“Oh well a Touch Of Grey
Kind of suits you anyway.
That was all I had to say
It’s all right.”
I’m not really a Grateful Dead fan. I appreciate the band as an American icon and like some of their music, but not a fan in the sense of being a Deadhead and wanting to sway back and forth barefoot in a long batik print skirt and with no bra whenever I hear one of the band’s songs.
However, the lyrics have been in my head since midweek.
Youke’s 11th birthday is a week away.
Despite being around for over a decade, Youke is still very puppy-like in appearance in many ways. He’s still in fantastic condition and surprisingly doesn’t have any grey. Or if he does, it’s well hidden among his freckles and spots. But his eyes are starting to cloud and I’ve noticed a slight, but definite shift in his body, especially when I look at pictures from his younger days.
The cloudy eyes though in no way impact his Ball catching abilities. Still the best damn catcher. Unlike Brady.
It’s a good thing Brady is awesome at agility because while he loves to play Ball, he sucks at catching Balls. Seriously, he’d have been cut from the line-up a long time ago if I was relying on his ability to catch anything. He also cannot catch food tossed at him with any percentage of accuracy.
This is a crappy photo because Brady is best photographed by a professional and not by me and because I dropped my phone the other day and cracked the photo lens. But it does show how he’s becoming increasingly grey.
I also recently had to drop his jump height when we play NADAC agility because of the organization’s rules. Dogs nine years old must register as veterans and there’s a mandatory drop in jump height for dogs that jump 20 inches, Brady’s category. That change hit me hard. Not because I’m opposed to the rule. I think the rule has its place. At least for everyone except me and Brady. Our first trial with the reduced height and in the veterans division was a few months ago and I was sorta sad the entire trial. I really do not want my feisty crazy Red Dog to be getting older.
Speaking of crazy and feisty.
She’s laying on top of the fourth Ball. Because she’s a Ball hoarder.
Camm has some new flecks of white on her face too these days. Magically, when she became seven years old in November, she remained insanely crazed, but gained some steady listening skills. I love me some Camm, but middle-aged Camm is especially awesome.
Mostly I’ve been thinking about the Grateful Dead song because I made a huge decision last week.
I’m going grey.
Because I’ve been so crazy busy for the past couple of months, I’ve had to reschedule my cut and color appointments on a frequent basis. I rescheduled my last appointment twice and finally was able to get in this past Friday. Even then, I very nearly rescheduled again.
All that waiting allowed me to take a good look at my roots. My hair grows very fast. That had benefits, but it also means that I really needed color touch ups every four weeks in an ideal world, but in mine I was going about every five weeks, sometimes six weeks.
I started going grey in my early 30s. I started coloring in my mid-30s. Once I started coloring, I experimented a lot. At first I went safe and was merely trying to cover the grey with something close to my own natural hair color. But I played with blonde-ish and with red-ish for a while too. I went back to very dark for a long time, including an unfortunate era where I stopped going to a salon professional and did it myself from a box. Eventually, it became clear that trying to maintain my natural dark brunette was a losing proposition and I went very light for a few years.
Truth be told, while I knew I was greying, I really had no clue as to how much and where. I did know I was very white at the front of my face, but have had no clue as to how much of my natural dark color might still be blended in.
So, last week I had a bit of an epiphany. I just don’t have the time, and frankly, the funds to spend, on monthly color maintenance. I’ve been contemplating the idea of just letting myself go grey for the past few years anyway.
Last Friday, Angela, my stylist, did not fight me on my decision, Instead, she have me some options. In the end, I had her chop off several inches and she worked some kind of magic potion to help with the transition and to tone down the remaining darkness from dye.
As she worked on me, I could sense her growing amazement. She deliberately kept the chair turned away from the mirror. She also kept warning me I was going to look very different.
I think I screamed a little when she finished and finally turned the chair around, allowing me to confront the mirror. The scream wasn’t because I was horrified. I actually liked it. But it was so very different.
This will be a fantastic experiment. I have no idea how much grey, actually white, I have. I have no idea how this will look.
Nevertheless, I am pleased to see that I seem to have inherited not only my mother’s premature grey, but also her gorgeous silvery-white grey. Not that yellow grey. The kind of silvery-white grey that some women pay for.
But here’s the thing. If I end up hating it, I’ll just go back to coloring again for a while. I just vowed a long time ago I wasn’t going to be one of those women in my 60s, 70s or even 80s that was still dying her hair.
However, I will be one of those women in my 60s, 70s, and even 80s that will be running a crazy long-strided fast border collie. Sorry, while I generally agreed with Prince, sometimes you should act your shoe size.
My favorite form of respite is hiking with my dogs. Hiking is my way of meditating. I can free my mind in the quietness, observe my dogs with calm and clarity, enjoy the physical effort in a way unlike my usual walking activities, see, smell, hear and feel the small details of my immediate surrounding, and think. I do my best thinking when I’m hiking with my dogs. Actually, I do my best writing there too, but it doesn’t all make it to a physical form.
Sadly, I’ve not had the time or inclination to hike as much as I’d like in the past few months. Much of that was due to the short days of winter and my increasingly busy workload. However, with the time change, daylight is longer and that allows me more time after work to get out with the dogs.
I had a cut and color scheduled last Friday. But I canceled my appointment and rescheduled it to get outside with my dogs. It had been a particularly exhausting week and my pups have been infinitely patient with me over the past few months. Now that we have longer days, have seen the two feet or more of snow from February melt away in most places and have warmer temperatures, I’ve told myself that no matter how tired I am, to get outside with the dogs at least a couple of days a week and rejuvenate in the woods.
I especially love hiking on Friday late afternoons and evenings. I discovered a long time ago that I am less likely to encounter anyone, even at more popular spots. Friday night hikes are my middle-aged happy hours.
I had a full schedule last Friday, and the day was made longer because I’ve decided to bring another person in to occasionally take some of my overflow business and spent much of the day introducing her to some clients. Therefore, while I intended to load the dogs up and leave for an adventure in the afternoon, we didn’t end up departing before nearly 5 pm.
I was happy to see that our late arrival and the start of a few sprinkles, as well as a drop in temperature mean the parking lot to our destination was empty. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
However, as soon as I disembarked from The Living Room on Wheels, I saw a huge white dog on a hill overlooking the parking lot looking at us. His/her curiosity was warranted as both Rhys, Camm and Brady were barking their heads off. The barking is extremely annoying, but heralds our arrival at any place they deem to be super fun. As much as it sets my teeth on edge, they more than make up for it by being nearly silent when we’re out in the woods. So silent in fact that despite hiking with four dogs, we see more than our share of critters. This is why they often wear bells on their collars.
The white dog came toward The LRoW at a determined trot. Uh-oh, I thought.
I had not yet let the dogs out of The LRoW and decided to stand my ground and see what the dog did.
I quickly determined that it wasn’t aggressive and was more curious than anything else. It barked a few times from a distance, came a bit closer, then turned around and trotted back toward the hill. Meanwhile, I had not seen anyone, but guessed that there was a person up there.
After the dog was gone, I let my dogs out. In their usual fashion, they rushed out and began barking to play Ball. In this particular spot, we often start the festivities by playing five to 10 minutes of Ball, and then wandering off into the woods for an hour or more.
I threw a ball for Brady, watched him catch it and then proceeded to lob three more balls for the others.
Uh-oh. The big white dog was back and was now trotting very quickly toward my four.
Since I know mine are much better meeting a strange dog off-leash than on, I opted to let them be. They were immersed in ball play anyway and a strange dog is a typically a brief, albeit annoying distraction for them anyway.
I carefully watched the white dog’s demeanor. By now I knew it was a livestock guardian breed, probably a Great Pyrenees or Akbash. It was a male and he was gigantic next to my dogs. I knew that if things didn’t go well, there could be a lot of damage.
Within seconds, I assessed that there was not a single other human around, that my own dogs were a bit wary of this stranger, that the stranger was not entirely comfortable with them but was overcome with curiosity. I also knew that if I panicked or called my dogs suddenly to me, they would come, but it would likely trigger a bad reaction among all five dogs. In that moment, Youke was the only dog that did not have a ball in his mouth. While simultaneously assuring that the other three did have balls, I decided Youke, being the most neutral of my four, could be greeted by this unknown dog. I also sang out to the big dog a friendly greeting myself.
“Hey, pup-pup. Who are you? Where’s your person, huh? Good pup-pup.”
Yes, I realize this could’ve gone horribly wrong, but the dog’s body language wasn’t stiff and he clearly meant no harm. Youke and he briefly sniffed each other and then I threw Youke’s ball. Brady meanwhile dropped his and greeted this stranger. I immediately picked it up and Brady went off after it again. Interestingly, Rhys stayed at a distance, observing, wary but unafraid. Camm, in her typical fashion, made a huge point about completely ignoring the dog.
I saw immediately that the white dog had decent social skills. He kept a wide berth from Camm, did not try to go up to Rhys and while curious about Brady and Youke, did not force himself upon them. He seemed to be fascinated with the fact that we were all playing.
After a few minutes, he trotted back up the hill again.
