Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Surviving the Polar Vortex

Last week, northeast Ohio saw temperatures that hadn't been seen here January 1994. I was in elementary school in 1994--and I lived on an island off the coast of southeast Georgia, which meant this was the coldest weather I've ever experienced. 

We tried to prepare the best we could. I tried to get some extra miles in on Monday and Tuesday so we could still end the month strong with our mileage goals. On Monday night, it rained all night before freezing again. We tried to walk on Tuesday morning and made it two houses down the street before I realized Rye was going to kill us all on the ice, so we turned around and took her home before Barley and I tried again. We made it .2 miles and we'd both slipped several times and I decided the safest decision was for us to turn around and go home. So much for extra miles. We played in the yard instead.

By the time I'd finished teaching my Tuesday afternoon class, the university had made the decision to close for Wednesday. I knew that was a bad sign because we never cancel classes and I'm almost positive in the 9 years I've been here we haven't canceled before the previous school day was even over. That evening, the dogs were feeling the lack of a walk already. Thankfully, we'd just gotten our monthly shipment of treats, so we set off to break the girls' brains. 

On Wednesday, we didn't set an alarm and when we did wake up, the wind was blowing so fiercely that we were all happy to stay in bed and just snuggle a little longer. Eventually, though, we had to face the Polar Vortex. Barley is really good at knowing when she's just going out to potty and when we're staying out for a while--especially when she knows breakfast depends on her getting back in quickly. Rye, on the other hand, would stay outside all day, every day if I let her. She often forgets to potty because she's so busy exploring and a few minutes after coming back in, she'll go sit by the door and whine to let me know she's about to wet her pants. She does better if I go out and supervise, so every single time the dogs went out, I bundled up and went out, too. It took longer to bundle up than we spent outside.

I don't even know how to describe the kind of cold we experienced. I wore glasses every time we went out (I had nightmares about my contacts freezing to my eyeballs) and my eyes started watering almost immediately. Most of my face was covered, but within a few minutes of being outside, my forehead starting feeling like I had put on a face mask and it was starting to dry out. When I walked around the yard following the dogs, I'd start coughing after taking just a few steps because breathing was so uncomfortable.

We served breakfast and dinner in their Kong Wobblers both days. We took lots of breaks to play with treat balls. We practiced sending to our mats. We walked laps around the house.

Next weekend, the girls are entered in an AKC scent trial and there's a chance that Rye could move up if she titles on Day 1, so we used this as a chance to train the new odor that she'd need for that and to refresh Barley's memory on that odor even though she can't move up during this trial. 

I had a bunch of paper towel tubes we repurposed for practice.

Even with taking regular breaks to play brain games and practice scent work, the girls were getting cabin fever. Every time we went out, it got harder to convince them we weren't staying out. They spent a lot of time playing chase, which Barley really hasn't been interested in when the weather's been nice.

They also spent some time chasing the squirrels--who were not smart enough to stay in their nests despite the cold! 

Barley lost interest in squirrels pretty quickly.

But I could not get Rye in. She kept running from tree to tree and every time I almost caught her, she'd slip away. 

Eventually, right when I started getting really worried that she was going to get hurt in the cold, I was able to bribe her with treats and get her inside. Just from being outside for 5 minutes and taking a few pictures, my phone battery drained and my phone shut down.

We spent more time watching squirrels from the window.

And expressing our displeasure about not being outside with the squirrels who ran back and forth along the fence all afternoon.

By Wednesday morning, the university had closed for Thursday, too. On Thursday, we knew what to expect, but we were even more unhappy about it. I felt obligated to read a work book if I was getting two days off of work--and Rye didn't love that any more than I did.

Rye really found her voice for expressing her displeasure on Thursday. She embraced her inner hound and sat at the window and howled. There weren't even any squirrels in the yard!

Most of the day, though, we spent snuggling. 

