YoBaCaRy

Come As You Are

I found a tee-shirt at a thrift store in Canada several years ago that said “Stereotyping Saves Time.” Because I have a quirky sense of humour, I bought it. Plus it was only $3 and looked sort of cute on.

That tee-shirt and its satirical message fascinated me. I think I found it around 2003 or 2004. Stereotyping was utmost on people’s minds as a result of 9/11.

I’ve long since parted with the shirt. It got recycled or purged somewhere along the way, but the message and its various connotations have stayed with me.

I’ve found labeling to be a form of stereotyping. In all honestly, I think that labeling, while useful for categorizing or speaking in broad terms, can also be incredibly destructive and hinder progress. Nonetheless, I’m as guilty as most when it comes to labeling.

I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, but had to mull it over and over as I think this can be a touchy subject, in respect to both humans and dogs.

This morning I read something that I found inspiring. It comes from: http://www.avidog.com/raising-puppies-to-be-brave-the-top-10-ways-to-create-confident-dogs/

Avoid Labeling Young Puppies. If we label a 6-week old (or worse yet, younger) puppy as “fearful” or “manipulative” simply because it is wary around a new object, we have made a serious error.  What the puppy is doing is normal for its age.  The difference between it and others in its litter might be due to physiologic rather than temperament.  Like people, dogs develop at different rates.  Since we are talking about puppies that haven’t even been alive for two months yet, giving them the benefit of the doubt seems appropriate.

Psychologists have long known that labeling children affects how others treat them.  Once we label puppies, we look for evidence to support that label, even if it isn’t there.  We want to be unbiased but we are not once we have labeled a puppy.  We watch “stars” and ooh and ah over the great things they do, overlooking their moments of tentativeness.  Once a puppy has been labeled a “weanie” or “scaredy-cat,” we treat that puppy differently.”

I don’t buy into everything in that piece (avoiding hip dysplasia buy walking puppies in the woods while young?), but the segment quoted above spoke to me.

I’ve grown to despise the application of the label of “reactive” when it comes to dogs. Truth be told, if a dog, or any other critter for that matter, is not reacting to something, then it’s dead. Even a shut down dog, doing nothing because it’s paralyzed with fear, is reacting in some way by doing nothing.

Still, I realize that labeling a dog as reactive can be useful, especially when it comes to training. It’s just that now I don’t believe that’s the whole picture, nor should it be viewed with such a singular lens.

So here’s part of my story with Brady and why I’ve grown to realize that labeling a dog a certain way can impair a future and a relationship.

Brady came to me pretty much as an unknown. I’d met him only once before deciding to adopt him. That’s not really unusual for me. The reason why I adopted him was due to a moment that passed between us on a cold late November afternoon. I was attending an agility trial. A woman I knew was also there and was fostering him, with the original intent of keeping him and training him up as a sheepdog, possibly as a competitor in sheep trials and such. But she admitted to me that she was at that point unsure of keeping him. I only originally noticed him because I’d seen him on a breed rescue site I sometimes looked at – okay, that I still look at. In the picture, his fur was bleached orange from the sun and his eyes were focused on something outside of the frame. I thought when I saw the picture that he’d make a nice dog, for someone else. Originally, he’d been picked up as a stray in Idaho and in an area flush with ranches and plenty of sheepdogs.

She asked me to hold him ringside while she did something with her other dogs.

It was late in the day on the third day of the trial and it was relatively quiet. I held on to his leash in a dark, quiet area of the arena, softly petting him. He was not demonstrative. He didn’t try to nuzzle me or impress me as dogs so often do, soliciting attention. Nor was he really even looking around for the woman, a person that he’d been with for several weeks by then. He just quietly sat, although I now realize he was very much absorbing his surroundings. He wasn’t particularly interested in the treats I had on me either. it was while offering him a treat that the moment happened.

It’s a moment that is etched in my memory. Our eyes met. He looked intensely at me and suddenly I felt like my head was buzzing with an electrical current. While I always describe the moment in words, as if a question was posed, it was really more of a raw emotional touch. When I convey this story, I always say that he asked me if I was going to be his person.

Tears leaped into my eyes. I’d never been so acutely charged by that kind of naked emotion from a dog. I gazed back at him and made a silent powerful  promise that I would be his person.

It took a few more weeks, but that dog, that I named Brady, came to live with me. Romantically, I envisioned that same emotional connection. Instead, what I got was a dog that I couldn’t connect with. Not for lack of trying on my part. Brady himself was incredibly distant. He remained emotionally distant for five months.

I’ve never had a transition with a dog take as long as it did with Brady. It’s not really an unusual thing. It just had never previously happened with me.

But I’m incredibly stubborn and this dog had asked me a question that I was determined to fulfill.

Brady is a very handsome dog and numerous people assumed I’d brought him into my life because I was attracted to his looks. It took over six months for me to see that exterior and to see him as the physically beautiful specimen that he is. I was focused instead on that question he asked in that dark cold arena and on his eyes. I was constantly searching his eyes for recognition, some acknowledgement of trust, an agreement on the contract I had prepared in my head.

Instead, Brady dictated a contract with very specific terms, numerous clauses and ironclad provisions that could not be broken.

As much stubbornness as I possess, I also have patience. By February, I realized this was not going to be an easy journey.

By February, I realized I had a reactive dog.

Brady is not my first reactive dog. Jasmine was. The difference is that I didn’t know nearly as much when I first adopted Jasmine, trained her and lived with her. That lack of labeling allowed me to proceed ignorantly, and indeed, fairly successfully. That lack of inhibition on my part is why Jasmine is an absolute dream in the context of an agility environment or large public gatherings, but is a bully in other situations or can be a loud screaming mess when encountering certain people and dogs in specific situations.

Brady’s display of reactivity though took things to a new level for me. While loving and friendly with every single person he met, something he still is to this day, by that February, Brady looked like the legendary fictional character of Cujo when seeing another dog.

The behavior was puzzling at first. He was fine with my other three at the time that he lived with. In fact, when I first met him, he was playing with a couple of dogs in a big field. He even played with a six-month-old golden retriever puppy in a classroom managed by a dog trainer friend.

But a switch flipped that February. I have theories about it. He’s had a not so positive encounter with another dog in January, Secondly, he was probably around a year old and my thoughts are that fear periods in dogs are not so precise as books often make them out to be. In my personal experience, dogs exhibit fear periods up through two years of age. Lastly, he had finally been in one place for more that a few weeks at a time and his real personality was starting to come through.

Since I was a lot more educated when I adopted Brady and recognized the behavior, I realized I needed to work with him in a positive manner and needed to start desensitizing him and having him learn to associate seeing other dogs with good things. Like hot dogs.

By then, I’d assisted in numerous reactive rover classes at the local humane society and had become acquainted with and become good friends with several area dog trainers. I had abundant resources at my disposal.

Brady and I were politely asked to leave the first training session we attended. Truthfully, the day I got the email I had made the decision not to return to class with him. The space was too small for his very large bubble and he was only practicing his fear-triggered behaviors. But that trainer did make an interesting observation. She said Brady was a conflicted dog. She observed that at times he appeared to be friendly, trepidatiously perhaps, but within a nanosecond could flip into Cujo-like warning behaviors, complete with nashing teeth, screams and charging. And that is what made him so frightening – that complete flip into insanity.

So, I enrolled him in reactive rover sessions at the humane society, which had a larger space and allowed me to practice a bit more within his comfort zone.

But Brady’s comfort zone, or bubble, was enormous. I could take him to a local state park, an area I knew where dogs were always on leashes and that within certain times of day we were likely to encounter few dogs and walkers. He reacted even at over 100 feet away. It became so bad that he would alert to a dog tag jingle.

A good many people didn’t even know I had Brady in that first year with him. I hardly took him anywhere with me unless it was dawn or dusk. Even then, I took him to places that I was sure we wouldn’t encounter other dogs. I got very brave about hiking in the evenings or even at dark. A flashlight was always in my car.

Meanwhile, Brady and I had connected.

The turning point came when I went away for a week to see family on the east coast. I searched out a special boarding situation for Brady since he couldn’t be around other dogs. When the pet sitter came to pick him up, he happily and nonchalantly hopped into her car, never even looking at me. I was devastated.

