Focusing on Rear Cross Basics: Weekly Agility Report

We were running behind even before we left the house for agility this week. I had left work a little later than usual, and then when it was time to put Rain in the car a man walking down our street decided that I was talking to him when I was clearly not, and Rain’s barks were all in good fun instead of a sign to keep moving. It took several minutes after that to get Rain loaded back up to get on the road.

Arriving at the park before class, a group of people stood socializing in the field. Their dogs, which included a couple of Aussies, were running around and kept Rain and I from maximizing the few minutes we had before it would be time to proceed to class. One Aussie, a black tri named Dancer (as in “Dancer, NOOOO!”) ran right for Rain who was fetching a ball, and body slammed her. Nobody was hurt, but I suspect Dancer didn’t realize she’d bounce off Rain quite that soundly.

At any rate, it was a bit of a gauntlet getting to class.

Once we were at class, Rain and I walked around and got acclimated. Molly had realized that our class had been incorporating rear crosses without actually having done more basic rear cross work.

In other words…it was rear cross day at agility!

What’s a Rear Cross?

In its basic form, it means you cross your dog’s line of motion behind them.

We started with sending our dog into a tunnel and traveling in a diagonal behind them so we’d be on their opposite side when they re-emerged from the other end. The dogs can hear where we are, so they are aware of our movement even when their sight may be impaired a bit from being inside the tunnel.

Rain runs into an agility tunnel, her tailfeathers a blur

Of course we practiced both sides, switching from left to right and right to left, during our turn. One time I crossed behind Rain without any problem before she even made it into the tunnel.

We did another basic rear cross exercise once we cycled through everyone’s turn, this one involving jumps.

As we traveled to/from the platform to the part of the arena where exercises were set up, I used the opportunity to work Rain on her “feet” command. We’re working on getting her in the right spot regardless of whether I’m standing right next to her or not. She’s getting better at it! Slowly…

We also had the honor of having a visitor in class! You may recall seeing Flute, a cute little red merle, when she was a puppy. She’s now almost a year old and tearing it up in the agility ring! You may recall that Rain gets distracted and puts on a show when there’s an unusual dog in class, and cute little Flute was no exception. Fortunately I was able to warn Flute’s person before Rain ran over to them, barking loudly, as she got distracted during an exercise.

After class Flute and Marvel played in the pen next to us. Rain barked at them at first, but I could soon tell she wanted to go meet them and maybe join their puppy play. Since Rain had scared the bejeezus out of Flute’s person, I decided that we’d wait until the next opportunity with the puppies presented itself. Next time, Rain—next time.

And speaking of next time, next week we’ll be doing reindeer games in class! This is our last session before a holiday break, when Molly preempts our usual class fare and sets up fun challenges for us. I’ve got just the thing for Rain to wear during our last class before 2018!

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A Circus Elephant Breakthrough! 🎪 🐘

My little circus elephant in training. 🐘 #australianshepherd #agilitytraining

A post shared by heather andrews (@bookishheather) on

Rain and I had a major breakthrough on our circus elephant exercise last weekend!

Some of you out there may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Allow me to explain…

Way back when Rain and I were in Foundations of Agility—when we attended class on a different day and in the evening—Molly started us on a shaping game which involved the dog spinning around with her front legs on a stool. When the behavior was in its final form, Molly said, our dogs would look a little bit like a circus elephant performing.

She didn’t have a name for the trick but I decided to start calling it “circus elephant,” and the name caught on fast.

Here’s Molly’s puppy Marvel doing the trick in its completed form:

Now that we don’t get agility homework from week to week I’ve been trying to work on challenges and teaching Rain new tricks to keep her doggy brain occupied.

We had come to a bit of a wall with her circus elephant progress. Rain has rotated her body to a certain point pretty consistently but we were having a hard time getting her to complete the circle where she’d be facing away from me for just a split second.

A few weeks ago I asked Molly about it in class. She gave me a couple of suggestions but also pointed out that Rain may never get the whole thing down. We’ve been spending a few minutes on it each morning for the last couple of weeks, and I’m happy to present the following video evidence that we’ve made a major breakthrough.

