Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lazy Saturday: What's That?

As I've mentioned, normally after our ridiculously early Saturday morning dog class, Barley and I come back home and take a very long nap and then maybe take a walk and then laze around the rest of the day.

Yesterday, that was not the case.  I was on-the-go for a solid 13 hours!

First, we had class where we pushed the limits of our "What's that?" practice; our trainer took away the partitions between three of the four dogs (the dog behind the sheet stayed behind her partition--BUT by the end of class the sheets were all gone and she was doing great!).  Then she used little gates to block off a large square area and we took turns doing heeling exercises in the fenced off area while the dogs outside the area worked on remaining calm while another dog was moving.  We even got to do a little off-leash heeling inside the square since we were doing so well!

Throughout the class, our trainer would move our mats closer and closer to the fenced area.  By the end of class, Barley's mat was inches from the fence and she didn't even bat an eyelash when the other dogs were moving around near her.  It was incredible.  Eventually, the trainer started moving some of the parts of the fence away, too, and all of the dogs did really well.  None of them even noticed the other dogs were there.

We also worked on some calming, petting, massaging techniques--that will be great to use during week 6 of agility while other dogs are running around and in places like the vet's office.  We worked on long, slow pets starting from the neck down to the tail.  We worked on petting the tail into a relaxed position to show other dogs your dog isn't a threat and to trick your dog's brain into thinking it must be relaxed if its tail is.  We did the same thing with the ears and massaging them into a relaxed position.  We also worked on air pets--which is just what it sounds like--the petting equivalent of an air hug/kiss.  Barley does not like air pets.  She looks at me like I'm nuts and wiggles around so she bumps into my hand so I have to really pet her.  We'll be avoiding air petting.  (I tried air pets on Soth, too, and even my grumpy little cat thinks they are weird.)

The dog behind the sheet was less barky this week.  She might not be able to come out from behind her partition in this session, but she has made a lot of progress, and Barley didn't show nearly as much stress this week when the barking happened as she did last week--and it was much easier to get her focus back when she did get nervous.

After class, we mad a quick stop at PetSmart so I could get more cat food, more treats, and of course, a new toy or two.  Soth ended up getting spoiled--they remodeled the store and got in lots of new cat toys and they were super cute, and it wasn't until I got home that I realized just how many cat toys had been thrown in the cat.  Oh well, I guess now I can throw away the toys he has peed on instead of continually trying to wash them.

Then it was off to the Arboretum where things are finally starting to bloom.  We didn't get to enjoy the blooms too much, though.  It was their weekend long Arbor Day celebration, so admission was free and there were kids and small dogs and people galore.  We skipped the Rhododendron Garden and the Butterfly Garden, where most of the blooms would have been, and went adventuring in the woods.  Once we were in the woods, we saw a total for 5 people in 2 hours (which is 4 more than we usually see, but still significantly more peaceful than the main parts of the Arboretum).

I can't say that the overall trip was nice and relaxing.  Parts of it were, but I was on a little on edge.  Maybe it's because I knew that when we got home, I'd be tossing Bar in her crate and rushing off to meet my parents to plant flowers on my grandma's grave for the one year anniversary of her death.  Maybe it's because all three of my country music preset channels on the radio insisted on playing Toby Keith songs, of the past and present, and Grandma loved him--we used to joke that he was our step-grandpa.  Maybe it was because I was tired and I am never nice when I am tired, plus the coffee pot had malfunctioned and despite the empty reservoir, the coffee pot only had half the amount of coffee I was expecting it to have--which lead to some really disgusting, undrinkable coffee.  Maybe it was the sheer number of people at our usually peaceful place (after all, I am a bit misanthropic).  However, I prefer to blame it on the old man I originally parked next to in the parking lot.

When we got to the Arboretum, the parking lot was full.  There's a big field of additional parking, and in two years of membership at the Arboretum, I have never once seen a car parked there.  It was almost full.  So, I had to park in the field and when I got there, the first available spot was next to a car where an old man was standing with his doors wide open.  It was clear that we were supposed to take the first available spot from the waving of the parking attendants, so I parked as close as I could to the car with the open doors.  I turned off the car and started getting our stuff together.  Then the old man knocked on my window.  That sent Barley into a tizzy.  She was barking and growling.  Then the STUPID old man, reached for the door handle--he was going to open the door on the same side of the car Barley was on.  I knew if that happened, she would lunge at him and things wouldn't be pretty, so I turned the car back on and rolled the window down a crack.  He scolded me for not parking closer and said I was taking up 2 or 3 spots and needed to either move closer (although his doors were still wide open) or farther away (which I later found out was where a little group of killdeer were nesting on the ground and I would have squished them!).  Instead of scolding him for upsetting my dog and being dumb enough to even consider opening the door of a car with a visibly upset dog inside, I rolled up the window, said nothing, and moved my car to a completely different row.  Luckily, we didn't see him again.

Parts of the walk through the woods were great.  We went down on the boardwalk and it was warm enough (almost 70!) for Barley to get to enjoy splashing in the stream a little bit.  She pounced on minnows and quenched her thirst and attempted to herd the ripples in the water.  It was very entertaining.  We also got to enjoy seeing leaves starting to come back on the trees and hear lots and lots of birds.

We also got to visit the maple collection, which is basically just a big field with maples around it and a really pretty red barn (that I think actually belongs to someone and is not part of the arboretum) way in the background.  So, Barley and I usually stop there and sit in the grass and take a water break and a picture break.

Happy pup in the sun.
Her face is so disproportional to the rest of her body.

The trail was also ridiculously muddy in parts, though.  And, although my girliness has subsided a little since I got Barley, I still really hate to get muddy.  Most of the time, there were places where we could go off-trail a little bit and go around the mud, but there were a few times where it was unavoidable.

