Saturday, January 28, 2012

Memory Lane

My head is swirling with ideas about different things to post, but because I'm so tired from helping move Phoebe and the other horses to a new barn, I can't even fathom the idea of writing anything cohesive about things even remotely difficult or philosophical.

So, instead enjoy this picture of my first "real" pet (other than my beloved Willy, the goldfish!), a guinea pig named Scooter.

He was kind of mean, to be honest with you; he frequently bit me hard enough that I'd bleed.  We nearly got rid of him once for that.  We brought him to a pet store over night and were really going to leave him there and let them sell him. My cousin offered to "replace" him with two baby guinea pigs that I could keep. But, the next day, I was so upset that I told my parents to go back and, thankfully, he was still there.  (There I go again, being loyal to my animals, even at age 9!)

I don't remember much about him. I can recall clearly the time that he escaped from his harness in my backyard and almost ran away, and the squealing sounds he made when he knew you were going to give him vegetables.

He died in February of 1999, after several bouts with pneumonia.  About two weeks later, we brought home Layla.

You can barely discern the fact that this is a picture of a guinea pig, but sadly, it's the only picture I could find.  Fortunately, my picture-taking frequency has increased with later pets.  I have well over two thousand pictures of Marge in the three and a half years I've had her.  Yep, that's right!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day 1306

I'm actually late on celebrating MargeBlog's anniversary this year, since I completed three full years of blogging not today, but actually on this past Saturday.  Perhaps my belatedness is a good thing, though, since today truly reminded me of how far Marge has come in the over one-thousand days she has now spent with me.

The Marge of today and the dog I originally adopted -- the dog I first wrote about in January 2009 -- are truly not the same animal.  The dog I adopted was an extremely sensitive, afraid-of-the-world, yearling dog who, quite frankly, didn't have a clue about anything.   She was unsocialized to both dogs and people, and, to make matters worse, also had the additional challenge of learning to live in New York City, a place so far removed in so many ways from her upbringing in Ellijay, Georgia.

The Marge of three and a half years ago would have hit the end of the leash and pulled desperately away from the many people and dogs we encountered today while we were out together delivering my newspapers.  She would have never let those people pet them, nor would she have dealt well with dogs yakking at her from every direction.  Instead, she approached them (albeit, some more cautiously than others) and simply ignored the dogs who sent so much noise her way.

The Marge of three and a half years ago would not have been able to take a walk in a completely strange neighborhood, with two other dogs, without lowering her tail and pinning her ears to the back of her head. She wouldn't have whined with excited enthusiasm and anticipation as we drove down the road to see those friends, nor would she have tore across the yard with them in attempt to get them to play, like she did today.

The Marge of three and a half years ago would have never been excited to go in to a busy pet store in a busy parking lot, where men, women and children all ohh'ed and ahh'ed over her.  She wouldn't have looked up at me, smiling, as a toddler pet her all over from head to back to tail.  She wouldn't have accepted treats from those people nor would she have ever, ever wagged her tail to say hello to three total strangers who all happened to be 6' tall high-school age boys in uniform.

If her leash became undone in the front of that store, as it accidentally did today, there would have been a good chance that the Marge of three years ago would have darted away.  The Marge of today simply stood by my side and waited for the leash to be snapped back on.

The little things like this have really started to add up over the years.  I know that I am, without a doubt, experiencing the best years of Marge's life right now - still a young adult dog, but with enough time in New York under her belt to know that the world isn't a scary place and that there are good people and good things out there to experience.

Marge is literally the best dog I could have asked for.  She has taught me so much about dog training and truly catapulted me in to an interest in learning, training, and behavior.  The things we accomplish are made that much sweeter when we take a look back at our humble beginnings.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Not A Given

If you recall from my post a couple of weeks ago, I decided to chase the last double-Q for my APDT Rally ARCHX title with Marge.  I decided to enter only one day at a local trial, giving my checkbook a break and thinking we'd get it in only one shot.  Part of me wanted the title, and part of me didn't want to completely rob Marge of Rally since she enjoys going to Rally trials so, so, much.

Marge's Rally record is flawless.  She has never NQ'd and has consistently scored above 200 (out of a possible 210).  All we needed was two 195+ runs and we'd earn our next championship title.

We went in to the ring in Level 1B and kicked butt, taking a perfect score and the fastest time for first place in the class.

HOWEVER, when we went in to the ring for our Level 2B run, the should-be last half of the last QQ for the title, Marge was distracted.  The "Offset Figure 8" was one of the obstacles on the course, and that obstacle just happens to use food bowls.  With food inside of them.

Since food is allowed in the APDT Rally ring at specific parts of the course, I fed a distracted Marge a piece of liver treat on the start line, hoping to win back her focus.  We went through the run relatively unscathed, though Marge made me work hard for just about every obstacle.

