Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Thursday night we had a big scare.  Probably the worst one we’ve ever had with one of our pets.  One of our cats, Milo, found himself what he thought was a clever hiding spot, but got himself banged up pretty good in a random accident.  We are pathologically careful about our pets’ safety, but we did not see this coming.

Rushed him to the vet for an emergency exam.  X-rays and physical exam all looked fine, but his breathing was labored and he was in obvious pain.  We took him home with instruction to keep him under close observation and if his breathing worsened at all, to take him to the 24-hour emergency clinic right away.

milo crate At home, we set him up in a dog crate as a temporary hospital ward, pulled a futon mattress up next to it, and I, along with Lowell and our other cat, River, spent a mostly sleepless night watching Milo’s every breath.  Around midnight, Milo got comfortable enough to sleep, but we kept our vigil.

Milo is the coolest cat ever.  You will never meet a friendlier, more outgoing and affectionate cat, and he is pretty much unflappable.  He greets everyone who walks in the door.  He is ever-present – if you sit down, he is in your lap.  When you crawl in to bed, he jumps up next to you.  As you try to type on the computer, he parades back and forth in front of the screen.  He does not take “no” for an answer.  He has converted non-animal-lovers into Milo fans.  He loves everybody. 

And his purr.  His purr can be heard from across the room.  It has woken me up from a dead sleep on numerous occasions.  And it almost never stops.

At the vet Thursday as we sat waiting for the x-rays to be taken, we could overhear the sounds of distress coming from a neighboring exam room.  Another family pet, another accident, another emergency visit, though this one sounded as though it was having the dreaded, heartbreaking outcome we all fear.  Lowell and I held each other and waited for Milo’s return, hoping and praying that this was not his day, that he was not going to go like this.

Because Milo is so omnipresent, his presence can also be easy to take for granted.  He’s just always there, like a part of your own body.  Suddenly I couldn’t imagine what a hole he would leave in our home and hearts.  I couldn’t bear to think how our second cat, River, would cope.  The two adore each other and are constant companions.  If River loses track of Milo for even a brief lapse of time, he starts a frenzied, howling search through the house until he locates him again.  Milo just had to be OK – what would we do without him?

Friday morning, Milo awoke looking bright-eyed and happy.  He groomed himself, ate his breakfast, and as he started rubbing against the bars of his crate, I heard that sweet motor start up again.  I told Lowell that I had good news – Milo’s purr-er was not broken. 

Happily, Milo appears to have made a full recovery.  One day I know it will be that day that we dread, but I am much relieved that right now, Milo seems to still have eight lives left. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jade’s Birthday

We had a lot of reasons to feel grateful over this past Thanksgiving weekend, not the least of which was celebrating our first dog Jade’s eleventh birthday on Sunday.

jade bday bone

To our eyes, Jade is a little grayer around the muzzle, a little quicker to tire than he used to be, and more content to flop in his favorite dog bed for longer amounts of time.  But for an eleven-year old Lab mix, he is still in great shape.  He walks with us every day, keeps up with the younger dogs, can catch any treat or ball no matter how bad the toss, and is still agile, fast, energetic, and healthy.  All of which we are very grateful for.  As I often say, Jade is the dog that changed our lives.  If his whirlwind of energy hadn’t entered our home ten years ago, who knows if we would have had all the fun experiences and met all the great friends that we have today.  His energy and exuberance caused us to find new ways of having fun with him, and has led us on a wonderful path that continues to bring us much happiness.

We tried to decide what Jade would like most for a birthday toy.  He loves big, plush toys, which he likes to destroy within minutes, so we decided to let him do just that:

jade ball1

jade ball2

jade ball3

jade ball4

There was indeed a lot to be thankful for this weekend.

jade bone2

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How Django Plays Agility for the Daddy

I’m still nursing a very tight calf muscle from last weekend’s 5K race (with another race in one week, yikes!).  So, Lowell was asked to handle Django in our agility class last night so I could rest on the sidelines.  They’ve successfully run one whole Jumpers course together in the past, so I figured it would be fine.

Lowell and Django lined up at the start line, Lowell led out to the second jump and gave Django his release word.  Django continued to stare intently at his daddy for about another second, before giving him the vote of no confidence, turning around, and walking over to me.

So, I hobbled around a couple courses with him, and during the down time used Django’s tennis ball to try and massage out the resulting muscle spasms.  Something better work soon – we have two days of trialing in the next week plus the race.  And the plan to have Lowell do all the handling apparently isn’t going to work (especially once I remembered that we are his and Maebe’s Pairs Partner – oops). 

In all my years of running, this is the first injury I’ve ever had, and quite frankly it is pissing me off.  Seriously, you probably don’t want to be around me when I have to take a “rest” day, much less three or more of them in a row.  There’s a reason I’m drawn to Border Collies after all.  Fortunately, after reading the amazing book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, earlier this week, I have a new plan for revising my running once I’m back to health:

toe shoesToe shoes.  Barefoot (almost) running.  It’s the next big thing, man.  But honestly, the evidence against most modern running shoes is quite compelling.  Who knew that Nike was systematically crippling us and working against the centuries of evolution that made us the perfect endurance runners that, by nature, we are.

But I digress.  All I know is Django had a rough night last night.  He has another hot spot forming on his flank, his mommy was hurting and not happy as a result which always gets him upset, and he was feeling crabby and didn’t want anything to do with anyone but me.  Poor DJ.  Mom’s trying to get back on her feet as soon as she can for you, buddy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Django Day

CIMG0034 Today marks the seven-year anniversary of a very special day – the day we brought my heart dog home to live with us.

Django’s backstory is a bit of a mystery.  He was picked up as a stray in the Detroit area, spent some time in a shelter, and finally was brought in as a foster by the Almost Home rescue organization.  He weighed less than 30 pounds, and his dark red coat was sun-bleached almost blonde in places, meaning he must have spent a lot of time outside. 

He was lucky to go home with a very loving foster mom who saw what a special guy he was, and wanted the very best for him.  She brought him to a companion obedience class being taught by our flyball teammate, Karen, who was impressed that this little stray was so biddable, quick-learning, and eager to please.  Karen suggested that his foster mom bring him to our flyball practice that weekend.

When Django walked in the door, our eyes met and he grinned at me, and I knew he was going to be ours.  It was love at first sight.

I can’t express how much I adore this dog.  Obviously, I love all our dogs, and have a special relationship with each one, but something about my connection with Django seems like a once in a lifetime thing.  The best way I can describe him is that he always wants to be right, and would try to do anything I asked of him. 


