Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spring Agility Commences

So, after a rain delay last week, we had our first outdoor agility class of the season this past Tuesday.

The set up:

The longer course (white circle numbers) was our first course and was all about using the off-arm to either 1) cue a front cross or 2) act as a "barrier" of sorts so that a dog would not pass the arm to take an obstacle.  The premise was to get the dog to learn to not pass the arm under any circumstances (which would, theoretically, prevent off-courses from front crosses gone awry).  Apparently the idea came from a Jen Crank seminar that my instructor attended.

It was an interesting concept and Marge and I did pretty well with it.  I don't think I can isolate one really super hard part of this course - the whole thing was pretty tough.  The 2-3-4 sequence was pretty tricky, but by using that offside arm and stringing Marge around to the far side of jump 3, we managed it quite well.

The A-Frame/tunnel discriminations were not as bad as they looked.  The first one (5-6-7-8) was definitely the hardest, but Marge had it fine until I started completely over-handling and screwed her up.  I need to just rely on my shoulders and dog-side arm position (high or low, held out away or close to my body) to cue her.. but instead I was bringing up my off arm which was pointing my shoulders AWAY from the correct tunnel entrance. I've got to be careful of that in competition, because I definitely know I do kooky stuff like that at trials, too.

The second course (black circles) was really just something thrown together because we didn't have a lot of time left. The only place I flubbed was a front cross between the weaves and the tire.  It definitely worked better for me on the landing side of the tire.  A rear cross worked just fine, but I was really trying to work on my weaknesses (and front crosses are one of them).

We'll be competing in a couple of weeks, a three-day (!!) trial on May 6, 7, and 8.

As a side, here's my absolute favorite picture from our last agility trial at the beginning of this month.  This was after she, um, refused the dog walk twice and later proceeded to jump the contact zone, spoiling our beautiful and qualifying Excellent Standard run.  Despite that, I'll be ordering this once I get some money together... because it's just too cute and such a great shot.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Nothing like a walk in the woods with your pals to relax for a while.

(There was supposed to be a third dog in this picture, but she was too busy exploring the bramble alongside the trail in typical happy-go-lucky Golden fashion.)

Friday, April 22, 2011


I rode a horse today.

Yes. For the first time in two years, I rode a horse.

I took advantage of horse rentals a a stable in nearby NJ this evening.

The riding itself was a bit rocky.  They gave me a school horse named Webster, who is apparently "known for being a butt" but extremely safe. All in all, he took good care of me - I remained in the (English!) saddle for the full 30 minutes without a problem.  However, he very much wanted to leave the ring while I was riding and kept hovering by the gate.  I also think he was less than impressed with the fact that I have totally forgotten how to use my legs.  I can't blame him for that.  I didn't even get him up to a trot - I was too focused on actually trying to steer and move forward and keep him out of other people's way.

But, it was amazing to feel that excitement again, to experience the sounds, sights and smells of a horse barn.  Unfortunately, I've been unable to duplicate that feeling so far in the other activities I'm involved in.  That's not to say I don't love dogs and dog training.. but it's just different.

Much to Louie's dismay, I pondered the rest of the evening wondering if I was going to ride for real again soon, as well as when and where that would occur.

No, I don't have to make those decisions tonight or tomorrow or the next day (or ever, really), but I love doing this so much and quite simply can't help but think about it now that I've gotten a taste of it again.

How would it even fit in?  Would I be able to balance school, physical therapy volunteering, my honors project, and all of Marge's activities with yet another thing on the agenda?  Would it compromise my participation in any of those things?

How would I afford it?  Louie says to just take money out of the savings account I have going, but I really prefer to just use money that is being brought in now, from my newspaper route.

How do I want to do it?  Half-leasing is out now that my summer is busier than I expected it to be. I can go for some expensive private English lessons at this place to refresh my memory and then continue horse rentals (which are relatively cheap), or I could switch back over to my old discipline, Western, and go elsewhere for riding.  One Western stable mentions a work/ride program on their website, which could be of interest to a college student unwilling to part with any more of her money (and a person who enjoys mucking stalls and picking hooves just as much, if not MORE THAN riding).  But that implies some sort of set schedule, which brings us back to question #1.