How did we get there? Molly had suggested a certain way of treating Rain that would turn her face away from me, setting the stage for that little leap of faith the dog needs to do to complete the circle. After several days of practice like that we got tantalizingly close but Rain’s spine was still aligned with my right leg. One time I treated her from the other side of her head for no particular reason…and she completed the circle for the first time! Then I did it again, and reproduced the results.

Rain now understands I want her to complete the full circle, and I’ve been confident enough that I’ve had her perform her breakthrough for some people in our life. Rain has impressed everyone so far, so now I present our breakthrough for our friends on the internet.

Can Rain Snuffle Out Truffles?

It started last month with an Oregon Field Guide video. I discovered that there are organized trainings to teach dogs to search for truffles! Rain has a pretty keen nose and likes to sniff out on our walks—a long walk in the woods and giving Rain a specific job seemed pretty ideal.

Heading to the open internet, I quickly discovered the Oregon Truffle Festival’s two day workshop cost $600 and takes place a couple hours away from home. Surely there were options in the Portland metro area? I dug further, like a dog sniffing around for that fungus nugget buried between the roots of a Douglas fir.

What’s All the Kerfuffle About Truffles?

A truffle is a fungus that grows underground ensconced in the roots of trees. Prized for culinary use, they have a taste said to be similar to mushrooms. Black truffles from Europe are crazy expensive but Oregon has its own kind of truffles often found under Douglas firs. Rain lives in Clackamas County, which happens to be one of the Oregon counties that produces a ton of Christmas trees, often Douglas firs. More Douglas firs equal more truffle opportunities!

An hour later I wrote to a person who used to hold similar truffle dog training workshops in the same area as our agility classes. Based on her outdated website I wasn’t holding my breath for a prompt answer.

Due to Rain’s issues with getting in the car, I was poking around the Oregon Humane Society website a day or two later and discovered their new offering: Intro to K9 Nosework. The instructor is the same woman who taught Reactive Rover and I signed us up as soon as we worked out some logistics. Surely this course would be a good first step toward working toward becoming a truffle dog!

Why Do You Want Rain to Hunt Truffles?

I’ve never had a truffle product, to my recollection. So why do I think Rain becoming a truffle dog would be such a great idea?

  1. Walking in the woods and leveraging Rain’s strengths into giving her a job to do seem ideal for both of us.
  2. If we can find enough truffles to pay ourselves back for the money invested in the learning process, why not?
  3. Step 1: Collect Truffles Step 2: ????? Step 3: PROFIT!

Since we were officially signed up I told Molly, our agility teacher, about how we’d be taking classes two times a week temporarily, and why. She shared her knowledge of a local nosework trainer who does truffle dog workshops. When Molly lived on a piece of land with Christmas trees, this person came to Molly’s property to truffle hunt and showed them what they found after each session. Molly also pointed out that she had a banner on the side of our arena. There it was, staring me in the face this whole time. (It’s not that I don’t look at the arena banners, but this one emphasized competitive nosework training over truffle dog workshops, and rightly so.)

That evening I looked up the woman’s name and wrote her as well. Seeing her photo, I instantly recognized her from the original video that had inspired this flight of fancy! Writing back the next day she told me that she encourages people to start with an intro to nose work class, then she does private lessons until the dog is ready to go do fieldwork, which could take some time.

Winter seems to be truffle season in Oregon—maybe we’ll be ready for our first field excursion by then?

Grouchy Bear: Weekly Agility Report

It had been a week. Almost every single day I woke up with a headache, and my stomach had been bothering me. Rain’s barking seemed to be worse than usual—perhaps due to no agility class the prior week, during the Thanksgiving holiday. As I headed home from work to pick her up I worried about whether or not she’d get in the car. Especially since we had had a step backward in our car work the prior morning.

Fortunately Rain did get in the car, and I managed to secure her in there before she got scared and tried to climb her way out. Once we were moving she stood up and looked around—a good sign considering she usually lies down and sulks while in transit. I talked to her more to try and keep her in good spirits.

We got to the park and had a grand time. Rain got to run free fetching her ball, sniff whatever was inside the critter holes throughout the field, and wade ever-deeper into the mud puddles near the parking lot. Once she makes it this far and has fun at the park I know there’s no problem getting her back in the car to class.

