Friday, January 29, 2016

Border Collies Aren't Apartment Pets?

Recently, I saw another list about the dog breeds you think you want but probably shouldn't get. Every time I see one of these lists or lists about the worst apartment dogs, border collies are always on the list. There are a lot of myths out there about our lives with pets and the idea that a border collie can't live in an apartment is one that really gets to me. I understand where it comes from--border collies are active dogs that need a lot of physical and mental exercise and with apartments, there is limited space and rarely a yard.

But when every single list that that circulates on the internet labels border collies as bad apartment pets, some really great dogs run the risk of missing out on life with some really great people simply because those people happen to live in apartments.

What these lists should really say is that border collies aren't pets for inactive families. I've heard of rescues and shelters denying applications for herding dogs because the applicants live in apartments. Luckily for me and Barley, when I went to our local shelter, they were so overcrowded and so understaffed that nobody called my landlord or my vet to make sure I was a fit adopter for Barley, so when I fell in love with her, I had nothing to worry about.

Border collies and other herding dogs need jobs and exercise, or they get destructive or hurt themselves, but that doesn't mean that they need a lot of space. Barley, Soth, and I live in a two-bedroom apartment, but Barley and I spend a lot of time training, hiking, walking, and playing, so I don't think Barley's missing out on anything a dog, even a herding dog, needs by living in an apartment.

In five years of sharing an apartment with a border collie mix, I've come across several reasons that border collies make great apartment pets.

Border collies are smart and love to learn. Apartments can be places with a lot of distractions. You share walls (and depending on the apartment, sometimes ceilings and floors) with other people. You hear a lot of things: televisions, voices, vacuums, dishes clanking against the edge of the sink, other dogs barking. Barley and I have done a lot of reaction to distraction training and she catches on quickly. If she seems interested in a noise coming from the other side of the wall, it's not hard to redirect her with a verbal command and a reward. While barking dogs tend to be one of Barley's triggers, when one of our neighbors got a dog and we started hearing the occasional bark, Barley caught on very quickly when I turned to our previous training. I also placed her crate against the wall farthest from any shared walls in the apartment so that when I'm gone and can't remind her to ignore noises, she's farther away from the distractions. Our previous neighbors told me that they never would have known I had a dog if they hadn't seen me out with her. Nobody wants to live next to a dog that barks all day and if a person is willing to put forth the effort to train the dog not to react to the noises that come from shared space, a border collie is an excellent candidate for that training.

A steady supply of rewards keeps Barley focused on me and not the noise next door.

Border collies like to keep an eye on their "flock." Soth and I are Barley's flock. Anyone who comes into our home becomes a temporary flock member. Barley wants to keep an eye on all of and make sure we're all safe and we're all where we're supposed to be. Barley doesn't need a huge house because that would impede her ability to keep an eye on us. Even if Barley hangs out in one of the other rooms, she positions herself where she can see out the door and keep an eye on my movements. When we visit my parents, who live in a 4-bedroom, multi-story house, Barley stays in living room or kitchen where most people congregate or she hangs out in the open space on the second floor where she can look down into the living room. An apartment makes it easy for a border collie to keep their flock safe because there's less territory to patrol.

From here, I can keep an eye on everyone.

Border collies like team activities. Border collies and other herding dogs were bred to work with humans to take care of livestock. They like activities that let them work with their people. Even though I'm on a mission to make 2016 the year Barley gets a yard, I know she won't enjoy that yard unless I'm doing something with her. When we visit my parents, Barley prefers to be inside with me rather than out in their fenced yard. If I let her out, she might wander around and sniff for a minute, but the second I head back in, she's right on my heels. She's not the type of dog that wants to explore alone or will run around on her own. If there's a squirrel on the deck, she wants out to chase it, but as soon as it escapes the yard, she wants back in. She'll play outside in the yard if I throw a ball for her or get out her tunnel or a jump, but if I'm not involved in her outdoor activities, she doesn't want to be outdoors. She's much happier going to agility class or doing noseworks or going for a hike than she is when she's just hanging out in the yard.

Yards are great, but only if we can play together.