Barley and Soth are excellent at just relaxing. Maybe it's because Soth's a cat and Barley's 9, but they required very little convincing to curl up in the bed or on the couch. Rye snuggled, too, but she was more reluctant and I could almost seeing her plotting to overthrow me every time I looked at her. 

Thankfully, our temperatures are back above 0 now with more reasonable windchills. (I never thought I'd appreciate a 6 degree day, but that's so, so, so much better than a -4 degree with a -31 degree windchill.)

Our street was still a big icy mess, but Rye and I got to escape to an agility trial. I was worried about the trial because she'd been cooped up for so long, but we had a great time. 

We didn't qualify on any of our three courses, but she ran a beautiful master jumpers course (she just thought it needed one more tunnel than the judge thought it needed) and she did some really tricky turns on her standard course, so I couldn't be happier with how much control she showed! 

We're not in any hurry to ever experience something like this again. We've had days where we couldn't take long walks. And days when we've skipped walks because of white out conditions or icy streets, but we've always been able to romp in the backyard as long as we've wanted. Several times, I ended up having to carrying Rye back inside and stopping to warm Barley's paws up by rubbing them with my mittens because they'd run to the farthest corner of the yard to potty and then start limping. We were as prepared as we possibly could be for this type of weather, but this was really hard on the dogs. Thankfully, we're supposed to have several days in the 40s and even one in the 50s, so we'll be taking advantage of that as much as possible and hoping it's another 25 years before this type of weather comes back to northeast Ohio.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Learning to Like My Dog, Teaching My Dog to Love Me

When I first laid eyes on Barley in her kennel at the APL, it was love at first sight--for her. She knew she was mine and worked her Barley magic to convince me to take her out of her kennel. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with her, too, but I didn't always like her. She was loving and funny and patient with her brother. But she was also reactive and anxious and I had no idea what I was doing. There were some days that I stayed at work a little longer than usual because it was quiet there. When we first started working with a trainer, I learned to like my dog as much as I loved her.

About 6 months after adopting Barley, we started working with a trainer because of her reactivity issues. She taught us the skills we needed not just to survive in the house, but to survive out in the world. We practiced calming exercises, which allowed me to get up to get a glass of water or use the bathroom without Barley getting nervous about me leaving the room. We practiced reaction to distraction, which helped Barley see me as being more interesting than other dogs or skateboarders or joggers.

Once I learned how Barley ticked and she learned that I wasn't going anywhere, I didn't just love my dog, but I liked her. When I was growing up, my dog Possum was my best friend. We ran away from home (to the park down the street) together at least once a week. When I was in middle school, she walked by the cute boys's houses with me and my human best friend. I couldn't imagine having a stronger bond with a dog. Then I started training Barley and it was like my heart hopped out of my chest and grew four legs.

Training Barley has taught me to understand her on a completely different level. I know what every flick of her ear and every wag of her tail means. She understands me the same way and she depends on me to make sense of her world. Sometimes, that's a problem--scent trial judges have commented that they can see her going into obedience mode when she gets frustrated and she turns to me for instructions; barn hunt was out because she couldn't understand why she should paw through hay if I wasn't digging in it, too. Most of the time, though, this relationship is the highlight of my day. On the agility course, it feels like she reads my mind because she pays so much attention to what I'm doing (except for that time she did her own thing). In fact, most of the time, it feels like she knows exactly what I'm thinking. 

Training has also helped my dog learn to love me. When I saw Rye at the APL, I knew she was mine immediately. Rye has always been shy around new people and she was a bit more hesitant about me than I was about her. 

Training taught Rye to love me. Rye loves to do things. She loves to sniff. She loves to run. She loves to jump. She loves to chase. She loves to learn. Once I tapped into all of that, she loved me, too.