She was really excited to be back to class. Really excited. As in, bark bark bark bark bark bark bark! excited. Dogs from the other class were already coming out of the arena, and Rain’s excitement and the strange dogs lead to a couple of what we would call “barking eruptions” in Reactive Rover. During one of them, an alarm on my cell phone started going off on the same time, with the phone buried somewhere in the Trader Joe’s shopping bag I bring to class with all of Rain’s accoutrements. I don’t really enjoy drawing everyone’s attention to me when entering a room, but with Rain it seems to happen pretty regularly.

Starting class this way made me a grouchy bear for most of the next hour.

Molly told the two of us who hadn’t already run the course in the prior class to walk it, and it wasn’t long before the other person was inexplicably walking in sporadic circles, cramping my ability to figure out where I was supposed to be going. Turns out our course was a modified pinwheel, which is why the other person was walking more or less in circles.

Remember the beginning of the fun run event in September, when all the attendees were walking the course at the same time and nearly bumping into each other? It’s difficult for me—to say the least—to navigate in space focusing on a course while also not bumping into other people who are also trying to focus on figuring out the course. Ay yi yi.

Molly had me walk the course in front of her as if I had Rain. Once Rain and I were actually running it though, it turns out I had a lot of misunderstandings about what Molly was expecting from us. This meant we ate up a fair amount of class time (I think) and at the end of class Molly reminded us that what we were being asked to do was pretty challenging, but I have a feeling that internal factors (my grouchiness) was at least as much of a factor as the course itself.

One of the jumps were also an issue for multiple dogs in our class and the class before us. Rain squatted a couple of times although I don’t think she actually marked the spot. Toward the end of class she started refusing to take that jump altogether, even though Molly said I was doing my handling exactly right. There must have been some strange scent near that jump that was throwing off all the dogs.

Rain is a creature of habit so after class we simply needed to play ball out back. It’s getting dark by the end of class, as the current sunset is about the same time right now and getting earlier. We didn’t stay as long out back, but I did chat with Molly a bit after class about the challenging week and some other doggy-related news which will be revealed soon. It was my way of trying to say sorry for being grouchy in class.

A Scatological Park Discovery

I had been boring Rain for four days over the Thanksgiving weekend, but now it was Monday morning and we were returning to our weekday routine. This included our morning visit to the park near our house, where Rain could sniff and learn about the latest happenings and play a rousing game of fetch before heading home.

Long-time readers of Rain in the Forecast know that our local park is a great place where we spend a fair amount of time. We have been able to do agility-type exercises with the playground equipment even before we started taking agility. We’ve found shopping carts and used them for training. Rain enjoys our daily outing so much that she starts making a ruckus when she recognizes the activities that lead to our leaving: I move around the house more, get dressed, put on my outer layers.

It’s not all kittens and rainbows at the park though. As our neighborhood demographics have changed the last few years, we’ve encountered more people at the park on weekday mornings which can make executing our routine more challenging in various ways. (We’re still the only ones out when it’s 38 degrees, pitch black outside, and pouring rain though. Wimps!)

On Monday we were sniffing around the playground when Rain became very interested in a scent. She started pulling and lead me to the side of the sole building in the park. She stopped and it took me a split second to take in the scene before pulling her away. I saw a big pile of poop just a few inches from the brick wall and it seemed likely she might eat it, so I switched directions to pull her away. I had seen this sort of thing before and Rain was paying far too much attention to it for my comfort.

Poop Emoji

Once we were on the other side of the park building, I looked behind us and confirmed what my gut already suspected: the restrooms had been closed for the season over the holiday weekend. Even the porta-potty that appeared this year when the restrooms were out of commission had disappeared since our last visit. This all supported my original suspicion: that pile of poo had come from a person.

Nauseated Face Emoji

How did I know this? It’s not the first experience we’ve had with this scenario, dear reader! The location of the poop right next to the building, Rain’s higher-level interest in it when she doesn’t care for most other poop we encounter, the larger size and quality, the closed state of the bathrooms—it all strongly suggests to me that it came from a person.