A week later, I had returned home. I was eagerly greeted by my other dogs when I picked them up, as per usual. Then the pet sitter dropped Brady off and a miraculous thing occurred.

I opened the door to greet them and the look of complete shock and surprise on Brady’s face was palpable. Recognition and joy filled his eyes. His body visibly relaxed. I knelt down beside him, choking back sobs. It was the acknowledgement that I’d waited for months to see.

I think, for the first time in his life, Brady realized he had a permanent home and a permanent human.

I continued to work with Brady on his reactivity to other dogs, but at a very slow and gentle pace. I’d started him on agility lessons and my instructor continually dumfounded me when she assured me that someday we’d be able to compete. I just didn’t see it happening. But it didn’t bother me. He was such a fun dog to learn with and enjoyed playing the game of agility so much that it was contagious. The things I learned by working with him and that instructor translated to my other two competition dogs.

Brady and I took semi-private lessons with another woman and her very high drive and excitable Doberman. The dog was a recipe for a reaction from Brady. Although they never met physically, and frequently their crates were covered, they could feel each other’s energy and did occasionally sight one another

Over time though, he learned to deal with the other dog’s energy. Still, Brady’s exposure to other dogs was minimal and I tried to assure that any encounters we did have were well controlled. I’d go for stretches of training diligently, then would deliberately step back in the name of letting his stress level even out.

Looking back, there was a great deal of fear on my part regarding his reactions. That’s not a good combination since dogs feed off the emotions of their humans. There were very good reasons for that, but the one thing that I always made sure to do, no matter what, was to guard him. Yes, a lot of that was initially to guard against a reaction from him, but eventually it became me blocking the world from getting to him. This became not only a metaphorical block, but also a physical body block.  I didn’t realize it at first, but that consistent blocking told him that I’d handle whatever it was. It conveyed powerfully that he did not have to handle situations on his own and that he had me. Literally, I taught him that I had his back. Sometimes that meant that I’d quickly remove him from a tenuous situation. Other times, it meant that I’d physically step forward to block or deal with something that he didn’t like. It dawned on me one day that I inadvertently taught a verbal cue with this as well. I always said “I gotcha” when I was managing. To this day, those words elicit an ear twitch and relaxing in his body.

Brady knows he can trust me. It’s a high compliment.

In the midst of all this, I continued to protect Brady. We still didn’t really go places that couldn’t be managed or where I couldn’t trust the circumstances. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but my perspective of him was very much colored by what I came to label, or was labeled for me, as his reactivity.

After the first year with Brady, I took a giant leap of faith and decided to try to see if I could enroll him in group agility classes. I was very honest and direct about his issues. I was lucky enough to have the support of my ongoing instructor, as well as two other experienced instructors who decided to take a chance on us. I had some dim realization that there are many “reactive” dogs that compete in agility and that in fact doing so equipped them with the confidence and ability to mange their fears. But what was dim realization has since grown to wide-eyed seeing. Interestingly, a lot of people, even experienced competitors, do not see this, even in their own dogs.

Agility is filled with herding breeds or herding mixes. The herding breeds are bred for environmental awareness, bred for a sensitivity to movement and bred to be able to read and react to nuances. It’s part of what makes them so good at the sport. it’s also a recipe for what we now label as reactivity.

A dog working some remote farm location, with a regular routine and an ability to perform the work it is bred to do may never truly exhibit the signs that modern dog trainers label as reactivity, But throw that same breed into the suburbs or a city with cars, bicycles and skateboards whizzing by and impolite dogs that rudely bounce into their faces at a hell hole that is called a dog park where humans are engrossed in conversations with each other rather than in keeping an eye on their dogs and you have a recipe for a reactive dog.

At first, Brady and I kept a far distance from the other teams in our group agility session, I took him out of his crate only to work on specific training skills or sequences. I deliberately rode out turns where multiple dogs were working. I carefully monitored what dogs he followed or that followed him. I still had no intention of competing with him, or at least not for a long time.

My instructors though had other ideas. They saw a dog that could compete and assured me that I’d be able to someday. One in particular encouraged that dream. I’m forever grateful that she saw that. But I still think she’d never had said those things if she’d seen Brady in certain contexts.

Eventually, I did enter him in his first trial. Then I promptly chickened out and withdrew him a week prior to the event. He may have been ready, but I was not.

I had a reactive dog. Therefore, he was likely to react. I was good at managing my dog, but how could I be expected to control a speeding red freight train in an environment surrounded by flimsy plastic tape or baby gates, where amped up dogs and their people where hanging just outside, staring us down?

I did eventually become brave enough to enter Brady in his first competition. Being in the ring wasn’t a problem. It was getting to and out of the ring that was the issue. So I employed the same techniques I’d always used. We came in at the last possible moment and prior to entering the ring, I body blocked, I told him to trust me, I kept his attention on me and eventually I learned that me relaxing about the whole thing was the most import element of all.

That latter is the part that hardly anyone tells you about. Relax.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Here you have this raging beast with sharp teeth attached by a mere thread and ready to charge at another dog. You envision bloodshed and killing. At the very least you fear the public humiliation over your lack of ability to control your dog. And really, that’s what it comes down to for most of us.

In the 18 months or so that I’d worked with Brady prior to competition, I had learned about the power of relaxing my body and trying to rid myself of the tension that translated down the leash to him. I’d actually gotten fairly good at it. That confidence in turn gave him more authority over situations. We’d managed to decrease our bubble of needed space to ten feet or so, a bit closer if we hurriedly rushed through.

It was a different matter though in the close confines of an agility arena. I had to teach myself all over again to keep my body and voice loose and comfortable, More importantly, I had to believe it myself so that Brady could believe me. Those things are hard when you’re in an environment already riddled with tension.

Still, I told myself I had a reactive dog. Brady’s entire identity was wrapped up in him being a reactive dog. At least for me. It was really the first thing I told people about him.

Then I began dating a man who was clueless about dogs.

I almost stopped dating him after we went on a brief hike. There were a number of reasons, including the profuse amount of sweating he did on that jaunt, but one of them involved my dogs.

Youke had chomped on a fair amount of grass and stopped several times on the way back to the cars to puke. I was concerned and stopped with him as he wretched. Not this guy though. He marched onward, nary a glance at poor puking little Youke. He later confessed that he was embarrassed about the profuse sweating.

Brady was Sweaty Guy’s favorite of my dogs. He simply adored him. Brady felt much the same way. it was very sweet. I took to just taking Brady alone when I went out hiking with Sweaty Guy. It worked out well, since Sweaty Guy and I both preferred to hike sparsely populated trails or to go when we figured they wouldn’t be well trampled.

I’d explained about Brady’s reactivity, but like most who aren’t professionals or wrapped up somehow in dog performance sports, it pretty much flew over his head. One such time, Brady was getting a scritch from R. (aka Sweaty Guy). R. shifted his weight slightly and stopped. Brady put his head down and started a low growling. I was horrified. R. was not. He took up the scritching again and Brady leaned into him. It was my first clue that Brady’s vocalizations could not always be taken at complete face value.

One fateful Saturday, R. suggested a hike. I was leery about going on a Saturday, but our plan was to leave very early and be back before noon. We’d already gone hiking numerous times, with the same sweaty results, accompanied by Brady, often off leash, but always quickly leashed up if we saw a dog. The problem was that R. was fond of taking these very narrow rocky trails. It was fun and certainly expanded my hiking repertoire, but it was problematic with a reactive dog. I basically held Brady tightly to me or we pushed off to a wider or higher spot until the other dogs passed.

That particular Saturday hike was lovely. We had the trail entirely to ourselves on the way to a lake destination. However, the hordes were ascending as we made our way back. It was the usual summer Saturday hiking crowd with lots of flying children, inattentive people in flip-flops and off leash dogs. Foolishly, we’d brought the three dogs with us. (I didn’t yet have Camm.) Youke is fairly bomb-proof in these situations. Friendly, but not too friendly and unless someone really wants to stop and admire him, moves forward. For Brady and Jasmine it is overwhelming. Jasmine has a hard time dealing with that many people and dogs coming at her. Brady adores all the people. The other dogs? Not so much. R. saw that I was getting overwhelmed myself, so we devised a plan. He’d take Brady with him, leading the way, I’d hold on to Jasmine, and Youke was free to either run up ahead a little way or to be between us. I was incredibly apprehensive about R. taking Brady, but he and Brady had a bond and I told myself I had to trust my dog and all the progress we’d made up to that point in time.

