Microwave Toes

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Passing the Coffee Test


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


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.

Wanna Go?

I’m taking a break from my Thursday evening agility class for a few weeks. Mainly because doing that drive twice a week during the evening rush hour – I also go to lessons on Wednesday night – was starting to make me want to scratch my eyes out. Or get a gun. Or fantasize what it would look like to ram another car. All that while simultaneously becoming more and more paranoid about being rear-ended. It becomes extremely apparent just how much people tailgate when you have a short-backed vehicle.

Anyway, the break makes me feel like I’m even more on vacation than I already am. I know. How is that even possible?

I wanted to get JaYoBaCa out for a nice long romp since I had nowhere to be for the rest of the day. Had several ideas, but held out on any decisions until after I finished a cup of coffee. No worries, the dogs ate their breakfast while I fixed coffee and then got to partake of their morning dollops of cream when I poured some into my coffee. Yes, my dogs are pretty spoiled. Everyone gets a dollop of cream on the mornings I make coffee at home.

I think they sensed it wasn’t going to a lazy day at home. Probably me taking a shower right after the cup of coffee was a big clue. (Youke: “Hmmmm, something’s up. She usually takes a shower much, much later in the day.”)

I used to ask the dogs, “wanna go for a ride?” but that solicited such a loud and chaotic response, I had to stop saying it. Now I ask them if they are “ready for adventure?” The multi-syllables seems to throw them off a bit. The response is a bit quieter.

Just getting in the car is a bit of an adventure. First, there’s the catapult down the stairs to the garage. We’ve all learned to stay out of Jasmine’s way for that part. Then there’s the swirl around the door while I select a pair of shoes and the rush into the garage when the door is opened. Jasmine and Camm proceed to bark loudly about how long it’s taking me. By then, maybe 45 seconds have passed. And that’s only if I had to think about foot attire.

While I put on my foot attire, the two girls continue to bark and/or Camm circles the jeep trying to figure a way to get in herself. Good thing little girlfriend doesn’t know how to drive. We’d all be left behind. Meanwhile, Youke and Brady encircle me with their love while I’m trying to put on my shoes. That involves posturing about who is the favorite, who loves the human more and who can stare deeply into my eyes the longest and with the most adoration. I usually solve this dilemma by reminding Youke that he is the best and goodest boy. The best black and white boy. Then I turn to Brady and quickly inform him that he is the best boy. The best red and white boy. And don’t think they’re on to this yet.

Camm always insists she is the first to get in the car. I’m pretty sure this is so she can get the best spot. (Camm: “I have a sparkly personality and should be first in all the things.”)

What follows next is a cacophony of barks, shrills and screams. Except from Youke. Because Youke really is the best boy. The others hurt my ears and admittedly test my patience. (JaBaCa chorus: “We’re going for a ride! We’re doing something! Take us there, take us there! Are we there yet? Faster, faster!”)


The only time this symphony of absurdity doesn’t happen is if only one of them is in the car. Except for Camm. Because Camm is both sparkly and loud.

Lord forbid if a hapless human happens to be walking along on the street as we back out of the driveway. Usually I roll the windows up about then.

Everyone settles down by the time I make it to the first stop light on my route.

The one exception to this racket is early agility mornings. Camm is the only one that will bark in the beginning, but only for a minute or so. Then whomever is playing that day quickly curls into a ball and falls asleep for most of the ride. Not gonna lie, makes me happy that I’ve successfully converted each and every dog I’ve ever had into not-a-morning-dog.

The dogs are very good about picking up on whether the road to adventure will be a long one or a short one. They also have an amazing ability to map out destinations. I used to think this was done by scent. Makes sense since their noses are so sensitive that they can figure out where they are by smell. But then I started noticing that they still know where they are or where they’re going in the winter months, when the windows are closed up. I suspect it’s like a hostage situation. Even laying down in back, they keep track of every directional turn, every bump in the road. Brady now starts screaming his anticipation of doing agility when I make a certain turn onto a road that leads to the place where we do most of our agility shows. And if we’ve been to any destination three or more times for an agility trial, Brady has the destination mapped out in his head. How else to explain the enthusiastic barking and howls when we turn off the main roads to the arena?

But just as important as knowing where all the agility places are, is knowing where all the adventure places are. More important really.

There’s a handful of regular spots within a 45-minutes radius or less that I take my dogs to. They know each one.

