Tuesday, August 28, 2018

These Are A Few Of Rye's Favorite Things

Anyone who follows us on Instagram knows that we've been spending an insane amount of time at agility trials since we started competing in March. When we go to a trial, one of the most important things I toss in Rye's agility bag is a variety of high value, easy to break apart treats.

This month, we had back-to-back weekends of agility, so we needed something new to make sure Rye stayed focused on me. Chewy.com had just what we needed: an I and Love and You Nice Jerky Bites Variety Pack. This pack comes with three 4-oz. bags of jerky treats in beef and lamb, chicken and duck, and chicken and salmon flavor. 

When we have multiple flavors of treats, I've always let Barley pick out which flavor she wanted to use for training or to take to class or scent trials. I tried to let Rye decide which flavor she wanted to take along, but she just couldn't decide.

So, I chose. Salmon treats are usually pretty stinky, which makes them especially good for keeping the focus of an energetic little dog, and these were no different. As soon as I opened the bag, I was hit with that strong fishy smell. Rye was immediately interested in what we were going to do.

In addition to being high value, the other most important quality in treats we take to trials is the ability to break them into smaller pieces. We do a lot of focus exercises between runs. Sometimes Rye has to wait as many as 4 hours between runs, so it's important for us to do things during that time that keep her engaged. One of our favorite ways to do that is to make "treat art" and practice Rye's spelling with treats. 

These treats are perfect for that! These treats were soft and easy to break into pieces. I could get each piece into about 6 pieces (and I probably could have made those smaller, but Rye objected to that), so the bags went a long way at the trial. 

Rye really enjoyed these treats--and she wasn't the only one! Barley thought they were swell, too. Any treat that can be broken up easily is great for sticking in our treat pouch for walks. Both dogs have different triggers, but I can't say "what's that?" and give one dog a treat without the other one looking at me expectantly, so I need treats that can easily become multiple treats. 

The one thing I didn't love about the I And Love And You Nice Jerky variety pack was that two of the flavors contain chicken. I usually avoid anything with chicken in it just because there have been so many problems with chicken jerky treats. I And Love And You knows that people worry, though, and their bag advertises plainly that there's nothing scary in these treats. 

I did a little digging on their website and in the FAQ section, they point out that they don't source any of their proteins, fruits, veggies, or other major ingredients from China. They do acknowledge that some vitamins are only available from China, so their cat food blends use a small amount of Taurine that may be sourced from China. There are no vitamin mixes in these treats, though. It's all meat, brown sugar, natural hickory smoke flavor, and natural preservatives, so I felt ok about feeding these to the dogs. I'd feel even better if the chicken was eliminated completely and I did limit the number of treats I used per day when we were using the chicken varieties just in case. 

Overall, these treats are really nice! The dogs loved the flavors and they were perfect for my needs with training. You can also order individual packages of the Nice Jerky Bites on Chewy, so I will probably just order the Beef and Lamb bites since those are the proteins I'm most comfortable giving the girls. They'll be very excited when they see another bag showing up in our next Chewy order!

Disclaimer: We were sent an I and Love and You Nice Jerky Bites variety pack in exchange for our honest opinion as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program.

Monday, August 27, 2018

What We Do For Love

It's no secret that Soth is my heart. He's the first pet of my adult life. He was by my side during my first post-grad school job. He moved across the country with me. He was with me when I bought my house. He's been there for all of the biggest moments of my adult life.

It's also no secret that loving him isn't easy. We spent years trying to get his FLUTD under control--and as a result, we spent hours every month deep cleaning carpets and we saw the wonderful staff at our vet's office more than we saw our family.

But I love him. And when you love someone, you do things you might not normally do.

Like sacrifice some of the containers for your herb garden for catnip plants because that makes him happier than anything else you've ever done for him.

Or stay snuggled up on the couch under a blanket even though you have a lot of work to get done because you don't want to disturb him.

Or scribble out algebra equations and do conversions of decimals into fractions even though when you got your AP Calculus results and learned you didn't have to take math in college you vowed you'd never do math again.