Border collies are smart and energetic, so people should do research before adding one to their lives. I have no problem with lists pointing out border collies aren't easy dogs. But border collies aren't automatically bad apartments pets. Not every person who lives in an apartment should have a border collie, but that doesn't mean that nobody who lives in an apartment should. If you're willing to put in the time and effort to keep your border collie's mind and body working, border collies can become great apartment pets.

Sidenote: Thank you to To Dog With Love and Paw5 and everyone else who was involved in the Paw5 Twitter Launch Party where we won a Rock 'N Bowl, which just adds to the enrichment Barley gets in her apartment life!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

It Must Be Frustrating

Last week, I wrote about how Barley's progressing with the challenges in her new agility class.  Emma commented, "It has to be so frustrating with all the issues she has." When I read that, I started to type out a reply, but it kept getting longer and longer, and I decided that maybe that was a sign this should just become a whole post.

I've mentioned that I often quote Charlie Brown in saying, "Why can't I have a normal dog like everyone else?" I've spent a lot of time talking about the challenges of life with Barley: her hatred of the dog next-door, her reactions to new classmates, and having to realize that there are things she can't do. It can be frustrating.

But mostly it's not. Mostly, it's rewarding. Barley has come so far in the 4.5 years we've been working with trainers. When I first got her, we couldn't walk by a house with a dog in the yard--whether or not the dog was barking or paying attention to us--without Barley getting a mohawk, snarling, and jumping up and down. Now, we can walk by yards with multiple dogs barking and bouncing around and Barley stays calm and focused on me. When we started agility, Barley would get so distracted that she'd regularly leave my side to explore the room. Now, even with extra distractions, it just takes a quick 8-jump warm-up drill and she's ready to work (with the occasional reward in the difficult areas).

Our proudest accomplishment: passing the CGC test in 2012.

If Barley wasn't a reactive dog, we never would have signed up for agility or noseworks. We never would have taken our tricks and games class. We never would have met our wonderful, supportive group of trainers and classmates.

Barley and all of her challenges have made me a better a person. She's taught me patience. She's taught me the value of hard work and helped me see the rewards that come from really giving my all to something. She's made me more forgiving and more humble. She's helped me to be present and really become aware of my surroundings. She's made me a more responsible pet owner.

It would be a lie to say that life with Barley is never frustrating. There are times I've been angry and been heartbroken. There are times I've wished that she could be like other dogs.

But then I spend time with other dogs, and I realize that I've got my perfect dog. We're a team and her successes are my successes. My failures are her failures. My childhood dog was my very best friend and in life before Barley I couldn't have ever imagined having a stronger relationship with an animal, but Barley and I are off the charts. She might not be easy, but every single second and every single heartbreak and frustration have been worth it. And I wouldn't change a thing about my crazy girl.

Be sure to check out all of the other posts in this week's Barks and Bytes hosted by Heart Like a Dog and 2 Brown Dawgs.

Heart Like a Dog

Friday, January 22, 2016

One Day at a Time

It seems like Barley and I were just starting classes at the new training center, but this week marked our third week--which is half a session--there. I'd like to say that we've overcome the challenges of the big window by now, but it seems like each week brings something new.

In Week 2, one of our regular classmates was out of town, a new classmate joined us, and another of our regular classmates came with a second dog to take the place of the missing dog. Barley handled the changes in dogs very well. Barley always has the floor to herself when it's her turn, so we didn't have to worry about having close encounters with them and could just work on staying calm while they worked.

But the new dogs brought new challenges. Since one person had two dogs, one was crated while the other was on the floor. The dog we're used to has been working on staying calm in the crate when his mom is out of sight, but he was very vocal about being left in the crate while his sister came out on the floor. His sister also somehow got her mouth caught in the bars of the crate during one of Barley's turns and started screaming. Barley immediately stopped in her tracks and started to shut down. I stuck her leash back on her and we started doing some of her relaxation and focus work while the dog was freed and checked out by her mom and our trainer.

The other new dog wasn't an issue at all. He's young and high energy, so we all left the room while he took his turns so he had fewer distractions to work with the first night. Barley and I worked on just relaxing in the storage room off of the main training floor.

