Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Skills and Drills Agility

I love doing full courses in agility class, but surprisingly, I think our skills-filled class last night was one of the most fun classes I've ever had.

The first sequence (light-circled numbers) was a rear cross exercise.  We weren't allowed to talk to our dogs (except at the start and between 5 and 6) and instead had to rely on body movement alone.

I led out just past 1, post-turned around 2 and 3 (but made sure she avoided the tempting off course 6) , and rear crossed over 4.  Moved as soon as she committed to 4, up the line to 5.  After 5, I ran with my shoulders pointed almost towards the A-Frame, asked her to rear cross on the flat.  Reared again over 8, reared again over 9, held position to make sure she came back in for the threadle-ish 10.

Super fun sequence.  It was supposed to be hard.. but honestly, it wasn't that bad at all.  My rear crosses are just too good.

Second sequence (dark circled numbers) was an offside tunnel entry with a choice of either a front or rear cross between 5 and 6.  I went with the front... and I'm glad I did, because Marge and I both really need work.  My positioning is wrong and she doesn't read it at all.  I led out past 3 and used a lead out pivot to get her in to the tunnel.  I tried to do a landing side front after 5 but it took me quite a few tries to get it.  Rest of the sequence was pretty easy.

Due to the limited number of obstacles, I can definitely set this up at the training hall.. which is exciting, because I'm running out of ideas since we have a very limited number of jumps available there.

At the end of class, I worked my A-Frame contact a bit.  She hit it every single time and seems to be doing it more quickly rather than creeping.  Also, for the first time ever, I tried sending her away from me in to the tunnel under the A-Frame.  I see stuff like that a lot in AKC Excellent Standard.. so it's good to know that she was able to do it.

Didn't get any pictures or video, but I do have these shots from her zoomies episode on Monday night while I taught the Pet Agility class.

EDIT: Please e-mail me or leave a comment if you are having issues viewing my blog.  It appears to be being temperamental today..

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Houses and Homes

I've had a rough time this weekend, which explains my absence of posts despite the fact that there is actually a lot to post about.  I don't want to get in to details, mostly because I'm just trying to move on from it and because it is too personal in nature for me to comfortably talk about publicly.  But, just to acknowledge it here, Marge had what we'll call a bit of a setback in terms of her interactions with my father.  Every one is fine, she did no wrong, it could have been much worse, and I'm probably harping on it more than any one else, but I guess that's the price to pay when you love an animal this much.

So I guess what I'll end with is this: dogs are animals, not people, and do not think like people or rationalize behaviors like people do; and, it's much better to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar (I think that's how the saying goes, anyway).

And, also, thank you to the wonderful people who I reached out to this weekend.  You helped more than you could ever know.  You know who you are.


Now that that's out of the way, I can share something a bit more interesting and upbeat (we'll skip Tuesday Training this week).  Saturday, just before the aforementioned situation arose, Louie, my sister, Marge and I took a very special hike.  Our destination?  Per
"In the early 1800sa certain M. Heyerdahl built a stone house in Bucks Hollow, a long, long distance from the nearest large settlement in Richmondtown. It was his hope to establish wine vineyards and orchards, but Staten Island's rocky soil foiled his plans, and at length, he moved out, abandoning his house. Nature has been taking it over ever since."
My sister and I have been wanting to explore the Heyerdahl House for a long time, but I waited until  Louie was around for us to go (because he wanted to come, too, and because it's easily the most remote part of our woods and we had to travel off trail).

The woods grew quiet very quickly, much quieter than any other hike I've been on.  We didn't see any one for pretty much the entire duration of the hike. For a dog with issues, it was paradise, I'm sure.

A bird left behind a bright blue feather, which contrasted nicely with the brown forest floor.

After just a bit of confusion as to where we were supposed to go off trail and take an unmarked path up to the house, we found our way, and the remnants of the stone house stood before us.  The only house any where in sight, and a blast from the past.  It was hard to get a picture of the entire thing, since it was very much surrounded by plants and trees.  Here are the front steps:

And, the view looking outward from those same steps.  Almost makes me want to start piling some stones up and restore the dang house for myself.  Sheer nothingness.

