I was talking with one of my students the other night after class about Risa. His 7 month old puppy is dog reactive and he’d asked for input on training and on my journey with Risa. I told him that dogs like this will teach you more than any other. I told him I wouldn’t be anywhere near the dog trainer I am today had I started off with a dog like Kyu instead of Risa.
And that got me thinking. I often thank Risa for forcing me to accumulate this knowledge and to make me constantly rethink what I’m doing, change, and grow. What I didn’t really think about until that moment, however, was how my journey with her set me up perfectly to continue my journey with Kyu.
Kyu is not Risa. For better or worse. 😉 He’s silly, fun, playful, intelligent, sensitive, and a joy to work with just like Risa. But he is “differently motivated” than she is (plus he’s confident and loves everyone). He doesn’t like a lot of repetition, finds stationary behaviors less fun, loves movement-based tricks, and thrives on play and interaction. Training him is much different than training Risa who is quite content to work long sessions. . .even on the same thing. Whereas Risa presented a great challenge in behavioral modification, Kyu is challenging me more in teaching the actual behaviors.
Had I gotten Kyu first, I would have probably failed with him. Even though he’s a comparatively easy dog, I didn’t have the skills I needed yet to train a dog like him. Firstly, before I got Risa, I would never have imagined me owning a sighthound since they’re typically believed to be too independent or unmotivated to train. (FWIW, Risa is far more independent than Kyu.) I also didn’t think of dog training the same way I do now. I would have been frustrated by a dog like Kyu who doesn’t fit into the typical training mold. And I certainly didn’t incorporate a lot of play in training when I first got Risa! That’s something I had added in more recently in her training.
While I still sometimes get annoyed that training him isn’t quite like what I’m used to with Risa, I also relish figuring out how to train what I want with similar methods but in different ways to get it to work better for him and get the results I want. This helps me but it also helps my students who may also have dogs who don’t perform as well with the more standard methods I’ve used to train some of these behaviors.
Even the “easy dog” isn’t easy. Every dog presents his or her own challenge!
Relationships aren’t static. They’re always changing. Risa is now 14 years old and our relationship is definitely different these days. I’m not sure I like the change.
She’s still active and enjoys training. I don’t do a lot with her in that regard since she’s retired and I feel she deserves to do what she wants. Also, she sharks treats out of my hands and it HURTS so there’s not a lot of incentive there. 😉 I still keep up with her physical therapy exercises almost every day and do some fun Nosework with her to keep her mind bright. She’s losing her hearing, though. Between that and an increasing desire to just do whatever she wants. . .it’s hard to have the same training relationship we once did.
It also doesn’t help that she’s sore and getting over another bout of GI troubles. Besides her back (which will always be an issue), she’s developing some arthritis in her right elbow. As her vet so eloquently stated it, “It’s no good to have a flat tire in the front when you’ve already got too soft ones in the back.” 😉 I tried Adequan injections to marginal effect. I could see some improvement but nothing dramatic. I got some CBD oil to try but, due to her recent GI distress (yay for cleaning up poop in my house almost every day! 🙁 ), I haven’t had a chance to introduce it.
I’ve finally gotten her gut to relax but I fear it’s only temporary. I’ve got her diet pretty restricted at this point in time. Beef, lentils, and green beans. I recently added back in beef heart and started liver two days ago (after about a week to a week and a half of a bland diet and her new diet). While her poops are better and there have been no accidents, she’s still itchy. She seems even itchier today after adding in the liver which makes me think that I’m never going to be able to feed her a balanced diet with so many restrictions. It makes me sad. I’ve enjoyed feeding her fresh foods for her entire life with me (five years on raw food and then seven on homecooked) but, if I have to switch to a veterinary-formulated kibble to make her belly happy, it’s what I’ll do.
