YoBaCaRy

They Say It’s Your Birthday

001Say what? It’s my birthday? I’m 12??!!!”

Yup. Today is Jasmine’s designated 12th birthday and the start of her 13th year. The date also marks her 11th year with me and the start of the 12th.

Pretty hard to believe. Not sure how she got to be a goofy almost-puppy to a majestic grand lady.

Okay. That last part isn’t really true. Not even close to true. I’m not sure how many 12 year-old dogs go around doing somersaults and making wookie noises.

Because Jasmine truly is a dog that prefers to be in the midst of the chaos, both causing it and participating in it, I opted not to do a special day with just her, but instead chose to take everyone out together for a birthday adventure. She probably would’ve been just fine with her bestie, Youke, by her side. But Camm thinks everything is about her, so naturally she had to come too. And there’s no sense leaving Brady out of the fun.

It was the right decision. The first thing Jasmine did when we reached our destination and I started throwing the ball for the other three was make it very clear that she was participating in today’s game. Not only was she participating, but she was catching all the balls and running down anyone that even thought about trying to get to a ball before she did.

Girl’s still got it.

Thanks to a helpful suggestion from Brady, pork chops are on the menu for Jasmine’s dinner tonight. Brady only made this helpful suggestion as pork chops are his favorite and he expects to get one too. Camm, who has been intently watching all of the special petting and scruffing that Jasmine is getting today, demands that she also be given a pork chop. Youke, who is always convinced I’m starving him, will demand one as well. Which means that Jasmine will probably get two.

You only get to be 12 once.

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Of course the day didn’t just include playing with Ball. Ball is not really Jasmine’s thing. Exploring is Jasmine’s thing, so we did a few hours of that.

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I said to a friend the other day that I keep waiting for the day when Jasmine slows down a bit. In truth, she has. A little bit. However, as much as she still often pushes my buttons and is the dog mostly likely to drive me nuts, I really wouldn’t want it any other way. As has hit way too close lately, someday I won’t get to be exasperated with her.

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Happy birthday Jasmine K. Vitch, Fruity Loops Nut Cake.

An Honest Answer

BradyatLakeSamm Today was a glorious late summer day. Technically it was a glorious early fall day, but it felt a lot like summer to me.

Today was also Brady’s special day.

BradyatLakeSamm2 (That’s Brady motoring out to retrieve his ball at the lake.)

Brady had a massage appointment this morning with Mr. Bob. Despite his suspicion about the whole massage thing and touching of so many areas that he typically prefers to keep private during his first appointment earlier this year, Brady has now become quite fond of Mr. Bob and all of his touching. I especially love when his eyes glaze over and he becomes all floppy and loose. Mr. Bob is very good. I watched as Brady started off very tense this morning, exhibiting some tenderness in his right forearm and wrist. He tried to flip around a few times, but eventually gave in to the good feelings. Apparently it was also a very good feeling to have his tight Achilles tendons on both sides worked.

I don’t do any formal conditioning with my dogs and have never jumped on the agility bandwagon of regular chiro visits and whatnot. My dogs’ conditioning work-outs consist of all the running, trotting, jumping, swimming, crawling and climbing they do in our everyday life and nearly daily adventures.

However, after Brady strained a wrist earlier this year and upon the suggestion of my relationship therapist i.e. agility instructor, I now take Brady and Youke to Mr. Bob roughly every other month to get loosened up. Apparently being a musclebound super-dog is not necessarily ideal. Not ideal maybe, but I still love running my hands over those tight, lean strong muscles. Loose, floppy-muscled dogs need not apply here. Or they get with the program fast.

After Brady’s massage was done, I decided to add to the good vibrations and take him on his own private one-on-one adventure with me.

I adore my dogs and I love the craziness when they’re all together. I’m fascinated by the interactions and their antics just plain make me laugh. That said, I also enjoy having some special one-on-one interactions with them and suspect they feel like it’s a special treat too. So, although I’m one of the laziest humans on this planet, I try to allow time for those special one-on-one interactions with each on a regular basis.

Therefore, I took Brady to the beach. Specifically to a nearby big lake that I’m very lucky to live near. The lake also has a nearby state park that includes some nice trails to walk on and big fields to explore.

Brady was beside himself with excitement. I love taking the dogs to new places or places they haven’t been in a while. Today, we came in on a trail that I don’t think Brady has ever been on before. So many things to sniff! So many things to pee on!

As we headed toward the lake itself for a swim, we encountered a man and his dog. His extremely large dog.

I saw the man and dog well before Brady did. He was too busy sniffing stuff and had his head in the bushes. I leashed him up as his head was buried in a pile of dried up blackberries and as he was standing three-legged over a hill of grass. The first sight Brady had was of the man and the dog’s rear end.

We were walking at a rapid pace – because the swimming portion of the day was about to ensue – and were quickly gaining on the man and what I thought at first was a really large, probably elderly, golden retriever, given its own slow pace. Then the dog realized we were behind it and glanced back. it was a leonberger. They are massive dogs.

leonberger(Random leonberger photo from the internet.)

Also, not the type of dog that Brady is especially fond of.

When the trail dumped us out at a clearing just before the path to the lake, the man glanced back at me and asked if my dog was a boy or girl.

“A boy,” I replied.

“Is he friendly?” he asked.

“Not particularly,” I drawled out in a sing-song voice.

The man was quiet for a second. Then he turned to the left with his dog, away from us.

“I like your honesty,” he replied.

Brady and I walked on and eventually reached the lake. Brady pretty much had a perfect day of hiking his leg on many, many things, smelling all the smells, pouncing on mole hills and swimming so much that when I saw how slow he was finally retrieving his ball I knew it was time to go.

And I kept thinking about that man and his reply. The brief interchange just makes me laugh. Something about it tickles me. I did give an honest answer to his question. Maybe it was the way I phrased the response that gave him pause. The response was not all that different from the way I usually respond when asked the similar question. I admit I usually respond in a somewhat lackadaisical manner these days as I learned two things some time ago if I responded in a more strident tone. The first, and most important, is that if I don’t keep my entire tone and posture relaxed, my dogs pick up on the tension. The second is that people also – perhaps somewhat ironically – respond far better to the more relaxed approach.

I like being honest about things, but sometimes it’s all in how you say it.

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The Mad Dash

I think I logged about 25 miles last week. That’s dog miles. Distance walked or half-jogged with the dogs.

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I don’t wear a pedometer or any of the fancy gadgets that are essentially the same thing, so my guesstimate is based on known mileage of some of the areas I hiked last week. Then again, it’s hard to calculate the numerous side trails taken. Plus, hiking with friends that do possess fancy gadgets has taught me I seriously underestimate my distance.

Being dogs, JaYoBaCa at least doubled that, if not tripled it. I read somewhere a long time ago that if off leash, a dog will triple the distance a human walks while out hiking. I’ve no idea if this is true and I don’t have a source to quote. I’m sure I could google it, but I’m too lazy.

That 25 miles or so does not include ordinary everyday sort of stuff and doesn’t include the agility weekend miles logged.