Practicing her balance for agility!
We also had a moment that was straight out of a movie (you can decide if it's from a horror movie or a comedy).  The trail we like to take goes up to the maple collection and then you either go back the way you came or you can get on another trail that is a loop with two different places to cross the stream.  If you turn one direction, you get to a nice flat spot where the stream is relatively shallow and there are lots of rocks to hop across and then there's a medium-length staircase to take you back to the trail to the visitor's center.  If you take the other part, to cross the stream you have to go down a short staircase, then there's like a foot of space before the stream (and the stream is usually significantly deeper here), then you have like two big rocks to hop on and you have to hop directly from the second rock to another staircase.  Then you get to a HUGE staircase to take you back to the trail to the visitor's center.  I prefer the first option.  Maybe if I didn't have a dog who decided to occasionally herd the stream, I'd feel more confident about hopping across deeper water and going directly from a rock to a stair, but I do have a dog who's a little nutty, so I try to avoid that path if possible.  So, we went the easy way across the stream.  I let Bar play in the water for a few minutes before we attempted to hop across.  Then we made it to the other side with no incident.  The fun started when we got to the staircase--there was yellow caution tape blocking it off.  I looked around, and there was a steep path that looked like it would take us straight up to the point where the staircase went, so I figured even though my legs would probably hate me for it later, we may as well off-road it.  I'm not sure if it was muddy or just so many layers of leaves, but we were sinking deeper and deeper the farther we tried to go.  We turned around.  Then I saw another shorter path that was even steeper and it looked like it leveled off at the top and then met up with the trail near the top of the stairs.  We decided to try that.  As we were reaching the top, I realized that this hill was so steep that there was going to be no good way down should it not connect with the trail we wanted.  And guess what.  It did not connect to the trail we wanted.  So I stood at the top of a minute and wondered how we were ever going to get back down.  Then I saw a little tree and I knew that I could put Barley in a sit-stay and sort of slide down to that tree and then call her to heel and then we could repeat that and I'd be at the bottom of the hill.  It all started out just fine, but Barley had never seen me slide before and she got worried.  She ran to me, and in the process, wrapped her leash around the tree.  So there we were--stuck halfway down the hill with Barley's leash wrapped around the tree.  Eventually, after convincing Barley that I was fine, I got her untangled and we made it to the bottom, but it was not graceful!  My jeans were filthy!  We ended up having to go back to the trail, hop across the stream again, and then take the less desirable route with the multiple staircases.  What an adventure!

By the time we got back the car, my parents had texted me a meeting time and place, so I had just enough time to change into clean jeans and give Soth his lunch before rushing back out of the door to head to PA.  I met my parents for a couple lunch-time beers, and then we headed to the cemetery.  Even though Emily Dickinson's death poems are my favorite, I am not very good with death in my real life.  One time, my dad wanted to go put flowers on my grandpa's grave--I stayed in the car.  Luckily, I haven't had to deal with death often--my grandpa died when I was 3, so I don't remember that, and the three great-grandmas that were alive when I was born died when I was relatively young, too.  The few times I have had to deal with it, I just really haven't dealt with it.  A friend died from cancer the summer after I graduated high school.  I went to the calling hours, but decided that was enough and skipped the funeral.  My first dog died the summer after my sophomore year in high school, and I stayed inside while the rest of the family went out to bury her in the yard.  When my grandma died, I told my best friend and then two coworkers who knew I had gone to visit her in the hospital, but that was it.  In fact, most of my friends still don't even know she's gone (living in a different state from the majority of your friends makes this very easy to do).

We were going to have some sort of service for my grandma--she wasn't religious, so we weren't going to do the whole funeral with a priest thing, but something at the grave with my siblings and parents to bury the ashes.  Summer was right around the corner, so we were going to pick a time that worked for all of our schedules (which shouldn't have been hard since my sister and I weren't working and my brother was still looking for a job), but for some reason, Dad just never picked a day (maybe this is where I get my inability to face death from?).  Then one day, Mom told me that Dad had had the funeral home bury the ashes.  I guess he thought they'd been holding them too long?

Since today is the anniversary, I asked Mom if they were going to the cemetery, which is less than an hour from my house.  I felt like I needed to go.  Dad wasn't planning on it, but since I'd brought it up he suggested we go yesterday.  I think we all needed it.  We planted flowers, made inappropriate jokes that would have made my grandma laugh, and then left.  There were no tears, but it was emotionally exhausting.  I got home around 7:30 and stayed awake long enough to watch the end of the Pirates game (Raise the Jolly Roger!) and then was in bed before it was completely dark.

After 12 hours of sleep last night, I'm still kind of worn out.  It's past 11 a.m. and I'm still on the couch in lamb pajamas.  Eventually, I'll find the motivation to walk my dog and steam clean the carpets, but for now I'm just enjoying a snuggle session with my little man-cat.

If you feel so inclined today, lift up a red solo cup for my grandma.  Viv was a wonderful grandma and she's missed terribly, but after seeing her name next to my grandpa's I know she's in a better place.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Resolution Scramble

April has been a stinky month for reaching our resolution goals.  Between me having the plague and the never-ending cold, wet weather, we missed 6 days of walking; with Spring Break (which meant extra time for walking) in March, we set a tough goal to beat with that combination of problems: we had to walk 58.7 miles in April!

Even the days that we were able to walk, we only got in short walks on several of those days.  Either due to my inability to breathe or a hectic schedule (the last three Thursdays, I've had to go back to work--and Billy Collins!--so I was only home for 2 hours during the afternoon), we were struggling to meet our goal.

At the beginning of this week, we were at 35.39 miles for the month!  With only 10 days to get 23.31 miles in, and more cold, wet weather in the forecast, I was worried that we wouldn't meet our goal for the first time this year.  Luckily, Mother Nature gave us a couple days we could squeeze in 3+ mile walks and after two walks totally 6.5 miles today, we are right on track to meet our goal.  After today, we're at 52.43 miles with 4 days left to walk, so I think we are going to make it.

Sweet girl with crazy ears at the end of today's walk #2!
We got lots of good opportunities to practice "What's that?" on our walk today since there were lots of dogs out enjoying the sunshine (but none off-leash--yay!), so hopefully tomorrow's class will teach us all kinds of fun new tools.  Then we'll head out for an adventure somewhere since it's supposed to be even warmer and sunny again tomorrow!  Keep your fingers crossed that we can walk a little over 6 miles in four days!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hey, pretty girl, won't you look my way?

