Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Lonely MACH Point

Last Saturday, Marge and I spent the day at a local agility trial.  Normally, we would have spent the weekend, but the weather at this trial has been, in the past, extremely hot.. so we took our chances on one day only.

Our first run was Standard, and, as is becoming a bit of the theme, the run was completely botched.  We actually had two shots at the opening because the timer didn't start before I started running, and we NQ'd on the second and third obstacle, respectively, both times.  She then took a wild off course (because she just can't resist taking a straight line of jumps), and offered her A-Frame contact twice.  She also missed her weave entry and popped out at the 10th pole or so.  It was a wild run.

The little devil.  She doesn't look particularly stressed - I sure hope not.  I  don't want those
crazy runs from last year to sneak back. I think Standard just requires a ton of mental
 focus that we still need to work on.
On the bright side, she held all of her contacts, got on the table, and actually read a landing-side front that I put in.  But, we still don't have a connection in Standard the way we do in Jumpers.

I was not hopeful about Jumpers (what else is new?), particularly because it was super sunny.  Since the sun likes black dogs, Marge wasn't exactly thrilled with things.  I had her in her crate, covered with my sun-blocking mesh silvery thing (that I commonly refer to as my space ship blanket), my small fan hanging on the door.

The wait wasn't terribly long, as the trial was small, at only 397 runs.  That's about 200 per ring (as opposed to 330 runs, which is the maximum number per ring).

As usual, I walked my Jumpers course with all rears (just one front cross, after the weave poles, where a rear would have been highly inefficient.  When I stick to my strengths (rear crosses), we qualify.

Turns out I would have to employ a bit of a different strategy to get around this course.  When I released her from the start line, she began moving at a snail's pace!  I had to play cheerleader throughout the whole course, and even put a front cross in that I hadn't even walked - just because there was no way I could wait for her to pass me to do the rear!  I do not think it was stress in this case - I think it was the heat, as well as the fact that the front of the ring was extremely soggy (see how she trots out of the first yellow tunnel?).

Her speed picked up considerably at the end of the run.  Once it was over, I searched mightily to see if we made time.. and we did.  Our time was 40.16 seconds, and the allowable course time was 42 seconds.  That meant we picked up our first MXJ leg (out of 10), and our very, very first MACH point (points are awarded for every full second you are under course time).

As is customary at every trial we attend, I had her pose with her loot.  In this case, she only received a green qualifying ribbon.. yep, you have to be faster than that in Excellent B around here in order to place.

By no means was it a great trial. After all, the weekend marked one year since our last Standard Q, other than the lone one we picked up back in April to get out of Open. But it certainly wasn't a bad trial.  How could it have been? - now, we've only got 749 more MACH points to earn!  And while that seems like a big number (because it is), my hope is that runs in the cooler weather will yield us way more than 1 point at a time.

Next weekend, we're heading out to PA for a trial in a sports building.  I've never been to the place before, but from the set-up of the rings that I've seen on YouTube, I'm hopeful that Marge will like it. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time Flies By

Amazingly, though all of the GRE prep, Anatomy & Physiology torture, time spent with 40+ laboratory pigeons, and volunteering at multiple physical therapy practices, I almost let today slip by without realizing.


Today is Marge's 4th birthday.  According to the Georgia group who originally rescued her, her birthday was June 28, 2007.

It really is hard to believe that she's four already... and even harder to believe that she is the same dog that I adopted three years ago (her Gotcha Day is tomorrow!).  She has grown into a confident and happy dog.  I never had any idea that we'd be where we are today.

I admit, I didn't buy her anything yet.  I promised her that I'd buy her some stinky treats at our next agility trial on July 9.

I did, however, complete this 7-minute video highlighting the past year.  This video is one of my absolute favorite things to do each year.. and, like the last two, I am happy with how this one came out.  The music is a little too much on the pop-side for me and I actually picked out at least one better song AFTER I had already made the whole thing, but it works for Marge's attention-grabbing personality and fierce courage and determination in all that she does.

I am so lucky to have such an amazing friend to share my life with!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dad's Day

One thing I haven't blogged about at all lately is Marge's relationship with my father.  For the most part, my silence on this front means that nothing has changed.

We seem to have hit a plateau, for the time being, in terms of Marge's comfort level around my dad.    She has neither progressed nor regressed (thank goodness) significantly.  However, I don't think that's a bad thing... I actually think we're in a pretty good spot.

