Dog + Outside = Therapy

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Camm is a natural supermodel

I spent a few hours in the woods with Camm today. This evening, I am relaxed and am able to take big, deep breaths.

I’m in the process of writing my Life in the Time of Covid-19 post. I’m finding that I need to mull it about quite a bit. Mostly because I do have quite a bit of fear about offending someone. I’m basically over that part now, but I’m still processing it in my head.

This post is mostly about Camm. Again.

I’ve been pretty good about getting my dogs out and walked on a regular basis in the past month. There’s a lot more I wish I could do, and likely will do, but suffice it to say that everyone is brushing up on their loose leash walking skills.

However, lack of access to the millions of acres of natural lands on a regular basis is making me a bit crabby. Then I got an omen today in the form of a rock placed off of a sidewalk.

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I make my living being outside six to eight hours a day. At this time of year, I usually come home and take my own dogs out and about for another couple of hours. On average since late fall 2019, I walked 13 miles daily for just work alone. I clocked over 20 miles walked on March 12. The day before a lot of shit here got shut down.

Walking 20 miles in one day was a goal I had for the first half of 2020. I did it in the first quarter. Naturally, I now want to walk 25 miles in one day.

However, I’m presently settling for 10 miles a day on average now.

I need to keep active and fit because I hope someday soon that I can resume some form of my life that was Before Covid-19.

The other reason I desperately want and need to clock miles and breath fresh air is because I have asthma.

I know, that seems entirely irreconcilable.

However, I haven’t had the need for regular asthma medication for over three years and I haven’t used my rescue inhaler in almost a year.

But I found myself reaching for it last night.

It’s controversial, but asthma does have some emotional components, in addition to the very real physical aspects. Therefore, I decided I was feeling stressed and closed in and decided not to use my inhaler. Most of the tightness in my chest passed while I was watching a movie.

The main reason I suspect that I’ve not had to reach for my inhaler is tied to exercise and clean, fresh air. Guess what? The quality of most indoor air is pretty freaking bad.

The boys have been going on some pretty good walks and Youke and Brady went on an awesome off-leash hike over the weekend to a top secret location.

I decided Camm has been a bit neglected. Plus, Camm is my spirit animal and if I’m going to break some rules and breach a perimeter, there’s no one else I’d want as a partner in crime.

So we did.

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After we ran up the steep trail, the sun came out for a while.

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C’mon!

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I rarely do selfies, but I decided Me-and-Camm selfies might be a thing. The one and only take. SO FREAKING HAPPY!

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Trillium. A true sign of spring. Plus, they remind me of the rare Lady Slippers I grew up with in the Northeast.

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Then it started to hail and rain again a bit. No worries, I didn’t mind a bit. It seemed to clear and sharpen the air just a little bit more.

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And capriciously, the weather cleared again.

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Today, Camm and I lived our best lives. The run up the steep trail and the couple of hours in the fickle sun and rain combined with the smell of the woods cleared and expanded my lungs and loosened my tight shoulders. My legs pounded upward and then were light as I traversed trails. Camm and I were quiet as we both soaked in our surroundings. I laughed at her desire to jump and climb the natural obstacles that make up the woods, and to leap five feet straight up in the air at the occasional bug.

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We encountered a few other souls that felt as we did: a man with two rambunctious, but polite dogs who heeded my warning that Camm needed some space; a lone elderly lady walking silently with her hands behind her back who slipped noiselessly down a side trail as we passed; a couple walking briskly who gave us a hearty “hello” as we walked by; and a teenage runner with sweat making his shirt cling to his skinny back. The funny thing is that these would likely be the same people we’d have seen on any given weekday.

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The same viewpoint, but the clouds had lifted. Perhaps another sign.

 

Seven, and Other Numbers

This is a post with a lot of numbers in it, as well as other things.

I spent quality time today with two of my dogs one-on-one. I would have spent quality time with the other two one-on-one as well, but I have a sore leg right now and working today simply meant there were not enough hours in the day.

Not enough hours in the day is a common theme of late. My weekday schedule is packed. I’m actually turning away people, and sometimes juggling a lot of balls. Or rather, dogs. Somebody recently asked me about regular midday visits on Saturdays. I was honest and told her that I need time to spend with friends and with my own dogs and my weekends with no work are those times. Really though, who am I kidding? I mostly want to spend any and all free time with my dogs.

If I win the lottery I’m spending time, virtually all my time, with my dogs. We’d hike nearly every day, we’d do beach trips on a regular basis, and road trips would be more often – in an RV purchased specifically for road trips with dogs. Not a big RV though. A small one. I still have to be able to drive it. And we’re used to sleeping on top of each other – er, on top of me – anyway.

I have a great deal of time to think about these things when I’m walking 17 miles a day.

Yes, I walked 17 miles on Thursday. I walked about 12.5 miles with client dogs, and then because it was a beautiful day and we have light until close to 6 pm, I took my own dogs out on short walks to a neighborhood park.. But because I’m only slightly crazy, not quite certifiable, I broke the walks into two separate walks, one with Rhys and Youke, and one with Camm and Brady.

Someone called me bad ass recently due to the mileage. Nope. I simply have to work and I own four border collies. Being lazy is rarely an option, much as I’d like it to be more often. Although I must confess, my dogs are phenomenal. I hear about these people with crazy border collies that never settle down. That is simply not an option in my household. I think it’s called training. Perhaps even referred to as training an “off switch?” Hmmm.

Fun fact. I’ve walked 271 miles this month so far and there’s still a week left. For those counting steps, mine are 711,070 to date for the month.

