Friday, July 24, 2015

Rediscovering the Holden Arboretum

If you've been with us a while, you know that the Holden Arboretum is our very favorite place to visit. My parents get me a membership each year for my birthday and Barley and I make good use of it as we visit year-round, often several times a month. So, you may be wondering how on Earth we could possibly need to "rediscover" the arboretum.

Somehow, between traveling and exploring other parks, we hadn't made it to the arboretum in over two months! Earlier this week, I was in a funk for no apparent reason, so it was clear that the only cure would be to visit our happy place.

On Wednesday morning, I set an alarm so we could be sure to get the arboretum before it got too warm and off we went. I am pretty sure if Barley were in a car with someone who had never been to the arboretum before she could direct them there all on her own. She knows each and every turn, has one bark for correct turns, and a panicky bark for wrong turns (which makes driving really fun when there are construction detours).

The heat of the last few days seemed to have disappeared and we had the most perfect day. We got to stroll through the display garden and enjoy the flowers that are blooming right now.

We also got to spend some time strolling through the woods and taking advantage of the shade. There were plenty of logs for practicing balance and posing for pictures.

My favorite part, though, was doing the Strong Acres loop. I love the openness of the meadow and the skies were perfectly blue. We hadn't been to this part of the arboretum in ages--maybe over a year. 

To get to this trail, you have to hop across Pierson Creek, which means going down impossibly long staircases and then hopping across rocks; in the summer, that's not too bad as long as there hasn't been much rain, but with my foot issues last summer, we'd skipped out on the stairs. I'm not brave enough to try it in the winter when ice is added into the mix, so it's been a while.

Even though it was a sunny day, it was only 72 degrees, so it was perfect for walking in the wide open spaces. We stopped in the few shady places for water breaks, but we completed the full 1-mile loop without ever feeling too hot.

There were also a lot of bees and butterflies that we got the pleasure of watching towards the end of our walk.

There were also a lot of turtles enjoying the sunshine.
We spent over two hours wandering through the woods, gardens, and meadow to complete a 5.8-mile walk. We ended the week at 30.03 miles

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Can You Train My Dogs To Do That?

I had to laugh when I read the post "How to Piss Off a Golden Retriever Owner" by Pamela over at Something Wagging This Way Comes where she points out how frustrating it is to have years of training overlooked with the phrase "Aren't goldens great?" The night before Pamela posted this, we had had the complete opposite experience and I'd spent the car ride home from the lake brainstorming our post on the subject.

With Barley, we never have anyone make breed assumptions about her because nobody has any idea what my dog is. The shelter had two different descriptions listed on her paperwork. On her kennel, the description was border collie-blue tick coonhound mix. On the papers they sent me home with, they said border collie-shepherd mix.

Everyone we meet has some opinion on what's in there. A few weeks ago, we were walking behind a grandmother and her two granddaughters who were running ahead of her; the little girls turned around, saw us and squealed, "Look behind you! A Saint Bernard!" Monday night, we were walking and an older couple was sitting along the lake eating dinner and the man said, "I just have to ask. Is that a mix?" We talked for a few minutes about some of the guesses; he asked if she was smart when I mentioned border collie and seemed appeased when I said, "Very," but he was caught up on her tail (which was in it's curliest position) and added Spitz and Akita to the mix.

Yes, Sir. This tail does have a mind of its own.
I'm pretty certain Barley does have border collie in her because she does have the weird shoulder blades that allow her to crouch (and kind of give me the heebie jeebies to watch when we're walking)--whatever she is, she's a herding dog (just ask her poor kitty brother, who plays the role of livestock in Barley's life). Beyond that, it's a mystery.

I might look like a different kind of dog from every angle, but I know I'm cute.

Because she's such a mystery, nobody ever assumes that Barley is a good dog because of her breed. Comments about her behavior are always made in regards to training. I've had people roll down the window of their car to ask things like "Are you a dog trainer or just someone out walking her dog?" When we pull off the trail to let other dogs pass, other dog owners will make comments like "You leave that dog alone, she's doing so well with her training." Sometimes it's in the form of "Do you do agility? She's so focused on you!" or "How long did it take to teach her to do that?"