I log a lot of distance during agility trials. I typically park away from arenas since I keep the dogs in the car for the most part and like them to have a fairly quiet area. I also like to find a shady place to park. For some unknown and slightly annoying reason, virtually no place I’ve ever done agility at has shady parking nearby. I suppose that this might be one of those blessing in disguise kind of things.

I also run at least two dogs at trials typically, and more like three most times. That’s a lot of running back and forth to get dogs. Note to self, in the future, seriously consider getting a smaller dog so as not to have so many in the same height group. But that would mean that I’d have to like small dogs more than I do. Hmmm.

When I was running Jasmine, I had three dogs all in the same height class. Another good reason for retiring her.

I only trialed one day this past weekend and ran three dogs. It seemed fairly easy physically, but that was only due to the aforementioned 25 miles.

At least at this past trial I only had three classes where the dogs ran in the same class. Please note the hint of sarcasm.

Every agility trial has a posted running order at the entry gate into the ring. Competitors are expected to adhere to that running order for the most part. Those of us competing with multiple dogs are allowed some latitude in rearranging the gate sheet to accommodate our need to get the aforementioned multiple dogs shuffled and into the ring in some reasonable order that still allows for the competitor to not drop dead from a heart attack getting there.

Interestingly, the majority of people running multiple dogs, like myself, choose to park in the back forty somewhere. We are the annoying people who gate stewards – the people in charge of managing the running order and getting people into the ring efficiently so the trial can move in a timely manner – love to hate. They hate us because we literally show up, often huffing and puffing, at the last second. But we are almost always there on time and in running order, magically appearing out of the dust and usually just out of peripheral sight of the gate steward.

“Youke! I’m looking for Youke! He’s the next dog in!” That is often shouted at full volume with just a hint of panic or anger in the gate steward’s voice, the latter contingent upon the gate steward’s experience.

“We’re right here.” This is always stated fairly quietly and calmly, either because there is no need to waste additional breath that might be needed to actually breathe or because one arrived with time to spare and has actually been hanging out in the holding area for a minute or so – always unbeknownst to the poor gate steward.

One of my favorite tasks to perform at an agility show is actually being a gate steward. I love it because it indulges my inner bossiness and need to yell at people. And I confess that I love those people who run with multiple dogs and just magically appear when they’re supposed to.

See, we all seem to develop some super magical sense of timing that many people running just one dog, that hang out in the holding area for 10 minutes or longer at a time to “be ready,” but still cannot seem to get their asses in the ring before the previous dog has already exited, wasting valuable time that everyone loves to complain about when it’s 5 pm and the trial hasn’t ended yet, cannot seem to comprehend.

Still, that magic comes at a bit of a physical cost.

I enjoy a good challenge and thrive on an adrenaline rush. I got both at this trial when I saw I had six dogs between each of mine.

Keep in mind that agility is mainly a game of speed. Brady had a run this week that was under 16 seconds.

In order to magically appear at the gate on time and enter the ring in a timely manner, I first must prepare myself mentally. That starts with counting out how many dogs are between mine and quickly, and very un-mathematically calculating the time for each dog to run the course, depending on the type of course. Naturally, I usually have my three dogs entered in the class that runs the fastest or has the least number of obstacles to perform. That quick calculation translates into a very unscientific, “it’ll be okay to walk very quickly up to the car” or “a jog to the car will get me back and forth in time” to “jesus h, christ, I better fucking run my ass to the car to get back on time.”

These are all very good things as it starts my heart racing before I actually have to do the racing part.

This past Sunday, Brady was usually the fifth dog in the run order. No problem. A quick walk or slight jog outside the perimeter of the arena, up the hill and across the parking lot to my vehicle and then back down the hill and around the arena perimeter got us there in plenty of time, usually with adequate time for Brady to pee on many things.

The real fun began when Brady’s run was over and then I had to run Youke and Camm.

Since I believe strongly in rewarding my dogs for playing agility with me by playing with them, but currently run three dogs and don’t usually have a lot of time between runs, I’ve perfected The Running Tug Game for Brady and Camm, both of whom enjoy playing a game of tug after runs. So, on Sunday, after Brady finished his runs – all of which were super fabulous this weekend – I dashed out of the ring, grabbed the tug toy I’d left in my chair ringside and ran up the hill, with Brady beside me and tugging on his toy as we ran.back to the car. Then I grabbed Youke and ran back down the hill to the arena to get to the ring for his turn. Youke is not super big on playing tug outside of the living room. Therefore, when we run back to the car after his run, I promise him a game of ball and I toss it back and forth for 30 seconds or so before loading him back up and snatching Camm for her turn.

Youke and Camm do not have time to pee on many things. I’m pretty happy that neither is particularly interested in doing that.

My friends with fancy gadgets tell me that they log a lot of miles at agility trials between running their dogs, going back and forth between arena and vehicle and volunteering at trials as ringside workers.

I’ve decided that while curious about my own mileage, I don’t really need to know. That way, I can’t try to rationalize eating any more cookies at trials than I already do.

The Dog is What Matters

I enjoy the Qs as much as any competitor, but quite some time ago I realized that’s not really why I do agility. I enjoy the camaraderie of the people I’ve met through agility and the friends I’ve made. I enjoy testing my training and skills, my own and my dogs’. I like the physicality of it and I love the mental aspect of the game. But mainly I love playing with my dogs and love the bond that playing agility has given me with each one of them.

I chose to play agility, not my dogs. I try to keep that in mind. Luckily, the dogs enjoy, to varying degrees, playing agility with me. They’re also all dogs that deeply want to please me. Yet, they don’t do agility with me just because they want to please me. They play agility with me because there’s something in it for them too. It’s up to each dog/handler team to find that special something that makes it worthwhile, especially for the dog.

For me personally, pretty much the worse day in an agility competition is still a better day than normal. Usually. But I really like to play with my dogs and I can usually find a way to have fun even when we have no Qs. And believe me, my dogs and I have had a whole lot of practice at that last part.

Apparently for many agility competitors, the worse day is a low qualifying score rate (Q-rate) or a zero Q-rate.

Seriously?

Seriously.

It is weekends like this past one when my head isn’t really in the game itself as much as it should be and then to be confronted with the news of friends with dogs with severe illnesses or injuries and seeing, through, tears, two retirement runs, that really put things like the importance of a Q-rate into perspective for me.

The dog is what’s important.

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Fancy!

Yeah, so not talking about fancy-pants agility moves here or fancy-pants ass passes or even fancy agility. Nothing about agility at all. Just talking about being fancy. As in dressing up a little.

002 “Human-Mommy, I like your fancy outfit.” (Ignore the dirty floor.)

I haven’t worked in an actual office for over 15 years. I left the country club scene 7.5 years ago. Or rather, my ex got custody of the country club scene. I didn’t fight him for it. I knew it wasn’t for me when no one saw the sly humour in my ’50s style cocktail dress in a martini print. I moved to the greater Seattle area a decade and a half ago. Seattle is known for its plentiful fleece. I rarely date, and when I do, men immediately sense that I’m the kind of woman who enjoys a good burger and fries over lobster bisque.

Which is all to say that I rarely dress up or even wear make-up.

