Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two-Month Countdown

Yesterday I dropped Pongu's very first CPE agility trial entry in the mail, and today the mail carrier came and took it away, so I can't break into the office mailbox and steal it back anymore. No chance for second thoughts!

So we are scheduled to have our Official Agility Trial Debut on Saturday, January 24, at Bella Vista. We're entered in two Standard runs and one Colors run. I have no idea what a "Colors run" actually is, other than what I've gleaned from reading my friends' blog posts on the topic, but honestly my comprehension is not that great so I still have pretty much no clue what that means on the ground. I guess I'll find out.

I'm not expecting greatness. Bella Vista is (I think?) a good choice for our agility debut, since Pongu has trialed there many times for Rally and he's got a mostly-good performance record at that venue. Far from flawless, but about as good as it ever gets for my wildly inconsistent, anxiety-raddled crazydog. I'm told that the judge is a good one for newbies, too, so that helps. And we're only doing three runs, and I tried to pick the easier course options, so that ought to help as well.

But we've only been training in agility since... August maybe? ...and that means it will be just about six months from the time that Pongu and I took our first class in this sport until our first attempt at trialing. Even given that he's got some experience in other sports, and even allowing for the relative ease of CPE Level 1, that's not nearly long enough for me to have any reasonable expectation that we'll Q.

I still want to try it, though. I want to see how Pongu does in a new environment (which this will be for him -- he's been there for Rally, but he's never been there when the place was set up for agility), with the noise and adrenaline of an agility trial surrounding him, on unfamiliar equipment for the first time.

If he can handle it, I think we should have an okay-ish chance of maybe qualifying in one out of our three runs. If I stay close to Pongu and give him a whole lot of support going over each obstacle and never veer away until he's over each jump and through each contact zone, then in two months, we might have a chance.

Or we might not! I have no idea! Both of us are green as green can be. Seasick frogs, leprechaun Packers fans, you get the idea. Pongu's never done more than about 6 to 8 obstacles in sequence, and most of his fake course practice has been at the Zoom Room, where the obstacles are significantly smaller than regulation size and packed much more tightly together.


I know we're not really ready. I don't think we'll be ready in two months, either. I can't read a course map worth a damn, my handling is a perpetual thing of sadness, and my dog is still terrified of half the obstacles on the course.

But I think that part of how we're going to get ready is by doing this trial as an experiment. I want to see what I can get from Pongu in a real live trial environment. And I want to see what it's like, too. I've never even been to a CPE trial myself; every time this fall that there was one reasonably close for me to watch, we had a conflict with a Rally trial or some other project, so I couldn't go.

So we'll just go and try to have fun and see how it goes. Let the countdown begin.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Silver Goes Home, Pongu Finishes His MX2

Last Friday, Silver went home with a couple of awesome adopters.

It's been the better part of a week and they haven't called yet to say that they're sending her back, so I guess it's safe to say at this point that she has officially been Adopted! and is, hopefully, off to a happily-ever-after.

All the best to you, little dog. Have a great life.

On Saturday, Pongu and I drove up to Andover NJ to finish up his ARCHMX2 championship (and his RL1X7, because eh, why not).

I don't have a whole lot to say about that one. It was an unspectacular performance; Pongu barely scraped out a triple Q in his first set of runs. He's frequently stressy at that venue, it was an extremely cold morning, we had Crooky in the car because Peter was out of town that weekend, and I hadn't slept at all the night before. All in all, neither Pongu nor I was in great form at that trial.

His fronts and finishes were quick and straight, and his heeling was actually pretty good (lots of head drops, but his position was better and more consistent than I've ever gotten at a trial before), but Pongu was too anxious to pay attention to my cues, so he kept guessing what I wanted and often he'd guess wrong. I got a couple of missed fronts where he went straight to a finish instead, a couple of reluctant Downs where he only went partway down and then popped back up into a Sit, a finish instead of a backup on the Level 3 bonus exercise, and... just a bunch of stuff like that. No broken Stays or blown jumps, so no NQs, but our scores were pretty sad.

But Pongu did finish his MX2 in the first set of runs, even if he did cut it close.

I scratched the second set because I had to get back to work and also, with zero sleep, I was legitimately concerned about being a road hazard on the way back if we stayed the whole time. It was shaping up to be a long trial, and I didn't think I could handle another four to six hours of being awake before trying to drive home in the dark. Probably Pongu would have done better on his second set of runs after having had a few more hours to acclimatize, but oh well, didn't happen.

We have a couple more Rally trials in December, but nothing else big on the horizon. Pongu's MX2 is the only major title he had left to finish this year. I aaalmost wish he hadn't gotten it so that we could have finished it at our home club on December 7, but then I would have had to stress about "what if he misses it? what if we don't get a triple Q?" and so it's probably better to just have that worry off the table.

Pongu is the 13th mixed-breed dog in the history of the world to finish the ARCHMX2 title, the 60th dog overall, and the 10th dog in all breeds to get it this year. (Those last two achievements might need asterisks, though, as there were two other dogs who also won their MX2s that same weekend, and I have no idea which of them actually was first in time.)

Hoo-ray. I guess I should finally think about putting up another ribbon board in my office.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Silver Gets Ready to Go Home

We are winding down our time with Silver. Tomorrow she's scheduled to go home with wonderful adopters, and I hope she'll go on to have an amazing life. I always feel so lucky to be able to help these little guys move from a desperately bad situation to some of the most caring and committed homes in the world. Where they go is lightyears better than where they've been, and every time I place a dog, I'm thrilled for that dog and sad for the others who didn't roll such a lucky number in life's lottery.