I continued to play ball with my four, moving to a better vantage spot while doing so. Still no other human in sight. But the dog was gone too. I decided someone just wanted their space and wasn’t really paying proper attention to their dog.
After a few more minutes of ball play, all the time moving to better vantage points, I decided to gather the balls and commence the woods walking portion of the evening. As this is a familiar routine, my four dogs willingly dropped balls and headed off down a familiar trail. However, Big White Dog suddenly reappeared and trotted determinedly toward us again.
“Hey pup-pup. Where’s your person?” Then it dawned on me. Perhaps this dog was a stray. That seemed a bit unlikely though given that there are no houses around and I-90 runs alongside the area. And then it came to me. This dog had been dropped off and abandoned by someone. I’d already seen that he appeared well cared for, was clean and was wearing a collar and tags.
The LRoW is large, but not that large. How was I going to fit my four plus a dog that was easily three times their size?
The dog came toward me and I was able to touch him, but then he turned around again and ran up the hill.
It was then that I saw a person. A person who I could barely see and who was clearly not wanting to be seen.
I decided to go on my walk with my dogs. If the dog was truly a stray, and still there when we came back, I’d make a decision then as to what to do.
I was relieved when after nearly an hour we came back into the open area and there was no dog. Also, no human.
I whipped out the balls and we started playing Ball again. Then we took a break again and made a short detour down another path and circled our way back.
That was when The Big White Dog appeared again.
Now I was really concerned. No one was in sight, no one was calling to this dog and no one came looking for him. Clearly I was right the first time. The dog had been abandoned.
I decided to head up the hill to an alternate parking lot to see if anyone else was around and if they knew anything about the dog. By now, I had five dogs with me. My four were nonplussed about the intruder, who I’d continued talking to in a friendly voice. I silently thanked my friend Amanda and her plethora of dogs that we frequently walk with, especially her large Anatolian Shepherd Mix. Because of those outings and her big dog, this was familiar to mine.
Let me insert here that I frequently speak to loose dogs that approach my own in a super friendly voice, and do the same for strangers I may meet on a trail. Of course, I only do this if I can immediately determine from body language if the strange dog or dogs or human approaching are likely to interact in a non-threatening manner. My relaxed posture and voice assures my dogs that there is no reason for alarm.
The Big White Dog was happily trotting among my boys and continuing to maintain space between himself and Camm. Camm had given him her trademark sneer when he ventured too close, and he read it perfectly. Nonetheless, I made sure she had a ball in her mouth.
There was one car in the parking lot, but no one seemed to be around. Just as I started to turn around, a whiff of movement caught my eye and I turned back.
“Do you know anything about this dog? Is he yours?”
A man emerged from the edge of the parking lot.
“Yes, he’s mine. That’s Bruno.”
What the fuck was my innermost thought, but I decided to keep it friendly
“He’s been following us around. I thought that maybe he was a stray.”
The man walked toward us. I quickly determined that he was not a threat. Perhaps someone just like me, seeking a little quiet solace in a peaceful place late on a Friday.
Except as he approached, I realized exactly what kind of solace he had sought. The fumes from the alcohol he had been consuming engulfed me.
“Is he a Great Pyrenees or Pyrenees mix?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s a purebred Pyrenees. He’s a puppy really.”
I learned in the course of our friendly conversation, and as he was chewing on the ball he’d stolen from Youke, that Bruno was an eight-month old gigantic fluffy puppy with zero recall and a human that figured he was okay going off to make his own friends with no supervision while he indulged in a private Friday evening happy hour in a parking lot at a popular trailhead.
The man tried to convince me that he’d been trying to catch Bruno, but that Bruno had refused to come to him.
Two things occurred to me. One, perhaps the overpowering scent of Jameson Irish whiskey was not something that Bruno found alluring, and two, the man had nothing to offer Bruno for coming to him.
I decided that perhaps mentioning only the latter was the polite thing to do.
“Do you have any treats on you?” I asked, not mentioning of course his personal taste in liquid reward.
Naturally he did not, but of course, I did.
I called Bruno’s name and held out my hand full of Charlie Bears, a rather dull cracker-like dog treat that just happened to be in my jacket pocket. Bruno air scented and immediately dropped the ball he’d been chewing, much to Youke’s relief, and came to me. I slipped my hand in Bruno’s collar and petted him.
“How’d you do that?!” the man exclaimed, looking at me like I’d pulled a rabbit out of my sleeve. This is a fitting analogy too as that trick, and using food to call a dog to you, are very old, and very established.
I explained I had some treats on me and merely offered them to Bruno. He said something about trying to catch Bruno for the last hour. I refrained from offering my own opinion that I highly doubted that had taken place and that he’d instead used his time to drink from the many nips I had noted by then were littering the small meadow.
We chatted a few minutes longer about Bruno and dogs in general and then I stated I had to be on my way. The man seemed sad and asked if we were really leaving as Bruno had enjoyed playing with my dogs. I silently observed that my dogs were now quite sick of Bruno, especially of his propensity to gnaw on their precious Balls, and were becoming a bit edgy and wary of Bruno. Bruno had clearly decided that in the presence of his tipsy human, it was safe to get a lot closer to Rhys and Camm, who were not comfortable with that decision. My decision to make a departure was cemented when both Brady and Rhys snapped at Bruno when he decided he should follow us again. Luckily, Bruno was by then leashed.
I felt a bit sad as we went back down the hill and I threw the ball a few more times for my dogs. Sad that the man was clearly a bit lonely and that his Friday evening consisted of leaving his dog to his own devices while he chugged nips of whiskey in a parking lot to a beautiful natural area, not even venturing beyond the concrete confines. And sad too for Bruno, a Big White Beautiful Dog looking for someone to do things with him.
But, I also thought to myself how is it that I always seem to encounter the fornicators, the drunks, the druggies and the slightly unbalanced on these Friday late day adventures? Maybe we’re all seeking some form of nirvana after a long week.
I frequently say that I am a lazy dog trainer and allude that I do little to no training at all.
In reality, I actually do train my dogs. I just don’t do much in the way of structured training or actual intentional training sessions.
I do agility training, but truthfully most of that is in a class setting once or twice a week. When I do agility training at home, it is five minutes maximum, then we do other things, like play Ball or go for a hike. Sometimes I go to a facility and rent time and space for a bit and do some sessions with my dogs, but it’s fairly infrequent. Much of the “agility” training I do is not done on agility equipment. Really, the only agility equipment I use are weaves, and even then, only for foundation and then in the first year or so. I just don’t care enough to drill my dogs on a regular basis.
Most of the training I do revolves around what I like to call real life skills. These real life skills include coming reliably when called, checking in with me, waiting politely while I prepare their meals then sitting patiently when I place their bowls in front of them until I tell them “okay,” realizing I will handle major issues so that they don’t have to do it themselves and posing nicely for pictures. Immediately settling down and assuming their resting positions when I tell them that we’re taking a nap is a big one too.
The truth is, my dogs are learning all the time in their lives with me, be it intentionally or unintentionally. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve also slowly come to realize that some of my best training was done completely unintentionally, but the results were so lovely, that I started becoming intentional about it.
Because I’ve had dogs that were “reactive” to some degree over the past decade and a half, I’ve learned to see the world through their eyes to some extent and to react to and problem solve situations quickly and in a manner such that they did not have to solve it themselves or worry that they were being placed in a position where they had to figure their way out. At first, this was very much unintentional and accidental. I learned because I let one dog down for years and the second one was so reactive that I realized I needed the help of professional trainers. I learned that the dog I had let down for so long, trusted me to have her back in certain situations because of what I was specifically doing inadvertently in those situations. Once I learned more through professional trainers, extensive reading, and learning to see the world through my dog, I saw the physical transformation in my very reactive dog and gradually saw how he trusted me to have his back. It is now something I actively do with all of my dogs and I even have a cue for it – “I gotcha.” As in “I’ve got your back. Let me deal with this for you.”
I wish I did not live in a world where I was constantly vigilant about possible threats to my dogs, but I do. Unfortunately, while I expect a certain amount of cluelessness from the vast majority of the dog-owning public, I am constantly surprised as to the vast amount of cluelessness from people in the dog agility community.
I am lucky to be friends with some fantastic professional dog trainers and with many people who own and train dogs that are sensible, knowledgeable and trustworthy. I have learned so very much from them over the years and continue to do so. I also learn continuously from my own dogs, but I credit these people with helping me learn to read and speak “dog” in the first place.
But the thing I find that is missing very much in the dog agility community is the sharing of knowledge. Not knowledge about how to train a dog to do agility, or how to run a course or even what to do at a trial, but the simple knowledge of dogs – dog body language and how dogs perceive the world, including that future agility superstar on the other end of the leash. Yes, there are those people who try – be it a gentle, kind reminder or a very direct, perhaps forceful, approach – but most trainers are not preparing their students for good general canine code of conduct.
I see people with friendly retriever-type dogs all the time allowing their dogs to invade the space of more reserved dogs that want nothing more than to get away. I see people revving up their dogs only a few feet, or even inches, away from a dog that is very nearly over threshold. I see people talking to friends while their dog is at the end of its leash staring another dog down. I see people allowing their dog to walk up uninvited to other dogs all the time. I’d really like to see instructors addressing canine conduct more with students.
