Hard to believe it's been 8 years.  Seems like just yesterday and like we've been together forever at the same time!

Hard to believe it’s been 8 years. Seems like just yesterday and like we’ve been together forever at the same time!

Tuesday the 15th marked Risa’s 8th Gotcha Day. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been together so long. She has plenty of toys and other things so I decided we’d take a day trip together to celebrate it. She’d done pretty well at the obedience trial in June and there was another in July that was an easy day’s drive so I signed us up. It also happens to be close to one of our favorite non-local parks. I knew it was going to be a great weekend of fun. Some time to de-stress and just enjoy each others’ company. What I hadn’t counted on was me having an emergency appendectomy 10 days before the trial!

Needless to say, the stress level in my household has been pretty high over the last two weeks. First I added foster dog Augie (who was adopted on Risa’s Gotcha Day by one of my coworkers) and then two straight evenings of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend. The Tuesday after that we were hit with some pretty major storms and my appendix decided it’s warranty was up and failed. I spent most of Tuesday evening and Wednesday in the hospital, came home that afternoon, had to send Augie off to another foster home, and spent the next 5 days recuperating. Risa didn’t get walks for days and, once I finally felt good enough to take her out, I couldn’t go fast or far. Training went by the wayside. Life got turned upside down!

I thought about canceling our weekend but figured I’d feel well enough to go. I was right. Of course, I felt much less prepared than usual but decided it was just about having fun anyway. :) We had nothing to lose.

Risa was a bit overwhelmed by the new location but, overall, handled it well. It was a small trial which helped. She wasn’t scared or super stressed out, thankfully. I was a little unnerved, however, as we were due in two rings right about the same time again. Fortunately, I had enough time between our two outings to successfully handle Risa. But it was tight and nerve-wracking trying to figure out how to potentially be in two places at once!

We did our Pre-Novice run first. Risa rocked her sit stay, the recall, and her stand for exam. Everything else was pretty ugly. Her heeling was atrocious and very unfocused. She lagged terribly and sniffed the “posts” on her figure 8. I lost her completely on the off-lead heeling. If we’re going to have a breakdown in performance due to stress, that’s where it’ll happen. Not surprisingly, we didn’t qualify. I wasn’t upset about it. I had a feeling that we would NQ there. I just haven’t prepared her well-enough for off-lead heeling in a new, stressing environment.

I figured we had a better chance in Beginner Novice. Though there was one thing I was concerned about: the judge was male. Risa is still really leery of men and I haven’t been able to find enough (practically none) men to work with her on it. I thought, because it’s a sit versus a stand, she might have a chance of pulling it off. I was prepared for her to break her sit and leave when he attempted to touch her head even if I was hoping she wouldn’t. When the judge attempted to pat her, she did duck her head out of his reach. She never moved a toe and, eventually, did let him touch her. I probably wouldn’t have passed her but she didn’t NQ there!

Risa always seems to come home with a good haul.  I'm so proud of her!

Risa always seems to come home with a good haul. I’m so proud of her!

The heeling on-lead section was ugly. She wasn’t with me at all. Her figure 8 was actually quite nice, though. Even if her halt sits were way out of position. She rocked the stay, of course. I can always rely on her to do that. Her recall is always fabulous as well but, this time, there was an added element of difficulty. Firstly, I got confused on where I was supposed to go. Whoops! :) After I got to the right location, I had Risa sit and walked off to do the recall. As I called her to me, the dog in the next ring left his handler and stuck his head over the ring gates to check out Risa. He was probably 6 feet away from the exact spot I was calling her to. Bless her heart, Risa never even flicked an ear in his direction. I know she saw him there. Everyone saw him there! But she ignored him completely and came and sat directly in front of me with 100% eye contact. The entire event must have flustered the judge. He moved to block the other dog but hadn’t told me “Exercise finished.” I stood there smiling at my Awesome Girlie thinking “For the love of God PLEASE say ‘Exercise finished’ so I can release my dog before she does something about that other dog.” It seemed like I was staring into my dogs happy, smiling face forever but he finally ended my suffering and I was able to praise the living crap out of my dog. I was so incredibly proud of her. The judge asked me if I saw the dog coming to which I replied “Yes” with a huge grin on my face. That recall was a major victory for Risa; the judge had no idea how huge it was. As a bonus, he told us we had qualified. Risa had just earned her Beginner Novice title.

