Agility Dog

When I first learned about dog sports, I wanted to do agility. When I brought Risa home so many years ago, I wanted to do agility with her. Agility never happened for Risa and so I got Kyu with hopes of doing agility with him. He got closer to it than Risa did but, as I struggled to get his IBD under control, I had almost written off agility for him completely.

He was enrolled in an agility class during the worst part of his disease. I pulled him from class and went by myself several nights because he was sick. Even as he recovered and I tried to figure out how to best manage his illness, he wasn’t the same dog in classes. He’d check out or refuse to set up. He’d miss jumps. He wasn’t having it. I eventually pulled him out of classes completely because he was never healthy enough to make it through an entire session and he injured his iliopsoas.

That was two years ago. And he hasn’t done a lot of agility since. I’ve taken a couple online courses and worked through some of those things with him on my own. Friends of mine have offered to help me as well. But I still felt like agility might never happen for him. I still haven’t gotten his gut as stable as I’d like. And what if he doesn’t even like agility after the numerous times he’d tried doing it when he felt sick?

The weather started to improve and so did his health. I had to make further adjustments to his prednisone dosage (after talking to his IMS vet) and he was more interested in continuing to train. I started asking him to do a little bit of agility and he was into it. In fact, he started following me around the yard when I was setting things up and “asking” me to do this thing! He did not hate agility; I did not accidentally ruin it for him when I didn’t realize how sick he was. He wanted to play!

I started working with him on some of the foundations I felt we’d missed. I worked on my handling with him. I took him to the training place and ran him on some small sequences and worked with him in the yard as well. A nearby venue offered day of trial entries and I decided that, as long as he felt well, I would enter him for a day. That day rolled around today and, with an absolutely gorgeous weather forecast, I loaded up the car full of stuff and dogs and we were off!

I had a lot of decisions to make in choosing to enter him. I didn’t know what jump height he’d measure into but I knew I wasn’t going to jump him at full height. Between his iliopsoas strain 2 years ago and his chronic IBD, it didn’t seem fair to ask him to do that. I knew that he suffers from a lack of stamina due to being on prednisone and I didn’t want him to get hurt trying to take a jump he couldn’t manage or blow off jumps entirely. I also had not jumped him at the height class he’d likely measure into much in the weeks leading up and decided that also made it unfair. So I entered him in the 12″ class knowing that would allow him to be the most successful. I also only entered him into two classes because he’s never trialed before and I didn’t want to overdo it.

His first run was actually a lot better than I’d expected. I think, at the beginning, he wasn’t sure why he was there. It was his first trial after all! Even though I lost his focus a couple times at the beginning, he returned to work quite quickly and was able to successfully complete the first course we ran ever! He took 1st place and Q’d! I was so proud of him! And proud of me for not totally messing it up. 🙂 There were definitely things I could have done better but we did it!!! If we had erred, it was easy for me to see what the likely cause was. Like when he got ahead of me in a line of jumps and he slowed to see where I was instead of taking the jump ahead of him. If I had recognized he was driving ahead and had told him “Go!,” he might have taken the jump!

The final run was at the end of the day. I wasn’t nearly as nervous for our first run as our final. I had NO IDEA what to expect during our first run and figured we’d just go and have a good time. I had planned on that for the second run as well but my nerves got the better of me. Unlike our Full House run where I got to pick the course and didn’t have to worry as much about him missing an obstacle, that was not the case in Jumpers. It was a set course. It had to be performed a specific way.

In addition, as it was a small trial, we were one of three dogs in the class. The other two competitors were seasoned; they’d run agility before. I am very green with my first agility dog and I know neither of us is as well-practiced as we should be. And figuring out how to navigate a course properly and set my dog up successfully is something I have struggled with before. I thought I had a pretty good game plan, though, even if I kept forgetting part of the course in the middle. I only got to walk it four times and I really could have used a couple more to build up my confidence. But no one else was still out there with me and, even though I know the venue is very laid back and it was still early in the day, I didn’t want to hold things up and I left instead of staying there to do what I needed to do to properly prepare.

