Monday, March 19, 2018

Our First Agility Trial (Recap)

At the beginning of the school year, Barley came to school with me to help me give a mini-lecture on the life lessons that we've learned in dog training. One of those lessons was the importance of challenging yourself even if you're scared of failure because that's part of how we grow and learn.

A couple weeks later, I saw that there was an agility trial a little over an hour away. It seemed like a good time to put this lesson to the test and enter Rye in our first agility trial. I printed off the premium, or the packet that has all of the trial information and the registration forms, and then had to decide what classes we wanted to run in.

In CPE trials, there are the standard courses, which include jumps and tunnels and the contact equipment like the dog walk or A-frame, and jumpers courses with just jumps, tunnels, and weaves depending on the level. Those are the types of courses we do in class regularly, so I knew we'd want to enter those. CPE trials also have a lot of different games, though. They have courses that test your handling skills, your strategy skills, and some that are just meant to be fun. I tried to read the rules in the CPE book to see what those games were like, but ended up doing a Google search to find recaps from people who had actually run those courses before. I decided we'd enter two of the handler games in addition to the standard and jumpers course, which is one of the fun games. 

A couple days after sending in our registration form, I got an email that the trial was already full but we'd be put on the wait list. The April trial premium was already available, so I went ahead and sent that one in for the same games we'd planned to try in March. A couple days later, I got an email that we were in the April trial, so I didn't think about the wait list again.

Until a week before the trial. I got a confirmation email saying that we were in and entered in 2 rounds of standard, one round of wild card, one of colors, and one of jumpers. I had no idea what to expect and our trainer was out with the flu the class before the trial, so I didn't get a chance to tell her we were entered in it. Our classmates were helpful, but there's still nothing like actually being at the trial to understand what a trial is like.

Since it was our first trial, Rye had to be measured for her jump height, which meant we had to be there at 7:05 a.m. We left the house at 5:30 and got to the trial location a little before 7. I went in to get the lay of the land first and set up Rye's crate. We got a great spot--right behind the one person we knew at the trial and near the side door for easy access to potty breaks.

As soon as I got Rye in the building, they called for dogs needing measured and we went over. Rye is super shy and doesn't like to be touched, so I was worried about her standing up straight while a stranger measured her. It wasn't the easiest moment of the trial weekend, but we got a successful measurement of 17 3/4 inches, so she was all set to jump 16 inches in the trial. Since she was under two years old (and only by 3 days!), she'll have to be measured again at the next CPE trial.

Then we waited.

For a long time.

They started with the Level 3, 4, and 5 dogs, so we had to wait until they worked their way down to Level 1 courses. We had almost 80 dogs ahead of us, plus course changes, so our first run wasn't until 10:42 a.m. Our standard run was first and I felt confident Rye and I could handle that course. There weren't really any traps where she'd want to go off course, so I didn't anticipate any problems. And I was right! She ran the course perfectly with no dropped bars, no off courses, and we got our very first Q (qualifying run) on our first run.

We weren't entered in another class until the Wildcard course, which was the very last course of the day. I spent time walking around the grounds with Rye--the facility had a great big field that was perfect for walking--and I watched one of the dogs that's been in class with Barley and I for years and spent some time setting bars for the courses. Even though I spent time with Rye and got her out of her crate many, many times, our next run wasn't until 5:58.

In the Wildcard game, you have a set course, but there are three places where you have options. Some of the options are considered more challenging and they're labeled the B options on the course map. The ones that are considered easier are labeled A. In Level 1, you have to choose 2 A obstacles and 1 B obstacle. I planned out our course and eventually it was our turn. Rye was wound up. I could tell before I even got her leash off that she was a ball of energy. I'd planned to lead out to our second jump to make sure she followed the path I wanted her to, but she took off before I even got past the first jump--and once the dog crosses the first jump, your time has started and you've got to just keep going. She did well sending to obstacles--until she shot out of a tunnel and ran through the weaves, so she had one off course. Then she didn't want to go over a jump and started jumping on me. When I tried to get her to stop that, she went for the cone beside the jump and when she gets something she isn't supposed to have, she usually goes wild. Thankfully, I got her back on track and we finished the course, but we had enough faults with the off course and the cone games that we got a No Time (NT) in that course.

The next day was a little shorter. Since we didn't have to be measured again, we got to leave the house a little closer to 6. Then we spent some time walking around before going in. I'd gotten a good feel for the trial atmosphere the day before, so it wasn't as important to watch the first few runs.

