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.