Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back to School

Last night, Barley and I braved the hurricane-related wind and rain to go to our first night of Intro to Agility class.  We took the class twice last year.  Usually, dogs take the class twice to get used to the equipment and for their people to learn the footwork (although since I am the world's least coordinated person, so I could probably take it 50 times and not remember it).  Since it had been a long time, we decided to sign up for Intro again.  Plus, the intro class is small (there were 5 dogs there last night) and the fewer dogs barking and running, the easier it is for Barley to focus and feel calm.

Bar was a very good girl in class last night.  She even got to be the example dog to show her classmates how to approach a plank and how to get on the dog walk.  We only had one little incident when we were practicing send outs--she wanted to visit the dog next to her (and by visit I mean charge--she doesn't something similar in the video below with poor Soth, but Soth runs away and the other dog engaged, but there was no actual contact between them and she calmed down and focused immediately).

Our normal agility trainer wasn't there because of an injury--I'm sure it was an emotional pain she felt when she saw Bar's name on her roster again--so we had a sub, who was awesome.  Last time, I really struggled with the different footwork.  This is probably because 1) class is at 8 pm on the day I teach the most classes, so I'm tired and 2) I have trouble with telling my left from my right and always have to hold my hands up to see which one makes an L (and when you have a dog to keep track of, treats to hold, and hand movements to do making Ls gets tricky).  I also just have trouble remember which name goes with which moves.

Last night, though, our sub gave us hand outs that have pictures of the movements!  I need to see things before I get them, so in class our sub showed us how to do it and gave us the picture handouts and I'm already feeling more confident about it!
The "Arthur Miller" steps for agility--Dancing with the Stars here I come!
Our sub even said that I had the movements down, so I think we're making progress!  We practiced them all today, too, so maybe one days I'll be able to make the connection between the names and the moves without any thought!

We also spent a little time working on getting the dog to sit in the contact zone at the end of the dog walk the dog walk and running over the A frame.  Barley LOVES the equipment--I wish I had a few extra hands so that I could take pictures/video of her having fun.

The dogs were so cute last night.  The training center has a tin roof (and a leak!), so the storm made things pretty noisy.  There was a baby pool set up to catch the drips, so sometimes there would be big splats in the pool and the dogs would all jump and stare at it.  Then when we were waiting for our turns and the dogs were sitting patiently, they all kept staring at the ceiling trying to figure out what the thumping up there was.  They are such dolls.  We had some small fluffy thing (his sister is a keeshond, who was in our agility class), an adorable little mix that looks likes my nephew pup but brown, a yellow lab, a black lab, and my Barley monster.

So, here's a little video of our practice tonight--just the send outs.  I don't have the steps down well enough to want to record our front crosses and blind crosses and everything else, but maybe someday soon I'll set the ipad on the window sill instead so that you can see those, too.  For now, Barley's the main star of this video.  We're working on adding distance to our send outs and I think she's getting pretty good! 

Big thanks to my awesome mom who made us two of these poles, so we can practice!  With all of the rain, we've desperately needed to have something to do to get Bar's energy out, so class started at the perfect time!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Not a Therapy Dog Yet

I'll cut to the chase.  Barley and I did not pass our TDI test, and it wasn't nearly as good an attempt as the first try.  It's ok, though.  In reality, with the end of the semester quickly approaching and my slightly southern migration to my parents' house for the holidays for a few weeks in December and then the start of the spring semester and new classes, I wouldn't have much time to devote to therapy dog visits until probably mid-March anyway, so while our certification might have been delayed a bit, therapy visits really haven't.  So, we're going to spend the next six months really training and focusing and then test again in the spring whenever out training center offers it.

It's also ok because I just have a really awesome dog.  Even though we didn't pass, she still did really well on the things she passed.

So excited before the test.  Don't judge me by the dog fur on the side of the front seat.
Heeling was awesome.  She was with me the whole time with a loose lead.

She was perfect for accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, and appearance and grooming.

She sat and conquered our problem area from last time--down on command--and did a beautiful recall.

Reaction to another dog went ok the second try and really the first try wasn't bad; she just wanted to say hello and the dogs aren't allowed to cross in front of you, but there was no growling or barking or mohawking of her back fur.

Our first problem area was reaction to distractions, which was strange because Barley is usually fairly oblivious to the world around us when there aren't dogs and squirrels involved.  She was fine with the clanking of metal objects, but responding to someone jogging by was the problem.  (So, I hope her Aunt L is ready to help us practice at Thanksgiving and Christmas by jogging past us daily!  Maybe it will be good running blog material to talk about the vicious Honey Badger Barley!) We see a lot of joggers at the Geneva State Park and a couple in our neighborhood, and Bar's never given them more than a passing glance.  But today, she decided she wanted to bark at the jogger during our test.  That is not acceptable.  Then when we tried a second time with a different jogger, she didn't bark but she did try to approach the jogger.  I felt a little bad--the first jogger was a pre-teen boy and even though Barley wasn't barking aggressively and was just being noisy, she scared him.