Our standard run was our first again, and Rye flew over the course and we got our second Q.

We were in three classes instead of two on Sunday, so that meant we didn't have as much waiting time between runs. I also decided to spend more time engaging Rye's crazy puppy brain, so we played lots of brain games.

Our second class of the day was the Colors game. This one has two different courses marked with different colored cones. They start the same and on the third obstacle they diverge and you have to pick a course (or go with the one your dog picks). I knew that one of the courses had a jump that we had to wrap and if we didn't do that well, Rye would run off course into the tunnel, so I picked the other course that didn't seem to have any traps for Rye. It was the perfect plan and we got our third Q of the weekend.

Our final class was the Jumpers class. I was a little worried because there were some long lines of jumps and when Rye gets freedom like that, she sometimes does her own thing. I like having the contact equipment so that we have a brief pause where she thinks about what she's doing and I can get her attention easily. My worries weren't necessary, though. Rye did great. She thought about going after a cone again, but got back on track before we got any faults.

We ended up with Qs in 4 out of 5 of our runs, which means we earned our Standard Level 1 title. We'll have to try some of the other games that we didn't try and get a Q in Wildcard to get the other Level 1 titles. Rye also got first place in each of the runs we qualified in. I don't put a lot of stock in that because in one of the runs, we were the only 16-inch dog running and in some of the others there were only two dogs, so I'm still very proud of her for getting those ribbons, too, but they're a little bit deceiving since we didn't beat out too many other dogs.

It was a really good weekend filled with so many supportive people. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful. It was the perfect way to start our agility career and we're looking forward to our next trial in April. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

To My Youngest on Her Second Birthday

Dear Sweet Potato Rye,

On your second birthday, I find myself struggling to find the words to express what you mean to me. That might be because I'm not sure you've sat still for more than 30 seconds at a time since your last birthday and it's hard to gather thoughts when you're in the middle of a tornado. You are the busiest little dog that I've met.

The past year has been such an adventure. We've moved on from obedience class to agility class and barn hunt lessons.

We've had to work through some issues--like reactions to Jeeps, off-leash dogs, political signs, and mail carriers.

You have found even weirder ways to sit on the furniture and you're even more certain that you're a cat.

We've gone on solo adventures and you've learned that exploring nature might not be so bad (even though you still prefer shopping).

This weekend, we celebrated your birthday by entering our first agility trial. I didn't know what to expect from you, so I expected nothing. My only goal was to make sure that we left together at the end the day. You blew me away, little pup. You were patient between runs. You were confident with other dogs and their people. You were focused and happy on the course. You kept me from being anxious and I had the very best time with you. I am so proud of you, my tiny terror.

Our adventures are just beginning and I can't wait to see where the next year takes us. Happy birthday, little Rye. I love you more than songs can say.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Training Mantras To Keep Training Positive and Fun

Barley and I have been training long enough that we've had a lot of positive outcomes, but we've had our fair share of struggles, too. Sometimes we need a training manta to help us get through those hard times. For the March Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, we're reflecting on training mantras: what's the one thing you repeat to yourself over and over when you're training to pump yourself up or keep yourself going?

My training mantra changes depending on which pet I'm working with. Most of the time, it seems like Barley can read my mind--in reality, we've just been working together long enough that I can anticipate her movements and reactions and she can read my body signals before I even have a chance to give verbal cues. On those rare occasions when things fall apart, I go back to one of the earliest mantras we embraced.

Failure is Ok.
I've told the story about a moment early in our training career when our trainer stopped me in the middle of our turn and said, "In agility, you'll fail more times than you'll succeed" many times before. Moments before that, Barley had decided she'd rather make up her own course--which involved jumping on a cart used to move sandbags and skateboarding across the room. We'd been training for a while and we were struggling with focus back then. Week after week, it seemed like we weren't making progress and I was starting to get frustrated. Agility was losing its fun for me, and that was transferring to Barley. The less fun I had, the less fun she had.

When our trainer gave us permission to fail, it was like a flip switched in my brain. We didn't have to be perfect. We were training. We were learning how not to fail and sometimes that requires failure.

The longer we've trained, the more we've seen the importance of embracing failure. If you get everything right the first time, you don't really learn much. When we fail, we get an opportunity to figure out what we can do differently to avoid failing in the future.

When we're not focused on perfection, training stays fun and we actually make more progress than we do when everything comes easily.