I purged all of my fancy suits several years ago from my closet. Another purge saw me give away all of my fancy cocktail and party dresses. I still need to do a lot more purging, but the former fashionista in me bravely hangs on to the remaining dresses, skirts and pretty blouses. Considering that the only catalogs that still come to my house consist of a regular rotation of Eddie Bauer, Patagonia, REI and Merrell really, I need to do further purging.

In January, I cleaned out an entire closet filled with fancy and pretty shoes, most of them three-inch heels. See, not only was I a clothes horse, but I was an Imelda too. I’m not even going to explain that one. You either get it or you don’t. Yup, a few tears leaked out on that one as I gently held each pair for a few last precious seconds.

But occasionally, I like to make myself feel good, tell myself I still got it (a little) and wear make-up and put on a skirt.

Okay, make-up only consists of mascara and a stroke of eyeliner, but it’s far beyond what I usually do. Nothing.

Today’s “fancy” outfit was comprised of a skort, a slightly fancy tee shirt and sandals. Tevas though. Because I wouldn’t want to shock myself.

The grand occasion for this change from the usual not-fancy tee shirt and cargo pants was a trip to the bank and a few other mundane errands. In a pleasant surprise, I ended up doing lunch with the friend I met at the bank. Okay, it was at a diner, the sort of place where you look around for Flo slinging hash and filling up umpteen cups of bitter bad coffee, but it was a legitimate outing.

The looks of awe and surprise on my dogs’ faces about my outfit were hysterical.

“Aw Human Mommy! You look very fancy today,” came from Camm, who was clearly a bit nervous and stressed about the change and proceeded to seek reassurance by jumping on me.

Ah, one slightly dirty paw print to the fancy tee shirt. Not to worry. it was easily rectified by the addition of a light cardigan.

Brady took the opportunity to tell me how good I smelled by sticking his head under my skort.

“Momma, you smell so fresh and nice today. And nice to look under your skirt-thing.”

Youke was just slightly freaked out. softly wagging, but keeping at a bit of a distance.

“Mom, I see you’re fancy today. Are you leaving me?”

Only Jasmine appeared nonplussed. But then again, she was around during the country club years.

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This Dog

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Last week was all about Youke.

Around here, the idiom of “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” often holds true. Youke is not a squeaky wheel. At least not within my small tribe.

I make a concerted effort to pay individual attention to the four dogs that make up JaYoBaCa each day. Nonetheless, for the sake of economy,, they are often taken out and about together. For the sake of fairness, I often divvy up the treats and special things in equal portions, although I confess to often slipping Youke a few extra. It’s my quiet way of making up for the attention he sometimes lacks as the least squeaky of all the wheels.

My house is full of strong personalities. Wallflowers need not apply here. Although truthfully, we could probably use a meek little wallflower to balance out the mix.

I theorize that I thrive on the chaos and the push and shove of the personalities shouting to be on top because I grew up in a large family that was rather similar. Which, really when I think about it, means I need to add two more dogs to the mix, or three if I don’t count myself. Then I would have the equal amount of dogs to siblings I had growing up..

The evenings at home in my house, particularly in the darker. colder winter months, with JaYoBaCa remind me of growing up with my brothers, and later the addition of my two youngest sisters. Dinner was always an especially chaotic and joyful time.

My mother didn’t really enforce a lot of specific petty rules on us. Of course we had primary boundaries, but for the most part, she let us figure out a lot of stuff on our own. Encouraging independent thinking can be dangerous later in life, for both humans and dogs, although mostly for others that are confounded and intimidated by that sort of thing.

However, she had a pretty specific policy when it came to eating dinner. Everyone had to gather together and sit down for it.

From the time I was a little kid and there were less of us at the dinner table than there would eventually be over time, dinner was a chaotic, loud and often opinionated affair. The loudest often won. For at least a year in time in my pre-teen years, my brother David was the loudest, and fastest, talker. Dave dominated the dinner time conversations. This was not a bad thing. Even then he was entertaining, opinionated and funny as hell. Actually, all of my siblings, were, and still are, funny as hell. Also, were, and still are, very opinionated. Unfortunately, during that period, my brother Seth was barely able to utter a word, and when he tried, he immediately forgot what he was going to say since he’d been trying for 15 minutes to get everyone’s attention. Of course, his sudden stage fright was a great source of laughter and derision from the rest of us. No worries. A year later he became the loudest and fastest talker at the dinner table.

From the time I was a kid until I moved across the country. family gatherings were full of laughter and a lot of talking – which was really shouting. We were a difficult group to infiltrate, especially for prospective and future in-laws or significant others. In fact, it was one such person that dubbed my family, The Loud Family.

I often think about that during the evenings at home now with my dog family. I realize a lot of people encourage that time as a quiet, contemplative time for their dogs. Not me. That’s when the household sees the most barking, the most playing, the whoo-hooing, the snarling, the bouncing up and down of favorite toys and just general chaos. It doesn’t usually last for too long, although in the winter months I like to get everyone revved up and racing around the house in play, sometimes for as long as an hour.

In my experience, most domestic dogs are naturally crepuscular creatures, meaning they like to be active in the early mornings and during dusk. Most of them adapt fairly readily to our diurnal preferences. Since I don’t appreciate dogs bouncing on my head at 6 am, every single dog that I’ve ever had has learned within a year’s time that Human Mommy likes her sleep and do not disturb until she stirs. Or if it’s 9 am or later and her lazy ass is still in bed, then excessive wigglings as a subtle hint or a paw swat to the face is allowed. Luckily for me, with the exception of Camm – who likes to employ the aforementioned, the rest have learned a gentle little lick or very intense nose-to-nose staring into the face of the sleeping human also works. Just be prepared to go back to the nest-bed at Human Mommy’s whim.

Within JaYoBaCa, Youke is the quiet one. But when we have those crazy, ridiculous and chaotic evening play sessions, Youke is fearless, snarling and growling and making sure he wins at all the games. No one messes with Youke during these games, not even Bossy Pants Camm.

Because Youke is the quiet one within the tribe, the dog that demands the least amount of regular attention and is generally so agreeable, I feel I often take him for granted. This is reinforced by his giving me sidelong glances and throwing disgusted looks at the other three.

Of course he could just be playing me. After all, my guilt often results in an extra dollop of cream or another spoonful of tasty things. Youke learned long ago that the power and intensity of his eyes has a certain effect on me. I’m his personal sheep, only with thumb dexterity and a spoon.

Which is all to say that Youke hasn’t been getting a lot of specialized attention lately. I’d actually been feeling, for one, that I was trialing him too much.

My plan was to take him out of practices for several weeks and to give him a break for a few weeks from any agility trials.

Therefore, last week. the agenda called for Brady to accompany me to an agility seminar and to only enter Camm for a few runs for the weekend’s trial and not to enter Youke at all.

And then the fates intervened.

Brady did something to a paw last Sunday. I took the dogs out in the yard and he suddenly pulled his paw up in dramatic fashion and started hopping about on three legs. I thought he stepped on a pine cone and was being a bit of a diva. That notion was reinforced when two hours later I took the dogs out again and he was walking and trotting normally. That evening I took them all out for a walk/run/play ball adventure. He was gimpy again on Monday.