I felt rushed getting Kyu ready since there was only one dog ahead of us. This didn’t help either. Despite a slow start getting ready at the line, Kyu started out pretty well. He even had a nice section in the middle where I was struggling to remember what to do when walking the course. Then, it started to go south. I’m not sure if it was my handling that was unclear to him or if he was just tired. He started refusing jumps. A lot of them. When we’ve practiced, I’ve noticed he’s likely to refuse a jump if he doesn’t feel well or doesn’t have the energy to clear it. I would guess that was a huge part of why he started to struggle during the run. I also started flailing my arms as if pointing at the jump would help him realize he should go over it despite not ever doing that ever in training so I’m sure that didn’t make things better for him. He still did take every jump even though he was struggling and sort of throwing himself over by the end. He missed the final jump of the course and then back jumped it which I thought NQ’d him but it hadn’t until I petted him down to let him know he was a good boy. If I’d just sent him back over it the right way, it would have been a qualifying run. Ultimately, I cost us a Q on that run and a title.

Even if we didn’t title, we had fun. And that’s the most important part. He wanted to be out there and work with me. Even when it was confusing. Even when he didn’t quite have the energy at the end.

In addition, and most important going forward, is that I learned stuff. I now have a better idea of where the gaps in our training are. I know what we need to work on to improve. I know what to focus on so that, next trial, we’ll be better prepared.

I know most of the work is on me. I need to spend more time figuring out my job so I can better instruct him. Like needing to recognize when he’s driving ahead of me and either giving him the knowledge to take a jump because it’s in the line we’re running toward or me remembering to cue him to “Go!” when I want him to drive away. And I need to build up my confidence in reading a course map and feeling like I can accurately figure out where I need to add crosses (and which ones to do) so that I can better instruct him on where to go. In addition, by spending time working on my skills, I’ll feel more confident when I’m out there which will build his confidence and keep me from doing flailing arms to try and “make shit happen” when it feels like things are falling apart.

Overall, I’m so happy with how things went today. My boy was happy to be out there running agility with me. He was focused and he was working. Given everything we’ve been through, that was the best part. The venue itself was also super friendly, welcoming, and laid back–my favorite dog sport description! Even people I didn’t know were all smiles and wonderful to chat with.

I can’t wait to do it again. Hopefully with a healthier dog and a healthier understanding of how to direct him on a course.

Posted in Agility, Dog Sports, GI Issues, IBD, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

Chronic

Happy Little Noodle Fox.

Kyu is having another IBD flare up. He went over 3 months, the longest ever since his diagnosis, without one. I changed nothing. Not his meds. Not his food. Nothing. I was terrified to change anything; afraid I’d set off another flare. He had a flare up anyway. This is not insignificant either. Every time he has a flare up, it takes months for him to get back to “normal” again.

I seriously love this dog. He is funny, a great training partner, the best snuggle buddy, and an intrepid hiker. But living with him and managing his disease is a nightmare. It negatively affects his quality of life and puts a strain on our relationship. I wanted a fun companion and a performance prospect. IBD takes all of that away from me far too often.

He’s not going anywhere. I love him too much for that (besides, he is overly attached to me–in a negative way–which would make that challenging). But my hopes and dreams of having a wonderful companion I could compete with in dog sports and go anywhere, do anything with have been dashed. Much like I went through with Risa. It hurts to watch your goals die in front of you over and over.

Kyu saw his IMS doctor yesterday for an annual recheck and to see if anything else needed to be done to help him over this most recent flare (aside from increasing his dosage of prednisone which I’d already done). She was impressed with just how good he looked. He’s put on almost 3 lbs since she last saw him and it’s all muscle. Apparently, few of her GI patients look this good. That makes me feel good, for sure. But it doesn’t change just how frustrating managing this disease is.

