Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallows' Eve Hike

We set out for an AM hike this morning, before trick-or-treaters made their presence known by ringing our doorbell repeatedly and slamming the door knocker obnoxiously.  My sister and I convinced my mom to come along, too.  She's never seen this part of the woods before, and, with the fall foliage at its height, now was the time to go.  Who doesn't love some natural color?

It was unbelievably beautiful.  Really.  Be prepared for lots of photos.

It's not a long hike at all; maybe 20 minutes each way.  We didn't want to stay long, in case kids took their Halloween mischief in to the forest.  Thankfully, we only saw one older couple as we climbed upward, and had the entire place to ourselves.

The forest was ablaze in reds and yellows.

The pup liked it, too.

We detoured a bit on the way down, instead of just heading right back to the car.  The woods were so bright, the air so refreshing.. and Marge was yanking my arm off with enthusiasm!

I posed her on a couple of rocks, but she took it upon herself to jump on this boulder, which is a remnant from the Ice Age, 50,000 years old.  I guess she likes the view?

It was a spectacular slice of time spent surrounded by nothingness.  Like all things, it came to an end, and we crossed the road back to civilization.  Until next time.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Walking In A Dog's Shoes

I was eagerly sitting in my Experimental Psychology class listening to my Professor teach, as usual.  Then, someone said there was a huge bug on the window, inside of the room.

The description (namely, the size) was enough for me; I didn't even have to see the bug.  I got the heeby-jeebies, wiggled in my seat, and had the burning desire to continuously keep looking over my shoulder and side-to-side to attempt to locate the invader.

I heard the words the Professor was saying as he continued to teach, but could not process them or think about them for at least a few minutes.  My mind was preoccupied, whether I liked it or not, due to the big bug. Despite my very strong drive to succeed in this class and impress the teacher, I could not pay any attention to him because of the very scary thing supposedly clinging to the wall.

I hope you see what I'm getting at, here.  Next time your dog is afraid of something and "blows you off" when you ask for a behavior, think of my experience in my favorite Psychology class with my least favorite creature in the world.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Inhale, Exhale

I'm trying my best to calm down about this whole agility trial thing.  I know that I'm overdramatic about it.  I think I'm just so afraid of screwing up Marge's agility career as a new dog owner and new agility handler that I overanalyze every little thing that goes on.

The suggestions I've gotten are all across the board.  I've had one or two people that told me to stop trialing altogether for an extended period of time.  I think that's kind of on the extreme side.  Most responses are within the range of "keep doing what you're doing."  Some cite me and my limited trial schedule as being responsible for Marge's apparent (and yes, slight) discomfort in the ring.

Ultimately, we ARE going to stop trialing for an extended period, just because of the winter, after our last outdoor trial on November 6th and 7th.  I can't bring myself to trial her indoors right now.  The noises are different, they may be louder because the sounds are contained.  It looks different, and it probably smells different, too. I think that trialing through the winter in places that neither Marge nor I are comfortable at would be more injurious than stopping for a while and picking up where we left off in the Spring.

I do think that part of the problem is that we haven't had a lot of class time this fall.  Between the heat, the rain, and whatever else, class has literally been cancelled every other week.  This past week, we barely had any running time in class at all - the class was full with 7 or 8 dogs, which meant we all got very limited time to work. Maybe I should set up some ring time again at the club to work on agility with Marge.  I'm planning on having a private lesson before the next trial, but not this week - this week is reserved for a massage for Marge.

I'm trying very hard to get to a run-through this coming Saturday at another training facility.  So far, I've sent 2 e-mails, but haven't heard anything back.  It'll be a smallish group - 25 dogs or less - and it will be outdoors.  I feel horrible for asking Louie to go with me, even though he's more than happy to.  I'll have two minutes in the ring to do what ever I want.  Someone gave me the good idea of breaking it in half - doing one minute, then having the next dog run, then doing another minute.  I'm not sure if that'll be allowed, but I definitely want to keep things short, fun, and motivational, and I want to surprise Marge with rewards at problem areas (the table and the teeter, mostly).  We'll see if I'm able to go.