With her medical issues making her feel yucky, she’s been more reserved. She’s less interested in doing stuff which makes me sad. I sometimes forget to take the time to do things with her, too, because she doesn’t require as much of my time in that regard as Kyu does. He’s becoming a wonderful training partner and I’m really enjoying discovering how to motivate him and train him the skills he needs for dog sports. But it also makes me miss the relationship I had with Risa in the ring and training. The way she’d light up a room. Her helicopter tail broadcasting her happiness to the world. It’s just not the same anymore but I respect that she doesn’t always want to play. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to assist my classes anymore so I stopped taking her with me months ago. It still stresses her out to see me leave for a trial and not take her with me. Even though she gets super grumpy after spending a day locked in a crate.
I also feel like sometimes all I do is get annoyed with her. She frequently yells at Kyu (whether he deserves it or not), has gotten very barky and demanding (especially about food), and is hard to effectively communicate with since she either ignores me or doesn’t hear me. I love her so deeply and I can’t imagine life without her. It’s hard to see her not feeling her best and acting more withdrawn at times.
I’m hoping that I can get her gut under control again (soon!) and that a healthy gut and some additional pain management might help perk her up a bit. Spring’s also on the way which I think will help since the cold weather is rough on arthritic bones. She’s still doing amazingly well for her age and I’m very thankful for that. I just hope I can continue to be the person she needs me to be as she continues through this stage in her life. <3
Anytime she can play in the water is a good time for Risa.
It’s been a while since I last sat down to write anything here and a lot has happened. My Windsprite puppy, Kyu, turned a year old in June. His Birthday gift was a road trip for freestyle private lessons (Risa came too). In July, Risa and I celebrated 11 years together. She got McDonalds fries (naturally) and we took a trip to her favorite river. While there, we met up with friends for a walk and ended our fun with dog time! All the dogs got to run free and investigate and do dog things off leash. Risa refused to act her age and, despite having been on a long walk beforehand, raced around with everyone like she wasn’t old OR broken.
In July, I took Kyu to his breed specialty where he surprised the heck out of me by taking Winners Dog AND Best of Winners in the conformation ring. This was only my third time showing in conformation and, in all honesty, I didn’t expect him to do well. I knew he wasn’t quite built to standard and I didn’t get him as a conformation dog. I was very happy to see him doing so well, though. Maybe we’ll do more conformation in the future. 🙂
In August, I held my second ever freestyle event. It was a labor of love and a lot of work. It was hard to take the time to get everything ready for the competition AND prepare my dogs for their performances. (Needless to say, housework was definitely on the back burner during this time.)
On top of that, I had made the decision to retire Risa from competition. It was not a decision I made lightly. I had always said I would let her tell me when she was done but I decided that I’d rather she stop while she’s still enjoying it instead. Besides, I could already tell that certain aspects of competing were no longer fun for her. She started becoming reluctant to go back in her crate. After long days at a trial, she was really tired and would get crabby with Kyu (which he doesn’t deserve). As much as she still was enjoying going into the ring and playing with me, the other parts of trialing were starting to become too much.
Still has game at 13.5!
I’d also started to notice some frustration from her in training sessions. Sometimes things seemed less clear to her (possibly due to hearing loss?). She was more willing to disengage which has always been an issue anyway. There were also times I saw some physical issues that made me think it was time. Some minor stumbling in her rear or hind end weakness. And her ability to work for long periods was definitely waning.
I knew her remaining time in competition was short. To be honest, we were on bonus time as it was since I wasn’t even sure she’d return to the ring after her back injury. After earning her Veteran Championship, I toyed with the idea of going for the Veteran Grand Championship. Her scores had been high enough at the Championship level; all I had to do was add a bit more time to the routine. I decided to give it a shot. She earned her first leg towards the title via video competition with me not even preparing for the additional time added. I had hoped she could earn those final two legs at our home competition. Since long days in a crate were tough on her, I decided to run her home at lunch so she could have time to nap without distraction.
I didn’t feel like I’d adequately prepared her for the event. I wasn’t sure she could pull it off. But this was going to be her last live competition regardless. It’s simply become too much to ask of her at her age. If we couldn’t finish the title, we’d try in video. But I really wanted to do it live.
Her performance Saturday was great. The changes I’d made in the routine to clarify what she needed to do helped immensely. The addition to the routine at the suggestion of friends at our private lesson with Diane Balkavich was also a win. Taking her home at lunch proved to be a very wise move as she was well-rested for the competition on Sunday.