Django watches me in a way that none of the others do.  He is always in tune with what and how I’m doing.  If I look around in the house, in the yard, wherever, his eyes are following me, waiting, watching, wondering what I need of him.  Dogs, God love them, are by nature a self-interested lot.  They primarily are interested in when we might give them a treat, when we might take them for a walk, when we’re going to throw the ball.  Django, as much as he loves tennis balls and food, feels somehow like he is watching me on a different level – wondering what he can do for me, how he can make me happiest.  He never does anything wrong, is never a bother, and is always easy and delightful to be with.  We could go anywhere together.

Many don’t know the source of his unusual name.  He is named after Django Reinhardt, a jazz guitarist from the early 1900s.  Reinhardt was born into a family of Romani gypsies, and at the age of 18, his left hand was badly injured in a fire, leaving his third and fourth fingers partially paralyzed.  He was told he wouldn’t play again; nevertheless, he went on to become one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time.

The name “Django” is a gypsy word meaning “I awake.”  I have always thought it was a fitting description of the way my shy boy who was looking for a home came to blossom into the wonderful dog that he is. 


Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Agility

 django cpe costume We spent Halloween weekend having fun with the dogs and friends at a CPE agility trial – the first we’ve been at since August.  At the end of a busy summer of agility, I thought Django at least could use a little break.  He did some goofy things in the ring at our last trial (getting the “zoomies”, refusing the A-Frame – pretty atypical behaviors for him), so I wondered if he needed a physical and mental rest.  He ran agility just once back in mid-September, otherwise he’s just been having fun running and hiking with us and hanging out being a dog.

Not knowing how old Django actually is, sometimes I worry that he might be nearing retirement sooner than I hope.  He looks awfully gray around the muzzle lately, and I wasn’t sure what to make of his odd behavior at the last trial.  Still, he has just as much energy as ever on our morning runs, and at a recent annual check-up, our vet commented that he looked great and in fact looked younger than the 8-9 years old that we estimate he is. 

This weekend I entered him in three runs each day, and decided this might be the test of whether he still wanted to be playing this game.  I had hoped the break would give him some enthusiasm again, and I was pleased and relieved to find that I had my old Django back after all.  All I can say is his weave poles are a little rusty, understandably.

On Saturday, he qualified in Standard with a nice, steady run, if not blazing fast.  We also had a nice, smooth Colors run, and a great Jumpers run – we had the second fastest time in our class (Maebe had the fastest) against some very fast dogs, but he knocked a bar during a late rear cross on my part.  I was very pleased with his run though.

On Sunday, we had maybe the best NQ we’ve ever had.  I got him fired up before our Standard run, so much so that he blew every contact, but I hardly cared because he was running fast, following all my cues, and we felt like a good team.  We had fun on our last two runs of the day as well.

Maebe and Lowell had a great weekend.  She ran a Standard course in 33 seconds, going at a rate of 6.1 yards per second.  Which is fast.  Tristan even got to play a couple times, and looked good and qualified both times.  He needs 13 more legs to get a CS-ATCH – a goal that he may or may not attain.  We’ve stopped really striving for it and are just happy for every run that he gets to have.  He loves it so much, and I hope his body continues to let him play for a bit longer.

Jade and Cadence were good troopers being brought along for the ride.  Cadence worked with me at a practice jump between classes – which was a big milestone as the trial environment is so stimulating for him that he usually has just wanted to stare at all the passing dogs and has a hard time sticking to the task at hand.  His focus in the presence of distractions is definitely improving, especially as he gets more and more excited about actually playing agility.  I was very pleased with his progress. 

cade cpe costumeAll in all, a very fun weekend.  We had a great time visiting with friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and enjoyed the special touches that the host club provided this time, such as Saturday’s costume contest where Django and Cadence got to don their Superdog and Pumpkin costumes again.  I think that they will be glad to see the Halloween season past, and those costumes put safely back into storage for another year though! 


Monday, October 25, 2010


Over the past year or so, I have clicker trained Cadence to do a few cute tricks, just for fun and for us both to get better at shaping behaviors.  Unfortunately, one of the things I am worst at as a trainer is getting behaviors on verbal cue.  In fact, all of my dogs seem to learn and perform best when I just shut up.  Trying to turn over a new leaf though, I made a list of the behaviors I have trained and what the intended verbal cue is for all of them, and have been working at testing his understanding of these verbals.

Ugh.  I discovered quickly that the verbal for one of his first tricks, walking backwards, (“back”) was not understood at all.  I was stumped about why this was, when we have repeated it so many times.  It finally occurred to me that every time I worked on “back,” I knelt down on the ground so that I could easily deliver the reinforcement in position by tossing it between his paws after he backed up.  I was basically “blocking” the new, verbal cue – my kneeling down was his signal to back up, therefore any new cue I gave him (giving a verbal command) was meaningless as it didn’t give him any new information.  Ah, finally some of the learning from my many books, seminars, and classes was starting to sink in!

So I started carefully separating the two cues – I would give the verbal first, then kneel down.  After a few reps and a couple more practice sessions, I think he was picking it up. 

Today, I decided to give his whole repertoire of tricks a little workout.  We started with “back” and he was trotting backwards nicely.  So far so good, until I tried to switch to other commands.  But once we’re in reverse mode, “Sit” apparently means “sit for a half second, then back up” and “Down” means “lie down for a second, then back up.”  Fun.  He was wearing a path in the living room floor going forward, backing up, repeating.  It was cute though.

Finally stopped that behavior, and discovered that his new, cute paw wave has suddenly become the default whenever he is asked to sit.  Sit and wave.  Sit and wave.  Butt hits the ground and the right paw goes straight up, never mind if I asked for it or not.

At least his newest two tricks seem to be going well, but they both have very obvious physical cues – weaving between my legs and putting his paws up on my outstretched arm to stretch. 

Sigh.  Got to keep working on this.  Poor Noodle.  It is a wonder dogs ever figure out what on earth we want with all our yammering.

sacked out cade

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interlochen Weekend

fall color This past weekend was Lowell’s birthday, and we celebrated by taking one final camping trip for the season, heading up north to the Traverse City area.  We set up base camp at Interlochen State Park, and spent three days hiking trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Traverse area VASA trail.  Lowell also ran a 10K race on his birthday on the VASA trail, and had another fine performance coming in third in his age group.  Cadence and I cheered him on from the trailhead.


noodle in your face No other way to describe it other than just a perfect weekend trip.  The colors were beautiful, and the weather could not have been more ideal.  72 degrees and sunny the entire time – you could never dare hope for such amazing conditions in October in northern Michigan. 

Django, Maebe, and Cadence joined us for the trip, and the five of us spent hours hiking the trails by day, and curling up by the fire at night. 