Supervised separation wasn't perfect, but I don't think we would have failed for it.  She whimpered a bit, but I don't think it would have been considered more than "mild agitation" if everything else had gone well.  I think that one is harder on me than it is on her--although I did get to pet a sweet golden retriever (my first dog breed love) while we were separated.

Most of the items that are just on the TDI test and not the Canine Good Citizen test were cake, though.  She was not bothered at all by the medical equipment, the infirmities (I think I was more bothered by people hacking and wheezing than she was--damn hypochondria), and reaction to children.  She didn't bat an eye at any of those things.  She was even more perfect with the Say Hello item, which is approaching someone in a wheelchair to be pet.  Even though the person in the wheel chair wasn't actually in need of a wheelchair, Barley acted as if she needed to be extra gentle.  She is so good in these situations--just like she is with our neighbor with special needs (sorry if that's not the politically correct term--I can never keep up with what's in fashion now)--she approaches so slowly and calmly and sets her chin on the person's knee and lets them pet her and then after a few seconds of getting to know each other the crazy tail wagging begins.  But she never jumps or acts like a crazy dog.

Our other huge problem area was Leave-It.  I take full responsibility for this one.  We haven't practiced nearly as much as we should have.  I know she's food motivated, so it didn't surprise me at all when she  saw the chicken and cheese on the floor and acted like she'd never seen a meal before.  I was a little surprised that she didn't even pretend to pay attention to me when I said "Leave it" or "Watch," though.  I thought after we passed two glazed donuts on the side of the road during yesterday's walk and all of the left over Grape Jamboree food a few weekends ago that we could make it through this one.  But from now on, we're practicing inside with  people food at least once a day until we pass.  I really can't blame her for living to eat, though, when my whole life revolves around meal time.

Even though we didn't pass, it's still been a good day.  We woke up early (for a Saturday) and walked two miles at the State Park.  It was cloudy and preparing to rain--which happened while we were warming up in the yard at the training center--but it was a really nice morning.  We had good interactions with other dogs and some good reinforcement of heeling, stays, and recalls.  And we got a couple cute pictures (as far as pictures with my stupid phone can be called cute).
Ears blowing in the wind in front of my favorite tree and picnic table in the park.
Watching the clouds roll in over the marina.
Probably the best news of the day is that I got a $500 check from State Farm today!  Almost a year ago, my 5-month-old awesome car was hit and the woman didn't actually provide me or the cop with accurate information, so I had to pay my deductible to get it fixed.  They finally got that resolved and recovered the money they had to pay as well as my deductible, so that was a lovely surprise to have in my mailbox this morning.  I almost burst into tears when I opened that envelope!

This also means that Barley and I can afford to sign up for a new class at the training center again! So, I've emailed our trainer to see which class (agility, repeat of obedience, etc.) would be best to help Barley with the issues we had today.

So there are no regrets and no sadness over today's test results.  When I got this dog almost two years ago, I never would have thought we'd do as well as we did today, so, to me, this is a training victory.  We've come a long way and I can't wait to see where we end up together.

Friday, October 19, 2012

1 Day to Test Day!

Last night, Barley and I took a much needed break from work (for me!) and training (for her) to have a little fun with our friends.  

This has been a rough month of grading and other stress (and how is it possible that there are still 12 days left in it?!).  Last weekend, I graded so many papers that my hand was inflamed and swollen and I couldn't hold a pen anymore by Tuesday afternoon (which I decided was a good enough reason to not grade anymore this week), so we needed a night off of everything serious.

We went to my friend Abby's house for a girls night (plus her two boy dogs) with Abby and my friend Laurie that involved Chinese, cupcakes, and pumpkin carving (oh my!).

Part of my birthday present from my best friend was Crate & Barrel devil's food cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting and halloween cupcake papers, so the girls and I decided our pumpkin carving party was the perfect occasion to make them.  (And they were delicious!)

We also carved really awesome pumpkins--although we felt a little inferior in our carving skills because we've all been watching too many episodes of Food Network Challenge lately and have seen the work of the professional carvers . . . ours are a little rougher around the edges (literally).

Abby's skeleton, Laurie's bat, and my raven :)
Crux was very impressed by his mama's work 
Soth loves family photo time
Barley got to spend the evening stealing pumpkin guts (she also ate part of the lid to my poor pumpkin on the ride home!) and romping with her BFF Paradox--neither one of them held still long enough to get a picture during the carving party.