Rye has a lot of anxiety. A couple months after I got her, a new session of obedience started and we signed up. She was so scared that she wouldn't take treats from me at first. As we practiced skills at home, she gained more confidence and I became her safe place. She started focusing on me instead of the other people and other dogs in class. We started going for solo walks after class and she had the same level of panic on every new trail--until we started incorporating our obedience homework of heeling patterns and sit-stays into our walks. After two years, she still gets anxious in new places, but she trusts me more and usually we work through that stress and have a fun adventure together.

Rye and I don't have what Barley and I have. If I'm grading papers, Rye goes off and naps in another room by herself while Barley naps as close to me as she can get. But Rye isn't Barley and what we have is incredible and special in its own way.

I have never had more fun than I do when I'm on the agility course with Rye. Even when things go terribly wrong, we're both having the time of our lives. Once we started doing agility training, I became Rye's favorite person in the world because I take her to her activity in the world. At trials, she's find with relaxing in her crate between courses--unless I'm nearby and then she wants to be out of her crate working with me. Even though she's Miss Independent, she always knows where I am and where I'm going. Sometimes she chooses to take a slightly different route than I do (because who wouldn't want to do a few extra jumps along the way!), but we always end up in the same place.

By training my dogs, I've changed our relationships. They're not just my pets, they're my teammates. Sometimes we don't communicate as well as we should, but the time we spend together is always the best part of all of our days. When Barley and I walked into our first training session, I had no idea what to expect, but that day changed our lives and our lives are richer for it.

This month, our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Building Your Relationship with Your Pet Through Training. The hop opens the first Monday of every month and runs all week. Be sure to check out our co-host Tenacious Little Terrier and all of the other blogs joining us this week and don't forget to join us next month for our theme of Training: It's Not Just Luck.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

My Anorexic Dog

In late September, Rye was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She had been reluctant to eat for several days and one day she wouldn't eat breakfast at all. I went to work and when I came home in the early afternoon, she still didn't want to eat and she was lethargic with no interest in chasing squirrels. It was a Thursday--the day our vet is closed--but a new vet's office had just opened up down the street from us and we'd been to other vets in their system before, so I called and they were able to fit us in right away.

After a lot of bloodwork, testing for everything from low electrolytes to lepto to pancreatitis, we had our answer. Rye had elevated pancreas levels and everything else was perfect. We got an IV of fluids to flush her system out, some anti-nausea meds, some samples of a low-fat diet, and a recommendation to feed foods with 10% fat content or less.

Rye is a thief, so it's not uncommon for her to pounce while we're walking and dive into the treat pouch coming out with a mouthful of snacks. She's also very anxious, having strong reactions to off-leash dogs, Jeeps, FedEx trucks, mail carriers, school buses, and cats to name a few things, so we use  a lot of treats on walks and most of those were high value treats so she'd choose me and the treats over melting down at the sight of a cat or a mail carrier. I was shocked when I read the labels of our high value treats and saw that all of them were over 10% fat content and several of them were over 30%!

We eliminated all of those treats from her diet (Barley was happy to make sure they didn't go to waste). I significantly reduced the amount of string cheese she got for agility trials, going from one stick per day of a trial to less than one stick for the entire weekend. Barley and I went to PetCo and read every bag of food's label until we found one with 10% fat content. 

For the next three months, she was doing really well. There were some mornings where she didn't want her breakfast, especially on Mondays after three-day agility trials when she'd gotten a few extra treats, but she was always hungry after going for a walk or if I bribed her with some of the Honest Kitchen Pour Overs we'd reviewed in the fall.

So why did my little girl suddenly start refusing food over the holidays?

Around New Year's Eve, Rye didn't want to eat dinner. Eventually, she did, but then she wasn't interested in breakfast. Or the next dinner. She was still taking treats on walks and if I mixed some canned pumpkin into her bowl, she'd eat a bit, but she was reluctant to do so. On our last day full day at my parents, she refused to eat anything at all. The next morning, still nothing until my dad scrambled an egg for her to see if we could get something in her system before we had to drive for 12+ hours. She was still romping with her cousin and walking normally on our daily walks, so I wasn't too worried, but something was definitely off. My family had been great about not giving her scraps and with the exception of a slice of bacon she'd stolen when our backs were turned, she hadn't had any dietary indiscretions. 