I know you've all been waiting on the edge of your seats to find out what the fake dogs were in Saturday's class, but there have been so many Barley-related things on my mind lately that I didn't even know where to start.

So, I guess, I'll just start with what you've all been waiting for: fake dogs!  Sadly, the fake dogs were a disappointment.  They were not like my dad's fake coyote or the robot dog I got one Christmas.  They were not taxidermied dogs.  Instead, they were just regular old stuffed toys.  A toy Boston Terrier and a toy Pomeranian.  Barley was intrigued by them for .2 seconds, but once she sniffed them, the charade was over.  First, our trainer pulled blankets off of the fake dogs and had their backs turned to the class.  Barley's ears perked up immediately.  Then we took turns walking down a path towards the dogs, practicing our "what's that" command as we walked by the real dogs in class and as we got closer to the fake dogs.  Then our trainer would turn the dogs to face us to take things up to the next level.  Then we got close enough that Barley could sniff them, but after a quick sniff she was no longer interested in them.  Our trainer said she's bringing a fake Jack Russell for us to work with next week.
Doing her best impression of a fake dog under a blanket.
So, we spent a lot of time working on "what's that" during class.  Every time a dog walked down the path to the fake dogs, we did "what's that."  Then we worked more when it was our turn to walk.  Barley was doing a great job.  She got to the point by the end of class where she'd look at the other dogs and then look at me before I even said "what's that."  On the way to class, we heard Kip Moore's "Hey Pretty Girl," which seemed appropriate for a class that was totally focused on getting my dog to look at me.

We also did some more mat work, but I'm still not exactly sure what we're supposed to be doing with it other than feeding them treats when they step/sit on the mat.
Enjoying her mat in the sunshine.
Sibling kisses on the mat. Barley's good at sharing.
Class really seems to be paying off.  Having other dogs, including one that is very barky and has to stay not only behind a partition but behind a sheet covering the partition, in a controlled environment has been a great opportunity to practice things that we have been doing on walks for two years.  It's a lot easier to get Barley used to being in high stress situations when all of the other dogs are under control.  Getting Barley to focus on me is a lot harder when there are off-leash dogs (or even tethered dogs) barking and lunging at us with no owners around to help diffuse the situation.  After just two weeks of working with the other dogs in class, Barley's been a lot more focused on our walks.  An off-leash Pomeranian charged at us on a walk on Sunday and Barley stayed with me and Barley glanced at the dog (and I threw treats behind us to get the Pom to stop for a second so we could get farther away).  Yesterday, a dog got away from it's owners and ran up to us on our walk (and just wanted to play, but Barley doesn't understand that).  I didn't want to keep walking because it was a busy road, so I didn't want the pup running any farther away while its owners were trying to get it, and Barley sat and watched me (uncomfortably) while the pup sniffed her until its owners could collect her.  We even saw a Jack Russell (not the neighbor's) running with its owners at the ball park we walk by all the time, and even though Barley was super interested, she didn't lunge or bark.  SUCCESS!  It's a beautiful feeling.  Barley was even relatively under control during agility class on Monday night.  She even laid down next to the keeshond in class--and WAS NOT in sphinx position!  She was relaxed!
She hopped up to see what was making noise in the parking lot, but didn't bark!
Saturday's class got started with some sad news, though.  One of the dogs that had been in our first Saturday class had a seizure and died a few days after class.  It got class started off on a somber note, and then made my hypochondria go crazy later in the night.  Barley's dishes are under a counter in my kitchen and her bowls had gotten pushed back farther than usual.  In her dinner excitement, she slammed her head on the counter and was a little off for the rest of the night; I was convinced she was concussed and was on edge all night watching her.

Even though we had a lot of success in Saturday's class, Barley was incredibly stressed during the end of class.  The dog behind the sheet is set up in the partitioned section next to us and is very reactive, not just to other dogs, but to people.  When the trainer walks up, she barks and jumps and pulls (although by the end of each class she has been still and quiet when the trainer approaches, so she's making progress, too!).  The fake dogs really pushed that dog's limits--she didn't even walk near them; the trainer set them up in front of her section, first just one dog, then the second, and kept their backs turned toward her; then she turned them one at a time and gradually moved the closer, but the other dog barked a lot.  Barley was so nervous.  Every time the dog would bark, she'd pin her ears back and look for a place to hide.  Her tail was wagging non-stop--but not the crazy Barley wagging, it was stress wagging.  It's so hard to see her stressed out like that.  Eventually, after we played the one-hour down game, her tail stopped moving and her ears were a little more normal, but it breaks my heart to not have a quick and easy way to let her know that everything's ok.  On today's walk, two dogs behind a fence were barking and her ears went back and she slinked along and then a loud car drove by and Barley jumped back and cowered.  While it was funny that one time seeing her jump back from the rock at Meditation Point at the arboretum, it was tough to see her doing it out in the real world with cars and dogs, things that actually can be scary.

Barley had a fun visit with her Uncle Ben on Sunday night, though, so that hopefully outweighed some of the other trauma she went through with off-leash dogs, barking dogs, and loud cars.  My baby bro had an interview nearby on Monday, so he spent the night on Sunday to avoid having to leave my parents' house at the crack of dawn.
Uncle Ben is here!!
Barley's only favorite uncle.
Ben had barely made it in the door before Barley herded him into the middle of the room and then started tossing toys in the air.  Then she pounced on him for some snuggle time.

I also had an exciting adventure on Thursday.  One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, did a poetry reading, so I met up my parents and went to see him.  I got a few books signed and we had a lot of laughs listening to the reading.
Laughing with Billy Collins--no big deal.
Soth's also doing really well.  He's been sticking to the litter box, eating like a pig, and climbing like a little monkey.
How did he get up there with a wall of clothes blocking the shelves and a tiny spot to sit?
Hope that everyone's having a wonderful National Poetry Month and that you're all getting a little sunshine and warmth to soak up!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Blog the Change: 4 Reasons to Train Your Dog (for life!)