Through some sort of funky combination of both classical and operant conditioning, Marge now comes running to me 99% of the time when she hears the sound of the front door opening (recall that my father walking through the front door is one of her biggest triggers).  She'll generally lie either on the doormat behind my chair in the kitchen or, if we're in the basement, make her way to her crate.  Then, she gets treats as the door opens, my dad steps inside, and the door shuts.

Now, when he enters the room, her body language seems a bit more relaxed.  Generally, she gets up, takes a big stretch, wags her tail a bit, and then campaigns for treats from him.

My dad's behavior around her isn't perfect, but it does seem like he reaches out for her a lot less than he used to.  He still does make her bark when he asks for behaviors that she isn't wholly comfortable to perform.. but I suspect there's really nothing I can do about that.

Lately, I've noticed that when my dad is on the couch, either sitting or reclining, Marge will choose to go over to him to be petted - even to the point that I can't call her away from him.

Is there relationship perfect?  Nope.  But I think we're making it work as best as we can.  That's all I can do!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Neon Green Denver Rottweilers

What a shocking sight THAT would be.

The title of my blog post today actually refers to a few separate odds-and-ends that I wanted to post about... proof of why punctuation is so important!

First, I just HAD to show off Marge's brand new neon green martingale.  I have been looking for this color for the longest time because I have a thing for wild and exotic agility gear.  I recently asked a friend in Michigan if she could make one for me, and using photos of my zebra martingale as a blueprint, she sewed up this beauty for me.  I just love the way it pops against Marge's black coat.

It's about a foot longer than my zebra one, which is totally my fault because I must have given the wrong length.  But, it is well made, beautifully colored, and the fabric is sooo soft.  She makes colors with ribbon overlays as well, so if any one wants her information, let me know!

Secondly.. Denver.  (No, Roxanne, I am not moving to your state just yet!)  Denver has now become a part of my Staten Island neighborhood.

Denver in this case is not a city, but a 5 year old Brittany Spaniel who was recently adopted by the owners of the late, great, Buddy.  He seems like a very sweet dog whose main goal in life is to chase squirrels.

He and Marge met through the fence. They didn't seem to mind each other.  I'm not sure what Denver's play style is like, though, so it may be awhile before we try them offleash with each other. I do (heartbreakingly) wonder, though, whether or not Marge knows Buddy is gone or misses him at all.  I sure do.

Lastly, after the trial this past weekend at my dog club, Marge was offleash playing with a few friends.  All of a sudden, in lumbers in a truly massive male Rottweiler - the judge's dog.

Now, Marge has a thing about Rottweilers; she does not like them (a definite fear reaction), thanks completely to two dogs that we encounter in life from time to time that are horribly unfriendly towards her. She generally gets all hackled up, perhaps curls her lip if they approach her.  Instinctively, I went to leash her (because he, of course, went up to her first out of all of the other dogs.. go figure).  However, his owner told me that he was totally OK with scared/nervous dogs and would probably be content to just let Marge sniff him.

Normally, I would have removed her from the situation regardless of what the other people told me to do.  However, since she was already out and they were already checking each other out, I left her be for a few minutes.

She was definitely nervous, because she would NOT play with the other dogs with him there, but she sniffed him several times and was comfortable enough to get right up close to him to try to score some treats from his momma.

L to R: Giant Rottie, Poodle friend, & Marge

Perhaps, if we had nice Rottweilers like this one to socialize with, Marge will feel better about the breed. All I can do is hope!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bayshore Part 3: The Great State

After my Standard run on Saturday, we packed up the car, got the trailer ready, and left the park.  The ride home was uneventful.  Both Marge and I were exhausted by the time we finally got home.

We had a day in between our next day of showing, which, as most of you already know, was dampened by the loss of Buddy.  I did a lot of crying and a lot of sleeping on Saturday.

Marge also took a little walk with Mable on Saturday, who I was taking care of while her owner was in Massachusetts.

Saturday truly felt like an endless day; I was happy when it was over.

Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early.  I stopped by Mable's house to let her out to piddle, and got on my way.  For the first time ever, I was crossing in to New Jersey alone.

And I'm so happy I did.  I'm probably one of the few who think so, but I really enjoyed the drive down Routes 9 and 18.  Of course, if there was traffic I might not have been so happy, but there you go.  I was proud of myself for finally making the trip to a trial by myself (and now I know I'll always be able to drive to this park alone).