RFE Musical Freestyle Veteran Grand Champion Risa with her awesome huge rosette.
As I stepped into the ring with her for the last time, I started to let my emotions take hold. I managed to force them back, however. Risa didn’t need that extra pressure. She didn’t know it was the end. And I wanted it to be about us. Together. Everything we’ve been. I didn’t want to focus on it ending but celebrate that it happened. As we danced, the crowd applauded and Risa’s spirits lifted. She’s always done better with applause and she absolutely rocked it. It wasn’t a perfect performance but her heart was in it. What a great way to end a spectacular career. She earned her Veteran Grand Championship. Even if she hadn’t, I couldn’t have asked for a much better last competition with my girl.
I still managed to hold it together through the rest of the event (probably because I was in charge of it and had so much on my mind). I finally broke down a bit when my friends handed me a retirement gift for Risa during lunch. What a touching gesture and one I won’t soon forget. It was worse once I got home and read the enclosed cards. I was a sobbing mess.
It’s hard to end this chapter in Risa’s life. Training and trialing has been so much of our past 7 years together. It’s been a challenging and exciting ride. I never wanted it to end. She’s been such a spectacular partner. I certainly won’t stop training her; she enjoys it way too much to take it away completely. I’m also hoping to complete the AKC Tricks titles with her but those are low-pressure and don’t require long stays in a crate. The pressure is off now. She can take it easy. If she’s still around for our freestyle competition next year, I’ll put her in the non-titling class if she’s still in the mood to dance. She’s welcome to do it if she still wants to but I’m not going to force her into it.
We’ve had a hell of a ride together. Thank you for everything, Risa. I couldn’t have asked for a better dance partner.
Veteran MF-GrCH Dancing Cavy’s Pain in the Butte W-FDM/MF MF-M Vet InS/E R-FE/N PCD BN RAE RL1 (AoE) RNX CA CGC WCX3
I wasn’t sure it was even possible. . .but I figured we might as well give it a try. I’d always wanted Risa to earn her championship in freestyle. We were two legs shy of it in WCFO freestyle before I parted ways with the organization. We were close in RFE and then Risa’s back went out and I wasn’t sure she’d even dance again. Once I knew she still could, I wasn’t sure she could still compete at such a high level so I tried Veteran In-Sync Entry level instead. After a decent performance in In-Sync, I decided we’d be better off back where she excels: musical freestyle. I debated whether to start her over at the Veteran level or try for her Veteran Championship. Go big or go home; I decided it was worth a shot. I entered her in Veteran Champion Musical Freestyle.
It was our first time competing at the venue so I knew she’d be more stressed than usual. I hadn’t accounted for a rough time at the hotel (for me though we all know the dogs fed off my anxiety and stress) or Kyu stressing out on the long car ride. While Risa was not overly stressed at the new location, it was still very hard for her. She performed well in the ring on Saturday and earned her first leg despite several missed cues. Saturday afternoon, she started having really bad diarrhea. This continued into Sunday. She woke me up at midnight to go out and we barely made it off the walkway. 🙁 This continued all day with her having urgent, runny poo every single time I took her outside. I felt awful. Not only did she have a really upset tummy but she didn’t want to go back into the building. Usually she is not so stressed she is unwilling to go back in (though she is always happy to leave no matter how comfortable she is somewhere). Unfortunately, I didn’t have many options aside from taking her back in.
I almost pulled her from competition Sunday but she seemed willing enough that I thought we’d give it a shot. She performed better on Sunday except for a new, unexpected problem. She started balking on her cued “through” behaviors. I knew I was wearing a robe which presented a very different picture to her and I had a feeling it was a vision issue. She’s not a young dog anymore so it wasn’t surprising. Just something I hadn’t come across with her before. She’d even missed the entrance to the ring twice while we were getting ready to perform. Despite those bobbles, she managed to qualify and took home her Veteran Championship.