The amazing thing was that R., as I later learned, never even considered Brady’s reactivity issues. Actually, he was never really good at listening to many of the things I said, so he’d probably forgotten about it. Bottom line, I was a basket case when we got to the car, but Brady was happy as could be, prancing along with his human friend.

It was a valuable lesson for me.

In that same week, Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” played on the radio as I was driving around with Brady in the back. It’s not as if I haven’t heard that song a zillion times. I like Nirvana, but truthfully it took a long time for the band to grow on me and they’ve never been a favorite.

Brady has many quirks and among them is not liking music played loudly or me singing. He especially hates my singing. I’ve discovered Brady is not much of a fan of R&B or dance music. it seems the only music he really tolerates is good old rock n’ roll. Fitting, since if he were a human I envision him as the lead singer of a hard rocking ’80s style band. Probably a big hair band in all truth, but there’s no accounting for taste. He tolerates The Rolling Stones and seem to like AC/DC and Aerosmith, so he has that going for him.

On that particular day, I stared singing to the Nirvana song in a low contralto. For once, Brady didn’t start screaming in protest. In fact, his ears perked forward and he seemed to be listening intently. As I sang along, for the first time, I listened, really listened, to the song lyrics.

It sounds incredibly dramatic, but I made an important decision that day. I was no longer going to view Brady through a specific lens and as a reactive dog. I was going to see him as he is, a singular and unique being, entitled to his own thoughts and opinions about the world around him. A being that was trying to navigate a world that at times was puzzling and overwhelming, but one in which he had the tools and gifts to maneuver at his own pace and with his own understanding.

For too long my view of Brady had been colored by this perception of him as a Reactive Dog. Once I let go of that judgement, for that’s what it truly was, our progress accelerated.

It was hard in many ways to let go, but these days I think of Brady not as a reactive dog, but as a dog. A brilliant, fun, fast, fierce, quirky, serious and funny, opinionated dog. A dog with his very own theme song.

Come as you are.

009

  • I will also be forever grateful to R.for seeing a different dog than the one I saw.

Tunnelers Makes It All Better

My usual levelheadedness failed me and I was feeling frustrated yesterday at an agility trial. Until tunnelers that is.

001 Camm and Youke want to know when they can get out and play.

Tunnelers is a fun and fast game in one of the agility venues I play in, NADAC. The course consists entirely of tunnels. The course is set up in any number of configurations and like any agility obstacle course, the handler has to direct their dog through it. Hopefully in the manner as numbered.

My love of tunnelers is contagious. I’m convinced that because I like it so much, my dogs do too. Dogs pick up on their humans’ feelings about things. Since running tunnelers makes me happy, my dogs are pretty happy about it too. However, I have to admit, I could never convince Jasmine of how fun it is. My theory is that all those tunnels concerned and frustrated Jasmine. Pretty much any course that consisted of almost all the same obstacles was cause for concern with Jasmine. Since she hates to be wrong about things, I think that maybe she though she was being sent over and over again to the same things because she’d done it wrong in the prior sequence.

The first time I met Youke as a wee pup, he impressed me by running through a tunnel. He did it all on his own, no direction from a human and clearly thought it was the best thing ever. I knew then that I had a tunnelers dog. Was I ever right. Youke has a gazillion qualifying scores in tunnelers. He and I are so good at tunnelers that he pretty much has to be dead-tired not to qualify. I can count on one hand the number of times per year that Youke does not qualify in tunnelers.

Sometimes tunnelers is so fun for Brady that he drools. In Camm’s case, I know she found a particular course incredibly super exhilarating when she comes out of the last tunnel with her teeth chattering and a blaze in her eyes.

The last agility trial where I had a serious crisis of confidence, aka I was near tears, was a few years ago in Canada, and Youke and I did not qualify in tunnelers.

I had taken Youke up for a NADAC trial, just he and I. We had a terrible weekend. We just were not in synch at all and things did not go well. It was not even a fact of having no qualifying scores as by then I had learned it was not all about getting Qs. It was that we were not meshing as a team at all. Plus my handling sucked. Another woman, who was experiencing an equally frustrating weekend, lightened the situation some by declaring that she and I were in a quest for a zero qualifying weekend. Guess who won? Me. At least she and her dog qualified in tunnelers in the last run of the day.

Just prior to the tunnelers run that particular weekend, I sat in my car with Youke in the passenger seat beside me. I was at my lowest point of the weekend. I wanted to cry. And I really wanted to just pack up my stuff and leave early and go home. I didn’t do either. Instead, I reminded myself that my days of crying about something as stupid as getting Qs or not in a game I’m playing with my dog that is supposed to be fun were over and had been over for almost a year at that point. I reminded myself that I was at a beautiful place that I loved to visit, was surrounded by wonderful people and was doing something with one of my best friends that he and I really liked to do. I glanced down at Youke, curled up sleeping on the seat and rallied myself, telling myself I owed it to him to not break down about something so unimportant..I also reminded myself that tunnelers was coming up and we almost always scored in that, so all was not lost. And yes, I do have a lot of conversations with myself.

But Youke took an off course tunnel and we did not qualify, meaning we didn’t get a single qualifying run the entire weekend, including on Friday night.

However, my mood had shifted and despite the admittedly disappointing showing, I realized I’d still enjoyed a mini-weekend vacation on Vancouver Island, had visited with folks I enjoyed being with, had played and explored on the beach numerous times with Youke – something we both adore – and had visited a couple of new places on the island we had previously not been to before. Plus I could now brag about having a weekend with nothing but zeroes.

As I recall, the next trial I did with Youke several weeks later was grand, with almost all qualifying scores, including, of course, in tunnelers.

This past weekend was, as with every agility trial I attend pretty much it seems, a roller coaster of highs and lows. I didn’t let anything that happened Saturday, good or bad, really get to me, merely noting the bad things as things to work on with my dogs in training practices and taking pleasure in the good moments. Brady had a scoreless Saturday, but I noted the great things that occurred on runs and filed away the things I needed to work on. Camm and I had rough patches in the first two runs, but both jumpers runs were nice and the second was particularly lovely and smooth.

On Sunday though, my usual ability to hold a pretty even keel was tested. Maybe it’s that there were a couple of runs that I badly wanted qualifying scores.

However, I didn’t properly walk one course and directed Brady, very efficiently I might add, on the second run but over the wrong course. Se la vie. He did exactly what I asked. I couldn’t be upset about that. When someone told me, I just shrugged, figuring there will always be more opportunities.

I also wanted to redeem a run I’d had with Youke a few weeks ago. This past weekend, we ran the same courses we’d run in Newport Beach. That weekend, I had a perfect run with Youke in a distance game called chances, but had stepped over the distance line inadvertently, disqualifying the run. A qualifying run this past weekend was not meant to be though.

Both boys ran the regular courses fairly smoothly, in fact each had a great run in the first round and I felt competent and smooth as their handler, but the second runs each contained one particularly frustrating bobble that I couldn’t seem to not focus upon.

Then came Camm’s turn. Each of her regular runs started off gorgeously. Midway through though, we had a handler/dog bobble.Round one was my fault, leading to frustration from her, which – like Brady – quickly translates to attempted nipping. I walked her off course. I do not like getting mouthed on the boob. Midway through round two, which had been going well until she self-released immediately from a contact, she flew at me, attempting to nip again. I quickly told her to lie down and that time carried her off the agility field. Camm finds that particularly humiliating. My left boob thanked me profusely and was glad right boob had taken one for the team in the previous round.

For the first time in a long time, I sat for a moment in my vehicle wondering what I was doing. In that moment, I was not having fun. I thoroughly buy into the concept that agility should be fun for the dog, more so perhaps than the human, But the human still has to have fun. It’s impossible to fake it with dogs. If you’re not having fun, the dog isn’t either.

Both Camm and Brady were curled up in the back of the jeep. tired and a bit puzzled. I could feel their own frustration and perhaps even disappointment with me. Youke, who has been through this before, sat in the passenger seat, nose pushing at me to pet him. As I absent-mindedly stroked him, I thought to myself that I should just pack it up and leave for the day. There’s a mantra in training dogs that if you’re not into it or cannot be clear-headed about it, you need to immediately stop and take it back up later, when you can be.