Pyr pt


Plus, I got Lowell the best birthday gift ever – custom designed Maebe-gear, courtesy of Laura at Team Small Dog.  You can see it for yourself here:    http://skreened.com/maebebaebe

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fall Outing 2010

camp in fall

We were back to camp this past weekend for three days at the annual DSA Fall Outing.  Just a long weekend to enjoy the fall colors of northern Michigan, hike, camp, play with the dogs, visit with friends, and hang out by the bonfire.

I don’t know how many miles and hours of hiking Lowell, the dogs, and I have done over the years on the trails around camp.  It is one of our favorite things to do.  The dogs can run off-leash without worry, and the only people we ever encounter are fellow DSA campers.  Whenever we visit, we trek along our favorite routes several times a day.

water break We logged several miles this weekend, I’m sure.  Cadence got several more backpacking miles in for his “Pack Dog” title, and completed his five-mile check-off hike.  While he and Maebe accompanied us for several longer hikes, we also were grateful for the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the older three dogs.

Django helped us set up the Spooky Trail, which is a bit of a tradition at the fall outings.  He particularly was helpful in the placement of the rubber skulls along the trail:

dj and skull Apparently they are a fine substitute for a Jolly Ball in a good game of solitary soccer.

Jj and t hikeade and Tristan did a lot of hiking, and we even gave Jade some off leash freedom on the trails.  Usually he stays on leash on our forays into the woods, as his prey drive is so strong I have always worried he’d head into the next county after a deer.  I figured perhaps in his older age he would be a bit more reliable, and he did great.  The one time he started air-scenting, I was able to recall him back to me immediately.  It took almost eleven years, but maybe he’s getting a little more trustworthy finally!

Cadence and Jade took part in the costume contest.  Cadence reprised his role as the Great Pumpkin, though Lowell said that since he is “The Noodle,” he really was a Spaghetti Squash. 

spaghetti squash

Jade was SuperDog, and he tried his best to act the part:

super tuna

As always, it was a great weekend and I left feeling very grateful for the opportunity to spend this time together in one of our favorite places.

maebe bench

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a blog about dog training?

Noodle Unleashed

So what is with all these posts about races and running?

To me, my two loves of dog agility and outdoor sports have a lot of similarities.  First and foremost, both are a lot of fun.  They provide us with opportunities to get outdoors, keep busy, spend time with friends, dogs and each other.  Beyond that though, both teach one about setting goals, developing and sticking to plans, remaining committed, challenging oneself, learning new things, and staying focused.  They teach you about the importance of consistency and criteria.  And every step on the path, every little achievement, is highly rewarding when it is well-earned.

After this weekend’s race, we were discussing why this season has gone better for us than past seasons, and why we are finally seeing improvement.  I came up with two theories:

1) I believe I was more consistent in following my training plan this year.  I started my plan early in the spring and stuck to it with very few exceptions.  This involved setting priorities and making some smaller sacrifices in giving up things that were less important in the long run.

2)  I think in the past I started going longer before I put in the basework to go faster.  Long slow distance runs are great, and if you do a lot of them you can run very long distances.  Slowly.  I enjoyed the challenge of longer-course races, but no matter how many miles I was putting in, my speed didn’t change.  This year, I stuck to sprint distance tris, and tortured myself with hill and speed interval workouts and tempo runs, and I finally think I’m starting to see a payoff.

It occurred to me that these two things – consistency and doing the correct foundation work – are also important elements of dog training, and ones that I have been really trying to adhere to better as I raise my next performance dog, Cadence. 

I confess, consistency and sticking to criteria are my Achilles’ heel of dog training.  I think they are for a lot of us, and may be what sets truly great animal trainers apart.  I have my definite weaknesses.  For example, my love for watching Cadence run full out and playing with the other dogs is probably part of the reason I also struggle in recalling him away from dogs – the act of running with the pack is highly reinforcing to him.

I know this is where I falter in many of my day-to-day training misadventures, but I am proud of one thing where I have been quite consistent with Cade.  When I brought him home, I vowed to only raise and train him with positive methods.  I have never been a “correction trainer", but with our first two dogs I can’t say I never used any aversives either.  I am proud that Cadence has not once received a collar correction, has never worn any type of choke or prong collar, has never been sprayed with a water bottle, or received any of the other types of punishment that even many “positive” trainers sometimes fall back on.  OK, I will admit that my voice tone has probably at times been less than patient and perhaps a bit louder than normal volume when asking him to please stop barking in his crate.  I don’t think he finds that particularly punishing though, and Manners Minder has proved much more effective in stopping that behavior.

Then there is groundwork.  While I do struggle with impatience, I have been committed to giving Cadence the foundation training he needs and to taking my time with him before rushing into agility.

I learned that lesson the long way.  Our first dog, Jade, showed incredible promise for agility.  He is probably our best natural athlete and has incredible drive.  As soon as he knew the obstacles, I rushed to enter him in competition.  We were able to qualify and move through the levels with several manic, barely-under-control runs.  Until one trial when his uncontrolled pace caused him to slip on the dogwalk and then, later that weekend, crash into the barrel part of a chute.  He was never the same in a trial after that.  He was not seriously injured, was not afraid of the obstacles afterwards, and would happily play agility in class, at home, or at fun matches, but found competition to be too stressful.  So at his still-young age, I retired what could have been a champion dog had I known better.

Our second dog, Tristan, was bought as a puppy.  He was incredibly biddable with a strong desire to work.  We hit the ground running, and began training young.  He competed in his first flyball tournament on the weekend of his first birthday – the absolute earliest he was eligible to race (a regulation that I have grown to think is ridiculously too young, by the way).  He also went lame that very weekend.  Within the next year, he would have two major knee surgeries.  Our brilliant, eager worker has had a lifetime struggle with injury, and I will forever wonder if it was due to the early pounding on his body.  It may not be – it may have been genes and poor structure or bad luck – but I have become extremely conservative in what exercise I think is appropriate for puppies now.

Because of these lessons, Cade and I have spent our first year together working on fundamentals.  Playing crate games, working on body awareness, doing Susan Salo’s puppy exercises, working nose targets on flat contact trainers, and doing shadow handling exercises.  Only this spring, after he was a year old, did I start gradually introducing him to regular height jumps, higher contact equipment, and started weave pole training at about 15-16 months.  Perhaps he would have been fine regardless, but I am pleased that he has grown into a very sound, strong, healthy dog.

After taking a few agility classes with Cadence, some of our training challenges also became more evident.  Even for a Border Collie, he is drawn to motion to a remarkable degree.  Anything that moves provides a big distraction, and he becomes easily frustrated when he can’t chase.  I discovered quickly that as long as we were running together, my movement could allow him to focus on the task at hand, but if there was a fast dog in the neighboring ring, or if we were waiting our turn to go, I could lose his attention in a heartbeat.

I want to do things right with him.  I don’t want to have to have all the ring gates closed when he runs at a trial, and I don’t want to stand with him barking incessantly in line.  So, agility class is on hold right now as we take a Control Unleashed class.