I should have been elated but I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. I felt badly she was unhappy at the venue (even though freestyle events are incredibly low-key). I felt awful her gut was so upset (later found out it was the Prilosec I had given her to protect her gut from the NSAIDs she is on). And I was sad because I can finally see the end of her competitive career is fast approaching. I cried into her neck several times. . .and sniffled with my fellow competitors. Apparently, some of them had been teary already after watching us together. I think that’s the first time we’ve moved an audience like that.
Happy little Yu Yu had a blast and shows great promise!
We came home with lots of loot, rosettes, ribbons, and memories. I couldn’t be happier with either of my dogs (Kyu was a superstar all weekend). I’m not ready to have my competitive journey with Risa end. . .but the end is near.
I’ve had to make some decisions in regards to her competitive future. Firstly, I decided I’m not taking her anywhere new for competitions anymore. I’ve also pretty much decided she’s done with anything that isn’t freestyle. She’s welcome to dance until she dies (even if not competitively). Jury’s still out on how much longer she’s going to be willing to do anything competitive. I can already see she is less than thrilled to spend long days in her crate at the show. Even when she’s able to sleep comfortably in her crate, it takes a lot out of her. She’s exhausted.
I know she’s an old dog now. It’s not like last year where it felt more like she was broken due to her back injury but still mentally young. She’s really aged over the last year. That’s not to say she isn’t still vibrant, playful, and active. She lights up when we train and she still loves to go in the ring and perform. It just takes a lot out of her. Even walks are starting to get shorter and she comes home to nap immediately afterward.
I won’t push her. When she says she’s had enough, it’s okay. I’m thankful we got to play at all and for as long as we have. She started her performance career late (she was 6) and she’s had a great run. So many letters. So many spectacular memories. I have loved having her as my partner in canine sports. She has always been a pleasure to work with (even if it has been frustrating and challenging along the way). I will miss stepping between the gates and looking down on her smiling face looking up at me. I will miss it. . .but I’m so thankful for all the memories.
Veteran MF-CH Dancing Cavy’s Pain in the Butte W-FDM/MF MF-M Veteran InS/E R-FE/N PCD BN RAE RL1 (AoE) RNX CA CGC WCX3
Despite her age, I’m still actively training Risa. I had some goals for her this year but, as time goes on, I am seriously rethinking them. We are certainly struggling with her abilities; there are some things she simply cannot do anymore. The biggest problem now, however, is age-related. Unlike last year, when I thought of her as “broken” rather than old, she is finally an old dog.
I’m thrilled it’s taken so long but saddened at the prospects for her future in competition (and otherwise). I am ready to let her retire when she tells me she is done. Or sooner if she’s incapable of making that decision (much like she is incapable of deciding that lure coursing is a bad idea with her back).
I recently listened to an outstanding podcast by Hannah Branigan regarding frustration in dog training. As she states, frustration is the first step towards extinction of behavior. When training behaviors, this is typically the last thing we want. I’ve noticed, however, that Risa is often frustrated during training sessions. In most cases, it’s not due to unintentional lack of clarity from me or that she doesn’t know the behavior. (Though there is fair argument for my training stupidity in her backups which has definitely created frustration for both parties. Wish I’d recognized this sooner!) I believe she’s losing her hearing which is causing her lack of understanding and frustration. She’s been so good at verbal cues without supportive hand or body movements but, as her hearing fails her, she is uncertain what I want her to do. This leads to frustration on her part. She tries her hardest but I’ve noticed more barking and leaving the session lately. Ris is not much of a barker though leaving to do her own thing has always been an issue (for various reasons). I recognize her quitting now is usually from frustration. It’s getting harder for me to indicate to her what I want her to perform.
For that reason alone, I know the end of her competitive career is drawing near. She’s also starting to act like an old lady and simply tell me “I’m going to do what I want.” As long as it’s safe, I’ve been letting her. Kyu still has to wait at the back door to be cued to exit to the yard. Risa just goes outside whenever the door is opened. I really don’t care.
As per usual, Risa challenges me in new ways. Forces me to think outside the box and become a better trainer. If we still want to play these games together, I need to think of ways to make my requests clearer. She still continues to teach.
Even when she retires, I’ll still continue to train with her. She enjoys it far too much to quit entirely. 🙂