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Bad ass Human, I want your ice cream

I’ve not had a day where I walked less than five miles since January 19. Ordinarily, and since that was a Sunday, I’d assume I spent much of the day reading on my couch. However, I know for a fact that was the last weekend I did agility with my dogs, so I just didn’t have my tracker on me for most of the day. The only day I know with certainty that I hardly moved was a Tuesday and it snowed. Because snow here cripples the infrastructure, no one needed dogs walked and I opted to stay home and just play in the yard with my four.

I know all of this super fun stuff because I decided to finally keep a log of my daily activity and miles. thus far for February, I’m averaging 12.3 miles per day. Not sure what my lowest mileage has been, but my highest has been that 17-mile day.

Based on the fact that I easily accomplished that 17 miles, and felt great that evening, I’ve set a goal for sometime within the first half of the year to pull a 20-mile day. Pretty sure it can be done if I take my dogs out after a full work day, but more likely, I’ll try to do it on a Friday when my work schedule is typically lighter and then go for a nice long hike with the dogs. The wooded trails are so much more comfortable on my body than asphalt.

I did feel great on Thursday evening and I slept very well. I felt okay on Friday too, except I made a major mistake.

I made a very poor choice in footwear.

I’ve learned in the almost five years I’ve made walking my living that footwear matters. It matters a lot. I’ve learned the lesson painfully. After trial and error, and a lot of dollars spent, I know what works for me and I know that spending my hard-earned money on quality and something that works is very important. I’ve also learned that just because I have almost never in my life prior to the last five years worn a pair of shoes out – or so I thought – doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. One of my major life lessons from the past five years is that replacing shoes is important. Tracking my miles shone even more light on this necessity.

Typically, once my regular weekday walking shoes are wearing down, I stop wearing them for everyday and make them my agility training shoes. That way I don’t care when they’re covered in hog fuel or arena dirt.

On Friday morning, I wore one such pair of sneakers to my agility lesson with Rhys. Despite my miles from the day before, my legs and feet felt great. I was in a rush when I got home after my lesson with Rhys as I had an atypically busy Friday with clients. Usually, I switch out shoes, but this time I did not. I had a nano-second of thought forecasting that I would regret this decision. That thought bubble was huge by the end of my first two client walks, one of which was a 60-minute session. I had two other 60-minute sessions with other client dogs still to come. By mid-afternoon I was vowing to keep an extra pair of good shoes in my jeep for days when I made stupid decisions.

When I got home last night, my left shin and ankle felt as if someone had whacked me with a baseball bat. It was only marginally better this morning, having subsided to a dull ache that wasn’t noticeable unless I was actually upright and walking. Or driving a jeep with a stick shift.

I took Rhys with me to my first visit of the day bright and early this morning. The dogs are ones he knows and has been friendly with in the past and I figured he could run around with them for a while and then I’d take him on a quick stroll before heading back home. Later, I thought I’d take the other three for a short hike, or if it wasn’t raining, I’d do another one-on-one with one of them.

After I fed my client dogs and assured all was well with them, I let Rhys out of my vehicle to join them. However, Rhys is a full-fledged adult border collie now and all he wanted to do was hang with me and maybe play Ball, with me. This is actually incredibly endearing and makes me happy. We had stopped by at a small local dog park the other day and Rhys was not one iota interested in hanging out with other dogs. He wasn’t rude and he allowed greetings, but he made it quite clear he wasn’t there to play with them. He wanted to sniff stuff, and then hopefully do something interesting with me.

After I finished up with my clients, I drove up to a local county park that is quite large and has numerous trails. So many in fact that I still haven’t mapped it all out in my head. Rhys is needing to spend more time on leash of late since he’s made some poor decisions lately. Rather, he’s made decisions that are super fun for him and not so delightful for me. In fact, they’re been very stressful for me.

I clipped Rhys to a long line and I figured we’d do a loop that I was very familiar with and that wasn’t too long because my leg and ankle were starting to burn as soon as we started off on our walk.

It started drizzling and between the drizzle and the early hour, we’d not really seen or heard anyone, so I decided to venture right instead of taking the known left at the fork in the road.

Seven miles and two hours later we got back to the car. Never be afraid to get lost and to keep exploring as eventually all roads lead to somewhere.

After a bit of a nap at home so my leg would stop pounding, I took Camm with me for my next couple of visits with the intention of taking her on a short walk too.

That short walk ended up being four and half miles of exploring a place I’d never been to before, and then coincidentally ending up in the very same county park I’d been at in the morning with Rhys.

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The best girl to go exploring with

I love hanging out with my four dogs and being entertained and entranced by the dynamics between them and involving me. I’m fortunate in that they are great to hike with as a group and that I have options for places to take them as a group. But I also like spending one-on-one time with them and I think that in a multi-dog household it is important to carve out that time to do this on a semi-regular basis. I often break them up into twos and do things with them, or I’ll take a single to an agility lesson, but it isn’t often that I take just one of the dogs with me for a hike or a long walk.

Based on how happy they were to be exploring today and how tired they are this evening, it was totally worth that extra effort.

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Co-Workers and Trigger Stacking

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Believe it or not, this is Brady hard at work with me on Saturday.

I had walks scheduled this weekend with my longtime client, Blueberry Buddy, and Brady and Rhys were my co-workers for the weekend.

Blueberry Buddy was my first daily walking client and I’ve walked him since he was a bratty teenager. He has the distinction of having an adult beverage named for him by a dear friend who heard my tales of exhaustion regarding him. He is my only client who has this distinction. Don’t fret though, there will likely be others. Blueberry Buddy isn’t quite his real name, but it’s close enough.

