Rain Packs for My Trip

Our weekly agility report will be a bit delayed this week, as I’m on a short work trip which has disrupted our regular schedule a bit. Rain helped me pack my bag again!

“There,” Rain said after hopping in the suitcase. “All packed!”

I eyed her skeptically.

“Where will I put my clothes?” I queried.

“Good point. Okay, new plan: do you have some feathers? Perhaps I could be your emotional support peacock!”

“Sorry, kid—you have to stay home.”

She’s pretty insistent so she tried a few more angles—she could sneak on as a drug-sniffing dog, break through barriers to become the very first working dog to be a flight attendant, or keep watch for evildoers on the airplane.

This dog.



Rear Cross Redux: Weekly Agility Report

It was another lovely afternoon this week for agility. Rain has been starting to act a little more like her usual self, all wiggly and barky and raring to go, but I’m still noticing her once-unending energy now having limits. We played ball at the park before class, but before it was time to leave she stopped bringing the ball back again and again. Instead we wandered a bit, Rain catching up on the scents in the grass. Rain eventually got to explore nearly all of the puddles in the park and its gravel parking lot—big and small.

Rain left very happy, with her wet face only topped by her wet feet and underbelly.

Remember that cute little fluffball named Flute? Flute is now joining us every so often as a drop-in to class. She’s as fast and good at agility as any one-year-old Aussie would be, but a lot quieter about it than Rain. Flute’s presence meant Rain and I had to sit in the dirt during class, removed from Flute because Rain is not yet used to her being in class.

Before class even started though, Jackie brought Poppy and Cedar into the pen to hang with Rain a little bit, then Flute and her person ventured into the pen next to ours. Rain would look curious about Flute and walk toward the shared fenceline, then Flute would do the same, rolling into a submissive position as she approached. That, then, would set Rain off barking and Flute would run away as I ushered Rain further from the fence.

Once class started Molly lowered the dog walk so Flute and Aria could get introduced to the contraption safely. Both dogs did great, and then we practiced some rear cross exercises for the rest of class.

Jackie and Poppy

Linda and Aria

Flute and her person

When Molly first said we should sit on the far side of the arena, it was because Flute would be running further away from us. But Flute did indeed eventually run right in front of us. Fortunately Rain was so focused on me until Flute was almost done, that she had no idea a ‘strange dog’ was so close by.

After class we enjoyed more of the sunny afternoon before heading home. Molly brought Marvel out, and Marvel and Flute played in the pen beside us.

We’re looking forward to more of these nice afternoons as the weeks wear on!

Double Jump: Weekly Agility Report

Our afternoon jaunt to agility this week was far more pleasant than last. The temperature was warmer, the ground was dry, and it felt like spring instead of winter. There was a construction project that tied us up for a few minutes en route but we still got to the park early enough to play and then walk around the perimeter of the field. Rain still made sure to get lots of puddle time in before we left though.

Poppy and Cedar joined us in the pens out back for a little quasi-social time before class. Quasi-social meaning they’re all together in the same space, but Rain seems to remain oriented toward me instead of interacting much with Poppy and Cedar. It’s too bad, too—they’re pretty great dogs!

Earlier in the afternoon Jackie (Poppy and Cedar’s person) lost a ball through the fence and it was still sitting in the grass of the farm next door, just out of reach. I’ve regularly needed to recover balls from over there so I pitched in and we renewed the recovery effort. It took about five minutes but we used a very long tree branch scavenged from one of the other pens and were ultimately successful. A pleasant surprise awaited me when I did the final recovery: the ball was a blue version of one that Atticus and I found at the beach a few years ago!

When certain unusual equipment makes an appearance in the arena, Molly often incorporates it into class. This way we get a chance to introduce our dog to something we don’t have around all the time. This week there was an ascending double jump that showed up so we all got a turn working with it. We’ve done double and triple jumps in the past, but so frequently that this new piece would be considered run-of-the-mill.

