Therapy Session

BradyBed“Really? We have to leave soon? I’m just getting my nap on.”

I had a hard time getting going on Friday for the weekend’s agility adventure. For once, I was not the issue. The dogs all wanted to lie around and sleep. Usually it’s me that wants to do that.

So, after packing up my bag and the dog gear in the jeep, I decided to let them chill for a while I vacuumed the house.

See? Clearly I was feeling ambitious.

I’d dropped Jasmine off late the evening before with her pet-sitter, figuring that as it was going to be another very brutally warm weekend, she wouldn’t appreciate being left in the car much of the time, bored out of her mind and hot. I had another motive too. I didn’t want to be tempted to oust her from agility retirement.

While not bringing her accomplished keeping her cooler and me not running her, I’m not sure it was the right decision.

I missed her. I missed her tremendously. And man, I never thought I’d say this, but I miss playing agility with her. For one, she never tried to bite me.

I suspect the other dogs thought it was a little weird she didn’t come too at first. But the extra room in the jeep probably made up for that. Plus, Youke and Camm got to play bitey face in the hotel room and no dog tried to step in to police them.

The stress relief of play was nice because it took five hours to get to almost-Portland due to the motherfucking Friday traffic. I think the only way I’m ever going to win on Friday traffic is to leave Thursday night or first thing Friday morning. Even departing around noon still makes for a hellacious trip. Or I suppose I could’ve left at o-dark thirty on Saturday morning as some friends did. I prefer my beauty sleep though for me and the dogs. Plus, I think we work better as a team if we get a full night of rest.

Ha ha ha. Team. Oh, I’m laughing now. More on that in a bit.

I attended this particular CPE trial for only one reason. Youke needs some more qualifying scores in standard. Another Q in jumpers would have also been nice, but just wasn’t meant to be. Yup, chasing another C-ATCH for Youke. Could happen this fall or winter. I’ve told myself that since it’s his second there’s not need to chase it.

The arena is not my favorite, mostly because Jasmine never really liked it and Youke didn’t particularly care for it either the one other time he was there, with Jasmine. Also, it’s August. Lastly, we are experiencing the hottest freakin’ summer ever here in the Pacific Northwest. Half of Washington State is on fire. But still, I travel in the name of the almighty Q. Plus, I thought it’d be fun as a bunch of friends were going too.

Turned out that Brady and Camm thought the place was pretty great. Any place that has agility and where one can see all of their aunties is pretty fine as far as those two are concerned. Nary a concern from either. This is actually pretty cool as for a few years I constantly worried about Brady being distressed about a new environment. Because Brady and Camm weren’t worried, and because he also likes visiting with aunties, Youke was also not perturbed.

In fact, Brady seemed to love the entire venue this weekend. Giant happy grin on his face, loose body, waving flowy tail – all were thumbs up signs. It did take its toll though. On Saturday when we returned to the hotel room, he crawled under the sink in the bathroom and collapsed. I only saw him again when he came out to eat his dinner and when we all went out for a long stroll around the scenic paved parking lot and into the weeds and overgrown green that abutted the nearby fuel station and highway overpass next to the hotel.

Saturday started off with big fat zeroes. In the first standard run with Youke he made it clear he wasn’t into performing weaves. Brady had a nice jackpot run, but my send over the distance line from a jump into a tunnel was too enthusiastic and he went to a different tunnel than I had intended. Still nice though and I hadn’t expected it really, so we walked off happy. Camm set the tone for her weekend with her first run, a combination of really ugly and really beautiful. She was argumentative and nippy at the start, but performed the distance gamble perfectly.

Saturday got a lot better for Youke and I. In fact, the entire weekend was overall pretty good. While we blew the first standard course, we qualified on the other three, thus making a huge dent in the amount of qualifying scores we need for his C-ATCH 2. We didn’t get the a jumpers Q that I would’ve liked, but it was the last run of the day and he was just done at that point. He ran his steady, even pace all weekend and seemed like a pretty happy guy, soliciting play with Camm and Brady quite a lot.