We went back into the ring for awards and it turns out Risa took 1st place with a score of 190. She also earned a prize for being the high-scoring mixed breed dog. (She may have been the only mutt there but it’s not like we care.)

After the show, I took her to one of her favorite places for a nice long walk. She hasn’t had a real walk since before my surgery and we both needed to get back to our usual routine. Even better, this place has a river running through it that she can wade in. That’s not something she gets to do very often.

I ended our day with ice cream. I’m not sure when she last had a chance to indulge in the cool, creamy goodness of ice cream. She tends to have issues with dairy so I don’t often let her cheat. It was a special occasion, however, so who cares what I have to pick up tomorrow? :D Risa was incredibly happy to inhale her ice cream treat. In fact, she tried to help me finish mine!

Overall, it was a great day with my girl. I’m so proud of her. She really rocked it today.

Posted in AKC, Dog Sports, Obedience, Reactivity, Training | Leave a comment

A New Challenger

Introducing: Augie!

Introducing: Augie!

It’s been several months since I’ve had a foster dog. I really think Risa missed having a canine friend in the house but I needed a break after Crash left. On top of that, the rescue I previously volunteered with is on a bit of a break so there were no dogs in need of temporary housing.

I decided that I would be better off with a medium- or low-energy foster dog the next time around. I really don’t have the time to dedicate to a crazy dog that needs to be entertained all the time even though that type of dog is my preference. I like a dog who wants to do things and am less enamored with one who is content to lay around and sleep all day. But I’m fostering, not keeping. It’s important for me to remember that and take in dogs who don’t need more time than I can give them.

Almost on a whim, I decided I could foster for one of the organizations I’ve been involved with from the very beginning. I used to assist them with training classes and I helped train one of the dogs in their Dogs to Vets Program. Due to my work schedule, I haven’t been able to help them as much as I’d like to but I could offer to foster a dog! I also knew that they typically look for dogs who are more mellow so I knew I wouldn’t find myself in a situation similar to the one I had with puppy boy Crash!

I took Augie home with me just over 2 weeks ago. My best guess on breed mix is Australian shepherd and Golden retriever. He’s such a cute boy but he’s very overweight. I know that will not last long; I like my dogs lean! Even in the short time he’s been with me, he’s become much more active and energetic. I love how much easier it is for him to get around and, even though he’s still a chunky monkey, he looks a lot better already. He still likes to nap a lot!

Part of the joy of fostering a dog is the challenge. Augie is my 6th foster dog and he presents different challenges that I haven’t had to deal with before. He does the usual stuff. Barking. He has no self-control and poor loose-leash walking skills. He jumps on me when he’s aroused. The main problem is that he doesn’t like other dogs in his space. Anyone who has followed Risa’s story knows I’m no stranger to this type of behavior. It’s just that he’s the first foster dog that hasn’t been overly excited about Risa (actually, she was much more enthused about meeting him than he was about her). I usually have to watch her to make sure she’s feeling okay about the situation. This time, I need to watch them both!

I'm seriously too cute for words.

I’m seriously too cute for words.

I don’t feel that he’s aggressive in any way. In fact, I think he may actually like other dogs (he sure pulls hard on the leash in an attempt to meet them on walks!). And he did grow up with two other dogs. I think he is just very space-conscious and insecure when indoors. Perhaps he was bullied and is used to having to growl or snark to get the distance he needs. I don’t know. All I do know is that it has caused some frustration and stress in my home. Fortunately, Risa has been very good about heeding his warnings. There have only been two incidences where they had a nice shouting match through the bars of the x-pen and they were pretty minor and easy to break up. The only real difficulty is when Risa tries to respect Augie’s space and ends up trapped in or out of a room because of it. Due to the setup of my house, there really isn’t a better place to move Augie to so that I could avoid this problem.