Last week and this week, the windows have continued to be a challenge, but our trainer's been giving us some warm up exercises at the end of the floor with the windows to help Barley get used to looking at me for cues rather than admiring her reflection or investigating the headlights in the windows. This week, our trainer had 4 jumps set up in front of the windows and we worked on sending to the jump and calling Barley back to my side for a treat before sending to the next one. We do variations of this any time Barley gets a little wacky and doing it in front of the windows was a good way to remind her that I'm supposed to be the interesting thing in her environment. After we did the drill twice, she was much more focused and was able to do a whole course--with well timed treats at the window end of the room.

Barley had an up close encounter with her new classmate this week. I had Bar set up on her mat in the storage room and I stood in the doorway, so I could listen to the feedback our classmates were getting. At one point, our new classmate got distracted and decided to wander over our way. I wasn't able to get the door shut before he got through. He came bouncing towards Barley, ready to play. That's usually the behavior that sends Barley into a tizzy, but she didn't snarl or snap and she didn't even get a mohawk. She also didn't tell him that she wanted to play, but she remained calmed while his mom came and collected him. And I took steps to make sure we could get the door closed faster should he mosey on over our way again (and the poor fellow had a door shut in his face twice that night!). I was so proud of the way she reacted. 

We haven't settled into the new routine as quickly as I'd like, but as always, Barley reminds me to be patient and take training one step at a time, one day at a time. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Why Winter Walking's Wonderful

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a southern girl living in Northeast Ohio. It's not hard for me to convince myself to stay indoors on cold, snowy days, especially when you have the devil on your shoulder cat on your lap telling you it's smarter to stay inside and snuggle and read.

But Barley is my little Abominable Snowpup, so I feel guilty when I deprive her of snow time and I know we need to get out and walk at least a little bit every day if we want to have any chance of meeting our yearly mileage goals. Plus, once we get out there, winter walking isn't all that bad. Here are our top 6 reasons for loving it.

Fewer Distractions
This is a big plus for anybody living with a reactive dog. Barley's come a long way since our first walk, but when the weather's nice, everybody's out and that means we're both on high alert all the time. I have to be aware of bikes and kids and squirrels before Barley is. I have to have my sprayshield at the ready should we encounter other dogs. Winter walks are a little more relaxed. We rarely see anyone else walking. There are hardly ever any tracks besides ours in the snow. Dogs and other distractions show up better in the snow covered world, so even when they're there, it's easier to spot them before Barley does. We still have distractions, but we can enjoy the world around us a little more when we have it mostly to ourselves.

Even though there are fewer distractions, there are still a lot of great opportunities to introduce your dog to new things and keep them from feeling isolated. Very few things come through our yard in the winter. There might be the occasional cat track, but Barley gets bored with sniffing those pretty quickly. When we go out into the winter world, she can sniff mounds of freshly plowed snow and new trees and, every now and then, an animal track that's more interesting than a cat. Sometimes, you get a chance to expose your dog to things they'd never see the rest of the year. Yesterday, Barley and I saw kids sledding down a big hill. For a herding dog with a high prey drive, fast moving objects with high pitched squeals are very exciting. We had a chance to do some reaction to distraction practice with something new.

Look at how alert those ears are!

Barley got to watch for a second and then we refocused.

If Barley spent all winter only encountering the sights, sounds, and smells of our yard, she'd go a little bit crazy and agility class would be even more of a challenge. Dogs need mental stimulation, so walking in the winter is a great way to ensure they get that.

On the surface, the winter world might seem grey and dreary, but if you look more closely, the winter world is a beautiful place to walk. One of my favorite holiday songs is Bing Crosby's "A Marshmallow World." I often sing this while Barley and I walk through the snow because the way the snow sparkles in the sun or the way the clouds float across the sky is magical. You never know what you'll see. The other day, Barley and I were walking by the lake and there wasn't much snow on the ground yet, but the waves coming up and crashing over rocks and small trees created these gorgeous ice sculptures. Every time I think the lake can't get more beautiful, it does.

New Places
Since there are fewer people out and about, more places are available for dog adventures. People aren't swimming in Lake Erie this time of year, so I don't have to worry about people on the beach if Barley and I want to stroll on the beach.

Playgrounds are wide open for photoshoots and different exercises--and since the world is extra beautiful, it's a great opportunity to try out different poses for photos.

It's hard not to find things to laugh about when you're walking in the winter. Barley loves to romp through the snow and bury her face in the snow. It's hard not to laugh when she comes up with a face full of snow.