I’m also frustrated that, as a whole, his breed community doesn’t seem to care. Kyu is not alone in his struggles; it seems a lot of young Windsprites are experiencing similar troubles. We have no accurate numbers as to how many dogs are afflicted. However, I have seen several pairings with dogs who either have known GI troubles or have close relatives (siblings, parents) with known GI disease being bred. I can’t condone this. This is one of the main reasons I did not get another Windsprite as much as I have fallen deeply in love with the breed. I couldn’t find a line of dogs that was clear of dogs who potentially carried for GI troubles (or other diseases with a strong genetic component).

I’m hoping that this blip is quickly resolved and that I can get Kyu back to a lower pred dose and keep his flares to a minimum. Three months, while not nearly long enough, is still an improvement over how frequently he had flares before starting prednisone: every 4-6 weeks. It’s just so hard when he does have a flare, even a small one, because it takes him so long to recover. While the flare itself may dissipate within 2-3 weeks with an increase in pred, the additional pred has negative consequences. It affects his coat but, most significantly, it affects his attitude and energy. He gets sluggish and doesn’t have the stamina he normally does. Since I have to slowly wean him back down to his maintenance level to prevent a recurrence of the flare, he ends up spending another 2 months after the flare up not quite his bright, happy self. It’s a rollercoaster ride of misery for us both every time. It’s not fair.

It’s been a rough 3+ years between finally getting a diagnosis for him and then trying to figure out how to best manage his disease and he’s only 5 years old. His breed is known for longevity but having IBD (and long-term pred usage) leaves him vulnerable to other complications like cancer. I could lose him young to this disease or spend another 10 years managing it. Neither outlook is great for either one of us. 🙁

Posted in Decompression Walks, Dog Food, GI Issues, Hiking, Homecooked, IBD, Thoughts, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

Doodles

Fluffy lil nugget, Abbie. She’s 3/4 poodle and 1/4 cocker spaniel.

In the dog world, there is a lot of hate for doodles. They are popular and in huge demand. The public wants them and loves them. Yet just the mere mention of a “doodle” will raise many dog people’s hackles.

Mention you want to get a doodle and you’ll find people scoffing at the thought. Why not just get a poodle instead!? Well, first off, a doodle and a poodle are not the same thing. Implying that centuries of careful pedigree-based inbreeding to create a specific type in both looks and ability creates a dog that is the exact same as itself outcrossed to any other breed is a bit of a stretch. Though goldens and Labradors are the most common crosses and are also retrievers, not all doodle crosses double up on retriever. Regardless, doodles are not the same as poodles any more than a malinois is the same as a German shepherd despite similarities in appearance and behavior.

Then they recoil at the price and usually add some disbelief about paying that sort of money for a mixed breed dog. As if being able to trace a dog’s lineage back to the same ancestor(s) on both sides of the pedigree is the only indication of a dog’s value.

The most common rebuke over doodles, however, is that they’re poorly bred. This is not completely untrue; there are plenty of unscrupulous breeders of these so-called hybrid dogs. But this same problem exists in purebred circles, too. Plenty of breeders and/or puppy mills will mass-produce purebreds and “hybrids” alike; dogs bred just to turn a profit not for any betterment of breed or concerns about health. Just like in purebred dogs, there are also reputable breeders breeding doodles. Breeders who know the dogs in their lines, perform extensive health testing, interview prospective puppy buyers, and will take back dogs if circumstances change and the family can no longer care for the dog.

As much as doodles are ridiculed in the dog fancy, they are adored by the general public. There’s a reason these dogs are popular. They fill a niche that many purebred dogs don’t: they make good pets for the average family. I know people will argue there is a whole group of dogs bred for companionship and they’re shown in the toy group. However, not everyone wants a small dog. There is a huge lack of purebred dogs that are medium to large in size and make ideal family companions. Let’s face it, the goal of most purebred dog breeding is to maintain the working ability of the breed. Keep in mind that most of us no longer need dogs to fulfill that purpose. Most of us aren’t working large flocks of sheep, coursing hare for our next meal, or need help flushing game. The modern world doesn’t need dogs who can do things; we just want dogs who can fit in with our mostly sedentary lifestyle. While I’m a huge advocate for maintaining dogs’ ability to do jobs, I also recognize it’s mostly irrelevant these days.

