of NASTY, too.

There is almost no way to get across the street to go romp in the field, as the snow banks are about two feet high, three feet wide, and absolutely filthy. We managed to fumble over it, as Marge has been cooped up for what seems like an eternity. But, the snow was both high and rough on the top (I guess it iced over) so it was really hard for her to walk.

Needless to say, we turned for home after a few minutes of Marge trying to swim her way through the snow. I guess we'll have to entertain ourselves mostly indoors for the next few days.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Big Stage

When the American Kennel Club first revealed their Canine Partners program, I had no real interest in it.

They stipulated that mixed breeds were going to be eligible to compete at select trials, but were going to run in different classes and earn different titles. While this incensed many of my fellow mixed breed dog owners, it was not nearly my main reason for being uninterested.

Rather, I simply thought that it was not going to be the best venue for us. Trials are long and only have three classes at most - Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, and the optional Fifteen and Send Time (FAST) class. They are busier than other trials, and, from what I've been told by some, tensions run higher. There aren't as many ways for novice teams to avoid "problem" obstacles like the teeter or weaves. The list goes on and on, and I'm sure people have their own things to say about this organization and all the others, too.

Lately, though, I've changed my tune. Considerably. Now that mixed breeds are competing equally with purebreds, thus eliminating the need for separate classes, ribbons, and other expensive amenities, many clubs in my area have opted to open their AKC trials up to all dogs, pure or mixed. Because of this, it makes plenty of sense to try out this venue - we have a fairly large number of trials to choose from.

The prospect of competing in AKC continues to get brighter and brighter for me. Marge and I are more familiar with AKC courses than any other, as this is the style that my club predominantly teaches. And, her teeter fears are steadily dwindling as we continue to work on it. What's more, Marge can wear a collar during her runs at AKC trials; while it does nothing except give me a sort of false security blanket, I kind of like the idea of Marge running around on a field with a collar on as opposed to without one.

There are still potential problem areas for us, yes - but I think one of the best things about our extremely probable career at AKC trials are the locations. Aside from being convenient for me - there are several trials being run right here on my island this year - Marge is familiar with the majority of the trial sites. This, undoubtedly, should be a stress reducer for both of us.

My one big worry about AKC trials (and CPE too, for that matter) is the question of getting Marge measured. I can't imagine that Marge is going to take kindly to having the wicket placed over her back, let alone more than once (multiple measurements are necessary to obtain a height card, at which time the dog no longer needs to be measured). To combat this, I'm hopefully going to have access to a measuring device in the next couple of weeks, so that I can start the training off on a very positive foot.

My only other concerns are show size - but, from the sounds of CPE enthusiasts, their trials fill up, too - and noise. Marge did not have an aversive reaction to the tents and commotion at the AKC trial I took her to in May of last year, and, as most of you know, had no problems at the NADAC trial we ran in this past November. I can't imagine that AKC trials feature any more bangy-clangy-squeaky noises than CPE trials - in fact, there are probably less in AKC, since a sizable chunk of CPE classes are completed by the sound of a buzzer. Barking dogs are something else we'll have to contend with, but this goes back to the aspect of our familiarity to the trial sites - we should have plenty of places to hide out if it ever gets to be just a little bit too loud.

My instructor is adamant that Marge will do fine in AKC - she tells me that she's light years ahead of the skills needed to successfully finish the Novice classes. She's even pushing for me to do more trials than I already have planned. While I don't plan to heed that advice, simply due to money and time constraints (and the fact that I think too many trials will, indeed, stress both Marge and me out), it is nice to think that she's aiming even higher than I am.

Call me crazy, but I'm really hoping our April 2nd debut in AKC goes smashingly. I'm going to try out both venues this year - about four each of potential AKC trials and CPE trials in my schedule - but I feel like my heart is already set on the big stage. I don't really know why I'm so drawn to it suddenly, but perhaps it's because of how much I see it and hear about it in comparison to the other agility organizations.