The moment of glory with Youke this weekend, and pretty much of the whole trial, was my dramatic slip and fall in his last standard run.

The run had been going smoothly. Youke entered the weaves and although for me always a holding-my-breath-moment, did not pop out at the number eleven pole. So there we were, running efficiently around the outside arc for the finish. I pushed to a jump and Youke flicked further out, going around the jump. I quickly doubled back to redirect and next thing I knew, my feet slid out from under me and I landed on the not-so-soft part of my ass. Not sure if I hit my head or not, but I was flat on the ground. But the run had to be saved! Time in CPE is fairly generous, but still, I didn’t want an-up-to-that-moment-perfect-run be ruined because I fell down on my ass and couldn’t get up fast enough. So I leaped to my feet – in reality it was probably not as elegant, athletic or quick as one might imagine when employing that particular verb – and got Youke reoriented toward the finish line and completed the last two obstacles.

We made time and got the Q.

One of the best parts was the judge giggling as I leashed Youke up. I was in no way offended. When people fall down it is funny damn it. I’m incredibly guilty of laughing first, asking later if the person is alright. Damn, I was laughing as I walked Youke off the course! I’m pretty sure I was laughing when my ass was on the ground. I was definitely laughing when a stranger – some random friend of someone I don’t know and there observing the trial – gave me a high five as I exited the arena.

Somehow that scenario never plays in my agility fantasies.

Sadly, Youke did not seem that concerned about my welfare. After all, I made him finish the course. Much different from when I slipped on grass at an outside trial with Brady last year. He came rushing over to check on me, face in my face and deeply concerned until I leaped to my feet and advised him we were moving on with the course. He was all business again when both he and I simultaneously realized I was out of position and I got barked at about that. Brady was sympathetic about the fall, but as soon as I indicated that we’re back on course, he was a drill sergeant and yelling at me to do my job RIGHT!

Youke just cared that he got some bits of cheese and played with ball.

Brady was also very consistent at this trial. Due to his teeter fear, he doesn’t run the standard courses, but he got to play in everything else, including snooker.

The other crowning achievement in this trial was Brady getting his first snooker Q.

Brady ran a snooker course literally years ago. He has not run one since. We were whistled off the course before we even completed the second obstacle that one other time. For a dog like Brady, that was a disaster. He was so pissed off that I’ve not had the courage to try again until this trial.

I confess that I love playing snooker in agility. I love the games where handler strategy is a factor. While I like going for the big points as much as anyone else, I also must weigh my individual dog’s strengths and weaknesses. and tendencies to nip or not, against my own individual greed and need for glory. I usually try to devise a plan that makes sense to my dog – as in the course is flowing and has no huge call-offs. Jasmine and Youke are the queen and king of snooker. They are typically congenial dogs when it comes to agility, forgiving of my handling instructions (including when they shouldn’t be maybe) and are not quick to a temper tantrum.

Seeing that Brady and I have been competing for a while, have solidified our teamwork and have worked on his temper tantrums, I thought it was time to give a go at snooker again. I told myself though that I’d scratch him if I could not figure out a way to make the snooker opening make sense and flow in a natural way. After walking the course a couple of times, I designed a course that I thought he’d be fine with. There was one part that I knew was a potential area for an argument, but I also thought to myself that even if it got a little dicey in terms of his displeasure, we could work through it.

Those 29 seconds were among the most adrenaline-filled seconds of my life. It was like concurrently leading and running away from a red fire-breathing dragon in a maze that I thought I had memorized. Okay, more like hoped like hell I’d memorized or I’d be vaporized by the dragon’s wrath.

The snooker plan worked exactly as I’d hoped. I did get some liberal feedback at certain expected points, but the run was fantastic.