It’s difficult to have two space-conscious dogs in the home. I have done some classical conditioning with them both but we’re still in the early stages. Things came to a bit of a head over the weekend with the craziness of the Fourth of July. Risa is terrified of the fireworks and she needs to be able to move around and pace to feel more comfortable. Augie started snarking at her which increased her stress levels since she felt she couldn’t leave the room when she wanted to. I was at a loss of what to do to keep everyone happy (it’s stressful for Augie too!). Thankfully, a friend suggested putting a blanket around the x-pen and it’s been much calmer since. Augie doesn’t have to feel threatened by Risa’s proximity and Ris is free to roam the house as per usual.

I’ll still keep up on some classical conditioning and slowly work on introducing them to each other. I did have them both outside for a brief meet and greet. Considering how excited Augie was seeing a dog on a walk, he showed very little interest in meeting Risa. I didn’t get a good read on him but they did quickly sniff nose-to-nose. We’ll just play it by ear. They don’t have to be friends. I just want both dogs to feel safe and comfortable in my home.

Posted in Classical Conditioning, Fostering, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

What Normal Feels Like

Risa with her spoils from the weekend.  Not pictured: Super Proud Mom!!

Risa with her spoils from the weekend. Not pictured: Super Proud Mom!!

This weekend I trialed with Risa in obedience for the first time. I did this for several reasons. Main reason: why not!? She’s my first dog; we might as well try anything we can. One of the others was to prove ourselves by doing a more precise sport that is treated with a bit more prestige by those in dogsports. The final reason was that I wanted to give us a break from the pressure of rally. Attempting to earn RAE legs is hard and I wanted a chance for us both to get success in the ring again. Going back to lower levels helps us both succeed and feel better about where we stand in AKC sports. :)

I’ll talk about how we did in the ring later because, to me, that is less important. Risa was an absolute ROCK STAR all weekend. It was amazing to trial with her this time. She was comfortable and confident. She didn’t even bat an eye while in the presence of so many dogs and people. The entire weekend, she did not have a single reactive meltdown. There were plenty of opportunities to do so. An Airedale took a long sniff of her rear and a Golden put his head into her crate doorway (major lapse on my part there). She was quick to re-focus on me and move away if a dog was getting too close and all I had to do was call her name. In fact, she wanted to sniff and greet most of the dogs there; her nose magically magnetized itself to several dog rears as they passed. ;) I did let her meet one dog who she seemed to have significant interest in meeting. Fortunately, he had been in the tricks class I taught and I knew he would be “safe” for her to investigate. I was not wrong though I did have to call Risa away when she looked like she was getting a bit uncomfortable. Just in case.

Before our time in the ring, I tried to let her do what she needed to do. I allowed her to sniff and check things out. Mostly, she wanted to look at me and get treats. I started to get pretty nervous when it was almost our time in the ring since we have very little experience in obedience. We don’t really train for it and the most we’d done in preparation for it was a 5-week course on Beginner Novice. I decided, in lieu of nagging my dog (which I have stopped doing ringside), I would get down on her level and pet her. Risa flopped over onto her shoulder and eventually rolled onto her side and back while I rubbed her down. Her tongue was lolling out of her mouth and she was just so happy! I couldn’t believe this was my dog. The neophobic, dog-reactive, anxious fuzzball who I had to watch like a hawk to prevent problems was wiggly, loose, and relaxed. And petting her and seeing that goofy face helped me calm down too.

One of our “trial buddies” who I have hung out with since our early days in rally even commented on how much calmer and relaxed Risa looked all weekend. Even if we hadn’t taken home rosettes and qualifying legs after this weekend, I couldn’t have been happier with Risa’s performance. Especially since the hardest part about trialing for us is getting to and from the ring! Not so this weekend. It was nice to be able to let my guard down a bit and not have to worry about something bad happening. It’s possible she just feels more comfortable in that building since that’s where we train and we’re there quite often. But I think it’s more than that. The building is a totally different place on trial day. No, I think she’s just more comfortable and confident that I won’t let anything bad happen.