Louie felt bad that I had this all on my mind.  I told him to not feel bad.. I am actually happy, in a way, that I'm this confused, because it reveals to me that I still really enjoy this stuff after all of this time.  I am a horse person and that's one thing that all of the sadness, disappointment, drama and sheer TIME in the world can't take away from me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How To Save Your Dog's Life

Sunday morning, I walked out of my house and crossed the street to my car, Marge's leash in hand.  I glanced towards the corner of my block and saw two dogs standing next to the bus stop pole, presumably lifting their leg and marking it.

I didn't think anything of it until I realized that the dogs were not only off leash, but alone.  

The smaller one (a Pekingese, perhaps) darted over to Marge and me and jumped in the car after Marge when I loaded her in.  Suffice to say, I quickly scooped the little smush-faced guy up and put him down on the ground to prevent an altercation from occurring in my front seat.  

I then locked Marge in my car and pondered what to do next.  The little guy ran off with his elder and larger buddy, some sort of tan-colored mix.  I called out to them, but they didn't respond.   They were now walking down the main road, and the little one had his eye on the field across the street.

I started to walk back towards my car, thinking that there was nothing I could do, but the small dog darted back towards me.  I grabbed him.  No Frogger for the frog-faced dog, I decided.  I couldn't let this dog get hit by a car.  This is someone's pet. I discovered that he had tags, and went back over to my house to ask my sister for her cell phone.

I called, and didn't get a response.  I REALLY had to leave. Thankfully, my neighbor was out and said I could put the dog in her yard.  The sweet little guy played nicely with my other neighbor's dog through the fence and seemed to be in paradise while waiting in the yard, running around it and peeing on the trees with reckless abandon.

Long story short, we finally connected with the dog's owners via telephone and after I had left, the dog was picked up from my neighbor's yard.  Apparently, the bad storms recently had blown down the fence, which led to the jailbreak of these two dogs.  The owner was not worried about the older dog (ugh) and said that he would walk home on his own (I would have still been out looking if I were her, of course).

In thinking about this incident, I realized that there are some things that all dog owners really should do to ensure the safety of their dogs.  

For one, the fact that this dog was wearing identification while he was out on the town led to his quick reunion with his owner.   I know that people have their qualms about dogs wearing collars in the house (and I get that completely - most importantly, dogs left unsupervised in crates should probably have their collars taken off).  However, I'm not sure what would have happened if this dog wasn't wearing ID.  I had to leave; I'm not sure if my neighbor would have kept him indefinitely.  I, of course, cannot have a second dog in my house.  Would I have had to let him loose and hope that he found his way home?

Also, I feel like it's common sense to check the perimeter of your property/fencing, particularly after bad weather, before letting your dog out.  This dog got out because the wind from the previous night's storm had damaged the fence.  I know that any time we get a bad wind storm here, I stay right by the door while Marge is out and check the gate beforehand (it has blown open in the past, even when locked).  If someone else in my family is going to be letting her out, I leave a note on the door telling them to do the same.  Paranoid?  Maybe.  But better safe than sorry.

Lastly.. although it wouldn't have helped much in this case, where the owner was unaware that the dog was loose, I truly believe in the importance of a solid recall or emergency word.  There have been times I've dropped the leash accidentally or the gate was left unlatched.  But, thanks to a reliable "Marge, come!," I have been able to avert crisis.  When Marge hears the magic C word, she is all ears.  I reinforce it every single time (sometimes with jackpots, sometimes releasing her to a fun activity a la Premack) and never use it if I am not certain that she will respond to it.  We have other "recall" phrases as well, such as "want a cookie?" and "are you hungry?" that can be used in an emergency.  Many people feel that because their dog just stays on their property and never walks off leash that it's not an important skill to have.   But a recall sure is a handy thing to have in the dog training toolbox when the toddler lets the dog out the front door or the leash somehow wiggles free from your hand... or the fence blows down and you forget to check your yard.