Or so I thought. In my exultation, I’d forgotten a very important thing about Brady. Brady is not a forgiving dog. Brady holds grudges. Brady does not forget things.

Our next and last run of the weekend was a jumpers course. Youke and I hadn’t made time on the course, but making time is rarely a problem for me and Brady. The course was fairly straightforward, although there were a couple of tricky bits, especially with a high speed locomotive as my partner. We got the run and ended up with a qualifying score, although there were hiccup moments. The problem was that at the next to last obstacle Brady decided to take a shot at me for some offense that had to do with my handling.

Because he was fairly argumentative at the outset, I have a feeling there was some residual pissedness held over from the snooker run. In other words, he wasn’t as happy as I was about how it went.

Regardless, the outcome was that he nailed my kneecap and it hurt.

Interesting factoid here. Nips to the fleshy bits, at least when one is pumped up full of adrenaline, do not hurt that much. Nips to joints are exceedingly painful.

Brady had by then sailed over the last jump, but I was pissed. He was walked briskly to his crate and then, because I was so pissed I felt like punching him, whisked away with Camm to the car while I took a walk around the arena to cool off.

I was livid because it was the second time that day I’d been nipped on a joint. Camm did it first.

Camm had moments of poetry at this trial. The issue here is that those moments are literally seconds and I’m still trying to grasp how much faster she requires information than any of my other dogs, even Brady. Although probably Brady has just learned to deal to some extent with his slow human handler. Okay, that’s fantasy on my part. He hasn’t learned to deal at all.

Those freakin’ border collies are so damn literal and do not tolerate shitty handling. At least mine don’t. Okay, Youke does. Sort of. Well. He doesn’t bark and nip.

The other issue is that her border collie controlling beotch persona comes out and my ordinarily deeply devoted, attached-to-my-hip sweet girl that jumps into my lap to comfort me when she thinks I’m upset is all business once she steps into the agility ring. In other words, I make a wrong move and she grips.

Gripping is a Scottish word for biting or nipping.

Okay, I just sort of made that up, but it is another way to convey that a dog is biting. “Ole Inkblot doesn’t like that rank ewe trying to walk away from him, so he gripped.” (Add a Scottish brogue to that if you wish.)

So while we had moments of pure beauty and bits of perfection that make me want to sing – and usually those are the pieces I focus on – I found myself on Sunday unable to forgive a sharp and definitely intended nip to my elbow.

It happened at the second obstacle on a course. I suspect she was already frustrated as I’d told her to hold her stay, something she’s having a great deal of difficulty with at present. Instead of going through the tire, she came up slightly behind me and dove for my elbow. I cried out, told her to lay down and then picked her up and swooped her off the course.

There was a comforting moment when the judge called out that she thought I’d made the right decision. I love supportive, and giggly, judges.

Camm, like my other dogs, is very sensitive. but then you’d have to be a rock not to know how angry I was. I didn’t say a word to her, but the hostility was radiating outward like a heat wave. She decided I was beyond appeasing and hopped into the rear of the jeep to quietly lay down.

A friend to whom I’d confessed how pissed off I was asked me shortly afterward if I was going to leave and sacrifice the last run of the day. Hell, no! In my mind, there are times to just call it a day and just walk away.  And there are other times to persevere and fight through it. The fine point is to know which time is which. I chose to fight through.

My last run of Sunday was with Camm. I wanted to depart on a far happier note. On a statistical basis, my last runs of the day with Camm are often very good, sometimes the best of the day, as was the case on Saturday. The last run on Sunday was a jumpers run, and the sort of course that she and I typically work well together on.

I got her out of the car and assured her all was forgiven and that I still adored her. I played a few short games with her to help assure there was no fracture in our bond. I walked to the line and firmly informed her that she was in a wait position. She popped up, but I stood back and firmly told her again she was to wait. In all honesty, I should’ve been far firmer about this the entire weekend. Then I gave her the release word and we were off and flying. The run was far from perfect, but it felt as if we were both trying to understand and work with each other finally. At the end, I was proud of her for holding it together and we walked off the course tugging and playing.

