Friday, September 28, 2012


This has been a rough week for me and the pets.

On Monday, I came home with a massive headache and passed out for 3 hours.  By the time I could drag myself out of bed, it was getting dark, so Barley didn't get a walk.  Then on Tuesday, we got a quick walk in with our friends Abby, Paradox, and Crux, but I had to grade a billion papers, so Barley missed out on extended play time.  On Tuesday, I also came home to a dining room covered in cat barf (after coming home to a cat covered in shhhh on Monday), so I had to call the vet because this vomiting several times a week thing is getting old.

So, Wednesday afternoon was spent at the vet's office where Soth had several tests run.  First, they weighed him.  Soth, who has been overweight for most of the time I've had him (thank you vet in NM for trying to solve all our problems with steroids), had lost 1.6 pounds in about 6 months, which is a lot for a cat (1 pound for a cat is roughly like 9 for a human), especially when the cat spends all of his time indoors and most of that time is spent eating or sleeping.  He's also been drinking a lot more water than usual, so when I saw how much his weight had gone down, I panicked.  My grandma's cat had diabetes and she had to give him insulin every day; I hate needles; I wasn't sure I could do that for the rest of our life together--and Soth's only 4.5, so God willin' we still have a lot of time left together.  His temperature was normal and the vet couldn't find anything wrong with him by listening to his heart and lungs or poking around his belly.  So, we went for the big panel of tests that does blood, urine, and stool tests.  I had to sit in the waiting room while they got the samples and it was terrible listening to my little man cat yowl in the examine room.  Then we had to wait until today for results.

The little love of my life.
Yesterday was great for me, but less great for Barley.  One of my best friends was passing through town on the way to a wedding, so she and her mom stopped to spend the night since we hadn't had a reunion in 2 years!  But, that meant Barley only got a little neighborhood walk while we waited for their arrival.  And, she only got a tiny percentage of my attention while we were chatting.

This morning, I tried to pass the time waiting for the update on Soth's results, but since I'd already done a thorough cleaning for company, I wasn't very successful.  So, I gave up and Barley and I went adventuring in the Holden Arboretum to see how the leaves were progressing with their fall colors.  While the leaves hadn't changed as much as I had expected them to from what all of the trees on the way there looked like, it was still a really awesome day.  So, we let ourselves get lost in the woods for over 2 hours and it was perfect.

Turtles on a log!

Stopping in our favorite part of the arboretum--the boardwalk!

Time to stop for water

This funny little toad made me think of our weird old neighbor who sang songs about the little toads.

The leaves around the lake are starting to change.

Smile for the camera :)

On the way home, we stopped at Petsmart to replenish our treat supplies so we can throw ourselves into our training for the TDI again.  When we got home, I talked to the vet and she said that Soth's blood sugar, thyroid, kidneys, and liver were all good and that his stool sample came back negative.  The only thing that was not great was the urine sample, which had a lot of blood in it and even some white blood cells (which I don't 100% understand what that means).  So, our vet thinks this is just an extreme case of his FLUTD issues and he's on an all wet food diet for awhile to get more fluid in him and keep the blood and crystals from concentrating more.  Hopefully, he'll be back to normal (or as normal as he ever gets) in no time.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rain Rain Go Away

Today was our TDI test.  I was worried because I'd had a long meeting on Friday and then it rained all day yesterday, so we had limited time to practice over the last couple days.  I was afraid Bar would have too much energy after being inside all day yesterday to heel nicely and we hadn't had a chance to practice walking over food for a couple days.  Things were not looking good.

I knew it was supposed to rain this morning, so I set the alarm for 6:00.  The test was supposed to start at 9:00, so I figured waking up at 6 would give us time to wake up with some coffee, go for a walk if it wasn't raining, and do a few focus exercises before getting in the car.  

It wasn't raining and said it was supposed to be cloudy with no showers until 2:00 (LIARS). So, I drank some coffee, we walked around the block, and we did the old treats on the paws game.  Bar was focused and I had hope for our test.