But anyway.

In her last few days here, we haven't really been working on anything new. Some other stuff popped up over the past week or so that's unfortunately derailed a lot of my attention away from training the foster dog, so poor Silver has mostly been on the back burner this week.

One of the things we have been working on is impulse control in outdoor environments, also known as "not freaking out and losing your mind when another dog walks by on the sidewalk, plz kthx." On Sunday, Silver suddenly started jumping and barking at other dogs she saw around our neighborhood. I'm not entirely sure what's going on there, except that it seems to be some stripe of excitement/frustration/territorialness and not a fear reaction. Which is good, because excitement is much easier to fix than fear.

So we've spent some time figuring out Silver's threshold distances (i.e., how close she can be to another dog before she starts losing her mind) and then working on various alternative incompatible behaviors at or below threshold distance. I'm prompting her for attention, immediately rewarding that, and then either prompting for a Sit or a quick, happy walk away from the other dog, depending on which is more appropriate in that particular situation. If the dog is already moving away from us, I ask for a Sit. If the dog is either staying in place or moving toward us, then I prompt Silver to move away.

That gets rewarded too: once we're sufficiently far away and Silver is paying enough attention to me, I throw a big party of treats and praise and a little bit of chase/tag play or petting depending on whether I want to ramp her up or calm her down.

After three days of this, we've made enough progress that we're pretty much back to where we were on Sunday right before she started reacting at all. We took this picture on a side street this morning with another dog about 40 feet away on a cross street:

...and that was one of five or six pictures I was able to get with only the briefest diversions of eye contact away from me. Silver held that Sit for almost a full minute and was, with only sporadic reinforcement (because I was trying to take pictures and couldn't rapid-fire treats the whole time), able to ignore the other dog at that distance.

I am, accordingly, pretty confident that her adopters should be able to get a handle on this behavior without too much trouble. They seem to be pretty on top of things, and Silver is not a dog that I'd currently characterize as "reactive." Her behavior is no worse than what I've seen from many, many excitable sport dogs on the competition circuit. You can't have a firecracker that doesn't throw a few sparks!

But, on the flipside, it is an issue that we're dealing with right now, and it is not hard to accidentally make reactive behavior worse by putting the dog over threshold or turning it into full-blown defensive aggression by employing punishment at the wrong times (these borderline excitement/frustration cases are really, really one of those situations where if you are going to use punishment, getting the timing right is super important -- one of many reasons I don't choose to go that way), so it's definitely not a place where you'd want to go "okay, problem solved" and just ignore it. This is going to need continued work to strengthen and maintain.

Also Silver met a cat today:

She was reaaaally fascinated with that cat. I think she was as amazed by the invisible forcefield protecting the cat, and the cat's resultant fearlessness, as the presence of the cat itself. Silver is still a little bit confused about glass doors (she's finally stopped walking facefirst into the glass doors around our condo, but that took about a week, and I can see her get confused by other glass doors that she encounters on walks), and this glassed-in viewing portal just about blew her mind.

On the health front, I'm keeping an eye on the two raw spots on her legs. When she arrived, she had a ton of little nicks and cuts all over her front legs and paw pads. I'll never know for sure how she got them, but I would guess that she probably picked up those cuts while wandering around in the woods. It can be a rough life for a dog out there.

Most of her cuts healed up within the first week, but she's got two that are not healing like the others, and I'm starting to wonder if she's been worrying at them and turning them into hot spots. I haven't caught her licking or chewing at them, but it's possible that she's been doing that in the crate while I'm at work and can't watch her. The spots themselves appear inconclusive at this time -- they're not definitely hot spots to my eye, but they also aren't definitely not hot spots. If they persist for more than a week post-adoption, or if they get any worse, that might warrant a look from a vet.

Finally, she's been spending a lot of time playing biteyface with Crookytail, up until Pongu intervenes and ruins their games (which he always does, because Pongu thinks playing is Against The Rules):

And that's more or less where we are as we start wrapping up Silver's stint as a foster dog. Tomorrow morning I'll pack up her tiny suitcase, and tomorrow afternoon she is scheduled to go home.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

End of Week One with Silver

We're coming to the end of our first week with Silver.

Training is going well. She's pretty good on a loose leash (she's started pulling toward other dogs, but this is normal and is typically just a phase that lasts until she realizes that it never works and only good behavior ever gets anything), potty training is progressing nicely (we're now down to approx. 10 minutes of walking around outside before she potties, and there have been zero accidents since that first rainy day), and she's beginning to do a default Sit at the door to go outside instead of trying to jump up and scratch at it to get me to open the door. Her "Sit" is starting to transition to a pure verbal cue without any hand gestures.

She still cries in the crate a little when she's bored, but this has been steadily diminishing for the past several days and I'm pretty sure it will vanish altogether by the end of next week. Crate crying is a behavior that has a high chance of regressing when she moves to a new environment, though, so her adopters should probably be prepared to start all over again on that one. As far as I can tell, it's just run-of-the-mill "I'm bored/lonely/have to potty and I want to get out" crying, not indicative of separation anxiety. Silver has shown no separation anxiety while I've had her, and by this point I would have expected it to start showing up at least a little bit if she had that issue.

One important caveat there is that I can't tell if she has isolation distress. I don't think she does (I haven't seen any signs of it), but I can't make a 100% guarantee about that one.