Honestly, I was a bit self-conscious about taking a CU class.  I think unfortunately it has the image of being for reactive, aggressive, out of control dogs when in fact that is not who it is designed for at all.  Noodle is not any of those things, but he needs to be able to concentrate in the presence of distractions and we needed the opportunity to work on that.  I was happy to find that the class we joined was made up with handlers in the same boat as us – a freestyle competitor whose gregarious lab likes to visit the ring crew during a performance, an obedience prospect who needs a little more attention in the ring, etc. 

So, yeah, CU isn’t as glamorous or exciting as an agility class.  But it is the foundation he needs if he is going to be the agility dog that I know he can be.  And it is going amazingly well.  His focus is improving greatly, and I have high hopes for our eventual return to agility class, and ultimately competition.

Consistency and groundwork are the themes for us right now.  And patience.  And remembering the reward of doing something right will be worth the effort.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hell Freezes Over, Apparently

Because I brought this home on Saturday:


minibus profile

From a running race, of all things.

After about 14 years of running, completing two marathons, numerous 5Ks and multisport races, and going through who-knows-how-many pairs of running shoes, I still have been hesitant to really consider myself a runner.  When Lowell first got me interested in running with him, I did it mostly for fitness and for the challenge of conquering something that I initially found very difficult.  And unpleasant.  I began to enter 5Ks here and there, just to feel the accomplishment of completing them.  Eventually, since I wasn’t going particularly fast, I became more interested in going long, and trained for and ran (slowly) the Honolulu marathon in 2003 and the Detroit marathon in 2004.  After Detroit, I lost interest in straight running races for a while, and for several years have only entered multisport events such as triathlons or adventure races. 

Though I enjoyed running, I often found it frustrating.  I felt like no matter how I trained, I was not getting any faster.  I considered it my weakest leg of a tri, and developed a strategy to lay it all out on the bike, my strongest event, and then just hope I built enough of a lead that I could hold people off on the run.

In August, Lowell - whose true love is trail running - signed up for the Flower Power 5 mile race at the Run Woodstock event.  I wasn’t sure yet if I would have any triathlons in September, and wasn’t ready to coast into the off season quite yet, so decided I would sign up as well.  Just for fun.

The tri season had gone surprisingly well for me, especially after having had a year away from them last year.  I placed in two of my four races, and was one away from the podium at another.  In reviewing results, I started to see an odd trend.  When looking at time rankings by swim, bike, and run splits, I noticed that I was now performing better at the run and my swim was the relatively weakest event.   My run pace at the tris was equal to those of my best 5K times ever.  Maybe I was getting a little better? 

I went to the trail race excited to do something different.  Since it wasn’t really “my sport,” I felt less pressure.  I had no expectation of placing and I just decided I would do my best and not stress out about it.

As the 150 racers were being lined up by expected pace, I kissed Lowell good-bye and wished him good luck as he moved to the front of the pack, where he belonged.  I then tried to figure where I should seed myself.  Trail race paces tend to be quite a bit slower than road race pace, due to the uneven, loose terrain and, often, killer hills.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  I settled into the group in sort of back-of-the-middle and waited for the race to start.

I quickly began to be annoyed with the conversations I was hearing around me.  Two women introduced themselves to each other, then started sharing their low expectations for their performances:

“I should probably move back.  I should be near the end.”

“I think the ten-minute pace is just up there a bit.  Where is the 13-plus minute pace?  No way I will be going ten minute miles”

“Yeah, I’m not going to be doing this fast at all.  I’ll be back there walking it.”

I have heard of some top agility competitors who choose to listen to headphones during course walk-throughs to avoid hearing the negative chatter of their competitors – complaints about how hard the judge made the course, about how they know their dog can’t hit that weave pole entry, etc.   This negativity does not help one visualize, or achieve, a successful performance.  I knew I wasn’t setting grand expectations for myself in this race, but I wasn’t about to set low ones either.  I moved forward to seed myself higher in the pack.

The race started, and I felt good taking off.  The pack remained quite tight for the first couple miles, and I would often find myself closing in on the heels of someone going at a decent clip for me.  I would be tempted to hang in behind them for a bit and pace off of them, but then decided that I didn’t want to limit myself by assuming that my best pace would be equal to that person’s best pace.  Maybe I could go faster.  If they passed me again immediately, oh well.  So I decided on a strategy of passing every person that I closed in on.  By probably mile three I was largely alone, and enjoying the solitude of running my best through the woods, listening to the sandhill cranes in the distance, and eventually really hoping that next clearing of trees I could spot was not another wetland, but in fact the finish line.

Coming in four minutes ahead of my goal time, I crossed the finish line, grabbed water and a cookie, and flopped next to the bonfire with Lowell for a few minutes.  I marveled at how quickly my brain could go from, in the initial pain of the final push, thinking “I am not doing that again” to, after catching my breath, looking at other competitor’s event t-shirts and thinking “Maybe that race would be fun to do next year.” 

Lowell had run a great race, and knew he had a good chance of placing well in his age group.  Finally results were posted, and we confirmed that he had won his age group and come in sixth place overall.  I casually went to check my time, and was stunned to see my name in first place of fifteen women in my age group.  My immediate reaction was to declare that clearly there was a mistake, and looked to see if there was another earlier page that had been cut off.  But, nope.  I had officially won myself a toy VW mini-bus.

I never would have guessed that I would have taken first in a running race in a million years.  But this year has been an interesting journey in taking risks, and not subscribing to self-imposed limitations, both in my dog training, and in my racing.  It has been a surprising year, and who knows where it will go next.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Summer’s End

This weekend marked both our last outdoor agility trial of the season, and the last open water triathlon in Michigan this year.  It made for a busy weekend, trying to get in our final chances for summer fun before the daylight and weather change push us inside, or to other outdoor activities, until next year.

On Saturday, we entered Maebe and Django in their first USDAA-sanctioned agility trial at Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.  Django was entered in just three runs during the day, but Maebe was entered in seven(!) classes, as they were offering both tournament and titling classes that day.  We hadn’t actually registered for all the classes, but were put on a Pairs team anyway, so we went along with it.

USDAA was a fun new experience, if a bit hectic.  We enjoyed the high level of competition, seeing some elite dog/handler teams, and having the chance to really push and challenge ourselves.  On the other hand, agility trials are often busy enough when you are only entered in three to five classes in one ring.  You have to make sure you have time to review and walk your courses, warm-up your dog, run, cool the dog down, let the non-competing dogs out to stretch, work a class or two, etc.  With Maebe in all the classes and in both rings, we were kept busy trying to monitor all the action and figure out where to be when.