When we got to the test, our old Obedience Foundations 2 & 3 trainer was there to test us and said we could go right away at 9:30.  Since we had 30 minutes to go, I we warmed up with some heeling and sit-stays.  I tried to get Bar to down, but she wouldn't do it--even with a treat lure.  We can't use treats on the test, so I knew we were in trouble.  No matter how hard I tried, she would not down in the wet grass.  

So, to make a long story short, Barley did everything beautifully--weaving through a crowd with walkers and canes, approaching someone in a wheelchair to be pet, walking over a plate of shredded chicken--EXCEPT for the down on command.  

The one thing Bar has been able to do since the day I got her was the one thing she refused to do for the test.

While I was battling with Bar to get her to down, it started pouring down rain--and then I had to go crouch between cars in the parking lot while she stayed under the covered tent for supervised separation--so now we're both soaked and cold.  After I get a few papers graded, I think we're going to curl up under some blankets and nap for a bit.

My little wet dog.
Even though we didn't pass, I'm still really proud of my girl.  She did all of the things I was worried about so well.  Our training center is giving the test on October 20, so we'll sign up and try again then--and until then we're going to be practicing downs a lot more often than usual.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cat Food is Delicious

Once upon a time, Barley was really good at "Leave it." In fact, she was so good that she would pass things, like beer cans, while we were walking and then backtrack to pretend to sniff it and then look at me, thinking she'd get a treat for such a nice "leave it" even if I didn't give her a command.  Eventually, she learned that didn't work and quit sniffing things altogether on our walks.  So, I know she can walk over food on the sidewalk without even glancing at it.  We have firsthand experience leaving behind Teddy Grahams, nachos with cheese sauce, fries and ketchup.

But we haven't practiced leave it in a while and Bar also can't stand the thought of food being dropped on the floor and not cleaned up immediately.  She is the class vacuum cleaner when we go to the training center.  While everyone else is heeling nicely to warm up for class, Barley is sniffing along the floor and cleaning up any crumbs left behind by the class before.  She refuses to walk nicely until she has the entire room cleaned.

Since I'm not sure what our test will be like (although it's at a winery, so it's probably outside, which could be to our benefit), our focus for today's training was walking over food without eating it.

We practiced our sit-stays and down-stays while I set up our obstacle course.
A circle of Bar's favorite things to steal: a toy, a red pen, a ball, a bowl of cat food, and my mascara (I promise that's an old one I don't use anymore--no eye infections here!)

Did I hear cat food jingling in that dish?
Our first course was simple and something we practiced a hundred times when we first started working with a trainer.  I made a circle of things Bar likes to take and we walked around it several times.  First, with her on the outside and me in between her and the temptations.  She did a good job with that--didn't even look at the cat food once.  Then we went around it with her on the inside, and she still did a good job, even though I did have to remind her to leave it.

After that I made our course more difficult by putting the stuff in a not-very-straight line and adding Cheez-Its to the mix.
If Mom has the camera in front of her face, she won't notice if I get up and steal the Cheez-Its.
Darn, she noticed. 
When we just walked alongside the line, Bar did fine (being on the inside and the outside).  Things got ugly when we tried to weave between the stuff.  Even though the Cheez-Its were Bar's initial downfall with breaking the down-stay, she was good with them when we were walking.  It was the bowl of cat food she just couldn't resist--multiple times--so we still have some work to do.  On the plus side, I don't think there will be cat food at the test since it's supposed to be like the situations one might encounter at a hospital or nursing home/rehab center . . . 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Value of a Well-Trained Pup

Sometimes I forget how crazy my first six months with Barley were.

I forget that the longer we walked, the more energy seemed to have when we got home.

I forget that we didn't sleep through the night until I discovered she loved Jewel, especially the Perfectly Clear album.