One thing I did do recently is cut back on Marge's L-Theanine.  I dropped her from 50 mg to 25 mg, because she has been doing SO well.   I'm going to bump it back up for the next two weeks, and perhaps give her 75 mg the day of a trial.

And that's about all that I can do.  I know that my stress might be adding to things, so I have to really work to change that.  I'm trying.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sound of the Judge's Whistle

The one good thing I have to say about this trial is how nice the trial site was.  The drive up was gorgeous.  The woods in the park were even more gorgeous.  Marge loved it.  She showed absolutely no signs of being hurt as she ran around in the woods, trying to find critters to hunt.  I definitely think I would trial there again.

However, the rest wasn't so pretty.  Marge's performance in the ring yesterday was directly correlated with how well the dogs before her did.

They all got whistled off the course.  Marge does not like whistles, especially ones that don't sound like "normal whistles" and bear some semblance to the sound of a high-pitched firework or smoke alarm.

Our first run was Standard.  I wasn't in love with the course, but it wasn't terrible.  

The amount of waiting time at the start was ridiculous.  They had to fix a tunnel that moved.  I know they want to move the trial along quickly, I know.  But if they weren't so worried about the next dog being in the ring while the other dog was still on course, my dog wouldn't have tried to run away when she heard said dog being whistled, because I would have been outside the ring with treats.

Maybe I shouldn't have run her after the whole whistle business.  I'm not sure.  The beginning of the course, despite for the lack of stopping on the dog walk, wasn't too bad.  She hit her 2o2o on the A-Frame, but when I tried to front cross before releasing her, she took my movement as a cue to go. So, I had to rear the 180. Then we had the off-course tunnel before the weaves (lots of dogs did this), the hop-off-hop-on table, and then..

..another teeter flyoff.  Her second in a trial this year.  The judge gasped. Marisa blamed me for it, because I tried to rear cross behind the teeter, but I really think it was a case of Marge not hearing me say "teeter! bang it! bang it!" because she was stressing and couldn't follow direction.

I wasn't going to leave the ring on that note, so I sent her over the last two jumps.  But she was clearly not with me at that point.

The first three letters on my score card read "W T F," which I thought was extremely telling of the whole thing.

The next run, I almost missed my walkthrough because I was out playing with Marge.  Except for one area, the course looked really nice.  It was similar to the JWW course we ran and succeeded on a couple of weeks ago. 

But, more dogs got whistled, and this judge was using a really high pitched whistle, and seemed to like blowing it not just once, but several times.  I wish I could have snatched it away from her. At least we weren't in the ring at this point.

The pinwheel was a disaster, she missed a jump and then did all sorts of circly, stressy stuff.  Her weaves were nice and the ending was nice.  

There were bright spots, I guess.  But the whole thing just blows my mind.  Since September, there seems to be always one thing that goes wrong at trials.  Planes overhead.  Automatic table counts.  $%@$ing whistles.   She never used to stress at trials, now she is.  Why?  Why was the Spring so damn good, and now the Fall is awful?

Everyone tells me I need to do more trials.  I *think* I agree with that, but I don't really know.  If I do 2 days of a trial, there's a chance that Marge will be more comfortable the next day, because she had already been there the day before.  There's also the chance that she will be more stressed.

Other people tell me I need to trial over the winter, indoors.  I REALLY don't want to do this.  I do not see the logic at all in adding yet another variable (being indoors) to the trial experience while Marge is going through this slump.  Their line of thinking is that it will get her in the ring and get her "used" to the idea of trialing.  My line of thinking is that I have an environmentally sensitive, sound phobic dog, and trialing indoors would be stupid.  Run-throughs indoors?  THAT'S a good thought - especially since I could treat it like a trial and then surprise her with cookies in the middle of the course.