Labradoodle (photo by Michelle Osborne).

There are also plenty of dog breeds that are known for not being good first dogs or a good fit for the average owner. Doodles, however, are pretty adaptable. They’re friendly and people like their look. Whether you are a doodle fan or not, these dogs are more suitable for our modern life than many purebred dogs. That is the purpose of breeding them and there’s a huge market for it.

At the end of the day, I think we need to step back and stop all the hate. You don’t have to like doodles but accept that lots of people do. (There are plenty of purebred dogs I don’t like either but I don’t go around hating on them just because they don’t suit my needs.) If you’re concerned about people buying dogs from unscrupulous places, work on educating people on how to choose a good breeder. Allow people to like what they like. We advocate so much for people making educated choices regarding the dogs they choose to live with. If a doodle is the right match for a family, why should that be considered such a bad thing?

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Getting to Know You

Looking so grown up.

It’s been just over five months since Kyber broke his leg. He was four months old then. Hadn’t been with me for much longer than a month. He’s been on restrictions longer than he’s been alive. We finally got the okay from our physical therapist that he can resume normal activity. He’s not 100% yet; his pelvis seems a bit locked so we have an appointment with a chiropractor to work on that and see if we can’t get it moving properly again. Once that is remedied, we can work on more strength exercises. At least I can let him be a puppy again. Finally.

Now that he’s been more than a “puppy in a box,” I’ve been able to get to know him better. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw! He was an absolute maniac. Letting him loose in the house was like pulling the plunger back on a pinball game. He was racing all over the place and bouncing off of things. He’d been like that as a puppy, too, but it was much less dangerous when he was only 15 lbs. I still had to restrict him slightly even as I allowed him more freedom. We slowly worked up to longer and longer walks. Plus he had physical therapy exercises to work on. Eventually, he earned freedom in the yard and got to start running. The more activity he was allowed to do, the less crazy he was in the house.

Granted, he’s a 9 month old puppy. He can’t settle down well in the house (he will lay down and chew on something or briefly snuggle up on the couch but he doesn’t sleep). But he doesn’t get into too much mischief and he’s getting better about not obnoxiously swatting Kyu in the head constantly. (Kyu does not approve of this gesture.) I can actually have him loose in the living room and watch TV without having to divert my attention from my show for long periods of time. It’s been nice.

I’m also getting to know who he is as a dog. Firstly, he’s very easily stimulated by stuff he sees. This is, of course, unsurprising. He’s a border collie x whippet! Sometimes I feel like he just wants to go on a walk to watch things. All the things. MUST SEE STUFF! He’s getting better at least. But I’ve felt like he’s training for weight pull on most walks the way he pulls as he seeks visual stimulation. Something to fixate on.

He’s also incredibly smart. Sometimes to the detriment of my goals. LOL He’s a great problem solver. Leash looped across his shoulders? He’ll just duck his head under it. Object in the way? He’ll just step over it (this is a big challenge in doing his PT!). He’s very easily distracted, though. I need to remember to keep sessions really short and minimize things that might pull his attention away from the task. He also tends to have a low frustration tolerance which requires me to make sure I’m very clear working with him. He gets a little mouthy if he’s not sure how to get his cookie. He’s also a bit sensitive and can disengage if I’m getting a little frustrated with him (though not nearly to the extent Kyu can be).

It’ll all be alright.

Despite our relative distance during his recovery, he still seems to think I’m sort of cool. I’ve tossed treats in the yard for him to find and then walked away–he races to me with so much gusto he often chokes on his cookie as he gets to me. In the woods, though, I’m pretty sure he’d rather just take off into the trees and disappear. Given the past two years, I can understand that desire. I’d like to assume he’d come back to find me but, until I’m certain he will, he’s on a leash!

He’s also a total goober. His most-used nickname is “Big Dumb Puppy.” Just because he’s just this big, silly goof. I love that about him.

