I truly have not missed doing much in the way of agility for the past year.
A year ago I had a great time at the last agility trial in my area that was held the weekend before the governor of the state shut everything down. However, it was also the trial where I realized that Rhys was likely not gonna be my next agility “superstar.” I made the decision that weekend after an incident at the trial that he wasn’t going to trial for at least a year, and maybe never again. I was truly okay with that, although a bit sad. In that respect, The Covid Times hit at the right time for he and I. 2019 was a full, successful and busy year for my business, but at the expense of my own dogs in many ways. 2020 gave me a chance to reconnect and fix that, at the expense of my declining business.
I suspect that Rhys’s traumatic and long overnight by himself in the woods last summer helped him realize that maybe being a Big Independent Dog wasn’t all that he thought it would be and maybe his Human was good for more than just feeding him good food, taking him to cool places so he could run and explore, and fighting him for more room on the bed.
Our bond became tighter, but we were still a hot and inconsistent mess when it came to agility classes when those resumed in the second half of the year. In our more focused private lessons we were pretty good, but we also had the luxury of having the The Relationship Counselor as our instructor and we focused mainly on skills and drills. I finally realized that the group class was souring not only me on agility, but him as well and teaching us both to work in a constant negative emotional state. Interestingly, after a bit of time off again, when we resumed our private lessons, we were both more relaxed and focused. In fact, we managed to impress The Relationship Counselor one Friday morning during a lesson when she casually suggested we do an entire course and we nailed it to criteria and perfection.
I had divulged to her that Rhys was unlikely to cut it as a serious competition dog and that I was okay with that. I was more than okay with it. I still wanted to take lessons and learn with him as agility is a great activity for dogs overall in terms of the physical and mental aspects of the training. Plus, he’s a fun dog to work with and presents me with a lot of challenges given his speed and stride length, not to mention his power, so continuing lessons helps me as a handler.
I think my actual words to The Relationship Counselor where along the lines of “I really don’t care anymore.” And it was true.
A magical thing happened. Not caring meant no pressure. No pressure meant more fun. Suddenly we were not only having actual fun, but we were good.
Still, Rhys easily goes over the top and he has a pretty negative history of association with an actual competition ring.
Meanwhile, during the late summer and fall months of The Covid Dark Times, I realized Brady and Camm were both very close to major championships in the agility organization in which we mainly compete. Brady was up for his third and Camm was up for her first. But alas, no trials. However, the organization has long had a video run program in place and it became the way in which many of us continued to garner qualifying scores in 2020. While many people I know were doing video runs every week, I wasn’t nearly that motivated, plus my favorite place to go is around 90 minutes and a toll bridge away. Still, once I had that goal in my sights, it was a goal I wanted to accomplish, particularly for Camm.
Camm and Brady earned their respective championships in early December 2020. Mission accomplished.
Suddenly, I really didn’t care about agility at all.
Sure, I missed the camaraderie. But many of the people I truly would want to hang out, I was already seeing on a fairly regular basis. During The Dark Covid Times, I was lucky enough to establish a core group of friends that I was able to go on walks with or to go hiking with, or – god forbid! – even to picnic or tailgate with. The Covid Times would have been black times indeed if it wasn’t for these wonderful women.
But back to agility. Once I accomplished my goals with Brady and Camm, I had no goals left to try to achieve. Now, I truly didn’t give a damn about agility.
With Youke being retired after obtaining multiple big ribbons, Brady turning 11 years old, having his own closet full of big ribbons and becoming the agility dog of my dreams, Camm earning her big ribbons in 2020, and Rhys clearly not being a competition dog any time soon, if ever, I thought about simply not competing anymore. It was actually an appealing thought. I’ve played dog agility for about 15 years. My life is very much in flux and with the start of 2021, even more so thanks to a tree that fell on my house.
However, I really enjoy the dog agility community here in the Pacific Northwest and I truly love the special human friends I have made.
So when a friend asked if I’d be the trial secretary for her trial that was held this past weekend, naturally I said yes.
Initially, I figured I just might enter Camm and Brady in a few runs. Then I thought I wouldn’t enter any of my dogs. Then I thought maybe I’d enter just Brady as he truly loves agility, but not enter Camm as she’s often frustrating for me as her handler to run and I’m not really sure sometimes how much she actually likes it. Also, sometimes I’m not really sure how much I like running her.
In fact, I thought about just retiring Camm.
She’s only nine years old, and for my dogs between five and ten years of age has been a prime period. Physically, with all the hiking we do, the dogs are in great condition. But when we sometimes fool around in the yard or on hikes playing what I like to call agility tricks, she’s been extremely vocal and doing her patented pogo stick up and down barking in my face. Her frustration barking and pogo stick maneuver was in full bloom toward the end of last year when we were working toward her big ribbon. The behavior ruined a number of runs because I simply could not get her to cease and desist with the yelling at me and actually get to work. In fairness to her, it’s a behavior born out of frustration, usually with me, but it’s also a pattern that she has a hard time breaking once she gets into it.
The more I thought about going into this weekend though without a dog to run, or to only run Brady in a few runs, the more disheartened I felt. Ultimately, I decided to run Brady and Camm in most of the runs offered.
As usual these days, I took the dogs out on short hikes during the week. Brady and Rhys ran really hard on Wednesday and Brady seemed to be favoring a paw on Thursday afternoon.
I decided to scratch Brady from the runs I’d entered him in for Friday and to substitute Rhys instead at the lower levels.