Nothing is foolproof, including life, gates, and leashes.  I think that we should do our best to ensure the safety of our pets and attempt to keep Murphy's Law at bay.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

First Match

Today, Marge and I attended an obedience match at our dog training club.  It was the first time we matched in obedience.

We did two runs; the second was loads better than the first.  Marge was sort of distracted on the first run.  I'm trying really hard to get her to understand that the reward is both hidden and delayed (as opposed to in my hand at all times - definitely one of my training flaws), and I think in focusing on that, I didn't help her enough.  I got my act together once I realized I needed to change my strategy.

Several people commented on how good our heeling is.  It didn't feel good.. though it was better on the second run.

So why don't I just run through the exercises and talk about how I did today with them?

Heel on Leash
- Overall, she was pretty good.  Distracted on the first run but seemed to get better as time went on.  Her halts were lacking tremendously, partially because her attention wasn't as great as it usually is.  She got a little laggy in some spots, but when I did my footwork correctly, things seemed to come together more.

Figure 8 on Leash
- Again, got better in our second run.  The first run, she was laggy and distracted around the outer ring.  This exercise is one of her strongest, so I was a little concerned about that.  However, she did better the second time around.  She also paid no mind to the fact that we actually had people as posts for a change.

Stand for Exam
- AWESOME.  She held it fine twice for a person she knows well and then held it with a waggy tail for someone she has never met before in her life.  Happily, this exercise is proving to be a HUGE non-issue as it stands right now.

Heel off Leash
- Like the heel on leash, this was patchy.. we really just need to work it more.

Recall over Jump (UKC Recall)
- This was hit and miss.  One time, she missed my verbal cue and stared at my cluelessly.  She had a couple of perfect ones and some not-so-straight ones.  She did NOT break from the front position prematurely, though, which was a big deal (she likes to take it into her own hands and finish before I let her know it is OK to do so).

- Held both the sit and the down, but she was very interested in the Flat Coat working in the other ring.   We did some really nice proofing, though, because the Open level dogs were doing their stays with the Novice dogs, so there were dogs moving around and people moving in to and out of the ring.  Marge didn't even bat an eye at that stuff!

We do need to do more work with Honoring (the UKC's version of the down-stay), but I'm pretty confident in Marge's ability to handle it.

I didn't get any video, but here she is working out in the field with me recently. (Ignore the fact that my hands are in all the wrong places!)

I think we've totally smash our obedience goals for the first half of this year. If things keep panning out this well, we'll be entered in our first UKC obedience trial on June 11th.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Four Years

It really it hard to believe that tomorrow marks four years that Taco has been gone.  Every year, it seems like I react differently to this not-so-happy anniversary.

This year, I'm struggling to find the words to describe how I feel.  I'm sort of numb about it.  So, instead of trying to force out the words that just don't seem to be coming to me, I'll just share this video picture show that I made about six months after he died.

If you want to read the series of posts that I wrote last year about Taco, click here for a page containing them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Dog Walk is Optional

On Saturday, Louie was kind enough to take Marge and I to a brand new trial site about an hour and a half away in Yaphank, Long Island.  Marge was coming off of a great weekend and I was confident that we'd pick up our first Excellent qualifying score (in either class).

Standard was first, and I LOVED the course.

We got out there and it was apparent that Marge was ready to go.  She fired through the weaves.  She completed the teeter (and heeded my instructions to wait in the middle while I front crossed).  She climbed the A-Frame quickly and moved across my feet in to the tunnel underneath it.  She got on the table and stayed put.

After the table, though, things got a bit funky.

First, she swung wide when she got off the table (which might have had to do with my positioning).  She fixed that and turned tightly over the double, but nearly bypassed the chute (hard to tell in the video).  She took the bar jump and was in perfect position to get on the dog walk.. but didn't.

It took three tries, including one moment where Marge decided to jump OVER the dog walk plank rather than execute the obstacle correctly.

Finally, she got on the dog walk.. but then leapt from the middle of the last plank, missing the contact completely, and took off for the final jump, which stopped the time and NT'd us.

My knee jerk reaction was to yell "HEY!!" at her (which I do not condone doing) .. not because I was mad at her for goofing up the agility (I wasn't), but because I was afraid she would exit the ring and go on a jaunt in the corn field behind us.  I then called her to come, and we finished the last two obstacles in the order that they were intended to be completed.

