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.
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.
After we ran up the steep trail, the sun came out for a while.
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.
And capriciously, the weather cleared again.
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.
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.
Rhys started his agility training in early 2018 and I’ve dabbled a little here and there with him in agility since late in 2018.
I stayed true to my promise to myself, and to him, to not start any real agility training until he was a year old. I firmly believe in letting puppies be puppies and although we did do formal and informal training and did some classes, I stayed away from agility equipment and formal handling. Mainly, I spent that first year helping him be the best dog he could be for my lifestyle and exposing him to his future life. Agility is ultimately a few minutes of competition. Life is everything else.
Rhys and I started agility classes together in January 2018. I decided I wanted to take a slow and steady path. I was in no hurry and had three other perfectly capable dogs to take to agility trials and compete. I also had specific goals with those dogs I was targeting and taking Rhys to trials and trying to compete with him was a distraction.
Our training progressed. Not quite as slowly and steadily as I had anticipated, but more like in fasts bursts of understanding and in bouts of frustration. That latter was more often me, but I know he’s been frustrated as well.
Despite a promising first trial, I knew Rhys was not ready for prime time and he confirmed it when I entered him in a few runs at a trial in early 2019.
I continued to ask him the occasional question by taking him to a trial and entering a few runs here and there. The answer during much of 2019 was usually a very resounding not yet ready.
There were moments of utter brilliance and glimpses of a fantastic athlete, but I had to temper my enthusiasm. I learned from my experience with Youke that starting too young and pushing too hard is not good. I also was realistic based upon my experience with my other dogs to not set expectations. Thus, I went into 2019 with no set goals and absolutely no expectations for Rhys.
We had a few really fantastic runs in competition, and we had some absolute disasters. In fact, we had both at a trial in September. It was that trial, at which I was also the trial secretary and was running my other three dogs, that I came to the conclusion that Rhys needed my full, utmost and undivided attention if we were to actually compete.
I love running multiple dogs. I love the high, I love the adrenaline and I love figuring out what each needs from me, even when running the same course. However, I’ve competed with the three older dogs for several years now and they are known entities. Youke and Brady are tried and true teammates. The fact that I feel so comfortable running Youke and Brady was unfathomable a few years ago, yet here we are.
Now that Youke and Brady are both double-digit dogs in terms of age, I must face their eventual retirement from agility. Brady will likely be competing for a while. He loves the sport. But I am the human with the allegedly larger brain, so I must be smart about how often he runs. His days of doing a complete trial weekend are over, despite what he’d like. Youke will likely formally retire sometime in 2020. He’s achieved everything I’ve dreamed, and beyond. He likes to play agility still sometimes, but at nearly 12 years old, he ready to move to something else. I’ve decided that I’ll see how he feels about truffle hunting.
Therefore, I’m going into the year with the resolve to focus on Camm and on Rhys.
I hope to achieve Camm’s agility trial championship in CPE early this year. Additionally, I am hoping we can make a few more notches toward her agility trial championship in NADAC. My goal, as it was with the boys, is to get it by the time she’s 10 years old.
I entered Camm for one day by herself at a CPE trial in late December put on by my club. I discovered something rather remarkable. To me anyway. She enjoyed having my undivided attention and I was more relaxed running just her.
We are still in the experimental stage on this, so I am not entirely sure my relaxed attitude was completely due to running just one dog. I only entered a few runs each day and I had the weekend free for agility with almost no other obligations after an extremely busy December, especially around the last two weeks with the holidays for work.
One of the reasons I like running multiple dogs is that I get incredibly bored at agility trials running just one dog as there’s so much down time. But during that weekend it was mild and sunny out and Camm and I had plenty of time for some Ball and to walk around. It was a great way to bond and spend some one-on-one time with my sassy girl.
Again, an experiment, but Camm was nearly perfect all weekend.
On Sunday of that weekend, I entered Rhys.
Rhys only did four runs that day. As usual, I trained in the ring for two of them.
I cannot express enough how much I love that virtually all of the various agility organizations have loosened up and now allow some form of training in the ring. The experience of being allowed to use a toy or to repeat a sequence is invaluable with a young, inexperienced dog, especially for criteria performance and confidence.
I’d been mixing up training in the ring with doing runs for real in all of 2019 with Rhys (and sometimes for the older dogs too). Since I had no goals or expectations, why not take advantage of these opportunities? I believe that the more fun and confidence I can instill early on in competition, the better. Hopefully, I have years ahead to set goals and garner achievements. And if I don’t? We’ll still have had a lot of fun playing. And they tell me agility is supposed to be a fun thing to do with your dog.
I ran two runs “for real” with Rhys that day. He obtained a qualifying score in one with a lovely smooth run. He did not qualify in the other, but that was because I was so blown away by his performance during the run that by the end that I neglected to actually handle the last line of jumps.
I’m still not going to set any goals for Rhys in agility in 2020, but he told me he is ready for competition.
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.
I had another reason for wanting to get out with them. It was Rhys’s third birthday on Christmas Eve.
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.
And then I blew their minds with a special birthday celebration dinner for Rhys.
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.
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.
In fact, my recipe for happy, fulfilled and tired dogs is a hike and a fabulous meal.
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.
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.
Brady will be ten years old tomorrow.
Well, December 13 is the day I designated as his birthday because that’s the day I brought him home. Nine years ago.