The judge approached us after the run and explained that my use of food on the start line was considered an "inappropriate use of food."  You see, it wasn't quite luring, because I didn't move the food in front of Marge's face the way you would to teach a dog to sit or down, but it wasn't quite a reward, since I literally had to show Marge the food in order for her to take it... Marge wasn't looking at me as I took it out of my pocket.

She didn't NQ me, but said she'd have to "hit me" for it.  I said that I understood.

Our score is posted on the easel next to the ring.  We scored a 193.  A fine score.

But... guess what?  You need a 195 in all ARCHX runs to earn the title!

So, courtesy of my little mistake, we didn't get the title that I expected to get.  I guess my punishment for being so darn sure of myself will be having to wait until the summer to actually get another shot!

We did, however, pick up our RL2X, a title for which scores do not matter.  So we walked away with something!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's In Store (2012 Agility Preview)

I thought about forming agility goals for the year 2012 and almost started to do so, but for now I'm going to stick with my guns and not form any goals (at least not any goals involving the letters Q and Q, side by side).

I do, however, think my overall plans for the year are worth mentioning.

I plan to go pretty hard this Spring in terms of entering agility trials.  I'm not, and probably will never, enter every single trial on every single weekend, but because things are really up in the air right now in terms of how busy I'll be this fall, I want to make sure we get a lot of agility in while we can.

I already have one overnight agility trip booked, and I'm hoping to get at least another one or two in by the time July rolls around, since Marge clearly enjoys going.  I'm also planning on at least four semi-local agility weekends, which brings the total number of trial days up to about 15 over the next 6 months or so.

Before our first trial, which will come in mid February, I need to make sure that we get to practice on the teeter that has been bugging Marge.  Even though she performed 4 straight teeters for 4 straight Standard Q's towards the end of the year, she still ended the year with a flyoff.  We've made progress on the issue, for sure, but it's not completely gone... and if I start the year with teeter issues and stressy Standard runs, it's going to set the stage for the same stuff we went through in Fall 2010.

No, thank you.

So, despite the cold, and despite the distance, we will make the trip to train on that specific teeter, because I won't settle for anything less than Marge smacking the heck out of it in practice before we trial.

And then, there's Arrow, who I am having so, so much fun with since I start running her in the summer.  In our last trial, we really started to come together as a team, and had very, very close calls in both Standard and Jumpers.  I'm hoping that as long as I continue to practice with her and learn to differentiate her strengths from Marge's, that we will be successful in our next couple of times out together.

I guess over all, the only goals I am setting for myself is that I train hard enough so that obstacle issues don't stand in our way, pay attention to my handling so that neither dog falls prey to knocked bars or off courses because of my errors, that we practice as many of the skills necessary to be successful as we can, and that I breathe and we all have fun.

I hope that, after our first trial, I can come back to this post and say that I accomplished those things, and then begin to evaluate the rest of the Spring in terms of concrete goals.

Hanging out at our club's agility trial,  November 2011

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Beyond The Genes

Living in Staten Island, a relatively small place where your business is everybody's business, I am always alerted to any mention of our borough on TV, radio, or otherwise through our local newspaper, which pretty much reports every single time a Staten Islander is involved in something in the media.  This week, I learned in that exact manner of a woman from my island that was going to be featured on a TLC show about cloning her deceased pet dog.  With nothing much to do on a Wednesday night, Louie and I watched the show, "I Cloned My Pet," to see what all the hype was about.

Long story short, three individuals, two of which were not in the right situations (monetarily or otherwise - one was in jail!), spent $50,000 to send samples of their deceased dogs' DNA off to a Korean laboratory so that a surrogate mother dog could birth a genetic clone of their late pet.

Besides the fact that I'm upset that the media has taken the oh-so-easy opportunity to showcase yet another dim-witted individual from Staten Island, a stereotype they love to perpetuate, I am angry that the network, by airing the show, is also putting forth the idea, either intentionally or unintentionally, that because these new clones share the previous dogs' genes, that they are, in fact, the same animal.

Riddle me this: if I sent DNA samples of my Taco, whom I cared for in his old age, off to a research lab in Korea, and thus received a horse of the exact same genetic makeup, would it, indeed, bring Taco back to me?

The answer is no.  No, no, no.  Genes mean only so much and I wouldn't do such a thing even if I was paid to do it.  Taco was who he was because of the time and circumstances under which I met him.  A foal that shares his genes may be identical to him in genotype, but life experiences on the part of both the animal and the human make an animal who it is just as much.  A weanling Taco and a 35-year old Taco are not the same animal, not even in the slightest.

The same goes for Marge.  People have argued that it would be interesting to see, through cloning, what Marge would be like had I raised her from puppyhood.  But would it really be Marge, then?  Aren't Marge and my relationship with Marge defined by the things that we worked through when I first brought her home?