My mind has already (very prematurely) wandered to the the thought of the prestigious Master Agility Champion title. I've watched endless videos of handlers and their dogs crossing the finish line, picking up the final jump bar and making their way around the field in a state of total elation, to a chorus of resounding applause from the crowd.

Can that be me and my mutt one day? Only time will tell. All of you know that I don't do this with my dog for the winning or the glory - I do it for the fun and the bond it helps us form with each other. We're simply going to try it; we may wind up hating it altogether. But, in the meantime, it doesn't hurt to dream.


And now, after that musing, let me present to you how my backyard has transformed over the last few days:

Monday evening:

This afternoon:
This is just the beginning of it. The meteorologists weren't lying about this one. We're supposed to get up to an additional six inches. Marge is already having to bunny-hop her way through it - I can't wait to see what she does when it's all finished coming down.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday Training 25

Ever have one of those days where everything just seems to be working well? That was our training session Monday.

I had a half hour private lesson scheduled with Marisa, but I had time before hand, so I put out some equipment and practiced. We needed to work on front crosses, so what better than one big front-cross figure-eight:

I think we worked this really well. Marisa walked in and was like, wow, those are some tight front crosses. I didn't really think the course was all that tight, but I guess it must have been.

During the lesson, I worked this same set-up using back crosses. When I tried it by myself earlier, I was trying to flip her over the jump, but since I was turning her abruptly, she'd come back in to me rather than drive to the next jump. So, the solution to that was to back cross on the flat rather than over the jump. It worked well, and it seems like it'd be a good tool to have in the agility toolbox.

Then, Marisa shuffled things around a bit, we added weaves, a broad jump, a tunnel and a chute, and did some handling exercises.

The black circle sequence was interesting. I started out with Marge on my right, ran along with her up to jump 2, let her pass me and told her to weave. So, the back cross happened in between the jump and the weaves. Location was SO important.. if I got too far out in front, she missed the entry or screwed up on the second or third pole. It goes back to one of my biggest handling flaws - that I try to outrun Marge. Rather than beating her, this exercise helped me realize I need to a) stay right with her in some scenarios and b) trust her!

The broad jump was out because Marge hasn't seen it in an eternity. Marisa said she seemed a little weirded out by it the first time, but then she was fine each additional time she went over it. The "wrong side of the tunnel" is apparently getting more popular in AKC, which is why she stuck that in there as well. Marge had no issue with it whatsoever -- I was even able to send her around the tunnel to find the entrance on her own.

The white sequence was all about slight differences in handling - positioning, where to cross, and those kinds of things. We actually did a couple of variations, but this sequence was the one we worked the longest on. We worked a lot on the jump wrap over 6.. I basically had to stop my forward motion, tell Marge to jump, pick her up with my other hand and bust down the line for the tunnel. A couple of tries and we seemed to get it.

In keeping with my desire to improve my front crosses, I front crossed from the #7 tunnel to the #8 jump. Marge didn't wrap around the jump as well as I would have liked, but she found her weave entry anyway. We didn't press it too much - I think she was getting tired.

I have all sorts of trial news to blog about, but I'm way too tired to organize it into a cohesive blog post, so it will have to wait for another day.


Before I go, though, let me share the newest addition of "I can't believe someone could be this stupid"...

Monday night, when I was walking Marge, a woman was lingering on the sidewalk, in front of what I believe to be her house. In order to pass her, I moved a few feet away into the street. (Marge doesn't like when people just stand in place -- she thinks they're going to grab her or something.) She starts making kissy sounds and baby talk to Marge. I didn't want to look rude for not stopping, so I told the woman that Marge is not friendly -- to which she replies, "Oh, I can see that. I see it in her eyes".. and then begins baby talking to Marge again!

I cannot fathom why anyone would continue talking to a dog who they just admitted looks uninviting!

I then told her that Marge is afraid of people, which prompted her to call my dog a "scaredy cat." I don't think that's very nice to tell a complete stranger, but whatever. I mumbled under my breath and walked away. Marge got a chunk of cookie for handling that admittedly very bizarre incident with perfect poise. Good girl.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Sorry for lack of an interesting title, but I couldn't think of anything more descriptive to introduce these pictures from yesterday's snow.