By the time Rye and I started training, I was comfortable with failure, and Rye requires a different training mantra. Rye is my independent little monster and she likes to make up her own rules. With Rye, I have to remind myself that she's still learning to read me and I'm still figuring her out. We can't anticipate each other's movements and expectations yet.

It's easier to train a new behavior than to erase an unwanted one.
About a month ago, Rye started getting really worked up after going over a couple jumps in agility class. When that happened, she'd start to pounce on me. When I tried to get her to stop pouncing, she'd get even more excited and start nipping. I'd try to get her to go into a down to regroup and then as soon as I released her over a jump, she'd start all over again. Barley had gone through a phase like this and putting her in an immediate down as soon as she nipped at my arm worked. She quickly caught on that when she jumped at my arm, the fun stopped and it didn't take long to erase the jumping and nipping. That approach wasn't working with Rye. The pouncing was too fun for her to see the value in calming down so she could do a course. We weren't getting anywhere.

When we got home from, I started thinking about how we could stop that behavior. Eventually, I realized that the best way to stop it was to prevent it from starting in the first place. Rye used to do this when we played fetch, but I got her to stop jumping for the toy on my hand by having her lay down before I'd throw it. She quickly caught on that if she wanted the toy thrown, she had to be in a down first. I don't even have to ask for the behavior now. She'll do this for her friend's parents, too. Her friends will be bouncing around waiting for the throw, and Rye will be in a down until it's tossed.

I thought we might be able to transfer this behavior to agility, too. We have one jump set up in the basement for the winter, so I took her down there and we got started. I had her go over the jump and then asked for a down. We did a couple jumps and then asked for another down. We did four jumps and then a down. We spent the week before our next class doing this for about 10 minutes at a time twice a day. 

When we got to class the next week, our trainer was amazed. We started with a quick warm up of one jump followed by a down, then two jumps and a down, and then started our first sequence. Rye didn't pounce once. When we finished the sequence and Rye started running towards me, I asked for a down. She didn't pounce once.

Instead of training Rye to stop pouncing, it was much easier to train her to do something new before she had a chance to pounce. Essentially, this is the same thing I did with all of Barley's reactive dog training. I had to figure out what behavior I wanted instead of lunging and snarling at other dogs and figure out how to get that behavior before she had a chance to react. Now, with Rye, I'm finding myself asking, "What behavior do I want instead and how can I get that first?"

These crazy girls keep me on my toes. Every time I think I've figured out this whole dog training thing, they remind me that I still have plenty of room to grow. Having a few training mantras to refocus us and motivate us makes the tough times a little easier.

This month, we're once again joining our co-hosts Tenacious Little Terrier and Wag 'n Woof Pets for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Our theme this month is training mantras, but we welcome any positive training posts. Be sure to check out all of the other great blogs joining us this month and come back next month when we explore how we deal with frustration in a positive way.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Wish for Fish

We've been a fan of The Honest Kitchen products for a long time. They use high quality ingredients that dogs love and their Wishes Filets are no different. We were excited to get a package of these from our friends at through the Chewy Influencer program.

These snacks are 100% dehydrated white fish and that's 100% obvious from the moment that you open the bag. Before I even got the bag all the way open, I was hit with the an overwhelming fishy smell. The dogs were, too, because they started schootching off their mat to get closer to me and the snacks.

The bag comes with strips of fish about two inches wide and twice as long. The bag says that these are "light, crispy and perfectly snapable so you can use tiny morsels for smaller mouths." They are breakable, but I couldn't say that they were easy to break up into smaller pieces. They required a little effort and it was hard to break them up into "tiny morsels"--I had to just take what I got for the most part and that was often long skinny pieces or strangely shaped chunks. Since I don't have smaller mouths to fill, that wasn't really a problem for us, except that it made our treat art a little more difficult to execute.

This was not quite what I envisioned our fish looking like.

My only real complaint about these is the smell. There's no way I'm sticking these stinky things in my pocket before going for a walk. These treats are incredibly high value, especially because they're so stinky, and Rye's working through some reactivity on leash, so high value treats are a necessity, but I would go through the rest of the day smelling like fish if I brought these with us on a walk. I have a hard enough time finding jeans that fit well that I am not going to have a dedicated pair of fish pants to wear just to take these on walks.

The girls think these are really yummy, though, so they will be good for indoor training. I'm thinking they'll be especially helpful at calling Rye back inside when she's on her self-appointed squirrel patrol in the yard.

Another bonus with these is that The Honest Kitchen notes on the packaging that they source the fish in a sustainable way to make sure that they help maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem. It's nice to know that we're feeding high quality ingredients without sacrificing the health of the environment.