Let me repeat that. BRADY WILL BE TEN YEARS OLD AND I’VE BEEN WITH THIS GUY FOR NINE YEARS!!
That’s a whole lot of adventures.
Nine years seems like a few minutes ago, yet also a lifetime ago. I’ve learned from every dog that has entered my adult life. Sadly, the lessons Kip tried to teach me didn’t sink in until long after his death at a far too young six years old. Sylvie gave me many, many years and I think was so grateful for her rich and adventurous life after being rescued from the streets of a slum in Lewiston, Maine and sprung from the shelter days before a very dark fate that she was willing to put up with almost anything. It’s a good thing she was such a good dog because I had her long before I was “woke” about dogs. I was still slow on the take with Jasmine, although she started me down the path toward dog geekdom and an obsession with dog agility and I did eventually listen and pay attention to what she was trying to tell me she needed. I was not allowed this luxury with Brady. Brady required that I pay immediate attention and LISTEN NOW!
Someday, I always say, I’ll write a book about Brady. And I will. Brady has taught me everything.
Suffice it to say for now that Brady’s picture could be beside so many of those adages you read about the dog-human journey.
“It’s all about the journey.”
“You get the dog you need”
In a dark, cold corner of a barn used for agility, and on the last day of a three day trial over Thanksgiving of 2010, this remarkable red dog looked deep into my eyes and asked me a question. Ive been answering it ever since.
Brady was not the dog I wanted, but he has been the dog I didn’t know I needed.
This meme is making the rounds in the dog training, dog agility and dog geek circles I’m surrounded within:
I’ve seen various versions of this for many years. Brady isn’t unique in that his picture could easily be inserted here.
In Brady’s case, once I accepted him for who he was, quirks and opinions and all, both of our lives improved. I wrote about it a few years ago in Come As You Are
Now, as this feisty, opinionated, demanding, and sometimes plain weird, red dog lies quietly sleeping on the eve of this momentous birthday, I can’t help but reflect back on all we’ve accomplished together.
First and foremost, Brady is a wonderful hiking companion. We’ve had a lot of fun adventures over the years, some a bit more adventurous than planned. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of Brady’s adventures have shaved years off my life. If I don’t live to my goal of 100 years, I’m going to blame it on Brady.
I can’t even begin to think how many miles this dog has covered in the foothills and mountains of western Washington.
Brady has also traveled a lot of miles via car for various road trips. Most of those were for agility shows, but more than a few were for some epic adventures, including the first time he got to go to a friend’s camp on a lake in Eastern Washington and was able to swim for as much and as long as he wanted. To this day I still laugh about how exhausted he and Youke were. The road trip and week we spent on the Oregon coast was pretty special too. And of course there was the trip to Northern California and the house we stayed in that had a swimming pool. My dogs are rock stars, so naturally they got to party in the pool. Brady also thought it was an added bonus that there was a chicken coop on site, complete with chickens. Brady likes to watch chickens. And of course, there are all the road trips we’ve done to Vancouver Island for agility, walks through the woods and romps and the beach.
We’ve gone to a lot of fun places and had good times sightseeing.
Then there’s agility.
Brady is quite simply that once in a lifetime agility dog. Which is actually pretty funny considering that I didn’t think so many years ago that I’d be able to compete with him.
By the time I’d had Brady a couple of months I knew he had issues and was highly reactive and had enormous environmental sensitivities. We’d started foundation training with a new trainer to me and his progress and delight with the process was fascinating and infectious. Plus, I was learning many new things too, including how to become a better handler. While I’d like to credit my trainer, who became The Relationship Counselor – and she does deserve a great deal of credit – the real work to improve my handling was done by Brady. I do not (mostly) affectionately sometimes call him The Agility Nazi for no reason. Bad handling and late cues were dealt with swiftly and harshly, and usually with a correction. Which is a nice way of saying I got bitten, a lot.
As a result of his environmental issues, his dog reactivity issues and his lack of impulse control, I decided that I’d continue to train agility with Brady for the simple reason that I was learning to be a better handler and he was fun to work with, despite his swift reprimands. I figured my other dogs would benefit from my training and handling with Brady. And they did.
Those that insisted that I’d be able to compete and trial with him one day had no idea of the scope of his issues. In fact, I think there are maybe two people that have an inkling of the extent of what I went through with Brady. After all, there were many that had no idea I even had this red dog. Two, three years after he’d come to live with me I’d still get asked if he was my “new dog.”
Fast forward to our first trial, and over two years of intense training and counter-conditioning – and after I’d entered and then withdrawn from three trials – and Brady – hugely uncomfortable outside of the ring, trying to glare at dogs and snarling under his breath – and then it all magically disappearing for the 30-45 seconds we were in the ring.
It sounds dramatic, but dog agility saved Brady.
However, it was not instantaneous success. Our road was filled with bumps, crevices and potholes and much of the time it was an unpaved road. That training and counter-conditioning work continued for many more years.
There was the ongoing challenge of entering and exiting arenas and barns to get into the ring, there was the constant challenge of Brady’s nipping – okay, biting – of me, there was the entire year of no contact performance on the a-frame or dogwalk and there were the nearly constant arguments on course about my handling. I knew when I was perfect when he was silent and that was a rarity because Brady nitpicked about everything in the beginning and for a long time after. We had problems with end of run behavior – as in I didn’t have one and didn’t know I needed one and he invented one I didn’t care for – rushing in and biting me because the fun was suddenly over and Brady is a dog that thinks every agility course should consist of at least 30 obstacles.
