Monday, July 22, 2013

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now, Barley.

On the show Dance Moms, Miss Abby frequently tells her students to save their tears for their pillows.  I can't say I've ever seen tears shed in agility class, but I'm pretty sure if someone were to cry our trainer would give us similar instructions.

So, when tonight's class went to Hell in a hand basket, I didn't cry . . . until I got in the car.  Now, on my couch in my pajamas with puffy eyes and a stuffy nose, I'm trying to figure out just what went wrong.

Class started off a little rough.  I noticed that the gate separating the new dogs and the old dogs wasn't pulled all the way to the wall, so I went over to stretch it out a little further.  I had to adjust the middle section a little, but Barley was doing a nice sit-stay while I fixed it.  Then the older man with a yorkie snuck up behind us because he decided to go get another jump pole from the opposite side of the room. Despite the fact that I've told him multiple times that Barley does not like other dogs, he let his dog wander close to Barley and she lunged.  I know what went wrong there.  Yorkies are one of Barley's triggers and I didn't have any warning that this one was approaching behind us, so I couldn't manage her reaction.

But, we picked the jump farthest away from the yorkie and I thought we'd be fine.  Then the doberman, who we usually have no problems with, decided to wander away from his mom and in front of our jump.  Barley lunged again, but I had her by the collar, so didn't go very far.  Our trainer took her and walked her close to the doberman several times until Barley understood that she was to look at the trainer not the other dog.  Then we went back to work (and had no more problems with the doberman, even when he was standing a foot away from us in line for the weave poles).

Things fell apart when Barley decided to go over the jump (like she was supposed to) and then skip coming back to me so that she could instead fly over the gate separating the two sides of the room.

Two weeks ago, Barley chased down a Dandie, which is a terrier that is apparently rare and very expensive.  The Dandie had been running around crazily (like Barley has been known to do) and barking (another one of Barley's triggers) and there wasn't a gate up in the room.  Barley decided getting the dog under control would be a lot more fun that going through the weave poles and pinned the dog against the wall.  Fur flew.  There was a big hunk of fluff in the middle of the floor.  The dog squealed, but it wasn't hurt--just scared.  The trainer immediately put the gate up and we didn't have issues.

Tonight, the Dandie was quiet and the gate was up, but Barley decided she didn't like it.  Or maybe she just wanted to hang out on the other side of the gate because she didn't actually try to touch the Dandie--she just growled at it.  Regardless of what was going through her mind, she flew over the gate, ran past the Dandie with a growl, and then came right back to me when she saw I, too, had flown over the gate.

Our trainer had us quit working on the jumping exercise and work on boundary setting.  We spent a good chunk of class heeling up to the gate and stopping and backing away.  If Barley didn't turn when I started backing up, I had to pop her leash (which doesn't hurt her, it's just grabs her attention).  If she did turn immediately, she got rewarded.  After 10 minutes or so, she was turning before I had even started backing up.

When we got to move on to the next jumping exercise, our trainer stood at the end with an extra pole in hand to herd Barley away from the gate if necessary.  She made one attempt to go near the gate, but as soon as she saw our trainer moving towards her, she was right back at my side.  The rest of the night, she was wound up and overly interested in her classmates despite the fact that we did the one-hour down game in between each of our turns on the dog walk and with the weave poles.  There was not one minute of class that she was relaxed and very few moments where she was focused on me.

So now, I'm left wondering: what happened?  Has she just regressed from all of the progress we've made in the last two years, especially in the last six months?  Is it because she hasn't been walked twice a day every day over the last week?  Is it our lack of a routine in the summer?  Is it the medication she's on for lyme disease?  Is it some health problem that isn't lyme disease that I don't know about yet?  Does she know I'm getting ready to go visit my grandparents and leave her with my parents for a few days?  Is it the energy from the other dogs/owners in class--most of our favorite classmates moved up to the next level this session, so we have many classmates that don't know her and clearly don't trust or understand her.  It could be any of a million reasons and I have no idea how to figure out what the reason is or how to deal with it.

Now, I'm just not sure where we go from here.  We were planning on moving up to the next level of agility next month, but if she can't focus, we can't do that.  We can't stay at this level because the Dandie will still be in class and clearly that's too big of a problem for her.  Can we even take classes anymore?  It's not fair to other people to make them take classes with a dog that scares them.

