Lesson In Process

First day of the three day agility camp… challenging, fun, and eye-opening.

Training in class goes so smoothly, I forget how much I don’t know, how much I need to learn.

I tell my students how important it is to make mistakes and to learn from them. I discovered today how hard I can be on myself when I make those mistakes.

I have a feeling the most important lessons I learn this weekend won’t have much to do with dog training.

Packing for Three Days Away with Two Dogs

The list of what to bring for Seelie and Gryphon…

two food bowls, one water bowl

a bag of kibble, four cans of wet food (and a spoon)

probiotics, joint supplement, and a teaspoon

training treats (way more than needed, due to fear of running out)

bones so they have something to do in the hotel

a tug toy so Seelie can download stress

poop bags

water (for their bowls in the crates in the car)

‘food tubes’ – plastic containers to throw or use as targets during agility training, filled with treats (see above)

leashes and collars

a brush

a sheet to cover the bed in the hotel room

a flashlight to walk them in unfamiliar territory in the dark

I’m probably forgetting something.

Freakin’ Herding Dogs

I love herding dogs. I love the way they think, I love their intelligence and their quickness and their energy, and there’s no denying they’re nice to look at. They are herding dogs, though, and that means they do things which could be considered annoying.

Gryphon likes feet. He likes to grab them as you walk, growling and barking and pouncing on them with his front feet. Needless to say, walking in my house can be challenging. When I bring him to work, he will often pick one student and poke his or her leg with his nose until the student gets up and Gryph can herd that person around the room. I’m a huge NCIS fan; I have a life-size cardboard Gibbs in the house. When I first set it up, Gryphon stared at cardboard-Gibbs’ feet and barked, then looked up at the face, clearly annoyed that Gibbs didn’t start walking (which would have been pretty cool if he had).

Merlin does a sneaky nip thing. He’ll come up behind you, absolutely silent, and get you in the leg. It’s not a bite, it’s not aggressive, it’s a little bit of stress and a little bit of instinct and, in my opinion, a little bit of ‘gotcha!’ complete with mental snicker.

Seelie is my least subtle dog. His idea of herding is to physically crash into you and make you go the way he wants. If that fails, grabbing with teeth works too. It’s a good thing he’s not actually playing with sheep. He doesn’t really do that to me anymore, but he could with someone else.

Ironically, Raven is the only one of my dogs who has actually herded sheep, and she’s the only one who doesn’t engage in herding behavior at home. Go figure. Phoenix herded sheep too, but perhaps that’s a story for another post.

All of them have good on-leash walking behavior, but if they see something move off to one side, any of them could trip me up with their sudden cuts in front. Raven likes to walk behind me and weave side to side, typical herding behavior for driving sheep in a relatively straight line. Of course, that puts her well behind the other dogs, which she doesn’t like, so then she has to run to catch up – usually on the other side of me from where I’m actually holding the leash.

As I said above, I love their energy. Really.

Anticipation

I’m taking Seelie and Gryphon on a mini-vacation, a three day agility camp about two hours away. We leave Friday; I’m taking a rare personal day from work to do this.

I stopped off at the local family-run pet store today, picking up training treats (three bags, since I don’t want to run out), a small bag of kibble (already have the canned food), and running a list through my head of what I need to pack for them. I’m afraid to write it down because I worry that I’ll forget something if I rely on a list. Does that make any sense?

I’m already worrying about Merlin. He’ll stay home with Raven, and I know my pet sitter George will take excellent care of them, but this is the first time I’m leaving him since I brought him home. Bringing him and Raven with me doesn’t make sense, since they’d just end up sitting in the car most of the day.

As much as I’m looking forward to getting away, with no possibility of doing any grading for three days, I’m already anticipating coming home.

Merlin’s First Park Adventure

Merlin, my six year old rescue border collie, has been stuck at home for much of the time since I adopted him in December. We needed to build mutual trust before either one of us was going to feel comfortable going places. As Merlin started to relax at home, I began taking him to classes. We didn’t get to go out on many walks, though, at first because I was both leaving and returning in the dark, and then because the deep cold set in here in the Northeast.

The rest of the pack goes on ‘park adventures’ with my amazing dog-walkers Suz and George. Merlin hasn’t gone because we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do some practice runs. I was finally able to go with Suz a few weeks ago. The plan was for Suz to take Raven and Merlin in her car, I would follow in mine, then we’d all walk together, with Suz holding Merlin’s leash. Slight hitch: Merlin did NOT want to get in her car! He was very polite about it, but absolutely refused. He kept looking back at me, perhaps worried that he wasn’t going to come back home. I went to help; even then, it wasn’t easy. We finally convinced him to jump in. He was fine once we got to the park – didn’t pull on the leash, was great with Suz.