When she was in the ring, she really rocked it. Her heeling was still unfocused but much better than it was in the past. Especially since in both Beginner Novice and Pre-Novice there aren’t sequence signs every 2-4 feet. Just long stretches of heeling which has typically been the hardest for Risa to do. Sunday’s heeling was much improved over Saturday’s though she did miss several auto-sits on Sunday. In all four events, her recalls were rock solid. She may not have a great real-life recall but her set-up ones are beautiful to behold. She flies! Ris also rocked all her sit/down stay exercises and didn’t lose a single point on any of them. She could use a bit of work on her stand for exam since she moved her feet after the judge touched her both days. Fortunately for us it’s only an NQ if she moves before or during. And, considering how afraid of strangers she still is, I would rather see her make an attempt to follow the judge after being touched rather than shying away. :D

She qualified in both Pre-Novice and Beginner Novice on Saturday. Her score in Pre-Novice was a 178.5. She took 4th place in Beginner Novice with a score of 195. On Sunday, she scored 191 in Beginner Novice and took home a 2nd place prize. Her Pre-Novice run on Sunday did not qualify. Unfortunately, our lack of proper heelwork/focus training reared its ugly head on the heeling pattern. It was late in the day and most of the building had cleared out. You would think this would be better for Risa. Less chaos. It isn’t. It actually makes it easier for her to pick out something to be distracted by. In this case, a dog hanging out just outside the back corner of our ring. As soon as I saw the dog there I knew it would be a problem. I was a bit annoyed the dog was there but, honestly, they had every right to be. And it’s not their fault that I haven’t trained Risa well enough to keep her focus with a dog that close by the ring. I would have rather had twenty dogs there than that one. :D I can say one good thing, however. Risa approached the dog with curiosity not reactivity. So it’s just something we need to continue to work on. That’s all.

We also participated in a fun event: Rally Relay. If I had to describe it in one word it’d be “chaos.” Maybe that’s just because our team wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to be doing. But it was a lot of fun. I was impressed with Risa’s ability to focus on me and the task at hand even with our teammates in the ring and in close proximity. She never once attempted to sniff them while we were working. And there were several times we were practically right on top of each other. Like doing a tandem serpentine!! Chaos! It really was a lot of fun, though, and I hope I get a chance to do it again next year.

It was a great weekend overall. I had the great pleasure of trialing under some awesome and super-supportive judges. I got a chance to hang out with friends and some of my students. Several people came up to me to discuss canine freestyle and showed interest in doing it. Yay! And, most importantly, Risa was a rockstar all weekend. I am so incredibly proud of how far she’s come.

Posted in Dog Sports, Fear, Obedience, Reactivity, Training | Leave a comment


Most people are just looking for a dog as a companion.  A cuddle-buddy, not a serious athlete or hard-nosed working dog.

Most people are just looking for a dog as a companion. A cuddle-buddy, not a serious athlete or hard-nosed working dog.

I feel like there’s been a lot of hating on breeders and breed registries lately. Certainly, some of it is justified. Purebred dogs are, unfortunately, stuck in a bottleneck of health issues and behavioral problems. There are dogs who are conformationally unsound being put up as Best of Breed. Then there is the unwitting public believing that their dog will be perfect and amazing simply due to his pedigreed parentage.

For the most part, people want dogs as pets. They’re not looking for conformation champions, disc dog daredevils, or full-time livestock guardians. They want a companion. A friend. A walking buddy. Someone to come home to after a long day and snuggle on the couch with. So why is it that so many reputable breeders spend time in the show ring, at performance events, and evaluate the instincts of their dogs if most of the pups from those dogs are just going to warm spots on the couch?