And in case you were wondering, Blueberry Buddy, the adult beverage, is delicious.

Blueberry Buddy is a very good boy these days and is one of the few dogs I’ve had stay with me at my house. I rarely have dogs stay as my crew are extremely particular about their friends and if anyone is staying at the house, they must abide by The Rules. Border Collie Rules.

I’m not even going to attempt to explain The Rules. They are numerous and they are very strict. People with border collies might understand.

I was a bit apprehensive the first time Blueberry Buddy met YoBaCaRy, therefore, he met them in stages. Rhys was a puppy at the time and had not yet developed the affliction known as Border Collie Prejudice, so he was an easy and natural first choice. Rhys thought Blueberry Buddy was pretty awesome. Youke, Brady and Camm did not. Blueberry Buddy is a labrador retriever and as a fairly young one is especially bouncy and happy and forward. Being bouncy, happy and forward is against The Rules. Youke was dismayed and made a beeline for the furthest point away. Brady was disgusted and pissy and made a beeline for the furthest point away, but not before vocalizing his disgust.

Blueberry Buddy was dismayed and sad that no one wanted to be friends. So he set his sights on Camm.

Right. Imagine how well that went over.

Camm initially ignored this giant black beast. But when he made a move on her, she quickly informed him of The Rules.

No looking at Camm.

No trying to play with Camm.

Camm is never going to be your friend. Never.

Also, don’t piss off Camm’s boys or play too rough with Rhys, because Camm will kick your ass.

Blueberry Buddy, for all of his exuberance and lack of border collie etiquette, is actually a very sweet and smart dog. He quickly learned that when you live with border collies, but you are not a border collie. at least at my house, you barely twitch and you are very polite. Also, you ask Camm’s permission first, but if you have to ask, basically you probably shouldn’t do it. Especially if it involves toys in the house.

Once The Rules were established and Blueberry Buddy learned them, everyone got along. Camm has even been on a hike and out for walks with him and has peacefully co-existed with him in my living room while we all chill and I watch TV or read.

Therefore, this weekend I figured it would be a nice change of pace for BB , as well as for myself, if I had a co-worker along. Rhys was my first choice since he and Blueberry Buddy have actually wrestled and played so nicely in the past, even playing gentle bitey-face games. However, Brady has been stressed of late from the lack of sufficient activity due to my schedule of the past couple of weeks and I suspect pissy because he isn’t really doing any agility right now, classes or competition. So I decided to bring him.

Brady was ecstatic about being chosen. Then, he was slightly less ecstatic when he saw that it wasn’t going to be just he and I. Nonetheless, after I made it clear that he was my co-worker, he politely sat while Blueberry jumped in the Jeep with him and then surprised me by not even grumbling about it.

What happened next almost brought me to tears. Brady and Blueberry Buddy walked side by side, sniffed side by side, wagged tails together at passers by, ignored dogs together as we passed them by, and Peed on Many Things together.

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Sniffing side by side.

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Posing and being polite.

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There was a lot of social media to like.

Sometimes it just wacks me upside of the head how far Brady has come. Blueberry Buddy is the epitome of the kind of dog Brady used to have such a huge aversion toward.

Blueberry, who suffers from a medical condition and sometimes seems a bit down, was perky and delighted to have Brady along on his walk. So many smells! So very many things to pee on! A friend!

Because it was Saturday, because it was a nice day to be outside and because the two boys brought a fresh perspective to one another that just made me grin, we went beyond the allotted time by 30 minutes or so, just enjoying our surroundings. Both dogs collapsed in the Jeep together for the short drive back to Blueberry Buddy’s house. BB is a good sized dog and Brady is not a small border collie and the Jeep isn’t big. They were touching, but no grumbling emanated from Brady.

This was not the first time Brady has been my co-worker, and I’m selective about when he comes along. In fact, he hasn’t come with me for a long time. Between his duties as BB’s walking pal and all the social media he had to digest, I decided he deserved a hamburger before we went back home ourselves.

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“Is that for me? Thanks for taking me to lunch!”

Brady was wiped out the rest of the day and I took the other three dogs on a walk.

On Sunday, I decided Rhys would be my co-worker.

I knew that Rhys has since, and predictably, developed Border Collie Prejudice – a condition whereby other dogs are not generally thought of as being too cool, unless they are: 1) a border collie, or 2) another herding breed, or) 3) a dog with whom one has developed a previous relationship and/or is owned by a human friend/auntie. Rhys hadn’t seen Blueberry Buddy is some time and I figured they’d enjoy seeing each other.

Wrong. At least initially.

Rhys is three years old and is often an ass.

Maybe Rhys didn’t recognize BB at first, but more likely he was being an assertive, resource guarding jerk when Blueberry Buddy grinned at his old friend and went to jump into the vehicle with him.

After I explained to Rhys that being a jerk was not an option if he was going to work with me, he settled down and allowed Blueberry Buddy to jump in with him. I heard a bit of muted grumbling from Rhys as we drive to our destination, because like Brady, Rhys frequently finds the need to pass comment on various situations. Sometimes this is highly amusing, particularly when he seems to be engaging in a running dialogue with himself about some matter, but sometimes it is super annoying, particularly when the vocalizing is at full volume and I’ve already heard 53 times about: 1) the dog he sees walking/running, 2) the people he sees running/riding bikes/riding a skateboard, 3) how much longer is it going to take to get to the hiking trail/park/agility barn.