All I could think of though was how I’d entered all three dogs in two rounds of tunnelers – six runs- and that seemed like a lot of entry fee money to simply throw away. I decided to stay. Money can be a motivating factor at times.

Youke continued to push at me with his nose, forcing me to place my attention on him.

As I thought through it more, I also reminded myself that tunnelers is fun and that my dogs love it. It might even prove to be a stress reliever for us all. So I chose to stay, shook off the glumness and stopped  thinking about how late the day was getting and how it’d be nice to get home,

The first step was to re-set our collective mindsets. So I took all three dogs out for a brief little walk, a visit to the kiddie pools to cool off and ample time to sniff, pee on things and roll in the grass. Of course, I didn’t get to wallow in the kiddie pool, I’m not really into sniffing and peeing on things and it’s a little uncouth for me to be rolling in the grass at my age, but nonetheless, that little jaunt also helped to re-set my mind too.

And tunnelers was super fun, like it almost always is.

I realized after I had played our last game of ball in the big field and was packing up stuff to head home that I’d completely forgotten about the earlier frustration and unhappiness of the day. I had three dogs with loose relaxed bodies and wide panting smiles on their faces flopped in the back of the jeep and ready to head home. It ended up being a good day after all.

bradytunnelBrady demonstrates how fast and fun flying into tunnels can be. Photo by Heidi Erland.

Why Border Collies Are Easy

001Jasmine is not normal.

When me and my ex-husband adopted Jasmine from the shelter in September, 2004, I thought she seemed like a sweet, very needy, but kinda dumb young dog. I also thought she was a really quiet dog.

The adoption decision ultimately was my ex’s to make. I’d been looking for a while, but was becoming overwhelmed. I .was leaning toward a Leonberger with half a tongue, only because I’m often drawn to the quirky. Plus he was a big dog and I love big dogs. Upon retrospect, I’m sorta glad that didn’t happen. Can you imagine the water splatter?

In the end, he chose Jasmine over a half German Shepherd, half pit bull puppy. I actually preferred the puppy a bit, but at the time couldn’t imagine raising one. We reasoned he was cute and would be adopted quickly.

Jasmine is the only dog in my household I did not choose. I have a great deal of guilt about that. Only because I feel that I should’ve chosen her. I guess it balances out in the end though. She definitely chose me,although I didn’t know it at the time.

Truthfully, I wanted a Border Collie. But I was a bit scared of the time commitment and energy needs I’d have to manage. I did go look at one Border Collie. Ironically, his name was Chaz and he was red and white. But I felt we didn’t click, and I needed to feel that certain something before making the commitment.

Jasmine was approximately a year old upon her adoption. I actually think she was a bit younger. I look back now and realize she still had puppy fat rolls and her whole body still had a floppy feel and look to it. She came from the Yakima area, found as a stray, and apparently in her travels tangled with some barbed wired. Some of the wire was wrapped around her chest and part of an upper leg when she came into rescue. She ended up having the wound stitched, but re-opened and re-stitched as it became infected because the first vet missed seeing a grass seed in the wound.

When we adopted her, she’d only been in rescue for a day or so before she was transported west to the Seattle area for the better likelihood of finding a potential adopter. As it turned out, as we were filling out the paperwork to adopt her, another couple came in and wanted to take her home. We were first, so we became the lucky ones. My ex and I used to joke how that other couple had no idea of how we saved them.

Because we couldn’t agree on a new name for her, the rescue’s name of Jasmine ended up sticking.

Jasmine didn’t make a sound for two weeks. Not a single utterance. She also seemed relatively stupid, especially in comparison to our other dog, Sylvie. We didn’t really take into account Sylvie’s very strong personality nor the fact that Jasmine was probably incredibly overwhelmed and a bit scared. At the time Sylvie was at least  nine years old and had been an only dog since coming into my life. Sad and funny how we humans think a one-year-old dog and an almost 10-year-old dog are apples to apples.

It also became apparent within 48 hours of having Jasmine that she had separation anxiety. I came home to a mess of a house and a pair of destroyed shoes when I foolishly left the dogs alone for a few hours to get my hair cut.

So, we attempted to crate train her. Train isn’t really the proper word. We placed her in Sylvie’s old airline crate and expected that she’d like it. Wrong. She chewed through it. So we bought a metal crate. Still wrong. She chewed the pan at the bottom out. So we placed her inside of it with some toys and went out to dinner. We returned to find she had somehow managed to move the very large crate from one end of the living room to the other, placing herself inside the fireplace, and leaving around her a snowstorm from the chair cushion she had somehow dragged off the chair, into her crate and destroyed.

That was the last time Jasmine was ever crated in her life.

I’ve since learned a lot more about proper crate training, and even Jasmine will now tolerate a crate for a little bit. As long as I’m within view and have a ready supply of treats.

I’m pretty sure she’s claustrophobic. Or so I tell myself.

Within the first few months, we learned to Jasmine-proof the house and slowly worked on her separation anxiety. That is when I discovered the power of the Kong. For that first year she was with me, Jasmine might as well have lived off peanut butter filled Kongs.

However, there were times when a Kong just wasn’t enough. One such memorable time was Christmas of 2004. Left Jasmine and Sylvie alone in the house while attending to some last minute Christmas chores. Returned to find that Jasmine had discovered the bird seed that was to have been one of my Christmas presents. opened the bag and cavorted through all three levels of the house with the bag of bird seed, spreading joy through our little world.

I was still vacuuming up bird seed by Valentine’s Day.

The day didn’t end there though. Later on Christmas Day, while out in the yard, and away from our eyes, she discovered something delicious and very greasy to roll in. Whatever it was, and to this day i have no idea, carried with it an enormous stench. Jasmine promptly got a lovely bubble bath. Bubbles because it took some severe scrubbing for that stink and greasiness to come out. One of my favorite pictures ever taken of Jasmine depicts her in the bathtub, soaking wet, huge ears sticking out sideways and giant pleading eyes looking upward. A silent plea not to be mad at her. A giant smudge of the whatever that was is evident on the side of her head. Unfortunately, that picture was lost in a computer meltdown many years ago.

I enrolled Jasmine in several obedience classes and became her primary handler. Still, I thought of her as my ex-husband’s dog. She adored him, he adored her. I had to do all the hard stuff, like training, doing her obedience homework, teaching the various tricks, and the not-so-fun stuff, like sometimes disciplining her and taking care of most of her exercise needs. He did sometimes take her for a run with him, but mostly he got to show of her repertoire of tricks when we had company over.

Jasmine’s exercise needs were seemingly bottomless.

I figured that was pretty normal for a one-year-old dog. After all, it’d been years since I was around a puppy and Sylvie had been a mature dog for a very long time. I’d also adopted her as an adult dog.

Jasmine and I went to the dog park a lot. A kind older gentleman one day saw the look of exasperation on my face over some Jasmine antic.

“How old is your dog?” he asked.

“She’s about a year old,” I replied.

“You’ve got another year before she starts to calm down,” he helpfully informed me, adding, “another two and she’ll be a very good dog.”

He was right, and he was wrong.

It would take three years before she would calm down, some, and another before she would become a very good dog.

Because most people see only a certain side of Jasmine – the well-behaved, conditioned agility version of Jasmine – most don’t believe me when I talk about that first year with her.

The crowning moment of Jasmine, Year One occurred in late April, 2005.

I was walking her around dusk – I’d quickly discovered that late day was a far better time to release her exuberance upon the world as there were likely to be far less potential victims around – at a local state park. Areas of the park at the time were pretty overgrown and had few visitors. A perfect place to let an energetic young dog burn off some energy and run. In fact, it is because of Jasmine that I learned of all the many secret or less-traveled places to let my dogs run off leash.

As Jasmine was bounding through the growing grass at top speed, barking her fool head off – because that silent thing only lasted those first two weeks and she has a very loud powerful bark – I saw what I first thought was another dog at the far end of the field watching her. Jasmine saw it too. As was, and continues to be, Jasmine’s style, she made a beeline for the other canine. The other “dog” made a beeline toward her. It was then that I realized it wasn’t a dog. It was a coyote.