A few more shots around the house.

We hung around for a good while, examining the structure of the house and wondering whether it had separate rooms, and a basement, etc.  It was pretty over grown right now, but I think that we might be able to get a better look at it in the winter when some of the plants (and THORNS!) die off.  We'll return in a few months to see what it's like.

We walked back to the trail, these trees to our right leaning permanently towards the house.  They do say that this hill is haunted by Heyerdahl.. I have my reservations about that idea, but this animated little grove was a little spooky, I'll admit.

The forest also took care to remind us that the seasons are beginning to change; this leaf was one of the more photogenic signs of the oncoming shift from summer to autumn.

You can barely even see the trail in this picture.  What a wonderfully secluded place to spend some time.

It was an overcast, slightly humid, but not too hot day.  I wonder if these trees are dead, for no leaves grew on them and they stood with their gnarled branches sticking up towards the sky.  If I didn't know better, I'd have thought it was winter based on this picture.

Trips like these should become more frequent in the coming weeks.  The most beautiful season is almost here, and if we don't take our fleeting chance to enjoy it, it will disappear for another year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Almost Fire

I now know the top three things that I'd save in a fire - my cat. my dog.  my laptop.

Just a little while ago, my mom ran in to tell my sister and me (who were fast asleep) that the washing machine was making smoke and "practically on fire."  I hopped out of bed, leashed up Marge (who thought she was going for a walk and actually proved difficult to leash, so I used my agility martingale) and took my sister and her out to my car barefoot.

I went back inside since the imminent threat was removed (the washer was unplugged) to find my cat (located behind our seldom-used treadmill) and load her in the carrier.  Though she meowed as though someone was murdering her, she was cooperative.  I took her out to the car, too.

After the FDNY had arrived (really weird seeing 4 or 5 trucks in front of your house and even weirder hearing the sirens in the distance knowing they're coming TO YOU), I went back in again to get my laptop, just in case.

They tested the washing machine and found that it was, indeed, the problem, not the electric system or anything like that.  As soon as they plugged it back in, it started smoking again.  They assured my mom it was NOT going to go on fire, and went on their way.

Marge seemed intrigued by all of the commotion, not afraid of it.  For the most part, she either looked out of the window or curled up in the back of my car.  She watched interestedly as the last fireman talked to my mom and climbed in to his truck.

Marge is now in the backyard with me, and the cat is upstairs in my room with my sister.  The basement stinks of smoke, but otherwise, we're safe.

Crisis averted, but it does make me wonder about our readiness in the case of a real problem.  What do you do to ensure that the four footers in your house would get out safe?

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Well, we took the leap and gave it a try.

The whole car ride there, my mind wavered between thinking it was an awful idea and thinking it'd be a worthwhile experience.

Turns out it was the latter of the two.

We totally rocked in Novice class last night.  Not only by my standards - the teacher called our work "fabulous" on one occasion (I think it was the recall) and said it was obvious that we'd practiced a lot at home.   She seemed surprised by the fact that this is my first dog, my first competition dog.  Scary, considering the fact that the last Obedience class we took was Beginner 2 in the early months of 2009 and save for some tips from friends, have had absolutely no formal competition training.

I have tons of work to do if I'm going to do this right, no doubt.  My footwork is completely screwed up, particularly on the about turns.  Marge and I ran in to each other on more than one occasion, but we also had better heelwork than I ever could have imagined in a brand-new class setting.   And, now I know what I need to work on (cueing the about turn by turning my body when I'm stepping on the right foot!!!!).  I'm also not making the traditional T shape when doing the about turn - it sends Marge wide - so we're modifying it a bit.

We dabbled with the stand for exam.  She stood there and barely paid attention to the instructor, who did not touch her (by my request), just walked up next to her.  We practiced heeling offleash.  We performed the recall exercise, and Marge's front was so lovely that I threw her a little party and forgot about the finish.