I don't make Barley wear boots often because she really hates them, but when it's in the teens, I insist she wear them. She might not find them laughable, but I can't help but laugh when I see her prancing down the sidewalk or wading into the snow as she tries to lose them in the deep snow. The boots bring smiles to our neighbors, too, as we often have people roll down their windows to comment on her boots.

We both slip and slide around, so I chuckle when I think of how we must look like baby Bambi trying to walk on ice in the Disney movie. I look like a walking marshmallow in all of the layers I pile on and waddle through the house looking fore more layers I can add on. 

Barley does not think it's a laughing matter that I've found this mask. She does not want to be seen with me.

Good Exercise
Probably the most wonderful reason to walk your dog in the winter is the workout you both get. Every year, I forget how difficult it is to walk through the snow. Then the snow comes and we go for a walk and the next day I wake up feeling like I've done an intense leg day at the gym. Our friends over at SlimDoggy regularly talk about adding intensity to your workouts and walking in snow is a cheap and easy way to do that. A short walk through deep snow can get my heart pumping just as much as going on a long hike with lots of changes in elevation. My apartment is old and cold, so when I get dressed in the mornings, I usually pull on leggings before I even get my contacts in, so I rarely look at my legs in the winter, but when spring rolls around and I put on a dress or shorts for the first time that year, I'm always amazed by how powerful my legs look after months of winter walking. Even though Barley doesn't care about how her legs look in a dress, she gets just as much benefit out of walking through the snow. She has to use her muscles differently to bound through the snow than she does to just stroll casually beside me. A lot of times, her movements in the snow remind me of a dolphin jumping through the waves, so I know she's building muscles and burning calories, too. Even when she is just walking, she's still dealing with the extra resistance from the snow. If there's not snow, we still get a good work out from walking in the cold because I try to pick up the pace as much as possible to stay warm--we often shave time off our average time for a mile when we're walking in the cold without snow.

Since it's often too cold to stay out for as long as we do the rest of the year, winter walking can be a great way to get a good work out in less time. Although Barley's been walking an average of 3 miles a day for the last 9 months, the other day a 1.75-mile walk through the snow wore her out for the rest of the afternoon.

Please just let me snuggle with this sweatshirt now.

It can be hard to find motivation to layer up and head out for a walk on a chilly day, but I've found that if I look a little harder there are many reasons to get out and enjoy winter with your dog. If everybody's layered up properly, it can be a fun experience for everyone involved.

What are your favorite things about walking in winter?

Be sure to share with anyone struggling to find the fun in winter!

Happy FitDog Friday everyone! We hope you're staying warm wherever you are!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Dog's Job

Growing up, I never thought much about a dog's need for a job. We never did any training with my childhood dogs beyond the basic skills necessary for living successfully inside a house; sit, down, shake, and potty training was about all they got. Loose leash walking was not part of their daily life and my first dog especially would pull and wheeze at the end of her leash from the second we left the house until the second we got home. There was no recall training--although my first dog was allowed off-leash on the beach.

After they passed the puppy stage, though, they were never destructive or got into trouble that sent them to the vet. I didn't think of it in these terms back then, but their job was to love us. They were happiest when they were near us or playing with us or being pet by us. They didn't need to herd things. They didn't need to fetch for hours on end (although our second dog did love to fetch). They were lovers and that was enough for them.

Then I got Barley and all of the sudden, my little border collie mix made it clear that I had to think about giving a dog a job. Without a job, Barley gets into the trash, finds things to eat that she shouldn't, climbs onto the counters, digs holes in the bedding. She needs to do more than just love me.

She gave herself a job in the first few minutes she was home when she decided herding Soth was her  household chore.

She still thinks that keeping her brother in line is her responsibility, but it's not enough work for her, either. Soth doesn't move enough for her to exercise those border collie instincts all day long and I made it clear long ago that I'm a terrible sheep, so she has given up trying to herd me most of the time.

We've tried various dog sports to give her something to do, and she'll be focused and ready to work when I pull out our odor kit and do some noseworks, but that only occupies her for so long. She enjoys agility, but if there's something more interesting happening (ex. car headlights shining through the window or the sight of her reflection), she's willing to stop doing it and pursue those new interests. So noseworks and agility are hobbies, not jobs.

