Monday, May 26, 2008

Diesel's comedy routine

Last Monday night was the last class of an 8-week agility session where I brought both Diesel and Marvin – I ran Diesel in the first class, advanced beginners, and Marvin in our ongoing intermediate class following.

Since it was Diesel's last class, Mark came along armed with the camera. Diesel and I had four runs, this one – our last – was by far the most comedic and entertaining:

We can't be sure, but we think the combination of beagle nose and food-memory worked in tandem, causing the back track over the A-frame. Apparently Melissa, who's standing behind the A-frame, had slipped Diesel a piece of hot dog earlier and, well, a beagle's food-memory will rival the memory of an elephant any day.

We all laughed and it was clear to me why I love agility class!

These last few weeks I'd been bringing both pups to class, Marvin had been a needy child during Diesel's class. I tried letting him run around in the fenced area outside but he barked and let it be known he wanted to be inside. I put him in his soft crate near my chair with one Kong but once he finished it, he chirped and scratched at his crate even though I had it covered. I finally figured out I'd have a quiet and content Marvin if I brought three Kongs stuffed with
hot dog and cheese pieces mixed in non-fat plain yogurt and then frozen. It took him 20 minutes to get through one frozen Kong and the three were perfect timing for Diesel's hour-long class. Diesel, bless his little dog heart, was an angel during Marvin's class following. Granted, he was probably tired, but he was happy to curl up in a tight, quiet dog ball in the crate. No Kongs necessary – poor boy.

Marvin and I didn't have our best night but it was still fun. He found a really yummy treat on the floor by the A-frame on our first run, so he scouted the floor more that night than he had in many weeks. (Of course! We had the camera there!) This was the best of our three runs:

I guided him more than necessary through the weaves because that's the area he found his distracting treat and it took forever to get him back the first time. The power of the snout.

One sly dog.

The patient one waiting in the wings.


This next 8-week session will be interesting indeed. I'll most likely be swapping between Diesel and Marvin week-to-week for intermediate. And for beginners? It looks like I'll be assisting the instructor! More to come ...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Acknowledge, accept, and move on

In my Tuesday evening yoga classes our instructor reminds us frequently to clear our minds of passing thoughts. If a thought persists and occupies our mind, she encourages us to acknowledge the thought, accept it, and then move on to be open to our practice. I spent the last week doing just this after an experience I had last weekend. Yes, it took nearly a week to let go.

I've only gone to two agility trials to spectate and I've never entered a trial to compete. Our agility instructor keeps us students well-informed of when upcoming trials will be in our area and encourages us to go watch so we can see what a trial is all about. He suggests we don't bring our dogs and, although I've never asked specifically why, I would imagine it's so they don't make a hectic situation for the people/dog teams entered even more hectic with visiting-dog-excited energy.

The first trial I spectated was a four-day AKC event, held indoors at a large local soccer arena. It was indeed a hectic environment with crates lining every possible wall and tight corridors with many coming and going dogs and handlers. Definitely not a place for a non-trialing dog to be.

The second trial I spectated was a three-day AKC event, held at a dog training club outside of town. A man who lives in my neighborhood with two bearded collies he trains in agility belongs to this club. He's suggested I join the club more than once as it's a more economical way to continue with agility training (as well as obedience, etc.) rather than taking classes over and over as I've been doing. I thought going to this agility trial would be a good chance to catch up with him at his club and have a look around, as well as watch agility dogs of all levels in action.

And it was.

The trial was this last Saturday and it was a sunny, semi-warm day. I enjoyed exploring the event and grounds with my neighbor. The trial was held outdoors and there were two rings. The entire area was fenced and along the fence, surrounding the rings, were lots of portable shade tents set up by the trial entrants with crates, folding chairs, and rugs underneath. There was plenty of space to move around and spectate. It was a nicely organized and well-presented event.

My neighbor made me feel right at home, introducing me to entrants and trainers – he seemed to know everyone!, explaining which classes were in each ring and talking me through the order of the obstacles, and all around encouraging me to take the leap into entering a trial. After all, Marvin and I have been training since last October. He felt we would be competitive in a novice class, although we both agreed an outdoor trial probably wouldn't be the place to start for my scent hound.

I had no plans (or time really) to go back to spectate on Sunday, but my neighbor encouraged me to stop back for a short while if I could manage it, and this time bring Marvin. We both felt he could use the experience of a trial environment too. I figured there would be no harm in it as we could stay easily on the outskirts and out of the way, plus we were invited by a club member.

As we drove onto the club grounds Marvin excitedly chirped in his car crate as he sometimes does as we get close to our agility class or the dog park. Once unloaded, his nose was sniffing the air and the ground at practically the same time. He chirped some more at this sensory overload but responded when I asked him to focus on me. There was promise so we walked to the fence and entered the trialing area to look for my neighbor.

We walked the grounds and I heard some people comment on his handsome ticking and I smiled. Marvin stayed "with me" for the most part. People walking by with hot dogs on plates were the biggest distraction for my chow hound. We met up with my neighbor and he commented that Marvin was doing well for his first walk around such an exciting environment. He was. I could tell that he was excited though and would occasionally chirp a bit, but still, when I would ask for his focus or for him to walk close to my side he minded ... of course rewarding him with treats didn't hurt!

My neighbor stopped and talked to person after person, introducing us as we went. Again, I felt at home and welcome. No one was at the warm-up jumps so we thought we would give Marvin a chance. I had taken him over a jump on-leash prior to meeting up with my neighbor but quickly left because I didn't want to get in any one's way. Now I was with an entrant – and a club member – and I felt a bit more empowered in being there.