Once Rhys became reacquainted with Blueberry Buddy and once he realized that his job was to walk with us on an urban hike, he was all in.

Urban hikes are absolutely exhausting for my dogs. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything else in their lives that is that exhausting.

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Recuperating from Sunday

I love to watch my dogs. Watching Brady and Rhys this weekend and seeing the world on those two walks through their eyes, really, their noses, was  intense.

When we go off hiking in the woods, their noses are constantly processing information. I do see intensity at times, but their demeanor is far different. Their bodies are softer. Their faces are more relaxed. They seem more curious than concerned. When we walk in town, they are stiffer, their faces more intensely concentrated and I see concern more often in their expressions.

Rhys in particular was also responsive to the energy of the other dogs and people he encountered on our walk with Blueberry Buddy. And the two dogs definitely reacted to the energy given off at various times from one another. Brady used to do this more too, but I think time and experience, and tools I’ve taught and given to him, has helped him to handle things with a more even keel.

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“That was hard work! Getting a hamburger too Human Boss Lady Mama?”

When I first started my business I had visions of my dogs joining me more frequently on client walks. However, I have a fair amount of reactive dog clients and I walk a good number of multiple dogs from the same families. I have a personal rule that I’ll never walk a pack of dogs unless they’re my own dogs.

I’ve also come to realize just what a challenge it is to walk a dog in an urban environment. And I’m not talking about asphalt, engines backfiring or the plethora of dog pee to sniff.

Sometimes people just plain suck.

After several 60-minute walks today, I still found myself ending work at a decent time on a beautiful February day in the Pacific Northwest, and with enough time to take my own dogs out. I didn’t have sufficient time really to take them to a more remote spot for a true hike, but figured we could find some local parks to hang out and walk. I opted to split the four up into two separate twosomes as walking all four in a more urban environment, especially on leash, is for a soul far braver than I most of the time.

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Peaceful lake view late today on walk number one.

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Happy smoothie boys.

My walk with Youke and Rhys was wonderful. Quiet and peaceful. We even made a brief sojourn into the local off-leash dog park since it was almost unoccupied. I think we concerned a few people who watched as I played hide and seek with my boys among the trees in the park. Sorry, I prefer to engage with my dogs rather than just stand there in the middle of the park on my mobile device while my overweight dog meanders aimlessly about.

After a 90-minute walk with Youke and Rhys, I dropped them off at home and gathered up Brady and Camm for a sunset walk at a different park.

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The moment my mood went to crap

Maybe I should’ve stopped at walk number one. I was admittedly getting pretty tired and I’d walked a lot of dogs for a lot of hours by the time of walk number two. However, Brady and Camm have become delightful to walk most places with. The fact that I just wrote that is shocking to me. It’s true though. That’s what happens when you put in umpteen hours of training, years of work, buckets of tears, and live to see them become senior dogs.

Brady and Camm did not let me down. They were perfect tonight. I, however, was by the end of the walk ready to explode and ready to bite.

Trigger stacking.

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“I see you are about to lose it.”

Trigger stacking is defined in dog training as “Stress accumulation due to exposure of multiple triggers, either simultaneously or close enough in time that the dog’s reactivity has not returned to normal. For example if a sound sensitive dog who’s afraid of children hears a loud crash before he sees a child, he is more likely to bite than if he had met the child under calmer circumstances..” (Grisha Stewart, BAT 2.0, P. 276).

Shortly after we entered park number two, Brady had to poop. Brady is not a big fan of pooping in his own yard, therefore often has to poop shortly upon his arrival somewhere else. No big deal. I’m always prepared with poop bags.

As Brady was accomplishing this important task, I saw a woman striding toward us on the narrow paved trail. No big deal, I thought, she’ll just veer around us on the grass.

Nope.

Keep in mind I have two wriggling dogs, on leashes, that think this person would like to meet them, I have one of my hands encased in a poop bag and am bent over commencing the poop pick-up. Am I wrong in thinking that the proper and polite thing to do would be to steer a wider berth around this individual with two wriggling dogs, entangled in their leashes, bent over and now with poop in her bagged hand by venturing into the grass a little bit and NOT TO COME STRIDING DOWN THE PATH RIGHT INTO THE MIDST OF THE DOGS????

“Sit! Sit! They must think I have treats!”

I was wordless as I tried to juggle wriggly border collies, tangled leashes and poop in the only two hands I have.

She seemed a bit perturbed that I did not have the situation under better control.

“I was just trying to pick up this poop,” I explained.

“Thanks for picking up!” she said breezily as she swung on by, striding right down the center of the path in the nearly deserted section of the park.

I muttered some not very nice things, but my edit function doesn’t work so well these days so I’m quite sure some of it came out a bit louder than intended.

After disposing of Brady’s package, and then dealing with Camm’s 30 seconds later, we walked on to another distasteful encounter. This one was with a labradoodle on a flexi-lead. I have this encounter nearly every day with client dogs and am well-versed on how to handle it. I spotted the approach well ahead of time, and unlike the woman striding down the middle of the path, I found that we had the ability and dexterity to veer off in a C-shape into the grass, thus avoiding the orbit of the labradoodle. Camm and Brady were both immensely relieved that would not be falling victim to a flailing labradoodle on a string.

We then successfully navigated some couples out on a post-Valentines Monday sunset cruise, a few running children and some power walkers.  We were very nearly accosted, again, by the labradoodle as his/her people seemed to be curious about why Camm was perched on a big rock, and as Brady was conducting his second poop evacuation of the walk, steering in for a closer look. Luckily, becoming furious gives me a heightened sense of awareness and I was able to pick up the poop and tie off the poop bag with alacrity while simultaneously asking Camm to step down toward me.