I thought maybe walking was her job--she does love her walks and gets antsy if she misses one, but they also don't wear her out, either. We can take a five-mile walk in a park, come home, and by the time we get back in the door, she's ready to root in the trash or find a tasty litterbox snack.

A few weeks ago, though, I realized what job Barley takes the most seriously.

The local pet store was doing Santa pictures--we had taken them a few times before at a vet's office to benefit Barley's mothership, the county APL, but the space was small and crowded and it made me anxious. I decided we'd try the new spot out--we could walk over there, survey the parking lot and store windows, and decide whether we really wanted to go in. Nobody else was in the shop, so we went in.

The photographer was setting up her camera, Santa was adjusting his hat, I was trying to figure out how to squeeze in between Santa and the partition. But Barley was sitting and staring carefully at the camera--as the photographer moved the camera around, Barley followed it with her eyes. Finally, the photographer said, "None of the people are ready, but that dog looks like she knows exactly what she's doing." She snapped a few close ups of Bar as Santa and I finished getting ready.

On our walk home, I realized the photographer was right. Barley is the most alert when a camera is present. Her sit-stays are most reliable when I've got the camera out and am moving around to find the right angle. She tries very hard to ignore distractions--whether that's birds, crashing waves, leaves blowing in the wind, or distant dog barks--when the camera is out.  

Why yes, you can drop my leash and back away so you can get me and the rest of the family in front of the train depot.

Even when the camera is out to capture something other than Barley, she thinks she needs to be in he shot and comes running--I have countless closeups of flowers that have a Barley nose creeping into the edge of the photo.

Oh, you wanted to send a pic of this to your BFF--well, I need to be in it, too.

Modeling wears Barley out. We can take a shorter walk combined with a modeling session at the lake and she's ready to nap the rest of the afternoon. I've always joked that she binges on old episodes of America's Next Top Model while I'm at work, but that might just be true.

In Barley's eyes, she is a model and that is the job she enjoys the very most of all.

Be sure to stop by the other Barks & Bytes posts--thanks to Heart Like a Dog and 2 Brown Dawgs for hosting!

Heart Like a Dog

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Mute Confederate

On January 3, Barley and I celebrated 5 years of being in each other's lives. I've been trying to figure out what to say in my post celebrating us for a couple weeks now, but it's hard to find the words. But I realized that if I don't write something now, I'll never get around to it and I can't let a year pass without reflecting on what my Barley girl means to me.

Barley loves me, tests my patience, breaks my heart, makes me laugh, makes me proud, surprises me, and challenges me. She is everything I have ever wanted in a dog and everything I've never wanted a dog to be. Our life together is a series of contradictions that confuse me and amuse me.

Before I discovered blogging, I discovered Jon Katz's A Dog Year--first the movie, then the book. This story of Katz's first border collie let me know I wasn't alone in living with a strong-willed, intelligent, goofy, reactive border collie. Towards the end of A Dog Year, Katz wrote, "Life with him is a curious mix of love and fun and an intellectual combat that never entirely ends." That very much describes my life with Barley.

But she's even more than that. She's helped me fall in love with northeast Ohio and with adventuring in the great outdoors. She's been my friend when I was new in town and didn't know anyone. She's introduced me to wonderful dog-loving people through our training center and through the blog. She's been my family when my family moved 13 hours away. She is always up for whatever I need--whether that's a long winter afternoon nap or a long walk by the lake. Emily Dickinson described her Newfoundland Carlo as her "mute confederate" and that is Barley, too.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I brought Barley home, but every day is an adventure and I wouldn't want to be on it with anyone else but her.

I love you more than zombies love brains, Baby Girl. Here's to many more years of contradicting ourselves--"[we] are large, [we] contain multitudes."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 Pet Blogger Challenge

It's that time again--time to link up with Go Pet Friendly and other other blogging buddies to reflect on last year's blogging and look forward to the future. We hope you'll join us because it's a great learning experience and an even better opportunity to get to know your favorite bloggers and meet new ones.