(Footnote explanation: These terms are often used interchangeably, especially in quick-and-dirty "training 101" materials on the Internet, but they actually refer to two slightly different things. Separation anxiety refers to a dog who becomes distressed upon being separated from a specific person or creature. The presence of a different person or creature does not console the dog. Pongu might be considered to have separation anxiety, because he only cares if I'm around; he does not care if anybody else is around. The presence of any other person or animal, even if it's Peter the Spousal Unit or Crookytail, does nothing to make him feel better. If I'm not there, he gets panicky. That's classic separation anxiety.

Isolation distress refers to an animal who becomes distress upon being isolated from all other people or creatures. The animal is not attached to one (or two) specific person(s) or animal(s), and can therefore be consoled by having another familiar creature around. Crookytail used to be like this when we first got him: if he was left alone, he would panic. If he had another person or dog around -- even if the other dog was Pongu, who was just a complete jerk to him back then [not that this has changed] -- then he was okay. Because Crooky is not actually a crazy dog, he got over this on his own within a couple of months as he became more comfortable in our home and more accustomed to our routines, but we did have a few months there where he really didn't like to be left totally alone and would very carefully wreck one thing every time he was isolated for more than a few minutes.)

The reason I can't be 100% sure about Silver and isolation distress is because, at least so far, she's never been totally alone while I've had her. Either Peter or one of the other dogs has always been around. I honestly do not think this is an issue for her, but I'll note it in the interest of full disclosure: that's a potential blind spot in my evaluation.

Everything I can evaluate, however, leads me to believe that she's an awesome little pet dog. She really hits that balance of playful and mellow that everybody asks for, she's picking up good manners at a quick clip, and she's appropriately sociable with everyone and everything I've introduced her to so far (by which I mean: she doesn't mug people for attention but she doesn't cringe or snap either. Friendly neutrality and occasional curiosity seems to be her default attitude, which is exactly what I think makes for the easiest dogs).

As to whether she'd be suited for dog sports... eh, I think it's still too early to tell on that front.

I did introduce her to Lotus Balls a few days ago. This is her first attempt:

...and then we started doing some suuuuper basic introductions to a bar jump. This is her third session overall, second one where the bar wasn't just flat on the ground (it's raised about 3 inches in this clip).

Silver has a good, quick recovery from being startled by the noise when she crashes into the bar and knocks it off the cups, and she's easy to motivate with food, either indoors or outdoors. She has pretty decent interest in toys (both chase and tug toys) but I haven't really attempted to use toys as motivators or built up her play skills in any serious fashion. I don't imagine it would be difficult, I just haven't put the time in to do that.

Her attention span is increasing noticeably even over the course of this first week and our training sessions are beginning to get a little more structured, which is nice.

So that's pretty much where we are at the end of this first week. Silver has meetings with two sets of prospective adopters this weekend. Both seem like very nice homes and I'm hopeful that she'll hit it off with one or both.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Day Four: Silver Starts Training

Day Four with Silver, and we're finally to a place where we can do some foundational training.

The first order of business with a new foster dog is always housebreaking (and, because we live in the middle of the city with no yard, loose-leash walking -- as a practical matter, we always end up working on those two skills in combination). I can't really do much indoor training with a dog who might pee in my kitchen at any moment, so formal training has to wait until we've got the potty situation at least marginally under control.

Fortunately, Silver crossed that threshold yesterday.

We are, as usual, following Sue Sternberg's potty training protocol. I take Silver outside regularly and walk her around for a while until she potties. Every time she potties, she gets free run of the house for 15 minutes, plus another 15 minutes for each day that passes without an accident (so 30 minutes on the second day, 45 minutes on the third day, etc.). Then she goes back into the crate until it's time to go outside again.

Currently it takes her about 20 minutes of walking around outside to get relaxed enough to potty, but she's been pretty consistent about that for the past couple of days, and probably that time will go down as she gets more comfortable with the city. There haven't been any potty accidents since her first day here, which was a super stormy and windy day and probably scared her enough that she couldn't make herself go. Other than that one unusually blustery day, we really haven't had any trouble.

I'd be lying if I said she was totally potty trained, but she's making very good progress, and I don't anticipate that her adopters will have any trouble finishing the job.

So, now that we've accomplished a minimum level of reliability, this morning I started introducing the clicker.

Here's a short video of an early session (we're eventually going to be working on establishing Sit as a default behavior, but Silver doesn't really understand that yet -- this is very much a snapshot of the learning process in its earliest stages, not the finished product):

It's too early to tell how she'll take to it, but we'll play around with shaping/capturing/luring games for however long I've got to work with this little muppet. I'm toying with the idea of starting her on agility jump drills (seems like a thing she might enjoy, and I need the practice), but Silver has a cut on one of her paw pads that's causing her to limp right now, so that may not be such a great idea at the moment.

I feel like she has a lot of promise to be a fun little starter sport dog. Again, it's too soon to be sure, but I do feel like Silver has it in her to be a firecracker, if her eventual owners decide to go that way with her.

Tuesday night, she had her first visit to the local dog park. It went pretty well. The park was mostly empty when we arrived (which was good, as it gave Pongu a chance to do a little bit of agility practice) and then suddenly filled up with a lot of new owners who really hadn't done much with their dogs (like, to the point where said dogs actually tore holes in my shirt jumping on me because they were trying to mug me for treats, and of course paid no attention to their owners' half-hearted attempts to get them off).