Jasmine is too large for a coyote to eat, but when threatened, a coyote will attack a dog, even a larger one.

As I stood watching this drama unfold in front of me, my first thought was that Jasmine was going to get hurt. So I called her. Of course, she didn’t even flick an ear.

Jasmine and the coyote met each other, stopping just in the nick of time before a frontal collision, They sniffed a bit and then … they started to play.

I stood dumbfounded as I watched the two of them play chase in a huge overgrown field bordered by blackberry bushes and trees. At one point they were both so far out they looked like specks and I could barely make them out except for the leaps in the grass.

As I watched them, I realized that I might lose Jasmine. I confess, I was not sad. Actually, I felt relief wash all over me. Maybe Jasmine wouldn’t come back. Maybe the coyote would tire of her and attack her. I was so exhausted.

It wasn’t meant to to be. The coyote did eventually tire of the game, and he/she walked away. Jasmine came running back to me, tongue lolling to the side and seemingly quite pleased with herself for making a new friend.

Jasmine has since met plenty more coyotes, and she’s generally not threatened by them nor threatening to them, but with the exception of a large male that I’m pretty sure she had a flirtation with a few years back, I’ve never seen another play with her.

That day was a turning point in our relationship. I realized I was stuck with her. Well, it was actually the first of many turning points. But it was the first time I realized just how nutty my dog was.

I recall telling a few friends about her many antics in that first year. A few suggested that maybe she needed to be on drugs. That seemed equivalent though to putting an active four-year-old child who is constantly asking “why” on drugs. I chose not to. I didn’t even know about Benadryl then.

As it turned out, Jasmine was far from “dumb.” In addition to her need for physical activity, I discovered Jasmine was happiest when her brain was also engaged. I didn’t know it then, but I learned afterward and as a result of working with Jasmine that oftentimes brain work is more tiring than physical activity for a dog.

And that’s how we came to enroll in agility lessons.

it was at one such agility lesson that i saw a posting about 3/4th Border Collie and 1/4 Australian Cattle Dog puppies. That inquiry led to Youke.

By then I’d realized that my fears about not being able to provide a Border Collie with an interesting enough life were completely and utterly unfounded.

I would never have known that had it not been for Jasmine.

The other day, a friend and I took some of our respective dogs out on a 7.5 mile walk. That distance is for the humans. Since the dogs were frequently ahead of us or exploring off to the bits at the side before racing to catch up and rejoin us, who knows what their actual mileage was. It’s a new place to them, so lots of new sights and smells, which are usually tiring to dogs. I took Jasmine and Youke.

When I returned home, Youke promptly plopped on the floor, but seeing that he wasn’t getting fed quite that early, headed off for bed until dinnertime. He was pretty content to return to bed after being fed too.

Jasmine got home and immediately had to check out the yard. Then she had to follow me around while I dealt with laundry. Once I settled in my office for a bit, she settled on one of the dog beds in the room for all of two minutes, before then getting up and doing several somersaults between two of the beds, all the time making wookie noises. Yes, somersaults. Jasmine still does somersaults at the age of nearly 12.

Today, because, gasp! – she’d not done much of anything so far because I had the nerve to take just Youke out by himself, Jasmine started pacing as soon as I got home. She came upstairs with me while I checked emails, but sighed mightily numerous times, making her restlessness very clear. When I decided at about 6 pm to take them all out for a bit, she beat everyone else down the stairs to get to the door into the garage first, all the time barking her joy and excitement. At the field, she raced to get to the ball first, making sure to nearly bowl over each of the other three in her quest. Then she got bored and went off to sniff critter scents. But just to keep the other three on their game, she’d occasionally charge out from the sidelines to race for a ball. Because they have each been bowled over numerous times in the past and it seems fairly unpleasant, the three Border Collies usually defer to Jasmine and let her race ahead to the ball. They know she’ll get bored and drop it on the way back usually.

So yeah. Having three Border Collies is easy. Having one Jasmine is still sometimes a lot of work.

011

Words to Live By

Me and Pool

According to family lore, my first three words in life were: “dog,” “shit” and “pretty.”

I have always found this astounding. First, that I so smartly whipped out three words that could be used in a sentence. And not just any sentence, but a few,

“Pretty dog shit.” – Yeah, no one but a toddler would really use that in real life.

The more likely possibility would be, “Shit, pretty dog!” That would show not only my total coolness, but also reflect a bit of my Jamaican heritage, if said with just the right flavor.

The second reason why I’ve found those three words so amazing is how they totally foresaw my life and encompass my current state.

There’s a third reason too. And I’m going to admit to being pretty fucking proud of it. One of my first words was a swear word. That too was a harbinger of the future for me.

So you may ask – what’s up with this? Prideful of being a little girl who uttered “shit?” That my first words included “dog?”

Well, actually I was thinking about this because I’m currently in a sort of shitty mood. Because I’ve been cleaning up dog shit.

Yup, those words could not have been more of a prophecy.

But before I get to that, first let me explain that I have this bit about those first three words on good authority. My family.

Me and Ma. My mother first told me this when I was quite young. She told me more than a few times. The context was usually 1) I was admiring a dog, or 2) I was swearing. Ma’s dead now, so you’ll just have to trust me on this.

I never did learn in what order these words came out for the first time. Most seemed to think it was “dog.” Of course, that would be the logical way of things. A twisted part of me though sort of hopes it was either “shit” or “pretty.” Just think how clever I would have to be to have a first word that was such a descriptive choice.

My paternal grandmother, Grammy Ouida, backed my mother up on this.But Gram gave a lot more explicit details and provided an actual scenario for this precious bit of precociousness.

Apparently, I was strolling along with her on the Western Promenade of Portland, ME – a fairly ritzy area, especially then – with my first dog, a standard Poodle named Clicquot. She seemed to remember me saying something about “dog shit pretty.”  I think that seems doubtful, but she did remember reprimanding me for my inappropriate and surprising choice of “shit.”

Anyway, Gram too is now dead, so again you’ll have to trust me on this.

So yes, my first dog was a Poodle. A very grand Poodle. He was elderly and very stately and I adored him. He was also a Jamaican import, hence the name Clicquot. As in Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, the French champagne house. It took me literally 30-something years to figure that out. Jamaicans have a resplendent way with names. Trust me on this.

Back to the recent dog shit cleaning scenario. After a very fun day involving a bit of agility and a lot of exploring a fabulous new hiking/walking place, I returned home to a not so fabulous stench. Initially, I thought I had to clean out the cat litter box. However, I found only a tiny turd in there, and while I wholeheartedly agree that cat shit stinks horrendously – that was not quite the odor. Still, I figured maybe it was just an extra stinky bit that was still lingering. Then I went into the main area of the house.

What I encountered was almost Poop-a-Palooza. Not nearly as bad as the time that Youke as a puppy got into Sylvie’s tasty old dog joint supplements and devoured nearly the entire bucket, followed by a cocktail of olive oil pulled down from the top of the refrigerator – yes that really happened, trust me – but nor was it just a lump in the middle of the living room.

Since I’d spent the entire day up until that point with three of the dogs – Youke, Brady and Camm – that left one guilty party. Jasmine.

What was so incredibly frustrating too was that the mess was fresh. Not as in odor – that was freshly disgusting, but as in freshly eliminated just for me. No crusty bits or anything.

Since I immediately started swearing, and trust me when I saw that “shit” was one of the milder words that spurted from my mouth, the dogs wisely thought to disappear into other rooms and lay, very, very still.

Not really the way I wanted to end my almost perfect day, by cleaning and scrubbing for nearly two hours and glaring at anything with four legs, but so fitting really I realized as I threw my garbage bag full of icky paper towels, used wash cloths and two bottles of enzyme cleaner in the trash.

Pretty dogs shit.

Back on Track

Ah, my Red Dog and I are back!

Brady at Wanda's*

Two gloriously smooth and quiet runs Friday afternoon with Brady at this weekend’s CPE trial. Not a single argument about anything, not even the table. Simply perfect.

Brady dislikes the table. In CPE, the table stops the time on the games. Brady would much rather the game go on. In fact, I feel a bit bad for him sometimes when we play in CPE. The courses in many of the CPE games courses are frighteningly short – as in nine to 12 obstacles at times. While that was a fantastic thing for Jasmine, who wasn’t a big fan of the agility thing and could become easily bored or disengaged – for Brady this is a horrible thing. Brady loves long courses. The more obstacles the better. And I don’t think it’s simply due to his long stride and love of running, although I’m sure that plays a factor. I think it’s because he honestly loves to play agility.