We packed up and left shortly afterward for the journey home. The dogs laid down and slept for much of the way. However, my mind kept wandering back to the nipping, although the anger had long since left me. Still, I was perturbed and also bothered that perhaps Camm had not understood why I suddenly became so furious with her.

Monday came and still it was on my mind. Luckily, Monday is therapy day.

On Mondays, Camm and I, and often Brady too, go to see our teacher/mentor/coach/instructor/relationship therapist.

She is usually our teacher/mentor/coach/instructor, but somewhere along the way in my journey with Brady, I realized she was our relationship counselor. Actually I know exactly when it began. In that first year when Brady and I began competing.

It’s hard to have a smart dog sometimes. It’s harder still to have a dog that knows about good handling, and when it isn’t.

In hindsight, Jasmine and Youke also knew this, but chose to express their frustration in a quieter, less dramatic fashion. In fact, I used to gripe about how perfect my relationship with Youke was in virtually every other aspect but agility. Interestingly, when I became frustrated myself, I grew more intense and he responded better. I thought I was being more demanding. I was simply being clearer and crisper in my instruction. Hmmm. Dogs like a clear directive. I now know feet pointed in one direction, shoulders and arms in another is fuzzy. I know this, I’ve gotten better at not doing it, but I admit that sometimes, I still do it anyway.

So, much as I gripe about the gripping, there’s a legitimate reason for it. Nevertheless, it’s harsh and no one should be biting the hand … shins …knees … breasts, elbows, thighs or bellies of those that feed them.

This is where my relationship counselor comes in.

I expressed my personal frustration about some of what occurred over the weekend. Of course, I first mentioned the good stuff and to my credit, I really had not lost sight of the good and positive things that happened. But I could not let go my own frustrations with the nipping business.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not unusual. It’s just that not a lot of people talk about it. I made a decision some time ago that I was going to be open about it. Of course, that decision was not entirely mine. It’s kind of obvious with my dogs.

Agility can be incredibly stimulating for a lot of dogs. Dogs react in different ways to that high stimulation environment. Some shut down. Some amp up. I can personally deal with the response to the stimulation. My feeling is that a more appropriate response can be trained. In fact, it’s worked with Brady. Similar training is starting to exhibit some positive results with Camm.

My issue is the frustration response. Gripping.

That’s where the therapy sessions come into play. My therapist calmly discusses the specific situation with me, we break down the handling decisions and the dog’s response and we try to recreate some of those specific situations in our lesson.

In today’s therapy session with Camm, while she didn’t attempt to nip me, she did clearly tell me off during a specific portion of the course we were working. Thanks to the keen eyes of our therapist/instructor, Camm’s frustration became evident. My usual drifting and rounding was occurring. I was also being tentative and not as confident as I needed to be. Camm was voicing her frustration and inability to identify where I was sending her. After a one-on-one discussion with my therapist, we re-attempted that specific part of the sequence, with me handling the line more aggressively, with no rounding and no lingering to assure that my dog was doing what she was supposed to be doing. Camm raced and jumped that section like the star athlete she is.

Trust my dog. I need to trust my dog. I also need to trust that she knows her lines if I point her there.

I’ve done the same thing to every one of my dogs. It was really only when I started to trust Brady and his training, not babysit him and to be more aggressive in my handling that we started to gel as a team. I need to do the same now for Camm.

It was a successful therapy session today. We recreated some frustrations for Camm, we discussed strategies to preempt a strike in the form of a nip as well as what to do when it happens, and we discussed ways to train Camm’s response to deep frustration. The most important part of the therapy session though was, as it always is, working on changing my behavior, er, working on improving my handling. That latter will help with perhaps eliminating frustrations altogether.

Well, a woman and her dog can dream anyway.


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