(I put the jumps away because, given the environment and crowding, it wasn't safe to practice those, and reverted to Rally practice instead. Pongu held his Heel perfectly throughout this level of distraction and, indeed, never broke eye contact even while unruly dogs were jumping on me and trying to hump him. I AM SO PROUD OF HIM. <3 <3 <3)

Anyway, Silver was great at the dog park, played appropriately with all the dogs she encountered -- many of whom were perfectly nice but also totally untrained -- and was quick to break away if I indicated that I might want to work with her. She followed me out of the park without being called when it was time to go, and waited patiently to be harnessed up with the rest of Dog Mob. I was very pleased with her behavior on that first visit.

She also showed a lot of interest in Pongu's agility work. Maybe I should get going on those jump drills with her after all...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Three Days With Silver

It's been three days since Silver came to stay with us, and she's starting to emerge from her shell.

I'll be honest: the first 24 hours that we had her, I was a leeetle bit underwhelmed with this dog. Silver was super shut down and pancake-y when she first arrived. On the ride home from Newark, she just sat on the far side of the car seat by herself, showing no apparent interest in engaging with me or looking around her surroundings. She flat-out refused to go down the dark scary stairs in the parking garage (we ended up having to take the freight elevator) and she wasn't a whole lot more enthusiastic about the stairs in the condo.

She just had no confidence whatsoever. And while this is not at all unusual, and plenty of our foster dogs have been pancake-y and overwhelmed those first few days, it does make for a tough introductory period. Silver was initially so withdrawn that I wasn't sure what to expect from her. I try really hard to avoid picking shy or fearful dogs -- the whole reason I got into fostering in the first place was to ensure that other adopters didn't accidentally wind up with their own little Pongus -- and for a minute there I was worried that I might have gotten one.

Happily, I was wrong. On Sunday, Silver started coming out of her shell. She got over her terror of the stairs (thanks in no small part to Crooky modeling casual confidence for her and showing that the stairs were not, in fact, a secret treacherous deathtrap for unsuspecting dogs, but were actually a great way to coax cookies out of me). She got more comfortable about walking on leash outside.

On Sunday night I took her out to the parking garage to run around with Dog Mob. I had to go out there anyway to do some agility homework with Pongu, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to let Silver blow off some steam by slamming herself into the concrete a bunch of times (...or something).

Mostly I just wanted to see what she would do without much guidance from me. What were her natural inclinations? Did she have the natural impulse control to hold a basically untrained Sit with the other dogs nearby? Would she follow me around the parking garage if I dropped her leash and didn't do anything to coax or cajole her either way? What kind of dog did I have on my hands?

Here's how that went:

Silver held a completely untrained Sit-Stay for five seconds, with other dogs nearby, knowing that those other dogs were (nominally) available to play with (although not really, as the video shows). That is amazing. To me, a dog who can do that right off the bat on her very first try, with zero formal training on Sits or Stays or anything else, is a remarkable dog.

Then she played with Crooky (Pongu, as usual, wanted no part of this frivolous nonsense). Good enthusiasm, a little uncertainty, a lot of rolling over and other appeasement signals. This was their first time playing together, though, and she consistently went back to re-engage him and didn't seem overly stressed or worried, so I view that as a very promising first session. A few times Silver ran back to me and dodged Crooky around my legs, which I also interpret as highly promising (since at this point we have no real relationship).

She did follow me around the parking garage unprompted, even while playing with the other dogs. I never had to chase her down to get her back at the end of each play session; she came back freely each time, even with no recall training.

It was a good session. Silver was a little squeaky and protest-ful when I tied her to a pole so Pongu could do his agility homework, but nothing terrible.

On Monday I took her out for a 90-minute walk around Old City and Society Hill. Silver is very good at walking on a loose leash now; she stayed by my side almost the entire time with no pulling except once when she wanted to greet a puggle (which I didn't allow because I don't want to start setting a precedent where she thinks she gets to greet every dog on the street. Noooo. We ignore the other dogs on the street).

Then we went home and I let her sit around on the deck while I harvested one of my fabric pots full of carrots, because she hadn't pottied outside and I was resigned to letting her go on the deck just to get it over with before I left for work.

She never did, though. She just lazed in the sun and watched me.

Carrots: not very interesting to the foster dog.

So that's where we are heading into our first week together. I'm hoping to be able to start formal training soon. I did a little introductory clicker work during our walk, but out on walks is not the optimal environment to introduce that concept, and until she gets more reliable about pottying outside, we can't do a whole lot of work inside.

Hopefully soon, though.

In the meantime she's turning out to be a pretty great little dog. Easily engaged, enthusiastic, fun and playful, but content to lie around patiently if I'm not actively trying to do stuff with her. Highly dog-social, but good at turning that on and off.

She'll make a really nice dog for someone.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hi-ho, Silver!

Last night at 1 a.m., we drove out on a cold and blustery Halloween night to a rest stop in Newark, Delaware, to collect Temporary Dog #26: Silver!

It was a slightly terrifying drive. Halloween must be a much bigger DUI holiday than I realized. We saw two incredibly nasty wrecks on the way there and back; judging from the recency of the glass and machine parts spilled across the Interstate, the number of emergency personnel on the scene, and the lack of backed-up traffic, we must have missed each accident by mere minutes.

One of them was a three-car accident where two cars were damaged and the third was completely destroyed. The other was a one-car accident where somebody somehow dodged between two guard rails and smashed into an overpass support pillar at an insanely high rate of speed. The car was just crumpled and the back end was sticking out into the air at a crazy angle, it was like something out of a movie. No way did whoever was in that car survive that one.