Shortly after our conversation with the older couple on Monday night, we ran into a mother-daughter duo walking down the sidewalk. Barley had waited patiently for a family of Canada Geese to make their way across the trail and into the marina. Then she stuck with me while we passed the two women without batting an eye at them. One of the women said, "Can you teach my dog to do that?" while the other said, "I don't know what it's like to have a dog that ignores other people. My dog is so embarrassing." 

In Barley's mind, she could never embarrass me. I'll let her keep thinking that.

We stopped and chatted for a few minutes about training and how I understood their embarrassment well because Barley struggled with other dogs in public as well as how all three of us had gotten our dogs from shelters. They seemed relieved to learn that Barley had her issues even if they weren't on display at that moment. Barley sat--and I sent her lots of "please don't embarrass me by sticking your nose in their crotches" vibes--and let them pet her while they gushed over how nice it was to be able to pet someone else's dog without having their dogs panic, another scenario I could relate to well, especially since I rarely get to give our agility classmates a pat and they're all such lovely dogs.

As we parted ways, they were talking about the challenges the daughter's dog was going to face when she had her baby since her dog struggles with children. It was clear that the daughter loved her dog and was concerned about how her dog's world would change when the baby arrived. As the distance between us increased, I could hear them brainstorming ways they could begin to introduce the dog to the baby even before the baby was born. Barley continued to trot along beside me and I couldn't help but smile knowing that Barley'd helped these women start thinking about how to help their dogs with their struggles. 

I know Barley's not perfect (for example, moments before she'd been very torn between sampling a half-eaten rabbit carcass we came across choosing to listen when I squealed, gagged, and tried to spout out "Leave it"), but it's always nice when her good behavior leads to conversations about training with people because those are a lot easier for me to carry on than conversations that start with "What is that dog?"

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday's Tomes: Cats, Dogs, Mockingbirds, and Children--Oh My!

I mentioned yesterday that it's been insanely hot the last few days (at least in terms of northeast Ohio summers--Southerns, let me whine about the heat and I won't begrudge you when you whine to me about the cold in February). For the last several days, I have spent the majority of the day sprawled across my bed in front of a fan reading. There hasn't been a lot of rhyme or reason to the books I've chosen this month, so this month's Quick Lit is a bit of a grab bag, but I'm proud to say that I've powered through 6 different books already this month and checked off another two categories for The Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge.

As I mentioned earlier, I traveled at the beginning of the month and I can't read anything serious on a plane, so I chose Book 2 of the Fat Cat Mystery series, Fat Cat Spreads Out by Janet Cantrell. I don't often read cat books, but I think Soth sometimes gets jealous of the number of dogs books that I bring home, so I try to appease him with the occasional cat book. I do love this series. It calls a fat cat named Quincy whose owner Chase runs a bakery; Quincy is on a diet but always hungry and always escaping in search of food. Some how, his escapades always lead to the discovery of a body and Chase getting involved in a murder investigation. This book takes place at the county fair and involves butter sculptors. Since I fell in love with the idea of butter sculpting after seeing the movie Butter, this book was all I wanted it to be and more. Plus, all of the books in this series end with recipes for the cookie bars for humans that are discussed in the book as well as a recipe for a kitty snack. Soth would have no interest in the treats in this book, but I'm looking forward to trying the pumpkin bars when fall rolls around.

I'd pre-ordered two books for the challenge months ago and have been waiting impatiently for their arrival. It was a tough decision of which book read first, but Barley licked Scents and Sensibility, so I figured that gave me my answer.

For the category of a book by a favorite author, I chose Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn. This is the 8th book in the Chet and Bernie mystery series, which I discovered last year. I quickly worked my way through books 1-7 last year (plus a couple short stories on the Kindle app) and fell in love with Chet, a failed K9 cop, who is adopted by a failed human cop turned private investigator named Bernie. Chet reminds me so much of Barley--not only is similarly colored and a mix of dog that nobody can identify, he's also super smart and eager to please, but has a bit of a naughty side. Often, Chet starts out focused on what he's supposed to be doing, usually sitting calmly beside Bernie, and then starts inching closer to something he shouldn't--like burgers, a bird, a tiny pony--only to find Bernie's hand resting gently on his collar. These stories are told from Chet's perspective and are always fun to read. This book is no different from the others in terms of excitement: as always, Chet gets separated from Bernie and has to find his way back; he makes a variety of new friends along the way; he romps with his pal Iggy; and he eats a few donuts. This book was a little different than past stories, though--you get more background on how Bernie found himself off the police force and for the first time, you see him questioning whether it's right to have his pet dog in these highly dangerous situations. While the book still had the typical happy ending, it wasn't wrapped up in as much of a nice neat package as the others have been and I am going to be worried about Chet and Bernie until book 9 is released.

