Friday, October 31, 2014

Rest Week and October Resolution Recap (Plus a little Spooky Fun!)

I'll start with the bad news first. We didn't meet our 3-mile/day goal this week and only logged 18.98 miles. I was dealing with a foot injury for most of the week--I'm not entirely sure what happened since I've been wearing my usual shoes, walking my usual routes, and haven't done anything particularly strenuous, but as I learned over the summer, if you walk on a hurt foot, then it throws off the rest of your body and everything else starts hurting. I decided it was better to take it easy and give my foot a little more rest. After a few days of ice and elevation and some Advil, it still hurts, but I can tell it's on the mend.

She's very concerned when we have to rest--that word isn't in her regular vocabulary.

Now for the good news! Despite having a week of lower mileage, this week Barley and I passed the 900-mile mark for our goal! We're now at 908.46--so we have over 2 months to walk about 92 miles! That's about 1.5-miles per day, which has become a short walk for us. The end is in sight! Stay tuned in December for our final FitDog Friday of the year when we reveal our total mileage for the year and a little surprise Barley and I are working on to thank all of you for your support this year!

All month, we've had adventures in our neighborhood since our neighbors go all out for Halloween. Every time we've left the house, we've seen new additions to our neighborhood--and Barley border collie stares almost all of them the first time we walk by. In the spirit of Halloween, I thought we should share some of these pictures.

She had to crouch to walk by the zombie head beside the sidewalk.

She's on high alert because we had to walk by . . .

. . . this nasty thing. Barley wanted to take a sip out of that saucer--I intervened.

The most decorating I did was carving a pumpkin with two of my friends from work. Barley enjoyed pumpkin night because she got to play with her one and only dog friend, my co-worker's border collie-aussie mix, and she got to come and steal some pumpkin guts while we were carving away.

Mine is the wolf--it isn't as fun as I thought it would be.

And I had an unintentional creepy addition to my front porch--I found this creepy (and huge!) thing on a package the mailman had left on my front porch yesterday.


Our beautiful leaves are slowly disappearing, but we did manage one quick visit to the Arboretum last weekend to get just a little more time in with the beautiful colors. My phone had a little snowflake icon on the weather app for this weekend, so I'm pretty sure on our next visit the Arboretum will look like a totally different universe.

We hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween! Trick-or-treating happened in our neighborhood on Sunday last weekend (is it just me or is that weird?), so we'll be celebrating by watching the Halloween episode of Garfield and Friends (while I eat some candy, candy candy!).

Friday, October 24, 2014

When Training Pays Off

On Monday, I mentioned that Barley has been a little mischievous in class lately. It's not entirely clearly why she started nipping all of the sudden after training for 3 years without doing it. But I do have some theories.

When we first started training, we were working on skills not courses. So, we might have two jumps out and we'd take turns working on a front cross or a rear cross. We weren't covering a lot of ground at once and we stopped and treated every time we got the skill right, so the energy didn't get amped up.

Eventually we got to doing longer sequences, but since Barley was still very distracted by the other dogs, we'd still stop and treat every few jumps, so still relatively low energy.

This nipping behavior didn't start until July or August this year. So here are my theories on why it's happening now:

  • More space. We live in an apartment--and it's a relatively big apartment, so there's plenty of room for tossing toys around and we can set up weave poles (but just barely, so it's a more about getting the rhythm than picking up speed) or one jump in the living room. We do have a grassy area off our back patio, but she has to be leashed--and even on a long lead, she doesn't leave my side often. Since Barley doesn't do well with other dogs, she doesn't get to go run and play in dog parks. The opportunity for full-out, off-leash running doesn't come up often. When the leash comes off and she starts running the course, sometimes she just has to run like a maniac for a few minutes.
Going to the football field gives us a safe place to get some distance from each other.
  • More energy. We started introducing the weaves this year, which has added more energy for Barley--we try to practice them with very low-energy to keep her from getting revved up, but the weaves are always going to be exciting on some level, so the better she gets, the more excited she gets going through them. We've also started doing longer sequences without as many treats in between obstacles, which means we aren't constantly starting and stopping as often, so her energy levels increase. When her energy levels increase, she loses her mind periodically.
Energy? What's that?
  • New dogs. For a long time, we had a very small class with classmates we were very comfortable with. One is our reactive dog and noseworks trainer. Another is one we started out with in our very first agility class, so she's seen Barley improve over time. Another is a man who looks very similar to my dad, so I think Barley instantly felt comfortable around him. Our classmates are wonderful, patient, and give us the space we need, so we were able to get over Barley's distraction very quickly and get a lot of work in. Then we've slowly added new dogs to the class--which is great because the whole reason we're doing agility is to get Barley used to be around other dogs, but it also means that each time a new dog is added, we have to start over with getting Barley used to the new energy, which means more distraction and less focus on me and the task at hand.
Barley's already had to open her heart (and her bed) to a cat, so she doesn't know why she should have to tolerate other dogs, too.
  • Instincts. Barley's a border collie mix, so she's a herder. She doesn't like it when other things move quickly without her permission. It took a lot of training to get her to ignore the cat when he decides to chase jingle balls around the house. It took a long time to get her to ignore kids on scooters or bikes when we walk--and she still doesn't handle the motorized scooters well. She's not used to me moving away from her quickly, so when I start running on the course, she wants to stop me.
I was pleasantly surprised when we got into class on Tuesday and there was no nipping involved. I told our trainer about the work we've been doing on the football field and she was thrilled. Barley still wanted to just run free for a little while and skipped a few jumps, but instead of doing her big loops around the gym, she came right back to me when I called her--which is good because there was yet another new dog in the class! I know she's not cured of her nipping and we'll have to continue to do work and reenforce the work we've started, but it was nice to see that she's catching on! 

We haven't had an opportunity to go to the field since class because of rain and other people making use of the field when we've walked by, but we have tried to at least get a little bit of jogging mixed in on our walks (I will never be a jogger--I know I grew up with the whole "never say never" song from An American Tale, but I think I know myself well enough after 30 years to know that running is not something I find enjoyable on any level, so I feel confident saying never here--but if it helps my dog, I don't mind adding in things like "let's jog until the next drive way" or "let's jog until we get to that telephone pole" when we're out for a walk). With our brisk fall weather, this has helped keep me a little warmer on walks, too!

Over the last week, we met (and exceeded) our 3-mile a day goal and logged 22.32 miles this week. Stay tuned next week for our total progress for the year!

Thanks for all the positive vibes you sent to my sweet Soth on Monday--he's finally starting to eat again (but only the pate food he normally won't touch--he's showing no interest in his prescription dry food or his usual canned favorites) and he's continuing to romp, play, and torment Barley, so I think he's feeling better.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Agility Mischief

I meant to post this earlier today, but I was busy worrying about my sweet Soth who decided to go on a hunger strike this weekend. I was preoccupied with worrying (and grading) this weekend and I've spent my free time this afternoon at the vet. Despite the fact that he's eaten very little in 4 days, the vet said Soth looked good: eyes and gums were good, no fever, nothing felt abnormal--so he's been given some fluids (he was slightly dehydrated since the majority of the water he gets comes from his wet food) and an injection to settle his stomach (he's thrown up the last several days). If he doesn't start showing interest in his food by tomorrow, we'll take some x-rays. So I'd appreciate any good thoughts you could send his way!

Soth has been enjoying curling up on a heating pad.

Now that Soth's done stealing the spotlight from his sister,  the real mischief I wanted to talk about is some less than desirable behavior Barley's developed in agility class.

Barley is pretty sure she could never do anything wrong.
For some reason, my darling girl has decided she wants to nip at me any time I try to send her over a jump. She'll be alright if I start beside her, but as soon as we start moving and I try to send her to the next jump, she comes running in and nips at my arm. She's only actually made contact once--and I got a bruise that looked like I'd been hit with a baseball on my forearm--but it's not behavior that I can tolerate in class (or anywhere else) and it's not behavior that I want to escalate.

Our trainer says that Barley's seeing my arm as a toy when I move it to send her to a jump. She's had us do several activities to try to get her away from my hand. 