The trial seemed to be running long, and by late afternoon, Lowell and I finally got to sit down together for half a second, and realized we were both about ready to drop, and were both getting anxious about getting home in time to prepare for tomorrow’s triathlon.  So, we did something we almost never do and scratched from the last two runs of the day.  Django only ran one Standard course (which he did nicely but with one dropped bar),  but I knew he’d be just as glad to get home to kitties and his Jolly Ball.  Maebe ran nicely, but was jumping 22 inches for the first time in competition (she jumps 16 in every other venue).  By her fourth run, I thought her jumping style was getting sloppy and she seemed to be tiring.  We decided that though we’d had fun and enjoyed the day with the dogs and friends, the best use of our time at that point was to head home, pack for the tri, walk the non-competing dogs, and get some rest. 

Back at home, we pulled crates out of the van, loaded up race bikes, and packed our transition bags with our wetsuits, water bottles, bike and running shoes, and other gear.  After a nice moonlit walk with Tristan and Cade, we got to bed early, hoping we’d feel well-rested by the time the 4:45 AM alarm went off.

I woke up feeling pretty decent physically, but dragging mentally.  From the weather map, it looked like we could expect rain and 60-degree temps throughout the race, and I had visions of shivering my way all the way to the finish line.  But, as we began our drive to Stony Creek and the sun started to creep up, the morning proved to actually be a nice one.

We checked in at the race, set up our transition areas, and then familiarized ourselves with the course layout.  Looking out from the beach house over the swim course, I was quickly reminded why all the effort is worth it:

stony creek beachMy dad came down to the park to watch the race, so after slipping into our wetsuits, we visited with him for a few minutes before it was my wave’s turn to enter the water.  Even with a wetsuit, 65-degree water is COLD.  Once I caught my breath and acclimated though, the swim went great.  Probably the easiest tri swim I’ve ever had – didn’t get kicked, punched, smacked, or elbowed once, and was able to sight straight lines between each buoy.  I was out of the water before I knew it.

The bike portion was fun for me as always.  It was made more exciting when about a quarter of the way in, I was passed by a woman in my age group.  This was the first woman to pass me on the bike leg at any tri this year, and I wasn’t going to stand for it long, so overtook her again quickly.  I held the lead again until about halfway, where we had another back-and-forth, but this time I pulled well away from her. 

The bike course was on local roads and was open to traffic, and about 5K out from the finish, a group of us got stopped at an intersection for a few seconds as a car was turning.  Shortly afterwards, my rival passed again.  For a second I felt disheartened and figured I was running out of steam to hold her off.  Then I remembered the delay at the intersection, realized that was why she caught me, and decided that I was ending this season with my record intact – that no woman was going to pass me on the bike leg.  I pulled ahead and held it this time.

She and one other woman passed me pretty shortly into the run, but after that I held any other women off.  After the initial “brick” feeling caused by the bike-to-run transition wore off in my legs and feet, I felt pretty good and ran strong to the finish, having fun the whole way. 

I ended up finishing just off the podium – fourth in my age group.  I was 14 of 77 women overall, a finish that I was quite proud of.  My 5K run time was as good as my best 5K straight time ever, even after a tough bike. 

So now we transition to a few trail races, orienteering meets, hikes, and mountain bike rides through the changing leaves, and indoor agility for the next several months.  It felt like a great opportunity this weekend though to get those last events in, and when we collapsed into bed early Sunday night, we were exhausted but content that we had made the most of summer.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ren Fest

This weekend was the pet fair at the Michigan Renaissance Festival.  We often try to attend the festival, but haven’t been there for a few years.  This year, Dog Scouts was invited to have a booth as part of the pet fair, and we volunteered to help. 

Maebe ren fest We were assigned to a three-hour shift on Saturday afternoon with Cadence and Maebe helping us meet and greet the public.  I always like the chance to help out with an organization I believe in and was looking forward to it, yet had some anxiety as the date approached.  Of the four of us who were attending, Maebe is the only true extrovert.  The rest of us (Lowell, Cadence, and myself) certainly play nice with others and have reasonable social skills – none of us bite or are fear-reactive or anything ;-) - but we don’t often seek out interaction from strangers either.

Ren Fest also has its share of crowds – both people and animals – and lots of odd costumes, loud noises, weird sights, etc.  Maebe is pretty unflappable, and I was confident that Cade wouldn’t lose it or anything, but I was a little concerned that he might zone out mentally with too much stimulation.

dogs ren fest Happy to say, both dogs made me very proud.  They interacted politely and happily with a ton of people of all ages.  Cadence especially seems quite fond of young boys, something that I have observed a few times since he was a young puppy.  I was also pleased to see that he continues to have a very nice natural greeting behavior.  He doesn’t rush up to people, but when it is clear they want to pet him, he approaches and nicely sits next to them for chest scratches, and even nudges their hand should they stop.  I started to use the opportunity to get the greeting on a “go say hi” cue.

I admit we aren’t the best fundraisers.  Many DSA members have trained their dog to panhandle – meaning that they will retrieve a dollar from a stranger and deposit it in a bucket.  Django did this nicely in his panhandling days, but he seems to not enjoy these type of events any more so we let him stay at home.  Lowell worked with Maebe over the course of the day, and by the end of the afternoon she panhandled her first dollar.  I was able to shape Cade to put his mouth on the dollar, so I imagine by next time we will have some better fund-raising skills.  The bigger problem probably lay in our own discomfort in asking for donations but I think I have thought up a good spiel for next time that I will be comfortable with.  Still we brought in a few bucks and made a few sales.

Perhaps more importantly though, we were able to spread the DSA mission a bit, discussing the importance of responsible dog ownership and positive training methods.  We met some people who seemed very interested in the DSA activities and mentioned looking into camp, local troops, or just checking out the website for training help.  We had very nice conversations with a lot of pet owners, and it was nice, especially on the heels of a week filled with run-ins with people who give dog owners a bad name, to be reminded that there are a lot of good pet parents out there as well. 

It is also nice to be able to appreciate our dogs and their accomplishments and strengths.  Every week and every month, I write out my training goals for the days ahead, and the list of the behaviors I want to train or strengthen continues to grow and grow.  I also know a lot of people (mostly through DSA) who are exceptional trainers and whose dogs have an impressive array of talents.  It is easy to measure ourselves constantly against our desired goals or other people’s successes and to feel perpetually inadequate as a trainer, always striving for better.  It was nice to step back and view our dogs from the perspective of the normal pet-owning public and realize that we have raised some good little dog citizens.  Instead of just thinking about where I want my dogs to be, I was reminded to at the same time enjoy the process and to be pleased with the accomplishments we’ve made.

me and Cade ren fest

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why We Love Dogs, Reason #598

For no real reason in particular, I have had a bit of a storm cloud over my head on and off this week (which I am grateful to say is pretty atypical for me).  It probably started on Monday morning’s run, which was interrupted with a fairly startling experience when three totally unattended, not-terribly-friendly, off-leash dogs cornered Lowell, Cadence and I in our favorite park.  A few moments later, a very unapologetic owner sauntered up the trail behind them, pretty unconcerned with the whole thing, though she did start screaming at them all when we asked her – through gritted teeth - to please get her dogs back.  Brilliant dog training.  The good news is that no one was hurt, there were no altercations other than one dog making some nasty sounds and charging at us, and Cade handled it all calmly.  I did step on him though when one of the dogs tripped me as we tried to move away.  I felt awful about that though he is no worse for wear. 