With the release of Harper Lee's new book, I'd read several reviews and most emphasized that you couldn't appreciate the new book without a love of To Kill a Mockingbird. I read--and loved--that book in high school, but it's been at least 15 years since I'd read it. When I swung by campus to get the book from my office, our assistant dean mentioned that his son was currently reading it and not enjoying it; he asked me why I liked it and the only thing I could really remember about my first read was loving Dill--so much so that when we watched the movie in class and their Dill wasn't my Dill, I put my head on my desk and completely wrote off the movie version. Since so much criticism of the new book focuses on the shift in Atticus's character, I reread it paying special attention to Atticus. After reading the book through that lens, I think Atticus's character may have been distorted over the years. Is he a good man? Yes. Is he the civil rights advocate that lives in our memories of reading To Kill a Mockingbird? I don't think so. He takes Tom Robinson's case because he has to; he's been assigned to the case because Tom can't afford a lawyer of his own choosing. Really, the hero might be Judge Taylor who assigns Atticus to the case knowing that Atticus's love of the law and justice will motivate him to take the case seriously when other lawyers wouldn't have. In addition to seeing Atticus's role in the trial differently, I also noticed he made a few disparaging remarks about women--such as when he's telling Scout that women in Alabama can't serve on juries and states, "I doubt if we'd ever get a complete case tried--the ladies'd be interrupting to ask questions." But, I still loved Dill and I might need to get the new To Kill a Mockingbird shirt from Out of Print Books.

Once the announcement of a new Harper Lee book was made, it was easy to decide that Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee would be my selection for the challenge category of a book published this year. I just finished this book mere hours ago, so my thoughts aren't fully formed about this one yet, but I didn't hate it. I'm not shocked by the fact that Atticus as an old man is a segregationist. I grew up in the South. I love the South. But I left the South--much like Scout, or Jean Louise as she's called in this story. As Scout tries to wrap her mind around this new truth, she notes that she never knew hate or suspicion until she moved to the north, that the north has laws "to keep you from hating." She thinks, "I can say only this--that everything I learned about human decency I learned [in Maycomb]." That was a sentiment that rang true for me--the people I grew up with are some of the kindest, most compassionate people I know who would do anything for anyone in need in their community, but they're also some of the people who make the cruelest comments in regards to current events. I felt Scout's struggle with this because it's something I still haven't been able to wrap my mind around, either. I do agree with reviews that say this book couldn't stand alone--if you don't have the backstory from To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout's revelations about her father and her town aren't very powerful. My favorite parts were flashbacks to her childhood, such as a revival she held with Jem and Dill. Even though Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy doesn't see the book as a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, I think I do. There are paragraphs in the book that are almost word-for-word identical to paragraphs in To Kill a Mockingbird, such as descriptions of how Maycomb became the town center and how long it took people to make it into town or descriptions of Aunt Alexandra. The strongest scenes in my opinion on the ones where she flashes back to Scout's childhood. In most creative writing classes, at some point, you'll hear the instructor comment on how sometimes you have to write [insert number of pages here] first before you figure out what story you're really trying to tell; that's the feel I got from this book--it seems like Lee knew she wanted to tell the story of a small southern community and what it was like to grow up in that community and when her editors suggested a reframing of what was presented in Go Set a Watchman, we got To Kill a Mockingbird.