Choosing a topic for Blog the Change was a tough choice.  So many animal-related causes are near and dear to my heart.  My first involvement in an animal-related cause was a group dedicated to saving right whales in southeastern Georgia when I was in elementary school.  I remember very vividly going to a meeting in a small conference room with my dad and hearing about the different projects the group was working on, including finding funds for a right whale statue.  I got a t-shirt and a pin--I still have the pin somewhere at my parents' house.  (I also vividly remember being angry at my mom for not allowing me to skip school to help volunteers get a beached right whale back into the ocean--my school was across from the beach.)

I'm also a huge supporter of adopting shelter animals.  Every pet I've had has come from a shelter.  My earliest memory is of bringing my first dog, Possum, home from the shelter.  For the entirety of the time the USPS had adopt a shelter pet stamps, I refused to use any other stamps.

Then there's spaying and neutering pets.  And our vet sent out a reminder that this is National Pet ID week, so that brings us to microchipping and ID tags.  Most recently, I've become a supporter of The Yellow Dog Project and DINOS--even more so after several run-ins with off-leash dogs.  I also try to speak up for pit bulls and other bully breeds.  And how could I forget raising awareness of the dangers of xylitol--the sweetener in sugar-free gum that could have killed my sweet pup.

So, with so many incredible animal-related causes out there, choosing one focus for today was tough.  But I've decided to go with the topic I deal with every single day because it relates to so many other animal issues.   Without further ado, here are my top 4 reasons to train your dog beyond sit, down, and shake.

All you need is love.

4. It gives you a support system.
  Whether you train your dog formally by visiting trainers or through your own research, you connect with so many people who understand what you're going through.  Before I started working with our first trainer, I had posted a status on Facebook that said something along the lines of "Why does my dog want to eat every single dog we see?"  A Facebook friend that is more of a real-life acquaintance from college had responded that her dog had similar issues and offered advice about training; since then, we have swapped success (and failure) stories, discussed The Yellow Dog Project, and many other dog-related ideas.  She's been a great resource, and someone that understands what I'm going through.  Reading books about training dogs has offered a similar solace--even though I don't directly communicate with the authors of the books or the people they mention in their books, they're good reminders that I'm not alone in having a crazy mutt!  And of course, the formal training at our training center has been invaluable for my support system--trainers pass on helpful articles and offer advice and exercises while our classmates swap stories of similar adventures they've had with their dogs (ex. a couple weeks before Barley's spring break butter incident, a dog from our agility class at two sticks of string cheese, including the plastic wrappers).  It helps to know you're not alone.

It's hard to put away clothes this way.
3. Dogs need work.  Before reading Jon Katz's border collie books, I'd never thought much about dogs working.  Of course, I'd thought of service dogs and police dogs, and I'd met Great Pyrenees working dogs on an alpaca farm, but I never thought of pet dogs needing work.  After all, my dogs growing up didn't have jobs and their tricks ended with learning to shake, so why would a pet dog need work?  Katz says that for some dogs, their work is love--he talks about his labs being this kind of dog, and I think my dogs growing up were this kind of dog.  But I've learned that's not enough for all dogs.  Dogs need to use their brains.  They like to learn.  And, living with a herding dog, my dog needs more work than just love if Soth and I are going to survive under the same roof with her.  I have a friend whose dog has destroyed purses, jackets, cameras, books, dvds, all in addition to destroying his own toys.  She always laughs it off and says she'd rather have her dog than the stuff.  I agree--Barley's better than stuff any day, but when she's destroying things, it's because she's bored.  If I exhaust her mentally, she's well behaved.  My stuff survives.  She doesn't eat butter.  When she doesn't have a job to do, she is destructive--and why let her get away with ruining my belongings when the solution is so simple?  Why let her put herself in danger by eating things she shouldn't, when I can work on a new trick with her or let her practice jumping or see how many treats we can balance on her paws?

A tired dog is a good dog (even if a tired dog isn't necessarily a lady).
A good stay also provides more photo ops.
2. It keeps your dogs (and people) safer.  I know there will always be problems that arise and bad things can always happen, but if your dog knows commands like stay or watch, it can save their lives.  Watch is a great way to build a dog's confidence in environments they aren't comfortable in; in addition to keeping Barley from looking at other dogs on our walks, it's also a command that reassures her that I'm there and she's ok--when motorcyclists or loud vehicles go by, a watch command takes Barley's focus off the sounds that make her nervous--and jumpy, which could lead to jumping off the curb or a more negative reaction towards strangers/other dogs approaching at the same time--and gets her focus on me.  Training her to respond to my movements when we walk has also increased our safety.  Barley knows that when we get to an intersection and I start to slow down, she is supposed to sit and stay--and not cross over the curb--until I release her.  Even though we live in a small town with minimal traffic, it's still important that she knows not to charge out into the street. Stay has been invaluable on our hikes when we've been on parts of the trail that aren't wide enough for both of us--or inclines that are too steep for her to charge ahead of me.  Knowing that I can trust my dog to sit and stay while I walk to a wider part of the trail or to sit and stay and wait while I climb down a slope makes hiking all the more fun.  We wouldn't be able to explore nearly as many areas of I couldn't trust her stay.  When other people see that Barley responds to me so well on our walks, they feel more comfortable sharing the sidewalk with us.

1. It's a fun way to build your relationship with your dog.  When you train your dog, your bond strengthens--the dog is always looking to you to see what you'll do next, so you become the center of your dog's world.  You'll have failures--some will be frustrating, but a lot will be hilarious and enjoyable even if you don't get the results you need (for example, while working on jumps in class last week, one of our classmates decided to crawl under the jumps rather than going over them--the whole class was in tears we were laughing so hard--and then the dog did it twice more!).  You'll also appreciate your dog more because they won't constantly be getting into trouble, so you'll feel less frustrated with your dog on a daily basis.  The successes are amazing, too.  You'll see that a crazy border collie mix that used to sound like rapid Old Yeller every time you walked can become a canine good citizen.  You'll see a dog that had such bad separation anxiety that you couldn't even go the bathroom alone learn to snooze right through your movements from one part of the house to the next.  Most of all, though, you'll just have fun.