And then there was Brady’s teeter fear.
Brady was unable to perform on a teeter for seven years. Of course I didn’t try to get him to perform a teeter during that entire time. I asked The Relationship Counselor to cease trying after six months. I briefly tried to train the teeter with him a year later after succumbing to some pressure from peers and other instructors. At that point in time I was competing only in NADAC with Brady as that organization doesn’t allow a teeter to be used. I was competing with him a bit in CPE, but we couldn’t run Standard courses because that organization allows the teeter, and we’d avoid it if we had other options and we could still qualify in the CPE games courses. I pulled him from courses in which the teeter could not be avoided. During The Year Without Contacts, I trained a lot in ASCA as at the time that organization had the most generous allowed training in the ring rules, but we avoided the teeter altogether.
The Relationship Counselor though is a stubborn and determined woman underneath her understanding and wonderful demeanor and she was not to be defeated by Brady, admittedly in her personal Top Five of Training Challenges Ever Presented.
I not so jokingly told her several years ago that we could revisit Brady’s teeter fear after he got his Agility Trial Championship in NADAC (N-ATCH). Although Brady primarily trained on USDAA type courses and was fantastic, the lack of teeter prevented us from ever thinking about becoming serious about competing in that organization. I’d always loved NADAC and quite frankly, I enjoy the distance and speed often required in that venue. My aspiration was to earn N-ATCHes with both Youke and Brady and I started working to earnestly improve the distance skills we needed.
But a few summers ago, seemingly bored and after I had not seen her for a few weeks, The Relationship Counselor casually dropped that we should working again on training Brady how to perform the teeter.
I’m not sure what happened in seven years, but I suspect that Brady simply gained a lot of confidence in himself and trust in his person. He demonstrated that he was willing to learn. By the end of the summer, Brady had a teeter performance.
In September 2018, Brady earned his N-ATCH with a perfect Chances run. It was a moment I’d fantasized about for years. But I was utterly unprepared for the enormous upswelling of emotion. I had entered the ring momentarily forgetting what was at stake, probably because I’d just run Youke and Camm on the same course. When the run ended and we’d done our celebratory run around the ring, with Brady grabbing the ribbon I was handed at one point and tearing a piece apart, huge, hot tears streaked down my face as we departed the ring. I started sobbing, not because he’d sort of ruined the ribbon – he did, but some clever stapling when we got home kind of fixed it – okay, it’s still a bit askew – but because of how very far Brady had come.
Then, this November, Brady earned his CPE Agility Championship or C-ATCH. Naturally I posed him on the teeter for his official victory photo.
Less than a month later and only a few weeks ago, Brady earned his N-ATCH 2 and his Versatility N-ATCH 2, which simply means he did a lot of things, some of them pretty hard, very well.
Literally so much blood, sweat and tears with this dog. Worth every salty drop shed when he crawls on top of me when I’m half laying on the couch like last night and he wants to cuddle and listen to me talk about our life together and how every single day I’m glad he asked me if I was the human who he was searching for.
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.
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.
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).
Sometimes necessity really is the time for the impetus to try something different.
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.
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.
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.
I get to experience some of nature’s most beautiful finery when I’m out dog-walking.
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.
Utter relaxation when we come back from an adventure.
Youke had his 11th birthday this past weekend. We celebrated with a hike, a nap, a little bit of Ball and yummy food, not necessarily in that order.
Interestingly, Youke and I share a love for many of the same things – mostly naps, hiking and yummy food. I do not share his Ball obsession. I especially do not care for slobbery Balls found on the muddy edges of a trial, but Youke thought it was a wonderful treasure, therefore I indulged him on our hike by tossing his newfound toy a few times. But he lost it to first Rhys, who carried it around for almost a mile before forgetting it for something critter-related, and finally to Brady. Brady went off into the woods with it for some private squeaky time, but emerged finally with it dissected in half and with the squeaker mysteriously missing. Ball was therefore ruined and No Fun.
I had no work obligations this past weekend and no specific plans for the day but figured I’d spend it Doing All the Things. Approximately 90 minutes after I’d gotten out of bed though, I realized I needed a nap. I justified this in part by acknowledging that Youke, the Birthday Dog, also enjoys naps. What better way to celebrate All Things Youke by starting off with one of his favorite things? A nap with me and a big cuddle session. That turned out to be exhausting, so after 90 minutes of napping, followed by 20 minutes of eating, we decided to nap again. But first, I gave the dogs some marrow bones to gnaw on for a while.
Somewhere around 3:30 pm, I realized that Youke probably didn’t envision his entire 11th birthday celebration as a long nap, so off we went to commence the hiking portion of the day.
Of course, every birthday should include a special feast. While I declined to share in the sardine portion of the birthday feast, we did all share some mini cupcakes, which are a birthday tradition for Youke.
All that celebrating and feasting proved a bit much for some dogs’ tummies.
Of course, Youke and Rhys, my two smooth coats, were completely unaffected.
My two rough coats with floofy tails, Camm and Brady, however, experienced a bit of diarrhea.