When we got home, she was eating a little better, but there were still days when she refused to eat, so I called our vet. Rye had played in a lot of mud puddles in Alabama, so I was afraid she'd picked up some sort of parasite or bacteria--or that she was having another bout of pancreatitis. We did a few more blood tests and ran a stool sample and everything came back clear.

But that still didn't explain why she wasn't eating.

The vet and I talked about our options. She mentioned using a bland prescription food for upset stomachs, but she also understood my concerns about the food having the first protein so far down the list with all of Rye's agility--and we decided to take just one can to see if Rye even liked it so we'd know if it was a viable option. We also talked about doing an x-ray to see if Rye's stomach looked ok, but since she didn't seem in pain and her stool sample looked normal, we decided to put that off for now. It was looking like she might have just been dealing with stress. We'd been gone for two weeks, walking in different parks, living with another cat and another dog plus my parents and my siblings, and we hadn't had agility class or trials in three weeks. In other words, Rye's little world had been rocked. Barley thrives from the extra attention and exploring different trails, but that's really hard for Rye. We decided to just watch her while she readjusted to her normal routine and if anything changed, we'd come right back in.

This is where Rye is most relaxed: sandwiched between her siblings.

A few days later, I got an email from our pet insurance that our claim had been improved and I clicked on our portal to see how much money I'd be getting back. Under the diagnosis section, I was shocked to see ANOREXIA! My puppy had anorexia?!

A quick Google search revealed that this wasn't what originally came to mind. Rye doesn't have any body issues. She's not refusing to eat because she thinks she looks fat in her agility videos. She's not refusing to eat because she's looking for some part of her life she can control. In dogs, anorexia is just a term that means the dog has lost its appetite. There's pseudo-anorexia, which can be caused by issues like dental pain or sore chewing muscles, and true anorexia, which can be caused by psychological issues like stress and anxiety, nausea, or inability to smell.

Rye is back to her normal, goofy, sometimes neurotic self. She's eating fairly regularly, except for the day after a scent trial when we'd taken a particularly stressful walk, so it seems like she does have stress-related anorexia.

She had to make sure nobody snuck up behind her while I tried to take pictures.

Maybe one day I'll know what it feels like to have a normal pet that only needs regular wellness checks and vaccinations, but for now, we'll be embracing this new adventure and looking at the different ways that I can help Rye deal with her anxiety, so we can continue to have fun and adventure without starving my tiny terror.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Finding Winter Fun

Winter has finally arrived in northeast Ohio. We've had snow and extreme cold that's made it hard to get in good walks the last few days. Our neighborhood gets very slippery because they don't plow the residential streets very well, so unless I'm feeling particularly brave, Barley and Rye get separate very short walks to stretch their legs. Rye's also been rebelling against her boots, so that's kept us home a few times so that I can make sure she doesn't stay out too long and hurt her paws.

Luckily, Rye loves to romp through the snow--even more than she likes to go for walks--so it's worked out well.

Barley's also been spending some time out in the yard.

But she's not loving these very cold days. She much prefers snowy days when it's in the high 20s or low 30s. She's not amused by the teens at all, especially with all of the wind we've had lately.

It doesn't take her long to start heading back to house and if I don't let her in, she'll sit and glare while Rye romps.

We've also been finding ways to amuse ourselves inside, too. A couple months ago, I finally broke down and bought a very basic DSLR camera. We haven't had too much time to play around with the camera yet, and it's been a long time since I took photography in college with my film camera, so I haven't gotten any great pictures yet, but we're having fun experimenting with the different settings. 

Rye and I have been taking pictures while she plays ball. 