Actually, what I decided was to bring Camm and Rhys to the trial and to leave Brady and Youke at home. Camm was officially entered. I scratched Brady’s runs and figured I would maybe run Rhys in Brady’s place but at the lower levels. Maybe.
Ultimately, Rhys did do some runs on Friday. I had only one criteria. I wanted to work as a team. Not a perfect and well-tuned team, but I did want to work together. If I saw that we were disconnecting, which has been a frequent problem except during our private lessons, I would stop the run immediately, attempt to gather him up quickly and leave the ring, and not return. I absolutely did not give a shit about a qualifying score.
Because I was able to to, I ran him in back to back runs and at the end of the two classes he ran as he was the last “tall” dog of the class anyway.
A magical thing happened. For the first time since the very first trial we entered, we worked together, I could feel that invisible rope held between the two of us and it was clear he could as well. Not only that, but because I truly didn’t care about anything but maintaining the bond, I was relaxed and having fun with him. Rhys, despite being a very independent and hard-headed dog, is ultra sensitive to my emotions. He stayed relaxed and happy because I stayed relaxed and happy. And what’s even better, I didn’t consciously have to tell myself to be relaxed and happy, I just was. Because I didn’t give a fuck.
On our last run, we did have a moment of disconnection and Rhys did what he has always done, he circled me, outrun style. The magic was though that when I told him calmly that we weren’t going to play that, he came right back and worked as best as he was able to in that moment. It was a win.
Although I was sorely tempted on Saturday and Sunday to enter him in a few more runs, I ultimately opted not to and I think it was a smart decision. I was busy running Camm and Brady and doing trial secretary stuff and I don’t think I could’ve been there for him as much as he needs.
I was also tempted to run Youke is a few classes, but decided not to and I’m pleased with my decision. He didn’t get to do as much as he’d liked to have done due to crappy rain, wind and chill March air, but he still got to play Ball. He indicated several times he thought he should be getting out of the Living Room on Wheels for his turn to go run agility, but I have to wonder how much of that was years of habit and knowing that good things happen after each run like lots of treats and toy play.
Brady was ecstatic to be running agility once I gave him the all clear for Saturday and Sunday.
It is amazing to me that running Brady now is comfortable and hugely fun. It’s always been fun, but in that edge of your seat, holy hell, better hang on by a thread, this is going to be a thrill ride kind of way. It’s still a thrill, and I still better be on my game, but in a more comfortable, we’ve been together a long time kind of way.
Brady had to announce his arrival into the ring and at the start line on nearly every run – a habit that has become hysterically funny and endearing now. His aging and greying face eagerly anticipating each run was achingly sweet and touching.
But lest I forget who I was dealing with, Brady got so pissed off at me on Sunday when I tried a foolish and ill-timed fancy blind cross sort of maneuver that he screamed at me the entirety of the rest of the course while simultaneously charging at me with snapping jaws and running the course at the same time. Brady is still the best agility coach I’ll ever have, human, canine or otherwise. We may be a bit older and mellower, but he does not tolerate foolishness and does not forgive stupidity, and I better not try that shit again with him!
As for the dog I thought about retiring because we both get so frustrated sometimes? Well, guess who had an awesome trial?
No one can push my buttons like Camm at times. Also, no one can simply delight me like Camm at times. Often this is one and the same. The difference? If I care about the outcome, it’s maddening. If I do not give a damn, it is simply delightful and she is the most sparkly, sassy, funniest dog to run. Ever.
For her entire agility career Camm is supposed to have adhered to a two on, two off stopped contact criteria, meaning she stops at the end of the a-frame or dogwalk (and teeter) with her two front feet in the dirt and her two back feet planted on the wood plank. The problem with this, for Camm anyway, is that she’s fast and wants to do things fast and why in the world would anyone ask her to slow down when she can go fast? The problem with this for me is that Camm is fast and I am not superhuman and able to get into position to cue her properly when she races down the contact equipment. The battle for us both is that she actually has a gorgeous natural running contact that many teams would kill to have and spend years training to have properly. However, as with every single dog I’ve ever seen in person or televised with a running contact, contact zones eventually get missed or leaped.
Camm did her patented running contacts the first third of the trial, then when I did some training in the ring on how this was not how we do it and asked for Stoopid Stopped Contacts instead, she then flagrantly leaped the contact zones, looking over her should at me with a very clear, “fuck off, this is how Cammi does it” look. We did walk off two courses after this exchange occurred, but I was laughing behind my required face diaper and she knew it. Plus, she still got cookies – even if it was only three instead of five.
In typical Cammi fashion, during the last run of the weekend with contact equipment, she nailed her two on, two off criteria while throwing me a defiant look of success that she had actually thought to do it on her own. I praised her profusely and congratulated her on doing a Stoopid Stopped Contact, while laughing as I read the thought bubble steaming out of her head – “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW??? MY WORK HERE IS DONE!” Then we promptly left the course to play a massive game of tug and to have some dried fish skin. Well, she had the dried fish skin. I had a small vending machine sized bag of Fritos later.
Camm just had me smiling with glee at her antics all weekend. All of my dogs pattern quickly and easily, meaning that they learn a course and how it flows or the directions of the course after an attempt or two. All of my dogs also scan a course at the start line and make decisions that I can sometimes not influence at the start line. This trial was a double-run format, meaning that we ran the same course twice. Every single time, whether we did it well the first time or not, when Camm went to run it the second time, she basically told me to get the hell out of her way so she could run her course. Sometimes this makes me look like an amazing handler, mostly to the uninitiated. Other times this makes me look like a tawdry accessory from a decade ago, embarrassingly unneeded and better left at home.