Off to a rough start of the week, little things just started to build up.  I’ve had a sore throat.  My neck has been stiff for two weeks now for no apparent reason (though I blame the cats who try to steal my pillow from me at night, causing me to wake up all contorted).  I had to skip Tuesday’s run because I couldn’t imagine doing a hill interval workout in 90 degree weather.  I got stung by a yellow jacket or something.  Really minor annoyances, but by Wednesday I was doing a pretty good job pouting and feeling sorry for myself.

Last night I got home after an evening of running errands and was in full self-pity mode.  I took each of the dogs outside to go to the bathroom, and after everyone else was in, found myself in the yard with just Cadence.  I decided to play a little hide and seek game with him, sneaking off behind the shed and calling him to come find me.  Then we grabbed a toy and had a fun, quick play session of tug and fetch – him all growly and play-bowing with his mischievous glint in his eye, and me cracking up and forgetting about the week’s inconveniences.  Only took him about 30 seconds to cheer me up.

I’m in a much better mood this morning.  Thanks, Noodle. 

cade and me trailer In other good news, Tristan is not limping anymore and is able to go on his daily walks again, Maebe’s eye ulcer is completely healed, and Django’s 24-hour bout of extreme gastric upset seems to have cleared up.  Now if the cats would just stay off my pillow, maybe my neck would improve also!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Focusing on the Positive

What I really am tempted to write about this morning is a long rant about the irresponsible dog owners and their off-leash, untrained dogs that seem to have overtaken our beautiful neighborhood parks, making our morning runs increasingly stressful and potentially unsafe, and my dismay that we are probably going to have to alter a routine that had become one of my favorite parts of my day.  But I’m in a bad enough mood about that this morning, so thought it would be more helpful to relate some of the nice things from the weekend.

ex pen We spent Saturday and Sunday competing at the Capital City CPE Club’s agility trial in Williamston, MI.  This is one of our favorite trials of the year, and is on a beautiful site.  The site is a YMCA Youth Camp, and has a lot of grassy, shaded area for setting up crates and tents, and during our down time we can walk the dogs along the trails or let them splash around in the river. 

The weekend started out a bit rough for Django and me.  We had two standard runs, the first of which was completely bizarre.  Django did the first three obstacles fine, and then just lost connection to me running around and taking off course obstacles.  He was happy enough galloping around the course, but was operating on his own program for some reason.  Nothing like that has happened before – he might do something goofy and random from time to time but always gets back on track as soon as he realizes that wasn’t part of the plan.  We cut the run short, and I was pretty flustered and confused.

Our second run went better, but at the A-Frame/tunnel distinction mid-course, he simply would not do the frame and kept going into the tunnel.  After about the third time, I had to consider that maybe he was telling me something, and we went on.  The frame can be a tough obstacle on their bodies, so I wasn’t going to force the issue if he was trying to communicate something. 

We wrapped up Saturday with two clean runs where he did the A-Frame fine without any hestitation, though he was running rather slow.  It was a hot weekend, but I left a little concerned.  I don’t know how old Django is since he was a stray, but he has to at least be about eight or nine.  He still looks great physically, just a little grayer around the muzzle, but I know one day he will probably start to tell me that retirement is approaching.  I hope it is still a ways off, but I want to be sure I don’t miss any signs that he needs a break.

Sunday, thankfully, I seemed to have my usual Django back.  He ran clean all four runs on Sunday.  He wasn’t blazing fast by any means, but for the second day of a very hot trial, he held up fine and kept moving.  Lots of reliable dogs were figuratively “melting down” in the heat, but Django followed my handling, ran clean, and placed in three of the four runs including a first place in Snooker.  I was very proud of my teammate.

We are only entered in one day of agility in September at this point, and then I think I am going to give him a little holiday for a month or so.  He loves agility, but we’ve been doing a lot of it, so we’re going to spend time this fall just camping, hiking in the woods, going for runs, and hanging out.  I think a rest will be good for him.  He tries so hard for me all the time that he deserves some free time for a while.

The rest of the family had a nice weekend also.  Maebe had some super-fast runs as always, and Jade, Tristan, and Cadence got to take some walks in the woods and splash in the river a bit.  Cade is continuing to have better manners in the trial environment.  He was very quiet in his crate – just a couple barks of protest when we’d take Django or Maebe to the ring – and we were able to have several good training sessions in the presence of a lot of distractions.  We played some of our recall games, did the practice jump a few times, and shaped some new behaviors with the clicker.  I can even call him out of the water now, which is a HUGE accomplishment.  As recently as mid-July, he forgot anything else existed once he was splashing in the water.

Overall, it was a nice weekend spent with the dogs and friends, and I am grateful that Django’s weirdness from Saturday morning seems to be an isolated incident.  So this morning I am focusing on being happy for these successes (and trying to forget about all the less-than-nice things I would like to say to the owner of the pack of not-entirely-friendly dogs that were running amok through Barton Park this morning)!   

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We call this his “Sam the Eagle” face . . .

sam eagle cade


He can act serious for seconds at a time, but it is not very convincing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Do What You Love

Island lake transition I am a morning person.  Like my Border Collies, I am active and high-energy.  I like to compete and to try new challenges, and I like to push myself to see what I am capable of.  Despite these facts, sometimes at 4 AM on a Sunday when I am waking up to a glass of energy drink and preparing to drive to a local park to set up my race gear in darkness, well aware of the almost 90 minutes of pain that are awaiting me, I have passing thoughts about my sanity and about how I choose to spend my leisure time.

This Sunday, the triathlon season came full circle, as I finished out the year racing on the same course I started the season out with in May.  Back in May, I remember that weekend seemed to mark the start of the summer.  Having just returned from our road trip down south, we came home to Michigan to find the days increasingly longer and warmer, our flower beds fully in bloom, and had three months of summer fun planned ahead of us.  Yesterday as I set up my transition area, I noticed how the days were shorter now and you could feel fall’s approach was imminent.  I also noticed how in the past week or so, my motivation had been waning slightly, and I was feeling rather ready to take a break from tri-racing until next spring.