How long have you been blogging? And, for anyone who is visiting for the first time, please give a quick description of the subject of your blog.
I started the blog in July 2012 as a way to keep track of Barley's training--at the time, we were attempting the TDI test (look back to those early posts for some real Barley mischief!)--as well as all of the great adventures we go on (Barley is my first and favorite hiking buddy). My handsome cat Soth occasionally makes appearances since he's a big part of Barley's life and integrating a dog into our family really affected his life. Every now and then, I talk about what I'm reading because I'm a nerdy English major turned English professor.

And, of course, there's always mischief
What is the one thing that you accomplished during 2015, either on your blog or because of it, that made you most proud?
I'm pretty sure this is similar to last year's response--but we met our goal of walking 1100 miles (and then exceeded it!). Winter 2015 was rough. There were a lot of days when I didn't want to go outside, especially since it was so cold and so icy that we could only go for about a half-mile walk at a time and getting bundled up to walk literally took more time than we could spend outside. But I knew that we needed to check off at least a tiny bit of mileage every day or come December we'd have to tell all of our blogging buddies that we hadn't achieved our goal, so the blog definitely contributed to accomplishing that.
Seriously--we both would have rather been snuggled under the covers. 
Which of your blog posts was your favorite this year and why? (Please include a link.)
This one is a toss up between Dear Cyclists and Dear Parents in my Neighborhood--they're both on essentially the same topic, keeping people and dogs safe, which is something I'm extra concerned about since I share my life with a reactive dog. Even though I was writing about some pet peeves, I think I was able to incorporate humor and point out the importance of the subject at the same time rather than just coming across as an old curmudgeon. It was also nice to see how many people these ideas resonated with.

What is one thing you've done in the past year that has brought more traffic to your blog?
This is one that I haven't actively tried to do. I mean, of course, I want readers and the more readers the better--but I started this blog really for me so I have a record of many of the fun, funny, and frustrating things Barley and I do together, so I've never actually consciously thought "Oh, let me do this to get more readers." The readership has just kind of grown organically by finding blogs with people with similar concerns about reactive dogs or similar interests in hiking (or both!) and commenting on their blogs and reading the blogs of their other commenters, which lead to them coming over to mine. Probably the biggest accidental move that's brought readership to the blog, though, is occasionally linking up on Pinterest for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge in 2015 for the books I was reading for the challenge.

Even Barley appreciated the MMD Reading Challenge.

Which of your blog posts got the most traffic this year? Why do you think it was so popular? (Please include a link.)
My Multiple Pet Mania post on feeding multiple pets was the most viewed post (followed closely by some of the reading challenge posts). While I'd like to think it was so popular because of something I did, I think it's really all to the wonderful hosts of Multiple Pet Mania: My GBGV Life, Wag 'n Woof Pets, and Cascadian Nomads. They came up with some great topics for a fun month-long celebration of living with multiple pets, and I was lucky to be a part of that.

What is one blog that you read religiously--other than our own--and what makes you such a devoted reader? (Please include a link.)
Okay, so I have to break the rules here--while I read and love a lot of blogs, especially on FitDog Friday, there are three that I read every single post regardless of the topic, so I have to mention them all. When I see something new from Jan from Wag 'n Woof Pets, I can't wait to read about the antics her four-legged crew has been getting into, especially Luke who sometimes makes me think he's Barley's brother from another mother. I'm also a huge fan of Tenacious Little Terrier--not only is he super photogenic, he goes on great adventures in a part of the country I'd love to visit. Finally, I love ZoePhee for many of the same reasons, but I also appreciate that they're often training through similar issues to those Barley and I are working on, so it's nice to know I'm not alone.

What resources do you rely on to enhance your technical, writing, photography, social media, or other skills that improve your blog?
This is another question I don't really have an answer for. As someone who teaches college writing and has an M.A in creative writing, I don't spend a lot of time actively thinking about ways to improve my own writing. After taking on new responsibilities at work, I have little time to focus on editing photos, so with the exception of a few Instagram filters, I don't spend much time on that. These are all areas that I think "Oh, it would be nice if I did this," but then it comes down to spending time adventuring with my Barley girl or sitting at the computer for longer periods of time to work on making adjustments to the blog. Barley always wins.