She was just a naughty, opinionated little sass all weekend and it was so much fun. Good times because I did not care about whether or not we qualified and the more sassy she was, the more fun it was.
Camm isn’t going to retire after all.
My dogs also learned this weekend that just because our house has suddenly become a lot smaller with the inability to use half of it and because we basically reside in either the office or the main bedroom these days due to the briefly aforementioned tree, things can actually get a lot smaller.
On Saturday we stayed in a friend’s RV for the night after the trial. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m adept at stepping around and over dogs that have to be with me at every step I take. Because I’m here to tell you that with four border collies in a RV, and not a huge RV, no one has to move at all in order to be very near to the Human.
Of course, when I went to go to bed, three of the four were already in the bed when I turned around after changing into sleeping clothes and the fourth was on the floor in front of the step to get onto the bed.
Overall, despite not caring about doing agility very much, it was a really good agility weekend with really good dogs and good people
YoBaCaRy and I are on the precipice of change.
It somehow seems fitting that this should occur on the last month of December in the year 2020.
This year has been a lot of different things for most of the world, and most of it not particularly good. Still, some of those ridiculous and annoying memes I’ve seen posted do have an element of truth. If you were open to it, the year and the changes forced upon us certainly pushed many into some introspection.
I could get very deep here, but I’m deliberately choosing not to go into the deep end. Not quite yet anyway. But I am dipping my toes into the water and there will likely be some flailing around as I fight to keep my head above it all.
I think 2020 has been a very good year for my dogs. They have been the beneficiaries of a human forced to slow down, forced to nearly cease her business, forced to think about how she wishes to proceed. As a result, they received a lot more time in the woods.
I’ve lived a very dog-centric life for over a decade, but my dogs have not had this much of me since the summer of 2015 when my employer of 26 years severed my position. Much as I used that summer for introspection and thought about the next steps in my life, I finally relented and decided around May to do the same this year. As with that summer, my dogs have been my constant companions on treks through the woods over the past several months. Those hikes have taken us over miles and miles. Sometimes the dogs are a welcome distraction, other times peaceful and thoughtful partners as I meditate through forests. And admittedly, there are times when they have just been deeply annoying pains in the ass. See, unlike the summer of 2015 when I had Jasmine and a relatively stable little foursome, I now have Rhys.
Rhys was actually the first of my dogs to make me realize that the changes that March 2020 initiated were not necessarily a bad thing. Not a bad thing if you’re a young dog that needed a lot more attention and direction from your human anyway. Unbeknownst to him, those same changes were not necessarily so good for his voracious appetite and desire for regular meals. But, of course he did not know that and vastly appreciated the fact that his human was around a lot more and that he was getting a lot more attention. And within a few short weeks, I realized the difference as well. It was most profound with Rhys, but the older three, even with a much longer history of being with their human, blossomed with the additional time and attention as well.
Thus, I relented and finally decided to enjoy the shitshow that has been 2020, at least as much as is possible when you are a human forced to interact with as few other humans as possible while maintaining at least six feet of distance while your breathing apparatus is encased in a swath of cloth that advises you that coffee breath is a very real thing, and whilst worrying when your next roll of toilet paper may be in stock.
Thanks to my dogs and some of the wonderful humans I know that also enjoy the woods, the water, and nature in general, and taking walks, I’ve actually enjoyed much of the year. That is when I wasn’t a massive ball of stress and fear with endless loops of housing and employment concerns swooping in my head.
I attended an agility trial the weekend before Washington State essentially shut down in March. The trial was a blast and had an almost giddy atmosphere. On some level, most of us I think knew it was going to be the last one for a while. Indeed it was. March also saw not only the end of trialing, but the end of doing agility lessons.
Truthfully, I didn’t miss either that much. I’d been cutting back on trialing anyway due to the demands of my business and my focus on it. I also wasn’t able to justify the money spent on agility trials as I had in the past with the need to live “smaller” as a small business owner. I had also started to cut back on agility training for the very same reasons, coupled with the fact that Youke and Brady were older and had already Done All the Things.
Friends would tell me how much they missed training and trials. I just shrugged. I tried to understand. I did miss the human and social engagement of both. But I also just greatly enjoyed my dogs and watching them do other things that were a much bigger part of both their lives and mine. I started to observe them more – which is saying a lot since I observe them constantly. I noticed subtle changes, the result of more time spent with me and more time hiking and exploring.
As the months went by, I realized I did not miss trials at all. Part of this was because Youke and Brady have achieved more than I ever dreamed possible. Youke was already well on his way to complete retirement as I strongly believe in retiring my dogs while they’re still fit and able. I grimace when I think of some of the elderly dogs I’ve watched trying to run an agility course, working their hearts out either because they still like the game or, more often than not, because they are very good dogs trying to please their humans, humans that are pursuing their personal goals with an aging dog to feed their own human egos. I vowed long ago not to be one of those humans.
As the months rolled on, I was at peace with the realization that Youke’s last agility trial had been in March. He ended his career with a perfect and elegant Chances run. Perfect and elegant because at three weeks shy of 12 years old he’d been doing agility for over a decade, had nothing to prove any longer and, while not as fast as he once was, he still ran with his long, loping easy stride, making a course I used to think of as nearly impossible to do, look simple.
Brady isn’t, and may never be, ready to retire, but at some point I will make that decision for him. He ran in a trial in November, one of two that we’ve done since things eased up a bit after virtual lockdowns. During a Tunnelers run I saw changes that made me cringe, and truthfully, almost made me cry. It was the first time my superb and super incredible agility dog showed his age on a course. His time was still fantastic and his yards per second commendable – resulting in a first place – but the way he moved told me he is after all, not invincible.