So as I sat at the beach finishing my coffee and getting ready to wriggle into my wetsuit, I was reminding myself, why do I do this?  The answer is that it really is damn fun.  It is the same reason that we wake up at equally unreasonable hours to head off to an agility trial, set up tents, crates, and exercise pens, and hustle around all day studying course maps, warming up dogs, and running our courses.   It is a challenge, sure, but more simply, it is just fun and it brings us joy.  And really, is there any better reason to do anything?

This has been a busy, but very enjoyable summer, for our entire household.  The secret to this enjoyment, I believe, is finding what you love and dedicating yourself to it, even at times when you are tempted to do something easier.  I didn’t always feel like heading out on my bike after work for a pre-dinner ride, nor did I always want to battle the backyard mosquitoes in order to set up some 2x2 weave pole practice, but my motivation at those times was the knowledge of how much true pleasure and enjoyment I get out of those things once I begin.  Bike riding always seems to elevate my mood no matter how grumpy I am feeling, and my dogs always make me laugh and smile with their enthusiasm and delight in whatever game we are playing.  OK, there may have been a long run or two in the high-80’s and 100% humidity where I was definitely not happy or pleasant to be with, but those were few and far between.  And I was always happy to have done it once it was over.

The flip side of this secret, I’ve realized this year, is recognizing what things you think are making you happy, that really aren’t.  We made decisions this year to step back from some activities that were taking a lot of our time, and no longer bringing us the enjoyment that they once had.  We made decisions that weren’t always easy – no longer participating in some events that we used to, deciding not to follow instruction from trainers whose advice at times conflicted with what we knew best for our dogs, etc. – but have not had any regrets.   Instead, we found ourselves with the time to spend on our priorities, and I am grateful we had the wisdom to make those decisions.

By mid-morning yesterday, my final tri of the season was completed.  I had taken over two minutes of off my race time since May, and came in third in my age group, much to my pleasant surprise.  I started contemplating doing one more tri this season, and looking forward to some fall trail races, more agility trials, and camping trips still to come. 

And, even at the most painful points of the run, I had a blast, and remembered to find the joy in what I was doing.  With a quarter-mile left on the run, I imagined that I was running up the last, long hill in the final quarter-mile of our usual morning run at home.  I pictured Cadence in front of me on those training runs, happily charging up the hill, tongue and ears flapping, and imagined he was joyfully pulling me towards that finish line.


wet T

Tristan is never afraid to do what he loves.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cadence’s New Favorite Hobby

cade run2

Cade is officially a runner now.

We love running with our dogs.  With his long legs, Jade was a natural running partner in his younger days.  He could effortlessly trot alongside you for miles.  He wouldn’t even have to break stride when I would be running my fastest. 

Tristan, with his structural problems, was quickly eliminated as a long distance running buddy in his youth after coming up lame several times on short runs.  So, in recent years Django and Maebe have been our running companions.  It is perhaps Django’s favorite thing to do – he starts happy laps around the yard if he sees my running shoes come out.  Maebe is always very excited at the start, though eventually you see her start to wonder “OK, are we STILL doing this?”  She trots along happily though, and it is good for her.  Those who see her tearing up the agility courses would never believe what a colossal couch potato she actually is by nature, so it is nice that this helps keep her conditioned. 

Cadence is about sixteen months old now, so a couple weeks ago I decided he was grown enough to come along for a few runs.  I don’t start the dogs any younger than this, as I don’t want that much continuous pounding on their still-developing joints.  I figured his growth plates should be pretty much closed by now, so a couple weeks ago brought him along for the first time.

He is a natural, and he loves it.  He is now up to running with us three mornings a week, about 3.5 to 4 miles at a time.  He already knows the routine.  I let him out in the yard for a few minutes before we leave so he can stretch and warm up a bit first, and he waits excitedly at the door to be leashed up to go.  He settles into a nice effortless pace as soon as we hit the trails and happily takes in the morning as we trot along.

I have a love-hate relationship with running myself.  It took years for me to appreciate it, and I do mostly enjoy it now, but there are still the occasional runs where I am cursing it almost every step of the way.  I find running with the dogs makes the experience completely different though.  Raymond Coppinger described dogs as the world’s best endurance athletes, and watching my guys’ smooth, steady gait makes my own pace seem like less effort.  You notice more, and experience the run differently.  The goal isn’t just to do X number of miles, or to keep up a certain speed.  We stop at regular points along the trail to let the dogs cool off in the river, and watch the crew teams’ early workouts at the pond.  At the overgrown sections of trail, I watch Cade pick his way under the the leaves and fronds hanging across our path, and feel them, moist with morning dew, brushing against my arms and legs as we forge through.  We do occasional unplanned sprint intervals when over-confident rabbits run across our path for a few yards.

When we get to the top of the last hill, we already have had an adventure together before much of the neighborhood is even stirring.  We walk up the last block to home to cool down a bit, though Cadence already has his own post-run recovery ritual:

post run cool down  

Cool tile feels very good, apparently.

As much as I love training and competing, it is these simple times together that are the best part.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I like to think this is an example of my smart, clicker-trained dog thoughtfully trying to solve a problem . . .

because the other four dogs in the house figured out how to get treats from the Kong Wobbler toy almost immediately.  Cadence thought maybe he should offer some trained behaviors to it first.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Camp Part 2

extreme close up Following up on my first post about DSA Camp a couple weeks ago . . .

As I mentioned, one of the special features of camp is the opportunity to train the dogs to do new things, and to earn cute little merit badges in the process.  As this was Cadence’s first year, he first had to pass the Scout test.  He waited until about the last possible minute to decide to demonstrate his knowledge of “heel”, so he was making me really sweat it out all week, but ultimately the hamster stayed on the wheel long enough for him to walk a simple heeling sequence in front of an evaluator.  Clearly he needs work on this though.  At least he is pretty decent at loose-leash walking.

He also earned the first agility badge, the backpacking badge, and the “Art of Shaping” badge.  For the shaping badge, we shape the dogs to wear a painting “mitt” on their paw and to “paint” by making repeated paw swipes on a canvas.  I love operant conditioning, so this badge is always fun right up until the time that you get the actual paint out.  After that, everything inevitably goes to hell and you end up with a dog that wants to eat the paint, watch everyone else, and swipe at everything BUT the canvas with their paint-soaked paw.  I  made it out without too many colors on my clothes this year at least.



Having a first-year dog at camp is quite time consuming, so we were proud that we were still able to earn badges with all four of the other dogs.  Maebe got her Agility II badge, and smoked the tunnelers fun course with a winning time of 13 seconds.  (Jade was in second place behind her with a time of 20 seconds – not bad for an almost 11-year old!)  Lowell and Jade earned the Rally Obedience badge together, which was very cool.  Jade is pure prey drive, and he usually excels at badges involving water (dock diving, water racing, etc.) or some variation on chasing a bag on a string (lure coursing, steeplechase).  But he is a good heeler, and I was pleased that he learned some new things this year.