For a book published this year, I could just as easily have chosen the new Toni Morrison book God Help the Child. As someone who teaches a lot of American literature, it seems prudent to read new books by Morrison. The reviews of this book have not been kind and I think I'm of the opinion that this book wouldn't have been published if it had been written by anyone other than Toni Morrison. God Help the Child brings up important topics that we need to have conversations about, not only about race, but also about how the actions of adults affect children and the people they grow up to be. This book has some of the typical magical realism-like elements that Toni Morrison known for, like the ghost daughter in Beloved and the zoot suit man in Home, but she beats you over the head with them and spells everything out for readers, which seems a little insulting. As the main character Bride finds her body regressing to her childhood body, the narrator points out that she was becoming like a little girl again. I just kept thinking duh, I realized that chapters ago.  I also had trouble deciding what time period the story was taking place in. It's noted as being one of the few books Morrison sets in a contemporary setting--but during Sweetness's chapters, I had no idea we were in the present day. The last chapter was haunting and has stuck with me for over a week, and I thought the chapter about Booker and his response to his brother's murder would have made an excellent short story, though.

Last but not least, I needed something silly after reading Toni Morrison and Amazon had recommended the new Pet Boutique mystery series when I ordered the Fat Cat book. Paws for Murder by Annie Knox seemed perfect since it featured a dog and a cat, so no sibling rivalry would occur while I read it. I can't say I loved this book. It was entertaining, but it was also ridiculous. The main character is a woman in her early 30s whose life has been turned upside down after being dumped by her high school sweetheart after he finishes medical school; her whole life had been planned out around his plans, including putting off going to fashion school in New York until he was ready to start a career there. The main character, Izzy, ends up opening a boutique for pets and on opening night a murder takes place in her alley; to save her best friend from going to prison, she has to figure out what really happened. I had trouble relating to Izzy--the whole putting your life on hold for a guy thing has never seemed interesting to me, so in her few "woe is me" moments, I had trouble caring. She also regularly says the phrase, "Good heavens" (and on at least one occasion "Merciful heavens") and while I occasionally say good heavens in jest, I have never once met anyone my age who uses that phrase in everyday conversation, so that was always jolting and laughable. But there is a guinea pig named Gahndi roaming the pages of the story, so the book has that going for it.

With Scents and Sensibility and Go Set a Watchman, I've officially checked off 10 of the 12 categories for the reading challenge and still have several months to conquer a book my mom loves and a book "everyone" has read but me.

What are you reading this month? Have you read or do you plan to read Go Set a Watchman? Be sure to check out the rest of the Quick Lit link up to see what other people have been reading lately.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Neighborhood Pests

Y'all, it's been hot here. Really disgustingly hot. And muggy. I know our southern friends have been dealing with this for months (as my mom so kindly reminded me when I called her whining on Saturday), but when just a few evenings ago we were taking 68-degree walks along the lake, waking up and having it be 80+ before 10:00 a.m. is too much for us. We spent most of the weekend lounging in front of the fan and reading. I was certain we'd survive the weekend without mischief.

But our neighborhood had other ideas.

Our apartment has one ancient wall a/c unit that does little to actually cool the apartment off. Even after being on all day yesterday, the thermostat still read 76 degrees. Our backyard is often more comfortable than the inside of the apartment, so yesterday afternoon I hooked Barley up to her long lead, set up a mat, put some Dogsbutter in her kong, poured a Dog Days dortmunder for myself, pulled up the Pirates game on my iPad, and headed outside.

We were enjoying some fresh air when all of the sudden there was the squeal of a firework. Barley climbed up onto the table I had my beer and iPad on and then hopped over the back of my chair and squished herself into the tiny space between the chair and the wall--and just like that our relaxing afternoon outside was over.

After dinner, it had cooled off enough to get a second walk in and there had been no more fireworks, so we headed out. Barley knows that she is supposed to sit and wait while I lock the front door, but last night, she was dancing around and making it impossible to get the door locked. After a brief struggle, I noticed that she'd found something.

She couldn't decide whether it was something scary or something interesting and think she finally settled on it being a little bit of both.

I have no idea what kind of bug this thing was, but it was absolutely prehistoric. Barley would inch closer to it and then jump away. A few times she snorted at it and it fell off the wall and started it's ascent again.