Is that what I'm supposed to do?  Essentially flood my dog until she "gets used" to being at trials?  I'm afraid I'm going to ruin the whole thing for her.  Trialing, for her, is about being out for an entire day.  She gets to meet friends, go on walks, get treats, etc.  The actual agility part, with warm-up, is probably only about an hour of the entire day (we were in this park for at least 7 or 8 hours).  Despite me being really upset about the agility, Marge didn't have a bad time overall today.  I'd hate to ruin that by being less selective about where I trial her and just take her everywhere for the purpose of getting her more ring experience.

I have one more outdoor trial this year, in two weeks, at the park near my house.  It removes a LOT of variables - I know the trial site, I can go home between runs, I don't have to rely on anyone else to drive me there.  If she doesn't show me that she feels better about trialing, then I guess it's going to be a really long winter.  And, it will be hard to get back in to the ring come next year,

I'd definitely appreciate some thoughts on this whole thing.

On an unrelated note, yesterday marked the first day that Marge has traveled through all 5 boroughs of New York City.  I guess I have a well-traveled dog.  Here she is, outside the battery tunnel.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Unfortunate Monkey Wrench

Of course, prepping for a trial cannot just be a simple, routine, thing.  Nope, never! Instead, Marge goofed off with the cat last night, went running up the stairs like a lunatic, and it was then that I discovered that she was limping on her right hind.  That's the one she injured this past April, two weeks before her first AKC trial.  It was her hip flexor back then. Rest and Rimadyl did the trick.

The limp went away with a few steps, but I took precaution, iced it for 15 minutes, and sent her to sleep.

Maybe she just stepped funny or something.  She seems fine today - seems to be putting weight on it evenly, didn't get upset when I moved it around.  She has no reservations about moving around or acting goofy. I'm still keeping her pretty quiet, and I iced it again, too.  I can't tell if there's a slight gimp or not - I'm famous for seeing things that aren't there and dogs are equally famous for hiding them.

This certainly throws a monkey wrench in to my plans.  I planned on taking her for a long walk on this windy pre-trial day, but that's not happening, obviously.

I've been letting her sleep on the couch, getting her up every once in a while to have her potty and for me to watch her.  She dozed in the sun for a few minutes.  I might take her for a short leash walk later.

I also finally picked up Nupro Joint Support, the supplement my trainer uses.  It's supposed to help with all kinds of stuff - joints, soft tissue, coat, digestion, immune system.  I made a gravy out of it for her, and she lapped it up very heartily.  I'm going to give her another 1/2 scoop later (she's right on the borderline weightwise between 1 and 1 1/2 scoops), and then again in the morning.

This is highly upsetting - she's put on a ton of muscle the past couple of months and I've been doing a good job keeping her in shape.  The only area where I might be lacking is stretching - but she's not getting hurt doing agility, she's getting hurt doing stupid stuff like running in the field or tripping up the staircase.  She was FINE on Tuesday night, and I did make sure to warm her up.  Maybe I need to add more strength training to her regimen.  Core and balance and stuff like that.

Gosh, how I wish she would swim...

Anyway. As of right now, I'm still taking her to the trial tomorrow.  Marisa is going to be there, and I will ask her to feel her leg before we run (if we run) to see if there's an issue.  She said she can massage her, too, which I would really like.

I will NOT run an injured dog, so if I have doubts, I won't do it.  I'm going to play it by ear.  Worst case, it'll just be a day of socialization and pretty parks for Marge with no agility.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Onward and Upward

After what feels like weeks of sitting in my bathroom, scrounging up whatever bits of open wireless connection I could from other people in my neighborhood (yes, it's true), we're finally back online.  I'm still not hopeful that the problem is fixed for good, but maybe it is.  All I know is that it's working right now, and I intend to take full advantage of it!

