Agility Dog

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Flying over the A-Frame

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.

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Camm, December 2019 CPE. Photo by Nina Sage. Also, not real leather pants. Although that should totally be a thing.

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.

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Camm, December 2019 CPE. Photo by Nina Sage. Nailed it.

Again, an experiment, but Camm was nearly perfect all weekend.

On Sunday of that weekend, I entered Rhys.

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Rhys, December 2019 CPE. Photo by Nina Sage. Rear cross? No problem. Paws crossed? Why not?

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.

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Rhys, December 2019 CPE. Photo by Nina Sage. Banking the f*(k out of this turn.

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Rhys, December 2019 CPE. Photo by Nina Sage. The boy has power.

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.

For real.

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Rhys, December 2019 CPE. Photo by Nina Sage. Wheee-heeee!

The Big One

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When you’re so cool you gotta wear shades

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!!

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Always watching

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.

Brady, then Perry, at nine months, before that, was Banjo-wood river valley

Brady, then Banjo, a few months before I adopted him.

This meme is making the rounds in the dog training, dog agility and dog geek circles I’m surrounded within:

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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.

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Brady at around two years old. Photo credit Angie A.

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.

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Brady wiith His C-ATCH ribbon and pole. The best agility victory lap photo EVER. Photo credit to Joe Camp.

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.

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Red Dogs Rule.

 

 

Pickles and Dogs on a Saturday Night

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hiking with my dogs is the best meditation and the thing that balances all of us.

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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.

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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.

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