We snapped a few pictures and then went on our way--hopefully the gross little guy stayed outside because I do not want to come across him in my house!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Happiest Dog in the World

This week hasn't exactly been memorable, especially after last week's adventures, but it was exactly the kind of week we love.

We stuck close to home this week with the exception of our post-agility walk.

Barley loves going to tell her friends about what happened in agility in each week.

The summer crowd is starting to slow down a little bit now that the 4th of July is over. Weekends are still pretty busy, but the state park has been virtually empty this week. Over the weekend, we ventured a couple towns over to Lakeshore Reservation, which gives us a little more shade and fewer people since it's not right down the street from the wineries and the restaurants like state park is. 

It was a warm day and there were a lot of kids on the beach, so we stuck to the trails instead of playing on the beach. Last summer, the non-paved trails were really overgrown and I just don't enjoy walking through spider webs, so we've never spent much time on those trails. This week, though, we noticed they were well groomed and gave us a new place to explore.

One of my favorite features of this park is a sculpture garden. I don't know what the sculptures are supposed to be, but it's something a little different to enjoy as we walk along the lake.

Last week, Barley was more velcro than normal (and she's normally very velcro to begin with)--which is probably a result of boarding her. It was nice to see her starting to relax and be my smiley girl again this week. 

When we were posing on the ledges trail last week, she had very little interest in sit-stays and it took a lot of bribery to get her to stay while I backed away far enough to get some of the pictures. This week, she was content to to get back to her "modeling." Her smile seemed to go on for days.

Until crashing waves threatened to get her tail--but she still tried really hard to keep her sit-stay . . .

Throughout our walks this week, there were comments from other trail users about her smile, her prancing, and her sweetness. I couldn't be happier to have the happiest dog in the world back.

Perfect weather this week lead to 4 walks at the state park this week and a total of 34.26 miles for the week. Happy FitDog Friday!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The beautiful thing about summer in Ohio, especially this summer, is that most days I can sleep in without worrying too much about whether it's going to be too hot to get a walk in after breakfast (unlike our trips to my parents in Alabama where we have to get up with the sun to even get 1.5 miles in). 

Last week, I was visiting my grandparents for their 60th wedding anniversary, so Barley and Soth were both in boarding with our trainer. (Sidenote: Friday came and went way too quickly, so I never actually got the blog I'd written linked up with last FitDog Friday--if you are interested in our 6-month resolution update, here it is.) Since we'd been separated for 5 whole days, I wanted to make sure that Barley had a fun week this week.

We got in a couple walks at our most regular parks, so we could check in on the lake and our deer friends.

On Wednesday, Barley and I took a nice walk in our neighborhood, but it was still nice and cool after lunch, so we decided to go on a big adventure and explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We'd been once before--way back when we first started this blog--and I'd always meant to go back. If you Google national parks and dogs, CVNP shows up on all of the "best national parks to visit with your dog" lists. The park is huge--over 20,000 acres and 100 miles of trails--and 5 of the 50 hikes in my beloved Doggin' Cleveland are at various parts in the park. 

On our first visit, we'd tried to find Brandywine Falls, but we'd parked at the parking lot recommended by Doggin' Cleveland and a lack of clearly marked trails/easy to read maps, we took a few wrong trail, which still gave us a nice walk but we'd walked too far on a warm day to make it all the way to the falls. The park is about an hour--more depending on which trail we're heading to and road construction--so it's been a long time since we've ventured back there.

This week, we were smarter and went to the parking lot that's right by the observation area for the falls. There's a big loop that takes you from the parking lot to the falls and back across the creek to the parking lot; however, the bridge to take the loop back to the parking lot was closed, so we just took the trail down to the water and back up. 

We're not going to let a closed bridge stop us--Diva dog doesn't want to rock hop across, but she likes out-and-back trails.

The upper observation area of the falls was a very narrow area with a lot of people crowded on it and I wasn't feeling like attempting the many stairs down to the lower observation deck, so there were not good picture opportunities for the falls.

Top of the falls

Despite that, we had a lovely shady, wooded walk and could hear the roar of the falls for the majority of it.