Tristan and Django earned their IMPROV Obedience badges.  IMPROV is a new variation on obedience (DSA will soon be holding sanctioned events – stay tuned), that involves creativity, distance work, and lateral thinking.  You need to perform a series of exercises that, while they follow some general formats (fetching odd objects, working away from the handler, coming into contact with new things, etc.), are always different depending on what the judge decides to come up with that day.  Having general obedience skills (and ideally a few tricks) is very helpful, but often you need to think creatively to figure out how to use your dog’s known behaviors to accomplish a task together.

Lowell and Tristan and Django and I had a blast with it.  It really was an exercise where you got to see the dogs think and problem-solve, and you got to see what you can do as a team together.  It was also amusing to watch dog trainers who know better resort to typical verbal primate behavior and, when all else failed, try to explain to the dog in common English what was required of them.  I’m sure none of us have actually trained the cue “Pick up the hairbrush and go set it in that mail box 10 feet away” but it didn’t stop us from trying when nothing else was working. 

Oh, and not only did he earn the badge, but Django won third place in the mini IMPROV match!


At the end of the week, it was fun to reflect on our relationships and journeys with the five dogs.  I enjoyed the opportunity to work so intensely with Cadence for a full week, and he did great.  At the same time, while I love starting out with a new dog and the fun learning process that it is, there is always the challenge of working through adolescent distractibility.  There were times that I felt impatient to get to the place where Noodle didn’t need reminders every ten seconds that, hey, we are doing something TOGETHER here.  What helped me through that though was the time spent with Django, especially at IMPROV.  Django and I have a relationship now where I believe he would try to do anything I ever asked of him.  One night while working IMPROV, we had been going a long time and were about to do the final exercise of the night.  It was the evening of an activity-filled day, and Django had to be roused from a power nap at my feet when it was our turn.  He walked to the start line with me still a bit groggy, and I know he probably would have been happy to head back to the trailer for the night.  But, as soon as I asked him to begin, he went right to work for me, gave it his all, and his tail wagged faster and faster as we completed the exercise.  All he asked in return for giving 100% was a chest scratch.  And that is how he always is.  He is so easy, never causes trouble, and watches me all day just in case I might ask him to do something. 

Django is such a great partner, and I reminded myself over the week that this relationship didn’t happen overnight, but was a process itself.  I see in Cadence the same desire that Django has to be right (even though at times it is really, REALLY hard for a Noodle), and I know how rewarding it will be to do the work with him.  I also don’t expect him to be another Django, and I am appreciating the dog that he is, both in his brilliant moments and his squirrely ones.  For all their challenges, we are enjoying these teenage months.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Celebrating Small Successes

running cade in ky While the Noodle has come a long way in our first year together and our relationship continues to grow, the one area where I have had continued frustration is with off-leash control and his recall in the presence of distractions, especially  motion (moving dogs, moving squirrels, etc.).  We continue to work at it, but it remains our biggest limiter.

So, along comes Susan Garrett with her “5-minute formula for a brilliant recall” e-course.  I resisted at first – I’ve been to puppy camp, own all of her DVDs and books, follow her blog regularly, etc. – and while I always find her instruction to be extremely valuable, I felt like I had to draw the line SOMEWHERE.  Knowing I am powerless against her voodoo-like marketing prowess, I waited until yesterday to watch the promo video on her blog, and then only after receiving at least three emails that morning warning me that time was running out to register.

Well, shortly into the video, Susan mentions how the things in training that frustrate us and make us crazy become the things we hate to work on, and therefore become our biggest weaknesses with our dogs.  That hit home hard, and I realized I had to fix this problem first and foremost.  I emailed my husband to tell him I was ready to “drink the Kool-Aid” and registered for the e-course.

The course begins officially on August 1, but there was already a bonus game available to work on.  A pretty simple, fast exercise.  Last night I played it with Cadence twice in the yard, only spending a couple minutes each time.  Today at lunch, we went outside, played the game again for a couple minutes, then I unleashed him and released him to go sniff in the yard.  He immediately dashed over to a tree with one of the many obnoxious squirrels  that frequent our neighborhood perched about 15 feet up the trunk.  He whined and danced around for a second, then looked back at me.  At which point I shouted “YES!” and he blasted back across the yard to me for another game session.  We partied for a few seconds with the tug toy and treats, and I released him back to the squirrel.  Major, major event for us!

I hardly think we’ve hit a turning point – he is still many moons away from a “brilliant” recall, but it is so fun to see the little lightbulb start to come on every now and then.  Susan also said in one of her videos to celebrate the small successes, and I am definitely celebrating this one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


camp sign We spent the past week at Dog Scout Camp in St. Helen, MI with the dogs.  We have been going to camp every year in July for nine years now, and it has become a favorite tradition.  Every year we get to see good friends, meet new people, train our dogs new things, and just enjoy ourselves playing in the water and hiking in the woods.

The goal of Dog Scouts, the organization that runs the camp, is to promote positive-reinforcement dog training methods and responsible pet ownership.  A lot of what we have learned and believe about dogs today came to us from them.  When we first got Jade, we were among those people who let him run off leash wherever, run up to any dog we passed, etc. (oh, how far away we are from that type of behavior today).  While we were going to positive trainers already, we did not really understand shaping, clicker training, etc. – we were guilty “lurers.”  DSA taught us much of what we now know about dog behavior, body language, communication, learning theory and training, and time and time again they are the people that I turn to when I have a question, concern, or need support.

At camp, dogs can become “scouts”, meaning they have passed a basic obedience/temperament test and that the handlers have demonstrated an understanding of responsible pet ownership and positive training.  Once they become scouts, they can earn badges for dozens of different activities.  It gives everyone an opportunity to try new fun things, and to work towards different training goals. 

This was an especially fun year for us for a few reasons.  First, we celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary there.  After debating whether we should do something different for the occasion, we realized camp is one of our favorite places on earth, and what better way to celebrate than among friends and with our entire dog family.  Also making this year notable was the fact that Cadence was now a young adult and so was working on earning his scout title and his first badges.  I was also working on some new things with Django and the other dogs, and it was interesting over the week to reflect on the training journeys that we are on with each individual dog – how they differ, how they are similar, what we can learn from each, what we still need to learn and strengthen, and what we can rely on.

As always, the week always gets us thinking and excited about our training.  I imagine I will have a few posts about the experience yet, but for now here are some pictures of the week’s adventures (including our new proud scout, Cadence DSA)!

Cade DSA

T hike

jade agility

Maebe swimming

beach group

sleepy dj