Perhaps what is missing is common sense and politeness.
So let me tell you about an incident today that sparked this post.
I was at an agility trial with my four dogs this weekend. This particular facility has only one good-sized off-leash area. Because it is the only one, it is pretty popular. Everyone I’ve ever encountered at this facility when I’ve been there understands that it is the polite thing to do to take turns using the off-leash paddock. If you see someone waiting, you either inform them you just arrived into the paddock and need a little more time or you finish up play time and leash your dogs and exit. Sometimes people ask if they can join you or sometimes people invite others to share. The answer usually depends on the individual and their dogs. For instance, when I arrived this morning, a woman using the paddock with her two dogs asked if I wanted to share. I politely declined, explaining my dogs didn’t always do well with others. We walked around a little bit and then entered the paddock when she decided to leave. Shortly after I entered with my dogs, another person came up and made it clear she was waiting to use the area. I explained we had just arrived and it might be a little bit longer (I was waiting for Brady and Youke to poop). She said she’d just hang out and wait. Once my boys completed their business, I leashed them up and we exited so she and her dog could be in the paddock for a while.
How very simple and clear! Nice, polite communication.
Later in the day, I saw no one was using the paddock. I took the opportunity to take all four of my dogs on leash into the paddock so they could run and stretch their legs for a bit and poop again if needed. Just as I was going to enter, I saw a man I know and his dog preparing to go in. Mike called out that he wanted to toss a frisbee for his dog for a minute and then I could have the area. I walked my four by and we gave Mike and his dog some space to play for a bit. They exited and we entered.
I was picking up Brady’s poop when I saw her. A woman headed straight for the gated entrance with her dog. I figured she wanted to make sure I saw her and let me know in a not so subtle way that she was waiting to use the paddock. I was wrong. She unlatched the gate and headed straight in. For a second I was speechless. Then I called out to her, “NO!” (I find using the direct approach gets attention faster in these situations. Usually. ). She continued to barge in.
“No! Stop! Some of my dogs are not good with other dogs!”
She looked right at me, and continued to come in.
I thought that perhaps she did not hear me as I was on the other side, now hastily tying a poop bag. I repeated, “Some of my dogs are not good with other dogs! Please don’t come in!”
She heard me, and she defiantly stepped in. By now my four were starting to swarm her and her dog.
I ran toward my four and called them, while at the same time trying to process her telling me that we were supposed to share the paddock.
My dogs all heard something in my voice and came to me immediately. Then Rhys veered off for a hot second toward them (she had a ball throwing device). I called him again and he came and sat in front of me. I quickly, with my hands shaking, leashed them up. She continued to stare at me.
I lost it.
“You fucking bitch!” Not my best moment, but I was pissed.
She said something in reply and I decided to haul ass out of there.
There are so many things wrong with this. First of all, how can you ignore someone when they tell you their dogs are not good with others? I had four dogs. She had one. How does it not occur to someone to ask if it is okay to join you and their four dogs you do not know? She was placing her dog at incredible risk! She was also placing my four in a precarious position. Had one or more of my dogs done something to her or her dog, myself and my dog or dogs would have been placed at fault. And that not only terrifies me, but pisses me off. I take full responsibility for actions on the part of my dogs, even when others do something foolish, but to deliberately place me in that kind of position incenses me. However, I’ve also worked intensely with them, and yes, trained them! – to respond to me and to not take action on their own. In the few seconds of this occurrence, it was gratifying to see Camm assess the situation, look into my eyes and realize that I had her back and she did not have to get in that dog’s face. It was gratifying to see Brady start barking frantically at the unknown dog, then look quickly at me and come immediately to me to be leashed. It was awesome to see Rhys, who has been very skittish lately (another fear period I think), come to me, turn away and then re-think and come back to me. (Youke just came immediately because he’s pretty perfect.)
I ended up informing the facility owner, the trial judge and organizers about the incident. My understanding is that the woman was addressed about the matter. I sincerely hope she learned something today.
I am a bit sorry I lost my cool and swore at her, but I also realize there are situations where further explanation is a luxury one cannot afford.
After I calmed down a bit from the incident, I realized that while her attitude needed some adjustment, in the end, she was probably just clueless about other dogs and dog behavior. But I do feel it is at least the partial responsibility of dog training instructors and agility trainers to help their students understand and negotiate good canine conduct.
In the end, nothing bad happened. Because of training.
Never underestimate the value of a good recall.
Late yesterday, after I had completed most of my work assignments for the day, I returned home with the best of intentions. I figured I had enough time to take the dogs out for a while before I had to return and do my last couple of pet visits for the day around 5 pm. But I got home and realized I was starving as an Americano, while having the desired effect of making me a coherent and functioning human, does nothing to actually fuel my stomach, especially after walking nine miles. As I was preparing to nuke some leftovers, I realized I really didn’t have that much daylight to play with the dogs and sitting down to eat was helping to make that time dwindle rapidly. So I sat on my couch for “a few minutes” to look through social media.
Instantly all four of the dogs, eager for attention, accosted me. So we had a petting and cuddle fest for a few minutes. I soon realized I was really physically tired and sank back into the couch cushions. Youke and Rhys took advantage and decided to lay down on the couch with me.
At that point I decided that staying home for 45 minutes and cuddling with the boys was more important than getting all stressed out by piling them in the Living Room on Wheels and driving somewhere to play for a short time and then having to turn back quickly around in order to get to my last few clients.
Youke stretched himself on top of me and nuzzled his head under my hand. Rhys jumped on top of the couch, but leaned down to place his paws around me in a hug and to nestle his Big Velvet Head on my chest and under my chin.
At first I attempted to look at my phone, but Brady rose from his spot at my feet to try to bump it out of my hands. Camm looked imploringly at me until I placed it to the side and caressed her face and stroked her chest for a while. Rhys edged his head closer for me to softly kiss his nose and whisper how much I loved him. Youke closed his eyes while I petted him, but would flutter them open and pop his head up as soon as I stopped. Therefore, one hand was constantly on him, stroking the top of his head and behind his ears, places that he loves.
For nearly 45 minutes, I talked softly to the dogs on occasion, listened to them breathe, caressed their muscular bodies and stroked their soft fur, soaked up their adoration and looked deeply into their eyes as the waning daylight and the sunset that followed glowed in through the window.
Cue the tire screeching and crashing sound effect please BECAUSE REAL LIFE IS NOT ALL FUCKING RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS!
The above, in fact, did really happen. Well, except for the sunset part. It was rainy and cloudy yesterday.
I decided to take Rhys and Camm with me to my last few pet visits and leave them in the car while I did the visits, which were quick potty breaks, as I figured I could take them for a quick walk afterward. But it started pouring rain once I was done and I was just plain tired, so we just turned around to go home again after I made a quick stop to the store down the street from me.
In my tired and slightly stupefied state, I did not immediately notice that when I returned home there were three dogs in the entry from the garage, not just the two I had let out of the car.
Then I realized that Youke was downstairs. Youke is not supposed to be downstairs. In fact, no dog is presently allowed downstairs as that is where the laundry room is and inside of the laundry room is the cat’s litter box.
None of my dogs are above a bit of kitty rocha if given the chance. Thus, the downstairs is gated off with a baby gate.
Youke has always been the master of improvisation and over the past 10.5 years has shown that if he really puts his mind to it there is no barricade that he cannot figure out.
I often say that Youke is the Perfect Dog. And he is,
98%, okay, 95% of the time. But that 5% kills me.
Like the time he climbed on top of the refrigerator to get to the olive oil and dragged the bottle all over the house, AFTER he had chewed the top off.
He did have an incredibly shiny coat for many months.
Yesterday was not that epic, but it was the third time he’s broken the no dogs downstairs rule in the past month. Plus, when he did not find any tasty kitty rocha (because I’m religious about cleaning the cat’s box), he tossed kitty litter all over the laundry room searching for kitty rocha. When that proved unfruitful, he tore into some cardboard housing some kitty food, creating a cardboard flurry on top of the kitty litter. Unlike Rhys, Youke only shreds cardboard and does not eat it. I apparently arrived home before he could eat the cat food.
Let me also mention that every one of these recent incidents have only happened when I leave him at home and take Rhys and one of the other dogs somewhere. Jealous much?
What happened next wasn’t pretty and I’m not proud. But I’m not gonna sugar coat that I was tired, stressed and and pissed, and exploded into fury. Sometimes shit gets real and despite what some might lead you to believe, life with dogs is not all magical rainbows and unicorns farting sparkles. A lot of the times it is annoying barking, muddy paw prints on your clean pants, snarky growling and throw up on the rug.
“WHAT THE FUCK YOUKE?!”
I grabbed him by the collar and because I seriously wanted to beat him, I hauled his skinny ass to the nearest crate and slammed the door shut. The other three dogs vanished upstairs.
I proceeded into the laundry room to evaluate the damage and clean up the mess. As I started sweeping and cleaning I got more infuriated, swearing like the sailor I must’ve been in a previous life the entire time.