We did stays.  She held both the sit and down with no problem what so ever.  Even put her head on the floor on the down.  Didn't matter that there was a strange Cocker Spaniel next to her.  She didn't even look at him - or any of the other dogs in the class, for that matter.

I really enjoyed it.  I think Marge did, too.   Her focus was the best I've seen in a while out of ANY of our activities.  I'm kind of impressed with myself, too.. I really had no idea that I had trained her to such a high level on my own by reading, studying, and watching others.

So, yeah.. as if I needed to add another activity to my busy schedule and Marge's growing agenda, we just might keep at this for a while and see where it leads us.

Stay tuned until next week - I think we're going to go to class again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rally On, Pup

We started off our day on Saturday with a nice, familiar, on-leash Level 1 run.  I haven't uploaded the video, but our score was a 209.  We lost one point, probably for a tight leash.  It earned us a 4th place in the competitive Level 1B class and 19 Championship Points (out of 100 necessary for the ARCH title).

Then came our debut in Level 2, which is off leash.  Marge did very well on this run, too.  We scored a 208 - we lost one point for me being too close to the jump, and another point for the sloppy left turn towards the end of the course.

There were two trials offered that day, but I had originally only entered the first one.  When I found out there were still a few runs available, I put in for one more Level 2 run.

It didn't turn out to be such a great run.  Marge was very distracted by the bustle on the sidelines, but didn't seem scared - just uninterested in working.  Couple this with the very exciting jump that was very early in the course, she got really excited and things got sloppy.  That's my take on it, anyway.

What does it look like to you?  Simply goofing off, not wanting to do anymore, stressing out, or too excited after that darn jump?

In retrospect, it might have been worth my while to NQ us and have a "cookie run" instead (which is what I had to do tonight at Rally class), where I feed Marge at every station.  At least, though, she came back to me EVERY single time I called her.  It still earned us a 1st place in the 2A class with a score of 198, our second RL2 leg!

The judge absolutely adored her.  She said "I'd love to take this home", called Marge a "really nice dog," and offered Marge some cookies while the courses were being changed.  We spoke a little bit and she agreed with me that Marge's silliness during the second Level 2 run might have been her way of saying she had had enough for the day! What a nice woman, and I really love how laid-back and friendly the APDT Rally atmosphere is.

And Marge was SUCH an attention hog, too - by the time the trial was over, I think every one knew her name.  No one was a stranger to her!   Between that, the ribbons, and just plain having fun in the ring, it was a very enjoyable day.

Now, we switch our focus back to agility (if the weather cooperates) - unbelievably, September is around the corner, and we have a trial just a few weeks away!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Training 39

About Those Walks...
I finally decided that the right thing to do was to set my alarm clock for the crack of dawn and take Marge for some early morning walks.  Thus far, it's worked.  We walked on Friday morning, Saturday morning, and this morning.  The temperature is lower, there are no fireworks or construction or any other comparable noises. It's NICE.

I've decided that, for the interim at least, I'm better off avoiding her worst noise triggers (fireworks, etc.) rather than working through them.  Some have suggested that I get a behaviorist to help me out - but I admit, it's really tough to convince myself that it's necessary, since we really only have big problems for two months out of the year.  Thankfully, this summer does seem to be going better than last, so perhaps each year will get a little better on its own.

I don't plan on doing it every day, since getting out of bed every morning at 6:30 AM is really hard for me (definitely not a morning person), but this new walk time still likely means an additional two or three forty-minute walks every week.  Add that on to the shorter walks we take, our training sessions, playing with toys in the yard, meals in treat toys, and going to class, and I feel pretty good about the amount of exercise Marge is getting based on the fact that it's the middle of August.

The above photo was taken on the same day that Louie and I went plane spotting.  We took Marge down to the boardwalk for a stroll, and although it was pretty busy, she handled it OK.  Bringing along her favorite treats certainly helped.

Back in the Show Ring
On Saturday, Marge will be back in the APDT Rally ring for the first time since April.  I'm really excited.  We'll be running in Level 1B (to start accumulating some Championship points for our ARCH title) and Level 2A (to try to get our first qualifying leg out of three for our RL2).

The Level 2 run will be a brand new thing for us.  We haven't yet finished our Rally Advanced class, which covers the Level 2 signs, but I am confident that we have practiced enough and know enough of them to put in a good effort at the trial.  The only sign I might avoid is the new Bonus exercise that they added, in which Marge must recall to me while the judge basically walks alongside her.  We haven't practiced it and it's not mandatory, so I'll omit it if it's a part of the course (it may not be).

It's going to be a bigger trial than the last time.  I'm figuring there will be around 20-30 dogs there, which is more than she's ever experienced at an indoor trial. Fortunately, I'm going to the club the night before to help set up (I'm in charge of lunch at the trial), so I'm going to take some of my stuff along, too, and get Marge's crate ready so that when she gets there the following morning, I have one less thing to worry about.

Wish us luck!

Things have been going pretty well, lately.  Though I hate the fact that I'll be going back to school in a few weeks (and also hate the fact that I'm spending those last few weeks being VERY busy), I'm thankful that the summer is beginning to wind down and Marge's life is starting to get colorful again.

P.S. - Thanks for all of your thoughts regarding Competition Obedience in my last post.  I'm supposed to be going to observe a class at my club tomorrow night, as long as I don't get sick (feeling kind of run-down today...).  I'm excited that this may be a new avenue for Marge and I to explore and bond together in.

And, thanks to our new friends at Furbaby Chat for this lovely award!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts on Obedience

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about starting Marge in Competition Obedience.  She has been doing really well in her classes at the club (her reactivity is way down), and our bits and pieces of Obedience practice seem to be well-received by her - and I enjoy them, too.  Lots of people at my club tell me that we'd enjoy it, it'd help us in our other training areas (Rally and Agility), and that my dog would be really good at it.

I never really considered it up until now, likely due to all of the stressed dogs and unhappy handlers that I see at shows and run-throughs (and, quite frankly, the over abundance of people using compulsion on dogs who aren't performing correctly BECAUSE they are stressed).  But then, I see people like Petra Ford training her heavily titled, National Obedience Champion Lab, and I see how much fun they are both having.  The dog isn't stressed to be in the ring.  He isn't simply complying with her requests to drop on a recall or take a jump. He is thoroughly enjoying it, and it is really wonderful to see.

Marge and I did some heeling pattern practice with a friend last night, and I have to admit, I was really encouraged by how well she did.  Honestly, her only heeling problems are lagging on the right turns and the about turns.  She has great attention and sticks to my left side when we are practicing heeling.

Her fronts and finishes have come a long way, too.  We could still use some work in those areas, but I don't think it's anything that can't be fixed by training under a good instructor.

And, her stays?  They're solid.  After some proofing (i.e. performing stays with groups of new dogs), I would feel extremely confident in her ability to perform a set of Novice sits and downs.  She isn't stressed at all during them - last night, she actually put her head on the floor on the 3-minute down we did after Rally class.

This leaves one thing - the Stand for Exam.  It is, perhaps, the biggest reason why I'm still hesitant to go on with Obedience training.  Marge has come SO far in regards to her fears of people.  I'm afraid of jeopardizing that.  Maybe it's an irrational fear, maybe it isn't.  I'm not really sure.  I know how I'd train it (in baby steps - teach her to stand in place while a "judge" circles around her - she's got this down already, then to stand in place while a judge walks up to her side and then retreats, then a pat on the head, then a pat on the head and shoulders, then all three pats).  But I'm just worried that more experienced people will tell me that my approach is bad or something.