So, I encourage you to teach your dog a new trick or pick up a book of techniques related to your specific dog-related issues or call a trainer to get your dog involved in classes (you can search for trainers through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers here).

If humans step up and start training their pets, a lot of the other causes I support won't need as much support.  Most dogs that are returned to shelters for behavioral problems, especially problems like Barley's reactivity, are overlooked by potential adopters, but with a little training these dogs can become loving, integral parts of a family.  Issues like xylitol poisoning become less of an issue (although as the butter incident shows, not an issue that is ever entirely eliminated!) because dogs are less likely to get into things they shouldn't if they are kept busy.  Breed specific laws (BSL) stand a better chance of being eliminated; when breeds that are discriminated against by these laws are well trained, they prove all of the critics wrong and highlight what wonderful loving pets bully breeds can be.  Even problems like finding a place to rent while owning a dog become easier; landlords are much more likely to reconsider their pet policies if you can prove your dog is well behaved.  Plus, you might make new friends and discover new interests in the process, so really what excuse is there to not continue life-long-learning for your pet? ______________________________________________________________________

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cool Dog, School Dog (part 2)

I am not a morning person.  I never have been, never will be.  I've tried to make waking up early a habit.  For years, at the end of summer vacation, I'd start setting my alarm at the time I needed to get up regularly when school started again weeks ahead of time, only to spend each day crankier than the one before.  Finally, I gave up on that.  I love nights.  I love staying up until 2 a.m., reading, watching tv, or not really doing much of anything.  Even during weeks like this one when I've been battling a cold (or the plague or possibly popcorn lung) and taking NyQuil every night, I find it impossible to even think about getting ready for bed until at least 11 p.m.

So, understandably, I was less than thrilled when our trainer suggested that we sign up for her 8 a.m. Saturday morning reactive dog class.  Class is 30-40 minutes away depending on construction and traffic, and we like to get there about 10 minutes early to practice some calming exercises in the car, so signing up for the 8 a.m. class meant having to be out the door a few minutes after 7 (thank God it's only a 5 week class!).

Excited face!
Barley knew something was up when the alarm went off this morning.  In fact, she was so excited that she stepped in her water bowl while doing her morning breakfast dance and then limped (remember, we're talking about the diva who failed her TDI test because she didn't want to down in the wet grass) around the kitchen with her wet paw in the air until I finished getting the coffee brewing.

Somehow, we made it out of the door by 7:10 (with a thermos of coffee and lots of treats in tow) and pulled into the parking lot at the same time our trainer pulled up.  Since all of the dogs in class are reactive, we have to stay in our cars and let the trainer bring us into the building one at a time.  We have the whole gym to use and our trainer divided the room into a section with moveable lattice fences--most of the fences were left uncovered so the dogs could see each other a little bit, but the dog on the other side of us had to have sheets placed over the wall between its section and ours.  So, one at a time, we entered the gym and got to work on doggie push ups (sit-down-sit, sit-stand-sit) to get the dogs focused and relaxed.

Although Barley had been yawning the whole car ride to school, once we got in the gym (and in the presence of her favorite trainer) she was wide awake and ready to work.  Her energy was contagious (or the caffeine was starting to kick in) and pretty soon we were in our groove and it was like there wasn't another dog in the room.

Sphinx position
More relaxed
Today's lesson was mostly review for us and covered things we worked on during the course of our private lessons two summers ago.  After warming up with doggie pushups, we started the one-hour down game.  I had forgotten the name, but Barley knew what to do immediately.  In our first private lesson, we spent the entire time working on this game, which is supposed to reprogram your dog's brain to get their default mode to be calm when you're out and about and ignoring them.  Basically, you start out giving your dog the down command and then giving several treats in a row (between your dogs paws so they don't have to break position), one at a time, without standing up; then you move up to being able to stand straight up and then bend down immediately to give another treat; then standing up for 5 seconds before giving a treat.  Eventually, you get to moving around your dog--one step to the left then treat, one step to the right then feed, one step backwards, etc.--until you can walk a full circle around your dog before feeding.  The hard part is that if any time during the exercise your dog gets up, you have to start over.  And you can't give them the down command again.  And you can't look at them --and with a dog as cute as mine, that's the hardest part!  The dog has to figure out for itself what it did to get all of those treats in a row--and once it figures it out and downs on its own, then it gets the several treats in a row again and you start over.  Ideally, the dog will become more relaxed and move from lying in Sphinx position to having it's hips turned; in Sphinx position, the dog can pop right up (and since Barley's always raring to go, this is her default mode) and it's important to get dogs to be comfortable and relaxed in all types of environments if you don't want them to react to other dogs.  So, we did really well reviewing our one-hour down.  While our trainer was explaining it to the class and I was watching to see what we were doing, Barley went into a down since I wasn't looking at her and she continued to be excellent for the whole review.  She didn't break the down without the "okay" command the whole exercise.  We never got out of Sphinx position, but I was able to walk a circle around her with no problems.

Then we moved on to mat work.  We'd never done this before, but I think the goal is to give your dog a place to go where they know they are supposed to be calm.  Today, we just got them used to stepping (or sitting, down, whatever) on the mat.  If they sniffed it, stepped on it, sat on it, they got treats.  Our agility instructor has mentioned wanting to work on this with us to help calm Barley down between obstacles, but we haven't gotten to it in that class yet.  It might be great if we ever go to an agility trial, but I don't think it's going to be much help for dealing with our neighborhood dogs since when we're being approached by an off leash dog in the neighborhood, it's not really practical to roll out a mat while we're being charged at on a walk.  Barley loves blankets, rugs, beds, towels, so getting her to step on the mat was no challenge at all.  I'll keep you posted on what we actually end up doing with this.