We both slept beautifully until 9:30 this morning (with the exception of Soth's morning wake up call at 6:30 that got him kicked out of the bedroom).  Since we were both recharged, I figured we should start our morning with a walk down to the park to practice heeling and stays and recalls; we even got a bonus lesson in downs on wet grass--if only we'd had that practice a month ago ;)
Sitting in heel position--she's focused on something (but it's not me!)
Heeling so beautifully.
You want me to do what?!
That's right, I wanted her to stay down in the wet grass and leaves. Doesn't she look happy about it?

Look at the crazy face I get to see during recall!  She's running like the wind :)
Yup, I made her down in the grass again! And she's still grinning.
But there's a bigger grin when I let her sit in it instead. 
Just a little proof that the ground was wet.
Our test appointment is at 2:15 tomorrow afternoon!  Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

One Week 'til Test Day

Tests always seem to sneak up on us.  I had grand plans to practice several times a day every day between our last test and this one, but then last weekend rolled around and I realized that we had 2 weeks until our test and we'd done very little practicing besides our regular heeling and leave it on walks (and of course practicing stay during our extensive scarecrow photoshoot at the Arboretum last week).

This week, we've been better.  Barley's really making progress walking over food on the floor--although she's still a little more interested in it than I'd like, so hopefully over the next few days we'll work on that.  We started on Monday using half of the worst PB sandwich ever (I have got to remember that even though reduced fat peanut butter is healthier it also tastes like paste and is not a satisfactory lunch).  Luckily, Barley doesn't mind pasty PB, so I figured the half of the sandwich I couldn't gag down would be the perfect temptation.  So, I made a circle of toys, a rawhide, and the terrible sandwich and we got to work.  The first few times around were rough.  She was straining to get to that sandwich and the rawhide even when she was on the outside while we looped around.  She grabbed the sandwich on our first loop with her on the inside, but dropped it when I said leave it for the 5th time--and it survived without a bite being taken out of it.  After that, something clicked and we walked right over the sandwich and the rawhide multiple times without incident.

We've also successfully walked over cat food and a bowl of dog treats this week.  This morning we used the plastic container that the apple dumplings I bought at the grocery store came in (curse Giant Eagle for putting out wonderful fall snacks that I have no will power to avoid).  She really wanted the yummy, gooey, cinnamony goodness in the bottom of the container, but she decided she wanted to listen to my commands more and did a great job.

Today we walked down the street to the park to practice some sit stays and down stays.  There was a lot of traffic going by this morning, but Bar did well even with the added distractions.

This is boring! Give me something more challenging! 

Laying down on crunchy leaves is almost as bad as doing it in wet grass.
So, it looks like we stand a chance of passing this time around.  As long as there aren't pumpkin pancakes to walk over on the test!
Please share pancakes with me!
Seasonal pancake recipe from my sister and seasonal coffee mug from my BFF! Yay fall!

The only other obstacle is going to be getting out from under the covers to keep practicing for the rest of the week.  It's gotten cold here!  According to weather.com, it was 45 degrees, but felt like 38 when we started our walk this morning--my ears are still not all the way warm!
Barley trying to snuggle on the forbidden couch.  She was kicked off as soon as the picture was taken.
Insisting that I share my blanket with her.
And just because I couldn't go a whole post without mentioning my handsome man cat, here's a picture of my sweet boy looking slimmer than before.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Normal Dog

Yesterday, to celebrate my birthday Barley and I went to our favorite place, the Holden Arboretum, to check out the setup for Goblins in the Garden--especially Scarecrow Row.  We found a Charlie Brown scarecrow and I had to take a picture.

Barley's excited about the Great Pumpkin!
Last December, Barley and I watched I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown.  Usually, I am not a huge Charlie Brown fan, but this show and the Great Pumpkin are the exceptions, and having had Barley for almost a year at that point, I could relate to this episode even more.  In I Want a Dog for Christmas, Rerun desperately wants a dog for Christmas, but his mom won't let him have one.  In one scene, Snoopy has done something weird and Charlie Brown laments, "Why can't I have a normal dog like everyone else?"  Rerun reminds him that he's lucky to have a dog at all. 

Last December, I felt the way Rerun thought Charlie Brown should feel--I was lucky to have a dog.  Now, as Barley and I wait for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin 10 months later, I feel like I'm lucky to have this dog.

In his dog books, Jon Katz frequently quotes his dog trainer as telling him that "if you want a better dog, be a better human."  In the almost two years that I've had Barley, I feel like I've become a better person.  In The Story of Rose, Katz discusses his life with his border collie Rose and reflects on their time training and working together: "From the first, my work with her challenged me to be a better, more patient and empathic human.  Dogs do that for us.  They make us better if we listen to them and learn from them."  I think my work with Barley has done the same thing for me.