This level of swearing concerns Camm greatly. No stranger to my regular barrage of swear words, she does become very greatly concerned when pretty much every other word is a swear. Concerned as in does she need to act in some way to vanquish the alarmingly erratic and crazy alien being that has overtaken her Human? Usually she does this by tenderly approaching me and jumping up and trying to hug me tightly. Sometimes this works and I hug her back and thank her profusely for being the best natural therapy dog I know. Other times, like last night, I can just give her a warning look to keep her distance and let me have my tantrum.
The tantrum last night included slamming the dryer door shut as I bent down to sweep up cat litter and cardboard bits. That really don’t accomplish much except to make a satisfyingly loud and violent noise that suited my fury at the time. Sort of like punching a wall, but without the physical repercussion and the need to patch up the drywall.
Once I cleaned up the mess I decided to put the clean towels and sheets that were in the washer from that morning into the dryer and then to get the dogs their dinner and calm the fuck down.
Except the dryer door wouldn’t close.
Ah, the perfect moment of karma.
I was in disbelief. Naturally, my first thought was to blame Youke for the door not working properly.
Then, albeit slowly, I realized that a 37-pound dog, so matter how utterly clever, could not break the solid metal door .
Once I apprehended that Youke had nothing to do with the sudden fact that the dryer door wouldn’t latch, I started investigating a bit further. Turns out, one of the latches for the door was broken.
Now, it may surprise you to know, and I fully and somewhat grudgingly acknowledge this, I did not put the obvious together. It took 20 minutes of me trying to figure out how and where the latch was broken, if I could fix it and trying to jimmy it before I finally understood the consequences of slamming that door.
Fast forward to an evening of googling broken dryer latches and watching YouTube videos of how to replace broken dryer door latches. Super easy. Except if you have a door like mine on my particular model.
So, after an evening of spooning with Youke and giving him belly rubs, I called Sears today to ask about my broken dryer door. Good news! I have an extended warranty I didn’t know I had and I didn’t purchase the dryer as long ago as I thought I had. Due to my extended warranty and Sears’ excellent service, I will receive a new latch repair kit in 7-10 days and in this packet will be complete and GUARANTEED instructions on how to do the repair myself, all AT NO CHARGE TO ME.
Wow. Because I researched this and that part costs about $2.99. I’m saving a huge amount of money! And no telling how valuable those instructions are.
It’s possible I might receive the latch repair kit and guaranteed satisfaction instructions in five days, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, laundry will be piling up, which is truly a cosmic kick as doing laundry is about the only household/housekeeping chore I actually do, keep up with and sort of enjoy.
I might’ve, maybe, finally learned my lesson about slamming inanimate objects when I’m pissed.
This picture perfectly captures how I feel the vast majority of the time. How did I get four dogs and why do I have four dogs? Also, in what direction are we going? Youke’s expression perfectly captures how I overcome these questions most of the time. Squeeze your eyes shut tight and hope for the best or for it all to go away.
I decided somewhere between my birthday in 2017 and the beginning of 2018 that this had to change. Although obviously only to a certain point as the above picture was taken in October 2018.
Therefore, while I really intensely despise the whole New Year’s resolutions thing and the accompanying quagmire of overwrought emotions, I decided that I had to set some goals for 2018.
It worked out to so well that I’m doing it again for 2019.
But first – and let me warn you ahead of time that some of this will fall into the TMI category (that’s Too Much Information for those of you not familiar with this ’90s speak) – let me explain my philosophy about goals.
For me, goals are targets really. They are not set in stone, but rather are fluid. While I may target for something to happen or to accomplish a particular something within a certain time-frame, I am never disappointed when that does not happen, because I think of goals as moving targets. I often find I have to stop and reevaluate or analyze. Sometimes I need to see the target more clearly, sometimes I see I need to make it smaller or break it down into more manageable bite-size pieces. Sometimes I realize my target needs to be bigger. Often, I fathom that the target may take a long time, often years, but I keep it in my sights and know when it is within my grasp. Goals, to me, are like lights at the end of a tunnel. Sometimes they are a tiny pinprick and you wonder if you are having a delusion about what it is. Other times the light is huge and bright and right there for you to grab and burn your hand. But they are also fluid and can morph and shape shift like a body of water, be it a small stream or a huge wave.
It was only very recently that I realized this about myself in terms of my philosophy about setting goals and it explained a lot. I’ve always set targets to reach for pretty much as long as I can remember, and certainly since the time I entered high school. And, I always reach my goals. Even if it takes years.
I am a pretty classic Type A personality and have been described by more than a few, including some significant others, as being intense. But I’m not a perfectionist. I also adopted a shift nearly ten years ago to be more mindful of stress in my life and to focus more on quality rather than quantity. More gentleness and less competiveness.
So, although I’ve been enjoying life and launched a business, it dawned on me that some of my focus was actually lacking. I was a bit like a boat at sea with a faulty rudder. Or a captain with a poor sense of direction.
For whatever reason, that changed in 2018. So I set some goal/targets for the year.
1) Attain Youke’s NATCH (NADAC Agility Trial Champion) by 10 years of age.
2) Get closer to Brady’s NATCH (NADAC Agility Trial Champion) to earn it by 2019.
3) Grow my business and achieve $X as a year-end financial goal.
4) Get laid.
That was it. Fairly simple goals that I deemed with a little focus could be reached.
So, let’s review. And remember I said I it worked out pretty well.
Mission accomplished. Youke earned his NATCH in March 2018.
It was my first targeted goal of 2018 that was achieved. Better yet, Youke earned his NATCH before became 10 years old. Okay, so he turned 10 a month later, but damnit! Mission accomplished!
And I had to make good on my promise of a lifetime supply of orange chuckit Balls for him.
Once I established that goal – and let’s not pretend it was for Youke, because he didn’t care one iota, although he did and continues to care deeply about orange chuckit Balls – I wondered why I had not set it with more determination earlier. I’m not gonna lie. I actually set this goal when Youke was a puppy. Somewhere between four and six months old I vowed this dog was going to get his NATCH. But I realized when he was about two years old how much pressure I was putting on him in trials and in training and since I’d already shut Jasmine down and was working to build her back up, I wisely toned down my ambition. When he was injured before he turned three – non-agility related – that helped set the tone even more. So while it was always in the back of my mind, I just didn’t push it. I even stopped entering Chances for nearly two years with him until we could improve our skills for that particular special class. The, I realized in late 2016, after I lost Jasmine, that Youke wasn’t getting younger and it was time to start honing in again. Our countdown began in earnest in 2017 and when I sought some improved training and advice for distance handling.
And it’s sort of weird I suppose, but his NATCH means more to me than the five CATCHes he earned in CPE. Maybe because we worked so long and hard to get it.
Then I took a look at Brady’s points and recognized that he was accumulating points at a faster rate than I had previously thought.
So this ↑ happened in September 2018. Brady’s NATCH and his Versatility NATCH on the most perfect of Chances runs.
I think I sobbed for three days after this. I truly probably will write a book about Brady one day. Suffice it to say that considering that I thought I would never be able to compete with this dog due to his reactivity and environmental sensitivities, this was a gigantic deal to me.
I first knew that Brady could achieve a NATCH about three years ago and established it as a long-term goal. In fact, I joked with The Relationship Counselor that we could go back to trying to teach him how to do a teeter when he either turned 10 years old or got his NATCH, whichever came first. She upped the ante by surprising me with her determination to teach Brady the teeter and have him overcome his fear of that obstacle some 18 months ago. So I decided we needed to ramp up the NATCH target. And man! Once we started focusing, the Chances points started coming fast and furious, although we did have a drought over the summer for the last two we needed. Then, bang! we got the two we needed in one trial.
By the end of September, I was feeling pretty fierce. My horoscope for 2018, if you believe in such things, kept basically saying it was my year. My perfect year where everything was in planetary alignment and the sun and stars were shining on me and I could basically do no wrong.
Not exactly true and there were definitely some significant bumps for my business in 2018, including a really bad few weeks where I almost convinced myself to fold it all in. I’m grateful to have wonderful friends and sisters who listened to my woes and convinced me to keep at it and not let the potholes derail me.
By September I had reached my income target and at year’s end I had crushed it. I’ve gone with a fairly conservative approach in regards to my business and its growth. I’ve tried to be realistic and brutal with myself regarding expectations. I investigated and wrote about failed businesses for too long to be anything but conservative and realistic, things I’m ordinarily not in all honesty. Not gonna lie, the first two years, while according to plan, were uphill and hard. Not saying it isn’t still, but at least I saw some really good things in year three and year four is already dawning fairly brightly.
Which brings me to me fourth goal for the year. That one turned out to be the hardest. Who knew?!
I suppose in this day of Tinder, Zoosk and all the other easy and sleazy dating apps it shouldn’t have been difficult. But I chose a different path. I chose the devil I know rather than some random stranger.
I was inspired to make this a target for three reasons. First, it had been a while. Quite a while. Second, some friends and relatives were hooking up which was vaguely encouraging. Third, I know a guy.
Much like the book about Brady, I’ll probably write at least a chapter about Tex. That’s a code name by the way. And the reason will be in the chapter I someday write. Actually, it will need to be a few chapters because Tex has been and out – often out – of my life for nine years. He reappeared with some more consistency in 2018.