My first run was around 9 AM.  After obsessively walking the course (they don't call it the obsessive walk-through for nothing), it was time to get Marge and, once again, step to the line.

I will let the video do the talking.

We qualified in spectacular fashion, nearly 12 seconds under course time, for first place in Excellent A 20".  Probably one of the nicest runs we've ever had in competition. The added bonus?  It was her AXJ title.  That means the next time she steps to the line in Jumpers, she'll have the chance to accumulate MACH points.  MACH points!!

We had a while before our next run, Excellent Standard.  Marge hung out in her crate:

And Layla, whose owner, Amy, was nice enough to share her tent space with us, relaxed too.  It was so nice to have some company while we waited. Thanks again, Amy!

Marge and Layla got along pretty well, ignoring each other for the most part.  Marge did give Layla one grumble, but I suspect she was resource guarding her backpack (which she knows contains her treats).  Later on, Marge approached Layla in much more wiggly fashion while Layla woo woo'ed at her.  Layla is such a pretty girl and has a personality to match.

Our turn in Excellent Standard eventually came.  Alas, it was a non-qualifying run..

The first problem was that I should have handled the opening differently.  I should have rear crossed the weaves, which I know that Marge is perfectly comfortable with.  Then, after the teeter, I totally took her off course.  The table.. I did NOT like that little hop, since, as you know, Marge had some problems with the table last year.

The ending was nice, but the fact that we've qualified in Standard ONCE in a year is bothersome.

By that point, I was so agilitied out that I left just a few minutes after my Standard run.  I went home and was a complete zombie - though the drive home was fun. :)

And this concludes our LONG weekend of RV'ing, spending lots of time with lots of friends, and having some fun running agility.  We'll be back out in a couple of weeks, for a one day, very local trial.  In the meantime, we'll be debuting in obedience... that should be interesting!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bayshore Part 2: Friday Four Runs

Typically, I run Marge in two classes per day at AKC agility trials: Standard and Jumpers With Weaves.    Yet, this Friday, I was sporting a black-and-white dog at the end of a fiery-red leash who was tugging her heart out.  Marge was still in the trailer.  Why?

My friend, Karen, invited me to run her Border Collie, Arrow, in Excellent Jumpers.  She doesn't like Jumpers and thought she'd let me have some fun.  Arrow is 10 years old, but acts like she's 3.

After nearly getting my thumb bit off (through no fault of Arrow's; I'm not used to a dog who tugs!), I stepped on to the line with this crazy, crazy girl who I've NEVER practiced with.

It was... interesting!  It started off well enough, but then Arrow took a wrong course and popped out of her weaves.  We skipped a few jumps here and there and a couple of bars came down, but were actually pretty together by the end of the course.

It was one of those things that was over before it started.  She is lightning fast... I am truly not used to running such a speedy, quick-reacting dog.  But it was a blast!

Now that that was out of the way, I was able to focus on Marge.  I fetched her from the trailer and started my warm-up.

Our run went a little bit better.

Though it was slow, at 4.33 yards per second, Marge qualified with me on this tight, tight course. It was the second of three legs needed for her AXJ title.

But that wasn't the last time I'd see this Jumpers course.  Spirit's owner missed her walk-through (I can't blame her at all; the rings were running on all sorts of weird schedules), so she sent me in to pinch-hit for her with Spirit right before my Excellent Standard run.

I ran it really, really, well.  The problem was that I ran it as if I was running Marge; Spirit performed the rear crosses I requested of her, but not over the jumps! So, we incurred two refusals in an otherwise beautiful run.

Four dogs, three runs.  Spirit, Marge, & Arrow.

After Spirit's run, I snatched Marge back from Spirit's owner, who was holding her outside the ring while I worked with Spirit.  It was time for our Excellent Standard run.

Close (as in, NQ'ing at obstacle #16), but no cigar.

Not a great run, but not a horrible one, either. I didn't like her moving around at the start line, and we ran in to a bit of trouble after the chute. The middle of the course was nice.. I even managed to put in a blind cross to get on the side of the teeter that I wanted to be on. However, the closing sequence after the table was too much for us to conquer, and it kind of fell to pieces.

Still, one out of two ain't bad. Or, one of of four, if you count my runs with the other two stooges...

Stay tuned for Part 3, a recap of Sunday.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bayshore Part 1: Slumber Party

Heaven got a new shining star yesterday, as Buddy was, indeed, sent to the bridge.  We'll miss him with all our heart and always remember how much fun we had with him.  Thank you all for the lovely comments about him.