The last thing we worked on today was targets: holding your hand out to the side and asking the dog to touch, eventually moving the hand higher and lower.  We've done this before, but I've been slack about it.  Barley has gotten bored in the past and would run away from me when we did target practice.  And since I've yet to find a practical use for other than a few tricks she could learn (ex. shaking her head no) with the help of targets, I quit practicing this one--but if our trainer says it's important for dealing with reactivity, we'll do it.  So far, we're just using hands as targets, which is good, because Barley's scared of the plastic targets or styrofoam balls on sticks and will cower if I break those out (another reason we quit target practice).  Our trainer said the reason Barley was not interested in the past is because she was too concerned with the treat hand and not concerned with the target hand, so she showed me how to use the treat hand and run the treat all the way down my arm and then onto the target hand.  By the end of class, Barley was standing on her hind legs to touch my hand when it was up in the air.  I'm still not sure what we'll use this for out in the world, but she's having fun with it, so that's ok.

We came home even more exhausted than we started the day out.  Barley immediately went back to bed and didn't even wake up to chase Soth when I got the vacuum out.
A tired dog is a good dog.
Soth's been lazy, too.  I'm not sure how he can weigh less each time we go to the vet, but look like such a little chunk in pictures.
I'm so glad that mental exhaustion = physical exhaustion for my pup because between hacking and coughing and sneezing, I haven't been up for cold, rainy walks.
Our backyard is proof of how rainy it's been this week.
Barley seems excited to be back to playing thinking games again, so we've had several short practice sessions after our naps.
Coach Soth is ready to supervise mat practice.
Our trainer recommended getting a can of compressed air, so that if the Jack Russell charges us again I can toss Barley inside and then spray the air towards the Jack Russell to teach it that charging at our door isn't fun (without actually doing anything that will hurt the dog), so we'll probably be investing in that soon.

Next week, our trainer said she's brining the FAKE DOGS(!!) to class for our lesson.  I have no idea what this means, but my imagination is going wild.  Will they be small robotic, remote control dogs like my grandma got me one Christmas?  Will they be like my dad's fake coyote he got to attract scare off the Canada Geese in his yard?  Will they be taxidermied dogs?  I am beyond excited/scared to find out!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


When I was about 3, I started having the only recurring dream that I've ever had.  I constantly dreamt that I was swimming in a pool with my dog, Possum, and that an evil scientist decided to release sharks into the pool.  I made it out of the pool, but Possum couldn't climb the ladder and was stuck in the pool with the sharks.  I continued to have this dream until Possum died when I was 16.

These days, I don't really have dreams about Barley being in trouble, but my conscious worries stem from the same place, worrying about my inability to keep my dog from harm.

As I've written in other posts, Barley is a reactive dog.  She's highly interested in other dogs and it takes her a long, long time to get used to be around other dogs.  With time and patience, she can be great with other dogs.  She loves snuggling on the couch with my parents' dog, and she enjoys romping with my friend's border collie-aussie mix.  It's taken a lot of work to get to that point, though.  We used to not be able to walk in our neighborhood without Barley lunging and snarling at other dogs we saw, but with the help of our wonderful trainers, we have gotten to the point that with commands (and lots and lots of treats) we can walk without Barley giving other dogs more than a glance.

The one thing we still struggle with is small, yappy dogs.  If I spot them before Barley does, a command and more treats than usual will distract her from the dogs.  There's one Yorkie in our neighborhood that barks and barks and barks, and Barley starts looking for it as soon as the house comes in sight, whether the dog is outside or not.  If I don't give her commands before she spots the little dogs, she strains at the end of her leash and barks right back.  It doesn't matter if I stick a treat in front of her nose or move in front of her so she can't see the dog; she acts like I'm not there and loses her head.  The only thing I can do is drag her down the street; as soon as we're past whatever yard the little dog is in, she goes back to heeling and following commands like nothing ever happened.

So, I've gotten really good at anticipating where dogs will be in our neighborhood and having Barley "watch" before we get to the yards where little dogs are out and usually can keep Barley from being set up for failure.  Recently, though, we've been struggling with one of our neighbor's dogs.  It's a Jack Russell Terrier, so it's high energy and loud--just what interests Barley.  The neighbors used to put the dog out on a tie out, so when we saw it while we were out in our yard (always on leash), I could get Barley's attention and then get her back inside without incident.  Lately, though, they've started letting the dog out without it's tie out and they don't stay outside with the dog.  Every time it's out and I take Barley out to potty, it will charge at us and Barley starts lunging in it's direction and I have to drag her back inside.  We get back inside with just enough time to slam the door in the dog's face.  We have french doors to our backyard, so the dog will lunge at the doors until I can get the curtains shut.  This has happened on several occasions, so Barley is more interested in this little dog than usual.

Yesterday, we had a nightmare happen.  We went outside on her retractable leash to potty (the only time I use the retractable leash!) and then took the trash to the dumpster.  I hadn't gotten out jumps out of the car from our spring break trip yet, so I decided on the way back to stop and get the jumps.  I was dumb. I decided not to make more than one trip and loaded my arms up with both jumps.  Since I had the retractable leash, I couldn't slide the leash over my wrist and didn't have a great grip.  But usually Barley will heel right along beside me, even if I stuff the leash in my pocket, so I figured we could make it inside no problems.  Unfortunately, in the time it took to get from the dumpster to the car, the Jack Russell had been let outside (unaccompanied, of course).  I saw it first, but it saw us at about the same time.  I tried to give Barley the watch command, but before I could get it out of my mouth the Jack Russell ran at us and Barley lunged at it and ripped the leash right out of my hand.  I dropped the jumps, called after Barley, and chased her down, but by the time I got to her, she had the little dog cornered under a chair on its porch.  It was squealing bloody murder, so I was sure that I was going to see bloodshed when I got to Barley.  Luckily, the dog was scared, but not hurt.  I had grabbed Barley and pulled her away before the other dog's owner even came to the door to see what was going on.  It was an older lady, and she just said "Oh! Oh!" And I said, "I'm so sorry. She pulled the leash out of my hand."  I stayed long enough to make sure that the other dog was ok, and then took Barley back home.