In class, if she starts to do her playful growl and nip, it's an immediate down in a loud, firm voice. Every single time. Some nights, we don't get through very many exercises because every turn we spend doing a down. Other nights, she catches on as soon as she's been put in a down once.

We've worked on having her sit and me moving away from her and then throwing a treat, so she learns to go past my hand instead of coming to it. (She never actually touches my hand when there' s a treat in it--she's too well trained on the it's your choice game, so she knows that she gets the treats when she doesn't touch my hand.) Then we added in doing it with a jump. We've tried practicing that at home, but she usually doesn't nip at home--probably because we have limited space and can only get so much distance or pick up so much speed as we approach a jump. 

We walk by a park that has a very low (maybe 12 inches) fence for people to park in front of. Nobody every parks there, so sometimes as we are out walking, I'll jog towards the fence and send her over it several times. (She never nips when we do this--so it probably isn't helpful, but it makes our walks more exciting.)

This crazy face is always ready play.

On Friday, I mentioned that we've started going to a nearby football field and doing some heeling exercises. I've been trying to work in games that will help us address her issues. We've been doing some heeling exercises to mid-field with some sits, stays, and just walking in heel position. Then I've started jogging towards the other end zone. The first few times, she'd grab her leash, growl, and try to herd me--which resulted in a down and then more walking and heeling. Then we'd try again. Usually after three downs, she's been focused and ready to go. Then I let her drag her leash and jog around the field with her--and if there's any nipping, she's put in a down.

We've done this 4 times over the last week. Tonight, she only had to be put in a down once. Tomorrow night, we have class, so we'll see if this has made any difference at all. I'm hoping that she's able to transfer the corrections from the field into the gym.

Faster than a speeding bullet--and showing absolutely no interest in my arm.

It's so hard to curb a behavior when it really only appears for about 45 minutes once a week. No matter how hard  we romp and play in the house, she never nips at me. It's just when I start moving on the agility course. If anyone has dealt with this sort of mischief and has suggestions for how discourage nipping, I'd be very grateful for your advice! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Fascination

I grew up in southeastern Georgia, so I never really experienced fall. We had summer and then we had not summer; it was hot or at Christmas time it was maybe 50 degrees--I clearly remember swimming in my grandma's pool on my birthday (Oct. 2) and Mom didn't let us in the pool if it was below 80 degrees outside. We had a lot of pine trees and palm trees and dogwoods, but not a lot of trees that changed colors in the fall. Even when I moved away, I still didn't really have fall because there were minimal trees in New Mexico.

Ohio is so lovely at this time of year and I can't get enough fall. I drive to work every morning in awe of all of sun splashing over all the colors. I walk Barley through our neighborhood and make her stop frequently so I can pause to take a picture of the leaves. Even after living here for 5 years, it never gets old. My mom says she doesn't like fall because she knows what comes next, but maybe I've discovered my inner Elsa and have learned not to be bothered by the cold--regardless, I love fall.

I love walking Barley in the crisp air and the smell of bonfires in the air. I love crunching through the leaves when Barley and I move off to the side when a car is approaching. I love apple cider and apple bagels. I love it all.

Barley and I have stuck pretty close to home this week. Partly because it's midterms, so I had to submit midterm grades for my students this week. Also, it's been pretty rainy this week, so it always seems silly to me to waste non-rainy minutes driving to a park when we could be walking in our own neighborhood and not wasting the little bit of time we have between showers in the car. Plus, our neighborhood has been so pretty that I'm not sure I could take the awesomeness of being out in the woods--we might not get past the first colorful tree I saw without stopping for 15 minutes for a photoshoot!

Despite the rain and grading, we managed to get in 20.99 miles this week. That .99 kills me. We were .01 miles from meeting our 3-mile a day goal! ARGH! If I had known that, I would have walked around the side of the apartment and gone in the backdoor instead of the front door.

Our neighborhood has provided several interesting walks for us, though. For some reason, our neighborhood goes all out for Halloween. Many of our neighbors have erected graveyards in their front yards. Others have ghosts and witches hanging from the trees. Barley hates that. Her ears perk up and her tail goes stiff and she stares down those decorations with her best border collie stare.