The other reason why not competing in trials was okay was because I’d already made a decision in March about Rhys. That decision was made pre-lockdown. I realized that Rhys was not, and may never be, ready to play agility at a competition event. He’s talented and when he’s not overly aroused, he’s good, but competition events do not bring out his best. Once we were allowed to resume training again, I made the decision that I still want to train with him. It’s good for me as a handler and it’s good for him to engage his body and brain. However, over the summer and fall I watched him disintegrate in group classes, while he thrived in our weekly private sessions. In our private sessions I have the luxury of a super flexible instructor who can adjust according to what she sees and thinks he needs at that moment and who doesn’t have the burden of instructing and dealing with other teams in that moment, the luxury of time to work with Rhys and my instructor on those things, and the lack of pressure to do full courses or to be perfect. That lack of pressure, for both me and him, is better for the both of us. All my dogs feed off my emotions, positive or negative, but Rhys more so than the others. I become frustrated and flummoxed, begin feeling pressure and stress, and it travels right down to him.
Rhys and I will continue to do private lessons, but I’ve decided group lessons are off the table for now.
That left Camm. Camm has been the only reason I’ve remotely thought about trialing.
In early March, Camm obtained her agility championship in CPE. It was a fantastic moment and a joyful one for me – because that whole human ego thing. I think though she was appreciative of the excitement too, especially since she got a lot of cookies and her aunties were pretty happy for her too. In March, she was also six qualifying Chances scores away from her NADAC agility trial championship.
Despite not doing much in the way of regular training, we were syncing up as a team regularly again. That all came to a halt.
I didn’t miss trailing, I didn’t miss the pressure of competition – something I’ve greatly enjoyed in the past, but I did feel some measure of frustration that we could not work toward that goal. Admittedly, my goal and not Camm’s. The issue was that she and I have been stymied at various times just as we are syncing as a team. The most notable example was when she broke a metatarsal and was out of training and competition for months. It occurred just as we were really beginning to work well together. It took a long time before we were in sync again.
Plus, I know that Covid-19 isn’t magically going away at the end of 2020. I know that 2021 is still going to see the impact of the wrath that 2020 has brought.
Therefore, I got in my head that I wanted to work seriously toward that N-ATCH with Camm, and NADAC’s video runs program made that possible. Thus, we began working toward that achievement, slowly, steadily.
The good thing I guess is that my dogs are remarkably consistent. Camm’s “Q” ratio for video runs is on par with her “Q” ratio at actual competitions, which is to say that we don’t really “Q” all that much.
I took all of the dogs to the beach for a four-day weekend in November. It was a birthday trip for Camm and I as we are about a week apart in dates, and a sort of fuck you to 2020 for a while so the dogs could run to their hearts’ content on the beach and I could both forget about the real world for a while and contemplate my future steps. Many deep thoughts that weekend, but mostly happiness at being alone on a beach in the mist with the surf pounding in my ears while watching my dogs run, play and explore. They also attempted to eat and roll in a few dead fish and crabs, but thankfully not the dead sea lion they found washed up on the beach.
Maybe that worked. More likely, working Camm in the backyard after a failed effort the weekend before and reminding her that turning around and barking incessantly at me isn’t helpful to our teamwork, was the key that finally did it.
Anyway, this past weekend Camm finally achieved the one remaining goal in agility I had for her.
Brady also did a thing the same day and earned his third NADAC agility championship title. I figured why not. He was was neck and neck with Camm going into the summer with the needed Chances qualifying runs, he’s more consistent than she is and – SOMETHING I NEVER THOUGHT I’D EVER SAY, he’s a pleasure to run these days. Plus, he’ll be 11 years old in a few weeks and I’m not sure how much longer we’ll have to play agility games.
With the the achievement of Brady’s third N-ATCH and Versatility NATCH (which means we’ve Done All the Things Very Well) and Camm’s N-ATCH and Versatility N-ATCH, I have for the first time in over a decade, no agility goals. None.
I think I may be done.
Probably not done with agility altogether and probably not completely done with agility goals. But no goals for my current crew and any future goals, presently undefined, are years ahead if I continue to pursue the sport, and I’ll let the dog or dogs I have at the time play a significant role in defining those goals.
Any agility i play with my dogs at this point, training, play or competition, will be gravy. It feels oddly freeing, yet very ungrounded. I’m okay with that.
Agility, as I’ve said for years, has been a part of our lives, but doesn’t define us.
We still have a lot of trails and beaches to explore.
This has been a weekend to remember. First though, THANK YOU TOP DOG for once again putting on an awesomely fun CPE trial! There’s probably a reason that three of my competition dogs have earned C-ATCHes at your trials (and the only one that didn’t made his debut at one and went on to earn many elsewhere).
Camm joined Jasmine (with whom I earned my very first championship anything in dog agility) , Youke and Brady on Sunday by getting her first Big Ribbon in dog agility – her CPE Agility Champion title, or C-ATCH.
The weekend did not start out very promising though.
I started puking violently Thursday night after feeling pretty yucky most of Thursday, and much as I wanted to rally on Friday and go to the trial that I took a rare day off for, I just couldn’t do it. Food poisoning and exhaustion from the pain I’d been in all week from my lower leg – that I’d somehow mysteriously injured a week earlier – just rendered me completely immobile. I really cannot recall a day in recent years that I recorded ZERO steps. I guess the good news was that I had already taken the day off, but it sucked spending it in bed all day. However, I had four amazingly sweet dogs to sleep with for all the hours with me (despite it being a really nice day). People, teach your dog(s) to chill. It may come in handy one day. And they did it after a week of doing very little due to the afore-mentioned injured leg.