What is the best piece of advice you can offer other bloggers?
I'm getting that deja vu feeling again, so this could be what I said last year, too. Stay true to yourself and to your pets, share real life stories. I used to read many more blogs religiously, but this year especially it started to seem like every other post was a product review and I got bored and quit reading--especially when 4 or 5 of the blogs we read are all reviewing similar products. The way I look at it, Barley likes food (and non-food--she eats cat poop after all), so we don't review treats because Barley would never give anything even semi-edible a bad review (and the ones she likes best--like stinky fish treats--are the ones I like least because I end up going to work and grabbing a pair of gloves on my way out the door only to get halfway to the office and realize my gloves smell like salmon jerky). Plus, most of the time, when we see treat reviews on blogs, I've already seen the products in the store and bought a package to try, so we know the benefits already. That doesn't mean I don't like any post that reviews treats--some of our favorite blogs do that all the time, but they always integrate the reviews into stories about training a specific behavior or using them for trail snacks; the posts are never just about the product and I personally like that more personal aspect. I don't mind seeing the occasional review as long as the pet personalities that drew me into the blog in the first place aren't lost in the process--so I guess this was a long way of saying my advice is to not get so caught up in reviews that you lose focus on your pet and the personal aspect of the blog.

What is your vision for the blog in 2016? Do you have specific goals?
It seems like in the last few months the only thing I was really talking about was our progress on meeting our 1100-mile goal. This is probably because work obligations and travel made it hard to post more than once a week and our adventures were limited, so the mileage goal was really the biggest thing happening in our lives. In 2016, I'd like to bring in new topics--still related to training, adventuring, and life with a reactive dog, but just some fresh ideas. A big part of this for the beginning of the year will be training through Barley's new distractions in agility class--and while I'm certainly not asking the universe to continue throwing distractions at us all year long, I do hope to continue talking about some new ideas throughout the entire year.

Barley is ready for adventure in 2016!

Is there one blogging challenge you'd like help with, or one aspect of the blog that you'd like input on?
Asking now might be a little premature, but I'm going to use this space to do it anyway. Right now, all of our pictures are either taken on my phone (or iPad if it's closer) or a little point-and-click digital camera that's easy to toss in our backpack. My car payments are almost over, so I'm thinking that by the time the big 32 rolls around in October, a real camera might be a good birthday present to myself. So many of you take such awesome action shots and portraits of your pups that I'd love some guidance on what type of camera will make Barley's already photogenic face even prettier in pictures.

Taking a family selfie is harder than it should be.
We're looking forward to reading about everyone else's goals and challenges for the coming year as well as expanding our "blogs you read religiously" list! Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Shaking Up Routines

Earlier this week, Barley, Soth, and I came home from a 2+ week visit with my family for the holidays. While family time is always great, Barley and I are both creatures of habit and love our routines, so it's always good to come home (except for the fact that when we're at my parents, my dad gets up super early, so Soth goes to him for breakfast and lets me sleep until a decent hour and that joy is over now).

We celebrated our homecoming with a nice 3+ mile walk at the lake and despite a few icy patches on the sidewalk, we both had a skip in our step. Barley was especially happy to see a little snow on the ground even if it wasn't the 4-6 inches Facebook's trending stories told us to expect.

There were a lot of interesting "ice sculptures" along the shore where waves had crashed on rocks and small plants, so it was a beautiful homecoming.

The park had also cut down a few trees in our absence, so Barley made sure to check them out, too. She's a dog that notices everything, so we had to stop and inspect ever singled downed tree.

Then we got to do a lot of noticing later in the day as well. For the last two years, we've had agility at the same time on the same day in the same location. We've been in the same place for all of our training for the last 4.5 years. This week, that all changed. Our old training center was in a building with a leaky roof and all kinds of other problems the landlord wasn't fixing, so when the lease ended, the training center moved. This week was our first class in the new location and on a new day of the week and Barley definitely noticed.

Barley's very familiar with the street the new building's on because it's not far from some of her favorite places, PetSmart, Pet Supplies "Plus," and Chick-fil-a--all places where she gets treats from the cashiers--so she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary until we pulled into a parking lot we'd never visited before. She was immediately on high alert, but seemed to relax a bit when we saw our trainer and one of our classmates after we got out of the car.

What do you mean I don't get to hang out in this hall between turns anymore?