I actually have no present desire for anything resembling a relationship. I’m usually too busy and too stressed and I really don’t want to change my life in some way to make someone fit into it. Plus, let’s look at the fact that I have FOUR DOGS. And let’s be very clear. My dogs come first. Let’s be clearer. Three of them sleep in the bed with me. And let’s make it crystal clear. There’s a lot of dog hair at my house and that’s not about to change.
So while people around me are playing with Tinder, I’m out hiking and playing with my dogs. I rather like it that way. I’m also walking an average of eight miles a day walking other people’s dogs and when I’m not doing all of that, I’m playing dog agility on the weekends or training agility on weeknights. And if none of those things are happening, I’m napping.
Tex and I were texting back and forth for months in 2017. Flirty, silly texts. Then, he disappeared. I wish I could say that was unusual, but it wasn’t. Se la vie. I’d pretty much written him off several years ago. Then he got back in touch in 2018.
I decided I wasn’t playing anymore. I’ve never gained anything in my life by being timid. In fact, I am that uber bitchy aggressive woman that is somehow seen as uber, bitchy and horridly aggressive. I put her on the back shelf for a few years, but in 2018, she made a bit of a comeback. And foreshadowing here, she’s back baby for 2019.
When Tex texted me some sorta sexy, friendly but harmlessly flirtatious message, I sent him a two-word response. Okay, the first word was a contraction of two words and the other word is the most useful four letter word ever devised by humankind and in this case I used it as a verb. It wasn’t exactly a demand, but it went a bit beyond an invitation.
He was a bit shocked and asked if I was the same person. Hell, yes and this woman 1) knew what she wanted, 2) and knew who she wanted it from.
Thus began months of torture.
I am not big on words when it comes to romance or fornication. Actions speak louder than words. I spelled this out a number of times. I am also not into dick pics or sending selfies. What if I ever want to run for public office? It’s like the Internet. Those things are forever. So while I was looking for a big YES, I was also saying a whole lot of NO to the stupid things that seem to define flirtation, dating and sex in today’s world.
I thought I’d get laid finally in July. But Tex being directionally challenged ruined that. In other words, he not know that while he was traveling north on Interstate 5 from a town south of me to get back to Seattle that he could have simply veered off the interstate slightly east and arrived into my freshly bathed and dog hair-free legs. I’d also shaved my legs. He also didn’t take into account the heavy traffic that is every Sunday, coupled with the added morass of a major weekend construction project, despite it having been advertised on television, radio and other media for weeks.
I was furious. I made it obvious that I was furious in some scathing words.
I evaluated and analyzed my goal and my target. The target was proving unsatisfactory and unreliable. Time to adjust my goal. I did just that by opting to refocus and by altering my time-frame.
In October I received a text. “Still mad? There are only 78 days to make your goal for the year.”
I burst out laughing. As in loud, tears streaming down my face laughter. See, the thing about Tex is that he completely gets me. I received regular countdowns until we could finally choose a date that worked for both of our schedules a week and a half later.
I kicked ass on my 2018 goals.
So now it’s 2019 and in the past several weeks between mid-November and now I’ve been thinking about 2019.
Ya’ll be happy to know that I’ve decided to return to blogging. Yup, it’s been a year and a week since my last blog post. I stopped blogging mostly because I just have been so busy. But I also stopped because I really did not have anything particularly nice to say for a lot of the year. Funny and biting, yes. But definitely not nice. Although it was a fantastic year in many respects, I felt just plain black and blue more than I’d like to think about. I did most of my writing in my head while walking and the really good stuff, and the nasty stuff too, just never saw the light of day. I’ve decided to change that.
Of course I have business and financial goals for the year, including eating as much rice and beans as I can and dreaming up new ways to make that interesting in order to dig out of some of my debt associated with starting my business while also being a sparkling personality. Perhaps a bit less sparkle in 2019.
Youke and Brady have done everything I’ve ever asked of them. I’d like to see them both earn their NATCH 2, but that may be in 2020. Youke is also slowly, but surely headed toward some agility retirement as he’ll be 11 this year. It likely won’t happen this year as I’ve decided to cut back on agility competition for financial and sanity reasons, but I’d like to see Brady progress to his first CATCH in CPE, now that he does the previously super scary teeter.
I also think that Camm could possibly get her first CATCH by the end of the year. It would be her first major championship title and possibly her only one. She has everything she needs for a NATCH and a Versatility NATCH, except those pesky Chances qualifications. Ironically, she has great distance, but she also has even bigger opinions. She did turn seven years old though a few months ago and it may have been a magical turning point for us as a team. More on that in the future.
I have zero aspirations for Rhys at present. Rhys had his second birthday two weeks ago. While I had planned to start trialing him regularly this month, I’ve come to recognize that he is simply not ready. He did a soft debut at the end of October in Canada at one of my favorite trials and was surprisingly fairly good. But I entered him in a few more runs here and there and he doesn’t have the skills and maturity yet to cope with a trial atmosphere. I’ve also realized he is a sensitive guy and I do not want to overwhelm him and place him in situations he’s just not ready for .
Hiking with my dogs is big on my list for 2019. I felt I neglected them a lot this past year, particularly in the last quarter. Hiking is also the best therapy for me. So for the sake of all of our collective sanity, I am cutting back on agility to see where the paths in the woods lead us. I’m also going to be just plain nicer to my dogs and not let stress get at me as much.
Perhaps my most significant target though is to summon the return, and foster, my inner tiger. Sounds sorta paradoxical, but I’m looking at a year of laser focus, passion, acceptance and reflection.
And maybe some more of Tex.
It started snowing here in Western Washington last night and when I woke up this morning, there were several inches of soft, dry white powder on the ground.
It was also eerily silent.
Strangely, last night was not quite a silent night as I could hear people trying to get up the hill in front of my house in their cars. Which was a bit weird since I’d already been out visiting cats while their people are on holiday and making a last minute trip to the grocery story for birthday cupcakes.
Why? Because Rhys turned one-year old on Christmas Eve!
I wrote something hugely sappy, but heartfelt, on Facebook about him, that I’m not going to repeat here. No alcohol was involved, unless half of a spiced winter hard cider counts.
This morning’s silence resulted from not a single living soul, at least of the human kind, being out and about in the cold and snow early this morning. Holidays are generally quiet where I live, but this morning was complete and total silence. I guess they were in their houses gulping coffee while the kids frantically tore at their presents or nursing hangovers from too much eggnog and rum. Or maybe the smart people were simply still in bed.
The silence was broken when Camm uttered a small woof.
“Snow! Where all this snow come from??!! Magical! Cammi love snow! Cammi play in snow! Cammi take lot of snow baths!
However, playing in the snow had to wait while I ventured out on my rounds of cat visits.
Once my rounds were accomplished, and a triple Blonde Hawaiian latte consumed from my favorite coffee shop, I headed back home to play with the dogs.
First, let me clarify that I’m pretty sure almost everyday around here is like Christmas for my dogs. I’m sure there are times that they don’t think that, but I know for a fact from observing the everyday doings of many other dogs, that this is true.
So, on Christmas Day this year, as I have another round of cat visits to make later today, we simply stayed home and played in the snow in the yard. With Balls (which makes anytime feel like a sparkly Christmas morning). And then, after we’d done a pretty thorough job of messing up the pure whiteness of the freshly fallen snow, we came inside and I gave them their only Christmas present, some lovely meaty marrow bones.
Now there is silence in my house.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s been a while. But let’s jump right into it, so to speak.
When training your dog, be very careful of what it is exactly that you are training.
Camm recently started ducking under jump bars.
Until last month, she had ducked under jump bars perhaps a handful of times. Two of those times were when we first started agility training. The other three were intermittently earlier this year.
In mid-November, I entered a USDAA agility trial with Youke, Brady and Camm. I had been asked to be one of the chief ring stewards for the trial and it seemed like a really good idea a few weeks prior to the trial to do that job and run three dogs. Oh, and it was a two-ring trial. Located in a big arena with no direct path between the two rings. And I don’t generally crate my dogs inside, choosing instead to park in a location on the other side of the building. Lastly, it was raining heavily that weekend.
But enough about me.
Camm ducked under the first jump in most of her runs that weekend. This led to a few laughs from some of the observers in the stands, and a few helpful comments from those that thought I should know. Did you know she went under the first jump?
The behavior wasn’t really something I could fix in a trial setting and I opted to run her and just have fun since USDAA isn’t my main venue anyway and I don’t care about qualifications. Plus, she was jumping at 20 inches, instead of 16 inches, which is her standard height in the two main venues I compete in with her at this time.
Camm was also pretty worked up that weekend.
I’ve decided that worked up is the best way to phrase it. I think there’s an element of stress and being over threshold at certain events for her and I suspect there are times when agility simply isn’t that fun for her. Too many stoopid rules to remember, too many stoopid rude dogs and a stoopid stressed out Human that is acting weird and not playing Ball as much as she would like. This all contributes to Camm’s world being tilted, and not in a good way.