In most of his books, Katz discusses the idea of a lifetime dog--he doesn't seem to come to clear conclusions about whether one can have more than one lifetime dog, but I like to think that you can.  Katz defines lifetime dogs in a couple different ways.  One definition is "Lifetime dogs are dogs we love in especially powerful, sometimes inexplicable ways."  The other is a dog "that enters your life at a particular, critical point and changes or affects you in ways no other animal can or will."  Based on these definitions, I've had two.

My prettiest girl, Possum.
I got Possum for my 2nd birthday--before I even had a sibling!  My earliest memory is of bringing her home--I remember the leashes and collars hanging on the wall in the shelter and having her in my dad's car that had a leaky sunroof.  We grew up together--we shared cookies and water and helped my mom get over her obsessive hand washing between touching the dog and touching me; we ran away from home together; we fought (especially when she ate my Minnie Mouse shoes and my Miss Piggy toy's legs); we watched Lassie together and she got my mom when I fell and had a rusty nail go through my knee; she was my friend when we moved and I didn't know anyone.  She was everything a dog should be, and she was my best friend.  I loved her and still cry, 12 years after her death, when I think about her; for years, even after we moved to a house she'd never been to, I would still think I saw her sleeping on the rug beside my parents' bed.  I will never have another dog like Possum.  But, Possum and I were babies together, so the second definition doesn't really apply to our relationship.

This crazy girl is the complete opposite of my Possum in every way . . . and I wouldn't have her any other way!
Barley, on the other hand, has changed my life in ways I never thought possible as I've talked about elsewhere.  Katz writes, "I have read and come to believe that without the natural world, without animals, humans are broken, that something is missing from us and our own humanity."  Even though Barley and I spend a lot of time working together and adventuring on our own (or hiding from my neighbors . . .), she really has reconnected me with humanity.   She helped me connect with my neighborhood--before Barley I never just walked around the neighborhood, now I do almost daily--and she forces me to acknowledge strangers because people can't help but comment on what a cool dog she is.  She also helps me be more patient with people--for example, one day, we were walking in the neighborhood along a relatively busy street, so we had to stay on the sidewalk; we eventually caught up to two twitterpated teens who were walking (ok, stumbling) down the sidewalk with their arms around each other and completely oblivious to the world around them.  Initially, I was annoyed that they forced us to slow down, but then they realized we were behind them and moved over for us.  The boy looked at Barley and said, "Wow, that's a really cool dog" and held his hand out for her to lick.  All of my frustration with the oblivious teens was erased.  Some times, I forget that it's ok to slow down and that everyone doesn't always have to move at my pace.

I am so excited to eventually get our TDI certification because I think Barley's real gift is making people happy.  Katz spends a lot of time in his books talking about how every dog needs work, and for some it's just loving their family, for others it's chasing balls or herding sheep, but every dog needs a job.  Until I got Barley, I had never thought of dogs needing work, but she made me realize that she definitely needs a job.  Recently, I've realized that her real work is making people smile.  When we walk, if someone fails to comment on how cute she is as we cross paths, she will look over her shoulder and watch them as we keep walking like "How dare you not acknowledge my presence?"  At first, I thought this was because she was just vain, but now I think she genuinely enjoys seeing people smile.

Yesterday, there were lots of school groups at the arboretum.  We waited for a long time for the staircase from the boardwalk to the main trail to be clear.  When we got close to the top, I realized there were two chaperones and a little girl standing there watching the rest of the class walking along the boardwalk.  One of the chaperones said, "Oh, what a cute dog!  You'll be the highlight of our trip.  Oh, don't you just look like you're smiling!"  We stopped for a minute and everyone pet Barley and got some kisses--even the girl who had been hiding between the chaperones as we had climbed the stairs.
Who wouldn't smile seeing this crazy face :)
Today, we saw our neighbor from the group home, who I believe has Down Syndrome, riding his bike around the block as he does multiple times each day.  He and Barley have a special bond.  If he sees us and we're across the street, he yells out "Hi, Doggie!"  If we're on the same side of the street, he stops his bike, pets Barley, and says, "She just loves people, doesn't she?" before riding off.  Barley sits patiently and wags her tail the whole time and usually gives him one or two licks on the hand.  She doesn't even mind when he almost drools on her.  

So, even though Barley is not the calm, patient dog that my Possum was, I wouldn't trade her for anything.  I love that I can't answer the phone while we're walking because she needs me to be 100% focused on her.  I love that she does look like she's smiling all the time.  I love that she loves almost every person we meet and expects them to love her back.  So, I'm not just lucky to have a dog.  I'm lucky to have Barley--even if she's as far from normal as a dog can get--and I can't wait to be able to share her with other people who need her presence in their lives.

Smiling by the sheep scarecrow.

I will border collie stare you until you do what I say.