On Sunday, Louie, my sister, Marge and I took a truly awesome hike in the autumn woods.  We were out there a good while, and covered somewhere from 3 to 4 miles.  I'd like to squeeze another in before our trial on Saturday, but I don't think I'll be able to (the beach might be an option, though).

As we started on what is arguably the most scenic trail in all of the woods, we stopped off at the big lake to let the beauty sink in. 

Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.  And, to make things even better, we found a brand new spot along the lake for Marge to wade.  The drop off is extremely gradual, so she can walk around in the shallow water.  It'll be an exciting place to take her in the Spring and Summer!

She developed a reddish, bumpy rash on her inner thighs after we arrived home, but I don't think it was from this water - she's gotten this rash periodically, and I think it might be from the smaller ponds we stopped at.  We'll try to stick to wading in the larger bodies of water, like this one.

We then walked a short distance down the trail to the next body of water, a pond, where the colors were as vibrant as can be.

(click HERE to see the same place in July!)

We walked on for at least a mile, surrounded by trees.  For some reason, I really felt the pain in my calves as we climbed.  I hope that with repeated trips, the pain will cease.  At least the trip down wasn't so bad!

We wandered off trail a bit, too (which is a huge act of courage by me!).  We found this little pond.  It was murky (no wading for Marge here) and not exactly picturesque, but the idea of being secluded in the forest was enchanting.

Our ascent was finally complete, and we peered out towards the ocean and New Jersey.  It was Louie's first trip on this trail with me, and I think he enjoyed it - it's wonderfully scenic.

We continued onward a bit more, but a group of young children were making their way up the trail, and their screams bothered Marge (and me).  So, we headed back down the way we came, our calves sore, our adventurousness quenched.  We'll be back for more soon.

(I have a million things to talk about, since I've blogged a grand total of five times so far in the month of October.  Look out for a pre-trial post on Friday, and then a trial recap on Sunday).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brag and Beach

***I still don't have a functional internet connection.  A Verizon technician came to our house on Thursday, tampered with every possible piece of physical equipment from our house to the telephone pole to the office (which, ironically, is less than 10,000 feet from my house - a relatively tiny distance), and we still have issues.  Now, they're going to try working on some other piece of equipment, but that's not going to happen until Monday.  Really, switching to Cable or FIOS and getting rid of DSL would be just about the greatest thing ever, but it doesn't look like that's happening yet.

As such, it's taking me an abnormally and irritatingly long amount of time to read blogs.  I was able to get on to a few today, and was thrilled to actually see photos and read stories for the first time in what feels like ages.  Hang in there with me a little longer - it's the slow connection that's keeping me away from blogging.***


I have to take this time out to make a bit of a personal brag.  Do you remember when I posted about my Behavioral Laboratory class, in which I'd be working with pigeons?  Well, the whole thing is going smashingly well.  I've taken one test and handed in one lab report, and received top marks on both.  I absolutely adore the class, so much so that I actually look forward to sitting in a classroom for 3+ hours either listening to lectures or watching my pigeon's behavior in the operant chamber.  I have NEVER felt this way about a class before, so it's really pretty freakin' awesome.

In addition to that, I seem to be doing a good job of making myself look like an interested, smart, and motivated student - which I am! I approached my professor to ask him about something in my lab report, and, after answering my question, told me that I "stand out as a very good student," and said that perhaps he could "set me up working in the lab."


I have made it VERY clear to those I'm friends with that this is the guy I want to do my Senior Honors thesis with.  This is my favorite subject, by far! I haven't asked him about it yet because I wanted to make myself look good through my extreme motivation to do well in this class.  It seems to be paying off.  

Although things are not even close to being set in stone, I am absolutely THRILLED.  If we're talking behavior, here, it's safe to say that my professor delivered a huge positive reinforcer for my work through those comments!

Hopefully, I'll continue to do exceptional work in the class and get a position in the lab in either the spring or next fall.