My favorite part about these snacks, though, is the little details on the packaging--especially a hidden message on the bottom of the bag that made me chuckle.

When I saw it says, "Are you looking at our bottom?" I let out a little chuckle.

The girls think these are great snacks and they're appropriate for kitties, too. Soth wanted to try them out with his sisters, but because of his bladder issues, fish has been banned from his diet. If he could eat fish, though, I'd feel perfectly comfortable giving all three of the pets these snacks. Unless you can't handle strong fishy smells, these Wishes Filets are the perfect treats to make all of your pet's snack time wishes come true.

Disclaimer: We were provided one bag of The Honest Kitchen Wishes Filets from as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program in exchange for our honest review.

Monday, February 26, 2018

4 Months Post Cystotomy

It's hard to believe that four months have already gone by since Soth underwent his cystotomy to remove an ammonium urate stone from his bladder. Three weeks after his stone was sent off for analysis, we met with the vet to come up with a plan for caring for Soth going forward.

For the last three months, Soth's been on a prescription diet specifically for cats with kidney disease. He doesn't have kidney disease, but he needs a low purine diet and kidney disease diets provide that. The diet is supposed to help keep his urine pH at a lower acidity to create an environment where the ammonium urate stones won't form. After Soth had a chance to adjust to the diet, we needed to perform a urinalysis to see if his pH levels were where they were supposed to be.

We had that appointment last week. There is good news. For the first time ever, we got a successful urine sample from him. The vet techs took him back to the lab to draw the sample and a minute later the vet came rushing out to the lobby where I was waiting. I was worried at first until her face broke into a smile as she said, "I just had to show you this!" She was holding an full syringe of urine--and it was normal and yellow without any signs of blood! We laughed for a minute about appreciating the little things and then she took the sample back to start the testing.

It's a rough day when you get pulled out of the dog bed and put in your carrier.

When the tests were done, we sat down with the vet and talked about the results. We're trying to get his pH levels close to 7--at least above 6.6. They weren't there. There were some other levels that were a little bit off as well. We want his urine specific gravity to be 1.030 or lower and Soth's was 1.050--or something close to that, I didn't quite catch the last number (I'm not going to pretend like I really know what this means--according to Wikipedia, specific gravity measures kidney function and when the numbers are higher, that's a sign of dehydration). He's eating, playing, and urinating regularly (and in his box!), so right now he's happy and healthy. But we also want to make sure that he doesn't have to go through this again.

We're going to try a new medication, potassium citrate, to help with decreasing the acidity of his urine. I just went to the pharmacy to pick that up--and now the fun of giving a cat a pill will begin. It's been years since we've tried, but last time, he'd eat the pill pockets off from around the pill or refuse to eat wet food that had a pill crushed up in it. Since the pills and his wet food are both expensive, I'm hoping that we have an easier time of getting him medicated this time around. He's had one dose so far and the pills were big, so I had to cut them into 4 smaller pieces that I wrapped in parts of a pill pocket and he gobbled them all up. Fingers crossed he continues to do that!

Our vet visit also revealed that my chunky monkey has gained 2 pounds since his surgery (I told you he was eating well!) and weighed in at 13.8 pounds! I'm going to be cutting back on his food a bit to see if we can get him closer to the 11.5-12-pound range. He loves his crunchy food, but since the wet food is more important, I'll be cutting back on the kibble and maintaining the amount of wet food he's getting.

At least he still has crinkly bacon in his life.

He's tolerating the new diet really well. The only rough moment has been when I made a turkey sandwich and he rushed over to get a nibble--and he couldn't have any. That broke both our hearts a little bit. He hasn't been vomiting, though (except for the occasional hairball), and before the surgery he was vomiting several times a week for months, so this food is definitely a good thing!

We're also going to be trying a fountain again--the last time we tried the fountain, he started peeing in it. But since he has been using his litter boxes exclusively for 3+ months, we're trying again. Somehow, the pump got lost in our move a couple years ago, so I ordered a new one and some filters and I just got that set up this weekend, so now we can see if he'll increase his water intake a bit. The more often he empties his bladder, the less chance particles can start sticking together and forming larger stones, so drinking lots of water is key. The more he hydrates, the better chance we have of getting the urine specific gravity to the level we want it to be, too.