It was by then nearly dark and I just wanted to get back to the car. Brady was being incredibly awesome, as was Camm. Poor Camm kept looking back at me and then bumping me with her nose, her sign to see if everything was alright. I informed her that she was being fantastic and very well-behaved.

And then we ran into That Guy. That guy with the friendly dog. That guy with his dog out at the end of the leash staring hard at my dogs with all of his weight thrust forward and with his shoulders tight. That guy who shouts at me that his dog is very friendly and just wants to say “hi” to mine.

Interestingly, the dog was a border collie or border collie mix. Ordinarily Brady thinks other border collies are cool. He did not think this dog was cool. I try to teach my dogs that aren’t fond of other dogs, especially when my dogs are on leash, to ignore other dogs.  Both Brady and Camm were doing a remarkable job of trying to ignore that dog. We were in the process of giving it a wide berth and every thing about my body language screamed, NO, GO AWAY!

But if you can’t read human body language, you most certainly cannot ready dog body language.

Rather than avoid us or even continue onward through the park, this guy started coming toward us, no doubt dragged in part by his “friendly” dog.

“WE ARE NOT SAYING HI! WE ARE NOT MEETING YOUR DOG! I didn’t exactly shout it, but my tone was firm and unmistakable. So much so that a couple with a kid turned around to look for a second.

Brady and Camm couldn’t take it any longer. Both growled and issued warning barks.

That guy and his “friendly” dog hastened on after that, no doubt wondering why anyone would dare to take such mean dogs out in public.

I was so thankful and relieved to get back to my vehicle and slam the door shut.

For our next adventure, we’re going back to the woods.

TrustworthyTrio

 

 

 

 

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!

Christmas Day is a Good Day for a Birthday

Christmas 2019

YoBaCaRy enjoying their Christmas present on Christmas Day 2019

Despite a very busy holiday season with work – I worked this entire past week, including Christmas Day – I was still able to gift my dogs their all-time favorite present – time outside with me.

Luckily for us, the day was stunningly gorgeous. But it would not have mattered. We still would’ve gone on a hike even if it had been pouring buckets of rain – which it was the Saturday before Christmas. No pictures from that day. Too wet.

I deliberately started my holiday pet visits as early as I reasonably could so that I could carve out a few hours for my crew. I was determined not to neglect them on Christmas day.

Christmas hike 2019

A beautiful day in the PNW, and rain-free.

I had another reason for wanting to get out with them. It was Rhys’s third birthday on Christmas Eve.

Rhys 2019, third birthday

Not liking that I have to do posing Human!

Poor Rhys. Christmas Eve was an insanely busy day and he got to do absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. He wasn’t too happy about it. He probably would have been even more unhappy had he understood that I ditched him when I had a few hours late that day to meet a friend for a margarita and some tequila shots. Okay, who am I kidding? He did know and so did the other three.

Luckily, I was forgiven for my sin and more than made up for it on Christmas day with seven wonderful miles (for me) and two and a half hours of joyful worship at the feet of Mother Nature.

Christmas view 2019

Just high enough to be above the fog, but low enough to be below the snowline.

And then I blew their minds with a special birthday celebration dinner for Rhys.

Birthday dinner for Rhys

Yum! A fancy feast for a special dog and his family, except for his Human. I didn’t eat any of this.

December 24 marked Rhys’s third birthday. I was going to write up a wonderful tribute to him and wax poetic about how he has become such a remarkable and wonderful dog and about how much he means to me, but that will be for another time.

Right now I want to talk about his special dinner.

Rhys 3rd birthday dinner

Just because I know you want a close up.

I know you want to know the secret behind this exciting gourmet meal that likely would rival any prepared by a famous French chef and served at some famous and exclusive bistro.

The secret was the salmon oil demi glace.

Since I’m sure you’ll want the recipe, and since it’s Christmas and I’m feeling semi-generous, I’ll share how to make this special meal, complete with the ingredients.

First, start with freezer-burned turkey burgers. The kind from your local big box club store work best.

Next, break them apart with a hammer. This part could be messy, but is a step that needs to be taken. It may help to do what I did, and that is to run them under some hot water first. However, be warned! It does make the hammering part even messier. Do this is your kitchen sink.

Next, set your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and place the burgers on a cookie tray that has been lined with tinfoil. This is to capture the tender juices and weird white fatty bubbly bits that will be rendered from cooking. Allow to sit in the oven for an undetermined amount of time, but at least until they look like they’ve been thawed and cooked. They will be of a rubbery consistency. That is your sign that they are properly tender and ready to be served.

Allow to cool before placing in a fancy dish if your dog is ten years old or older. A five year birthday is also a properly warranted fancy dish occasion, but a third birthday is not. Therefore, place in individual dog food bowls.

The individual dog food bowls have already been prepared with a special kale garnish. My dogs enjoy plain old raw kale because they are a bit weird. If yours does not, you may try sauteing the kale in olive oil or butter. My dogs tell me that is even better than raw kale, but I only had so much time and energy on Christmas day, so raw is what they got. No one complained.

Set the rubbery cooked turkey burgers on top of the plentiful kale garnish. Next, drizzle some salmon oil on top of the turkey burgers. Be generous and feel free to add extra to the kale leaves for a special glistening effect.

A bit of a warning here. Do not inhale deeply. Salmon oil on top of warm, rubbery turkey burgers smells bad. Very bad. Really, it is very stinky.