We've been laying low this weekend... much to Marge's dismay. The beginnings of a cold have scared me inside. In the mean time, Marge is enjoying her dinner inside her Kibble Nibble and I'm pretending to do school work.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Not Alone

It's a nice day. The sun is shining, it's a little windy but nothing unmanageable, and I finished class about six minutes after ten in the morning. It seemed like the perfect time to head over to one of our island's parks.

My good dog Marge and I got ourselves in the car and arrived at our destination soon enough. Upon arriving, we headed straight up a steep hill to make our way into the wooded trails. I figured we'd walk those first and then walk back to the car using the paved route along the stream and lake.

It started out well enough, Marge's body hauling me on my hands and knees (yes, really) up the slippery and snowy hill and her nose expertly leading us into the forest. We walked on like that for awhile, totally alone, the everyday sights and sounds of the rest of the world blocked by massive tree trunks and muted by the crackle of leaves under our feet.

We made our way into a clearing - it's a no-go during the summer, when picnickers dominate the scene. But, for now, it was quiet. Marge reluctantly posed on a picnic table for me and then continued letting her scent receptors lead her (and me) around.

She found a smelly spot and threw herself to the floor. Usually, I don't grant her this pleasure, but because it didn't look like anything that would stick to her, I allowed her to do as she wanted. Besides, I told myself, this outing was supposed to be all about her having fun and relaxing.

Just minutes after her back scratch in the leaves, loud bangs rang out through the air. I assume they were from a nearby construction site. Marge went in to instant panic.

Damn it. That's all I could think. Here goes the afternoon.

I tried my hardest to not get frustrated or upset, and she seemed to bounce back pretty quickly - at least more quickly than our episode with the hockey rink in another park a few weeks ago. Fortunately, a small dog went by moments after, and this seemed to reassure Marge a little bit. I threw treats into the leaves for her to nose and dig her way through to them. Although she was still frightened, she was willing to play this little game.

She was also willing to jump over this log, which I believe is the same downed tree she leapt over last January. I didn't rediscover its location until now.

I wasn't sure what to do - she was doing better, but there were still some construction noises resonating through the air. I began to walk back to my car, thinking that I'd maybe walk her in the quiet area of the park across the street and then head home.

By dumb luck, Marge stopped to sniff something along the road as we walked, and I turned my body around. I saw something that both swelled my heart and sank it at the same time. My mind now totally immersed and locked on to this sight, I abruptly turned 180 degrees and walked briskly, straight back into the park that I had just exited.

I knew Marge might react and I'd have to reassure her. I knew we might hear the dreaded and faraway sounds yet again. But, I simply could not help myself. This is not an every day sight around here.

I don't know how many of my readers know of my long background with horses. They dominated my life for an extended period of time. I did not leave them by choice; to explain beyond that, I would basically have to demonize several people. I lost my heart horse to colic in 2007 and things have never been the same since then.

I think of them often. This morning, in fact, I found myself in the midst of a daydream centered on them, my mind far away from the college class in which I was sitting at the time. I recently heard about the deaths of two horses that I previously knew (and knew well), but no longer have contact with. It's an odd situation to be in from an emotional standpoint.

I trailed the park rangers and their horses for a good ten minutes, at least. The sound of their snorts was something I used to hear on a weekly basis; their horsey aroma was something so familiar to me. They were the picture of peace, walking slowly through the busy park with their tails swishing and hooves clopping. I kept my distance, out of respect for them and safety for myself, but Marge was giving me no signs that they were bothering her. Other dogs barked, some lunged with owners grabbing them by their collars. Marge just walked.

We were now on the main path of the park. We were with everyone else with no woods to hide in. I was in my own little world, thinking back to the experiences of my past that I long for all too often. My dog was not scared. Instead, she gazed up at me with soft eyes, looking for treats, which she did receive.