Fortunately on this morning Rain didn’t make any attempts to visit her discovery again once it was time to play fetch elsewhere in the park. Hopefully the Portland Parks and Recreation staff would discover it and dispose of it during their daily maintenance rounds.

Rain always keeps me on my toes, and I never knew just how many perils of urban living I could discover. Squirrels, raccoons, people walking down the street, randomly disposed food, and now food that has been disposed of in a different manner.

Charlie Brown Nauseated

Introducing (Sorta) Gearhart’s Autumn Rain

Great news: Rain’s a dog! Officially!

Last weekend in the dead of night I received an email from AKC with Rain’s registration certificate listing my mom and I as Rain’s co-owners.

We’re not going to give Rain an official deb ball but we do have a small coming out to handle…

We are pleased to announce that Rain’s full name is now officially Gearhart’s Autumn Rain.

What? You say. I thought it was Rainbow Bratty Andrews/Rain the Pain/Hey Stop Stealing My Socks/FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHY WON’T YOU STOP BARKING?

YES! Those are all her names too, depending on what we’re doing and how she’s behaving.

Gearhart’s is her kennel name, as she officially came from the breeding line of Gearhart Aussies in Gearhart, Oregon.

Skye’s full name was Goldcrest Autumn Skye, and my mom more or less required that we use the name she had selected back when Rain was born. It has something to do with a song she likes, “Forever Autumn” by Justin Hayward, which begins:

A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes…

Clearly Justin Hayward has not met Rain! She is not gentle—she would land on someone’s weary eyes with plenty of force! But that’s how it goes when you need your co-owner’s signature on a piece of paper. Negotiation.

Next up, we should be getting notification that our AKC Trick Dog paperwork has been recorded, and then perhaps we’ll start sniffing out our next doggy project

Australian Shepherd Products Are a Rare Commodity

My mom spotted something quite rare at a local store last weekend: an Australian shepherd stuffed animal!

See, it even says so on the tag!(See, it even says so on the tag!)

On a shelf full of stuffed owls, cats, corgis, and foxes, there was only one Aussie in stock. We pulled it out and examined it closer.

The Aussie stuffed toy tries to stack :)

One thing was clear: they had distinctly tried to get the blue merle effect with most of the coat, which was pretty impressive. They should have extended the white around the neck, as the Aussie mane (that white band of thick hair around the neck tends to puff out like a scarf) was a bit scrawny. My mom suggested it looked like a juvenile Aussie, and I agreed. (Those thick Aussie coats tend to fill in slowly during their first two years of life.) I noticed how the head appeared to be in the Aussie head tilt position. I gave the makers of this toy an A for effort: “nice try, guys!”

It’s a rare thing indeed to find products featuring Australian shepherds in the wild. Frankly, it’s even pretty rare to find an Aussie when a vendor carries the same product in a range of specific breeds. Labrador retrievers, goldens, cocker spaniels; always, well duh, and yes. Border collies are seen fairly frequently. Corgis, another herding breed, are pretty hot these days too. But Aussies are usually a pretty rare find. To see an Aussie item in a store without ordering from someone who has 160 breeds represented is rare indeed. Even last year when we were at the Rose City Classic we spent some time combing through vendor booths for Aussie items and came up empty-handed.

And that’s why on this day I was seriously asking myself, “do I need an Aussie stuffed animal? Does Rain need an Aussie toy?”

We do have a few Aussie products around the house—most notably a sign my dad got on his travels seven years ago that says “a spoiled rotten Aussie lives here.” It graces our kitchen. The Aussie shown is a black tri instead of a red merle like I had at the time (Rain’s Uncle Atticus) or a blue merle which is what people usually illustrate. I have an Aussie magnet that I found last winter in a local pet store and a red merle wooden ornament my mom got when Atticus was a puppy.

But I didn’t need a stuffed Aussie. I decided that under Rain’s care, a stuffed Aussie would end up like her squirrel, more a squirrel skin suit a la Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. She just wouldn’t fully appreciate it for what it was—an attempt at representing her. So we put the Aussie back in the wire rack and walked on, our day a little brighter because we came across an Australian shepherd product out in the wild.