And, most of the time, I forget how responsive she is to my body language and commands (although she does go through bouts of obstinacy--but if you ask my mom, this is karma coming after me).  With the exception of her reactive encounters with other dogs, Barley's always been a relatively good walker.  Even though she would never be able to pass the straight-line test if we ever got pulled over . . . and our trainer did say she was bound to kill me if we kept weaving like that--but she's never really pulled; she's always been content to trot along at the end of her leash and never fusses when I tell her we're done sniffing some new smell.  Now that she's well trained with heeling and walks nicely beside me 92% of the time, I forget what it's like to walk a dog who doesn't heel.

Today, though, I remembered.  I met a sweet little boy pup named Xavier while volunteering with Barley's mothership.  Xavier's a 10-month-old purebred Pit Bull and he was a doll.  Our introduction was very similar to the one I had with my Barley girl.  I said, "Well, hello. Aren't you handsome?" He stood in his cage and wiggled.  I took him out and he was in my lap smothering me with kisses.  The rest of my time at the adopt-a-thon, we were pretty much inseparable--I tried to console a lab/houd mix who didn't like being in her crate and Xavier looked at me with the saddest eyes, so I had to leave SadieMae to the other volunteers.

As adorable as Xavier is, he is also a bundle of puppy energy (although he's housebroken--and his adoption fee is waived to an approved adopter because someone else fell in love with him and wanted to be sure he could go to a good home!) and every last inch of him is pure muscle, so he was a handful on a leash.
After going for mini-walks outside every 20 minutes or so, he finally wore out enough for me to take his picture.

Hello, Handsome!
By the end of our 3-hours together, we'd gotten better at walking together, but it definitely made me miss walking with my Barley girl.  My arms got a good workout today while I held on for dear life, so I'm guessing I'll probably be sore tomorrow!  But when we were inside, I sat on the floor with this sweet boy and he stayed in my lap the whole time--so I left at the end of my shift a little bit brokenhearted--fingers crossed he finds his furever home soon.

I got home to a very grumpy Barley Bear--she does not like it when I leave her for other dogs--even if I bring home a new toy for her.

Why does your lap smell like someone else?
I had to sit on the porch and let her sniff me for a good 15 minutes before she'd actually go out into the yard.  After that, I gave her a new mummy toy (yay Halloween toys!) and all was forgiven.
Seriously, how cute is this?
Despite the caffeine boost I picked up at Starbucks on my way home, I needed a nap and Barley was happy to snuggle up next to me after I changed into new clothes and we had a lovely lazy afternoon.

Then, since it was gorgeous outside and I needed to remember what it felt like to walk a well-trained dog, we walked down to the park near our house and practiced stays and heeling.
We had a lot of fun crunching these leaves between exercises.

I'm not sure why there are large crayon-looking things, but there are two and they are perfect for practicing figure eights.
We also had several unexpected dog encounters on our way to and from the park, so we got to practice Barley's focus, too.  I had just enough treats left in my pocket to get us past Barley's arch-nemesis, Little Bit the Yorkie, before we ducked back into our parking lot.

One week until the TDI test--heeling and stays are going well, but I am not convinced we'll survive the walking over spilled food portion of the test . . . that's our goal for the next few days.  Fingers crossed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Taming the Wild One

When I woke up this morning, I realized that in about two weeks, I plan to do the TDI test with Barley--and we have been slacking on our training practice (minus our regular reactive dog training on walks). We've done 10 of the 15 items in the CGC test, but we still have to get through them again plus 5 new items--and we haven't taken the TDI class!

So, after I started some laundry, Bar and I went out back to get to work.

We started with sit-stays.
Notice Soth supervising from the window.
We're supposed to practice doing 3-minute sit-stays because in obedience competitions a dog has to do a 1-minute sit-stay, so you practice longer so your dog is used to being still for a while in case there is a stop-watch malfunction or spacey evaluator who forgets to tell you to return to your dog right at 1 minute.