I always love watching Rye move and capturing that movement is high on my list of photography goals. Staying indoors to take some of these photos is giving me a chance to refresh my memory on different settings while Rye's in a smaller area because she's fast and it's a lot harder to catch her in the yard! 

I've also got some work to do with getting timing down, too, but it's brought me a lot of laughs to see what's getting captured!

I wanted Barley to get in on the photography fun, too, and I've always been obsessed with the photos of dogs trying to catch treats. Poor Barley had some trouble with this. She's usually really good at catching treats, but I think the camera distracted her and she kept staring at me and the treats would just fall down in front of her or bounce off her nose.

Rye was also a bit of a distraction for Barley because any time treats are flying through the air, Rye wants to be there, too. Barley doesn't care about balls, so when Rye was playing with me, she was content to stay on the couch. Rye demanded some turns catching treats, too.

I did get some fun faces, but I think this is probably easiest to do with a tripod--it's not easy trying to throw a treat and hold a camera at the same time! We were also playing at night, so without any light coming in the windows, I had to use the flash and Barley's eyes get all creepy with the flash. 

Once she finally caught one, we called it quits, so we could end on a high note!

I'm looking forward to taking more of these pictures from different angles and when we don't need the flash. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Winter Wonderland Trial

When Barley and I started competing in Scent Trials, we started with C-WAGS trials because they were offered close to home and we quickly learned that the focus was really on having fun with your dog rather than the competition aspect.

About a year ago, one of our agility classmates opened a scent work and barn hunt training facility, so we had yet another place to compete close to home. It's quickly become our favorite place to trial because not only do we get to spend time with our friends, but they always have seasonal trials. During our summer scent league, which started in July, we got red, white, and blue ribbons and in October, we got Halloween-themed ribbons. They also give each entrant a bandana, so Barley and Rye are expanding their wardrobes with matching bandanas!

When we saw they were holding a Winter Wonderland trial, we had to sign up! Of course, Mother Nature also wanted to show up to the wonderland. My weather app and all of the local weather sources were predicting 12-20 inches of snow for the weekend. I went to bed on Friday hoping that we'd be able to make it to the trial in the morning. 

Thankfully, there was minimal snow when we got up and the roads were clear, so we made it to the trial with no trouble. 

Rye is in Level 1, having only done two searches during the Halloween trial, so she was up first. In Level 1, you have two minutes with several identical boxes and the dog searches for either birch or cypress. The last time Rye was at this location, we were in a barn hunt trial and she was in rat hunting mood when we walked in for our first search. There's a divider that separates the barn hunt area from the scent area and Rye spent the first several seconds running along the divider to see how she could get to the rats (who were actually snuggled up in their nice warm cages in a different area of the building). Eventually, she alerted on the box and got her second Level 1 Q.

I thought we'd have more luck with our second search since she knew what we were there for, but she was even more excited for the second search. She ran along the divider again and eventually realized she needed to be by the boxes. She alerted on one and I called it--but it was wrong. In C-WAGS, you get one fault, such as a false alert, so we moved on. Rye's alert is to lie down by the odor, but after her false alert, she flopped down directly in between two boxes. I walked her around again and she flopped down a little closer to one of the two boxes, so I called it, but it wasn't right, either, so we didn't qualify.

Barley is in Level 3, so we had about 2 hours before her searches while the Level 2 dogs ran and the judges ate lunch. Another thing we love about our friend's facility is that it's around the corner from one of our favorite parks, so we went to get a quick walk in while the weather was still ok.

Rye was not crazy about the walk. When the world is covered in snow, we have to start all over with getting her comfortable on trails. There were also several groups of people out walking and she gets very nervous when she can hear people on trails but not see them, so between dealing with people and trails that looked a little different than the last time we were there, she was one nervous puppy. 