On Tuesday, the first day of the two-day seminar, I reluctantly brought Youke along too, thinking he might have to sub for Brady during a few of the lesson sessions. Youke ended up being my working dog for the entire day Tuesday and for all of Wednesday as well. When Brady was still favoring the paw on Tuesday, I sent an email to the trial secretary and asked to substitute Youke for all of Brady’s runs. Of course, Brady stopped favoring the paw immediately after I made that decision and has been fine since.

In retrospect, I really should have signed Youke up to be my working dog for the seminar in the first place.I had a suspicion as to what the material would be and how it was to be trained. Brady would have had a conniption.

Although it meant a wake-up alarm of before o’dark thirty – and Youke took those Human-Mommy-doesn’t-like-to-get-up-at-o’dark-thirty lessons to heart, he was still a trooper and obediently came downstairs from the nest-bed and got in the car for the drive both days. He also worked and played enthusiastically with me for two very long seminar days. He had only one moment when he made it very clear in his quiet way that he was stressed out and didn’t want to work the session any longer. I’m pleased with myself that I recognized what was happening and immediately advocated for him, telling the clinician that he was frustrated, that I was frustrated and that we were done with that particular part and would be moving on. I’m pleased with myself because there was a time in the not-so-distant past when I would not have done that and stood up so firmly for my dog.

It was the right thing to do. In the next and last session of the seminar, Youke was refreshed, playful and ready to work.

When it comes to agility, Youke is a mixed bag. Sometimes I think he’s in the Jasmine camp, and does it only for me. Other times, it’s pretty clear that he’s really into it and thoroughly enjoying himself. I do agility with Youke because of the latter. I’ve also learned to read the difference and to use the information to my advantage. A bit more on that later.

I think many agility dogs are like Youke, although most of their handlers will tell you their dogs love agility. It is my opinion that most dogs that do agility do not love agility. they do it for their humans. While I firmly believe Brady is that rare dog that actually really loves agility – he, like ALL dogs, is perfectly happy doing other things as long as those other things are fun for him and engaging in some way.

The interesting thing for me about the seminar last week was not the content of the sessions or the performance of my dog per se, but was the observation that whatever you are doing with your dog when it comes to performance sports anyway, it has to be fun and reinforcing. For the dog. And it helps if the human is fun and reinforcing too. I knew this already and have known it for a while, but what was so powerful for me last week was how much my relationship with Youke matters.

I’m not going to get all squishy in this post about my relationship with Youke, except to say it is pretty squishy and special. I made a dedicated effort during those two days to keep connected with my dog, but most of that effort was concentrated away from the seminar itself and away from any sessions we were participating in. I took regular breaks and had long sessions with Youke playing and just walking about and exploring the place we were at. That had the added benefit of keeping me relaxed too. Rather than get frustrated if a certain sequence wasn’t going well, I either walked away from it with him or stopped, went backward and back-chained and rewarded for progress. The one time I felt myself becoming increasingly frustrated and realized I was applying my frustration and pressure to perform on Youke, I stopped the session immediately and we went out and played ball on our own for a while. I also genuinely expressed my pleasure to him at all the good things that occurred. That had the impact of boosting his confidence, as well as my own. Confidence is a powerful thing.

Being genuine is also powerful. Unlike partners in bed, dogs always know when you’re faking it.

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Microwave Toes

I have a new addition to my arsenal of superpowers. Microwave toes.

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The power of the Microwave Toes came in handy this evening, serving to give me the confidence to deflect the potential attentions of a Big Burly Man and to remain calm in the presence of a Block-headed Brown Lab with Giant Balls, as well as to immediately broadcast the level of my blood flow and rise in temperature.

I swear I am not drunk. Nor was I during the course of the events to be described.

I was, however, exposed to a lot of chemicals today during my two salon visits. I suppose that could be a factor in the development of these events.

First, I had my hair cut and colored today by the Awesome Angela. Like pretty much every stylist before her, if I win the lottery and/or become famous in some way and have the need for a personal stylist to all the events I will no doubt be required to attend, even in my own mind, she will be hired. I seriously love what she does for my appearance. So I had that going for me today. Perfect hair.

Of course, the process of getting that just right tawny tousled sexiness was a certain amount of chemical application.

My second trip immediately afterward was to a nail salon to get my toes re-done.

You have to love a salon that upon arrival thrusts a menu in your hands. This is, no doubt, to overcome the language barrier.

This was my second visit to this particular salon. I also received a menu the last time I was there, but no one ever asked me what I wanted. I just got a basic pedicure/manicure, although I did ask for a shellac version.

I was introduced to shellac a few years ago. Totally worth the extra price for a klutz like me that also finds her feet regularly implanted in hiking shoes and her hands immersed in dirt and doling out dog treats. My last manicure lasted three weeks. My pedicures average a good six weeks or longer.

Today, I was actually asked to specify a preference for the type of pedicure I desired. Since I was only doing a pedicure and felt like treating myself, I went with “#3.”

Apparently my interpretation of “#3,” the written version of “#3” and the actual version of “#3” are different. For instance, I did not get the special mineral mud slathered all over my legs. But since I did get some good smelling and silky feeling lotions rubbed on them, I did not complain. I also got a paraffin treatment that I don’t recall being included in “#3.” Whatever.

As is traditional at salons, I was asked to select a color prior to being trapped in the slightly sexual massage chair and before my feet were plunged into the steaming hot blue whirlpool water.

Silly me. I thought I had clearly pointed to a gorgeous jewel-tone shimmery blue-green.

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This is clearly not a jewel-tone shimmery blue-green, a color one might imagine on a high caliber actress up for an Academy Award. No, this is the color of the starlet that gets lambasted the next day by the fashion critics and gay entertainment reporters for wearing that dress and color that just didn’t work and wasn’t classy enough.

This photo also demonstrates why my ballet career ended at the tender age of five. Ballerinas are supposed to point their toes away from each other. Little girls with extreme flexibility and with the mad skills to point their toes inward do not get selected for recitals and their ballet instructors are not shy about letting their parents know, within earshot of the budding ballerina, that their daughter is not ballerina material. Thus ended my very first career aspiration. Is it any wonder I immediately set my sights on becoming a jockey?

This color shift did not go unnoticed during the application process. However, I was informed that I’d selected something called “moody” and that the white color that was being painted on my precious tootsies would turn the color I selected as soon as my feet got cold enough.

Hmmm.

I was urged to shove my feet back in the microwave/toaster oven thing.

When a shellac application is done, a small machine that spews out ultraviolet rays is used to adhere and set the polish. There are articles out there for the health conscious indicating the use of these machines is extremely harmful.

I am pretty sure that dying of toe cancer is pretty low on the list of things I am possibly going to die from. Therefore, I stuck my feet back inside the toe microwave.

The woman attending to me laughed and laughed, seeming to think my white toenails were hysterical. But she assured me that the color would darken once my feet cooled down and splashed cold water across my foot as an example. Holy crap! My toes turned a light pale blue. Apparently, the heat resulting from my cooking microwaved toes was resulting in the freaky white color.

So, other than being a tad bit disturbed that my toes would now turn a sickly white color when my feet got hot, the visit to the nail salon went well.

It did take until I got home for my feet to cool off from the toe microwave and for the color to turn the robin’s egg blue seen in these pictures.