The other somewhat bright spot was that I was forced to rest my leg. That ended up being a very good thing.
Then I realized on Friday that Rhys wasn’t feeling well either. Not sure what he ate, but I know I will never eat a breakfast sandwich from a huge chain known for its golden arches ever again.
Still wasn’t feeling it Saturday, but didn’t have to be at the trial until later in the afternoon. Left Youke and Brady at home, took Camm, because she was the reason I entered the trial, and took Rhys to keep an eye on him.
Despite my fog, inability to move well and the fact that Camm’s been out of agility training since last fall, we had a smoking Jackpot run. But the fog and bum leg made our Standard run a disaster on what should’ve been a fast, easy course. Takeaways: Camm hasn’t forgotten a thing, is still blazing fast, still needs information much faster from me and gets pissed if I’m not holding up my end as the alleged handler. At least she had the decency to recognize that I am part of the team instead of trying to do it all by herself and her way.
Came home Saturday evening, through a freak hailstorm, and had some chicken soup, my first “real” food since Thursday morning. Water, ginger ale and jello doesn’t really count. Made a soup for Rhys who had been symptom free and fasting himself for nearly 24 hours. Apparently waiting around and worrying about us was stressful for Youke and Brady, so we all turned in at 9 pm.
I awoke feeling hugely better at 6:30 on Sunday. And my leg felt fantastic. Of course, what better way to ruin an injury that is finally starting to heal than by running some agility, on hard packed dirt. But I at least hedged my bet by wrapping my ankle and leg, again, something I’ve been doing for the past week. Except for Friday, when my activity consisted of letting the dogs out a few times.
Since my stomach didn’t feel as tender, I risked a cup of coffee and drove to the trial with Camm and Rhys. I had no illusions that we’d finally get the one clean – no faults – Standard run we needed for her C-ATCH, but figured it was worth a try.
As we got closer to the trial site, I realized the chances were pretty slim, but I was okay with that. Rhys was entered for a few runs and I figured there might be some training opportunities for both dogs.
As I went out to The LRoW to get Camm, I experienced a very deliberate shift in my mindset and thought process. No, I told myself, this is the day. Camm is going to get her C-ATCH today. I’m going to be the handler she needs and WE are going to do it.
As I took her out of The LRoW, I looked at her and told her she was a champion because she was my best girl dog, the most sparkly and spunky of all dogs and there will never be another like her and I believed in her and I loved her and that I knew that she was going to get her C-ATCH today.
Because I really did know it.
I wasn’t even nervous when we stepped into the ring.
Not gonna lie and say it was a perfect run. It wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t horrid. We’ve had far worse runs that qualified. While my mobility was improved in that run, the tape made flexion harder and I couldn’t run as hard as I would’ve liked. I also wasn’t timely with some cues. And I made a handling decision that was super awkward, but assured us of an excellent weave performance and no popping out. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Camm qualified and it ended up being a fairly typical Standard run for us.
We had one other run on Sunday, a Jumpers Run, that ended up being decent too, but had an off course. The rest of Camm’s day was spent playing some Ball, playing and walking with her LittleBiggerBrotherBestFriendWrestlingPartner Rhys, and visiting with aunties and making new aunties.
And having her picture taken a lot. A lot. A whole lot of posing for Camm today. Camm is very good at posing and like any world-class supermodel, is paid very handsomely for her labor.
I’m so high on my sparkly, sassy wee girl Camm that I pretty much do not care if today wrecked my leg for the next few weeks.
Rhys started his agility training in early 2018 and I’ve dabbled a little here and there with him in agility since late in 2018.
I stayed true to my promise to myself, and to him, to not start any real agility training until he was a year old. I firmly believe in letting puppies be puppies and although we did do formal and informal training and did some classes, I stayed away from agility equipment and formal handling. Mainly, I spent that first year helping him be the best dog he could be for my lifestyle and exposing him to his future life. Agility is ultimately a few minutes of competition. Life is everything else.
Rhys and I started agility classes together in January 2018. I decided I wanted to take a slow and steady path. I was in no hurry and had three other perfectly capable dogs to take to agility trials and compete. I also had specific goals with those dogs I was targeting and taking Rhys to trials and trying to compete with him was a distraction.
Our training progressed. Not quite as slowly and steadily as I had anticipated, but more like in fasts bursts of understanding and in bouts of frustration. That latter was more often me, but I know he’s been frustrated as well.
Despite a promising first trial, I knew Rhys was not ready for prime time and he confirmed it when I entered him in a few runs at a trial in early 2019.
I continued to ask him the occasional question by taking him to a trial and entering a few runs here and there. The answer during much of 2019 was usually a very resounding not yet ready.
There were moments of utter brilliance and glimpses of a fantastic athlete, but I had to temper my enthusiasm. I learned from my experience with Youke that starting too young and pushing too hard is not good. I also was realistic based upon my experience with my other dogs to not set expectations. Thus, I went into 2019 with no set goals and absolutely no expectations for Rhys.
We had a few really fantastic runs in competition, and we had some absolute disasters. In fact, we had both at a trial in September. It was that trial, at which I was also the trial secretary and was running my other three dogs, that I came to the conclusion that Rhys needed my full, utmost and undivided attention if we were to actually compete.