I was actually fairly nervous walking him into the ring and up to the line for the first run. The run, a jumpers course, had a tricky bit right at the beginning, although the rest had a very smooth flow that I knew Brady and I could easily handle. But there was a straightaway at the end too that we’ve been having a fair amount of trouble with of late.

No problems.

The tricky bit of the course right at the start seemed a recipe for an argument. But I calmed myself with the thought that it wasn’t anything Brady and I had not seen before and that we completely had the skills to carry it out, especially if I held up my end of the bargain and handled it properly. Therefore, I walked into the ring telling myself to breath and to be confident within myself and with my dog. In other words, trust my dog and trust myself.

And it flowed beautifully. Even at the end, a straightaway where Brady typically looks back at me and argues about me being far behind, worked. Mainly because I held pressure at precisely the point in his path that he needed it and did not waiver. He did glance back at the part he usually does, but saw the pressure being held and reacted accordingly by moving forward. Intent means everything to Brady.

It’s a lesson my dogs are always trying to teach me. I go in with lack of confidence, other things on my mind, not being into that day – basically a lack of intent, and my dogs know it, especially the younger three. I think that feeling of intent is something most dogs need, but with the border collies, it’s almost imperative.

Brady and I have been having relationship woes on agility courses for the last few trials.

Although we train outdoors, on dirt or hog fuel, Brady sometimes has difficultly maintaining his composure in outdoors trials. At least more often as of late than at indoor arenas. Part of this is my fault. Until this year, when I found some awesome trail running shoes, I’ve not been particularly confident about running on grass. It’s often slippery and I adjust my handling accordingly. It’s also often slippery for the dogs, and I saw at a trial a couple of weeks ago how Brady adjusted himself to the conditions after slipping a bit going into a weave pole entry..

Brady’s frustrations, usually with me and my late cues or handling choices, lead to what I call arguments on course. At best, that means an excessive amount of barking – often stopping in the middle of the run to come over to me and shout his displeasure. At worse, Brady exhibits his pissedness in a nip at me. Not good. Especially not nice to my legs.

The thing is, he’s often not wrong to be displeased. However, the expression of displeasure is another thing. Arguments shouldn’t ramp up from a shouting match to biting. That’s just not very civilized.

I can’t do a lot about this at trials, except to walk him off. Sometimes that has an effect, especially when I catch him in time. But at other times he’s so wired that he can’t get past the event that triggered his explosion. And Brady holds grudges.

Because of this pattern over the past few weeks, Brady slipped and this past week did something he doesn’t usually do in our weekly agility lessons. He attempted a serious nip at me.

In fact, he charged me full face forward and a tooth hit my kneecap. My timing for once was perfect. I cried out in surprise (the pain always hits after, as in way afterward because of the adrenaline), stopped what we were doing immediately and walked him down. The walk down is a serious, almost foot stomping walk, full of intent, and right into the dog’s space. There is no mistaking the walk down. When I do the walk down, every single one of my dogs knows I mean business. Serious business. I made my eyes hard and flashed them at Brady and grabbed him by the collar, a little tightly, but not with any pinching, and firmly and assertively marched him back to the crating area. The important thing about the walk down is silence. Total and deadly silence. I then placed him firmly in his crate, closed the door and walked away.

Then I breathed. It’s important to not hold on to any anger. Dogs understand a quick flash of temper, but when you observe dogs interacting together, corrections are quick and dogs don’t hold on to them. If they do, something is seriously wrong.

I had Brady wait out the next run. That allows him to think about what just happened and gives me time to simmer down so I don’t go out in a mood. Training should never be done in a mood.

When he came out, I petted him softly and we continued our session. We had wobbles with the sections we were working on, but I made sure to reward him often for  parts he did correctly and broke down the parts he was having difficulty with and rewarded for those bits until it became a whole. I also made a very conscious decision at the end to not complicate anything and try a bit that everyone else – including me with Youke – was working, and kept it very simple at the end. Then we ended with a huge game of tug, his favorite way to celebrate.

The eye flash and walk down are pretty much the most serious corrections I can give any of my four dogs. Usually all it takes is a sharp announcement of their names and an eye flash to stop something naughty. The use of pressure, the walk down, takes it to the next level. Unless I’m breaking up a serious dog fight (which thankfully I’ve only had to do less than a handful of times in my life) that’s about as serious as it gets, coupled with taking away or walking away from something of value (in Brady’s case, walking him off from doing agility).

BeachJulyBrady It’s pretty hard to stay mad or frustrated at this. So much sweet, adorable muppetness in such a tightly wound, unforgiving furry body.

And this is why I follow a philosophy that if a correction must be made, it should be quick and appropriate to the situation. it should make the point, but not belabor it. It should not be unnecessarily harsh, nor should it be physical in most instances. And it’s important to immediately move on. Now, if only I could somehow teach Brady this.

* Photo taken a few weeks ago by Erich Simon.

Budding Agility Diva

I adore watching junior handlers at agility trials. I love seeing the nervousness and the bravery on their faces, the sudden surge of confidence when it all goes well. And sometimes my heart breaks a little for them when things don’t go right. All those emotions seem magnified on those youthful faces.

Truth be known, I’m a little jealous. I so wish I’d discovered this sport when I was their age. I dream of the confidence and awesome handling skills I’d possess. Then I remember that agility hadn’t really been thought up when I was their age and comfort myself with the fact that at least I was playing around with horses back then..

It’s especially endearing to me to watch them as they mature, both physically and mentally. With that maturity comes some stellar handling. So much can be learned from those kids by the adults that play this game.

I saw one such example this past weekend.

I drove up north Sunday to attend a small agility trial. Last week, down the Oregon coast for 320 miles. This week, a 100 miles each way. Because that’s what agility addicts do.

The trial was small, but there were a handful of junior handlers, the most I think I’ve ever seen at one trial. A few of the boys I’d seen at several past trials and it was very inspiring to see the improvements in their handling, as well as the improvements made with their dogs. I freely confess I probably have a mini crush on one of those boys, although I try not to make it a creepy one. He’s just an awesome kid in general. I always tell his mom what an awesome kid she has. She beams and tells me me she thinks so too. Love that!

At this weekend’s trial a girl and her mother were there from out of state. The little girl, 11 years of age, was running a very fast and spunky pug. Those of you who do not believe that pug + fast and spunky can exist, have never been to an agility trial. I’m hear to tell you that pugs are very trainable and they don’t all look like tubs of lard.In fact, no pug should look like a tub of lard. Ever.

The girl was all legs too. And she needed those long limbs to keep up with her pug.

I watched her runs and was super impressed with her handling and her positivity and connection with her dog, while standing on the start line, during the run and after the run was over. I loved how she praised her dog after each run, no matter what happened.

One run in particular stood out. It was, I think, a clean run. Regardless, it was smooth, flowing and pretty to watch and the girl ended the run with a big smile on her face, lavish praise for her dog and a little soft pet and hug for him at the finish line. She did what every agility handler should strive to do, make it appear that the run was perfect and that she was pleased with her dog, whether it was perfect or not.

After the class was over, I walked back toward my own vehicle and right behind the girl and her mother. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it was hard not to. The mother was critiquing her daughter’s run. Interestingly, I never heard her say she was happy for her daughter or that she did the run well. Or maybe I missed that part. It seemed to be an actual critique, yet from a person who wasn’t an actual trainer. Or maybe I’m wrong. Either way, it was a critique on positioning and handling technique. The girl listened and offered a few points here or there.Then she made the most marvelous statement.

“But it went really well. I did good.”

She said it with quiet, but powerful confidence.

My heart soared when I heard her say that. Her mother then admitted it did go well.

I did a mental fist pump and veered off a little way to get to my car.

I sincerely hope that young girl keeps that mental strength and confidence. I also hope that someday I get to compete with her. She’ll probably kick my ass.

Random Reinforcement

001 “Oh hi. Just chillin’ until my next run.”

Dogs don’t care about qualifying scores.

That is a simple fact. And really, it should be the end of this post.