I suppose now I’m going to have to bring a flashlight to bed and check at regular intervals to see the color of my toes when I kick my hot feet out from under the covers, and then when they get cold again and I return them to the bedsheets.

Not that this wasn’t interesting enough, I then decided to document my newly microwaved toes and create an artsy photo gallery of them in varying positions.

I wasn’t satisfied with the pictures I was getting at home, so decided to gather up JaYoBaCa and take them to one of our favorite ball-playing places to take more photographs. Possibly to take some of them too.

I soon tired of my own feet and started playing around with taking pictures of them. The impromptu photo shoot was going fabulously, as evidenced here.

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I was fully immersed in the moment. And maybe a little chemically overloaded.

Because I was so dedicated to capturing some fabu photographic memorabilia, and because I thought I was the only one still at the park, I didn’t give any thought to my perfectly tawny new hair, carelessly and no doubt tossed about in a sexy manner. Nor did I think about the fact that I was laying down and crawling about in the grass and elk droppings in a short skirt.

Therefore, I did not see the initial onset of the intruders.

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Brady did though. And so did Jasmine as she’s not even in this shot.

Next thing I knew, a man was walking toward us and his dog was running toward us.

Ordinarily, this might be a moment for panic. Maybe it’s because I was laying on the ground in a short skirt. Maybe it’s because I’d been exposed to a lot of heavy duty chemicals for much of the day. Maybe it’s because I was in a silly mood, having just spent an inordinate amount of time taking pictures of my own toes. Or, just maybe, it resulted from the power given to me by my newly microwaved feet.

I was extremely calm, despite the large brown block-headed lab barreling into the midst of my tribe of four.

I reasoned that, really, this guy was taking a mighty chance letting his dog run amok among mine. Also, mine call off fairly quickly.

Jasmine and Brady were quick to run up to the intruder. Youke stayed a safe distance away, but was clearly agitated. Camm opted to protect all the balls and stayed with them. The intruder, “Buster” as I found out he was named, thought this seemed like great fun. Camm though was not having it and warned him off with a snarl as she hovered over the three balls she’d gathered between her front feet. Youke growled a warning when the dog got too close to me. Youke is highly possessive and considers me one of his prized possessions. Brady decided he wasn’t that interesting after all and proceeded to stare at the balls gathered between Camm’s feet.

But Jasmine was ever so interested with Buster. Buster had balls. Very large balls swinging between his legs and a perfect accessory to his block head. Jasmine loves herself big block-headed intact males.

Meanwhile, the big burly man who also came with Buster had gotten closer to me.

He attempted to be friendly with an apology. “Sorry I busted up your photo shoot,” he said.

I stifled a giggle, and adjusted the length of my skirt, as Buster lived up to his name and proceeded to bust into my small family gathering.

Here’s where it gets really good. Big Burly Man attempted to call Buster to him. Buster though was not having any of that. I calmly raised my hand in the universal drop at a distance signal that I’ve trained for all my dogs. All four dropped and looked to me for further instruction. I quietly asked them to wait while Big Burly Man tried to get Buster to pay attention to him.

Buster and Big Burly Man swirled around us in a dance of sorts until finally Big Burly Man seemed to have some semblance of Buster’s attention. He opted to walk back in the direction from where he’d come.

However, Buster had other ideas and ran back to us. Clearly we were more fun. I stifled another giggle. Youke and Camm were now getting a little pissed. After all, the balls were being endangered. Jasmine clearly thought that she might have some things to teach this young buff lad. Brady just looked confused. Sometimes social situations are a bit beyond his understanding. I calmly raised my arm again and asked them all to get into a down position. They complied.

Big Burly Man was now looking very disconcerted. I think a short-skirted woman with perfect tawny sexily tousled hair with such control over four dogs without raising her voice might have been a little much for him. After chasing Buster about for another 45 seconds or so, he grabbed him by his studded leather and metal collar and walked him briskly away. Poor eager block-headed Buster was having a little difficulty gasping for air as he was marched off the field.

Before we continued on with our photo shoot, I looked down in dismay at my toes.

009 I can’t make this shit up. This is an actual photo from the moment. They were glowing white. I had … wait for it … Microwave Toes.

Then we went back to doing what we do best.

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Therapy Session

BradyBed“Really? We have to leave soon? I’m just getting my nap on.”

I had a hard time getting going on Friday for the weekend’s agility adventure. For once, I was not the issue. The dogs all wanted to lie around and sleep. Usually it’s me that wants to do that.

So, after packing up my bag and the dog gear in the jeep, I decided to let them chill for a while I vacuumed the house.

See? Clearly I was feeling ambitious.

I’d dropped Jasmine off late the evening before with her pet-sitter, figuring that as it was going to be another very brutally warm weekend, she wouldn’t appreciate being left in the car much of the time, bored out of her mind and hot. I had another motive too. I didn’t want to be tempted to oust her from agility retirement.

While not bringing her accomplished keeping her cooler and me not running her, I’m not sure it was the right decision.

I missed her. I missed her tremendously. And man, I never thought I’d say this, but I miss playing agility with her. For one, she never tried to bite me.

I suspect the other dogs thought it was a little weird she didn’t come too at first. But the extra room in the jeep probably made up for that. Plus, Youke and Camm got to play bitey face in the hotel room and no dog tried to step in to police them.

The stress relief of play was nice because it took five hours to get to almost-Portland due to the motherfucking Friday traffic. I think the only way I’m ever going to win on Friday traffic is to leave Thursday night or first thing Friday morning. Even departing around noon still makes for a hellacious trip. Or I suppose I could’ve left at o-dark thirty on Saturday morning as some friends did. I prefer my beauty sleep though for me and the dogs. Plus, I think we work better as a team if we get a full night of rest.

Ha ha ha. Team. Oh, I’m laughing now. More on that in a bit.

I attended this particular CPE trial for only one reason. Youke needs some more qualifying scores in standard. Another Q in jumpers would have also been nice, but just wasn’t meant to be. Yup, chasing another C-ATCH for Youke. Could happen this fall or winter. I’ve told myself that since it’s his second there’s not need to chase it.

The arena is not my favorite, mostly because Jasmine never really liked it and Youke didn’t particularly care for it either the one other time he was there, with Jasmine. Also, it’s August. Lastly, we are experiencing the hottest freakin’ summer ever here in the Pacific Northwest. Half of Washington State is on fire. But still, I travel in the name of the almighty Q. Plus, I thought it’d be fun as a bunch of friends were going too.

Turned out that Brady and Camm thought the place was pretty great. Any place that has agility and where one can see all of their aunties is pretty fine as far as those two are concerned. Nary a concern from either. This is actually pretty cool as for a few years I constantly worried about Brady being distressed about a new environment. Because Brady and Camm weren’t worried, and because he also likes visiting with aunties, Youke was also not perturbed.

In fact, Brady seemed to love the entire venue this weekend. Giant happy grin on his face, loose body, waving flowy tail – all were thumbs up signs. It did take its toll though. On Saturday when we returned to the hotel room, he crawled under the sink in the bathroom and collapsed. I only saw him again when he came out to eat his dinner and when we all went out for a long stroll around the scenic paved parking lot and into the weeds and overgrown green that abutted the nearby fuel station and highway overpass next to the hotel.