I’m no agility equipment expert, but I can say that I appreciated the nice big numbers on this jump. It was really clear where to set the bars!

This ascending double jump was no challenge for Rain.

Once everyone had a turn with the new jump we did a nine-part course that incorporated the jump, the tire, teeter, and a tricky-looking line of jumps.

If you’re not familiar with agility, the numbered cones tell you what order your course is in, but in the case of a jump or a tunnel it also tells you which side the dog should be taking. Our course for the day went from teeter (#5) to the back side of the jump you see above (#6) then the front side of the next one, then the back side of the third one (which got moved a bit before the above photo was taken).

When I’m walking a course I can usually tell where the tricky spots are. How it usually goes is that I devise my way I think we’re supposed to do it, then when it doesn’t work Molly “suggests a different way” (her words). That’s exactly what happened with these three jumps—my way most definitely did not work!

Then the bulk of our class time was spent on working these three jumps. Our two classmates had already done so in the class before with different dogs so they took slightly less time than we did, but when we were mostly done Molly stated emphatically that we had all just done some very difficult maneuvering that we would never, ever see on a novice course.

At some point I heard Jackie use the term “serpentine” and I asked Molly about it—the difference between serpentine and threadles, and whether they were a pattern or a gesture. Molly talked for a bit about it, about how beginning agility people can get pretty hung up on terminology but we’d eventually figure it out. She drew diagrams on the modest whiteboard on the arena wall. I was very confused and can’t say our talk helped.

We did move on to a few rounds of channel weaves at the end of class though, and Rain had a real victory! In the past she has needed one or two passes to remember the channel weave but this time she fed into it the first time with no problem! I was amazed. As we continued she’d sometimes pop out one weave pole early but I still say that’s progress.

After class we headed to the pens to enjoy just a little more of our lovely spring day before heading home for the evening. Rain was happy, I was happy, and all was well for the rest of the evening.

It’s Quiet. TOO Quiet…

There’s a little something I’ve been noticing lately as I’ve been spending time with Rain, and I’m afraid to say it out loud. After all, you see, I might spoil it.

Rain has been calmer lately!

At the park on a recent morning, a neighbor dog was out in his yard across the street. The Australian cattle dog (zero relation) barked at Rain. She turned to watch him with her whole body stiffened but she didn’t bark once.

Playing ball in the park in the morning this week, she has been doing something unusual: stopping. At a certain point she’ll stand next to her ball and wait. It’s usually about time to head in anyway so I just walk over to join her and we go on our merry way.

This morning when a person and their dog were walking toward us in the street, Rain stiffened in alert and walked forward toward them, but turned back and made eye contact with me before proceeding further. I rewarded her for doing a check in.

These moments and others lead me to believe that Rain may finally becoming a more mature doggo. In the moment though, it also feels like the last two-plus years of hard, hard work are finally paying off. It feels awesome.

Is she sick? She has been coughing occasionally as of late. When I picked up her flea meds this week the invoice said her bordetella vaccine was good through October. Our vet has a dog flu sign up in the window, but Rain doesn’t have any other symptoms of dog flu like loss of appetite, sneezing, or discharge. Her condition has been steady, instead of a clear nosedive like one might see with dog flu.

Skye matured noticeably about the same age as Rain is now. But Skye had puppies around that age—so was Skye’s maturing due to the toil of having puppies, or due to her age? Rain does take after her mother in many other ways.

Rain is still doing plenty of things that are distinctly Rain-like. She still tries to rush Roy’s food bowl after he has left in an effort to eat the cat food. She always gets antsy with excitement (usually barking) when I get dressed in the morning before we head to the park. She is more or less herself, just turned down a notch or two.

The jury is out on what’s going on but I’ll proceed with cautious optimism. As spring becomes summer I’ll keep observing her behavior, and maybe we’ll be able to go on some adventures that have been challenging in the past. I’d love to take Rain out in the world more frequently. She deserves it!