Poor Brady did something to his tail a week ago and has been suffering limp tail syndrome, also known as swimmers tail. Youke experienced this many years ago, but from actual swimming. Brady had not been swimming. Since dogs can experience this from overuse of the tail, my theory is that Brady sprained his tail muscles while playing Ball the previous weekend. Thus, no Ball for my tribe for over a week now. Well, with the exception of the yucky abandoned Ball Youke found, but very little throwing and catching was involved, and even then, only with Youke.
I first noticed that Brady’s tail was hanging straight down and he wasn’t wagging it. Given that Brady’s tail is a Thing of Glory and is often carried aloft like a flag, this was very sad to see. In Brady’s case, it seems his tail was actually painful. He yelped when on our hike I pulled some brambles and sticks from it. Despite the pain and inability to use his tail much, he otherwise ran and acted normally. And after our hike he seemed to have loosened up enough so that by the next day he had a slight curl to it again.
Luckily, he was able to lift it enough by the time of the upset tummy incident after too much partying to not sully himself.
Camm was a different story.
After racing outside to relieve herself late Sunday morning, I noticed a streak of unpleasantness in Camm’s pantaloons.
“Uh-oh Camm. You have Poopy-Butt.”
She turned around to look at me, surprised.
“It’s okay. Everyone gets Poopy-Butt now and then. Nothing to be embarrassed about. But you know what happens when you get Poopy-Butt!”
Indeed, Camm does know.
Camm knows because a few weeks after she came to live with me several years ago, she had a series of unfortunate tummy events, resulting in several episodes of diarrhea. It was then that the phrase, Poopy-Butt was born. It was also then that Camm learned what happens when you have a Poopy-Butt.
Dogs with Poopy-Butt get hauled upstairs into the tub and get a bath.
At first, this was a completely shocking event for Camm. So shocking, so sudden, that she really didn’t have time to protest too much. On the second trip into the tub, the very same day, she tried to register her dismay and indignation at this unceremonious picking up and being plunged into a tubful of water and having her skinny ass hosed down.
“Camm! This is happening and you are going to have to deal. This is what happens when you have Poopy-Butt! You get a bath!.”
Camm is an especially brilliant dog who processes information rapidly.
By the third episode leading to the necessity of a trip into the tub, she was leading me upstairs, standing by my side while I ran the water and jumping into the tub to get her hind end lathered up with whatever fragrant shampoo I had on hand that hadn’t cost me $15 for color-treated hair.
So, when she had an unfortunate stray bit of poop clinging to her gorgeous little rear end this weekend, and I exclaimed that she had Poopy-Butt, she knew exactly what to do.
I opened the door into the house, she ran upstairs and stepped into the bathroom. Since it’s been a while since she’s had Poopy-Butt, I did have to lift her into the tub, but she was perfectly accommodating as I soaped her up with some lovely clove shampoo made especially to enhance brunette coloring and sprayed her down with the shower hose. She was perfectly still as I wrapped her rear end up in a freshly laundered towel and rubbed her down before releasing her to play with her amazed and shocked little brother who monitored the entire episode from the doorway of the bathroom. The same little brother who writhes and slides in the tub, while making growly noises when he requires bathing after rolling in something unfortunately fragrant and putrid.
Camm had one more episode of loose poop later on Sunday. I asked her if she was a Poopy-Butt again. Her eyes widened and she looked at me, then started heading toward the stairs to go into the bathroom. I asked her to come toward me so I could check. When she did, I lifted her little rear end up and checked.
“Guess what?! No Poopy-Butt! Yay! Poopy-Butt free Camm!”
Camm’s eyes lit up and she barked her sassy bark and then went and rolled her brother over. Because she could.
“Oh well a Touch Of Grey
Kind of suits you anyway.
That was all I had to say
It’s all right.”
I’m not really a Grateful Dead fan. I appreciate the band as an American icon and like some of their music, but not a fan in the sense of being a Deadhead and wanting to sway back and forth barefoot in a long batik print skirt and with no bra whenever I hear one of the band’s songs.
However, the lyrics have been in my head since midweek.
Youke’s 11th birthday is a week away.
Despite being around for over a decade, Youke is still very puppy-like in appearance in many ways. He’s still in fantastic condition and surprisingly doesn’t have any grey. Or if he does, it’s well hidden among his freckles and spots. But his eyes are starting to cloud and I’ve noticed a slight, but definite shift in his body, especially when I look at pictures from his younger days.
The cloudy eyes though in no way impact his Ball catching abilities. Still the best damn catcher. Unlike Brady.
It’s a good thing Brady is awesome at agility because while he loves to play Ball, he sucks at catching Balls. Seriously, he’d have been cut from the line-up a long time ago if I was relying on his ability to catch anything. He also cannot catch food tossed at him with any percentage of accuracy.
This is a crappy photo because Brady is best photographed by a professional and not by me and because I dropped my phone the other day and cracked the photo lens. But it does show how he’s becoming increasingly grey.
I also recently had to drop his jump height when we play NADAC agility because of the organization’s rules. Dogs nine years old must register as veterans and there’s a mandatory drop in jump height for dogs that jump 20 inches, Brady’s category. That change hit me hard. Not because I’m opposed to the rule. I think the rule has its place. At least for everyone except me and Brady. Our first trial with the reduced height and in the veterans division was a few months ago and I was sorta sad the entire trial. I really do not want my feisty crazy Red Dog to be getting older.