I love running multiple dogs. I love the high, I love the adrenaline and I love figuring out what each needs from me, even when running the same course. However, I’ve competed with the three older dogs for several years now and they are known entities. Youke and Brady are tried and true teammates. The fact that I feel so comfortable running Youke and Brady was unfathomable a few years ago, yet here we are.
Now that Youke and Brady are both double-digit dogs in terms of age, I must face their eventual retirement from agility. Brady will likely be competing for a while. He loves the sport. But I am the human with the allegedly larger brain, so I must be smart about how often he runs. His days of doing a complete trial weekend are over, despite what he’d like. Youke will likely formally retire sometime in 2020. He’s achieved everything I’ve dreamed, and beyond. He likes to play agility still sometimes, but at nearly 12 years old, he ready to move to something else. I’ve decided that I’ll see how he feels about truffle hunting.
Therefore, I’m going into the year with the resolve to focus on Camm and on Rhys.
I hope to achieve Camm’s agility trial championship in CPE early this year. Additionally, I am hoping we can make a few more notches toward her agility trial championship in NADAC. My goal, as it was with the boys, is to get it by the time she’s 10 years old.
I entered Camm for one day by herself at a CPE trial in late December put on by my club. I discovered something rather remarkable. To me anyway. She enjoyed having my undivided attention and I was more relaxed running just her.
We are still in the experimental stage on this, so I am not entirely sure my relaxed attitude was completely due to running just one dog. I only entered a few runs each day and I had the weekend free for agility with almost no other obligations after an extremely busy December, especially around the last two weeks with the holidays for work.
One of the reasons I like running multiple dogs is that I get incredibly bored at agility trials running just one dog as there’s so much down time. But during that weekend it was mild and sunny out and Camm and I had plenty of time for some Ball and to walk around. It was a great way to bond and spend some one-on-one time with my sassy girl.
Again, an experiment, but Camm was nearly perfect all weekend.
On Sunday of that weekend, I entered Rhys.
Rhys only did four runs that day. As usual, I trained in the ring for two of them.
I cannot express enough how much I love that virtually all of the various agility organizations have loosened up and now allow some form of training in the ring. The experience of being allowed to use a toy or to repeat a sequence is invaluable with a young, inexperienced dog, especially for criteria performance and confidence.
I’d been mixing up training in the ring with doing runs for real in all of 2019 with Rhys (and sometimes for the older dogs too). Since I had no goals or expectations, why not take advantage of these opportunities? I believe that the more fun and confidence I can instill early on in competition, the better. Hopefully, I have years ahead to set goals and garner achievements. And if I don’t? We’ll still have had a lot of fun playing. And they tell me agility is supposed to be a fun thing to do with your dog.
I ran two runs “for real” with Rhys that day. He obtained a qualifying score in one with a lovely smooth run. He did not qualify in the other, but that was because I was so blown away by his performance during the run that by the end that I neglected to actually handle the last line of jumps.
I’m still not going to set any goals for Rhys in agility in 2020, but he told me he is ready for competition.
Brady will be ten years old tomorrow.
Well, December 13 is the day I designated as his birthday because that’s the day I brought him home. Nine years ago.
Let me repeat that. BRADY WILL BE TEN YEARS OLD AND I’VE BEEN WITH THIS GUY FOR NINE YEARS!!
That’s a whole lot of adventures.
Nine years seems like a few minutes ago, yet also a lifetime ago. I’ve learned from every dog that has entered my adult life. Sadly, the lessons Kip tried to teach me didn’t sink in until long after his death at a far too young six years old. Sylvie gave me many, many years and I think was so grateful for her rich and adventurous life after being rescued from the streets of a slum in Lewiston, Maine and sprung from the shelter days before a very dark fate that she was willing to put up with almost anything. It’s a good thing she was such a good dog because I had her long before I was “woke” about dogs. I was still slow on the take with Jasmine, although she started me down the path toward dog geekdom and an obsession with dog agility and I did eventually listen and pay attention to what she was trying to tell me she needed. I was not allowed this luxury with Brady. Brady required that I pay immediate attention and LISTEN NOW!
Someday, I always say, I’ll write a book about Brady. And I will. Brady has taught me everything.
Suffice it to say for now that Brady’s picture could be beside so many of those adages you read about the dog-human journey.
“It’s all about the journey.”
“You get the dog you need”
In a dark, cold corner of a barn used for agility, and on the last day of a three day trial over Thanksgiving of 2010, this remarkable red dog looked deep into my eyes and asked me a question. Ive been answering it ever since.
Brady was not the dog I wanted, but he has been the dog I didn’t know I needed.
This meme is making the rounds in the dog training, dog agility and dog geek circles I’m surrounded within:
I’ve seen various versions of this for many years. Brady isn’t unique in that his picture could easily be inserted here.
In Brady’s case, once I accepted him for who he was, quirks and opinions and all, both of our lives improved. I wrote about it a few years ago in Come As You Are
Now, as this feisty, opinionated, demanding, and sometimes plain weird, red dog lies quietly sleeping on the eve of this momentous birthday, I can’t help but reflect back on all we’ve accomplished together.
First and foremost, Brady is a wonderful hiking companion. We’ve had a lot of fun adventures over the years, some a bit more adventurous than planned. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of Brady’s adventures have shaved years off my life. If I don’t live to my goal of 100 years, I’m going to blame it on Brady.
I can’t even begin to think how many miles this dog has covered in the foothills and mountains of western Washington.