It’s not though because humans care about qualifying scores or “Qs.” Some care more than others and some care very, very much.

007 Jasmine expertly demonstrates just how much she doesn’t care about ginormous pretty ribbons.

I admit that I used to care quite a bit. That was back in the day when I used to leave an agility trial in tears

Tropical Beach Vacation

007 “Thanks mom for taking us on a tropical beach vacation!”

Actually, I took JaYoBaCa with me on vacation to the Central Oregon Coast. And while some of you may question why I would need a vacation from my current summer vacation thanks to my unemployed status, I’ll let that hang for a minute or so.

If, like me, you question the insertion of the description of tropical in any post mentioning the Central Oregon Coast, let me explain.

It all started a few months back when I found myself suddenly with a lot of free time on my hands. Although my friend Kris suggested rather cavalierly that I take a vacation somewhere, I scoffed at the idea. I was after all, unemployed. But an idea started to germinate. I’d always wanted to attend a particular NADAC agility that’s held every July in Newport, OR. However, it seemed like such a long drive, as well as a major expense. To do the trial, I figured I’d have to plan on taking pretty much an entire week off from work, not to mention the cost of a hotel. While I earned a lot of vacation time, a week seemed like a lot of time to burn all at once, particularly when my preference was to use most of my vacation time for long weekends. But faced with a seemingly endless summer, I thought to myself that this was the time to do it.

Another reason I’d never made the effort to do the trial was that it was a July event and Jasmine, at the time, and later, Youke, are not fond of doing agility in full sun and summer heat. Nevertheless, I was assured numerous times by numerous people that although the trial was outdoors, on grass and in full sun with no shade for parking, that Newport is typically very cool in the summer. Cool and windy.

Therefore, the very week that I received The Call, I booked a cabin at the beach near Newport. Gleneden Beach to be exact. When I made the reservation in early May, the booking agent attempted to persuade me to upgrade to a seemingly nicer place, cautioning me that the place I wanted was a bit rustic – code for a bit run down. I advised him I was coming with four dogs and that we were perfectly fine with rustic accommodations..And yes, he asked me if I really was bringing four dogs. After securing the cabin owner’s permission, I had my rental and I started to look forward to a new adventure.

The thought of a cool and windy Newport became even more entrancing as the unprecedented summer of 2015 came into full swing in the Seattle area, bringing with it record heat and a record number of days of 90 degrees and above.

Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I’ve become very acclimated to Pacific Northwest summers. It’s actually a lovely time of year. Plenty of blue skies, very little precipitation normally, but enjoyable temperatures on average – rarely getting into the 80s, much less the 90s. Luckily for me, I grew up in the Northeast and spent some time in South Florida – so I know what actual humidity and heat are. That experience came in handy. Although at first it all seemed a bit too much, I found that I could become quickly accustomed again to the heat, and despite what the locals seem to think, there really is no such thing as humidity here.

Still, I don’t really enjoy playing agility when it’s above 80 degrees and Youke doesn’t either. It’s hard to be a mostly black dog in the summer. Brady and Camm could care less. They’d run on three legs if necessary. But that’s where it’s nice to have a thoughtful and caring human as your guardian, so that as a Border Collie you don’t do foolish things, like break yourself and get heat exhaustion, hopefully.

So I was looking forward to those cooler coastal temperatures and windy and overcast conditions I’d been promised.

Nonetheless, following in the words of a former president I could never fully get behind, trust but verify, I checked the weather forecast before my departure.

Never trust. Especially never trust a weather forecast.

Nearly seven long hours later, we arrived at our cabin. Seven hours? Yes, because I was stupid and didn’t stick with my departure plan and hits loads of traffic. And I had to double back and retrieve the sun shade I had forgotten. Thankfully, I was only 20 minutes out when I realized my mistake. Do you know how hard it is to have no one to blame but yourself for a late departure and for forgetting to bring an important item? Talk about displaced anger. I resolved it though by swearing at myself a lot during the drive and laughing about how I had no one to tell “told you.”

I wish I could’ve taped the expressions on my dogs faces when we arrived. The grumpy, warm, uncomfortable previous hours were instantly forgotten as they perused the cabin, galloping from room to room, sniffing every corner and racing with delight through the fully fenced yard.

It was lovely and cool when we arrived in the early evening. The dogs rolled in the grass and cavorted through the yard, stopping frequently to smell and pee on things.

The fully fenced yard. That was accessible from the main bedroom. As in, open the door and let the dogs out, mere feet from the bed. I’m not gonna lie. This is pretty much my idea of perfection. I decided after this week, I am finally going to get my own yard fenced in.

Thus began our vacation.

For the next day or so, we just hung out, playing on the beach in the mornings, getting a coffee for me, eating a late breakfast, then me reading in the yard for hours while the dogs romped and eventually settled down by napping in the sun.

013

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All of that was tiring, so naturally we all had to retire back into the house for a nap too.

Mornings and evenings were at first very cool, so I was glad I’d brought plenty of warm stuff to wear. But it was starting to look like maybe the weather forecast had not exactly been spot on. For one, I was surprising very warm while in the yard. I figured that maybe the cabin’s location and the fence cut the wind. Still, I noticed that I was almost too warm when walking the beach with the dogs. I even wore the bathing suit I’d packed as an afterthought. Not at the beach, although I could’ve comfortably, but in the yard. I won’t discuss the nosy neighbor man who decided he had to stroll by a few times. A nosy neighbor man who happened to be quite tall and could easily see over the fence. Good thing I had my defense team to remind him to move along..

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Jasmine and Youke seemed to think it was pretty much the best time ever and worked on their relaxation techniques – the beauty of having dogs almost 12 and a little over seven years of age, respectively. Camm looked adoringly at me, then kept hugging and licking me, when she wasn’t chasing bees in the yard or trying to get Youke to play with her.

Brady though seemed to have a very different take. Brady somehow interpreted the trip as a romantic beach vacation for he and I.

Every time I turned around, there was Brady, tongue lolling about.and poised for attack. Seriously, I couldn’t move more than three feet for the first two days without Brady showing his deep appreciation for my decision to take him on a romantic beach getaway by attempting to hump me.

Okay, I’m going to admit I made a bit of a mistake several years ago by not discouraging Brady’s attempts to show his appreciation.

At some point early on in his time with me, Brady decided an appropriate way to display his appreciation for his evening meal was to hump me. The better the dinner, the stronger and longer the attempted hump. Leftovers are always more appreciated then just plain kibble, but really, as long as he gets fed in the evening, it’s an occasion for joy, and to show his deep appreciation. At first I just thought it was kind of funny. And I didn’t discourage it, because I’d read somewhere that humping was not merely a sexual thing, but also a way for a dog to express itself about other things. Being that I decided long ago to let Brady express his warped and slightly off-kilter feelings about many things in some manner, theorizing that the misinterpretation by other humans and the repression of his real emotions was what led to his oddities in the first place, I let him hump me.

Yes, I let my dog hump me. No, I am not a weirdo.

The rule is simple, he is allowed to hump me for five seconds, more or less, after his evening meal in a show of appreciation. Unless he is absolutely exhausted, this is pretty much a nightly ritual. I decided that this rule was easier and better than trying to run in circles around the house away from him while he hunts me down. Yes, that has really happened. Yes, I realize that’s a bit odd, but I swear there’s nothing deviant going on. My dog is simply exhibiting, in a physical manner, his deep appreciation for his evening kibble, by hunting me down in the living room and humping my leg for a few seconds while I stand in front of the TV with the remote control in my hand, flicking channels to see what’s on TV that night.

The sad thing is, that ever since Camm’s arrival, the humping has not been entirely a pleasurable expression for Brady. I guess it’s pretty hard to concentrate when your pesky little sister is either snuffing into the fur on your back or staring at your face and wondering, quite righteously, what the fuck you’re doing to her Human Mommy. Camm gets quite grievously disgusted and will stare intensely at Brady. It seems that even if he shuts his eyes, he can still feel her burning disapproval.

Anyway, Brady seemed to think he should show his deep approval of the accommodations and the trip by constantly attempting a hump. I rarely tell my dogs an outright “no,” but I had to make clear to Brady that this wasn’t a romantic trip and besides, hadn’t he noticed that I’d also brought along his siblings? Besides, everyone knows that Youke is my spooning partner.