Of course, I have to thank my #1 girl, Marge, for this success.  She is the only reason that I walked in to this course already knowing so much about classical and operant conditioning.  She is also one of the main reasons that I have so much interest in it.  If there is a bright side to working through a dog's behavior issues (aside from getting a more relaxed, well-trained, and bonded pet), this is it.. Marge's influence on me extends far beyond the reaches of the agility ring or training club.  This is real life.  She's helping me through it, just as I hope I've been helping her through her own life.  One hand (er, paw) washes the other!

On another note, here are some shots from down at the beach this evening.  The weather, the lighting, EVERYTHING was absolutely divine.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On The Brink of Fall

Marge, my sister, Louie and I took a four-mile hike this Sunday, in the glorious 60-and-sunny weather.  We hiked a closed-circuit trail in the middle of the woods - probably the quietest place in my entire city.  It was our first time on this trail, and all of us absolutely enjoyed it.

The woods were still mostly green, but little patches of color could be found along the trail.  It was more prominent in some locations than in others.

Marge gave a doofy look towards the camera, with her adorable and slightly crooked bottom teeth peeking out of her mouth.

Some shots of our trail.

It felt so refreshing to be back in the woods.  If we're lucky and get some more nice weather this weekend, we should be able to go to our favorite color spots and watch the fall foliage emerge.

I have other photos from the woods, but am unable to get them in to this blog post.  Once again, I am having Verizon internet issues.  Numerous phone calls, two visits by a serviceman, and endless frustration have still not solved this ongoing problem.  My dad refuses to switch - mostly because he's stubborn, partially because of the cost - which makes this even more frustrating for me, especially since my use of the internet is not only recreational (I need to use it for school and such).  Bear with me, and hope that my connection is useable sooner rather than later.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Little Huntress

Dog on a mission - Marge attempting to single-handedly tackle squirrel overpopulation, one unlucky tree-rat at a time.

What the picture doesn't show is the foot-in-the-air leaps and yips that further characterized her sinister plot.

It's that crisp n' cool time of year again, and Marge is full of energy and full of herself.  This is just the beginning!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I Love You, East Freehold

Let's take a look back, shall we?

In November 2009, Marge and I made our agility competition debut at East Freehold Park at a tiny NADAC trial on a damp and gloomy day.  Our first run was a disaster, with zoomies of epic proportions and Marge's premature exit from the ring.  Our second run, though not a qualifying run, was a huge step for a dog who had only been training in agility for six months.

In April 2010, we trialed at an AKC event for the first time ever, again at East Freehold Park, on the first weekend that mixed breeds were allowed to run with the purebreds.  Our first run was absolutely wonderful, and though a handler error kept us from qualifying, I was as happy as could be.  Our second run was even better - a clean, qualifying Standard run - and we earned our first ribbon ever.

In October 2010...

Yesterday, we were back for more.  We arrived around 10:30 or so, giving me more than an hour until we were due in the ring.  We set up with our good friend, Gloria, and milled around the trial site, saying hello to those that we knew (and there were a LOT of our friends there).  Marge was cool as a cucumber.  I firmly believe that she knows this site and loves this site.. maybe it's just that I love this site and she picks up on it, but I like the former explanation better.

Once again, I looked at my Open Standard course map, and thought to myself about how wonderful the course was.  It didn't require a huge lead out, which would take the pressure off on the start line.  The only issue I saw was at the end of the course, where I had to get a cross in somewhere near the teeter.  Best of all, there was no automatic table.. just a plain ol' judge's count.

But, we didn't get that far.  I walked Marge in to the ring, and before I knew it, I was walking her off.  Again.

But it was different this time.

At the start line, I had to wait a few seconds for them to set bars, for the judge to be ready, and all of that. I stood right behind Marge, my hands on her shoulders.  I pointed at the jump.  She lurched forward.   She has never done that at a trial. She wanted to GO.