It's been quite a journey with this little munchkin, but he's feeling better than he's felt in almost 7 years. It was hard to know if performing a major surgery was the right move or not, but I am so glad that I made that decision for him. He's handled these last several months so well, and I'm determined to do everything I can to make sure he never has to go through this again. We'll be doing another urinalysis in 3 months to see if these changes have helped, so until then, we just wait. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

What a Difference 7 Years Makes

In January, Barley and I celebrated 7 years together. When I wrote her adoption day letter, it felt like I'd already said everything I could possibly say to her about what she means to me.  Then my Facebook memories reminded me that this week is the 7 year anniversary of Barley's xylitol poisoning. I'd had Barley for a month and a half when she took sugar-free gum out of my purse and I had to rush her to the vet.

Barley's very first picture.

When I think about what my life was like on that day, it's almost unrecognizable.

Seven years ago, I had never visited any of the parks near us. I'd never been to the Geneva State Park. I'd never been to the Holden Arboretum. I'd never walked on a single Ohio trail.

I had no idea how beautiful the area I'd been living in for 8 months was. I had no idea that there were rivers, waterfalls, and forests all within a thirty minute drive. I'd only really driven by the lake or visited restaurants overlooking it. 

Seven years ago, the only time I ever spent in the snow was cleaning off my car so I could drive to work. I'd never taken a walk in the snow. I'd never played in the snow. If there was snow, I was inside and that was it.

Seven years ago, we'd never met with a dog trainer. I didn't think average family dogs went to trainers. That was something for show dogs or police dogs. I never even considered doing agility--in fact, I don't think I even realized it was something just anyone could do, especially someone with a shelter dog.

I'd definitely never thought of noseworks. 

Seven years ago, she couldn't do this.

Seven years ago, I'd given my whole heart to a dog that I'd only known for a few weeks and I thought I was going to lose her. Thanks to Good Morning America providing me the knowledge that eating sugar-free gum was a veterinary emergency and our vet's quick action, Barley was back at home the same day and back to her normal wild self in no time with only a few follow-up tests. 

Every day since then, she has made my world a better place and she's made me a better person. She's taught me how to love the world I live in. She's given me the confidence to explore new places. She's introduced me to the wonderful world of dog training and all of the amazing people that come with it.  

Seven years ago, one moment could have ended our story before it even really started. This dog has given me so much and every day I'm grateful for that. I love you more than zombies love brains, baby girl. Here's to many more years of growing together.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Going Wild for Wild Bones

This time of year, we sometimes struggle to get outdoors and tap into our "wild" sides (except for today when it's almost 70 degrees!). There are days when the closest we get to the wilderness is snuggling up on our cozy fox blanket in the library.

On days when we spend more time inside, the dogs often get a little antsy and I need something to help occupy them while I grade papers. After Barley's dental issues last year, I'm extra picky about what I let the girls chew on. We need something that helps keep their teeth clean without breaking them--and ideally, something that will keep them busy gnawing for a while. This month, gave us the chance to try Blue Wilderness Wild Bones and I was excited to see if they'd meet our requirements. 

We chose the large version of these bones, which are meant for dogs 50 pounds and over. Barleys' right at the 50-pound mark and sometimes if we go to the medium size of a chew, she doesn't chew them up as well and ends up barfing chunks of them up in the middle of the night. Rye, who's only 29 pounds, thought the best part of these was that she got something bigger than other dogs her size.

These bones are supposed to be designed to be like the bones wolves would gnaw on in the wild--but I'm not sure that they really resemble actual bones. I have trouble imagining what kind of animal would have a bone this size and shape. The large ones are about the length of my hand and pretty skinny. 

Both dogs were eager to try these dental chews out. The chews are chicken-free and grain-free, so they're good for dogs with allergies. 

But would they help me occupy the dogs long enough to read a couple chapters or grade a few papers? There was only one way to find out. Rye grabbed her bone and ran out into the hall to devour it. Barley wasted no time getting to work on hers, either. In fact, it only took her about a minute and a half to polish if off. Rye finished right about the same time, too.

The bones weren't any hardy than other common dental chews, so I didn't worry about Barley hurting her teeth on these. There were a few times when bigger chunks broke of, but Barley seemed to chew them up better than she usually does. As soon as she finished, she glanced over her shoulder to check out the bag with the remaining chews inside--so I think she gladly would have gobbled up another one.

These might not have helped my dogs tap into their "inner wolf" and they definitely didn't occupy the girls for long. But Barley and Rye both thought they were drool-worthy and couldn't wait for me to offer then a second chew later in the week.

Disclaimer: We were given one bag of Blue Wilderness Wild Bones dental chews in exchange for our honest review as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program from