Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Surviving the Polar Vortex

Last week, northeast Ohio saw temperatures that hadn't been seen here January 1994. I was in elementary school in 1994--and I lived on an island off the coast of southeast Georgia, which meant this was the coldest weather I've ever experienced. 

We tried to prepare the best we could. I tried to get some extra miles in on Monday and Tuesday so we could still end the month strong with our mileage goals. On Monday night, it rained all night before freezing again. We tried to walk on Tuesday morning and made it two houses down the street before I realized Rye was going to kill us all on the ice, so we turned around and took her home before Barley and I tried again. We made it .2 miles and we'd both slipped several times and I decided the safest decision was for us to turn around and go home. So much for extra miles. We played in the yard instead.

By the time I'd finished teaching my Tuesday afternoon class, the university had made the decision to close for Wednesday. I knew that was a bad sign because we never cancel classes and I'm almost positive in the 9 years I've been here we haven't canceled before the previous school day was even over. That evening, the dogs were feeling the lack of a walk already. Thankfully, we'd just gotten our monthly shipment of treats, so we set off to break the girls' brains. 





On Wednesday, we didn't set an alarm and when we did wake up, the wind was blowing so fiercely that we were all happy to stay in bed and just snuggle a little longer. Eventually, though, we had to face the Polar Vortex. Barley is really good at knowing when she's just going out to potty and when we're staying out for a while--especially when she knows breakfast depends on her getting back in quickly. Rye, on the other hand, would stay outside all day, every day if I let her. She often forgets to potty because she's so busy exploring and a few minutes after coming back in, she'll go sit by the door and whine to let me know she's about to wet her pants. She does better if I go out and supervise, so every single time the dogs went out, I bundled up and went out, too. It took longer to bundle up than we spent outside.


I don't even know how to describe the kind of cold we experienced. I wore glasses every time we went out (I had nightmares about my contacts freezing to my eyeballs) and my eyes started watering almost immediately. Most of my face was covered, but within a few minutes of being outside, my forehead starting feeling like I had put on a face mask and it was starting to dry out. When I walked around the yard following the dogs, I'd start coughing after taking just a few steps because breathing was so uncomfortable.

We served breakfast and dinner in their Kong Wobblers both days. We took lots of breaks to play with treat balls. We practiced sending to our mats. We walked laps around the house.

Next weekend, the girls are entered in an AKC scent trial and there's a chance that Rye could move up if she titles on Day 1, so we used this as a chance to train the new odor that she'd need for that and to refresh Barley's memory on that odor even though she can't move up during this trial. 

I had a bunch of paper towel tubes we repurposed for practice.

Even with taking regular breaks to play brain games and practice scent work, the girls were getting cabin fever. Every time we went out, it got harder to convince them we weren't staying out. They spent a lot of time playing chase, which Barley really hasn't been interested in when the weather's been nice.



They also spent some time chasing the squirrels--who were not smart enough to stay in their nests despite the cold! 




Barley lost interest in squirrels pretty quickly.


But I could not get Rye in. She kept running from tree to tree and every time I almost caught her, she'd slip away. 


Eventually, right when I started getting really worried that she was going to get hurt in the cold, I was able to bribe her with treats and get her inside. Just from being outside for 5 minutes and taking a few pictures, my phone battery drained and my phone shut down.

We spent more time watching squirrels from the window.


And expressing our displeasure about not being outside with the squirrels who ran back and forth along the fence all afternoon.


By Wednesday morning, the university had closed for Thursday, too. On Thursday, we knew what to expect, but we were even more unhappy about it. I felt obligated to read a work book if I was getting two days off of work--and Rye didn't love that any more than I did.


Rye really found her voice for expressing her displeasure on Thursday. She embraced her inner hound and sat at the window and howled. There weren't even any squirrels in the yard!


Most of the day, though, we spent snuggling. 



Barley and Soth are excellent at just relaxing. Maybe it's because Soth's a cat and Barley's 9, but they required very little convincing to curl up in the bed or on the couch. Rye snuggled, too, but she was more reluctant and I could almost seeing her plotting to overthrow me every time I looked at her. 


Thankfully, our temperatures are back above 0 now with more reasonable windchills. (I never thought I'd appreciate a 6 degree day, but that's so, so, so much better than a -4 degree with a -31 degree windchill.)

Our street was still a big icy mess, but Rye and I got to escape to an agility trial. I was worried about the trial because she'd been cooped up for so long, but we had a great time. 


We didn't qualify on any of our three courses, but she ran a beautiful master jumpers course (she just thought it needed one more tunnel than the judge thought it needed) and she did some really tricky turns on her standard course, so I couldn't be happier with how much control she showed! 

We're not in any hurry to ever experience something like this again. We've had days where we couldn't take long walks. And days when we've skipped walks because of white out conditions or icy streets, but we've always been able to romp in the backyard as long as we've wanted. Several times, I ended up having to carrying Rye back inside and stopping to warm Barley's paws up by rubbing them with my mittens because they'd run to the farthest corner of the yard to potty and then start limping. We were as prepared as we possibly could be for this type of weather, but this was really hard on the dogs. Thankfully, we're supposed to have several days in the 40s and even one in the 50s, so we'll be taking advantage of that as much as possible and hoping it's another 25 years before this type of weather comes back to northeast Ohio.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Learning to Like My Dog, Teaching My Dog to Love Me

When I first laid eyes on Barley in her kennel at the APL, it was love at first sight--for her. She knew she was mine and worked her Barley magic to convince me to take her out of her kennel. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with her, too, but I didn't always like her. She was loving and funny and patient with her brother. But she was also reactive and anxious and I had no idea what I was doing. There were some days that I stayed at work a little longer than usual because it was quiet there. When we first started working with a trainer, I learned to like my dog as much as I loved her.

About 6 months after adopting Barley, we started working with a trainer because of her reactivity issues. She taught us the skills we needed not just to survive in the house, but to survive out in the world. We practiced calming exercises, which allowed me to get up to get a glass of water or use the bathroom without Barley getting nervous about me leaving the room. We practiced reaction to distraction, which helped Barley see me as being more interesting than other dogs or skateboarders or joggers.

Once I learned how Barley ticked and she learned that I wasn't going anywhere, I didn't just love my dog, but I liked her. When I was growing up, my dog Possum was my best friend. We ran away from home (to the park down the street) together at least once a week. When I was in middle school, she walked by the cute boys's houses with me and my human best friend. I couldn't imagine having a stronger bond with a dog. Then I started training Barley and it was like my heart hopped out of my chest and grew four legs.


Training Barley has taught me to understand her on a completely different level. I know what every flick of her ear and every wag of her tail means. She understands me the same way and she depends on me to make sense of her world. Sometimes, that's a problem--scent trial judges have commented that they can see her going into obedience mode when she gets frustrated and she turns to me for instructions; barn hunt was out because she couldn't understand why she should paw through hay if I wasn't digging in it, too. Most of the time, though, this relationship is the highlight of my day. On the agility course, it feels like she reads my mind because she pays so much attention to what I'm doing (except for that time she did her own thing). In fact, most of the time, it feels like she knows exactly what I'm thinking. 


Training has also helped my dog learn to love me. When I saw Rye at the APL, I knew she was mine immediately. Rye has always been shy around new people and she was a bit more hesitant about me than I was about her. 

Training taught Rye to love me. Rye loves to do things. She loves to sniff. She loves to run. She loves to jump. She loves to chase. She loves to learn. Once I tapped into all of that, she loved me, too.


Rye has a lot of anxiety. A couple months after I got her, a new session of obedience started and we signed up. She was so scared that she wouldn't take treats from me at first. As we practiced skills at home, she gained more confidence and I became her safe place. She started focusing on me instead of the other people and other dogs in class. We started going for solo walks after class and she had the same level of panic on every new trail--until we started incorporating our obedience homework of heeling patterns and sit-stays into our walks. After two years, she still gets anxious in new places, but she trusts me more and usually we work through that stress and have a fun adventure together.

Rye and I don't have what Barley and I have. If I'm grading papers, Rye goes off and naps in another room by herself while Barley naps as close to me as she can get. But Rye isn't Barley and what we have is incredible and special in its own way.

I have never had more fun than I do when I'm on the agility course with Rye. Even when things go terribly wrong, we're both having the time of our lives. Once we started doing agility training, I became Rye's favorite person in the world because I take her to her activity in the world. At trials, she's find with relaxing in her crate between courses--unless I'm nearby and then she wants to be out of her crate working with me. Even though she's Miss Independent, she always knows where I am and where I'm going. Sometimes she chooses to take a slightly different route than I do (because who wouldn't want to do a few extra jumps along the way!), but we always end up in the same place.

By training my dogs, I've changed our relationships. They're not just my pets, they're my teammates. Sometimes we don't communicate as well as we should, but the time we spend together is always the best part of all of our days. When Barley and I walked into our first training session, I had no idea what to expect, but that day changed our lives and our lives are richer for it.

This month, our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Building Your Relationship with Your Pet Through Training. The hop opens the first Monday of every month and runs all week. Be sure to check out our co-host Tenacious Little Terrier and all of the other blogs joining us this week and don't forget to join us next month for our theme of Training: It's Not Just Luck.

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