We're also not supposed to push our dogs too much.  You want every training session to be a success, so you don't do things that set your dog up for failure.

So, when we got to 2 minutes, 4 seconds (plus however many seconds it took me to walk from where I had Bar sit to the table where the phone was and press start), I decided we should call it a success and end that exercise.  We'll work at getting back to 3 minutes by the end of the weekend.  Plus, for TDI, Bar only has to sit-stay long enough for me to walk to the end of the 20-foot lead, turn to face her, and call her to front.
Look at that face. She's clearly trying to intimidate me into giving her a treat for such a good "Come Front."
We did sit-stays three times and all attempts were successful (yay Barley!).  And we did the full length of the 20-foot lead, so it was encouraging to find that we didn't have to completely start from scratch with practice.
She's so far away! 
And we practiced doing crazy things like me walking past her, so she'd be used to people walking by if it happened in the test.

Then we practiced a few down-stays.
Look at that sphinx like pose--Can she resist the urge to break the down-stay?
For training, our goal is a 5-minute down-stay to prepare for a 3-minute competition down-stay (even though I have no intention of doing an obedience competition--we're not serious enough for that!), but when we got to 2 minutes, I decided the exercise was complete.  No need to break my pup!
Finally shifted to a more relaxed posed.
We broke up our stays with some heeling practice, too, because that's more fun and definitely more active--and probably the most useful for our relationship.  If we can get heeling down really well, maybe one day Bar and I can go to off-leash parks and actually hike with her off-leash.

She did really well with heeling today!  When we practice to prepare for off-leash, I leave the long lead on and just let her drag it--that way if she tries to be naughty and bolt, I can step on the leash (and she has difficulty going in a straight line--takes after her mama with that!--so with 20 feet of leash dragging behind her, the likelihood of Bar tangling herself up on something and preventing her from getting too far is pretty good).  Today, she did better than she does with on-leash heeling!  She was right with me the whole time--we did left turns, right turns, about turns, u-turns, circles and she was perfect.
Look at that eye contact! Such a good, focused girl!
There were a few moments when she lost focus because of some tempting smell in the grass, but overall she was great.

She even remembered to sit in heel position every time I stopped.
I get a treat for this, right?
We've still got a long way to go in the next two weeks, but it felt great to do some formal training again.  So keep your fingers crossed for us on Sept. 23!  If we don't pass, that's okay--we'll just have to hand over more money to actually take the two Saturday workshops at our training center and retest.

This is just a tiny percentage of the treats we've got to practice with!
I stocked up on more training treats on Monday, so hopefully the next couple weeks will go smoothly!

And we'll end with an unrelated picture, just because it was Barley's latest weird dog move.
So, Soth, what's so great about being on this windowsill anyway?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Becoming Emily

In a letter describing herself to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Emily Dickinson write, "You ask my companions, Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know but do not tell; and the noise in the pool at noon excels my piano."  This weekend I realized that I feel the same way as Emily.  I am happiest when I have Barley and nature as my companions.

My cousin came this weekend--don't get me wrong, I adore my family--and hiking was not the normal relaxing activity it usually is.  

Ever since I took the Kiersey Temperaments Test in interpersonal communication years ago, I've known that being around other people exhausts me and that I need me time to reenergize--and that that's ok.  I love to be with my family and my friends, but I need time to myself, even if it's just a nap or a walk around the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery story.  Some people I can spend days with and I never feel exhausted because they've known me for ages and understand me (ex. after 4 years of eating breakfast together every morning in college, my BFF knows that he shouldn't expect any conversation from me until after I've finished breakfast and coffee because I need that time to reflect on what the day might hold).  With my extended family, though, we don't see each other often so I feel like I need to have an itinerary planned, be awake when they wake up, talk the whole time--I feel like it's rude to go lock myself away for a little while.  To make a long story short, it's exhausting.