Brady has also traveled a lot of miles via car for various road trips. Most of those were for agility shows, but more than a few were for some epic adventures, including the first time he got to go to a friend’s camp on a lake in Eastern Washington and was able to swim for as much and as long as he wanted. To this day I still laugh about how exhausted he and Youke were. The road trip and week we spent on the Oregon coast was pretty special too. And of course there was the trip to Northern California and the house we stayed in that had a swimming pool. My dogs are rock stars, so naturally they got to party in the pool. Brady also thought it was an added bonus that there was a chicken coop on site, complete with chickens. Brady likes to watch chickens. And of course, there are all the road trips we’ve done to Vancouver Island for agility, walks through the woods and romps and the beach.
We’ve gone to a lot of fun places and had good times sightseeing.
Then there’s agility.
Brady is quite simply that once in a lifetime agility dog. Which is actually pretty funny considering that I didn’t think so many years ago that I’d be able to compete with him.
By the time I’d had Brady a couple of months I knew he had issues and was highly reactive and had enormous environmental sensitivities. We’d started foundation training with a new trainer to me and his progress and delight with the process was fascinating and infectious. Plus, I was learning many new things too, including how to become a better handler. While I’d like to credit my trainer, who became The Relationship Counselor – and she does deserve a great deal of credit – the real work to improve my handling was done by Brady. I do not (mostly) affectionately sometimes call him The Agility Nazi for no reason. Bad handling and late cues were dealt with swiftly and harshly, and usually with a correction. Which is a nice way of saying I got bitten, a lot.
As a result of his environmental issues, his dog reactivity issues and his lack of impulse control, I decided that I’d continue to train agility with Brady for the simple reason that I was learning to be a better handler and he was fun to work with, despite his swift reprimands. I figured my other dogs would benefit from my training and handling with Brady. And they did.
Those that insisted that I’d be able to compete and trial with him one day had no idea of the scope of his issues. In fact, I think there are maybe two people that have an inkling of the extent of what I went through with Brady. After all, there were many that had no idea I even had this red dog. Two, three years after he’d come to live with me I’d still get asked if he was my “new dog.”
Fast forward to our first trial, and over two years of intense training and counter-conditioning – and after I’d entered and then withdrawn from three trials – and Brady – hugely uncomfortable outside of the ring, trying to glare at dogs and snarling under his breath – and then it all magically disappearing for the 30-45 seconds we were in the ring.
It sounds dramatic, but dog agility saved Brady.
However, it was not instantaneous success. Our road was filled with bumps, crevices and potholes and much of the time it was an unpaved road. That training and counter-conditioning work continued for many more years.
There was the ongoing challenge of entering and exiting arenas and barns to get into the ring, there was the constant challenge of Brady’s nipping – okay, biting – of me, there was the entire year of no contact performance on the a-frame or dogwalk and there were the nearly constant arguments on course about my handling. I knew when I was perfect when he was silent and that was a rarity because Brady nitpicked about everything in the beginning and for a long time after. We had problems with end of run behavior – as in I didn’t have one and didn’t know I needed one and he invented one I didn’t care for – rushing in and biting me because the fun was suddenly over and Brady is a dog that thinks every agility course should consist of at least 30 obstacles.
And then there was Brady’s teeter fear.
Brady was unable to perform on a teeter for seven years. Of course I didn’t try to get him to perform a teeter during that entire time. I asked The Relationship Counselor to cease trying after six months. I briefly tried to train the teeter with him a year later after succumbing to some pressure from peers and other instructors. At that point in time I was competing only in NADAC with Brady as that organization doesn’t allow a teeter to be used. I was competing with him a bit in CPE, but we couldn’t run Standard courses because that organization allows the teeter, and we’d avoid it if we had other options and we could still qualify in the CPE games courses. I pulled him from courses in which the teeter could not be avoided. During The Year Without Contacts, I trained a lot in ASCA as at the time that organization had the most generous allowed training in the ring rules, but we avoided the teeter altogether.
The Relationship Counselor though is a stubborn and determined woman underneath her understanding and wonderful demeanor and she was not to be defeated by Brady, admittedly in her personal Top Five of Training Challenges Ever Presented.
I not so jokingly told her several years ago that we could revisit Brady’s teeter fear after he got his Agility Trial Championship in NADAC (N-ATCH). Although Brady primarily trained on USDAA type courses and was fantastic, the lack of teeter prevented us from ever thinking about becoming serious about competing in that organization. I’d always loved NADAC and quite frankly, I enjoy the distance and speed often required in that venue. My aspiration was to earn N-ATCHes with both Youke and Brady and I started working to earnestly improve the distance skills we needed.
But a few summers ago, seemingly bored and after I had not seen her for a few weeks, The Relationship Counselor casually dropped that we should working again on training Brady how to perform the teeter.
I’m not sure what happened in seven years, but I suspect that Brady simply gained a lot of confidence in himself and trust in his person. He demonstrated that he was willing to learn. By the end of the summer, Brady had a teeter performance.
In September 2018, Brady earned his N-ATCH with a perfect Chances run. It was a moment I’d fantasized about for years. But I was utterly unprepared for the enormous upswelling of emotion. I had entered the ring momentarily forgetting what was at stake, probably because I’d just run Youke and Camm on the same course. When the run ended and we’d done our celebratory run around the ring, with Brady grabbing the ribbon I was handed at one point and tearing a piece apart, huge, hot tears streaked down my face as we departed the ring. I started sobbing, not because he’d sort of ruined the ribbon – he did, but some clever stapling when we got home kind of fixed it – okay, it’s still a bit askew – but because of how very far Brady had come.