Now for the special last step. Spoon a full dollops of leftover marina sauce on top. This adds a bit of a festive flair, in addition to releasing more depth to the overall tasting experience.

Sing happy birthday and wish all a very Merry Christmas. Add a few assurances of “best dogs in the world” before releasing drooling dogs to their special feast.

Viola!

Rhys birthday meal 2019

Can’t move. Tummy is so full now!

In fact, my recipe for happy, fulfilled and tired dogs is a hike and a fabulous meal.

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Viola!

Youke is not pictured because as soon as the meal was over he went upstairs to bed and was not seen again until I had to leave for 90 minutes to go finish my nighttime round of pet visits. He made a brief appearance after I got home for the last pee before bed and then we were all in bed by 9:30 pm.

It’s been a long holiday stretch for us all.

Christmas at Lake Sawyer

My favorite kind of Christmas tree. And just think – no worries about dead and dried up needles and no need to worry about throwing it in the trash or recycling it.

Things eased up today though and the next week won’t be quite as crazy, so I will be home a bit more. Plus, the winter solstice just occurred and call me crazy, but I feel like I can already feel a tiny bit of difference.

Maybe that’s just because we’ve been able to catch glimpses of the sun for the past few days.

Christmas sky at Lake Sawyer

 

Failure

When I came home late today I walked into the house with a renewed appreciation for my four dogs.

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Um, this is not appreciation, this is torture.  Time to eat yet?

I’ve said it before and I sincerely mean it. My dogs are very imperfect. They have bad habits and do many things I don’t particularly care for. However, I have no one to blame for that other than myself. I’m a pretty lazy dog trainer. That said, overall, they are most excellent dogs. Most of the time we can get through life with them appearing pretty awesome. And although I really am a lazy dog trainer, I’ve still managed to work with their varying degrees of reactivity, train some fairly cool tricks and of course they do dog agility, which is really nothing more than more complex dog tricks. Most importantly, while I prefer to hike in places where there is no one else, and a lot of critters – thus needing decent recalls – I can confidently say that I can take them out in public and I’ll only be a little embarrassed. Sometimes we actually look pretty perfect even.

As a result of the shorter days and increased dark, as well as the very busy holiday season for my work, my dogs have been severely neglected of late. They’re just not getting very much exercise, of both the physical and mental sort.

Still, I find myself living with happy and relaxed dogs most of the time. There’s a bit more sniping at each other sometimes than I’d like, but it’s winter, with its dark and rain, and we all have a certain degree of cabin fever.

I’d say much of this is due to the fact that my dogs are eight years and older, but Rhys will only be three years old next week and he’s just as good as the older three.

Of course, I feel tremendous “dog mom guilt” when I feel I am not completely fulfilling their needs.

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But do you need to torture us by putting pretty blue ribbons on and taking pictures?

Today, I met a dog whose needs are not being met and who has been failed.

I’m going to come clean and specify that this was a border collie pup of just under six months old. Really, he could be any dog, of any breed or age. However, I am admittedly extremely passionate about herding breeds, in particular, border collies. Thus, I admit that I left this situation feeling furious, sad and very disheartened.

This pup has been failed. If he doesn’t get help very soon, he will become a failure statistic.

And I cannot really blame or fault his people. They seem well-intentioned and they deeply love this dog.

This dog was failed by his breeder when he was sold to people that not only had never had a border collie, but are first time dog owners. When I asked his people why they chose to get a border collie, I was told they liked the looks of the breed, that they’d read about how smart they were, and that they wanted something different than a Labrador Retriever.

I’m not knocking first time dog owners. I’m not knocking first time border collie owners. Everyone has to start somewhere. But I’m furious that the breeder seemingly did not question these people more thoroughly. I’m furious the breeder is not presently involved (although admittedly I do not know for sure why). And yes, I am upset that the dog’s humans did not more thoroughly research the breed.

No one should EVER get a dog because they like how it looks.

This dog was failed by veterinary professionals who told the people he shouldn’t be out and about in the world as a puppy.  The result is pup that is severely undersocialized.

The dog continues to be failed as because he pulls on leash, he rarely gets walked. His sole form of exercise appears to be playing fetch, over and over and over. He lives in a community filled with zero-lot houses and if he has a back yard, it is postage stamp-sized.

Because he is food-motivated, and intelligent, he has learned some tricks, but he still requires far more mental stimulation than he is getting.

Because his people love him so much, he is not crate trained and he has no basic manners. He has no rules period.

From my brief time with him, he is triggered by fast movement, as well as lights and shadows. This is not atypical of border collies. However, if not addressed, behavior problems result. In his case, issues have already started, although until I came to see him, I do not think his people realized the extent of the issues.

He has been failed as no one has helped to teach him impulse control. Yes, he’s a pampered pet and is literally being spoiled with “love.” My own dogs are quite spoiled. But I do insist upon a set of rules for my own tribe. I saw no rules in place for this young dog.

This pup tried to bite me. Not once, but three times. Each attempt was more serious. I was told he’s never done this before. Later, I was told that some visitors to the house could not be in the house unless they were behind a barrier and until the dog became “used” to them. The people were behind the barrier, not the dog. The dog redirected to the owner and to her young daughter while I was there. I saw the dog bite the little girl’s hand. No skin was broken in any of the attempts. but the little girl yelped and the third time he made contact with me, I felt it and it was a hard bite. He also attempted to rip my pants and kept lunging for me. I had already asked the owner to put him away twice by the time he made the third attempt at me. He had been put away, but the girl kept letting him out.