You're probably wondering how I can have such a people-centered career with this personality.  It's because my weekends (and afternoons) are me time (or me and Barley time).  When Bar and I go hiking, of course part of it is for exercise, but mostly it's to get away from people--go somewhere that I can't check email or connect on Facebook, somewhere I might not even see other people.  When I spend a few hours walking in the woods, taking pictures, and talking only to Barley, I feel rejuvenated--basically it's the way going to church every Sunday made me feel before it became all political.  When I don't have time to do that, I get cranky.

As much as I love my cousin and as good as it was to see him, it was strange to have someone with me on a hike.  I'm not used to carrying on conversations while I hike.  I'm not used to not picking a pretty spot to just sit and think while Barley rests for a minute.  I know I hike with a couple of my friends, but we've never explored new territory together.  Barley and I have always gone to new places alone and then invited our friends along after we've had a chance to explore.  

My cousin and I went to one new place--The West Woods--and one old place--Chapin Forest Reservation.  We quickly found the Ansel's Cave trail.  The trail was ridiculously shady, so Bar and I will be keeping this in mind on warm days.  My cousin was disappointed that the cave couldn't be explored because they were trying to protect bats from White Nose Syndrome.  
Barley in front of Ansel's Cave.
We couldn't see a bridge without taking a picture.
Oh no! Tragic falls!
Bar and I will have to come back here.  Doggin' Cleveland said we'd be able to see the world's 13th largest geodesic dome from the trail and the trail map made it seem that way, too.  Maybe they meant in the winter when the leaves are all gone because we saw it on the way into the park from the car, but not on the trail.

Then we went to the Chapin Forest Reservation because the ledges are neat and the view from the overlook is really pretty.  After a couple hours of walking, Barley was a tired girl yesterday.

I was exhausted, too.  In addition to talking more than observing, I also had to adjust to someone else giving my dog commands.  It's hard to get people to understand our training when people haven't seen Barley at her worst (not that I have any desire for anyone to ever see Bar that way again). My friends have sort of been along with us on our training journey--one of them was there while I was making decisions to start training, they've both seen Barley's improvement with each class, they've let me vent when we've regressed and celebrated our successes, and, unfortunately, they've seen Barley at her worst (but they still love her!).  They understand if I have to quit telling a story mid-sentence and tell Barley to watch or if I have to pull us off the trail and sit and wait for another dog to pass.  They never get involved until it's time to shower Bar with love and praise.

When new people are along for the journey, it's hard to explain that we're always in training.  Barley doesn't get treats along the walk because she's spoiled (ok, well, maybe sometimes she does); she gets treats periodically to remind her to stay focused on me.  When I'm trying to get her to focus on me, she doesn't need other people calling her name and whistling--of course, it's always good to practice reaction to distraction, but it confuses her when multiple parts of her group give her different commands.  When we're focused, petting her and grabbing her tail (hey, I understand, she's got an awesome, curly, plume-like tail that does seem to yell "Grab me!") break our focus.  I know for most dogs, these types of things are all normal and fine, but for Barley breaking focus is dangerous if there's even the slightest chance of seeing another dog.  So, I was on edge a lot with our adventures.
Getting a 'tude with her mama
Today, I needed some rejuvenation, so when my cousin had gotten on the road, Bar and I headed out to our favorite place: The Holden Arboretum (yay for our recently renewed membership!).  Barley gets very excited at the Arboretum.  Here's a little taste of Barley's excitement in the parking lot of the Arboretum.
She starts doing this as soon as we get off the interstate and doesn't stop until we're on the trails.

I decided that rather than looking for new places to explore, we should hit up our old favorites.  We met a dog that we'd met with our friends at North Chagrin Reservation (an aussie-minpin mix named Skye) and stopped to chat about training--Skye is a few months younger than Barley and has also been doing reactive dog training--but for the most part we didn't see anyone.

I could say more, but I've said a lot already, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves because I'm feel refreshed and ready to start Week 2 of the semester.

And one last video--because even at her least graceful, my dog is still relaxing and peaceful.