Speaking of crazy and feisty.
She’s laying on top of the fourth Ball. Because she’s a Ball hoarder.
Camm has some new flecks of white on her face too these days. Magically, when she became seven years old in November, she remained insanely crazed, but gained some steady listening skills. I love me some Camm, but middle-aged Camm is especially awesome.
Mostly I’ve been thinking about the Grateful Dead song because I made a huge decision last week.
I’m going grey.
Because I’ve been so crazy busy for the past couple of months, I’ve had to reschedule my cut and color appointments on a frequent basis. I rescheduled my last appointment twice and finally was able to get in this past Friday. Even then, I very nearly rescheduled again.
All that waiting allowed me to take a good look at my roots. My hair grows very fast. That had benefits, but it also means that I really needed color touch ups every four weeks in an ideal world, but in mine I was going about every five weeks, sometimes six weeks.
I started going grey in my early 30s. I started coloring in my mid-30s. Once I started coloring, I experimented a lot. At first I went safe and was merely trying to cover the grey with something close to my own natural hair color. But I played with blonde-ish and with red-ish for a while too. I went back to very dark for a long time, including an unfortunate era where I stopped going to a salon professional and did it myself from a box. Eventually, it became clear that trying to maintain my natural dark brunette was a losing proposition and I went very light for a few years.
Truth be told, while I knew I was greying, I really had no clue as to how much and where. I did know I was very white at the front of my face, but have had no clue as to how much of my natural dark color might still be blended in.
So, last week I had a bit of an epiphany. I just don’t have the time, and frankly, the funds to spend, on monthly color maintenance. I’ve been contemplating the idea of just letting myself go grey for the past few years anyway.
Last Friday, Angela, my stylist, did not fight me on my decision, Instead, she have me some options. In the end, I had her chop off several inches and she worked some kind of magic potion to help with the transition and to tone down the remaining darkness from dye.
As she worked on me, I could sense her growing amazement. She deliberately kept the chair turned away from the mirror. She also kept warning me I was going to look very different.
I think I screamed a little when she finished and finally turned the chair around, allowing me to confront the mirror. The scream wasn’t because I was horrified. I actually liked it. But it was so very different.
This will be a fantastic experiment. I have no idea how much grey, actually white, I have. I have no idea how this will look.
Nevertheless, I am pleased to see that I seem to have inherited not only my mother’s premature grey, but also her gorgeous silvery-white grey. Not that yellow grey. The kind of silvery-white grey that some women pay for.
But here’s the thing. If I end up hating it, I’ll just go back to coloring again for a while. I just vowed a long time ago I wasn’t going to be one of those women in my 60s, 70s or even 80s that was still dying her hair.
However, I will be one of those women in my 60s, 70s, and even 80s that will be running a crazy long-strided fast border collie. Sorry, while I generally agreed with Prince, sometimes you should act your shoe size.
My favorite form of respite is hiking with my dogs. Hiking is my way of meditating. I can free my mind in the quietness, observe my dogs with calm and clarity, enjoy the physical effort in a way unlike my usual walking activities, see, smell, hear and feel the small details of my immediate surrounding, and think. I do my best thinking when I’m hiking with my dogs. Actually, I do my best writing there too, but it doesn’t all make it to a physical form.
Sadly, I’ve not had the time or inclination to hike as much as I’d like in the past few months. Much of that was due to the short days of winter and my increasingly busy workload. However, with the time change, daylight is longer and that allows me more time after work to get out with the dogs.
I had a cut and color scheduled last Friday. But I canceled my appointment and rescheduled it to get outside with my dogs. It had been a particularly exhausting week and my pups have been infinitely patient with me over the past few months. Now that we have longer days, have seen the two feet or more of snow from February melt away in most places and have warmer temperatures, I’ve told myself that no matter how tired I am, to get outside with the dogs at least a couple of days a week and rejuvenate in the woods.
I especially love hiking on Friday late afternoons and evenings. I discovered a long time ago that I am less likely to encounter anyone, even at more popular spots. Friday night hikes are my middle-aged happy hours.
I had a full schedule last Friday, and the day was made longer because I’ve decided to bring another person in to occasionally take some of my overflow business and spent much of the day introducing her to some clients. Therefore, while I intended to load the dogs up and leave for an adventure in the afternoon, we didn’t end up departing before nearly 5 pm.
I was happy to see that our late arrival and the start of a few sprinkles, as well as a drop in temperature mean the parking lot to our destination was empty. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
However, as soon as I disembarked from The Living Room on Wheels, I saw a huge white dog on a hill overlooking the parking lot looking at us. His/her curiosity was warranted as both Rhys, Camm and Brady were barking their heads off. The barking is extremely annoying, but heralds our arrival at any place they deem to be super fun. As much as it sets my teeth on edge, they more than make up for it by being nearly silent when we’re out in the woods. So silent in fact that despite hiking with four dogs, we see more than our share of critters. This is why they often wear bells on their collars.
The white dog came toward The LRoW at a determined trot. Uh-oh, I thought.
I had not yet let the dogs out of The LRoW and decided to stand my ground and see what the dog did.
I quickly determined that it wasn’t aggressive and was more curious than anything else. It barked a few times from a distance, came a bit closer, then turned around and trotted back toward the hill. Meanwhile, I had not seen anyone, but guessed that there was a person up there.