Okay, Break’s Over: Weekly Agility Report

Rain and I had been attending two classes per week for roughly six weeks, and suddenly one class was over (nosework) and we had a two-week break for the other (agility). It was nice to have a break, at least partly because my workplace had its big yearly event on one of those dates and I would have needed to be absent anyway.

The first morning of this break, I remember skipping some agility-related component we do every morning when we go to the park. I pondered: a two-week break could either be an opportunity to work more at home on details we haven’t quite mastered yet, OR it could be an easy way to demonstrate the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That is to say, it’s easy to say “we’re totally going to work on that and a bunch of other stuff…tomorrow” and before you know it two weeks and your entire break has elapsed.

Guess which one happened?

Rain’s energy level was high after two weeks—when she saw me gathering our agility items she started getting very excited. She even hopped right in the car, which was a nice change.

We made good time to the park so Rain had plenty of time to play ball, explore the flooded areas of the field, and sniff all the critter holes. Now that Rain has more scent awareness, she tends to do more sniffing and when she had worked some physical energy out her nose started leading her to areas of the park where we don’t go much. I didn’t want her wandering too close to the road (you may recall this “park” is basically an unfenced field next to a 40+ mph rural road). It was nearly time to head to class anyway, so I put her back on leash and we continued on to class.

Everyone enjoyed the break—especially Molly, who had gone on a cruise in warmer areas of the globe. Our two classmates had already done our warmup course in the prior class, so Rain and I went first.

Our warmup course was short, but much tougher than I’d have expected! It didn’t take long to learn I had apparently approached it incorrectly—Molly expected us to use a threadle to redirect our dog from an angled jump to the correct end of the tunnel. Rain and I had many false starts, and once my brain was back to remembering how to do a threadle(!) Rain started losing focus. I think she can handle only so much drilling. At least Molly could tell when the issue was dog error vs. handler error. 🙂

When we went to sit down, Rain ran up to the nearby water dish so quickly she knocked the whole thing over! Once we were back to our spot though, we settled into our settling activities pretty easily. When Rain kicked back a bit, I marveled at her grimy feet. It was wet outside and the arena floor is made of a dirt-sand mixture, so it sticks to her feet, legs, and underbelly until she dries off. Less dirt getting tracked in the car/house is a nice thing about breaks from agility too!

After everyone had gone through our course (or in Aria’s instance, did something to her skill level that was a modification of our course) we worked more on weave poles.

Rain seems to nearly forget how to go through the channel weave every time we come back to it. The first couple of times she won’t do it correctly, but then she remembers and does okay. On this day, she was popping out before the weaves were done but when I called her back to try again she’d get it perfectly.

Weave poles are definitely proving to be a process, but I also feel guilty about not having worked on it more at home in the last few months. It turns out that our living room isn’t quite spacious enough to work on the 2×2 method as easily as I originally thought. The weather has only started providing us some sporadic opportunities to practice outside, but I’d like to mow the lawn before we do so Rain doesn’t need to worry about tripping over clumps of grass.

Rain and I had managed to escape the rain at the park, but once class started so did the sky’s waterworks. It was the first day of a weekend temperature dip. The arena roof leaks in spots and the dampness made the air feel even colder. I hadn’t dressed quite warmly enough.

We were all pretty chilly by the end of class though. As we parted ways we talked about going home, putting pajamas on, making a warm beverage, and settling in under some blankets for the night. And that is more or less what Rain and I did…after Rain’s required post-class ball fetching was done, of course.

Rain Goes to Doggie Massage Class

Imagine what Rain might be like if she was taken doggie massage class. Go ahead, take a moment to really ponder the details as you look at this photo of Rain and think about her history as a Reactive Rover dog and her restlessness at agility class.

Rain barking

Well Negative Nancy, I have a surprise for you. Rain didn’t do as bad as you assumed! 🙂

Back when Rain and I did Doggie Dash Rain got a free short massage from Heal, a local company that specializes in dog massage. When I was brainstorming holiday gift ideas for my mom I discovered they offer a class, so I got her a gift certificate for it, assuming she’d take Mindy. Mom thought Rain and I should join them.