My personal feeling is that something stressed her at the table (maybe the table itself), but others who saw don't agree and think that she was just goofing.  Either way, I'm not terribly concerned (yet) because this was a new site and a longer course than she's used to (Open has less numbers), but this does make the second time where Marge has had dog walk trouble (not counting her slip last week, where she still held on to hit the contact) this year.

We had a longer wait than I anticipated until our next class, Excellent Jumpers with Weaves.

We walked around the site a bit.  I liked the site quite a bit, but there must be some shooting range or something nearby, because I kept hearing gun shots.  Marge heard them, too - she wasn't horribly scared by them but they definitely made her a bit uneasy.  This, unfortunately, truncated our walk time (I would have loved to go on a longer walk).  I'm not sure if I'll trial here again.

Romping around the site

Listening to the gunshots in the distance - scared me, too!

Our neighbors, next to where we set up.  It was great to be set up next to good friends.

Hanging out ringside.

It came time for me to walk Excellent Jumpers.  I was so flustered during the walk through because of the large number of people in the ring.  Guess this is what I'll be putting up with for the rest of Marge's agility career.

The course was hard. It was the first course that we've run in competition that was really completely ill-suited to rear crosses.  That means I would have to front cross, which really took me out of my comfort zone.  I did not think we would do well.

But, we did!  We got through the hardest parts of the course with minimal difficulty.  Marge got some nice distance and I was able to front cross with no problem.  

However, she did have a run-out at the second jump due to her snooter being on the ground, and a refusal after the weaves.  I'm going to chalk those up to baby dog/new trial site mistakes and not worry too much about it.  If she was very stressed, I don't think she would have read my front crosses (since I almost never use them).

So, no Q's to show for the day, but Marge definitely had some moments of brilliance. She's not going off course, she's not really running zoomies or anything.. so over all, I think she's handling the transition to Excellent very nicely.  And all of our runs this year, so far, have been NICE runs, whether they are Q's or NQ's.  Nothing like the crazy stuff that we had going on at the end of last year.  Fingers crossed that it stays this way.

Our next trial is not for almost a month, at a park near our house.  Removing transit time from the equation has been helpful for us in the past, and my familiarity with the site usually makes me more comfortable, too.  I just know we will pick up our first Excellent leg then!

We ended the day with a trip to Louie's house.  He had to pick something up from his parents, and it was on the way home.  Marge met Louie's parents and did fabulously with them. It was really cool to see her relatively comfortable in a strange place that had NOTHING to do with dog events. We stood outside the front door and chatted for a while, then went home and passed out on the couch.  It was a long day!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Goodbye Open

I should be wrapping up my studying for my massive Anatomy and Physiology test tomorrow, but I do not want to read a single thing more about bones or muscles!  And, I promise I have not forgotten about my blog or all of your blogs - I have just been so swamped with things to do.

We had our second day of April agility on Sunday.  Marge did phenomenal!

We started off with Excellent Jumpers with Weaves.  The course was tougher than the one on Friday, but I was confident going in.  I was also the first dog on the line from the 20-inch height class; I moved myself up due to a possible time conflict with our later class, Open Standard.

It started off well enough; Marge holding her start line and jumping beautifully tight over the second jump in response to my lead-out pivot.  As she sailed over the 4th jump, I cued her to weave, but she ran past them.. again. 

She came right back and fired through the weaves, jumped the double and took the correct tunnel entrance (good girl!).  Coming out of the tunnel, I think I neglected to help her set her line for the next few jumps, and, because of that and her tremendous speed, she took a bar.. her first ever to come down in competition.

But, the rest of the course was flawless.  We ended up with just those two faults.  Not bad for our second time in Excellent Jumpers.

The wait for Open Standard was not very long at all.  I walked my course, with Louie hanging on to Marge just outside the ring, and it was not long before we were in the ring again.

But, before it was our turn, we got to see Amy & Layla pick up their first Open leg.  Amy said that maybe we we brought her good luck.. and I told her that I hoped that would do the same for Marge and me!