However, she jumped as normal during practices and at the Thanksgiving NADAC trial we went to, although she did duck under one start line jump that weekend.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, I entered Camm and Brady in another USDAA trial.
While the trial was a bit momentous for Brady, it was a disenchanting weekend for Camm.
I’ll get to Brady in a bit.
Camm ducked under every single first jump at the December trial, with one exception. The one exception occurred when I did a slingshot start with her because she was distracted by a friend who was leash running and kept going to say hello to her. I took advantage of her distraction and she actually jumped the first jump standard. However, if I recall correctly, she made up for that by actually ducking under some of the jumps in sequence on the course, which was a completely new phenomenon and one I had not seen before. She then made up for that by clearing by several inches, and with great speed, a line of jumps on the other side of the dog walk while I ran on the outside of the dog walk. That feat earned some oohs and ahhs from onlookers, because while I frequently do stunts like that with my dogs in practices, and even sometimes in NADAC trials, no one does that kind of distance in USDAA apparently.
Did I mention that one of my agility instructors was at this trial and got to watch Camm’s meltdown up close and personal? No start line stay, ducking under jumps and no stopped contacts. In Camm’s defense, she does have gorgeous natural running contacts that many people spend years teaching their dogs to do and I totally get that stopped contacts are STOOPID. Stoopid, but necessary if you are the Human dealing with Camm’s speed.
Thus, off I went to The Relationship Counselor.
First, I discussed the problem with her last week while Rhys had a mini-session with her. (Yes!! RHYS! The puppy! More on him later too.) We came up with a training plan to work on after contemplating the various reasons why this behavior has suddenly emerged.
One of my theories was that perhaps Camm was having some difficulty differentiating between hoops and jumps as a start line obstacle. In NADAC, the first obstacle is often either a hoop or a jump.In CPE, two bars are used on jumps, therefore, while she could do it, the visual created makes it far less tempting to go between or under bars. She also jumps 16 inches in NADAC and in CPE, but 20 inches in USDAA. Perhaps that extra clearance was just too tempting for her? Camm also starts typically in a “down” position, which allows her to scan the obstacle in front of her with ease and perhaps the temptation is just too much? Plus, it’s a venue that I’ve only done with her twice before, and it was six and 12 months ago, respectively.
The thing of it is that Camm is a gorgeous, light-bodied and athletic jumper. Because she jumps generally fine once in flow, the issue seemed to be with the first obstacle, and not a physical problem.
Typical of many dogs, including numerous border collies, Camm scans an agility course when setting foot into the ring. She is making decisions about a course before we get off the start line. Camm is also a dog that likes to do things fast. Very, very fast. Camm is also a dog that is pretty sure that she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t really need a Human to tell her.
The Relationship Counselor surmised that perhaps the first time Camm ducked under a jump it was not exactly intentional – perhaps she really did think it was a hoop and not a jump from her lowered position. However, like many brilliant dogs before her, Camm learned from that experience, and what she learned was that it is much faster and far less physical effort to get to the next thing on an agility course – say that dog walk that she loves so much, if one goes under the jump bar, rather than over it.
Thus, today, The Relationship Counselor and I set about working to change her mind.
Like many things I work on with my dogs with the aid of The Relationship Counselor, today’s session was endlessly fascinating and eye-opening. Not just because of The Counselor’s skill and insight, but also to truly glimpse the innermost workings of my dog’s mind.
All of my dogs learn in their own idiosyncratic way and all see the world in their own unique way. Camm is a dog that learns things extremely quickly. As in two sessions and she has it. By session number three, she’s an expert. And if that’s not what you wanted her to learn, then why the hell did you teach it that way??!!
With The Counselor on one side of a jump armed with treats for rewards and a target plate, and me with Camm on the other side and armed with a clicker to mark the desired behavior, we prepared to change her mind about that start line jump.
Note that I did not say that we set about to correct her behavior or to teach her the right way to do it. In Camm’s mind, this newfound solution was perfectly logical. Really, think about it. You’re a dog lying down in the ground at the start line and you see a ton of super fun stuff to do super fast. It would actually take some effort to look up and jump that thing in front of you. In fact, that would be STOOPID! Far better to get started as quickly as possible and go for the very first thing you see, which is not a jump in front of you because you’re lying on the ground and that thing is above your head.
Instead, we worked on persuading Camm to do things the way we’d like to see it done. She would get paid with a treat for jumping over the bar, while going under it would not result in any payment.
We started with the jump bar at a lowered position, which Camm easily jumped over and was rewarded with a treat. However, once the jump bar was lifted to a height that a 33-pound lithe border collie could run under easily in order to more quickly get to the target plate with the intention of attaining another tasty treat, the real training began. Quickly, Camm learned that going under did not result in treats raining down onto the target plate. As she worked a few times to figure out the solution and what new Stoopid Thing the Humans wanted, she decided that stopping short of the jump might be the solution. Since that’s not what we wanted, The Counselor opted to try a visual cue to help Camm understand.
Enter, the towel.
The Counselor draped a hand towel across the bar. Bingo! Camm started jumping the bar. She naturally earned a treat reward for doing the desired behavior. However, so that she wouldn’t completely rely upon this visual cue, The Relationship Counselor worked to quickly fade it by folding the towel up smaller and smaller and placing it on different parts of the bar. This was so successful, that we moved to a different jump in the practice area. This too was quite successful.
And then we realized what was going on.
Camm was approaching the bar and deliberately positioning herself so that she would jump the part of the bar where the towel was draped. To proof this, The Counselor asked me to deliberately set Camm up in a certain position where she had to approach and jump the bar where the towel, even though folded up smaller, was not draped.
She ducked under the bar, ever hopeful that a treat would be her reward.
We had inadvertently clicked and treated Camm for jumping over a towel.
As much as we laughed about it and as much as I fantasized all day today about creating a custom glitter and sparkle-designed special towel to bring with me to all future trials and to drape across the first jump at every trial, the reality of being allowed to do this seemed more like a hallucination on my part. So, we moved on.
Eventually, we did have a breakthrough with Camm today, but it will likely take a few more sessions to work through.
Camm is a great example of what many people would characterize as stubborn or manipulative. In reality, she is a fantastic example of doing what works. What works for her.
Dog training is so intriguing.
I might’ve mentioned in the past that when I first got Brady, I did not think he’d ever be able to compete in agility due to his reactivity and other issues. I quickly became okay with that because he was such a blast to learn and to train with and made me a better handler already within a short time of working with him. My original intent was for him to be my training dog. As many know, I eventually became convinced by people who I trusted, including The Relationship Counselor, to try competing with him. Those first few competitions were scary as hell, and not because of trial or obstacle performance issues. In time, we overcame a lot of things – well, Brady overcame a lot of things and with my help and by me proving that I had his back at all times. However, Brady could not overcome his incredible fear of the teeter. After nearly a year of trying to train teeter performance, and making little headway but to make him even more fearful of it, I asked my instructors to not pursue it any longer. NADAC doesn’t allow the teeter in competition and in CPE I could avoid it by never doing Standard courses and just ignoring it in games classes. The few USDAA or ASCA trials I did I would only enter Jumpers or Gamblers. I joked with The Counselor that I would attempt to train him on teeter again once he reached 10 years old.
So imagine my surprise, when at the age of 7.5 years, The Counselor announced this past summer that we were going to working on training the teeter again for Brady. I adore and admire The Counselor and clearly the inability to convince Brady that the teeter was a worthwhile obstacle had been more of a thorn in her side than I had known. I decided to humour her, quite sure that Brady had other ideas.
I was wrong.
This past fall, Brady became adept at the teeter, and, in fact, did his first successful teeter in competition at a CPE trial in September to the cheers and cries of his adoring aunties.
I decided at the December USDAA trial to enter Brady in Grand Prix. Brady has only done a handful of USDAA trials over the years and is still at the Starters level in the titling classes, but he runs at the Elite level in other venues. Plus, he’d absolutely rocked a Grand Prix course offered by one of our instructors a few weeks before in a practice session.
The run was a thing of beauty. He was fast and accurate, and he performed the teeter like he’d been doing it for years, instead of only since about August. We did not qualify because he ended up blowing a dog walk contact by a toenail, or three. Nevertheless, it was the highlight of the trial for me. The icing on the cake was when he earned qualifications in his standard runs.
But even better, was that for the first time in a two-ring, amped up USDAA crowd full of hyper, pent-up dogs and uber competitive types, Brady was loose and relaxed and just plain happy to be playing one of his favorite games with his person.
Those are the moments I think of when I suggest to people to relax and be patient in the journey with their dogs and that hard times and obstacles can be overcome with time, expertise, understanding and lots and lots of patience. I know of which I speak.
Rhys turns one year old in a little over a week. Back in February I could hardly wait for his first year to pass. Now, it seems as it has gone far to quickly and in such a blur.
I’ll devote far more blog time to his next year of life and to the start of our agility training journey.
I stuck to my guns and opted not to do any agility training with him in his first year. No obstacle training that is. I did a tiny bit of footwork foundation with him, and of course he has a foundation on skills that will come in handy should he and I decided to play agility together. I’ve tentatively enrolled him in an agility foundation class to start in January, and of course he has already made the acquaintance of two of my agility instructors, including The Relationship Counselor. I’m excited to see what’s ahead, but determined to be slow and steady. I’m in no rush to get into a ring and compete with him. Mostly, I look forward to the start of more formal learning and training. To me, that is often the best part of playing agility.