Most years, the decorations are about the same, but there was a new addition this year. One of the houses has a bear statue in the front yard year round. It usually doesn't bother Barley (although my parents' dog once froze in the middle of the sidewalk and refused to walk by it), but the bear has been decorated this year and Barley wasn't entirely sure what to think.

That's a severed hand hanging out of the bear's mouth.
It's always good reaction to distraction practice when we have to walk by new things on our usual neighborhood routes.

We've also continued to work in some of the heeling practice we did last week in our neighborhood walks. There's a football field nearby that is rarely used--a few weeks in August and September it sees some use from youth football groups, but those leagues have all wrapped up. There's a track around the field that Barley and I started walking on last fall because we can get in a few laps and add to our mileage without having to go too far from home when it's starting to get darker earlier and earlier. Sometimes, we just swing by in the middle of a walk and do a loop and then continue our walk.

Recently, they add a poop bag holder and trashcan right beside the gate to the field, so I decided that was our sign that we had permission to play on the field, too. Thursday evening seemed like a good time to take advantage of that opportunity. There weren't any joggers using the track, there weren't any kids playing nearby, so it seemed like we'd have plenty of space to do some training without much distraction. 

The field is fully fenced in, but the fence is only about 4-feet high, which Barley could clear easily if there was something she really wanted. So, I left her leash on the whole time. Her recall is usually very good, but if she saw a dog or a kid zipping by on a scooter, she'd go into her "wolf mode" and forget all about me--her leash is usually a pretty good reminder for her that she's with me and not a wild dog. First, we did a loop on the track to make sure the gates were all closed and then we went in.

We started out doing some heeling with the leash in my hand. We started at one end zone and repeated our game from last weekend--walk for a line or two, stop and sit. When we reached the middle of the field, we started jogging. She tried to nip a couple times, which resulted in some abrupt stops and downs, but she seems to be getting the idea that nipping is not an acceptable response to us moving more quickly--I'll have more on what's going on there on Monday. After we made it to the other end zone, we turned around and I dropped the leash. We repeated our drills from before, starting with walking and ending with jogging into the end zone. 

So happy to be jogging alongside me with her leash trailing behind.

She's very serious about sitting when we stop.

We went back and forth a few times, working in different skills. We did several sit-stays while I walked out a few yard lines (our start-line stays have not been great in class lately, so this was a great chance to measure out some distance and work on that) and then called her to heel.

We also worked in some different turns and some serpentine patterns so we weren't just walking back and forth the entire time.

It was great reinforcement of skills we haven't been as consistent about practicing because they usually come so naturally that sometimes I forget that we should just take a break and have a quick refresher on skills that Barley's pretty strong at executing, especially when we've got an opportunity to practice in a new environment. I'm hoping we can take advantage of having a nice empty, fenced in place to work on some "not really off leash leash, off leash" work. Once I have to break out hoodies and jackets with deep pockets, we may stick her long lead in one pocket and a ball/toy in the other and play some fetch, too.

I hope that everyone else has had lovely fall weather and colors to enjoy. Happy FitDog Friday!

Friday, October 10, 2014


Barley and I have been busy the last two weeks. My parents came out last week to celebrate the big 3-0 with me. Part of that celebration involved Beer School at Great Lakes Brewing Company after work one night. We also went to a lecture about anthropology on my campus one night and ate at way too many good restaurants--which should have inspired us to exceed our walking goals this past week, but between all of the activities during my parents' visit and then playing catch up on all of the grading and planning that got put off during their stay, we just barely hit our goal of an average of 3 miles per day. We logged 21.09 miles this past week. 

After a short week courtesy of the Grape Jamboree invading our neighborhood the week before, Barley has been a little wound up this week. We decided to end the work week with a lakeside stroll at the State Park last night. 

Since our walks had been mostly limited to our neighborhood over the last two weeks, she was far more interested in doing her own thing than acting like the Canine Good Citizen that she is--normally when we're in a park, I let her walk at the end of her leash and sniff and prance as long as she'll come to heel when I tell her to, but she wasn't interested in doing that consistently last night, so I decided we'd incorporate some heeling games into our walk to improve her focus. 