After the dog was gone, I let my dogs out. In their usual fashion, they rushed out and began barking to play Ball. In this particular spot, we often start the festivities by playing five to 10 minutes of Ball, and then wandering off into the woods for an hour or more.
I threw a ball for Brady, watched him catch it and then proceeded to lob three more balls for the others.
Uh-oh. The big white dog was back and was now trotting very quickly toward my four.
Since I know mine are much better meeting a strange dog off-leash than on, I opted to let them be. They were immersed in ball play anyway and a strange dog is a typically a brief, albeit annoying distraction for them anyway.
I carefully watched the white dog’s demeanor. By now I knew it was a livestock guardian breed, probably a Great Pyrenees or Akbash. It was a male and he was gigantic next to my dogs. I knew that if things didn’t go well, there could be a lot of damage.
Within seconds, I assessed that there was not a single other human around, that my own dogs were a bit wary of this stranger, that the stranger was not entirely comfortable with them but was overcome with curiosity. I also knew that if I panicked or called my dogs suddenly to me, they would come, but it would likely trigger a bad reaction among all five dogs. In that moment, Youke was the only dog that did not have a ball in his mouth. While simultaneously assuring that the other three did have balls, I decided Youke, being the most neutral of my four, could be greeted by this unknown dog. I also sang out to the big dog a friendly greeting myself.
“Hey, pup-pup. Who are you? Where’s your person, huh? Good pup-pup.”
Yes, I realize this could’ve gone horribly wrong, but the dog’s body language wasn’t stiff and he clearly meant no harm. Youke and he briefly sniffed each other and then I threw Youke’s ball. Brady meanwhile dropped his and greeted this stranger. I immediately picked it up and Brady went off after it again. Interestingly, Rhys stayed at a distance, observing, wary but unafraid. Camm, in her typical fashion, made a huge point about completely ignoring the dog.
I saw immediately that the white dog had decent social skills. He kept a wide berth from Camm, did not try to go up to Rhys and while curious about Brady and Youke, did not force himself upon them. He seemed to be fascinated with the fact that we were all playing.
After a few minutes, he trotted back up the hill again.
I continued to play ball with my four, moving to a better vantage spot while doing so. Still no other human in sight. But the dog was gone too. I decided someone just wanted their space and wasn’t really paying proper attention to their dog.
After a few more minutes of ball play, all the time moving to better vantage points, I decided to gather the balls and commence the woods walking portion of the evening. As this is a familiar routine, my four dogs willingly dropped balls and headed off down a familiar trail. However, Big White Dog suddenly reappeared and trotted determinedly toward us again.
“Hey pup-pup. Where’s your person?” Then it dawned on me. Perhaps this dog was a stray. That seemed a bit unlikely though given that there are no houses around and I-90 runs alongside the area. And then it came to me. This dog had been dropped off and abandoned by someone. I’d already seen that he appeared well cared for, was clean and was wearing a collar and tags.
The LRoW is large, but not that large. How was I going to fit my four plus a dog that was easily three times their size?
The dog came toward me and I was able to touch him, but then he turned around again and ran up the hill.
It was then that I saw a person. A person who I could barely see and who was clearly not wanting to be seen.
I decided to go on my walk with my dogs. If the dog was truly a stray, and still there when we came back, I’d make a decision then as to what to do.
I was relieved when after nearly an hour we came back into the open area and there was no dog. Also, no human.
I whipped out the balls and we started playing Ball again. Then we took a break again and made a short detour down another path and circled our way back.
That was when The Big White Dog appeared again.
Now I was really concerned. No one was in sight, no one was calling to this dog and no one came looking for him. Clearly I was right the first time. The dog had been abandoned.
I decided to head up the hill to an alternate parking lot to see if anyone else was around and if they knew anything about the dog. By now, I had five dogs with me. My four were nonplussed about the intruder, who I’d continued talking to in a friendly voice. I silently thanked my friend Amanda and her plethora of dogs that we frequently walk with, especially her large Anatolian Shepherd Mix. Because of those outings and her big dog, this was familiar to mine.
Let me insert here that I frequently speak to loose dogs that approach my own in a super friendly voice, and do the same for strangers I may meet on a trail. Of course, I only do this if I can immediately determine from body language if the strange dog or dogs or human approaching are likely to interact in a non-threatening manner. My relaxed posture and voice assures my dogs that there is no reason for alarm.
The Big White Dog was happily trotting among my boys and continuing to maintain space between himself and Camm. Camm had given him her trademark sneer when he ventured too close, and he read it perfectly. Nonetheless, I made sure she had a ball in her mouth.
There was one car in the parking lot, but no one seemed to be around. Just as I started to turn around, a whiff of movement caught my eye and I turned back.
“Do you know anything about this dog? Is he yours?”
A man emerged from the edge of the parking lot.
“Yes, he’s mine. That’s Bruno.”
What the fuck was my innermost thought, but I decided to keep it friendly
“He’s been following us around. I thought that maybe he was a stray.”
The man walked toward us. I quickly determined that he was not a threat. Perhaps someone just like me, seeking a little quiet solace in a peaceful place late on a Friday.
Except as he approached, I realized exactly what kind of solace he had sought. The fumes from the alcohol he had been consuming engulfed me.