And, as Youke, Brady and Camm continually teach me, it is an ongoing journey.
I wore an obscenely short skirt this weekend. I’m pretty sure I’ve not worn a skirt this short in public since about 1997 when I wore an obscenely short skirt to the office on Election Day to make a point.
In 1997 I weighed about 122 pounds and wore a size 2. (A real size 2. Not today’s size 2. Nowadays that would probably be a minus size 4).) I am no longer a size 2 and am pretty sure that ship has sailed.
In 1997 I was also 20 years younger. (Funny how that math works, right?)
It was a skort actually this past weekend, so I’m sure that makes it okay.
Here’s the thing. I’m nearing my mid-50s, my legs are fairly toned from lots of dog-walking and hiking, it was nearly 90 degrees this weekend and I don’t give a fuck anymore.
Life is short people. Wear the damned short skirt.
But I do apologize to anyone I might have flashed this weekend. There’s a lot of bending over in agility trials.
My agility mojo continues to flutter like a lackluster flame. I’ve found it pretty hard to give a fuck about agility competition for most of the summer. This is probably why Youke and Brady are both close to a championship title in one of the venues we compete in, but we haven’t received qualifying runs in the one event we need to get a few more qualifying scores in. Ordinarily I’d say that I’m trying too hard, but really I’m not trying hard enough.
I’ll arrive on the agility field or the agility arena and, although I start out excited, I get there and already don’t care or as the day goes on I find myself caring less. The heat has a way of doing that to me.
Youke has made it very clear since CPE Nationals in May, where it was 90+ degrees and hit 100 degrees one day, that he does not give a fuck about agility in the summer. Cruelly, I keep making him try to care by entering him in only one or two runs. Youke has declared that is far too many. Yet Youke has also declared that we need to play Ball and go hiking no matter how high the mercury climbs. Because running fast, as long as it doesn’t involve some stupid pre-ordained obstacle course, is awesome.
Brady and Camm just wish their Human would run a lot better.
Running for me has been super hard, especially agility outdoors on grass, due to a gimpy foot that I’m pretty sure actually stems from a sciatica issue. Allow me to translate that a little better. I’m nearing my mid-50s and stuff that I’ve taken for granted my entire life up until now is breaking down.
I was trial secretary for an agility show that my agility club puts on around Labor Day each year this past weekend. Somehow, I thought it would be a good idea to enter a lot of runs with Youke, Brady and Camm.
It wasn’t actually a bad idea. Unlike when I’m a trial chair, I find it fairly easy to do my job as trial secretary and still run my dogs. Unfortunately, there’s also a certain amount of brainpower involved in running agility. I used most of this brainpower on trial secretary duties and not so much on memorizing courses.
So between not remembering exactly how a course was supposed to be run, not remembering what my handling plan was and not being able to run into certain positions fast enough, I was a bit of a hot mess.
It probably doesn’t help that in addition to the three competition dogs, I also had an eight-month old puppy to think about.
In reality, all four dogs were wonderful. It was hot and uncomfortable, their Human was occupied most of the time, they were often very bored and the venue didn’t have a place for them to really run and stretch out their legs.
Despite this, they were even-tempered, forgiving and sweet. Rhys made a new friend close to his age, played with other friends, explored the park with his own tribe and saw many of his people friends, as well as made new people friends.
I’m having a really hard time calling him a naughty puppy lately. I’m pretty sure an eight-month old dog isn’t supposed to be this wonderful.
As far as agility weekends goes, it was a nice one in terms of the location, the relaxed vibe and the people. In terms of competition and how my dogs fared, it wasn’t super great.
Brady took a giant nosedive into the grass on Saturday morning by slipping on wet grass. Ironically, we set the start time at 9 am to avoid dew in the grass for just that reason. There was still dew in the grass. It was a Jumpers course and he just couldn’t collect himself or adjust his striding. Of course this was completely my fault and he let me know it. He could not forgive me about it for the entire day. He also could not forgive me for bad handling or my gimpy foot. Things were better on Sunday, but with the exception of one run, I had handling bobbles.
Camm was either higher than a kite, stressed about flies buzzing around her, distracted by the presence of her former foster Human or certain other people that she adores or she was near perfect. We had some brilliant moments coupled with some brilliantly bad moments. We had some brilliantly bad runs, some not half-bad runs and two near perfect runs.
Youke was just hot and not into doing the agility thing. He did humour me in his first run of Saturday by running a steady and sane pace and surprisingly qualifying in Jumpers whereas Brady and Camm did not because they couldn’t collect well enough.
As if often the case, the last run of the weekend was Tunnelers.
I love Tunnelers. Mostly I love it because my dogs love it. It is often an opportunity for full-out, balls-to-the-walls running.
This past weekend’s trial was a fairly small one. Brady was one of two or three dogs in his height class all weekend and Youke and Camm both run in the same height class and just below Brady. As is often the case at small trials when I run all three dogs in the same class, there is very little time to breathe between running a dog, running to get the next dog and then running another dog.
That sounds like it might be stressful. Honestly, I find it exhilarating. I love it.
Sunday’s Tunnelers course had several tricky off-course options, as well as some opportunities to use some distance if that was in your tool kit. I walked the course and quickly devised a handling plan.
I ran to get Brady and since there was only a dog or two between him and Youke, I grabbed Youke too. I asked someone to hold Youke while I stepped into the ring with Brady, but not before cautioning them that Youke would probably start screaming.
Youke is ordinarily a very quiet dog. That is, until one of his family members is running agility in front of him.
Brady was the first dog on the line to run the course. I stood at the start line with him, softly petting the top of his head and surveyed the course quickly again. “I’m gonna run it like I stole it,” I thought to myself. I could feel my energy level rising. Brady felt it too. I could see that as we briefly connected once I got out to my start position and gave him his release cue.
Suddenly, I cared about agility. My agility mojo fairly screamed as my adrenaline level revved into place.
It was a screaming fast and nearly flawless run. Brady did briefly woof at one cue that he deemed was a bit late, but it was a minor singular woof, not a bark per se, and his silence on a run is the best performance gauge. When we connected again at the end of the run, we mentally sent each other a high-five.
I ran back to the start to hand off Brady and to get Youke, who by then was pumped up from knowing I’d just run Brady. It helped that his half-brother, who is also a fast dog, was the dog right in front of Youke. Suddenly, Youke’s agility mojo was also back.
After a great run with Youke, I ran back to get Brady and ran back with both boys to where I had crated Camm to switch them out and grab her.
By this time I was the one higher than a kite. It’s possible I was higher than Camm. In fact, I know I was because she held her start line until I quickly gave her a release cue because I just wanted to get at that course and pummel it.
It was one of those runs where I felt like if you squinted your eyes just right, you’d seen the afterburn following Camm.
Suddenly, I could barely remember what happened in any of our previous runs. I just knew I’d run three perfect runs with three fast dogs and that it felt freaking fantastic.
And I did it in a very short skirt.
The world as we know it might have ended.
And no, I’m not talking about me finally breaking down and getting a smart phone and giving up my beloved flip phone. Besides, that happened in May and despite a slight tremor in the Earth’s atmosphere, it appears we all survived fairly intact.
I’m talking about, of course, my puppy.
Rhys put himself to bed tonight.
Let me repeat that. Rhys put himself to bed.
And, as if he had to make a point of it, he did it twice.
This is the very same puppy that less than a month ago I had to persuade, sometimes with a few bits of kibble in my hand, sometimes with a leash attached to his collar, that it was time for bed, and that no we could not stay up playing until all hours of the night.
I has just finished folding a load of freshly laundered towels. I piled them into my arms and headed upstairs to place them in my linen closet. Brady was already upstairs as he’s still recovering from a full day of sensory input at an agility trial yesterday. Youke had just gone upstairs as he had a full tummy from dinner and had seen that I wasn’t sharing the salad I made myself for supper, nor the apricot and blackberry cobbler I had for dessert. Camm and Rhys trailed up the stairs behind me. Nothing unusual in that as Camm follows my every footstep and Rhys is her shadow.
I placed the clean towels in the closet and went into the bedroom to retrieve the comforter that I had taken off the bed this morning when I changed the bedsheets. The comforter needed to go into the laundry. I have several light comforters that I rotate and launder on a regular basis. This is a necessity when you sleep with dogs.
I noticed that Rhys has flung himself up on top of the bed. As I busied myself around the bedroom, picking up a few things, I noticed that instead of watching me, he spread himself out his full length on top of the bed and that his eyes were at half mast. I went over and gently brushed his ruff and kissed the top of his head. His eyes opened, but he continued to lay there. I scooped up the comforter and headed back downstairs, curious as to what he would do. Camm followed me down the stairs. Rhys did not.
After loading the washing machine, I started back up the stairs and peeked back into the bedroom. Rhys was still on the bed. His eyes opened and he looked at me, but made no move to get down.