Crazy tall shadows when she's walking nicely.
There are all kinds of markers along the trail at the park and a nice big parking lots with clear lines we can use as markers, too. There are orange cone-like things that separate the trail from the road into the marina. We stopped and sat by one and then we'd jog past a few and see if we could slow down in time to stop next to another one. At first, jogging made Barley nuttier. She grabbed her leash and started shaking it and growling--which is similar to some mouthy issues we're having in agility right now--and that resulted in an immediate stop and down. After a couple corrections, though, she was jogging beside me beautifully and had no trouble stopping for a sit when I stopped. 


There's also a big, usually empty, parking lot in the middle of the trail that's about .10-miles from the trail to the back of the parking lot. That gave us another location to practice heeling. 


We started at one end and we would walk for a few parking spots and then I'd start to slow down to signal we were going to stop and we'd see how close we could get to a sit on the lines. 

She knows she got that one perfectly.

Looks at that nice loose lead.

After our heeling practice, we practiced a sit-stay while I unlocked the car. She was pretty proud of herself for doing so well with our games. There were a few times when she got distracted and forgot to sit, so we'd circle around to the line behind us and try again, but after doing that a few times, she had her eyes on me the whole time. It's always fun to see how quickly she catches on to the training games we play.

We got in 3.3 miles all together and also got in some mental exercise for the pup. She was worn out all evening instead of getting into her usual mischief. A tired dog is a good dog ;)

Happy FitDog Friday! We missed reading all of the posts last week while I was entertaining, so I'm hoping to catch up this week (although my computer is acting up, so the majority of this was written on my iPad--I apologize for any bizarre autocorrect ideas that may have slipped in unnoticed!--and I might not get caught up as quickly as I'd like to.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Quit Making Excuses, Start Setting Goals

Today, I thought it might be helpful to share one of the biggest motivators to get me out the door and on a walk with my Barley girl.

Walking is great and there are many posts in this hop on the benefits and joys of walking with your dog--that's what inspired this #DogWalkingWeek celebration, after all.

But walking isn't always easy or fun. Recently, a co-worker said, "I'm not going to walk the dogs today because I'm having company and need to clean" (the company was arriving 6+ hours after we finished our work day). The next week it was "I'm not going to walk the dogs today because there's too much construction and I can't get out of my neighborhood to go to the park." Then it was "I'm not going to walk the dogs today because it's supposed to rain." The point is that it's easy to find reasons not to walk. I've come up with plenty of them myself--it's too hot, it's too cold, I'm too tired, I have too many papers to grade. Coming up with an excuse not to walk doesn't take much effort.

Barley thinks it's nice to snuggle up in some fleece, too.

Finding the motivation to walk can be more challenging especially when it's quickly getting darker earlier and earlier and it's getting chillier each day.

One thing that's been helpful for me has been setting goals. I have always liked having goals to work towards. I often tell my students to set goals and use rewards if they're struggling with procrastination: write a page, reward yourself with a snack/a tv show/15 minutes of Facebook. For me, I don't need physical rewards--for me, avoiding failure is a big enough reward. I blame my mom for this--until I hit Trigonometry, any time I brought home a grade that was less than a 95, it was "Uh oh, what happened?"

Last year for my New Year's Resolution, I set a goal of walking more miles each month than I had walked the month before. By the end of the year, I was challenging myself to walk every single day in order to meet the marks I needed to meet.

This year, I decided to shoot for an even 1000 miles by the end of the year. Most of my FitDog Friday posts have been about how close we are to achieving that goal. Even on days when it was really stinkin' cold, I knew I had to get outside for a walk because we couldn't meet our goals if we just skipped walking during the first three months of the year. It didn't matter if we only got out for .5 miles at a time because it was too cold to be out for more than 10 minutes at a time--every little bit we walked brought us closer to our goal.

When it got warmer and the weather was perfect, having a set number of miles we needed to meet each day gave me motivation to get out and take longer walks even if I might have wanted to go home and binge on tv shows on Netflix instead.