I'm not into the whole debate about whether cloning is moral or immoral, but I do think that cloning for this kind of reason (to bring back a dear departed animal) is really an insult to the special and fragile relationship that we share with our animals.  To suggest that $50,000 and a strand of DNA can bring back many years of memories is something that I find really offensive and ill-argued.  There is something really perverse about it; if these people really loved their original dogs, they'd use the money to support local shelters or responsible breeders and breed rescues.

In addition to my main complaint about the show, I also find that the show might even encourage irresponsible ways to go about acquiring and raising a dog, since it clearly shows one of the subjects picking out a puppy from a pet store, and also seems to conveniently leave out the importance of training and socialization in molding a good pet - things that won't cross over with the implanted DNA.

It also seems to skim right over the fact that multiple surrogate mothers are used in the cloning process, since clones often die, and does not take issue with the fact that dogs are needlessly made to carry litters for no reason other than some Americans' misdirected grief over departed pets.

I've written an e-mail to TLC voicing my displeasure that such a show was aired.  I get that shows like this are aired all for the shock value.. I do.  But, I think there are lots of productive ways for the network to include pet-friendly topics that draw in big ratings in their program repertoire.  This is not one of them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Running The Show

January seems to be a month where no matter how hard I try, I always go running back to APDT Rally with Marge.  Marge and I both like Rally, but we like agility better, so it doesn't leave a whole lot of time to train and compete.

I signed on to be trial chairperson for an APDT Rally Trial at my club this past weekend and knew I'd be at the trial practically all weekend, but I was originally unsure whether I'd show Marge or not.  Ultimately, I decided that even if it was going to make for a crazy weekend schedule-wise (since I would then have to take Marge home, only to go back out to school to run my pigeons), I just couldn't leave Marge out of the fun.

Eight runs (and a lot of money) later, we've finished yet another Rally title (RL1X - the Level 1 Championship title) and are one QQ away from our APDT Rally Champion Excellent (ARCHX) title.  Her lowest score out of the eight runs was, I believe, a 207 (210 is perfect).  So, she had a heck of a weekend!

Here she is finishing her RL1X.  She scored a 210 and was first in the class. I have zero nerves going in to the Rally ring, so it makes for a really nice break from agility for us.

She got this awesome purple ribbon for the title.  I've just recently started to get into the habit of donating back my Rally ribbons, but this one I just had to have.  Love the pawprints!

Now that we've got within smelling distance of yet another title, I can't deny Marge the fun of another few Rally runs.  There's another trial going on at my club in a couple weeks, and I decided what the heck - let's go out and get that ARCHX.  I don't care at all about titles, but Marge clearly likes competing in Rally so I just couldn't help but chase that last QQ!

In addition to her success in the ring, Marge had a phenomenal weekend behavior-wise.  Everyone who knew her and remembered how she started out commented on her work ethic and total comfort in the trial atmosphere.  Perhaps most amazingly, she got loved on by two young boys who pet her, held her leash, and fed her treats without her feeling uncomfortable at all.  Not only did she tolerate being handled by them, she actually enjoyed it and sought it out by approaching them first.

My dog? Really? Yep.

Monday, January 2, 2012

By Land And By Sea

It seems like forever since I've posted photos of any of Marge's outings.  Sometimes it seems like forever since I've taken her on any!

Fortunately, we've actually been able to find some time to have some fun lately.  Just before Christmas, we went for a long walk on the beach.   Nothing about the day suggested it was winter - the sun was shining and it was relatively warm.

Marge frequently gets the freedom of her 20 or 50 foot long line at places such as the beach, thanks to  our seclusion from roads, other people and dogs, as well as her reliability.  I occasionally drop the line altogether and let her burn some steam off by running around me.  Goodness knows she needs it.

When I call her to come back to me, I'm met with a face like this, expecting treats.  Even without the treats, Marge is very attentive to me and I'm so thankful for that.

About a week later, on New Year's Eve, Louie & I went for a hike with my good friend and her dogs, Spirit and Bailey.  Marge absolutely LOVES their company.  I used to often complain that Marge didn't have many doggy friends.. but if she gets to see these two every once in a while, it makes me feel better.  (We actually went on a hike with them today, too, but I've got no pics to show from that).

 She truly feeds off of their confident and friendly personalities when she is with them.

At the top of the trail, the three posed together for a quick pic.

Unfortunately, the dogs weren't the only ones hiking with us, it seems.  After we returned that evening, I could have sworn that I felt something on Marge's neck.  I looked, but didn't find anything.  However, today, I felt it again, and did a little more investigating.  I discovered an attached, but not engorged, tick.  I yanked it off, applied some antibiotic ointment, and checked thoroughly for more (and found none), but now I've got the heeby jeebies!

I've got some free time tomorrow, and I'm thinking maybe we'll head to the beach this time.  I shouldn't have to deal with ticks in December!

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