Doesn’t everyone want a dog who’s physically and temperamentally sound? Regardless of your ambitions for your dog, I’m pretty sure everyone wants a dog who is comfortable around people. One who’s not afraid of new places or things. A dog who you can trust to be around children (supervised!) and who doesn’t bark like a raving lunatic when he sees another dog. We all want dogs who are confident in the situations we know they’re going to experience in their lives. It’s also important that our dogs don’t break down physically over time. It’s a lot harder to have a walking or running buddy who gets sore after a half mile or tears his ACL by the time he’s two years old.

By taking the time to evaluate their dogs’ structure and temperamental durability; reputable breeders help ensure the next generation will be full of stable, reliable dogs. Dogs who, along with being conformationally correct and able to perform in various venues, will make great pets. However, if you don’t evaluate your stock (and have unbiased persons do the same), you run a higher risk of problems in the offspring. Dogs with faulty temperaments or poor structure. Fear biters. Dogs with hip dysplasia. Companions who are difficult to live with and expensive to care for.

Sound mind and a sound body make life easier for everyone.  Whether their dog is a performance dog, a working dog, or simply a companion.

Sound mind and a sound body make life easier for everyone. Whether their dog is a performance dog, a working dog, or simply a companion.

Titles (whether on the front end or the back end of the dog’s name) are, of course, no guarantee of greatness. Risa is a fine example of that. She’s far from temperamentally sound yet she has several titles in various performance events. I don’t think anyone, myself included, would consider her a dog that should be bred (she’s spayed anyway). There’s just too high a likelihood that a dog like her would pass on her anxieties to her offspring. And, really, no one wants to live with a dog like Risa. It’s hard and the average person doesn’t want that kind of project.

So why is it important for breeders to breed for dogs who can do the job they were bred for? Why is it important for these dogs to have proper structure? Why should they have to prove their mettle in the ring? Because the general public wants pets who they can live with. And you don’t get that just by tossing structure and temperament out the window and breeding “for pets only.”

Posted in Dog Sports, Fear, Fostering, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

Positive Perspective

You gotta accentuate the positive.  Eliminate the negative. . .

You gotta accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. . .

I’ve been a bit bummed, stressed out, and unhappy lately. It sort of came to a head on Monday this week leaving me pretty upset. I felt unappreciated and surrounded by a lot of negativity. I tend to be a negative person by nature and it’s very easy for me to get stuck in the negativity when it’s all around me. I don’t want to be that person. I hate being that person. I decided that, if no one else was going to notice the positive in me, I would make it a point to.

On Tuesday I created a list where I would write down one good thing I did each day. Whether it was something I did that made me feel proud, a compliment from a coworker, or something I did to help someone else out. I wanted at least one positive thing per day to reflect on. I placed the list out in the open where I could see it and realize that what I am doing is being recognized. Even if only by myself.

A strange and somewhat surprising thing has happened already – and it’s only been a week! Since I’ve started taking notice of the positive, I am seeing it more and more. Whereas, on Monday, I felt like no one ever gave me any form of positive reinforcement at all; by Friday I’ve noticed that I do actually get told “good job” more frequently. Because of this, I’m even more motivated to do more to get some of that good feedback from others and myself. (Seriously!)

While I’m still surrounded by negativity, I’m finding it’s impacting me less. There are still moments when I find myself complaining about something or rolling my eyes when someone else is whining. But it’s not as frequent. It’s almost as if this focus on the positive is forming a protective bubble around me. Forcing me to look beyond all the mistakes and constant criticism and switch my energy towards a more productive, positive outlook.

The same thing is true when you’re training dogs. You really do get a completely different attitude towards working with your canine partner when you focus on the things they do right rather than the things they do wrong. It is hard to switch your perspective when your dog is tearing up the house, pottying inside, pulling on the leash, or being reactive to other dogs. I think human beings are almost programmed to notice the negative easier than the positive. But, by simply changing your point of view, you can help your dog overcome his issues. As you focus on the positive, you see the positive. You become more positive. And the relationships around you change for the better.

They always say “Your attitude matters. Pick a good one.” I never thought I’d be the sort of person to actually agree with this. It works in dog training. It can work in your life too.

Posted in Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment