Friday, February 15, 2013

Learning to Like My Dog

From the moment I took Barley out of the kennel at the APL, I loved her.  She's goofy and happy and affectionate and fluffy.  It's hard not to love her.

But, at times, it's been hard to like her.  The first time I saw her lunge and heard her snarl at another dog, I was terrified (actually, it was probably more like the first 50 times I experienced this that I was terrified).  Then we met our wonderful trainer and she helped me understand my dog.  She helped me understand how eager my dog is to please me and how she's not a mean dog, she's a reactive dog who needs a little more space to feel comfortable.  Probably the best way to explain what I learned about my dog is with this poster I saw online:
Barley wants to behave and wants to get along with other dogs--she has a handful of dogs that she loves romping around with--but she gets nervous when other dogs get excited; usually, it's high-energy or yappy dogs that set her off; if a dog sits calmly and quietly while we walk by, Barley's golden--she's alert with her ears and tail stiff, but she doesn't lunge or growl or bark.  As soon as another dog starts running or barking, she loses her mind; if I can anticipate it before it happens, I can give her commands to keep her on track, but it's not always that easy.  Our agility trainer pointed us to an article that also explains our life pretty well as well as our training struggles, but it's pretty lengthy and doesn't have cute pictures to illustrate it.

We've come a long way, and now as long as I walk with a bag full of treats (a.k.a. my pocket full of sunshine), we can usually take excellent walks in the neighborhood without having any issues.  Sometimes, we take a few steps backwards, though.

On Monday night, we had a rough night in class.  Our agility classes are six-week sessions, so the sixth week is always a practice course--the trainer sets up a jump sequence and a couple other obstacles (this time it was just a long, curved tunnel and 5 regular jumps, one double jump, and a table).  Jump sequences are hard for me because class is at 8:15 p.m. on the day I have the most classes and I struggle with remember my left from my right when I'm not tired!  But, when we practice at home or in small groups in class, Barley usually does pretty well and humors me.
Seriously, look at all these little lines!  how am I supposed to remember this at the end of the day?

We so need this t-shirt (but I probably should limit myself to the 3 border collie tees I already have!)
During the practice course, I always kind of expect Barley to go nuts for a minute--she doesn't get a lot of opportunity to just run, so having 3/4 of a huge gym to herself has got to be tempting, and I feel kind of bad stopping her when she's having fun, and after she gets the crazy out of her system, she usually refocuses and works well.  This week, she was not interested in focusing or working or paying any attention to me.  (Luckily, the gates were closed all the way, so she was contained this time!)  Twice, at the instruction of our trainer, I had to sit down in the middle of the course because Barley was not responding to my commands to come front or heel and could not have cared less if I tried to run away from her.  So, our trainer said to sit down so she'd think I wasn't interested in chasing her--it worked; she ran right up to me and dropped to the floor for a belly rub.  Eventually, she did was she was supposed to, but we did not have our best runs ever on the course.

The on-course woes were nothing compared to our off-course problems, though.

Our biggest problem was Barley's vendetta against the keeshond in class.  We took a class with the keeshond in the summer and despite her bounciness and barkiness, Barley did well with her.  Occasionally, she'd let out a bark, but our trainer taught us doggy pushups (down-sit-down. sit-stand-sit, stand-down-stand, etc.) to get her refocused.  But we were also taking two classes during the summer session, so we were in formal training twice a week and had just finished training for the CGC test and were training for TDI and hiking 3-5 miles a day; I wasn't teaching in the summer, so Barley had my undivided attention all day, every day and we trained hard.  During the school year, we still train, but not as much and we don't have time for 3-5 miles every single day, so she's not going to be as focused then, especially after spending 7 hours in her crate on Mondays before class.  So, the keeshond's owner has repeatedly asked me if Barley's ok since she's a little more obstinate in this class than she was in our previous class together.

During the sixth week, we all sit in chairs in a small part of the room while the course is set up on the other side of the gate.  Barley and I usually sit as far over as we can get so that there's only one dog beside us and the wall on the other side, and usually the other dog is our black lab sorta friend from the last session who is insanely calm and falls asleep during class while waiting her turn, so Barley is usually excited but not reactive as long as I make her think while she waits.  This week, though, the keeshond beat us to the wall, and we ended up between her and the lab.  Barley decided that was not going to work.  While I was chatting with the lab's owner, Barley leapt into the keeshond owner's lap to get to her dog.  I snatched her away, walked a couple laps to get her focused again, and went back to our chair.  We did some pushups.  She was good for a few minutes.  Then it happened again.  The keeshond's owner moved her chair.  Barley barked at the keeshond one more time during the night, but we spent the rest of the night doing pushups and playing the your choice game (with the treats on the paws) while waiting our turn.

It was a frustrating night to say the least.  I get so confident in our ability to function around other dogs--and maybe that's the problem, maybe I get too comfortable and don't give Barley  enough reassurance--then we have nights like this where she has a relapse and other people in class look at us like we shouldn't be there.  When we first started training, I didn't think we'd ever be able to be around other dogs, especially in a high-energy setting like agility class, so I know we've come along way.  But, Monday night made me remember how hard our first year together was and it was just frustrating and embarrassing and for a little bit it was hard to remember that I genuinely like my dog and wouldn't want to have a different dog even if that meant we weren't constantly training.

Luckily, Valentine's Day showed up just in time and made me reflect on even more of the reasons I have the best dog I could have possibly picked out.  I got a dog that keeps me on my toes and loves me no matter how cranky and irrational I get at times.

Our yellow cute stuff heart was nowhere to be found

*Quick Soth Update* I don't want to jinx anything, but for the last several days (maybe 5?) Soth has been mostly using his box and the only place he's gone out of the box is the bathtub (which I will take over the alternatives of my shoes, bills, printer, purses, jackets, etc.) AND the biggest news there hasn't been ANY trace of blood in the puddles in the tub.  He's not acting uncomfortable or crying much at all.  I'm not going to get my hopes up that he's cured--he's still only going a tiny amount at a time and he's still going really really really frequently, so I'm pretty sure when we go to the vet in a couple weeks she'll still find that Soth's bladder is small and hard, but if there's not blood in his urine then the inflammation has gone down and he's not in much pain.  We can deal with a small bladder if he's not in pain--it might be inconvenient, but it's not anything we can't live with.  So, fingers crossed that the inflammation doesn't come back!
Sweet one decided to cuddle while I typed this.
 *Resolution Update* We've walked 27.81 miles, so we have 16.69 miles to meet our minimum goal of 44.5 miles this month--and 13 days to do that in!  No sweat!

So, I'll leave you with a couple of the "best" shots from the Valentine's photoshoot I forced Barley to do--I thought it was only appropriate to have a picture of us with the PhotoBooth lovestruck effect on Valentine's Day, but Barley wasn't as interested in that idea as I was--I am the only one feeling the love.


  1. I agree that it's hard not to love Bar Bar! I think she has to relapse sometimes so you remember how far she's come ;-) Glad to hear Bun is doing better! Love you all!

  2. I so know where you are coming from with the loving but not liking thing! I love Marley more than anything but life with him can sometimes be really stressful and he makes it really difficult to like him sometimes! I have to remind myself how much I love him and show him the love to make things better! I'm glad Soth is going well xxx