Thursday, December 30, 2010

To The Future (2011 Goals)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's to a successful 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weather Wallop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Training 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Handwritten Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gathered 'Round the Tree

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Park-Hopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blood, Brush, Beach

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

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

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

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


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

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

Talk about unsettling!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Trouble (Good Thoughts Needed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brighter than the Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Close To Everything, Far From It All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On another note.. I RAN A COURSE!

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about a good day.

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