So that was a little scary. But we made it safely out to Newark and we made it safely back, and our drive was pretty uneventful. Around 3:30 a.m. we brought this little muppet back to Philly:

Silver is a mystery mutt from Robeson County, North Carolina, where she was picked up as a stray wandering along the side of the road. One of my Facebook friends guessed that she might be a whippet/husky mix, and that's as good a guess as I can come up with (both in terms of her appearance/build and what I've been able to discern of her personality so far), so we'll go with it. In truth, though, that is a total guess and I have no real idea what her breed mix might be.

She's about 35 pounds, which is a healthy weight (maaaybe she could stand to gain another 1-2 pounds of muscle, but she really doesn't need much more). Good athletic build. Very sweet disposition, gentle and tolerant of body handling. Highly dog-social; she's tried her best to ingratiate herself with Dog Mob and make friends with Crookytail while avoiding Pongu's wrath. I no longer have a guinea pig (RIP, little dude), so I haven't been able to see how she does with other types of pets; I'll probably have to make an educated guess based on how she reacts to whatever we encounter on walks over the next few days.

At the moment, Silver is completely overwhelmed by culture shock, so I have not yet had an opportunity to get a clear read on her personality. We're just going to take it slow for a few days and give her some time to get more comfortable with the huge change from rural North Carolina to the middle of Philly.

The first order of business is to get her accustomed to walking on leash (her first night was a disaster -- I have never seen a dog wind herself around so many light posts in such short order! -- but she's picking it up quickly, and I feel pretty confident that she'll have the basic idea down in a few more days) and pottying outside. Crooky is being a big help in teaching her both of those things, and she seems to be grateful for his TA'ing her crash course in City Dog Life 101.

After she relaxes a bit more, we'll start work on basic manners and figure out what sort of home would be a good fit for her, and then maybe if I have time and she shows any inclination, we'll goof around with some other training games.

Too early for any of that yet, though. She's still settling in.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

WCRL Trial 10/25, TU Post on OTCh-ery

This past Saturday, Pongu had his one and only Rally trial for October.

It was mostly not spectacular. We hadn't been to a trial in over a month, and we've been working almost exclusively on agility stuff rather than Rally exercises this fall, so we were both a little rusty. Plus I was getting over a cold, and Pongu was a little squeaky and worried (not nearly the worst he's ever been, but not the best, either), so we weren't on our A-game going in.

The Oakes trials are some of the biggest ones all year and draw a tough crowd of competitors, and this year's fall trial was no exception. Huge class entries (with lots of new teams, always good to see!), some of the top teams around, very tough competition (but in a good, fun way -- it's always awesome to see your friends do well, and there's never any nastiness in WCRL!).

Accordingly Pongu did not place in the ribbons once during his first five runs. He did poorly a couple of times and kinda-sorta okay-ish a couple of times, but "okay" doesn't get you very far in that crowd. Which is fine; I thought the judging was very fair and we got the scores that we deserved.

And then somehow Pongu calmed down and got his head in the game and just destroyed the last Level 3 run, which was a fairly challenging course (including the Stand With Distraction bonus exercise, historically his worst and weakest one). Perfect score of 210, first place on time (against Edith!! Edith the Ultra-Awesome Border Collie!! That is a rare and precious victory to savor), one of the best runs Pongu's ever done. I sorely wish I'd gotten that one on tape.

Of course if someone had been taping it, he would have totally bombed out, but still.

So that was it for us in WCRL this month. We have a couple of trials in November, in which Pongu might or might not finish his MX2, and a couple in December, and then we're probably finished with Rally until Pongu can start competing in Veterans and/or we fail out of agility so spectacularly that I go crying back to our old familiar stomping grounds.

Also I had another post go up on Team Unruly recently on The Problem of the Force-Free OTCh, which is a piece that I am proud of because our Revered Instructors said they liked it, and yay! sparkles and rainbows!, it is pretty spiffy when people that you admire say that you got something right.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Farewell to the Island

Sconset Farm:

On our last walk around the Sconset Farm loop, which was already a pretty tight fit time-wise because we had just a little over two hours to do the trail (which is 6.2 miles all the way around, according to the trail markers) or else we'd miss the ferry, we ended up having an Unexpected Misadventure.

For whatever reason, Sconset Farm was a super busy and popular walk this trip. It's by far the most heavily used trail anyway -- there are always other joggers, dog walkers, and cyclists around Sconset Farm; it is definitely not a walk for antisocial dogs! -- but in October it was busier than it was in July, even as the once-crowded beaches were completely deserted and the Middle Moors were nearly empty.

At the beginning of our last walk around the loop, Crooky flushed a bunny and darted off the trail. He does that a lot and always comes back, so I didn't think anything of it.

However, shortly after he ran off, we passed a guy with a very big stick (maybe like 8 feet long?). This guy, who I think was just profoundly clueless and not actually mentally handicapped, brandished his stick menacingly at any dog he passed, not because he was afraid of dogs and trying to fend them off, but because he thought the dog might somehow want to play fetch or Tug with him if he did that. Naturally, none of them took up his invitation (although I do kind of wonder what would have happened if he'd crossed paths with a bitesport dog and done that to one of those guys...) and most dogs, including Pongu, were visibly apprehensive about this guy's weird behavior.

Crooky wasn't in sight when I walked past Stick Guy, but I would bet a significant sack of dollars that he came across the guy later and the stick-brandishing scared him off the trail, because Crooky did not come back after he flushed that rabbit. We waited maybe 10-15 minutes and there was no sign of Crooky.