This pup made no warning growl before his attempted bite. I did see what was coming because I’m adept at reading dogs, but his transitions were rapid.

Because I am dog savvy, I made no attempt to engage him after he charged me when the owner brought him into the hallway to meet me. I kept my body turned and my eyes averted as I could already see that eye contact was a trigger for him. Eventually, he was curious about the treats he could smell in my pocket. I tossed a few his way, but did not ask him to take any from my hand.

I knew motion was a trigger, so I kept quiet (not completely still – that’s hugely unnatural and can also be a trigger). I sat so I would not be looming over him. The owner and I talked. Over the next 45 minutes, he decided to sniff me over, to take cookies from me and actually solicited some touching from me by placing his head up underneath my arms. Still, I mostly ignored him. He appeared relaxed, but something still didn’t seem right in his body language.

When I put on my reading glasses to look at the potential client’s phone, something in that dog snapped. I strongly suspect that my glasses reflected the overhead lights and perhaps flashed him. Regardless, he went berserk. That’s when he tried for the third time to lunge at and bite me. And that time the intent was very serious. Still, the young girl and the adult woman just tried to hold him instead of physically putting him into another room as I had requested – which is when he bit at them, all the time eyeing me and snapping in my direction. Perhaps there’s a brain issue there too.

The dog is young and perhaps he can still be helped. I’ve provided some contacts to the owner, people that are professional and knowledgeable and won’t simply place the dog on a prong or e-collar and beat the crap out of him until he “submits.”

The whole thing left me deeply disturbed, and so very thankful for the enthusiastic greeting I received when I got home. I looked each of my four deep into their eyes as they sat surrounding me after I’d let them out to pee and sincerely told each how they were “the very best dog in the word.”

And by the way, that sitting around me, quietly looking back at me part? That’s behavior I placed on cue. It’s called training.

FunnyCammFace

Camm complied with my request for a pose, but was far from impressed that I won this bed for her by singing karaoke. She’d have been less impressed had she heard it.

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!!

BradyLooking

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.

 

 

Who’s the Big Dog

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Yesterday after I got home and as it was already dark out, I played some random living room trick games with the dogs and I played with all of them separately with the clicker to work on some new tricks. I’ve been doing this a couple of times a week for the past couple of weeks.

It’s fun and they enjoy it, as do I, but it’s no substitute for physical play. And much as the mental stuff works them, my dogs also need physical outlets.

I arrived home today from my daily dog walking visits with enough daylight to finally do something with the dogs outside. But one of my favorite places to take them to run around is a 20 to 30 minute drive in late day traffic and by the time we got there, it’d be dark within 30 minutes of arrival. Plus, I drive a lot as it is. I just didn’t feel like getting back in the driver’s seat and getting pissed off about the poor driving skills of many of my peers.

But my choices were limited by the fact that daylight passes so quickly this time of year. So I opted to take Youke and Rhys to Marymoor Park, which has a 40-acre dog park and is five miles from my house, and then to take Brady and Camm for a very rare walk about the neighborhood.

Brady and Camm went after dark had descended and did great passing all the commuter traffic returning for the day and the commotion of the downtown area. Despite the relative peace and quiet of my property, I only live a half-mile from a central shopping and downtown district. “Downtown” was an ironic paradox when I first moved here 18 years ago; now it is a reality, complete with irate busy shoppers and honking cars and SUVs, most of the high end luxury sort.

After leaving the relative quiet of my street, we turned toward the shopping center and braved the rushing traffic and bright headlights. My dogs do not get walked a lot on neighborhood and city streets, but Brady and Camm held it together, although I could tell they were both apprehensive. So I did what I always do and talked them through it, offering reassurances as to their bravery and commending them on their sniffing choices.

Brady hates buses and he especially hates UPS trucks, both of which are abundant at rush hour and during the holiday season. But despite seeing nasty city buses and the super evil UPS truck, he managed to hold it together, only quietly snapping his teeth at the UPS truck’s rear fender and silently glaring at the hideous bus. Camm just charged straight ahead, all business, until we finally finished climbing the big hill that makes up The Plateau and turned into the back end of our neighborhood. We then relaxed by looking at the neighbors’ pretty Christmas lights and peeing on things. Okay, that last part was mostly Brady.

Yay for me for now walking so many miles and hills that the big hill doesn’t even wind me any more. There was a time when I’d deliberately do this walk in the downhill direction. Now, I kinda relish the uphill part.

All said and done, after walking dogs and then taking my own dogs out and about, I logged 15.5 miles today. Not a bad day.

But the really awesome post-work stuff with my dogs was at Marymoor with Youke and Rhys.

Youke of course was his usual rock star self and wanted to mostly play Ball.

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It quickly became apparent that Rhys is now officially grown up. His transformation into an adult border collie snob has been completed. He was not interested at all in the other dogs running, barking, chasing and leaping. He made excellent decisions about a few dogs that came on a bit strong even when he preferred to ignore them and agreed with me when I communicated that I thought we should avoid some of them altogether. He was completely focused on me and on doing something with me, and even when we went into the quiet muddy marshy middle that few others venture into and explored, he kept checking in between checking for critter trails

I rarely go to Marymoor as the dog park scene isn’t really my thing and it’s not a scene that my dogs really appreciate. Marymoor is nice as it’s so large and on a weekday during off peak hours it’s actually fairly decent. I hate it on weekends, holidays or mid-days, but at other times, I can often find a vacant corner to play Ball with my dogs or find some interesting critter odors.