Today was the first time Suz tried to take him with her when I wasn’t there. We decided it was time to try it for two reasons: first, I’m going away this weekend and was hoping Merlin would get out with George, who will be staying with him and Raven. Second, yesterday when George brought Raven and Gryphon home, Merlin went halfway down the stairs to greet him, tail wagging. That was a first!

Suz texted me after she brought the dogs back home. Merlin got in her car with no problem, and everything went smoothly. I’m thrilled that he won’t be stuck at home while I’m at work anymore. His life just got a little bit richer.

Seelie and Merlin

Seelie and Merlin

Taking the First Step

I just filled out an entry form to compete in agility with Seelie in May, the first of two trials I intend to enter that month. We actually tried once before, earlier this year… but I got lost on the way to the competition and we never made it. (I now have a Garmin.)

I have mixed feelings about this. I know it’s for fun, but when I get into that environment I get competitive and I want to do well. I end up putting too much pressure on myself. This particular class we’re entering requires us to make up our own course from the obstacles set out in the ring; we’re doing this one because Seelie’s not ready for the regular classes which include the weave poles. Odds are we can avoid doing them. For any readers who aren’t familiar with agility, here’s what weaving looks like.

These mixed feelings are also linked to my former competition partner, Kestry. Kes was a Belgian Sheepdog, although he didn’t look like one, being a fawn color with black points instead of all black.

2010-08-17 13.13.55

Kes was what some people would call my ‘heart dog.’ I had a special connection with him. We competed in obedience and agility; his agility career was cut short because he physically couldn’t handle the triple jumps in higher levels of competition, not at the heights he was required to do based on his size.

I tried competing with Phoenix, but he didn’t like it and my heart wasn’t in it. I want to compete with Seelie; he’s got so much ability. Gryph too, although we’re not as close to ready.

It’s still difficult to do the paperwork; it brings me back to Kes, and a different time in my life. I know we’ll have fun. I also know it will be an emotional day for me, as we’ll be going to a place where Kes and I competed a lot, so the memories will be crowding in. I lost Kestry before I adopted Seelie, and every so often I accidentally call Seelie by Kestry’s name; in some ways they have similar personalities.

We need to get through this first one; I think it will be easier for me to just see Seelie on the course after that.

Play Styles

Each of the dogs has a favorite way to play.

Raven likes to wrestle or play ‘bitey face’ with Seelie. She used to play with Gryphon a lot, but since Seelie came along she focuses on him. One of her favorite seasonal games it to have a shovel full of snow dumped on her head. She loves chasing tennis balls, but she doesn’t get to run flat out after them anymore… she’s got bad knees and elbows, so when I throw for her it’s short tosses only.

Gryphon plays bitey face with Seelie too; they have a great time together. They’ll chase through the house, through the yard, running flat out, dodging over and between logs, with bright-eyed, joyful expressions. Gryph enjoys chasing balls, but some of his favorite games involve dancing around toys, darting in and out while barking at them. He’ll stop and look at me, I’ll scoot them over with my foot, and he’ll ramp it up a notch. Never fails to make me laugh.

Seelie absolutely loves for other dogs to chase him; unfortunately he’s usually the one doing the chasing at home. I have mixed feelings about dog parks, but I do bring him to the one in town occasionally so he can be chased to his heart’s content. The funniest times are when he’s sprinting flat out, a manic grin on his face, with a small dog chasing him, little legs scrabbling as quickly as they can, furiously barking in frustration.

Merlin still doesn’t play with the other dogs. About a month ago, I wrote about the first time I saw him playing chase with Seelie; I haven’t seen that happen since. Merlin would play frisbee 24/7 if he could. He’ll bring one of the small, soft discs I have for throwing in the house (too dangerous outside with the snow and ice), and look at me hopefully, ears up, eyes wide. The second I make a move toward the frisbee lying on the ground, his front end drops into a crouch and he stares at the frisbee, pupils dilating in anticipation.

I’m really looking forward to the snow finally melting so we can have some real throwing sessions in the yard. Before the snow started, I’d throw for Seelie and Merlin; they quickly learned to take turns. I’d toss a ball short distances for Raven at the same time, and Gryphon would dance around me, barking with excitement. I’d toss a ball for him, and he’d prance around with it in his mouth, happy to play keep away.

After this long snowy winter, that particular chaos sounds like heaven!