Then, this November, Brady earned his CPE Agility Championship or C-ATCH. Naturally I posed him on the teeter for his official victory photo.
Less than a month later and only a few weeks ago, Brady earned his N-ATCH 2 and his Versatility N-ATCH 2, which simply means he did a lot of things, some of them pretty hard, very well.
Literally so much blood, sweat and tears with this dog. Worth every salty drop shed when he crawls on top of me when I’m half laying on the couch like last night and he wants to cuddle and listen to me talk about our life together and how every single day I’m glad he asked me if I was the human who he was searching for.
While I have never been one to stress out because I didn’t have big Friday night or Saturday night plans, I’m pretty sure that when I was in my 20s I also wasn’t expecting to be spending a Saturday evening happily munching away on pickles and sharing them with my dogs.
I’m pretty sure that my “normal” friends think I’ve completely lost it and have fallen into the abyss of Crazy Dog Lady. And perhaps I have. But I cannot say that I’m unhappy to be intermittently tossing a bite of pickle to a dog, then having a bite for myself, then tossing another bite to another dog, before taking a bite myself. We finished the entire jar that way.
I suppose I could be dressed nicely and drinking cocktails with fancy people instead of in a hoodie and with a dog licking pickle juice off my leg.
Weird? I suppose. But not that weird for me. I had an excellent role model for this. My mother.
Today has been fairly low key overall. Went to an agility trial, made a huge donation, came home and napped.
Except that during today’s particular nap, Rhys was curled up on top of my chest.
This is not an easy feat when you are nearly 40 pounds and measure over 21 inches at the shoulder.
While I had fun at today’s agility trial, doing the agility just wasn’t a priority. I opted to sleep in instead of arriving first thing in the morning for the Jumpers runs I’d entered because although officially the second day of summer, it was barely 50 degrees when I let the dogs out at 6 am. Despite that, I still opted to don a bright pair of yellow shorts, because – damn it, it’s freaking summer! Naturally, I was cold for much of the day.
Except when I was running dogs. Four dogs to be exact. And not doing it particularly well. Hence, the large donation to the club I made today in entry fees and in exactly one qualifying score. I think. I didn’t check before I left.
I’ve been entering Rhys in a few runs here and there mainly because most of the organizations are allowing some sort of toy in the ring to play with your dog. Obviously it’s then a non-qualifying run, but it’d be a non-qualifying run with Rhys anyway at this point.
This is Rhys when his brain is fully engaged and functioning. This was not Rhys today.
Doing the Agility Things is hard for Rhys. There are so many things to remember and so many things around and just overall, there are So Many Things. It makes a dog’s head explode.
Rhys is a Thinker. I love that about him. He disguises it though with an exterior of bluff and independence. I’ve found that he really does like playing agility, but it is really hard to concentrate on All the Things going on All the Time and still Do All the Things.
He’s getting better, but it is exhausting.
This is Rhys after agility class and just prior to conking out on the ride home and then conking out once he is home. I feel like I’m making his head explode on a regular basis.
Which is why we’ve been doing a lot of other things lately.
Hiking with my dogs is the best meditation and the thing that balances all of us.
The only rule I have for the dogs is that they need to check in with me and they have to come if I call them. I love watching them be their naturally athletic dog selves and how they use their noses. It is also interesting how they engage with me even when I’m not asking them to. It’s like hiking with four excited little kids who are constantly pointing out things and asking questions, roughhousing, tugging on my hands to see if I saw that thing over there, and then running and skipping just because it feels good. And we all sleep well afterward.
Agility on the other hand is exhausting, but in a completely different way. I think that agility is draining, rather than recharging. Even for Brady who is my one dog that absolutely loves to play agility. They all like it to some extent and it’s a fantastic way to engage them mentally, but I also think it can take a lot out of them.
It certainly took a lot out of Rhys today. He was in the ring maybe for a grand total of 90 seconds and ran around like a chicken with his head cut off for most of it, unable to properly process how to put two obstacles together in a row. The one good thing he did was when I asked him to run the dogwalk and perform his contact criteria. I simply wanted him to be successful, at something. And he was. But asking him to weave in a trial atmosphere is simply not in his wheelhouse right now due to all the other Stuff that is involved, such as strange dogs, strange people, dogs he knows, people he knows, different smells, tents outside, dogs and people walking around the rings, grass instead of dirt …. just so Much Stuff.
The thing that touches me to my soul about this dog is that after a day like this, he wants me, his Human.
Everyone was more than willing to nap when we got home. As usual, Youke hopped on the couch with me, securing his sweet spot nestled up against my side. Brady, who doesn’t typically want to be on the couch with me but who has been more needy of late, put his head on my chest for petting. Rhys had climbed up to the back of the couch, one of his favorite spots. But he looked at me and he looked at Brady. I knew he wanted to climb down and nestle up against me. Rhys tested by extended a paw downward and touching me, while looking at Brady. Brady stared back at him and sneered a bit. But I knew who needed his Human most. I gently pushed Brady off and asked him to lie down. As soon as he did, Rhys slowly lowered himself onto my chest and curled into a tight ball. He let out a huge sigh as he nestled his head under my chin.
This is the dog that does not care to be touched when he is in “work” mode and isn’t really into letting most people pet him.
We napped like that for a couple of hours. Youke adjusted his position a few times, but Rhys didn’t move, other than to let his body relax a bit and expand from a tight little ball to more along the lines of draping my upper body with his body.
Later this week, we’ll go get our zen on.