“Is he a Great Pyrenees or Pyrenees mix?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s a purebred Pyrenees. He’s a puppy really.”
I learned in the course of our friendly conversation, and as he was chewing on the ball he’d stolen from Youke, that Bruno was an eight-month old gigantic fluffy puppy with zero recall and a human that figured he was okay going off to make his own friends with no supervision while he indulged in a private Friday evening happy hour in a parking lot at a popular trailhead.
The man tried to convince me that he’d been trying to catch Bruno, but that Bruno had refused to come to him.
Two things occurred to me. One, perhaps the overpowering scent of Jameson Irish whiskey was not something that Bruno found alluring, and two, the man had nothing to offer Bruno for coming to him.
I decided that perhaps mentioning only the latter was the polite thing to do.
“Do you have any treats on you?” I asked, not mentioning of course his personal taste in liquid reward.
Naturally he did not, but of course, I did.
I called Bruno’s name and held out my hand full of Charlie Bears, a rather dull cracker-like dog treat that just happened to be in my jacket pocket. Bruno air scented and immediately dropped the ball he’d been chewing, much to Youke’s relief, and came to me. I slipped my hand in Bruno’s collar and petted him.
“How’d you do that?!” the man exclaimed, looking at me like I’d pulled a rabbit out of my sleeve. This is a fitting analogy too as that trick, and using food to call a dog to you, are very old, and very established.
I explained I had some treats on me and merely offered them to Bruno. He said something about trying to catch Bruno for the last hour. I refrained from offering my own opinion that I highly doubted that had taken place and that he’d instead used his time to drink from the many nips I had noted by then were littering the small meadow.
We chatted a few minutes longer about Bruno and dogs in general and then I stated I had to be on my way. The man seemed sad and asked if we were really leaving as Bruno had enjoyed playing with my dogs. I silently observed that my dogs were now quite sick of Bruno, especially of his propensity to gnaw on their precious Balls, and were becoming a bit edgy and wary of Bruno. Bruno had clearly decided that in the presence of his tipsy human, it was safe to get a lot closer to Rhys and Camm, who were not comfortable with that decision. My decision to make a departure was cemented when both Brady and Rhys snapped at Bruno when he decided he should follow us again. Luckily, Bruno was by then leashed.
I felt a bit sad as we went back down the hill and I threw the ball a few more times for my dogs. Sad that the man was clearly a bit lonely and that his Friday evening consisted of leaving his dog to his own devices while he chugged nips of whiskey in a parking lot to a beautiful natural area, not even venturing beyond the concrete confines. And sad too for Bruno, a Big White Beautiful Dog looking for someone to do things with him.
But, I also thought to myself how is it that I always seem to encounter the fornicators, the drunks, the druggies and the slightly unbalanced on these Friday late day adventures? Maybe we’re all seeking some form of nirvana after a long week.
I frequently say that I am a lazy dog trainer and allude that I do little to no training at all.
In reality, I actually do train my dogs. I just don’t do much in the way of structured training or actual intentional training sessions.
I do agility training, but truthfully most of that is in a class setting once or twice a week. When I do agility training at home, it is five minutes maximum, then we do other things, like play Ball or go for a hike. Sometimes I go to a facility and rent time and space for a bit and do some sessions with my dogs, but it’s fairly infrequent. Much of the “agility” training I do is not done on agility equipment. Really, the only agility equipment I use are weaves, and even then, only for foundation and then in the first year or so. I just don’t care enough to drill my dogs on a regular basis.
Most of the training I do revolves around what I like to call real life skills. These real life skills include coming reliably when called, checking in with me, waiting politely while I prepare their meals then sitting patiently when I place their bowls in front of them until I tell them “okay,” realizing I will handle major issues so that they don’t have to do it themselves and posing nicely for pictures. Immediately settling down and assuming their resting positions when I tell them that we’re taking a nap is a big one too.
The truth is, my dogs are learning all the time in their lives with me, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve also slowly come to realize that some of my best training was done completely unintentionally, but the results were so lovely, that I started becoming intentional about it.
Because I’ve had dogs that were “reactive” to some degree over the past decade and a half, I’ve learned to see the world through their eyes to some extent and to react to and problem solve situations quickly and in a manner such that they did not have to solve it themselves or worry that they were being placed in a position where they had to figure their way out. At first, this was very much unintentional and accidental. I learned because I let one dog down for years and the second one was so reactive that I realized I needed the help of professional trainers. I learned that the dog I had let down for so long, trusted me to have her back in certain situations because of what I was specifically doing inadvertently in those situations. Once I learned more through professional trainers, extensive reading, and learning to see the world through my dog, I saw the physical transformation in my very reactive dog and gradually saw how he trusted me to have his back. It is now something I actively do with all of my dogs and I even have a cue for it – “I gotcha.” As in “I’ve got your back. Let me deal with this for you.”
I wish I did not live in a world where I was constantly vigilant about possible threats to my dogs, but I do. Unfortunately, while I expect a certain amount of cluelessness from the vast majority of the dog-owning public, I am constantly surprised as to the vast amount of cluelessness from people in the dog agility community.
I am lucky to be friends with some fantastic professional dog trainers and with many people who own and train dogs that are sensible, knowledgeable and trustworthy. I have learned so very much from them over the years and continue to do so. I also learn continuously from my own dogs, but I credit these people with helping me learn to read and speak “dog” in the first place.