But that's just what I found myself doing early last week. Soth had his 10-month post-cystotomy evaluation on Tuesday. He's been on potassium citrate since his 4-month evaluation, which has gotten his pH levels exactly where we want them for the last two check ups. We've been getting the potassium citrate from our local Wal-Mart pharmacy, but it's expensive and it comes in a pill form that I have to crush every day to mix into Soth's food because that's the only way he'll take it. It's also expensive. I got proof that the internet stalks me when I saw an ad for a potassium citrate powder with cranberry on Chewy.com. It's about 1/3 of the price of the pill form, so I printed the details to take to our 10-month appointment to see if our vet thought it would be a good option for Soth. After she did a little research, she said we could try it--but the dosage in the serving size of the powder is different from the pill, which meant I had to do math. The powder comes with a 5 gram scoop, which contains 300 mg of potassium citrate. Soth needs 540 mg, so I had to set up some little equations to figure out how many grams of powder he needed to get that dosage. Then I did some more math to figure out how many scoops that would be--and then I promptly found a sliding measuring scoop that will allow to me measure anything from .5 grams to 13 grams so that I can avoid ever doing math for this again!

I guess it's ok, though, because Soth does a lot of things out of love for me, too.

Like pose for pictures to tweet to the Pittsburgh Pirates announcers every single Pup Night.

Cats like Pirates, too.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Snacks Worth Working For

Summer is not Barley's favorite season. She turns into a couch potato as soon as the temperatures climb above 70. If I want her to work outside, I need something worth working for. Our friends at Chewy.com had just what we needed: Blue Stix from Blue Buffalo.

Blue Stix are pepperoni-style treats, so they are long, soft sticks of treats. These are my favorite style of treat and this particular brand is one that I feel good about using because of the ingredients. We got the lamb flavor Stix and the first ingredient is lamb. They're also filled with other yummy things like sweet potatoes, blueberries, carrots, and apple. 

Barley definitely thought these were worth working for (even though she was pretty sure she should just get some for being cute).

The reason I love pepperoni-style treats so much is because they are so easy to train with and these Blue Stix are no different. It's easy to grab a couple of the Stix, toss them in my pocket, and then break them into many tiny treats. Any time we have a treat that can turn itself into many treats, I'm happy!

These treats were tasty enough that Barley was willing to do a few short agility sequences on a sunny, summery day in exchange for them. But she was really excited to use them for a quick game of noseworks.

She found the treat hidden behind the planter almost immediately.

And she was so excited to get another bite of Blue Stix that she was not going to waste any time going around the patio furniture to get it the easy way!

Can't quite reach!

These treats are also great for walks. As I've mentioned elsewhere, Rye and I have been struggling with a little reactivity on leash--mostly when she sees Jeep Wranglers (yes, my dog is neurotic) and cats. The best way to keep her from having meltdowns is to just keep shoving treats in her mouth while we pass the trigger (or it passes us). I was able to break up the Blue Stix into enough pieces that I could keep her sitting calmly while a Jeep passed or keep her focus on me while we walked by a yard with a cat in it.

I have no complaints about these treats and I don't think the dogs do, either! We added these to our next autoship order as soon as our bag was finished, so we're going to continue to enjoy these treats in the future.

Disclaimer: We were sent one bag of Blue Buffalo Blue Stix in lamb flavor in exchange for our honest opinion through the #chewyinfluencer program from Chewy.com. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gaining Everyday Skills through Dog Sports

The majority of our training falls into two categories: reactive dog training and dog sports. This summer, we've spent almost all of our time in the dog sports world between barn hunt training with both dogs, scent league with Barley, and agility trials with Rye, so I was excited when we decided on the theme of dog sports for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop this month.

When I first got into dog sports, Barley and I never had any intention of competing in anything. Our reactive dog trainer had suggested taking a beginning agility class as a way to get Barley's brain working in a new way when she was around other dogs. When we started noseworks, we had a similar goal--get Barley to think more with her nose than by scanning the environment looking for other dogs. Even though we've shifted our focus towards more competition, especially with Rye, dog sports still give us a great chance to learn skills that help us in our daily life and with our reactive dog work.

One of the first things our first agility trainer taught us is that agility is 85% obedience. Yes, the dogs have to learn to jump and use the other equipment, but it is impossible to complete a course with a qualifying score without a strong obedience foundation.

When Barley and I first started, we did very little work with actual agility equipment in class. We spent a lot of time practicing lead-outs by leaving our dog in a sit-stay and we spent a lot of time practicing come to heel and come to side after we'd walked away. As a result, Barley is really good at paying attention to my hands and my eyes and coming to specific sides. This makes running courses with her a breeze because I know if I stick my arm out, she's going to come to the exact spot I want her to come to.

This is right where you want me, right?

Rye's first trainer had a different approach. We focused more on learning the equipment right from the beginning. Rye is super confident on all of the contact equipment because of this, but she's not as good at reading my cues, so a lot of times she takes a slightly different path than I've cued, which has occasionally lead to taking off-course obstacles or having a refusal of jump because she's run past it. Now, we're having to work that obedience in, which is a little harder to do--at least for me--once you've got a dog that is very confident that she knows how to do what you're asking of her.

Agility gives us a chance to strengthen our stays, our comes, our leave its, and endless other obedience cues that make our daily life a little easier.

One of the biggest skills we practice in all of our dog sports is focus. When Barley and I started agility, the goal was to get her to focus on me and doing the tasks I'd asked her to do instead of focusing on the other dogs. When we started noseworks, the goal was to get her to think with her nose instead of always scanning the environment looking for other dogs. The more we've practiced those behaviors, the more focused she's become on me instead of on other dogs. She's always aware of where other dogs are and what they're doing, but she'd much rather watch me and hope she's going to get a snack than watch the other dogs now.

Dog sports give us a safe environment to practice reactions to distractions. In agility, there are bar setters, leash runners, and the judge moving around the course while you work. There are also timers buzzing and dogs barking. In noseworks and barn hunt, you have a ring crew and a judge, too. These different sports give us a chance to practice staying on task no matter what's happening around us. 

My favorite part of dog sports is the connection it helps me build with my dogs. When Barley and I started reactive dog training, our trainer told me that we were going to make a really excellent team. That changed the way I thought about our relationship. She isn't just something I own. She isn't my furry child. She's my teammate and we both depend on each other for different things, and when we work together, magic happens. When I first got Rye, I often wondered if she actually liked me. I knew she didn't dislike me, but it didn't really seem like she really cared if she had me or not. She's far more independent than Barley is and she's perfectly content to nap in a separate room or stay out in the yard watching squirrels by herself. Once we started agility training, though, things changed. When we're on the agility course or in a barn hunt lesson, Rye and I are connected.

That's when I know she likes me and wants to spend time with me--she just doesn't really want to show me she likes me by snuggling or gazing longing into each other's eyes like Barley does. If we didn't have dog sports, I'm not sure I'd ever have figured out that my little dog is glad I adopted her! It definitely would have taken us longer to get to that point.

Dog sports are also a great way to socialize your dog. We've had the same group of amazing agility classmates for years. That's gone a long way in helping Barley feel relaxed in the presence of other dogs during high energy situations. Barley might not want the other dogs to sniff her, but she's ok with sitting a few feet away from them and lets me give certain dogs in class a treat (as long as I give her one, too!) while they sit calmly near each other. Rye, who wouldn't let my brother (someone she'd met before) touch her when we first got to my parents' house last Christmas, wants to meet all of the other handlers when we're at a trial. She waits nicely while I talk to people. She lets people pet her. I'd think this was just because they had snacks, but when we first started obedience training, we were with the same trainer for 12 weeks and she ducked away every time our trainer tried to pet her during the "Can I pet your dog?" exercise where the dogs were supposed to sit calmly and not jump up to meet the person saying hi. There's something about the agility environment that makes Rye feel confident and the more positive interactions she has with people, the braver she's going to be in the rest of the world.

It was about 7 years ago now that Barley and I took our very first agility class. I'd never thought about doing dog sports before. I'm not sure I'd ever even thought about dog sports at all. I'm not even entirely sure how I knew what agility was or that it was something a shelter dog could do--I certainly hadn't heard of noseworks or barn hunt. Now, though, I can't imagine our lives without dog sports. They have given us so much fun and laughter, so much pride (with a little heartache and embarrassment mixed in), and so many opportunities to practice skills that we use in our daily lives.

Join us and our co-hosts Wag 'n Woof Pets and Tenacious Little Terrier for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. This month, our theme is Dog Sports, but we welcome any positive training posts. The hop opens the first Monday of the month and lasts all week!

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