It was horrifying. I couldn't stop shaking, so I took Barley to the state park for a walk.  We ended up doing the whole paved trail--a four mile walk--and by the time we got home, I had calmed down a little, but I was just waiting for someone to show up at my door to take my dog away.  I know Barley didn't hurt the dog, and I'm not sure she wanted to hurt it, but it was still scary and I can only imagine how it looked to someone who doesn't understand reactive dogs.  It was also frustrating because I know that a big part of the blame is mine--I should not have carried more things than I could while still having a good grip on the leash, but at the same time, a lot of this stems from the irresponsible owners of the Jack Russell.  If they kept their dog in their yard, it wouldn't lunge at our door, and Barley wouldn't be as interested in it.  If they had been outside with their dog, when it ran to their porch, they could have opened the door and slammed the door in Barley's face like I always do with their dog.  But you can't really tell someone that when your dog has theirs cornered under a chair and is making it squeal.  It was a nightmare.  Once I could form complete thoughts again, I emailed our trainer and she's coming up with a lesson plan for us to work on to help with Barley's reactions to small, yappy dogs.  Ironically, yesterday morning I shared a picture on Facebook of two dogs on a porch and one was wearing a sign that said, "Sometimes we don't get the dog that we want, but we always get the dog that we need."  Most of the time, I am so thankful I didn't bring home Beulah the puggle, but I'm having trouble understanding under what circumstances I could possibly need a dog that insists on giving me heart attacks.

In case you're scared of my dog now, here are some pictures of her doing the Barley Dance with her uncle over spring break to remind you that she's really just a big lover most of the time.

So, I'll end this on a happier note, by telling a story about one of Barley's real-life nightmares.  While we were walking at the state park yesterday, there were a couple kids out flying kites.  For some reason, they were flying them across the trail, and they were having trouble getting the kites to take off, so the strings were too low to walk under.  Barley and I veered off into the grass to go around them.  About the same time we got to the kids' location the trail, the kite took off.  It was big and shaped like a bird and made a fluttering noise in the wind.  Barley stared at it, jumped behind me, and put her tail between her legs.  Then she slunk along behind me and was too scared to even take a treat from me.  Even once we passed the kites, she was afraid of the big birds flying near the water.  It took a good mile before she pulled her tail back out from between her legs!  It gave me just the laugh I needed after our horrifying incident earlier in the day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

You Are My Sunshine

Yesterday, it was 50 degrees and sunny.  It was lovely.  (Or at least, the loveliest it's been in a while.) When I said goodbye to a co-worker, I told her that I was going home to walk the dog and she said, "Oh, you'll walk in this weather?  It's too cold."  I almost fell over.  Thinking about all of the days Barley and I have walked in 15-degree weather, yesterday was a dream.  With a sweater and a light jacket, I was perfectly comfortable on our walk yesterday afternoon.

So, even though today was a little chillier at 40 degrees, the sun was still shining brightly, so Barley and I hopped in the car for a trip to the Arboretum.  I didn't plan well, and thought that a fleece pullover would be enough of an extra layer for warmth, so we took a lap around Blueberry Pond where it was nice and sunny before going into the woods so that we could get warmed up a bit.
I love red-winged blackbirds.

Luckily, there still aren't leaves on the trees, so the woods weren't too cold.  The biggest problem we had was mud, so we had to do a little off-trailing to get around a few really muddy spots.

Probably my new favorite Barley picture
We had a really relaxing walk for the most part, but Barley got possessed by a crazy monster towards the end of the adventure.  We hopped across the stream and she was so, so good.  The first time we crossed the stream, it wasn't too bad because we were at a spot with big, flat, dry rocks that were easy to hop across.  But, when it was time to hop back across to go back to the car, I forgot which trail has the easy to hop across spots and took the trail that has tiny rocks that are not big enough to stick out of the water very far and they take you right to a stair case, so you have to hop from a rock to a stair.  I don't mind that in the summer when the water is warm (and when it's usually really dry so there's just a trickle of water in the stream anyway), but I did not want to slip into the stream when it was so cold.  So, Barley was perfect and sat and stayed on the big rock while I got across to the stairs and then I called her to heel and we went up the stairs.

Crazy face
The craziness started when we got to the top of the stairs.  We stepped off the stairs and onto the path and Barley crouched and darted behind me and then in front of me, and then herded me and two small trees so that her leash was wrapped around me and the trees.  Then she just sat there with this maniacal grin on her face and her ears pinned back like she was the proudest dog in the world.  I untangled the leash and she darted behind me to try it again, so I had to tackle her!  She's such a nut.  But we had to get that crazy out because the super long stair case that made my legs hate me last time was the next point on the trail and we were not attempting that as long as she was going nuts.  Spending time in the sunshine with my pup made today the perfect day; she's such a happy dog that her excitement is infectious.

Her sleepiness is also infectious.  My pretty pup has been worn out for the rest of the day, so I've taken that as an opportunity to be lazy and snuggle with her/catch up on tv shows online and accomplish absolutely nothing productive for the rest of the day.  Hope everyone had some sun to enjoy today, too!

I'll be ending my evening with a Barley-inspired beer :)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Butter, 3 Musketeers, and Agility Fun

Last week was spring break, so I got to take a break from thinking about students and planning lessons (and don't get me wrong, I love my job, but I think my students and I are both just burnt out at this point--but we only have to make it through 4.5 more weeks!).

I wish I could say I was well rested and relaxed after the week off, but it was an eventful, exhausting break.  Here's a quick break down of how it went.

Monday: We had week 6 of agility class, which means that we had a sample course to run.  For whatever reason, Barley was crazy.  Every jump she'd run away from me.  She was better at recall this week and did come back when I called, but she just would not focus doing the course.  By the end of the class, most of the dogs had caught her crazy.  I was tempted to burst into song and sing some Miranda Lambert: Go and hide your crazy, and start acting like a lady.  I waited to belt it out until we got in the car.