But the thing I find that is missing very much in the dog agility community is the sharing of knowledge. Not knowledge about how to train a dog to do agility, or how to run a course or even what to do at a trial, but the simple knowledge of dogs – dog body language and how dogs perceive the world, including that future agility superstar on the other end of the leash. Yes, there are those people who try – be it a gentle, kind reminder or a very direct, perhaps forceful, approach – but most trainers are not preparing their students for good general canine code of conduct.
I see people with friendly retriever-type dogs all the time allowing their dogs to invade the space of more reserved dogs that want nothing more than to get away. I see people revving up their dogs only a few feet, or even inches, away from a dog that is very nearly over threshold. I see people talking to friends while their dog is at the end of its leash staring another dog down. I see people allowing their dog to walk up uninvited to other dogs all the time. I’d really like to see instructors addressing canine conduct more with students.
Perhaps what is missing is common sense and politeness.
So let me tell you about an incident today that sparked this post.
I was at an agility trial with my four dogs this weekend. This particular facility has only one good-sized off-leash area. Because it is the only one, it is pretty popular. Everyone I’ve ever encountered at this facility when I’ve been there understands that it is the polite thing to do to take turns using the off-leash paddock. If you see someone waiting, you either inform them you just arrived into the paddock and need a little more time or you finish up play time and leash your dogs and exit. Sometimes people ask if they can join you or sometimes people invite others to share. The answer usually depends on the individual and their dogs. For instance, when I arrived this morning, a woman using the paddock with her two dogs asked if I wanted to share. I politely declined, explaining my dogs didn’t always do well with others. We walked around a little bit and then entered the paddock when she decided to leave. Shortly after I entered with my dogs, another person came up and made it clear she was waiting to use the area. I explained we had just arrived and it might be a little bit longer (I was waiting for Brady and Youke to poop). She said she’d just hang out and wait. Once my boys completed their business, I leashed them up and we exited so she and her dog could be in the paddock for a while.
How very simple and clear! Nice, polite communication.
Later in the day, I saw no one was using the paddock. I took the opportunity to take all four of my dogs on leash into the paddock so they could run and stretch their legs for a bit and poop again if needed. Just as I was going to enter, I saw a man I know and his dog preparing to go in. Mike called out that he wanted to toss a frisbee for his dog for a minute and then I could have the area. I walked my four by and we gave Mike and his dog some space to play for a bit. They exited and we entered.
I was picking up Brady’s poop when I saw her. A woman headed straight for the gated entrance with her dog. I figured she wanted to make sure I saw her and let me know in a not so subtle way that she was waiting to use the paddock. I was wrong. She unlatched the gate and headed straight in. For a second I was speechless. Then I called out to her, “NO!” (I find using the direct approach gets attention faster in these situations. Usually. ). She continued to barge in.
“No! Stop! Some of my dogs are not good with other dogs!”
She looked right at me, and continued to come in.
I thought that perhaps she did not hear me as I was on the other side, now hastily tying a poop bag. I repeated, “Some of my dogs are not good with other dogs! Please don’t come in!”
She heard me, and she defiantly stepped in. By now my four were starting to swarm her and her dog.
I ran toward my four and called them, while at the same time trying to process her telling me that we were supposed to share the paddock.
My dogs all heard something in my voice and came to me immediately. Then Rhys veered off for a hot second toward them (she had a ball throwing device). I called him again and he came and sat in front of me. I quickly, with my hands shaking, leashed them up. She continued to stare at me.
I lost it.
“You fucking bitch!” Not my best moment, but I was pissed.
She said something in reply and I decided to haul ass out of there.
There are so many things wrong with this. First of all, how can you ignore someone when they tell you their dogs are not good with others? I had four dogs. She had one. How does it not occur to someone to ask if it is okay to join you and their four dogs you do not know? She was placing her dog at incredible risk! She was also placing my four in a precarious position. Had one or more of my dogs done something to her or her dog, myself and my dog or dogs would have been placed at fault. And that not only terrifies me, but pisses me off. I take full responsibility for actions on the part of my dogs, even when others do something foolish, but to deliberately place me in that kind of position incenses me. However, I’ve also worked intensely with them, and yes, trained them! – to respond to me and to not take action on their own. In the few seconds of this occurrence, it was gratifying to see Camm assess the situation, look into my eyes and realize that I had her back and she did not have to get in that dog’s face. It was gratifying to see Brady start barking frantically at the unknown dog, then look quickly at me and come immediately to me to be leashed. It was awesome to see Rhys, who has been very skittish lately (another fear period I think), come to me, turn away and then re-think and come back to me. (Youke just came immediately because he’s pretty perfect.)
I ended up informing the facility owner, the trial judge and organizers about the incident. My understanding is that the woman was addressed about the matter. I sincerely hope she learned something today.
I am a bit sorry I lost my cool and swore at her, but I also realize there are situations where further explanation is a luxury one cannot afford.
After I calmed down a bit from the incident, I realized that while her attitude needed some adjustment, in the end, she was probably just clueless about other dogs and dog behavior. But I do feel it is at least the partial responsibility of dog training instructors and agility trainers to help their students understand and negotiate good canine conduct.
In the end, nothing bad happened. Because of training.
Never underestimate the value of a good recall.