When I first got Barley and read Jon Katz's border collie books, Katz's stories about his aggressive border collie made me realize that I would have tough choices to make with Barley.  I'm not faced with deciding whether she should live or die, but I do have to make decisions about what's the best life for my dog.  I thought that our classes were helping her.  She was learning to focus and relax in high-energy situations.  She was learning to ignore other dogs even when they barked or ran.  For the last three classes, it's like all of our progress went out the window.  I don't want to set her up for failure.  How do I know if this is just a phase or if this is just too much for her to handle?

By the time we got to the car, Barley was fine again.  Now, I'm here heartbroken and she's retreated to her dog cave under the bed and seems completely unfazed by the stress of tonight's class.  I'd appreciate any feedback, advice, words of encouragement that the universe has to offer because I'm out of ideas.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I'm Melting

We've been dealing with a heat wave for what seems like ages here. It's been over 85 before 10 a.m. and hasn't gotten cooler in the evenings, so we've been waking up early and walking a couple miles before vegging the rest of the day.

Luckily, my sister came to visit for a couple days, so I had a reason to get out of the house after our morning walk.
Barley loves to be silly with her Aunt L.
When Linds got to town on Wednesday, we went to lunch at a local BBQ restaurant in the harbor and I showed her the sights near my campus.

The lift bridge went up while we were in the harbor, so she saw everything!
Then we spent the evening tasting wine at a couple local wineries.  The South River Vineyard has a gorgeous patio that overlooks the vineyard, so we sat and tasted a few wines before moving on to the Debonne Winery.  There were hot air balloons rides at Debonne that evening, so we got to watch them fill the balloon while listening to a band play.  It was a hot night to sit outside and we were disgusting by the time we were done sampling, but I'd say it was a good night despite the heat!
Did I mention South River is in an old church?
Who wouldn't want to drink wine here?
Debonne gave us Goldfish with our tasting!

After an intense post-winery night of Wii Tennis and Archery, we went to bed to get ready for our early morning walking adventures.  We left the house early so we could park at the State Park and then walked down to Madsen Donuts in Geneva-on-the-Lake.  They've been in business for decades (since 1938 according to their sign) and I'd heard they were good.  From the State Park, it was only about 3/4 of a mile to the store.  As soon as we could see the store, we could smell the donuts on the sidewalk!  They were just as good as they smelled, but we exerted will power and didn't eat them until we got back to the park where we got some coffee out of the car and sat by the lake to eat our donuts.  

The majority of our plans involved eating, so I took Linds to the Great Lake Brewing Company for dinner on Thursday.  We were going to do a brewery tour first, but our tour got canceled, so we opted to just do dinner.
Linds is excited to start her sampling.
One sample of everything on tap :)
Linds got to enjoy the beer sampler with her dinner.  Since I have had most of their beers, I was excited to order two I hadn't tried before.  The 25th anniversary Silver & Gold was good, but I adored the Ales for ALS White IPA.  It was full of spices, like coriander, and tasted sort of like a summer version of a pumpkin ale.  
I highly recommend the pretzel chicken and Ales for ALS!
Friday morning was another early morning for us.  We had to show Linds Squire's Castle, so we hopped in the car and got to the park before it got too hot.  We did a great 3-mile hike in the woods behind the castle and then did a princess photo shoot.  Barley didn't slay any dragons, but she did get to laugh as her Aunt L jumped when a tiny snake slithered across the trail.

Aunt L and Barley are two of the prettiest princesses.
Barley loved taking selfies.

After the castle, Linds had to get back on the road to get home to her pup.  We were sad to see Linds go, but it seems that she took the sweltering temperatures with her, so we have no complaints about that.  We got a huge thunderstorm on Friday night that cooled things down a lot.  It was still warm during the days, but we were able to get in two good walks Saturday and today.

This afternoon, we took a great walk from one end of the trail to the other at the State Park for a total of 4 miles.  We got a glimpse of the start of the sunset and saw a baby bunny alongside the trail.  I'd also like to give a big shout out to the bikers and runners using the trail tonight.  Almost every single one gave us a heads up as they passed, which made our walk even more enjoyable.
We had this gorgeous view when we stopped for a water break. 
My pup was so excited to get water!