We got back in plenty of time for Barley's searches. I was a little nervous because we'd only done one Level 3 search before this and it hadn't gone well. In Level 3 C-WAGS searches, you have four minutes to find three hides that can be in boxes or other containers as well as on object; they can also be closer together than in Level 1 or Level 2 or elevated and you can have birch, cypress, clove, and anise hides. I've been trying to be patient and watch Barley carefully because her alert is so subtle (unlike Rye who does nothing subtly). Unfortunately, we had two false alerts on both searches and walked away without any ribbons.

On Sunday, Mother Nature almost kept us away. Not because the roads were bad--they were mostly clear with just a few icky patches where plows had trouble keeping up with drifting snow--but because all of the snow we'd gotten on Saturday after we'd gotten home had drifted behind my car! I'd shoveled before going to bed on Saturday night, but on Sunday morning, the snow behind my car was up to my knees while there were blades of grass poking out of the snow covering the yard. 

Thankfully, I woke up early enough that we still made it to the trial about 10 minutes before the first Level 1 searches began. Rye hadn't wanted to eat on Sunday morning, so I had low expectations for the searches. In her first search, she was trying to work, but kept stopping and stretching and it was clear she was a little uncomfortable. She eventually alerted correctly after a minute and 19 seconds, so we did get our third Level 1 Q. She was still off her game in the second search and we walked away with two false alerts. But for her second C-WAGS trial, and third scent trial ever, I think she did a great job for the weekend.

There were a lot of Level 1 and Level 2 dogs who weren't able to get out of their driveways, so Barley's Level 3 searches were going to happen earlier than the day before. It was also in the teens with a lot of snow on the ground, so I didn't think it was worth it to go to the park for such a short amount of time in such cold temperatures. 

I was worried about Barley's searches after she'd spent so much time cooped up without a walk, but that girl amazed me. Up until this point, we'd only had 2 clean runs with no false alerts. That made finding all three odors seem almost impossible, but we took our time and she found all three odors with no false alerts in a minute and 32 seconds. For the second search, we walked in and she found the first odor and I reached into my pocket to get her treat--and realized too late that I'd forgotten to take my gloves off when we came inside and several treats fell on the ground! Dropping food is a fault, so we'd used our fault after finding the first odor. I took a deep breath and we went back to searching after Barley had gobbled up the extra treats. My best girl worked hard and found the other two odors with no faults, so we got our second Level 3 Q in 3 minutes and 23 seconds. 

The girls both had a great time and it was nice being out of the house despite the weather. Our friend hasn't announced the dates for their next C-WAGS trial yet, but we'll definitely be there since Rye is one Q away from her Level 1 title and Barley is 2 Qs away from her Level 3 title.

We are scheduled for our second AKC trial next month, so we still have plenty of sniffing practice to do while we wait for the next C-WAGS trial to be announced.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The 9th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge

When the first couple weeks of the year passed without any of the blogs I follow posting about the 9th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge, I felt a sense of relief. 2018 was a strange year for our blog (and life in general) and I didn't really want to look back at it--but I knew that if there was a Pet Blogger Challenge this year, I would do it. Then all of the sudden, a few blogs posted their responses to Go Pet Friendly's 9th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge. Before clicking on their posts, I told myself I'd just read their posts and I wouldn't do one myself. But here I am. As always, Amy's questions for the challenge get me to reflect on my writing for the last year and make me feel better about the blog no matter what's happened during the previous year.

For those who may be visiting your blog for the first time, how long have you been blogging and what is your main topic?
Our first blog post was in July 2012. The main focus of the blog has always been my reactive, rescued border collie mix Barley and our training journey as well as our explorations of trails and breweries. In 2016, I added another rescue dog, a border beagle named Rye. My firstborn, my cat Soth, also makes appearances on the blog.

What was your proudest blogging moment of 2018?
2018 was a slow blogging year for me, but one of the proudest moments was when I achieved my 1050th mile with the dogs during the year--of course, we cut things close and didn't achieve that until December 31, so the actual blog post didn't happen until this year, but our resolution walking goals have been a part of our blog since 2013, so achieving that goal and sharing that with our readers felt really good. 