I'm not a terribly religious person, but I felt like someone or something was with me as I walked with them. My whole day had been turned around; what I thought would wind up being unconsciously classified as a "bad" outing in my mind actually became quite good. My horse -- and all the horses of my past -- were with me. And my dog, who walked next to me, was at complete peace. I think they were with her, too. It may sound crazy, but I really love to think of it that way. I love to know that my old man Taco is still ensuring that I'm not alone.

I see him on sunny days, recalling the sweltering hot and endless days I spent at the stable for so many summers. I see him in the snow, thinking silently of how such weather would make him kick up his heels and run around like a young colt. I see him in the rain, in the forest, in every beautiful thing I see. But, today, I truly saw him as those two painted horses walked ahead of me. I saw him and I saw all the others, too.

I followed them until I couldn't follow them anymore - they turned into another section of the park, and I knew better than to take Marge there. We turned around, flanking a white-faced Golden Retriever nearly the whole way back. Marge was truly in her element. Her body language screamed enthusiasm and courage. At that point, I knew we were ready to leave.

My mind remained in a blur as I drove away from the park. I could think of nothing except the horses I've loved and lost, wishing for a way to be with them.

I'm happy I got a glimpse of these lovely creatures. They made my day, and from the looks of it, Marge's too. I can only hope that they will one day be in my life again.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday Training 24

***Before we get to our regularly scheduled training update, we want to make everyone aware that Mango Minster is currently taking place -- Marge's category, Sporty Dogs, is being voted on tonight and tomorrow morning! Go on over and pick your favorite.***

All I really have from this week is the dumbbell work. Walks have been good, I've not been shy about doling out praise and cookies for Marge getting through any difficult patches we may come across (like the strange, distant smoke alarm-like sound that has rang through the air a couple of nights during our walk, or the street sweeper that rolled by us this AM) and we've been having a good time. Louie and I went on an awesome walk this afternoon which featured multiple zoomy bouts! She was having a blast and is enjoying the cold weather.

On to the dumbbell. Some of you expressed that you don't know what it is or what it's used for. Well, all I can really tell you about it is that it's a part of obedience competition at the Open Level (the 2nd level, which comes after Novice). It's exactly what it sounds like - a dumbbell shaped object, which the dog must retrieve on the flat and over a jump. A lot of people start training dumbbell work from a young age as it can be hard to teach depending on the dog. I'm not looking for any CDX title right now, but I figured I'd give that little bit of background for those who don't know.

We've had a few sessions with it -- just some basic shaping. I started out by showing it to Marge and simply clicking/treating her for any interaction she made with it - mouthing it, pawing it, sniffing it. As she got better at playing around with it, I made my criteria more strict, only rewarding her when she used her mouth on it. Then, she only got clicked for picking it up. Then, for holding it. Then, for running out to get it if I tossed it.

A lot of that for Marge is familiar, as I've already done some basic retrieving exercises with her. Marge's biggest trouble occurs with sitting still with the dumbbell in her mouth. She feels she must move around with it.

Here is a snippet of the session we had today. The original video was over 10 minutes long, but it crashed my computer and I had to shorten it.

As you can see, she's doing pretty well with picking it up and even going out to get it. It's a little tougher to get her to sit still with it, but I'm trying. I wanted to focus solely on having her sit with it before moving on to any other part of the training, but because she's finding it so tough, I need to shake it up to keep it interesting and fun for her.

She spaces out a couple of times in the video - it was the height of the afternoon and there was a lot of bustle in the neighborhood, so that explains that.

We'll see where it gets us - I could be going about this completely wrong, but I'm confident that she'll get better at it and maybe we can have a complete behavior (retrieving it and sitting in front) in a couple of months. I'd appreciate tips for those who've trained this in the past.

Sorry I've been absent this week - school has got me absolutely exhausted. I have early morning classes four days of the week, so it's taking my body a little longer to adjust to the new times. I will catch up with everyone tomorrow.

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