Tuesday: This was the most laid-back, relaxing day of the break.  I ran errands and bought my long-needed pet hair vacuum.  It works miracles.  I just wanted to roll around on the floor it was so clean.  Luckily, I realized that if I rolled on the floor then the pets would roll with me and undo all of my vacuuming, so I refrained.  I also took some pizza over to some friends' house.  They just had a second baby a month ago, and I hadn't met her yet; she's adorable and perfect and her big sister is such a cool kid--she's almost 3, but she talks like a little adult and we put together puzzles and listened to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack.  Then it was child bed time, so I went home and enjoyed my clean floors more :)
Check out the sister presents I ordered from Etsy for the girls. I'm so in love with these owl dolls!
Wednesday: After some more cleaning, I loaded the pets into the car and headed to my parents' house for the rest of the break.  Soth yowled the whole ride and I didn't bring my ipod, so I couldn't play Carbon Leaf for him--luckily, the xm prime country station played Reba's "Does He Love You?" and after I belted that out he quieted down for a few minutes.  The real fun of break started shortly after I got to my parents.  Mom decided to bake some cookies, so she set some butter out on the counter to soften.  We didn't think twice.  Barley is rarely a counter-surfer, especially when people are around.  When she does get into things, it's when she's unsupervised (and she makes sure to make those moments count).  Some how, though, even though we were in the living room watching tv--and the house has an open floor plan, so we could see the counter clearly from the couch--she stole the butter right off the stove.  Mom was wandering around like she was confused, looking in the cabinet the cookbooks are in, looking in the fridge and asked if we had actually seen her take butter out to soften.  It took me .2 seconds to realized what had happened to the butter.  Mom walked into the dining rom to see Barley licking her chops--the whole stick of butter, wrapper and all, was gone.  

We figured that my dog with the stomach of steel would be just fine--after all, sugar-free gum and Aleve didn't take her down.  So, we went about the day, took the dogs on two walks, and laughed about Barley channeling Paula Deen.  Then I went up to bed early to read for a few minutes and fell asleep around 10.  At 11:30, I was so fast asleep and peaceful.  Then Barley jumped out of bed and I thought she was going to chase my parents' cat, so I yelled for her to come back.  I noticed that my socks felt damp, but I thought maybe I was just cold and tried to go back to sleep, but then I realized that the sheets were also wet.  Barley had wet the bed!  So, I jumped out of bed, pulled the sheets off, and rushed her outside.  She took care of her business, and I thought it was safe to go back in.  I was going to put clean sheets on the bed, but then noticed the mattress was also wet, so I was thinking of plan B when Barley threw up.  It was the grossest thing I've ever seen.  WARNING: Do NOT read the next sentence if you have a weak stomach! There was a pile of melted butter in the middle of the pile of half-digested dog food and the smell was one of the worst things I've ever smelled (there was no butter wrapper, though...).  I gagged. I was paralyzed.  My bed was wet.  The carpet had a brown, soupy, buttery pile in the middle of the room.  I did the one thing I did not want to do.  I went and got my mom. She helped take care of the awful mess while I took Barley back out for a while to make sure she was done with that nonsense.  She slept in the crate the rest of the night, and I slept in my sister's room while the newly cleaned mattress dried.

Thursday: I was sure Thursday couldn't get worse.  I was wrong.  Barley found miniature, strawberry-flavored 3 Musketeers bars in my brother's room.  She ate several of them wrapper and all, but we didn't know that she had actually eaten any because my brother walked in and just saw her with her nose in the container, but not actually with any in her mouth.  We went about our day again.  Then at 3:30 a.m. things went downhill. Barley hopped out of bed and again, I thought she was going to chase the cat.  Instead, she threw up a candy wrapper.  I took her outside.  When we came back in, she ran straight for her crate, so I closed her in while I went to clean up the mess and decided to let her stay there.  Finally, I curled up in bed.  No sooner had I pulled the covers up to my chin, I heard her throwing up again.  By the time I got downstairs, there were 3 more puddles in the crate with three more candy wrappers.  We went outside again.  She threw up a total of 7 times during the night.  It was a long, long night.

Friday: Mom and I got a little shopping in.  That was fun.  Then my brother's sweet girlfriend came for Easter weekend.  Then my sister came home a day earlier than planned.  Barley and I also got a little agility practice in.  I set up the tunnel and a pin wheel jump pattern in the yard (we only have 2 jumps, so we made a ghetto jump with empty kitty litter pails and a mop).  My brother recorded it for us--she did it really well several times, but never the times that we had the camera going.  In this one, she decided to run away--she came back when I called, but the video cuts out before that.

Saturday: Saturday was a fun day.  We took the dogs for a hike in a nearby park and got to get lost in the woods for a little while.  It was actually warm enough for Barley to splash a little in the stream.  
Dad and Maz, Linds and Maddux, and me and Bar near the stream.
Sisters and our pups!
Then we went to one of my favorite brewery/restaurants for lunch and came home and showed my nephew pup how to jump.  We made one of the jumps low enough for his little legs to go over so he could run through the tunnel and then go over one jump.  As the video shows, Barley had no idea what to think about such a short jump.  It threw us off our game, and again none of our recorded runs are good, but thanks to my sister's commentary, this one is especially funny.

Since we'd all stuffed ourselves at lunch, we skipped dinner and colored eggs instead.

Sunday:  Easter is always nice, but since I had to be back at work on Monday and didn't accomplish ANYTHING work-wise over the break, I needed to get home and get work done.  Regardless of not getting home until 8 p.m., the day was still nice.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Mom made bunny cinnamon rolls.
Sisters with our baby boys.
We tried so hard to get a good pictures with the pups, but this was as good as it got.
There weren't blooming tulips outside, so we had to settle for the wall hanging.
Mom used the awesome Nancy Drew material we found a couple months ago to make us  these awesome quilts for our Easter baskets!  (Look at my nephew creeping in the background!)
Today's sweet Sothy's birthday--he's 5 today!  We've celebrated with two new catnip-filled toys and lots of extra treats.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Easter and is having nice spring weather than we are.  It was 50 a couple days over the weekend, but it's back to the 30s again now.