She stepped a little deeper into the creek than she'd planned

The #1 hike in Doggin' Cleveland mentioned another CVNP trail, The Ledges Trail. It was about a 10 minute drive to that trailhead from the falls parking lot. Y'all, I love ledges. Ledges are cool and damp, so even on the hottest day ledges are good places to walk. I didn't realize that there were ledge at CVNP, so we couldn't pass up an opportunity to try out this trail.

Nice people on the trail saw Barley posing and asked if we wanted a picture together!

The trail around the ledges was great. There were some inclines, so I got my heart rate up a few times, but they weren't as terrible as some of our previous parks, so I didn't wake up sore and regret the hike the next day. If you're ever looking for a great national park to visit, you could spend days exploring CVNP and see many different types of landscape, so Barley and I highly recommend it.

I mentioned last week that we'd worked on getting ahead so that we wouldn't fall behind while I was out of town. Our weekly mileage is calculated from Friday-Thursday (so each FitDog Friday is the start of a new week). Since I missed several days at the beginning of this week, I was worried about how we'd do this week. After a few days of shorter walks in boarding, Barley was ready for adventure this week. This week's mileage: 21.46 miles

Happy FitDog Friday everyone!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Embracing Failure

The theme for this week's Positive Pet Training Hop is the fallible trainer. This is a topic that's been hard for me to accept as part of dog training.  In Life Before Barley, failure wasn't a word that was in my vocabulary. Not because I'm perfect, but because I'd been trained that failure wasn't an option.

When I was growing up, if I brought home an assignment with a 95 on it, my mom would say, "Uh oh. What happened?" When I'd practice softball with my dad, we'd set a goal of how many catches we had to make in a row and increase the difficulty each toss by taking a step apart--if I missed, we started over. One of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood was when I had memorized a piece for a piano recital but had the music in front of me "just in case" and I glanced up at the page and forgot where I was in the song and never got back on track--I ran out of the room after I left the stage and cried in the bathroom until the recital was over.

Then one day, I got this crazy, lovable, funny, reactive border collie mix--and my views on failure stayed the same. Barley loves going to school, probably as much as I do. When we started private lessons, she caught on to everything quickly and was eager to please. We followed our trainer's advice to a tee and Barley had mastered her homework a week ahead of what our trainer had expected.

Smart dogs love hiking in the footsteps of literary masters.

I beamed with pride every time we left a lesson and was thisclose to getting a "My Border Collie is Smarter than your Honor Student" sticker for my car--until we started agility.

I've never been very coordinated and I can't tell my left from my right 95% of the time (seriously--I often hold up my hands to see which makes an L when I'm told to put Barley on my left!). I would be 100% convinced that I had done exactly what our trainer had asked--only to get correction after correction about the direction my feet were pointed in, what I was doing with my hands, the amount of words I was using (or not using).

With the exception of writing workshops, I hadn't been in situations where I got a lot of constructive criticism before and between turns I stayed focused on keeping Barley relaxed, so I didn't always pick up on the fact that everyone was getting corrections as well. I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated and Barley is very attuned to my moods, so she would get frustrated. When I got frustrated, it would be even harder for me to give Barley clear signals because I couldn't get out of my own mind and that just added to Barley's frustrations. For a while, I was considering quitting agility. Being around other dogs in a high energy situation was good training for Barley, but our turns on the course were adding more stress to her life.

Finally, our first agility trainer stopped me and said, "In agility, you're going to fail more than you succeed. The quicker you learn that, the more fun this will be." That moment changed everything for me.

Our current trainer has stressed the importance of failure in training a dog. If a dog gets everything right on the first try, they don't really understand what they did well. This has been especially important in teaching Barley to weave and I've gotten really good at marking mistakes with an "uh oh" (definitely turning into my mother) and helping Barley work through problems to make sure she understands what she's being asked to do. This is true in my own life, too. Even though I got awards for my GPA in English classes every year in high school, I never really knew why I was a good writer. It wasn't until I started tutoring ESL students who didn't inherently know the rules of English grammar and I had to figure out how to explain those rules that I really learned how to write.

Learning that failure is ok has been a really important part of the training process. Failure is no longer a negative thing when it comes to training Barley (although some still create some heartbreak). Instead, failure is something that we learn from and then move on from. Embracing failure has given me back my happy, goofy dog who loves agility.