Saturday started off with big fat zeroes. In the first standard run with Youke he made it clear he wasn’t into performing weaves. Brady had a nice jackpot run, but my send over the distance line from a jump into a tunnel was too enthusiastic and he went to a different tunnel than I had intended. Still nice though and I hadn’t expected it really, so we walked off happy. Camm set the tone for her weekend with her first run, a combination of really ugly and really beautiful. She was argumentative and nippy at the start, but performed the distance gamble perfectly.

Saturday got a lot better for Youke and I. In fact, the entire weekend was overall pretty good. While we blew the first standard course, we qualified on the other three, thus making a huge dent in the amount of qualifying scores we need for his C-ATCH 2. We didn’t get the a jumpers Q that I would’ve liked, but it was the last run of the day and he was just done at that point. He ran his steady, even pace all weekend and seemed like a pretty happy guy, soliciting play with Camm and Brady quite a lot.

The moment of glory with Youke this weekend, and pretty much of the whole trial, was my dramatic slip and fall in his last standard run.

The run had been going smoothly. Youke entered the weaves and although for me always a holding-my-breath-moment, did not pop out at the number eleven pole. So there we were, running efficiently around the outside arc for the finish. I pushed to a jump and Youke flicked further out, going around the jump. I quickly doubled back to redirect and next thing I knew, my feet slid out from under me and I landed on the not-so-soft part of my ass. Not sure if I hit my head or not, but I was flat on the ground. But the run had to be saved! Time in CPE is fairly generous, but still, I didn’t want an-up-to-that-moment-perfect-run be ruined because I fell down on my ass and couldn’t get up fast enough. So I leaped to my feet – in reality it was probably not as elegant, athletic or quick as one might imagine when employing that particular verb – and got Youke reoriented toward the finish line and completed the last two obstacles.

We made time and got the Q.

One of the best parts was the judge giggling as I leashed Youke up. I was in no way offended. When people fall down it is funny damn it. I’m incredibly guilty of laughing first, asking later if the person is alright. Damn, I was laughing as I walked Youke off the course! I’m pretty sure I was laughing when my ass was on the ground. I was definitely laughing when a stranger – some random friend of someone I don’t know and there observing the trial – gave me a high five as I exited the arena.

Somehow that scenario never plays in my agility fantasies.

Sadly, Youke did not seem that concerned about my welfare. After all, I made him finish the course. Much different from when I slipped on grass at an outside trial with Brady last year. He came rushing over to check on me, face in my face and deeply concerned until I leaped to my feet and advised him we were moving on with the course. He was all business again when both he and I simultaneously realized I was out of position and I got barked at about that. Brady was sympathetic about the fall, but as soon as I indicated that we’re back on course, he was a drill sergeant and yelling at me to do my job RIGHT!

Youke just cared that he got some bits of cheese and played with ball.

Brady was also very consistent at this trial. Due to his teeter fear, he doesn’t run the standard courses, but he got to play in everything else, including snooker.

The other crowning achievement in this trial was Brady getting his first snooker Q.

Brady ran a snooker course literally years ago. He has not run one since. We were whistled off the course before we even completed the second obstacle that one other time. For a dog like Brady, that was a disaster. He was so pissed off that I’ve not had the courage to try again until this trial.

I confess that I love playing snooker in agility. I love the games where handler strategy is a factor. While I like going for the big points as much as anyone else, I also must weigh my individual dog’s strengths and weaknesses. and tendencies to nip or not, against my own individual greed and need for glory. I usually try to devise a plan that makes sense to my dog – as in the course is flowing and has no huge call-offs. Jasmine and Youke are the queen and king of snooker. They are typically congenial dogs when it comes to agility, forgiving of my handling instructions (including when they shouldn’t be maybe) and are not quick to a temper tantrum.

Seeing that Brady and I have been competing for a while, have solidified our teamwork and have worked on his temper tantrums, I thought it was time to give a go at snooker again. I told myself though that I’d scratch him if I could not figure out a way to make the snooker opening make sense and flow in a natural way. After walking the course a couple of times, I designed a course that I thought he’d be fine with. There was one part that I knew was a potential area for an argument, but I also thought to myself that even if it got a little dicey in terms of his displeasure, we could work through it.

Those 29 seconds were among the most adrenaline-filled seconds of my life. It was like concurrently leading and running away from a red fire-breathing dragon in a maze that I thought I had memorized. Okay, more like hoped like hell I’d memorized or I’d be vaporized by the dragon’s wrath.

The snooker plan worked exactly as I’d hoped. I did get some liberal feedback at certain expected points, but the run was fantastic.

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Or so I thought. In my exultation, I’d forgotten a very important thing about Brady. Brady is not a forgiving dog. Brady holds grudges. Brady does not forget things.

Our next and last run of the weekend was a jumpers course. Youke and I hadn’t made time on the course, but making time is rarely a problem for me and Brady. The course was fairly straightforward, although there were a couple of tricky bits, especially with a high speed locomotive as my partner. We got the run and ended up with a qualifying score, although there were hiccup moments. The problem was that at the next to last obstacle Brady decided to take a shot at me for some offense that had to do with my handling.

Because he was fairly argumentative at the outset, I have a feeling there was some residual pissedness held over from the snooker run. In other words, he wasn’t as happy as I was about how it went.

Regardless, the outcome was that he nailed my kneecap and it hurt.

Interesting factoid here. Nips to the fleshy bits, at least when one is pumped up full of adrenaline, do not hurt that much. Nips to joints are exceedingly painful.

Brady had by then sailed over the last jump, but I was pissed. He was walked briskly to his crate and then, because I was so pissed I felt like punching him, whisked away with Camm to the car while I took a walk around the arena to cool off.

I was livid because it was the second time that day I’d been nipped on a joint. Camm did it first.

Camm had moments of poetry at this trial. The issue here is that those moments are literally seconds and I’m still trying to grasp how much faster she requires information than any of my other dogs, even Brady. Although probably Brady has just learned to deal to some extent with his slow human handler. Okay, that’s fantasy on my part. He hasn’t learned to deal at all.

Those freakin’ border collies are so damn literal and do not tolerate shitty handling. At least mine don’t. Okay, Youke does. Sort of. Well. He doesn’t bark and nip.

The other issue is that her border collie controlling beotch persona comes out and my ordinarily deeply devoted, attached-to-my-hip sweet girl that jumps into my lap to comfort me when she thinks I’m upset is all business once she steps into the agility ring. In other words, I make a wrong move and she grips.

Gripping is a Scottish word for biting or nipping.

Okay, I just sort of made that up, but it is another way to convey that a dog is biting. “Ole Inkblot doesn’t like that rank ewe trying to walk away from him, so he gripped.” (Add a Scottish brogue to that if you wish.)

So while we had moments of pure beauty and bits of perfection that make me want to sing – and usually those are the pieces I focus on – I found myself on Sunday unable to forgive a sharp and definitely intended nip to my elbow.

It happened at the second obstacle on a course. I suspect she was already frustrated as I’d told her to hold her stay, something she’s having a great deal of difficulty with at present. Instead of going through the tire, she came up slightly behind me and dove for my elbow. I cried out, told her to lay down and then picked her up and swooped her off the course.