What a weekend!  I'm exhausted and would really love to go to sleep right now, even though it's only 8 PM.  I figured I'd write a bit about our looong weekend.

I spent the majority of Thursday afternoon packing for the following day's agility trial.  Usually, this activity is reserved for the late nighttime the day before a trial, but this trial was different.  We were leaving that night at 5:30 PM and, in addition to a crate and stinky treats, I needed a change of clothes, a blanket, and my toothbrush.

We were staying overnight in the park in my friend's travel trailer!

Although I was only entered Friday, my friend decided she wanted to take her "little house" down to the park the night before, since she needed to be at the park very early on Friday morning.

We arrived at her house around 5:30 on Thursday and set off to pick up the trailer shortly thereafter.

While the trailer was being hooked up, Marge was absolutely terrified.  There was little I could do about it, as she was crated in the back of the car and there was really no way I could get to her while they were hitching the thing up.  I began to be doubtful about whether or not she'd enjoy herself on our little overnight excursion because of how teeth-chattering scared she was.

Once we arrived at the park, I briefly let her offleash to RUN with other club members' dogs, including our travel companion, Golden Retriever Spirit.  She was completely wired after the ride in the car, and I knew that she needed to blow off some steam.  I leashed her again pretty quickly, but I was glad that she got to run a bit.

We set up her crate inside the trailer, on top of one of the beds (there really wasn't room elsewhere.  She probably didn't really need her crate since she is 100% comfortable with Spirit, but I felt better about having her crated, especially since she can resource guard towards other dogs.

I was even confident enough to leave her crated without me while my friend and I visited some other friends in their giant RV.  We had a great time talking about dogs and gossiping.   When we returned to the trailer, Marge was excited to see us, but didn't seem to be any worse for wear, so I guess she dealt OK.

We stayed up a while, Marge and Spirit play bowing to each other in the little bit of space.   It was weird to be in East Freehold Park at night, in a kind of nice way.  I love it there.

When it was time for bed, Marge willingly went back in her crate.  Spirit stayed loose and readily took the opportunity to slobber all over me during the night.  At one point, I woke up to see her laying flat on her side next to me, staring at me like a person would.  It was hysterical.

By about 5:30 AM, I couldn't sleep anymore.  Marge was tossing and turning in her crate and was starting to get upset about seeing people passing by the window.  It was also freezing; I would have closed the window, but my friend was asleep and I didn't want to wake her up.  We both got up a short while later, after the dogs told us by being wiggly that they had had enough of sleeping.

Marge and Spirit, trailer buddies

By 7:30 or so, the trial was beginning.  I went out to help with leash running in Excellent FAST while Marge hung out in the trailer for a bit more.  By about 12 PM, our first course was being built and we'd have to gear up for her run.

How did Marge fare in her first run after a night of sleeping in a strange place?  Come back tomorrow to find out.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Goodbye, Old Friend

I wanted to update about agility today, but suddenly agility doesn't seem so important.  Marge's good friend, Buddy, who she has played with for about 2 years, is very ill and will likely need to be put to sleep.

I saw him this morning, and he looked pitiful, laying by the door, not wanting to get up.  It was heartbreaking.  He did give me a little smile and tail wag when he saw me, but the energy and happiness I knew and loved about him was gone.  He is not eating and doesn't want to move.  I have been in tears all day thinking of the sight of this poor dog looking as awful as he did.

Turns out he got suddenly very ill yesterday and a trip to the vet revealed what appears to be a large mass near his liver.  I know from my (very little) prior experience that these types of cancers usually grow very rapidly and are aggressive.. explaining his sudden illness.

At 10+ years old, and in the state he's in, it would probably be unfair to put him through anything.  But, I did urge his owner to call his regular vet, just for a second opinion, just in case.

I am forever indebted to Buddy for being a friend to Marge when she didn't have many other dog friends to play with.  I will always remember fondly their play-dates together and Buddy's unwavering exuberance in everything he did.  It's hard to believe that I have known him for five years now... sometimes seeing him every day while I delivered my newspapers.  Whenever Marge is in the car with me on the route, she recognizes his house and whines and tries to jump out.  She so loved going in to his yard and playing with him and his people.

I am hoping for a miracle, but know that more likely than not, one will not come.  We will miss you, Buddy, thank you for being a friend.  We'll never forget you.

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