It was about 8:45 pm. That’s early in my house.
Wondrous, I headed into the office to chronicle this miraculous development.
Rhys wandered, er, staggered, into the office and looked at me.
Ah, I thought, it was simply too good to be true. I prepared for another round of bitey-face between him and Camm as I turned my head away to sift through some notes on my desk.
A couple of minutes later I realized it seemed extremely quiet and became aware that Rhys was no longer in the office. I peered around the corner to the bedroom. There he was, spread out full length on my bed again, Youke curled into a ball on his side of the bed.
I think my puppy might be growing up.
Ever since he made the decision late in July that he is no longer sleeping in his crate at night, Rhys has been experimenting with exactly where it is he is going to sleep. Like many decisions my dogs make, I’m on board with the basic decision and with a certain amount of experimentation, but I do set some perimeters. In Rhys’s bedtime decision case, I was on board with no more crate, but ruled that he did have to settle somewhere in the bedroom itself and could not have free reign of the house. This seemed fair to us both.
For a week, Rhys tried out various spots. The first night he was on the bed. The second night he was on the floor in a dog bed under the main window. The next night he was back on the bed. The following evening, he was back on the floor, but at the foot of the bed. And so it went for about a week. Then he spent two nights in a row on top of the bed. When it became three nights in a row, and with his body pressed tightly into my own, I knew he had made a decision.
Rhys sleeps on the bed now.
One of the great benefits to this decision is that I no longer have to cajole him into coming upstairs for bedtime. Rhys now voluntarily comes upstairs, even on the nights when he’d rather stay up later. On those nights, he might linger downstairs for a little bit, playing with a toy or gnawing on an already clean bone, but I no longer call him or go get him. He thinks about it some and within minutes, he’s upstairs too.
Gotta love when it’s their own decision.
So, I, as the Human, have a small sliver of the bed, in the bedroom of the house that I pay the mortgage on, while Youke sleeps on his side of the bed, Camm sleeps across my feet, and Rhys sleeps diagonally between them and with the full length of his body – which at seven months is quite lengthy – pressed into me.
This actually would be an ideal and sweet set-up for the dark and cold rainy winter months. However, it is presently August. Presently, we are experiencing a bit of a heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest. This heat wave translates into temperatures in the high 80s and into the 90s. Days of that stuff, and even my normally temperate house becomes uncomfortably warm, especially the bedroom.
One would think that the dogs would prefer not to be touching my 98.6 degree body that I’m quite sure heats up even more at night. One would be wrong. Instead, I find myself enveloped by warm, heaving dog bodies that seem convinced that it is vitally important to keep me as close as is physically possible without actually laying on top of me.
Although, on second thought, a paw across my back or a head across my feet can’t really hurt.
Sam and Lisa headed toward the park for a little stroll. It was hot and Lisa was eager to get onto the trail by the lake as it was heavily shaded. The shrill voices of children raked the still, hot air. Most of the shrieks came from the public pool area off to the right and behind some dense shrubbery and didn’t bother Sam and Lisa as they navigated the footpath beyond the pool toward the playground. The cool and shady path Lisa wanted to show Sam was to the left of the playground. Suddenly, the children playing on the playground equipment stopped and looked in Sam and Lisa’s direction. As if tuned in to the same radio frequency, the children, at least a dozen, but perhaps more, stopped and descended from the ladders and swings, their eyes boring into Sam and Lisa. Lisa began to feel a bit uncomfortable, but Sam didn’t seem bothered. But then the children started marching purposefully and relentlessly toward them, arms outstretched, their eyes singularly focused on Sam. Sam glanced at Lisa nervously. Sam was a big, handsome and friendly guy and was not easily intimidated, especially by kids. But the sheer force of their numbers and all of those outstretched arms, open mouths and glazed eyes was disconcerting. Sam slowed down, his own eyes darting back and forth, and nervously licked his lips. Lisa wondered if the children had been infected by some sort of zombie strain. Still, she knew what she had to do in order to save Sam, who was beginning to look scared. This was not a good look for a big, black dude.
“Stop!” Lisa called out as she expertly stepped in front of the uncertain Sam and held her hand up.
I made a bunch of grade school children sad today. And I’m not one bit sorry.
You may be wondering what the story above has to do with me making children sad and unhappy. Let me relate what happened and then think about the story I just told.
I was walking one of my regular daily clients today. We went to a local park that has a lovely, mostly shaded trail that wraps around a small lake. I chose the location because today was really, really hot and Bud is a big black Labrador retriever that easily overheats.
As we headed toward the trail, we were suddenly accosted by a large group of children. I’d seen them disembark from a school bus and I’m guessing they were on some kind of summer camp outing. One minute they were playing on the playground equipment, and the next they were all headed for Bud.
I’ll admit I expected a couple of the children to head toward us. I did not anticipate the entire group would do so. Strangely, they headed toward us in unison, with a couple of the larger boys leading the charge. I heard a few mumbled “pet the dog, pet the dog,” before I took action.
“Stop,” I said firmly, planting myself in front of Bud and serving as a shield between him and the advancing children.
Shocked, they actually stopped. “You may not approach a dog like that,” I stated calmly and quietly. Yet there was no mistaking the fire in my voice. Nor from my eyes.
The children’s faces fell, but with the exception of one, they all backed away. One little girl, also a budding fierce sort, stepped up to me. “But why? Is he jumpy?”
I suspect she was asking if he would jump on them. While it’s difficult to condense a topic that can be difficult for many adults to grasp in an entire conversation into a concise tidbit, much less into a tidbit for a child, I did my best.
“It’s super scary for him to suddenly be approached by all of these people like that. How would you feel if a bunch of strange people you didn’t know all wanted to come up and touch you on the head?” I asked her.
Much like most adults I sometimes try to briefly educate, I received a confounded and dazed look.
I didn’t have time to explain further, nor did I have any inclination to offer any apologies to the confused, dumbfounded and slightly offended looks I received from the crowd of youngsters.
But before I took off to continue my walk, uninterrupted by strangers, I made eye contact with the adult that was allegedly supervising the kids. Allegedly being a key word and eye contact being more like a stare of recrimination for their total lack of supervision.
I know a lot of people feel badly about saying no to other people. I am not one. I am my dog’s advocate and I am a fierce advocate. Luckily for my client dogs, I’m just as fierce an advocate for them as I am for my own dogs.
In today’s example – written in the beginning of this post as a story that seemingly involved two humans to provide a better perspective on how the dog might see things – Bud probably would not have done anything to the kids. He loves people and he likes kids a lot, but the sheer number of kids and all the outstretched arms probably would’ve made him very, very uncomfortable as evidenced by the fact that he was already seeking an escape route as told by his darting eyes that were already showing the whites and by his nervous telltale lip licking. And probably is not anything I ever want to take a chance with when it comes to children and dogs.
After I exited the scene with Bud today, I could not help but think how that very same scenario might have played out with my dog Camm. Camm is cute and petite. Lots of people, including kids, want to pet her. Camm is very selective about humans (this may come as a surprise to my own friends and to agility folk I know, but it’s the truth) and she intensely distrusts and dislikes children. I don’t need Camm to ever nip a kid to know that she would nip a kid in a heartbeat. What Bud very nearly experienced today would’ve been Camm’s worse nightmare.
I wish I could say that what happened today in an anomaly. It isn’t. Except it is usually adults I am dealing with.
“We’re not saying hi today, ” I sing out on a regular basis as someone with a dog pulling on the end of its flexi-leash and yapping its head off tries to convince me that my charge should meet cute little FiFi. Meanwhile the dog I’m walking has its hackles raised.
“Call your dog!” I regularly yell to the person who has chosen to exercise their own dog off-leash in a small neighborhood park and who has sighted the dog I’m walking with on the adjacent sidewalk. I do a quick one-eighty, looking over my shoulder to see if the dog has decided to go back to its owner yet or not. More often than not, the dog is slowly trotting behind us as the owner uselessly calls it and throws me dirty looks. I feel no shame when I tell you my own eyes get hard, very hard, as I meet that dirty look and raise it.
Recently, I stopped on a street in a neighborhood where I was walking and asked a man with an off-leash dog to leash his dog up. The man was deeply offended. This scenario probably happens at least once a week, but on that particular day, that particular man chose to take it up a notch. He proceeded to try to lecture me that dogs should be in their “natural state” (whatever the hell that was supposed to mean – clearly to him it meant unleashed) and that all dogs would prefer to say hello to one another. He then attempted to demonstrate how his dog would like to do just that. But instead of a more proper nose to butt dog greeting, he seemed to think the greeting should be nose to nose, despite the fact that both dogs were stiff and erect in their front end carriages and that the hair was raised on the back of the dog I was trying to walk and keep away from him. He then tried to greet the dog I was walking himself.
“No, ” I said.
“What? I’m just trying to be friendly,” he countered.
“No means no!” And with that I turned on my heel and got out of there. Just in time too from the hard eyes and stiff expression on Tommy’s face.
“Geez, what a bitch,” I heard the man say.
Asshole, I said out loud. And I made no pretense at muttering it.
I don’t know when saying no became something to be apologetic about. But it’s about time it stopped.