Such a tiny bunny!
Starting to get a little nervous about meeting this month's goal . . . 
Hope that everyone else has been staying cool!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blog The Change: Pet Safety Day

I wasn't planning on having to pick out a topic for this Blog the Change day because my internet was out and the soonest the technicians could come to fix it was Wednesday--BUT turns out I had a couple cords switched (just because both the router and the modem have power does NOT mean that you have the right power cords plugged in . . . oops).

So, here I am with only a few hours left to Blog the Change and very few topics coming to mind.  Luckily, my Honey Badger calendar pointed out that today is Pet Safety Day, so I figured this is as good an opportunity as any to remind everyone of simple ways to keep our pets happy, healthy, and safe.

Keep Collars with ID Tags on Your Pet
I feel like this should be common sense--my dogs growing up always had their collars on with their ID tags and we never thought twice about taking them off for any reason, except to replace the collar with a new one.  Recently, though, I've noticed more and more people not keeping collars or tags on their dogs.  One of my friends takes the collars off her dogs as soon as they get in the house.  I'm not really sure why she does this--maybe she thinks it's more comfortable for the dogs, maybe she's annoyed by the jingling of ID tags, but I would be worried that my dog would slip out of the house if someone came to the door and without ID it would be harder for someone to help her find her way home.  One of our agility classmates got out of her house when the door to the house blew open while her mom was napping; she wasn't wearing a collar and she's been missing for over two months.  (Not that a collar necessarily would have helped her get home sooner, but it would definitely make it easier to clip a leash onto her and try to find her home.)

Some of our agility classmates have collars on, but no tags during class; I know that this is probably because in a competition dogs can't wear tags in the ring, but it stresses me out to think of dogs riding in the car on the way to class without their tags.  You never know when an accident will happen and your dogs will get loose or law enforcement officers will have to deal with them while you're taken to the hospital; I want them to know my dog's name and where she belongs so we can be reunited.  A couple of our classmates have collars that are just for class and their owners don't remove the ones with tags until they are safe inside the training center; that seems like the smartest idea to me.

A collar that's well-fitted is not uncomfortable for your dog.  Remember, you should be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck.  If you can do that, your dog has plenty of room and the collar is still tight enough that it can't slip off easily.  Barley loves her collar.  I take it off her after baths (for some reason her collar smells terrible if it gets wet and then dries on her) and put her backup collar on while it dries; as soon as it's dry, she comes running to get it put back on.  Bar rocks her ID tag, state dog license, rabies tag, and microchip # tag 24/7 and I wouldn't have it any other way.  And, if you're really bothered by the jingling of tags, there are a variety of pet tag silencers out there.  For example, Paws Pet Botique has this one for under $10.  Don't forget that kitties should have tags, too.  Even indoor cats can be little escape artists.  Soth has never put up a fuss over having a collar on in the 4 years we've spent together and the few times it's come off (most cat collars are designed to break away easily since cats are known for squeezing into tight spaces) I've never had a problem getting it back on, so none of that "my cat won't wear collars" nonsense--just because cats are bossy doesn't mean you aren't still in charge :)

Take Your Pet for Regular Vet Visits
I know that I visit the vet far more than regularly, but I highly recommend going at least once a year.  I know that most rabies vaccines are every 3 years now, so some people only go when it's time for vaccinations, but regular vet visits will help catch problems with your pets before they go too far.

In December 2011, Barley's annual check up told us that she had lyme disease; at every annual checkup, the vet does a quick test to check for heartworm, lyme disease, and other things we haven't *thankfully* had to deal with.  Without that test, I wouldn't have known there was anything wrong with my pup because she wasn't limping, she wasn't lethargic, she was eating and drinking regularly.  We also use our flea and tick preventative monthly, so I didn't even think there could be a chance of lyme disease.  Looking back, I realize that she was getting a little more obstinate than usual--not responding as well to commands on walks or in class--but that's a subtle hint from my headstrong pup and I did not pick up on it.  Sometimes, there are no visible symptoms and the only way you'll know if your pet is sick is if you go to your annual check up.