What was the biggest blogging challenge you faced in 2018, and how did/will you tackle it?
The biggest challenge this year was just finding time to blog. Rye started competing in agility trials in March. Barley continued scentwork. Then Rye started scentwork. Then Barley started competing in agility trials. And somewhere in between all of that Rye started barn hunt. Most of my writing time turned into training and trialing time--and that probably isn't going to change. In the summer when I'm off of work for a few months, I'll have more time to write during the week, but I think that's probably a challenge I'm just going to have to accept and not "tackle." Honestly, I'm having so much fun having these experiences with the dogs that if I don't get to write about them all, I'm ok with that.

Which of your 2018 blog posts was your favorite and why? 
My favorites are always the love letters I write to the pets on their adoption days or birthdays. This year, my very favorite was Rye's because I put a little different spin on it when I wrote a letter to her first family. There were a couple others that were close to being my favorites, though: Soth's adoption day love letter was special to me because a couple years ago, I wasn't sure how many more we'd have and now he's doing so well; Barley's love letter was hard to write and I wasn't satisfied with it, but the next month, I found the words I hadn't found then. 

Which of your 2018 posts was most popular with your audience? Why do you think it does so well?
My most popular was the 8th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge post--which is obviously because of the great community that comes together at this time of year to support each other!  After that, though, it's a tie between Training Mantras to Keep Training Positive and Fun and The Vanilla Ice Method of Dealing with Training Frustration. Besides the fact that they were part of a blog hop, I think these were also popular because this is really the heart of what our blog has been about since day one: working through training struggles, celebrating training successes, and finding the humor in that process. Those are the posts and the adoption day posts are the ones that I feel like my writing style and our personality really come through the clearest.

Did you implement a new series, feature, or practice on your blog in 2018 that you're enjoying?
Sort of. Agility has always been a part of the blog, but I never really thought I'd ever compete in life before Rye, so our posts on agility trials have taken old content in a new direction. For the most part, though, 2018 has been more of a return to wear we started: focusing on a training and tracking progress towards our goals. I've shifted more to writing for me than to writing for an audience.

As the social media landscape changes, how are you promoting your blog posts and connecting with new readers?
This one's easy. I haven't. I hated trying to keep up with our Facebook page, so I shut it down. I use Twitter exclusively for tweeting the Pirates announcers on Pup Nights during baseball season (that platform just got too chaotic for me). Occasionally, I'll mention a blog post in an Instagram caption and find new readers that way, but I have put minimal effort into promoting the blog at all over the last year.

Looking forward to 2019, if you accomplish only one thing through your blog, what do you hope it is?
I want to get back to focusing on where we started. I want to document our training and our adventures. I want to write stories to remind myself of all of these moments we have together because time goes so quickly (especially when you're on an agility course with a Rye running over 5.5 yards per second). Being able to look back at old posts and remember specific adventures and training successes is what I love most about writing this blog (in addition to the fantastic bloggers we've connected with in the process), so that's where my focus is for 2019.

What steps are you planning to take to ensure you reach your goal?
I'm breaking out the Doggin' Cleveland book to look for a few new trails to try this year. We've also got a pretty big road trip planned for later this year, so I plan to document every mile of that adventure. We've also got a full schedule of agility, scent trials, and barn hunt for the year, so I think we'll have plenty of new content to achieve that goal.

Now it's your turn! How can we help? Is there an area where you could use some advice, or an aspect of your blog that you'd like input on? 
Right now, I'm just trying to stay motivated to keep writing--but if there are certain topics in our lives that people want to know more about or certain questions about our training and competitions, I'm happy to focus some future posts on those areas.

Be sure to check out all of the blogs participating in the 9th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge. The Pet Blogging community is such a supportive, positive community, and I always find new blogs to add to my reading list.