So eventually I walked the half-mile back to the gate area, and there was Crooky, being held on a spare leash by a very nice lady who'd spotted him wandering around the parking lot and clipped her own dog's leash on him to keep the big goofus safe.

I'm moderately impressed that Crooky had the sense to go back to the car once he realized he'd lost us. That parking lot backs up onto a busy, high-speed road, though, so I'm really glad that a fellow dog owner took the initiative to protect the Crookydog from himself. He probably would have seen a bunny and gotten himself pasted, otherwise.

Anyway, I grabbed Crooky and we finished our walk (albeit with a forced march on the last half so we could get back to the parking lot in time) and then we got on the ferry and bade farewell to Nantucket for this year.

We'll be back next summer. Till then, two last pictures: a scenic overlook on a pond near Madaket

and one last sunset on the Middle Moors. This is one of my favorite pictures from that whole trip.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sesachacha Pond, Quidnet Beach, Tom Nevers

We're back from Nantucket but I still have an excess of pictures to post, so let's blow through a few of those right now!

Sesachacha Pond:

Beach rose hips growing on the dunes near the pond. Not quite as large as the ones on Sconset (which were out of season this late in the fall), they were nevertheless big enough to be picked and eaten like tiny, tart apples. One of these days, when I hit the island at the right time, I hope to collect enough beach rose hips to make jelly. There were only a tiny handful left on this trip, though, so I just ate the ones I found.

Quidnet Beach:

A Special Crunchy Treat that I found washed up on the shore and gave to Crooky. I still have no idea what this unfortunate creature might have been. I'm presuming some kind of baby eel? It was dried and had a light crust of salt and Crooky thought it was magically delicious, whatever it might have been.

Tom Nevers Beach:

This was a weird, stormy, almost postapocalyptic walk. The surf was deafeningly loud, the waves were high and violent, and the wind was merciless (if you look hard, you can see Pongu's ears flipping in the wind in that picture, and that's also why Crooky's tail is bent so sharply).

It was all very atmospheric, though. We saw a bunch of seals floating along the shore, apparently bodysurfing the enormous waves, and they all turned to watch us curiously. One even followed alongside us for half an hour or so, almost as if he were wondering why on earth our eccentric little party was out there on the beach that day. No one else was; we never saw another dog or person the entire time. Only tracks.

Peter wanted to head east and go exploring on a far stretch of the beach that we'd never reached before. It seemed like a fun adventure so I agreed.

Alas, we badly misjudged how far we'd gone from the car and how fast our sunlight was going to run out.

We ended up about 75 minutes away from the parking lot after dark. So, for an hour and some change, we just walked back along the beach, following the curve of the sand. It was a cloudy night and I couldn't see the dogs unless they were standing on the white sand, which mostly they weren't, because there were deer coming out to graze on the beach grass after dark. I heard Pongu and Crooky chase after the deer a few times.

They always came back, though, and they reached the car side-by-side with me and hopped happily inside when I opened the door. No leashes, no treats, no cajoling.

It was a test of our relationship that the dogs stayed with us in the dark, and of course they came through. Of course they did. To them it was no different than any other hike.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Foraging Adventures!

I spoke too soon on my previous post: it turns out that wild grape season is not, in fact, over on Nantucket. The vines on the Middle Moors are out of season, but the ones around Sanford Farm are still laden with fruit.

Not only that, but there is a much greater variety of grapes growing on that walk than I'd previously realized.

There are the "regular" dark purple wild grapes, which are much like Concord grapes except slightly tarter and with thicker skins:

There are coppery-red grapes (which, sadly, look much better than they taste; these had an unappetizingly grainy, pulpy interior and not much flavor to recommend them):

And there are scuppernongs: large yellowish-green grapes with bronze blushes and brown speckling. Although scuppernongs are well known and beloved in the Southeast, I hadn't realized they grew this far north, and I certainly never expected to find them flourishing around a clearing in Nantucket. As far as I can tell, scuppernongs only grow around that one clearing. The vines are impossible for me to distinguish from those of the dark purple grapes, which is why I didn't realize there were any scuppernongs on Nantucket until we visited at a time that the fruits were ripe on the vines.

But there they were, waiting to be picked.

And, of course, the dogs got to have lots of fun on their dog version of the hike.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

On Vacation Again

We are back in Nantucket for a week in early October.

Originally we booked this trip back when I thought Crooky was about to die of spondylosis. He had fallen down the stairs for no reason and was showing difficulty manuevering his hind limbs, so I thought his disease had suddenly progressed to a very late stage and we might not have much more time with him. As it turned out, though, his lameness was not caused by the spondy but because he'd been infected with anaplasmosis, a tick-borne bacterial disease.

30 days of antibiotics later, Crooky was basically fine again, and the vacation we'd originally penciled in as Crookydog's Last Hurrah was just a random week off in October because hey why not.

And so we're back on the island.

This late in the season, there's not a lot of stuff available for foraging on our hikes. So far I've mostly only found small wild rose hips (not as big or sweet as the giant rugosa beach roses)

and cranberries. Lots and lots of cranberries.

There are so many cranberries that Crooky can find entire hillsides carpeted in cranberry plants like giant springy dog mattresses.

Alas, that's the only berry around for me this time. We missed the wild grapes (CURSES) and the blackberry, huckleberry, and blueberry bushes have been reduced to decorative foliage in striking shades of red and gold.