I bought a Garmin GPS watch during last year's goal to keep track of our mileage. Every time I plug in my watch to upload our walks, I get a visual representation of how close we're getting to our goal, which motivates me to keep going. We haven't walked every single day this year--but we've walked the majority of them and haven't missed a day since August 26. I can analyze our results and see our average mileage per day, our total mileage in a week, the number of calories I'm burning, and a variety of other information that I have no idea what to do with. There are also plenty of free walking apps for phones that can track this progress. I love the Wooftrax Walk for a Dog app that donates money to the shelter of your choice for each mile you walk.

After yesterday's first walk, we were at 83% of our goal.
Setting goals is a great way to motivate yourself--and you can add in rewards, too, if they are helpful for you. It's important to think about your lifestyle and your dog's capabilities as you set your goals. Not everyone has 45+ minutes a day to dedicate to walking the 2.97 miles/day we needed to reach our goal this year. Not everyone has a dog that's capable of walking that much in a day. Some people also have yards that their dogs can run and play in to get other forms of exercise outdoors, so walking every day might not be as necessary as it is for me and Barley who live in an apartment.  Set realistic goals: walking three times a week, walking at least 7 miles a week, walking 15 minutes a day--and reward yourself if necessary (even though I don't need the rewards, I often use my walks as an excuse for a glass of wine with my evening tv shows!).

So, instead of looking for reasons not to walk, try to find reasons to get out and spend time bonding with your dog and improving your health together.

A big thank you to My GBGV Life and Cascadian Nomads for organizing #DogWalkingWeek so that we can all motivate each other and share our tips for getting the most out of our walks with our dogs!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Birthday Walkin'

We missed FitDog Friday this week because my parents were here to celebrate my 30th birthday on Thursday, so we were on the go from the time they arrived on Wednesday evening to when they left on Saturday morning.

Lucky for me and Barley, My GBGV Life and Cascadian Nomads are hosting Walk Your Dog Week right now, so we don't have to wait until next Friday to share our adventures.

One of our favorite places to walk is the Holden Arboretum. We go at least once a month and love the   arboretum in all different seasons, but my personal favorite time to go is the first weekend in October when the arboretum puts on their Goblins in the Garden event. The actual event is always the first weekend in October on Saturday and Sunday, so it's like they are throwing me my own birthday party!

I often write about my adventures with walking a reactive dog and how far we've come since starting training almost 3 years ago. One of the most important parts of walking with a reactive dog is knowing your dogs limits and never setting them up for failure. I know that Barley is very anxious around large groups of children and other dogs, so taking her to Goblins in the Garden when there are hundreds of kids in costumes and dogs in costume would be a mistake. Instead, each year, we go celebrate my birthday on the Friday before the event. Usually, the volunteers are setting up the different stations that visitors can stop at for photo opportunities and the Scarecrow Row where local groups have scarecrows entered into a contest. We stop by the stations that are already set up and have our own photo shoots.

This year, my "birthday party" was even more special because my parents were there to experience it with us--and Pup and I got to take some pictures together!

We joined a scarecrow family on their tour of the arboretum. Barley liked little Daisy Field.

Our tour guide was not Barley's favorite guy.

They also had a scarecrow graveyard of historical figures. We had to stop to visit with Louisa May and Mark Twain.

Barley's always read to speak for the trees.

I love this picture because you can just tell that Barley has no idea what we're doing, but she's willing to humor me.

All my favorite wild things.

I'm not ready to build a snowman yet, but Olaf's always fun.

My parents posed with Mother Nature.
We had a nice 2.26-mile walk through the display gardens and the rhododendron garden. My mom had visited with us once before, but my dad had never been, so it was fun to show him around our favorite place to walk as well as see all of the fun fall displays.

Barley is a very visual dog. She notices any time something changes on our normal walking routes--once they added a new memorial plaque on a rock along one trail at the arboretum and Barley crouched and gave it the border collie stare. She refused to walk past it until she'd had a chance to walk all the way around it and sniff it from every angle. Visiting the arboretum when they're preparing for an event like this is great reaction to distraction practice. It's always nice to know we have a safe place to work on the skills that are most important for taking enjoyable walks with a reactive dog.