(Also, Marge did really well with Layla.  They were very comfortable with one another. I think that if they see each other a few more times, Marge will get all wiggly and play bow and stuff.)

Layla in Open Standard

Marge started out a little wide, nearly missing the third jump after extending herself over the double.  Then, she almost missed the dog walk contact; I'm not sure whether she slipped on the down ramp, got distracted, or what.  But, she did manage to keep those two front feet in the yellow.

The middle of the course went very well, with Marge holding her A-Frame and hopping on the table happily (and I praised her profusely for it!).  She got a little discombobulated at the chute AND was up to her teeter antics (exacerbated by the fact that she got WAY ahead of me), but we held on for a clean run.  GOODBYE OPEN STANDARD!

The effort earned us a third place.

Louie and I hung around for a little while after, and Marge (a.k.a Northbound Fly By Night OA OAJ) was content to doze in the sun.  It makes me so happy to see her this relaxed at a trial and it was really a picture perfect day.

And there you have it - our weekend.  We'll be trialing this Saturday, too, at a new site located on a farm out in Long Island.  We'll see how our debut in Excellent Standard treats us!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Showers Agility

We just wrapped up the first day of our Friday - Sunday combo for agility this weekend.  This is the same trial that Marge debuted at a year ago, when mixed breeds first became eligible for competition in AKC.  Hard to believe that it was that long ago.

It goes without saying that the weather was HORRIBLE!  Anyone on the East Coast knows that the forecast has been calling for an April Fool's Nor'easter since early this week.  Thankfully, we missed most of the snow, but got pelted with icy rain throughout the entire morning.

A lot of people were absent from the trial.  My first class of the day was Excellent Jumpers, which turned out to be such a small class.  The cool part? I got to do two walkthroughs - the general walkthrough before the trial started as well as the walkthrough with my height class.

I then set up my tent, coincidentally right next to Amy & Layla.  It was great to see them, and Marge took to Layla right away, who serenaded her a couple of times with her Malamute songs :)

I didn't have to wait very long before running, but it was extremely wet and unpleasant.  Marge was dealing pretty well before she ran.. a little excited, even, by the cold temperatures.

The course was a nice course.  I walked the whole thing with rear crosses and didn't think twice about it.

I was extremely calm when I got into the ring, which I was proud of myself for.  Marge read me really well through the first 10 obstacles.. then came the weaves.

And, what do you know? She missed her entry!  The one thing I practiced to death last weekend is the thing she missed!

I think it was just a freak thing.. she looks like she never really collected herself and maybe didn't see the poles that well.  I first I thought I pulled her off or forgot to decelerate, but I actually think I cued it OK. She certainly had no problem weaving once I helped her with the entry.

The rest of the course was fine, up until the last jump, where I had it in my mind for some reason that I had to switch sides at the triple, thus pulling her off of the last jump, the double.  In that regard, I'm kind of happy she didn't weave - I would have been so mad at myself if we had a clean run and then I screwed it up at the last obstacle!

But she came out of the run happy and excited, and we went straight back to the practice jump for some more cookies.

The judge said "oh, darn it!" in a joking voice as we walked by outside of the ring.  I told her that it was Marge's first time in Excellent, and she said that in that case, we did pretty well.  I liked her.

We waited around a bit after that but Marge just wasn't feeling it.  She outright refused to stay in her crate, then would stand there and shiver if I took her out.  I think she was just feeling cold and icky.  She looked better when she was moving around and even played with another dog, but she clearly would have rather been inside and warm.

I went to go walk Open Standard, but I just didn't think it was a good idea to run.  It was still raining on and off, the contact equipment was old (and EXTREMELY rough to the touch, to the point of being uncomfortable).  I knew I'd be hard pressed to get her to lie down on a wet table, and knew there was a significant possibility of her bailing on the teeter or one of the other contacts, so I decided that running would not be beneficial.  I scratched her and packed up and left and am happy with my decision.

So, we went ribbonless, but had a very worthwhile Jumpers run in the rain.  The weather Sunday is supposed to be significantly better, so I'm hoping to finally wrap up that Open Standard title then!

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