When we got to the agility portion of the trip, Brady seemed to get the message that it wasn’t all sunsets, beach time and sharing pizza slices.

Although Friday had felt like a pretty warm day, it was mainly due to the lack of wind until later in the afternoon. When we got to the show site, it was perfect outdoors trialing weather. Probably due to the afternoon nap we’d all taken, everyone was full of pep and did pretty well. Plus, we got to see a gorgeous sunset driving back up the coast to our temporary home.

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The sunsets every night were beautiful, but the one on Friday night was stunning. I’m going to say that the sunset along Depoe Bay on Friday night alone was worth the trip.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early as it was an agility day. The problem was that at 6:00 am it wasn’t exactly cool and there was no dew on the grass in the yard. The skies were also very clear and already quite blue. I didn’t turn on the heat in the jeep as I drove to the show site, but thought to myself that the sweatshirt I was wearing was keeping me warm. That sweatshirt came off five minutes after i arrived on Saturday morning. That was at 7:30 am. I never put it back on.

Thankfully, I put on the one and only tank top I’d brought with me, but still baked in long black pants.

Yup, I actually could’ve worn my recently purchased tiny skort. Although I’d thought of packing it, two things held me back. One, I thought it’d be too cold and windy to wear. And two, well, three, Brady and Camm. I figured both would be amped up since it was a site we’d never been to before and given the history of both, I just thought it’d be wiser to wear long black pants.

Long black pants that I sweated my ass off in all day long. All day. As until 7 pm that night. It was a long, hot day. Those cool breezy beach temps I’d been promised? Nope. The official temperature in Newport hit 82 degrees on Saturday. At the trial site, it was at least 85 degrees, according to one person with a weather app on their smart phone. Personally, I’m pretty sure the unshaded parking lot where I was parked hit at least 90 degrees. Good thing I doubled back for the forgotten sun shade for my vehicle.

I was comforted at least when a woman who showed up at the trial told me she was from Newport and that weather was not typical of the area, even in July. I also took some comfort in the fact that it officially hit 97 degrees in Portland, OR that day.

By the end of the day, despite sunscreen, I’m pretty sure I was as brown as when I lived in South Florida.

I was glad that I’d pre-entered the trial only for Friday evening and Saturday. But despite the heat, the dogs, even Youke, were running really well, and I was having a lot of fun. So when someone assured me that the weather forecast called for a 20 degree drop on Sunday, I hopped right up and entered for Sunday too.

Trust, but verify. I stayed up late that night to catch the local forecast on TV and indeed, it was supposed to be cooler.

Huge relief when I awoke at 5:30 am on Sunday and it was misting rain and was actually chilly. The light rain cleared by the time the trial started at 8 am, but I ended up wearing my sweatshirt on and off for the entire day and kept on a longer-sleeved shirt. My long pants didn’t bother me much on Sunday, and in fact, I was wishing I had on heavier pants.

Not because I was cold. Because Brady was being obnoxious.

The summary of the trial goes like this: Youke was a steady rock star, Brady was a bastard, Camm was both brilliant and inconsistent and Jasmine seemed to enjoy her new role as retiree and team supporter.

Jasmine got to do quite a few walkabouts, got to greet some people and very much enjoyed having a piece of pound cake with cream cheese smeared on it. She seemed a bit confused as to why I wasn’t snapping on her agility leash and running with her into the ring, but by Sunday had figured it out.

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Youke was amazingly consistent and ran about as well as I’ve seen him run in recent months. He was consistently under time with the exception of his last run of the weekend and I felt very much in synch with him. The best moment of the entire trial was his Chances run. Youke aced the course and ran with ease and comfort. Unfortunately, I was so excited and got entranced watching his little behind sail over the jumps and into the tunnel at a distance, that I inadvertently stepped over the distance line. Realizing what I’d done, I squealed. Someone told me that If I hadn’t squeaked so loudly, that maybe no one would’ve noticed what I’d done, which was to disqualify our run by stepping over the line. Oh well. It was still a gorgeous run. Bad handler error.

Brady had some lovely moments and several fantastic runs, including a Tunnelers run at the end of Saturday – the super hot day- in which he smoked the rest of the competition with the fastest run. However, he was also a complete ass, and had to argue with me on nearly every course. It stared off Friday night with a four-obstacle serpentine. Brady loudly informed me that serpentines consist of three obstacles, not four. Hey buddy, try telling that to the judge. By Saturday, he was arguing about sends, finish lines and contacts. I ended up doing some on-course training which cost some runs, but I felt it would serve us well later. It did not. Despite the beautiful Tunnelers run and two very nice Weavers runs, by Sunday he was coming at me and made a couple of connections, which led to us being eliminated a few times.

I spent a lot of time in the last days of the vacation bathing my legs in the ocean’s healing salt water.

Camm was wild, crazy and full of potential. I realized on Sunday during a beautiful Jumpers run when she was five obstacles out from me that this dog has the potential to be a crazy NADAC distance dog. I’m not quite sure I want to go there yet, and regardless, we have a lot more training to do, as evidenced by my needing to remind her regularly this weekend about contact performance and start line stays.

Camm’s former foster mom, who she adores was at this trial too and Camm took some big leaps over the weekend in learning how to work through a major distraction. I was pleased when she realized she could focus on doing agility with me, and still be able to say hello to Anne without losing her shit.

The next couple of days after the trial I awoke with the dogs early each morning and we headed off to the beach, which we could walk to from our rustic little cabin. We got some stares from people and more than a few groups stopped to watch the dogs race each other back and forth into the surf. My guess is that probably not a lot of people vacation on the coast with umpteen dogs. But just to prove that we also had manners, I regularly asked the dogs for a down and stay when people walked by. We also found a nearby grassy field to play ball in and to explore. I explored a few shops and checked out the local espresso stands. Ironic that the only bad cup of coffee I had my entire stay was at a Starbucks.

All in all, it was worth the long drive – although much better was the five-hour trip back home – and worth the bit of money spent on the rustic cabin. I got to play some agility with my dogs, but better yet, I got to play on the beach and soak up some sun. I’ve sort of forgotten that until nearly 15 years ago, I had always lived 60 minutes or less from the ocean. I’ve grown to think of myself as loving the mountains, and I do, but I treasure the ocean just slightly more.

I’ve always loved this quote and firmly believe in its truth:

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen

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I think we’ll be going back again.

Feeling Fine

As if the past 60 days haven’t been chill enough, thanks to my forced summer vacation, also known as “thanks for the past 26 years, but we no longer need your services and feel you do not fit with our new vision”  – I am about to take it to a new and even more chill level.

The beach.

Actually, I’m combining several of my most current favorite things in life into one week of bliss – a road trip, the beach, my dogs, agility, checking out a new place – and did I mention the beach?

Currently contemplating what to pack up. All I really need are the dogs, some balls, their food, the sun shade, a pair of cargo pants, a tee shirt, some shorts, sandals, sneakers, sunglasses and a hat. It’s really just that easy.

Feeling fine
I’m feeling fine
I do believe the world is mine
when I’m feeling fine
Feeling fine
I’m feeling fine
I make it reality…it’s just my state of mind

Feeling Fine
Janice B./N’Dinga Gaba

Feeling Fine

Following the Signs

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Took Brady for some one-on-one time with me today and decided to explore the trail I meant to explore last week when I took the A+ team – Jasmine and Youke.

This time I did it right. I followed all the signs.

Truthfully, it was hard not too. There were so many of them. It especially amused me when there were trail signs in parts where really there was no other option, unless one wanted to go bushwhacking. And being extremely thoughtful, some of the signs had helpful up and down arrows so one would know that the trail went up in one direction and down in another. Of course, using one’s eyes could also lead to that conclusion.

Whilst I jest, the plentiful signage was actually helpful in several spots where there were multiple choices.

In fact, there were a lot of off course options. So very tempting. But I stayed true to the mission of the day and did not take any off course options. I’ll be back though to check those out. Just way too tempting for me.

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Very pretty in parts. Good spots too to pant from the fairly continuous elevation gain  – at least for the first third.

009 A few downhill spots. But what goes down, must come back up. Except for the way back down the trail mostly. And that’s the part I hate.

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This is from a “view” spot. Obviously not meant for short people.