It’s been challenging and it’ll still be for a while. We lost a lot of relationship-building time. And it’s a little harder to manage some things with a 35 lb “dog” versus a wee little puppy. But we’ll get there. He’s a good egg.

Posted in Chiropractor, Orthopedic, Pandemic Puppy, Physical Therapy, Puppy, Thoughts, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

Protect Your Puppy

Puppies are so impressionable; it’s important to make sure they have good experiences.

This Saturday, I was walking Kyber at the park. We were walking lakeside off the usual path we take and walked by a gentleman seated on a bench with his dog. As I passed him with Kyber, the guy called out twice that his dog was friendly and I noticed the dog was off leash and coming for us. I called back “Doesn’t matter. I don’t want my dog greeting other dogs!” Fortunately, the dog was slow and we remained out of reach but the dog still pursued us. I asked the guy to call his dog (since that didn’t seem to be his first thought) which he did and we avoided any problems. Kyber got rewarded with cookies for turning his attention away from the dog and life was good.

Why does it matter, right? Why didn’t you just let Kyber meet that dog, Jamie? Why are you such a snob about it? Kyber (and Kyu for that matter) is not Risa and isn’t afraid of dogs. So why do you care?

I care because I hate when people assume. Just because I’m out with my dogs doesn’t mean it’s time for doggy social hour. Sure, some of this is carryover from owning a reactive dog. Didn’t matter how friendly another dog was or not–Risa was not interested in being chummy. Most of it is just different priorities. Because both Kyu and Kyber are very dog social and friendly, I don’t want them to assume walks are dog play dates. Dogs trying to play on leash is a recipe for trouble. Even if they don’t get tangled up, it restricts their normal movement and can create misunderstandings that might not otherwise occur. I also participate in dog sports with my dogs where they need to ignore the dogs they might see. I want my dogs to prioritize me and not other dogs. John Q. Public may be just fine with their dog seeking out dogs on walks. I am not.

Today, I was reminded of the other reason why I don’t let my dogs (especially my puppies) just meet random dogs in public.

Kyber and I were walking along the path and I saw some dogs approaching ahead. Since Kyber is incapable of restraining his exuberance around his own kind, I moved him far away from the dogs and focused on rewarding him for choosing to disengage from looking at the dogs. My focus was on my dog but I overheard the conversation between the two people with the dogs. One couple had a young puppy and the other man had an adult dog. The man said his dog was friendly and they allowed the pup to meet him. I only heard what happened so I have no idea what lead up to it. But the adult dog snarked at the puppy and the puppy screamed (as most young pups are apt to do). No one appeared to be hurt (again, my focus was more on getting Kyber away since the commotion had him more amped up than usual and his barking wasn’t helping the situation). I was reminded that single-event learning is a thing and I worried about that puppy. I remembered why I don’t introduce my dogs to dogs I don’t know. I want my dogs to be confident around their own kind and it’s just too risky if a greeting goes awry.

I myself have experienced the horror of single-event learning so I know the fallout can be high. As a child, I loved swimming. I was in the pool practically all summer. I took swimming lessons growing up and spent countless hours in the pools at friends’ houses or the public pool. I was a fish! Until one summer day at the public pool when it all changed. It was a particularly warm day so the water temperature felt pretty chilly compared to the air. I was never the type to just jump right in. I had to ease my way into the cool water. Once I’d acclimated, then I could cannonball in and have a great time. This day, someone shoved me into the pool (something I’d never enjoyed anyway) and, as soon as I hit the cold water, it forced the air out of my lungs. I surfaced quickly and caught my breath but I was scared. So scared. I didn’t want to be in the pool anymore. In fact, I didn’t want to be in the pool again. I tried to help myself overcome the fear but, even now, it’s still there. I’m okay in pools but I still don’t want to submerge my head and still have some anxiety being in the water. All it took was that one bad experience to negate all of my good ones.

Protect your puppies. They’re impressionable. It’s much easier to keep them strong and confident than to rebuild them after trauma. <3

Posted in Fear, Pandemic Puppy, Puppy, Socialization, Thoughts, Training | 2 Comments