a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: July 2003

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Tika's a Quick Study

On Wednesday, I discussed with Tika's instructor our various strategies for eventually preventing Tika from grabbing my feet after finishing a course successfully. Plan had been to get her to run out to look for her leash. One problem with that is that either USDAA or NADAC (or maybe both) consider that to be a toy in the ring, although so many people have dogs fetch their own leashes (it makes a lot of practical sense) that it seems silly for that to be the rule. However, it is-- and our progress towards getting the leash has been slow.

Another riend, who has gone through some pretty intensive clicker training and has written a book about it, raised the issue that she thought she remembered hearing that dogs who are rewarded with mouth activities (tug of war, goodies) are more likely to use their mouths in ways similar to Tika. She suggested that a nose touch to some kind of target might be an alternative.

So our intructor came up with the idea of teaching Tika to touch a fence post (like the ones that surround many agility rings).

On Thursday, I took Tika and Jake out to the yard with a fence post, a goodie, and a clicker, and started trying to get them to touch it with their noses. Jake was no closer at the end than he had been at the beginning--no surprise--this has always been my story with trying to teach him something new. However, at the end of a couple of 3-to-5 minute sessions, tika was already going out to touch the fence post and I was putting a command to the behavior. It's exhilarating to get such a rapid learning response.

Because I've been out of town since then, I haven't had a chance to try it again or work on it more (e.g., adding a jump between her and the post).

But it does show that she's a quick learner. Which leads me back to the ongoing frustrating puzzle of how, over a year and a half, I have managed to successfully teach her to pull on the leash using every method that I or anyone else has come up with that's supposed to PREVENT her from pulling on the leash. Garrrrrghhhh--

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

NADAC Vallejo trial

Thank goodness I have friends to email to--then I just copy my end of the conversations here and, voila, it's like actual writing.

This past weekend wasn't too bad, but not one of my most stellar performances. Between the 2 dogs, we had 20 runs over the weekend.

I managed to forget the course in 2 of the runs. OK, my databse says I've done that 16 other times out of the (jeez, this is scary--)1250 competition runs I've done. But never twice in one weekend.

Then, I fell during 2 other runs (OK, I have in fact fallen probably half a dozen times in the entire 8 years I've been doing agility--but never 2x in the same weekend, let alone the same day). First run of Sunday was a doozy. Not only did my feet somehow lose track of the ground, but as I flew headfirst through the air, I had plenty of time to ponder two facts: first, that my head was about to smack full force into the metal upright of a jump and, second, that there was nothing I could do but watch it come.


I tried blaming it on the wrong shoes. So, for my 2nd run, I switched into my Magic Agility Sure-Grip Shoes, and promptly fell again. Both dogs thought I was a poor excuse for a partner but they did their civil best to be nice to me anyway. At least one so-called friend started calling me Crash. I suppose there could be worse nicknames--Doofus, for example, or Klutz--but, still--

THEN I walked one course wrong. Someone tried to explain to me afterwards that obstacle number 7 does not usually immediately follow number 5, and I suppose I can see their point, but it flowed much more nicely the way I ran it. I can remember doing that only once before in competition.

Those were just the highlights.

Jake just didn't want to turn tightly on anything, and I was really trying. He'd fly out of a tunnel, and I'd have been calling him since he first went in, and I'd try to be up at the exit to do a sharp point & call and I'd be facing away and he'd still go 20 feet before turning. And turning over jumps--just wiiiiiiiiide even when I thought I was trying to signal in advance.

Tika didn't do too badly. Her contacts were very solid. Twice she got off a little early (before I released her) and I put her back on, but she wasn't flying off or dashing away. Left the start line twice and I put her back both times and she stayed the 2nd time. Last 2 runs of the weekend I finally gave up when she grabbed my feet and just picked her up and carried her off. So that's 6 Es out of 10 runs.

We managed one stellar 1st and qualifying standard run; another standard run she ran straight out of the ring among the canopies and stood and looked around; the wind was blowing our way across Travis' pen and I think she might have smelled him (she lived with Travis the Australian Shepherd before coming to live here). Anyway, she did come back into the ring full speed and we finished with one knocked bar--in 2nd place because of all her wasted time, but even so, 8 seconds under course time! (Ah, the bonus of having a really fast dog--)

Usually our weekends are much better than that-- really--

Jake did manage a couple of really nice runs despite his handler. In one, we scored higher than all other dogs except for one larger dog who's among the top dogs competiting in the country, who beat us by only one point. THAT was pretty exciting.

Altogether, though, only 4.5 qualifying runs out of 20. Not a great percentage.

I kept working on possible excuses. I'm tired? (I've been much more tired; actually felt pretty alert.) I'm ill? (Sciatica was a little bit annoying in the hips but mostly I felt in great health.) I'm stressed and distracted? (Was having a good time just being there and not worrying about work or anything.) I'm clumsy and not too bright? (Hmm-- I'll have to work on that one--)

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Dumb Dog and Gone Remington

Dumb Tika dog. She's definitely doing the same thing she has for every other walkies method--what's the most she can pull without it horribly inconveniencing her. I think yesterday she was pulling just as much as ever, if not more, on the prong collar. Dang dang dang dang.

Missing Remington the last couple of days. Never know why this pops up. I still feel angry as much as anything. The challenge in managing it is that there's nothing and no one to be angry at, except The Fates, The Universe, The Powers That Be, The Gods.

At the time that Remington was ill and I knew that it was fatal, I developed the theory that it was easier for me for him to survive a while because I'd have a chance to develop an internal mental and emotional model of a world without Remington, and to start working through my grief ahead of time. Well, in retrospect, I think that there is no way that I could ever build a complete model of Remington dying early and me accepting it.

That's because the model that I already had--of him growing older, his muzzle getting whiter, possibly arthritis slowing him down--built slowly over 9 years and everything inside my brain and my heart wanted that model to prevail. For years, when he'd stand up after lying for a particularly long time or when especially tired, he'd push himself to a sit and then haul his backside up, almost as if his spine was pulling his legs up rather than the opposite. It was so reminiscent of what Amber looked like, trying to stand up as her arthritis became so horrible, that I already knew what he'd look like as he grew older.

Slamming an active, healthy, happy dog with a cancerous stake to the heart can't ever be reconciled with what, with all my soul, I wanted--even though, at the same time, of course, I DIDN'T want him to grow old. Still, now I think that, with Amber, even though it was excruciating losing her, at the same time I could look at the way she so badly wanted to play ball and couldn't; wanted to stand and greet me and couldn't; started losing control of bodily functions when she'd panic because she occasionally couldn't stand up; and see that her passing was in a way a relief of her inevitable increasing infirmity and pain.

With Remington, it never seemed inevitable. It seemed unjust, foul, undeserved, cursed, horrific, appalling.

The common litany among so many dog people seems to be "He's waiting for you across the rainbow bridge." Sorry. Bullshit.

I miss him so. It's been 4 months. I haven't cried this hard in at least a couple of those months. The other dogs are curled up at my feet, concern curling their bodies, ears, and tails. I wish it was Rem.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Walkies and not walkabouts

I still think that probably the prong collar is having a little bit of an effect maybe. I know that sometimes it pinches her because when she really yanks (like 7 or 8 times in a row when walking by a fence with a dog behind it) she throws in a little extra yelp. It feels more like she's trying to figure out how hard she can pull before it crosses the line from uncomfortable to painful.

I almost think I'm having more luck with the walking-into-her method (how many methods have I tried?). That's where, when she starts to get ahead of me, I just step firmly in her direction, expecting her to back off to get out of my way, and if she's not out of my way, I run into her. If she's *really* not paying attention because she's too distracted by something, she sometimes gets her feet under mine while I'm stepped and gets her toes stepped on. I am not attempting to do this. I am just attempting to maintain control of my space and of where the Walk Entourage is heading.

She did a lot of tugging this evening and also a lot of very nice walking not too far in front on a loose leash.

Not gone walkabout
Sometime last week (before the yard guys came), I drove home, pulled into the driveway, and was greeted by Jake before I had completely parked. No, he's not supposed to be loose in the front yard.

A couple of times before, I've found the far (less-used) side gate open, and so I checked it again. Wide open. I don't understand it. I believe the preceding weekend my dad and I had unloaded some bricks through that gate, but since he's the one that got called the last time my dogs got out and had to come over to round them up, we were both pretty careful about the gate. Plus I've been trying to double-check it every time the yard guys are here.

I don't know how or why the gate comes open. I'd hate to have to put a lock on it to keep traffic over on the other side, but if it's somehow coming open in the wind (seems unlikely--new gate, new latch), this is going to keep happening.

Seeing Jake, I leaped out of the car in a rush of panic about Tika--who, you might recall, likes to escape at the slightest gap in your defense of the gate or door if she sees something exciting (cat/squirrel/imagined cat/squirrel) and charge out across the roads. I started calling her name immediately, before I even got to the gate. I stuck my head through the open gate, calling her frantically.

Like a sweet little girl, she came charging around from the back yard, where she was supposed to be, to greet me cheerfully. I was so relieved; thought that maybe she hadn't discovered the open gate.

Yesterday, coming back from our walk, I passed a couple of our neighbors (who don't see my dogs much at all). They sort of pointed and nodded, and one said, "THAT's the dog who was hanging around here the other day!" I mentioned the open gate episode, and they said yes, maybe that was it, because she really just hung around right in that area, mostly near that side of my house, and was a very nice well-behaved dog.


So she DID get out, but (unlike our late lamented Sheba) did not have any real desire to go exploring. I guess that's a relief.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Tika/leash/class, Jake The Master

After 3 walks with the pinch collar, it is my considered opinion that Tika might possibly be pulling less often and less hard, maybe. Kind of like Rem, mostly disdainful of my attempts to discourage pulling. Dang "hard" dogs.

Rachel said that Tika was almost wonderful in class today because she came back to me fairly quickly each time she ran off. Of course a couple of times Rachel tossed large jump bars into the grass near her to startle her first. I, naturally, see that she runs off *every* run, every dag nabbed one, rather than sticking with me. Didn't used to do it nearly so often. All after that family of squirrels tortured her (personally, of course) for a couple of weeks a couple of months back. We haven't seen them since; don't know what she'll do if they ever return!

One of Tika's classmates was injured, so his handler borrowed Jake today. He was such a good boy. Folks commented how good he looks and how well he's running. Got the appropriate satisfying oohs and ahs when I said he's going on 12. BTW, if I didn't already mention it, there's a movie of us doing a moderately fast jumpers course at http://agilityinmotion.com/. Click on Dog Agility Movies, then scroll down to April.

Remington: It was time to go

I've been looking through photos of Rem for a bio-through-word-snapshots page (coming eventually to a web site near you). Came across photos I took a few days before he died. At the time, I thought they were beautiful, but now I see that he looked thin, pale, and very, very tired. Hard to tell with a dog, maybe, especially the pale part, but definitely he looked tired. Poor guy. I was tired, too.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Hemangiosarcoma Claims Another Friend

Two weeks ago, agility friends emailed me that their 11-year-old Flat Coat had suddenly become ill that morning. Upon taking him to the vet, they discovered that he had a gigantic tumor in his heart that had ruptured. Vet said there wasn't really any treatment that would gain them more than a week or two, and he could have been ill the whole time. Diagnosis by symptom and appearance: Hemangiosarcoma.

At breakfast, they had a normal dog. By dinner, no more dog.

It's heartbreaking and still seems so unfair. I rail against the universe!

Like Rem, who 3 weeks before his first (undiagnosed) exhibition of cancer symptoms earned his NATCh and took a ton of ribbons, Tyler not even 2 weeks before had earned 2nd high in trial at an agility competition.

That's 3 hemangiosarcoma dogs lost in 3 months in our small (150 people) agility club.

And so hard to write about. In addition to Tyler's loss being devestating itself--he's been a regular at agility trials ever since I started agility, and I often compare our success rate to his (and he's such a *likeable* dog, too)--it brought back all of Remington's experiences.