I ran on the outside of the Dog Walk (I credit Sara and Oreo for planting the idea in my head) to block Marge from the ring steward and the outside of the trial.  But it wasn't fear that brought her down today.  It was excitement.  She did the #1 jump and the #2 walk with no problem, but when I tried to send her to the tunnel, she veered sideways and wound up on the other side of the ring.

Rather then get frantic and call her, though, I just stood in place and waited for her to realize where I was and what I wanted.

She came back, but still didn't get in the tunnel... she jumped on top of it.  People laughed.  *I* laughed. Then she took a jump, then went up the A-Frame.

The judge said, "Once you harness this power, you're going to be unstoppable."

I said, "I had it harnessed for a little while.  I think I'm going to take her over a few obstacles and walk her off."

And I did.   I took her over 5, 6, 7, and 8, told her "good girl," and walked her off.  I gave her a few cookies (er, meatballs) afterwards.

I met with my friends, and the first thing they said to me?

"That's not stress.  That's a GREEN DOG."

And I knew it in my head, too.  She wasn't stressed at all.  I didn't feel it like I did at the last trial. She wasn't looking sideways at the start line.  She wasn't looking for Louie.  She didn't sniff, or lick her lips, and although she ran amok, she wasn't really running zoomies.  She was excited and lost her mind. She was taking obstacles. She wanted to take the obstacles.  She was self-rewarding and didn't need a handler!

You'd think that I would have felt horrible after this attempt at a run, just like I did at the last trial, but I didn't.  I was actually in a good mood.

So was Marge.  Look at her, playing with her Portuguese Water Dog classmate, one of her best doggy friends, who I was thrilled to find in the tent next to me.  She also initiated play with Diesel, the black Labrador who she used to despise, and Spirit, a Golden Retriever who she hasn't always been great with.

I kept saying aloud, to convince myself.. she wouldn't be wrestling with Star if she was stressed.  (She never wrestles in the first place, she's not a very diverse playmate for other dogs.)  She wouldn't have her back turned to the trial going on outside the tent and doze off in to a sleep.

And so began the wait until Jumpers.  So began my thoughts about what would happen, if I would go home with two No Time runs.

I liked the course.  It was a tunnel opening, which, again, the agility gods must have conspired to give me so that I wouldn't have to worry about start lines.  I walked the course and, though I had a plan, I could feel myself giving up, thinking I wouldn't be able to run the whole course anyway.  I tried as hard as I could to snap my tired self out of that line of thinking and just go in there and do what had to be done.

I went in to the ring, and was told to wait, because they had to fix a tunnel that had gone awry after a powerful dog bumbled through it.  I ran up and down the side of the ring with Marge as I waited.  I went to the start line, told her to wait, tossed her leash away.  I waited for eye contact, I released.

And it was over before I even realized we were running.  It was wonderful.  She was still flying high, and I definitely got lucky that the run was as nice as it was, but we did it.  She read my crosses.  She did the obstacles that I directed her to and no others.  And we qualified.  Our first Open Jumpers leg.

I needed that.  I needed it so bad.  Maybe I'm dramatic. Maybe I am spoiled with a dog who flew through Novice in 4 trials.  Maybe I am quick to react after only one bad weekend of trialing.  But that doesn't mean I can't feel bad when my dog is stressed or doesn't want to work with me.  I needed her to show me that she still wanted to trial, and she did.  By goofing off and jumping over a tunnel in Standard, by playing with her friends, by connecting with me and running to a 2nd place finish in Jumpers.

It's not about the Q's.  It never has been. If it was, I wouldn't have been so upset after our last trial, because the runs were pretty darn close to qualifying. It's about Marge being perfectly comfortable in a sea of people and dogs, with sights and sounds and smells all around her, playing the sport that she loves.

I love you, East Freehold Park!  You always come through and give my dog a great day out.

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