I decided to take them to one such favorite spot, but discovered someone else was there already. I turned in anyway, figuring it’s a large place and we’d likely never even see whoever it was. But my spidey sense kicked in. I listen to my spidey sense, which in this case was giving off huge red flag warnings. No idea why. But this particular spot is also the place where the dogs and I were affronted in late April by three nasty dogs and where Brady got bitten. Despite the loud comments of joy from the back (“We’re here! We’re here! We’re here!”), I opted to turn around and go to another place.

Silence ensued. I could feel the massive disappointment radiating from the back over the massive bad joke I’d just played.

We ventured a little further up the road and went to another favorite spot. As soon as the jeep’s tires hit the first familiar bump in the road, JaYoBaCa’s clamoring started up again, this time with a vengeance. For some reason, this particular place even elicits noise from Youke. I’m pretty sure it’s because we often play ball at this place too. Youke’s contribution is a high-pitched whining. (Youke: “Ball! Ball! Ball! I can play with Ball!! Let me out so I can play with Ball!”)

So we did. Play with Ball. For a while. That takes a bit of the edge off so I can leash everyone up while we pass through the section where we are most likely to encounter others – other people, other dogs, and sometimes we see cyclists. I snapped the leashes off as soon as we got to the crappy area (for those others, not for us). Immediately Youke and Jasmine started investigating for water sources.

My dogs also have a remarkable memory for all the water places. The other day, Brady took off from a game of ball to race down the trail and to jump into a pond. I wasn’t worried about him taking off as I knew exactly what he was doing. In fact, Youke decided to do the very same thing 15 seconds later. The only problem is that it’s been so dry this summer, all the water spots have either dried up or are cesspools of mud. Both boys returned caked in swamp-smelling mud, but with big happy smiles on their faces. (Brady: “Even with all this mud, you are still not allowed to brush me.”)

Call me mean, but it amuses me to see the look of dismay on their faces as they jump into what they think is a nice cool water pool, only to find it’s now a dried-out dip filled with flattened marsh grass. Since this dry spell has lasted for months, most of the water spots also dried up months ago. Still, hope springs eternal for dogs.

And then there’s the moment when they jump into a remembered water spot and emerge looking like a nature documentary on water buffalo. Ah, joke is on me now.

Water buffalo

(Youke: “We’re really hot. Don’t worry, mud comes off in car and on bed.”)

Despite the wallowing in mud part, we still enjoyed a lovely walk. (Youke: “Except not enough water places.”)

Temperatures rose to the mid-80s, but it’s been so hot this summer that even the dogs have acclimated and I’ve actually grown to like the warmer temperatures myself.

I’ve also confirmed my suspicions this summer and verified that no one is out and about midday. The dogs and I were out for 3.5 hours and saw not a single soul. That counts as a super excellent day. Maybe it was just too hot for the native Pacific Northwesterners.

It’s incredible relaxing and comforting to walk along briskly, knowing no one else is about and with a cohesive little group that gets along so well. I like to watch them investigate their individual interest in a scent or in a particular item on the trail or off, sometimes coinciding with the interests of one of the other dogs. How come Brady and Jasmine are curious about a hole to the side of the trail, but Youke is not and Camm just gives it a cursory glance? Why do Youke, Camm and Jasmine like when I pick berries for them, but Brady could care less? Why does Jasmine mark over so much scat, when Brady marks over only half as much and Youke never does? What fascinates Camm about certain sticks? Why do they play with each other sometimes and sometimes not? Why is one a good playmate one day, but isn’t interested on another day? The simple answer, of course, is that they’re each individuals.


The downside to doing midday jaunts like this is that we arrive home fairly early too. Back in the days before I had so much free time, we usually returned home from excursions very late, sometimes not until after 9 pm. Youke still has not caught onto the fact that it is not automatically dinner time when we come back home. (“Good we’re home. Now feed me.”)

But just because it isn’t time for dinner yet, doesn’t mean we can’t snack. The dogs all got to share my snacks – some apple and cinnamon sticks, some dried pineapple and pickles. Don’t judge. It was delicious. It continually cracks me up how much my dogs like pickles. (Brady: “More pickles, more pickles please!”).

The nice thing about a midday adventure is that afterward everyone is willing to flop around and chill. (Youke: “Of course, we have to eat dinner first. I can’t relax if I’m starving.”). Which is all so much nicer than sitting in traffic inching along at 15 miles an hour and swearing.

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.


  • 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.


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.