Still, I rarely go with my adult dogs. My adult dogs do not care about socializing with others and quite frankly find much of the behavior of other dogs very rude. Still, it can be a bit of a fun party scene for an older puppy or teenage dog and Youke went there a fair bit as a youngster – although he truly was more into Ball than other dogs. I took Rhys there a few times a week after he turned a year old for much of one winter. I mainly wanted to expose him to all kinds of dogs of different shapes and sizes and personalities, although not necessarily to be friends with all of them. My goal was to make myself much more interesting and fun than an entire dog park full of dogs.

Rhys was fairly social and playful, and very curious, about other dogs for a while at that age.

Not gonna lie. I like that my border collies have some select dog friends, but that for the most part they’re pretty snotty about engaging in dog park shenanigans. In fact, they’re pretty snotty about who they consider friends. And as far as play with other dogs is concerned, they aren’t really having it.

Rhys showed today he has morphed into an adult border collie. He wanted nothing to do with the play of the other dogs there. He wasn’t even enticed by the running of the other dogs. He was friendly and polite, even a bit flirty, with a couple of young female dogs that came up to him, but he just wasn’t into playing with anyone. He’d offer a brief butt sniff or nose touch to polite dogs, and he quickly disengaged from the more forward and pushy dogs, but for the most part. he wanted to play a little Ball with me and Youke, sniff interesting smells and look to me for what direction we were going to head toward next.

My puppy grew up.

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It was especially interesting as I’ve noticed he’s become a more serious dog in the past few months, but last weekend he met up with a dog he first met as a puppy. That dog, Ty, was actually his first true non-family adult dog friend. They recognized each other within 10 seconds of meeting in the big field behind the agility barn and started playing chase games. What was so very fun about this particular play is how loose and relaxed both dogs were and how the play was very much a give and take. Such a contrast to much of the play I witnessed at the dog park today, so much of which was frenzied, erratic and punctuated with shots of stressed energy.

Maybe I’ll even be so lucky as to have another perfect dog (most of the time).

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Still mostly perfect

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Still waters

Black Hole

Sometimes necessity really is the time for the impetus to try something different.

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Ignore the mise en scene

It’s a super lazy Saturday morning here. This is the first day I will not have walked over eight miles in 45 days. And don’t get me wrong. I could easily walk that distance, and more, but I am consciously choosing not to. To the dismay and expense of my dogs.

In fact, I’ve done an average of just over nine miles per day for the past 45 days. I know this because I checked this morning and because I’ve become a bit obsessive about it. The month isn’t over.

I’m not whining. Not really. But I am tired. I’m also tired of a lot of other stuff, but again, not going to whine.

I slept until 8 am this morning, got up and let the dogs out, then we all went back to bed until 9 am. This counts as a mini-vacation these days.

Upon arising, and after feeding the dogs and lingering around the yard for a while, I decided I would make a cup of coffee. Then I realized I had no cream in the house. I am not a black coffee kinda gal, although that is preferable to coffee with milk. I have milk in the house, purchased specifically for my current cereal and oatmeal fetish. I don’t even care for whole milk in my coffee unless my coffee is made by a barista who adds special syrups and such to a latte. And while a teaspoon of sugar mutes the horrid taste of coffee at home with plain milk, much less skim milk, I still don’t like it. So I decided to experiment based on something I read years ago.

I made my coffee in my french press, then I poured it into a mug and added a dollop of butter.

I also added a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of cardamon.

It was delicious.

No, really. It was fantastic. I didn’t even need any sugar and even if I had cream in the house, I wouldn’t have added it.

Yes, I suppose I could’ve gotten my lazy ass out and purchased cream. I could’ve even walked a dog or two down to the store a half-mile down the street. However, that would’ve necessitated a change of clothing.

lazy saturday outfit

I used to be a fashionista …

I opted instead to drink coffee with butter, drink it on my couch while watching Camm and Rhys wrestle each other, look at Facebook and pet Youke laying beside me on the couch while Brady growled at anyone that came near his his timeworn Wubba toy.

It’s been a chaotic, frustrating and busy few months. But again, no whining.

Youke is still perfect, except when he’s not. The moments of non-perfection are precipitated by:

A. Brady going someplace and Youke is left at home.

B. It is past Youke’s preferred dinner time and his Human, and Brady, are not home.

C. Youke is worried he will starve.

D. Camm also went someplace and is not there to bark some sense into Youke before he makes a Very Poor Choice.

E. All of the above.

If anyone did not choose E. All of the above, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.

Youke cleaning bowl

Perfect Dog licks out my cereal bowl.

So, the combination of lazy day at home + caffeine kick has allowed me to actually make a blog entry. Sorry for many missed months because y’all missed out on some brilliant, biting and witty stuff, but it remained trapped in my head as miles + four dogs of my own + too many commitments for others + constant sense of impending doom = Human that is too exhausted or doesn’t have time to sit down at computer and relate droll stories about her calamitous life.

Instead, I’ll share some favorite pictures of late.

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I get to experience some of nature’s most beautiful finery when I’m out dog-walking.

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We don’t get to go hiking nearly as much as I’d wish, but such a centering experience when we do. I love being in these moments with my dogs.

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Utter relaxation when we come back from an adventure.

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Oh, the irony …

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Such intricacy. So delicate, yet so strong.

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Because Halloween is just around the corner and who doesn’t need to see a few werewolves in the woods?

 

Pickles and Dogs on a Saturday Night

Pickles

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.

Sleeping baby dog

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.

Tired baby dog

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.

Dogs