I'm likely going to observe a class at my club to see what I think. I never thought I'd do it - and Obedience will NEVER take the place of our heart sport, Agility - but maybe we'll give it a try.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dear Hill's

Dear Hill's,

For the past five-ish years, the fuzzy creature in the photo above has enjoyed your hypoallergenic Prescription Diet d/d Duck & Green Pea formula.  This special food practically saved this cat's life, after skin, respiratory, and digestive allergic reactions rendered many other foods absolutely useless. While others told me that I could find a better food to put Layla on, I stuck to your food, because I don't believe in fixing things that aren't broken.

I wish, Hill's, that you would have followed that same line of thought, instead of adding Ground Yellow Peas and Chicken Liver Flavor to the old d/d formula.

After contacting your company, you informed me that the Chicken Liver Flavor comes from hydrolyzed chicken liver - the same ingredient found in your popular z/d Ultra formula.   It won't cause allergic reactions in an animal allergic to chicken, because the animal's body does not recognize it as chicken. The problem, Hill's, is that Layla's delicate stomach cannot tolerate z/d what so ever.  It's no surprise, then, that this new d/d formula might be causing issues.

Yesterday, Hill's, Layla threw up three times.  Forgive me for being graphic, but each of those times, it was the new lightly-colored d/d kibble that was present in her vomit.  While I am keeping my fingers crossed that this upset stomach was just a one-day thing, I am not optimistic that that is the case, since we have been down this unfortunate road of formula changes before.

I have a few days' worth left of the old d/d kibble, which I am currently mixing in with the new formula, and have my vet's office frantically trying to locate another old formula bag, to give me more time to get Layla's diet in order.

I wish I knew the reason, Hill's, that you were so inspired to fix what wasn't broken.  I assume it'd be an unsatisfactory reason, such as to boost sales, or attract more customers.  I stuck by your company as a loyal customer for years, and always expressed my gratitude that you continued to manufacture the d/d line of food, even when z/d became more popular.  Now, I must admit that I feel betrayed.  Now, I must wait, stuck in limbo, to see what is going to happen to my cat's diet.  To see if I'm going to have to change her food altogether to find something that she can digest, and risk an allergic reaction.

I know so many people who are so happy with your Prescription Diet offerings.  Why, oh why, would you tamper with things?


It's so frustrating that after a recent month-long stint in the dreaded cone collar to heal a hideous nose sore, Layla is faced with yet another predicament.  Can't this poor cat get a break?  She's held her food down today so far, but yesterday's three hurls were pretty alarming.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Day In Flight

Sorry for the short and unannounced hiatus - I just didn't feel like blogging this week and didn't have anything particularly remarkable to write about.  I THOUGHT I was going to have agility video from Tuesday's class to share, but alas, my camera was dead.  It was a very good class, though.  Maybe next week?

Anyway, speaking of cameras, Louie was over yesterday.  He brought with him a fancy shmancy big Canon camera that his dad has access to through his work.  The weather was abysmally humid (and still is), so our plans to hike were thwarted.  He did shoot some shots of Marge catching some serious air playing with me in the yard.

The mention of "air" brings me to my next subject.  Since hiking sounded like a stupid idea with such oppressive heat and the chance of thunderstorms, we took Marge out of the equation and did something else together.

Louie is a big fan of aviation.  He knows things that I am sure even some pilots don't know about planes.  He studies it the way I study dog training.

Anyway, enthusiasts often head to known locations near airports where they can "spot" planes taking off or landing.  Louie and I have gone once before and I very much enjoyed it, so we headed back today, fancy shmancy Canon camera in hand.

Though it still remains to be seen if I'll ever get on a plane again in my life (I have an unexplained phobia of flying), I do like learning which plane's which and I've gotten decent at it, too, for someone who only does it every once in a while.  I'll spare you all of that, and just show you some pictures that both of us snapped while we were there.  See how close we can get? (P.S. - these aren't on my Photobucket - Louie uploaded them elsewhere and I didn't feel like transferring them over since the files are so large.)

Later on in the day, Marge DID get to go for a walk, but I'll save that for next time. :)

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