We discovered a new bench hidden on a hillside in the Middle Moors, where I made the dogs pose so I could take pictures from both sides:

and I got Pongu to stand on Altar Rock (very difficult as the top of the rock is cracked and uneven).

Mostly, though, they just run and run and run.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lure Coursing at Bayshore Companion Dog Club

aka: Crookytail gets 2/3rds of the way to his sad pity title!

Sunday morning, Crooky and I drove out to the Freehold Show Grounds in middle New Jersey for a super sweet chance to work on his Coursing Aptitude title. I brought Pongu too, hoping that we'd get to work on a little bit of play and engagement next to the agility rings (there was also a large AKC agility trial going on at the same time, and I wanted to see how Pongu would do in that environment), but haha that didn't happen.


We got there on time (miraculously) because even though my GPS was not able to find the exact address of the place, it was able to find the correct road, and then when I passed a parking lot full of hatchbacks with silvery cooling canopies draped over them, welp, doesn't take a whole lot of experience in dog sports to know what that means.

So we rolled on in and I tried to park far away from the lure coursing field (because I didn't want Crooky to go bananas like he did at the fun run where he could see the bags darting past from the parking lot), but I picked a spot overlooking a TOTALLY EMPTY UNRELATED FIELD WHERE NOTHING WAS HAPPENING and that was still too much. Crooky was dead certain that large grassy field = lure coursing (after one exposure! and to think, I call him my stupid dog), so he just kept jumping around and straining to see the imaginary bag that he was completely sure had to be out there somewhere, if only he looked hard enough.

I checked him in, which involved gaiting him back and forth in front of the scribes' table so they could see whether he was lame. Clearly he was not lame in the literal sense, as he kept trying to jerk me off my feet so he could go chase the bag that was being sent through some test runs on the course. Jury's still out on the figurative sense.

When the other dogs started running before him, Crooky started screaming at the bag. I have never heard him make a noise like that ever in his life. It was this crazy high-pitched banshee wail. Listening to it, you'd think that dog still had his nuts and someone was crushing them slowly in a vise. I was so worried somebody would come over and tell me to stop torturing my dog, because clearly he was in agony beyond all belief.

But nobody said anything, because I guess if you do lure coursing you have pretty much seen it all.

Eventually Crooky got his turn and he just blasted after that bag with total intense concentration like nothing he had ever shown before. Given that he is a large ungainly dog with spondylosis, and lure coursing is a sport designed for greyhounds, he did not ever get very close to the thing, but he sure did try to kill himself by running his heart out.

Strangely, when the bag stopped at the end of the course, Crooky got a little freaked out and didn't want to go near it. The astounded confusion on his face was hilarious. It was like he genuinely believed he had been chasing some insane rabbit in a ghost costume, and then all of a sudden the rabbit was gone and the plastic ghost costume was gone and instead it had all been transformed into a couple of plastic bags. He just looked so amazed and so cheated.

He had to hit the bag to stop the clock, though, so I got him to do a nose touch to the bag and then we trotted out of there. I moved the car to a different, shadier lot that did not overlook a field, went to go watch a couple of hours of agility (which was equal parts inspiring, terrifying, and impossible for me to comprehend), and then tried to take Pongu out to go potty and play by the agility rings.

This proved to be a miscalculation because Crooky apparently thought I was taking Pongu out to chase the bag (he will never understand that there are dogs in the world who have no interest in that bag) and he could not stand being left behind, so he vaulted out of the car window and came after us within a minute or two. I heard people yelling "loose dog! loose dog!" and I knew exactly who it was long before he came into view.

Fortunately I grabbed him way before he even came within eyesight of the agility rings, and even more fortunately I'd parked about a quarter-mile away from the lure coursing field, so Crooky did not get a chance to disturb any other dogs during his brief episode of freedom.

After that I locked him up in my friend's wire crate and reflected on how I'm going to have to invest in my own doggy jail box if I want to keep taking Crooky to these things. Apparently he can Houdini his way out of a five-inch window gap if plastic bags are involved. Doggy jail is the only safe place to keep a crazed Crookydog.

After another hour or so, Crooky got his second turn. He screamed at the bag some more (hitting an even higher fever pitch when one of the dogs before him, an English Springer Spaniel[? not 100% sure on this], was not that interested in chasing the bag, which blew Crooky's mind and caused him to go into an apparent frustrated nerdrage the likes of which I'd only seen from Pongu before), tried to bash through a wooden fence to get to the bag (causing me to innocently sidle away before anyone realized that my delinquent dog had almost knocked one of the boards loose), and finally got his chance to run.

That time he happily tried to kill the bags at the end of the course.

Then Crooky went back in the car and I watched a little more agility.

Watching agility, especially at a multi-ring trial, is incredibly frazzling to me right now. It's like trying to listen to three simultaneous conversations in a foreign language where you only know about 50 words. I don't really understand anything and my brain quickly short-circuits from the effort, such that its processing capacity basically drops to that of a concussed goldfish suffering from early-onset dementia. I was forgetting stuff I'd seen five minutes earlier and repeating stuff I'd said two minutes earlier. Truly an awesome first impression to make among Agility People (although maybe now they'll be nicer to me because clearly I am a pitiable special-needs person who cannot be expected to function like an actual adult).

And that was Crookytail's Lure Coursing Day.

Special bonus picture with pittie friend Molly:

(Someday I'd like to see those two baying dingbats go after the bag together. They can be a pack of wild hooligans! Like hunting beagles! Only... bigger, and less good at actual hunting. Sadly this will never happen because no plastic bag could ever survive their combined powers.)