We've been battling lyme since then and our currently on our third round of treatment because her bacteria levels keep fluctuating.  I noticed her becoming more and more obstinate in class again--sometimes she plain refused to go over jumps--so I took her into the vet last week for blood work and my suspicions were confirmed; she's got elevated levels of bacteria again.  So in addition to visiting the vet regularly please, please, please use your heartworm and flea & tick preventatives.  Even if your dog doesn't suffer from all of the terrible things that lyme can bring on, you'll save a lot of money in the long run.  Every time we have blood work done to test the bacteria levels it's $40 for the vet check up, $95 for the blood work, and other $25 if we need antibiotics to treat it.  Do your wallet a favor and use preventatives instead.

Barley won't let a little lyme disease slow her down. She's always ready for an adventure!
Stand Up for Your Pet
The day you decided to bring your pet home, you became his/her voice.  Pets can't stand up for themselves, so you have.  I've mentioned Jessica Dolce's blog about standing up for your dog, even if that means being a bitch for your dog (which is not the same thing as being your dog's bitch) and it's something all of our pets could benefit from.

Since we got our snazzy new "I Need Space" leash, I've felt even more confident standing up for my dog.  People have a fair warning before I even have to open my mouth and tell them my dog's not interested in meeting theirs or that their small child can't run up to her.  The other day, I was out walking with my friend and her dogs and we met a nice, older couple on the trail.  They were dogless and noticed that our dogs looked like breeds they were considering.  We stopped to chat and the immediately noticed the leash and started petting my friend's dogs instead, until I told them that she was good with adults but not other dogs.  They Barley got just as much love as her friends.  It was great to see the leash in action.

Recently, my best friend had to report his neighbors to the homeowners association at his condo because they continually let their grown dogs off leash, despite the condo's leash laws, and they'd approach his new puppy.  He was tired of worrying about his puppy's safety and watching her growing more afraid of the other dogs, so he stood up for his pup.  Know your area's leash laws.  Know the number for the dog warden or animal control or local law enforcement, and if you have repeated problems with neighbors, report them.  Most areas will let you report leash law violations anonymously.

Be Aware
A lot of people see walking their dog as a relaxing activity.  I always did.  Then I got Barley.  Now, I have to be on guard for our entire walk.  I have to see triggers--squirrels, other dogs, kids on scooters, cats, the list goes on--before Barley sees them.  I have to read her body language to make sure she's not going over her threshold. We have to move constantly and walk at a fast pace because a busy dog is a good dog.  We don't have time to just stop and smell the roses.  A few weeks ago, I read a blog written after the blogger's reactive dog had died; she wrote that her life would be easier, but emptier and that this loss hit her harder than one's before because she had had to spend so much time managing her dog.  My entire day is spent managing my dog, whether we're in the house or outside.  I think this is why I like the arboretum so much--once we get out of the display gardens and into the woods, we never see other dogs, so as long as Barley is responsive and comes to heel when called, she can wander at the end of her leash and just be a dog.  And, I can look at the flowers and black squirrels, I can take pictures of fall colored leaves, I can embrace my inner Emerson and Thoreau and live deliberately and read God directly.  The arboretum is the one place where we can walk without tension for hours.

Even if you don't have a reactive dog, be aware of what your pet is doing and when.  Know what they can't get out of their minds and keep it out of their sign.  I know that sugar-free gum is like crack for Barley (and equally bad).  It can't come in my apartment.  I've switched to buying Altoids--even though I kind of hate them.  If people come over and bring sugar-free gum into the apartment, their bags have to go on top of the fridge or in a closet.

Encourage other people to be aware.  Teach the kids in your neighborhood to ask before approaching any dog.  Teach your dog to sit calmly while being pet by strangers.  Tell them about The Yellow Dog Project or DINOS.

Pay attention to their behavior.  They'll tell you when they need help.  Soth's easy (bet you never thought I'd say that, right?) because he tells me when he's not feeling well; he pees in my shoes, throws up on my recently steam-cleaned carpets, yowls all day.  Barley's not quite as easy to read; she trips on walks, refuses to go over jumps, doesn't call to heel as quickly--all things that she does when she feels fine, but the combination gives me a clue something's wrong.  So, be aware.

Love Them
The best part of keeping pets safe is loving them in spite of all their quirks and craziness.  When you appreciate them for what makes them unique little creatures, the rest of pet safety doesn't really seem like work at all.
How could this face not be loved?

Soth took advantage of the bed being off the floor for vacuuming to make bunk beds.