There was a comforting moment when the judge called out that she thought I’d made the right decision. I love supportive, and giggly, judges.

Camm, like my other dogs, is very sensitive. but then you’d have to be a rock not to know how angry I was. I didn’t say a word to her, but the hostility was radiating outward like a heat wave. She decided I was beyond appeasing and hopped into the rear of the jeep to quietly lay down.

A friend to whom I’d confessed how pissed off I was asked me shortly afterward if I was going to leave and sacrifice the last run of the day. Hell, no! In my mind, there are times to just call it a day and just walk away.  And there are other times to persevere and fight through it. The fine point is to know which time is which. I chose to fight through.

My last run of Sunday was with Camm. I wanted to depart on a far happier note. On a statistical basis, my last runs of the day with Camm are often very good, sometimes the best of the day, as was the case on Saturday. The last run on Sunday was a jumpers run, and the sort of course that she and I typically work well together on.

I got her out of the car and assured her all was forgiven and that I still adored her. I played a few short games with her to help assure there was no fracture in our bond. I walked to the line and firmly informed her that she was in a wait position. She popped up, but I stood back and firmly told her again she was to wait. In all honesty, I should’ve been far firmer about this the entire weekend. Then I gave her the release word and we were off and flying. The run was far from perfect, but it felt as if we were both trying to understand and work with each other finally. At the end, I was proud of her for holding it together and we walked off the course tugging and playing.

We packed up and left shortly afterward for the journey home. The dogs laid down and slept for much of the way. However, my mind kept wandering back to the nipping, although the anger had long since left me. Still, I was perturbed and also bothered that perhaps Camm had not understood why I suddenly became so furious with her.

Monday came and still it was on my mind. Luckily, Monday is therapy day.

On Mondays, Camm and I, and often Brady too, go to see our teacher/mentor/coach/instructor/relationship therapist.

She is usually our teacher/mentor/coach/instructor, but somewhere along the way in my journey with Brady, I realized she was our relationship counselor. Actually I know exactly when it began. In that first year when Brady and I began competing.

It’s hard to have a smart dog sometimes. It’s harder still to have a dog that knows about good handling, and when it isn’t.

In hindsight, Jasmine and Youke also knew this, but chose to express their frustration in a quieter, less dramatic fashion. In fact, I used to gripe about how perfect my relationship with Youke was in virtually every other aspect but agility. Interestingly, when I became frustrated myself, I grew more intense and he responded better. I thought I was being more demanding. I was simply being clearer and crisper in my instruction. Hmmm. Dogs like a clear directive. I now know feet pointed in one direction, shoulders and arms in another is fuzzy. I know this, I’ve gotten better at not doing it, but I admit that sometimes, I still do it anyway.

So, much as I gripe about the gripping, there’s a legitimate reason for it. Nevertheless, it’s harsh and no one should be biting the hand … shins …knees … breasts, elbows, thighs or bellies of those that feed them.

This is where my relationship counselor comes in.

I expressed my personal frustration about some of what occurred over the weekend. Of course, I first mentioned the good stuff and to my credit, I really had not lost sight of the good and positive things that happened. But I could not let go my own frustrations with the nipping business.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not unusual. It’s just that not a lot of people talk about it. I made a decision some time ago that I was going to be open about it. Of course, that decision was not entirely mine. It’s kind of obvious with my dogs.

Agility can be incredibly stimulating for a lot of dogs. Dogs react in different ways to that high stimulation environment. Some shut down. Some amp up. I can personally deal with the response to the stimulation. My feeling is that a more appropriate response can be trained. In fact, it’s worked with Brady. Similar training is starting to exhibit some positive results with Camm.

My issue is the frustration response. Gripping.

That’s where the therapy sessions come into play. My therapist calmly discusses the specific situation with me, we break down the handling decisions and the dog’s response and we try to recreate some of those specific situations in our lesson.

In today’s therapy session with Camm, while she didn’t attempt to nip me, she did clearly tell me off during a specific portion of the course we were working. Thanks to the keen eyes of our therapist/instructor, Camm’s frustration became evident. My usual drifting and rounding was occurring. I was also being tentative and not as confident as I needed to be. Camm was voicing her frustration and inability to identify where I was sending her. After a one-on-one discussion with my therapist, we re-attempted that specific part of the sequence, with me handling the line more aggressively, with no rounding and no lingering to assure that my dog was doing what she was supposed to be doing. Camm raced and jumped that section like the star athlete she is.

Trust my dog. I need to trust my dog. I also need to trust that she knows her lines if I point her there.

I’ve done the same thing to every one of my dogs. It was really only when I started to trust Brady and his training, not babysit him and to be more aggressive in my handling that we started to gel as a team. I need to do the same now for Camm.

It was a successful therapy session today. We recreated some frustrations for Camm, we discussed strategies to preempt a strike in the form of a nip as well as what to do when it happens, and we discussed ways to train Camm’s response to deep frustration. The most important part of the therapy session though was, as it always is, working on changing my behavior, er, working on improving my handling. That latter will help with perhaps eliminating frustrations altogether.

Well, a woman and her dog can dream anyway.

002

Passing the Coffee Test

Jasmine12Woods

This girl. This girl who today was called “athletic,” “beautiful” and “so well-behaved.” This girl who today I ran errands with and with a leash looped around my wrist while carrying a coffee in the same hand and a shopping bag in the other. This girl who can ignore a snarky little dog trying to get in her face, but that can politely admire the mice with me at the pet store. This girl who can ignore the scores of runners she saw at the park, but that still dropped down into a crouch and waited to pounce on an oncoming dog. Well, no one’s perfect. And the other dog was a border collie. Naughty dogs always recognize each other.

I wrote most of the above earlier today and while contemplating how sometimes perfect Jasmine is. And how often imperfect she is.

While out running errands, I stopped at a Starbucks and grabbed a coffee, then unloaded Jasmine for a walk with me as I picked up a few things,including at the pet store. The leash was in a loose “J” shape, at times nearly dragging on the ground. We passed several people, including some with kids. We negotiated sidewalks, landscaping and parking lots. The entire time, I held my cup of coffee in my right hand, while at the same time the leash was looped around my right wrist. I sipped my coffee as we walked about, including within the pet store. Not a drop was sloshed.

That is a true feat and it’s my utmost personal test for perfect loose leash walking.

Several people smiled and most said a friendly “hello.” It’s funny how that happens when you have the perfect dog walking by your side.

But this is also the dog that still can, and does, drag me like a locomotive. Back in the day, Jasmine used to wear a head halter. I also have several walking harnesses for her that I sometimes still use. And those tools were bought and used after Jasmine had already enrolled and passed three obedience classes.

Jasmine is the dog I absolutely know will behave appropriately and perfectly in a public setting. For instance, in the pet store today, Jasmine and I were in an aisle picking out a chew item for Camm when the snarky little dog emerged from another aisle and made a beeline toward Jasmine’s face, yipping all the time. Jasmine looked at the dog, looked at me, I quietly told her to leave it, but she’d already made up her mind to ignore it. She deliberately turned her head away, then positioned herself to my side and slightly behind me.