Warming up before classes started went well. She was focused on me instead of the other dogs, she didn't want to sniff around the room, and she was confident with the teeter despite being away from it for three weeks. We found our new spot to hang out between turns where she could still watch the other dogs without worrying about them running up to her. I started feeling pretty good about how the night would go.

Then we had our first turn. 11 obstacles designed to help us change direction without losing speed. I was sure we had it in the bag.

I sent Barley to the first jump, which she did, and then she ran as fast as she could to the far end of the room. We went back to our old method of do a jump, come in for a treat, repeat to get her focus on me. We made it through the first 5 obstacles that way and then she ran wild again.

We'll be playing lots of focus games between turns now.
Pretty soon, our trainer and I realized that the new building is going to be a huge distraction for Barley. The entire front end is a window because the space used to be a retail store, so every time Barley jumped at that end of the building, she saw her reflection flying through the air (hopefully this will stop when it starts getting lighter outside during class time). Then there's a restaurant in the space next door, so Barley was constantly noticing people walking by and especially the headlights on cars as they pulled in and out of spaces. Even when we sat on the opposite side of the room between turns, Barley noticed every. single. car. that moved in front of the building, so we'll be doing lots of "what's that?" and focus games when we're not on the floor.

We also had an even more unexpected distraction. Since there's a lot of foot traffic going by to go into the restaurant, people can look into the windows and see our class going on. There were two groups that came in to watch--with children in tow. There's a small, waist-height gate between the front door and the training floor, but that doesn't stop kids of reaching out or over at a dog and it wouldn't stop a determined Barley from getting over it. Barley is very nervous around children, so my anxiety was going up, which I knew was going to make her even more anxious, and I was trying to come up for a game plan for success while our other classmates went. I'd decided to skip the first jump so she'd have more space from the kids and our of our classmates offered to stand in front of the gate with our trainer so she could intercept Barley if she veered off in that direction (we seriously have the best classmates). Luckily, these kids had the attention span of a gnat and right before our turn came up, they left and I relaxed.

This might be our most challenging 6-week session yet, but Barley and I have worked through major distractions before, so I'm confident that soon she'll be running courses without reinforcement between each obstacle again. Until then, though, I'll be patient, generous with the snacks, and very thankful for understanding classmates.

Happy FitDog Friday everyone!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Resolution Recap

For the last couple weeks, Barley, Soth, and I enjoyed some holiday time with my parents, siblings, and their various pets. I had planned to post regular updates--and then it rained, and rained, and rained. We had over 7 inches of rain in less than 3 days. Barley spent days hiding in various bathrooms, closets, and hallways while the storms raged on, so there weren't any blog-worthy events to share.

Now that it's officially 2016, though, we can give you the official mileage of 2016.

We started off the year with walks in some of the coldest temperatures either of us had ever experienced--and never-melting snow mounds that kept us from being able to reach large chunks of our neighborhood safely.

But those days also brought the endless laughter that came with watching Barley use her first pair of boots. 

And several gorgeous, solitary adventures at the lake where we didn't have to share trails with another living soul. 

When things finally warmed back up, we got to add a few new parks to our list with visits to the Pymatuning Spillway and Presque Isle State Park. We didn't see fish walking on ducks . . .

. . . but we did see two lighthouses

and houseboats.

We also spent lots of time at some of our old favorites--the Geneva State park and the Holden Arboretum--which never get old and have something new to enjoy in each season and we even discovered a few new trails in both places.

We got in many, many neighborhood walks, which never fail to entertain with visits to grape vines, football fields, and decorations for the endless celebrating that happens in our neighborhood.

We also got to play princess, pay our respects to President Garfield, and climb in caves.

Right before we left for our holiday travels, we ended up right back where we'd started the year with an insane lake effect snow storm. We stayed up way too late the night before traveling to make sure Barley could enjoy as much snow romping as possible.

We met our goal of 1100 miles on December 10 (also Emily Dickinson's birthday--so it was a day full of celebrating). We kept walking as much as possible the remainder of the month and finished strong with 1159.60 miles for 2015. Our biggest month was May when we walked 125.74 miles and our least successful month was February with 39.06 miles.

Thank you all for another year of support and encouragement as we worked towards our goal! We've set the same goal for 2016, so we're hoping for another 365 days of good walking opportunities. Happy New Year from Barley, Soth, and me!