At some point, when my arms heal, I'll take Crooky out to get his third qualifying leg. There's no hurry, though. I am at least going to wait until my arms stop aching from shoulder to wrist.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The McRib Analogy

On occasion, some of my force-based trainer friends (of which I do have a small, select handful) will start singing the praises of compulsion-based training to me. It's so fast! It's so easy! It's so effective! and so on.

Every time this happens, I feel a little like a vegetarian Jew* listening to a carnivore buddy talking about how delicious the McRib sandwich is. A little bit grossed out, a little bit curious, but mostly just running through these three thoughts:

(1) I have never tasted a McRib, and I am never going to taste a McRib, but I have been around them. I have smelled them and I have looked at them, and somehow I feel pretty safe that your definition of "delicious" is not the same as my definition of "delicious" here.

(2) Even if I'm wrong, and by some inconceivable warping of space-time reality a McRib sandwich really is delicious, taste is aaaaactually not the main reason I'm refusing to eat one.

I do have some other considerations to factor into this decision, you know. Animal welfare, general ethics, concerns about the environment, concerns about the gross side effects of putting those chemicals in your body (which yes, sure, might not happen, especially if you only eat McRibs occasionally instead of making them an everyday thing... but personally I still feel better not doing that at all), concerns about what kinds of practices and businesses I want to support, and what kind of world I want to live in.

My personal appetites are not the only thing on the planet.

(3) My life is not actually deprived by the omission of McRibs.

I know! This might be hard to believe! But I am totally happy and healthy without them! I do not feel sad or starved! I can have a healthy, satisfying, balanced diet without McRibs! And yes, I can still be active, and no, my body is not deprived of precious minerals or micronutrients, and in fact I think those are sort of disingenuous fake concerns when people purport to raise them, because let's be honest: you don't really care about my personal nutrition, you just want to make me feel bad about not eating reconstituted pork goop. Moreover, having to put together a complete and balanced vegetarian diet requires me to be more educated and proactive in making my choices than the average person.

It is even (gasp) possible that I eat healthier because I don't touch McRibs.

and as an occasional bonus, I'll add:

(4) I'm not trying to convert you, dude. You can have your McRibs. I might think they're gross but I'm not trying to get them outlawed. Go on, pig out (hur hur, see what I did there?), have a ball. Eat twenty of them. Your life, your choices.

I just don't understand what the point is of trying to "open my eyes" to something I really don't want or need.

(* -- I am not actually either of these things. Hopefully my analogy doesn't offend those who are.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dog Mob Goes Lure Coursing!

This morning we piled the monsters into the car and drove out to Sellersville, PA, to do a lure coursing fun run.

For almost a year now, I'd been meaning to go to one of these things, but for one reason or another (well, really just for the one reason: because I am lazy as hell), I never made it out there. So when my friend Danielle said she was interested in giving lure coursing a shot, I thought: finally! Now I'll have no excuse not to haul my lazy butt out there.

And lo, so we went. I actually thought we were going to be 45 minutes late (30 minutes my fault for sleeping in, 15 minutes Peter's fault for deciding at the last second that he wanted to come), but it turned out when we got there that the start time had been delayed for an hour because the grass was still too wet with dew for the dogs to run safely. So actually we ended up being 15 minutes early instead. Score!

Going in, my guess was that Crookytail would be interested in chasing the lures and Pongu might chase them for like 20 feet before giving up and coming back to me.

I got the general direction of their reactions right, but was way off as to the intensity.

Crooky locked on to the lures and got his laser-focused crazy eyes the first time he glimpsed the bags jerking on a test run through the orange fencing. When he finally got a chance to chase them, he was so excited that he actually pulled me off my feet, because I was not prepared for that level of drive coming from Crookytail.

And once he'd tasted the crazy dynamite joys of running after the lure, he was inconsolable about missing out on all the other dogs' runs. The parking lot faced the course, and Crooky could see the lure flying past from inside our car, so he bounced around inside and went insane with frustration that he couldn't be out there.

When I lined up for Pongu's turn, he finally couldn't stand it anymore, jumped out the open window, and ran to the start line. Peter hauled him back to the car and put the windows up a little higher so Crooky wouldn't be able to fit through them again, but that didn't stop the Crookydog. He pounded on the car horn to let us all know that he was Very Disappointed that it wasn't his turn, and then he tried to wriggle out of the partly closed windows and got stuck halfway through.

I had to borrow Danielle's crate and stick Crooky in Dog Jail to keep him out of trouble.

And then Pongu finally got his turn!

...which he didn't want at all.

Pongu didn't like the motor. He didn't like the rustling of the plastic bags. He was not interested in chasing the lure; he barely glanced at it even once the whole time. As far as Pongu was concerned, if we weren't going to do any real work, he didn't want to be there, and he wanted to leave. Immediately.

(I'm amazed Danielle got this one good picture of Pongu. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE. He was just a nutcase throughout, alternately trying to flee the ring and trying to punch me into going with him.)

Both dogs got a second turn, this time with both of them in the ring together, under the hopes that Pongu would see Crooky chasing the lure and be more confident about following the other dog's lead.

ahahahahaaaa no

I forgot: Pongu never deigns to follow Crooky's lead. But that was all right; Crooky had plenty of fun without him. (Credit for all these pictures, like the previous one, goes to dogbirddaily.)

Guess I'll have to think about whether I want to go after a lure coursing title with Crooky, or just stick with the occasional fun run. Hey, he's finally got an actual sport he can do better than Pongu!