The other day we were out and about on a long hike with the other dogs. It was a wonderful day, filled with chasing after critters, lots of sniffing, jumping in mud holes and emerging as expected – covered in mud, playing ball and overall just being dogs, walking along in the woods and scrub with their human. We didn’t see a single soul, until near the end of our venture. A pleasant couple came hiking up the hill we were coming down on. As usual, I saw them well before they realized I was there. I’d already leashed up Jasmine as I didn’t want her rushing up to them and then barking. This tends to scare people. I’d also already tossed the other three their balls to focus on. The couple called out that they had a dog and asked me if I wanted him leashed. I responded that I thought it’d be okay if he stayed free. Truthfully, I didn’t want any of mine surrounding him if he was on leash and with no way to position himself for a proper dog greeting. As expected, Youke, Brady and Camm pretty much ignored the couple and the dog as they had their balls. Instead, they laid on the side of the path, mouthing on their balls. Jasmine had other ideas. She focused immediately on the other dog. He was appropriately and quietly passing by, but Jasmine opted to suddenly and loudly bark right at his face as he started past her. I quickly pulled her away and further down the trail, apologizing for her rudeness.The couple kindly said there was a party pooper in every crowd and we all walked on toward our destinations.

In the scheme of things, what happened was not a big deal. The other dog walked along with his own people just fine. In my own tribe, only Brady momentarily raised his head and stood up to see if he should follow Jasmine’s lead, but then decided to go back to mouthing his ball. But the other three dogs definitely see Jasmine as the ringleader and will react based upon her reactions. Thus the reason why I decided some time ago to redirect focus to their balls.

Because there are times when she is perfection personified, I often have higher expectations for Jasmine. After all, she is the eldest and has had the most formal schooling. Yet, I admit Jasmine’s inconsistency is at times infuriating. Particularly as I have this admittedly flawed assumption that somehow dogs are supposed to be better as they get older and become mellower. That seems to happen to other people’s dogs. I think it happened with my own first two dogs as an adult, despite the lack of any formal training or obedience. But Jasmine marches to a different drummer.

Today, I could drink a cup of coffee with my perfect dog walking by my side. Yesterday, she ferociously barked at a cyclist who dared to approach me and ask a question. Later today? Tomorrow? Next week? I guess ultimately I don’t care, as long as she’s there by my side.

On Leash and No One Died

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Today we worked on leash walking. Mostly because it’s Saturday and the human was too lazy to go anywhere super fun.

It’s all good though. There are actually plenty of nearby places to go for a lovely walk. I just choose to hardly ever go to those places as leashes are generally required and I do choose to be polite to others by not unleashing my unruly creatures upon them.

Youke and Brady got to go one place just down the road, and Camm and Jaz got to go to another just a spot further down the road. In addition to lots of good sniffing, all dogs got to experience various triggers and no one exploded and no one died.

Actually, now that I think more about this, I guess I’m usually being lazy and today I was not so much. The truth is, I think one of the best things for dogs is to run off leash, sniff freely and wantonly and explore at their own pace, as long as that pace is within eye and earshot. Brady, I’m talking to you.

Walking a dog on leash in a suburban setting, to me, means management of some sort. Taking my dogs out and about pretty much anywhere on a weekend, even off leash, also means likely management. This is why most of the time, we’re out and about off leash in some less than desirable location, at some off-peak time, and on a weekday.

I opted to split the four into groups of two.

The boys and I went a few miles down the road to a local park. It’s actually a favorite spot and when Youke was a puppy, he did a lot of playing, walking and socializing there. It’s also one of the first places where he ever chased a ball down. I taught Youke to walk nicely off leash at this park and it’s all that practice we did that makes me trust him nearly implicitly. Today though, was all about the leash.

Surprisingly, the park was fairly quiet in terms of walkers and dogs. There was a large event or gathering in a pavilion in one corner of the park, but the trails themselves were nearly empty. I let the two boys sniff as much as they wanted to and used that interest and curiosity as a relief and reward when I saw the first set of people and dogs walk toward us. One of the dogs that walked by was a toy breed and Brady actually adores small dogs. The other was a larger mutt and Brady whined slightly, but the novelty of a place that we rarely go won him over. He decided he wasn’t that interested. It also helped that I was able to get off the main trail by a good 15 feet. Next up was a couple walking a Briard, off leash. This is a nice park though and the people saw my two were leashed, so they clipped up their own dog. Thank you!

As that was happening I made the dog out and knew he’d be a trigger for Brady, and possibly for Youke. Anything large and slightly weird-looking is a trigger for Brady. More “normal” dogs such a Golden Retrievers. Labradors, some German Shepherds, etc., can also be triggers, but I’ve learned it’s really more about the energy the dog projects and how they carry themselves. I’ve gotten really good at reading those factors before Brady usually even sees the dog ahead.

Therefore, before Brady could even get a look at the dog, we reversed course, walked a little way down the way we came and then stepped into an area where I could take the dogs off the trail back for about 15 feet. Apparently it was a good spot as both Youke and Brady began fervently sniffing about. The couple with the Briard walked past and we said hello to each other. Brady watched them walk by, but kept a loose leash, was quiet and was more curious than concerned. A big win.

Another thing I’ve learned is that my dogs are more likely to relax if I ring out a greeting to whomever is going by. There have been times when I feel like a complete idiot, singing out a cheery “hello” to everyone I see, but it works. It works especially well for Jasmine and Camm, both of whom tend to be a bit more suspicious at times of people.

Brady also saw a little boy walking along with his father. Brady adores little kids.

Camm does not share that same adoration of small, not fully formed humans.

After I dropped the boys off back home, I loaded up the two girls and took them to a local state park. The park seemed fairly crowded as first, but once we took to some trails, found most people were at the beach and picnic areas.

However. no sooner had we turned down a path I felt fairly certain would be deserted, when I saw riding toward us an entire family of cyclists. I proactively stepped off the side of the trail and took the girls into some brush. They thought that was quite grand as they’d not spotted the bikers yet and started exploring for small critters. Luckily, by the time the family had advanced, the girls were pretty engaged in sniffing about. That is, until Camm head the sound of the children’s voices. Both bicyclists and children are huge causes for concern in Camm’s world. The combination of the two could possibly make her head explode. So I talked softly to her, agreeing all the time that this was quite the annoying intrusion on our walk, but also assuring her that they’d be gone soon. Jasmine decided not to bark, but Camm couldn’t help herself, although the barks were short and not terribly loud.

The girls really didn’t care much about anyone else they saw on the walk, including a gangly teenage black Lab trying to pull his person over to say hello to us. I just took the girls in a very wide circle around him to avoid his advances. I’m pretty sure Camm though he was simply beneath her recognition. She glanced his way, and then proceeded to pointedly ignore him.

The girls were also super polite to a kindly older lady picking blackberries. That strategy paid off – they were offered some of the fruits of her labor. I declined the offer before she could witness their conversion into shrieking she-devils. Jasmine often seems to think she needs to emphasize a meeting with strangers by barking. While if she likes someone it’s an exuberant but loud bark, it also sets Camm off and they were both being so sweet and polite, I decided not to ruin the moment.

Although none of the outings were terribly long or physical, they were different, and different can tire a brain out. Now everyone is tired and relaxed and it looks like a curling up on the couch with a book and watching a movie night.