Almost at the warm-up area, my neighbor stopped to talk to two women, each with a Golden. One of the Goldens and Marvin started barking at one another. I don't know who started it but Marvin began pulling at the leash to go meet the Golden. They barked and barked and my gut told me it would be best to move on to the warm-up jumps and allow my neighbor to catch up, which he did. Having all the faith in the world in Marvin and I, and I feeling empowered by the faith, my neighbor told me to put Marvin in a sit-stay and send him over a jump. I put Marvin in a sit-stay.
I *removed the leash*. I moved forward to the jump. The second I released him he didn't take the jump. No, he didn't. He bolted, off-leash, out of the warm-up area and rushed one of the Goldens who apparently followed us to the warm-up area and were waiting their turn.

I only remember bits and pieces from this dreaded 30-second experience. The woman with the Golden Marvin rushed said "What is it with today? This is the second time she's been rushed!". She said this as she gently kicked towards Marvin to back him away from her dog. The woman with the other Golden stood there saying over and over "This is not cool. This is not cool. ..." Over and over. She sounded angry and hateful and I wanted to disappear off the face of the earth. In the meantime Marvin playfully danced around the first Golden, dodging my advances towards him, until I caught him and pulled him back to his leash, still laying in the warm-up area.

My neighbor was totally cool throughout this entire affair. I just wanted to get the h*** out of there. He did encourage me to take him over some jumps, even on-leash, and I agreed simply because I didn't want Marvin to end the experience by rushing a dog, rather than taking a jump. We jumped a jump and the woman with the second Golden yelled to us "Are you in the trial? We need to get in there." I couldn't even answer her, I felt so insignificant, but I understood her position completely and we left the area right away. My neighbor encouraged me not to feel bad or defeated. But I did and there was no going back from that. I wanted to leave.

Just as I was catching my breath, the woman with the first Golden, the one Marvin rushed, called to me. "Lady with the beagle, I want to talk to you ...". I turned to her but couldn't face her so turned around and went to stand at my neighbor's side so he could do any talking if necessary. I heard her say something to the effect that not all Goldens are friendly and it worked out okay because her dog was rushed, but if Marvin would have rushed the second Golden there would likely have been a fight. Almost like I encouraged Marvin to go play off-leash with these dogs. That was so not the case! I felt like a child being scolded. I found words but they were spoken through a sudden outburst of tears and I directed my conversation to my neighbor, not the Golden's owner. I told him I felt terrible, that I should have known that, even though Marvin sat and stayed that he was still excited from barking at the Golden and wasn't nearly relaxed enough to be trusted off-leash. My feeling over-confident by being with a club member and his confidence in us took precedence over my gut feeling of knowing my dog. I made a bad judgement call. To me it felt like a huge mistake.

I know my neighbor was surprised by my tears – and the fact that I couldn't stop! – but I didn't care. I couldn't help it.

So sadly, the result of the experience turned me off of agility. Well, off agility altogether for about a day. But it still has me turned off the idea of competing at all.

Marvin and I love our agility classes. I make handling mistakes. He makes mistakes too, like getting distracted and snouting and, yes, he has hopped the barrier in class before just to get to a waiting dog for a sniff. He rushed a dog for a sniff at a run-through as well at our other training facility. He's quick and takes me by surprise when he does that, but people laugh and forgive his Marvin-ness ... and thankfully he's only done it a couple of times. Marvin has a tendency to come up with a variety of surprises and I would imagine will continue to do so occasionally.

I suppose the fact that these women took this surprise encounter with Marvin without an ounce of humor is what I found so humiliating. I do understand the situation could have been serious and I felt awful, but I felt judged and unforgivable as well. Granted, they were trialing and under their own pressure so I need to keep that in mind. I did find some comfort in the fact that first Golden lady mentioned "this is the second time today she was rushed." At least I'm not the only idiot handler.

So, in the effort to keep agility fun for us, I'm not entertaining the thought of competing anymore at this point. I've never been a competitive person (quite the opposite!) and competing was never our goal in doing agility. Marvin and I will make mistakes. If people take it so seriously, and I don't have the constitution to handle that, where is the fun?

Acknowledge, accept, and move on.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Big Apple = Big Cookies

An hour before we had to make our way back to our hotel to pick up our bags and walk to Grand Central Station to catch our airport bus, we squeezed in a visit to Canine Styles on Manhattan's east side. I heard about this store and their Web site two winters ago when I saw a teeny chihuahua at our local PetSmart wearing a stylish horse blanket-style coat. I was looking for something similar for Diesel so I asked the chihuahua's mom where she found such a coat. And that's when I learned of Canine Styles.

I had a preconceived notion of what this shop might be like and I wasn't entirely wrong. It was tiny. It was definitely a pet boutique rather than a pet store. And it had a rather small selection of perfect things. I picked up a colorful nylon collar that was just Diesel's style but put it down again when I spotted the inconspicuous $30 price tag.

I couldn't resist the taxi cookies though – one for each beagle. Diesel has a sweet tooth and, well, it doesn't matter with Marvin – treats don't even touch the sides as he gobbles them down.

Needless to say, they'll take a taxi cookie over a fancy collar any day.

Diesel is pleased to see that there are two taxi cookies just for him.

Oh no, here comes Marvin. Might he have to share?

Better claim a cookie before it's too late!

Our visit to NYC was wonderful and packed full of exciting adventures. We could have used another day there for sure but that just means we need to go back for more. I'm planning to post highlights and photos on my neglected companion blog, Ten Bests of the Day. I'll let you know when it's updated!