There was some chaos in getting the logistics worked out, but last weekend Rain, Mindy, Mom, and I traveled to Synergy Behavior Solutions in a still-quiet pocket of NW Portland for our evening class.

It’s a very lifelike Rain statue at Reed College!

Since Rain hadn’t been to nosework or agility in a couple of weeks, she started that Saturday almost as squirrelly as I’ve ever seen her. In the early afternoon I took her to Reed College in hopes of wearing her out. Then we went to the Milwaukie Library and she got to sniff around Scott Park and the adjacent apartments. She still wasn’t showing much calm so we ended up at North Clackamas Park where I did some nosework box searches with her before starting to explore the larger park. Then a massive rain shower came through, dampening both our spirits since we hadn’t even gotten to the dog park area yet! It was getting close to needing to leave for class though. Dripping wet, we headed home to get ready.

Rain explores some giant spools in this industrial pocket of NW Portland.

We arrived very early, specifically so we could figure out how to set Rain up for success. Synergy has a series of visual barriers made of PVC pipe and vinyl sheeting which were integral. Since we were the first to arrive we got our own area sectioned off so Rain wouldn’t be able to see the other dogs in the rest of the space.

Once she entered the front door though, she saw a black dog facing away from her, and had a bit of a barking eruption before I redirected her focus. The dog’s name was Bob. Bob was a stuffed animal. A Synergy staff member fed Rain some cheeseballs before moving Bob out of Rain’s view.

Once we were situated in our private area, Rain never went over threshold again! She liked having me sit on the floor focused solely on her. Mindy and Mom sat with us too, as Mindy is timid and gets distracted by other dogs. Other dogs who entered the class space were quiet enough that Rain almost had no idea they were there. Mostly.

There were a couple of times during class when Rain spotted something through the gap in the barrier or heard the jingle of another dog’s tags—but I was able to get her back. She kept eyeing a pile of Bobs being stored on a shelf behind me, and there were a couple of times a man coming and going in the hallway behind me drew her interest. But all in all she did GREAT.

What about the massage work?

Good question! Rain was facing me almost the entire class so it was pretty difficult to work on anything besides her head. I figured I’d practice on other areas we were at home and she was more relaxed. Rain did, however, seem to take to tapping on her cranial area and doing a supported paw stretch.

At times when I looked over at Mindy, she was a pile of goo in my mom’s arms. I’m pretty sure she liked it.

Rubi, the teacher, even remarked at how well she was doing when she’d come visit us. I told her that it has taken us a LOT of hard work to get this far, and Rubi pointed out that today’s experience would be even more beneficial for Rain, as she was getting exposed to new environments and people and handling it pretty well.

Rain started getting bored and a little restless in the last 15-20 minutes of class, but it was easy to handle. I made her start doing tricks to earn some cookies. Rubi was addressing the group when Rain whined. When Rubi looked over I said “She’s bored. It’s not you!” Which was true, but I still felt bad after I had said it.

After class was over Mom let Mindy peek out and look at the other dogs at her own pace, then she brought Bob over so Rain could see he was nothing to worry about. We headed out the front door after all the other classmates had gone but one woman and her elderly dachshund were tarrying out front so Rain got to meet them. Rain didn’t make a ruckus at all, probably because she was able to sniff and go nose-to-nose with the dog right away. (Frankly, I didn’t realize they were there or I wouldn’t have exited the front door at that point.)

After the chaos that preceded this class, having such a smooth class was a huge relief. It was a St. Patrick’s Day miracle!

The view from our class space when we arrived.


Nosey No More (for Now): Our Last Nosework Class

Rain was looking excited when she got dropped off for nosework class this week. It was to be our last class, but it seems like she was looking forward to finding her hot dog bits and eager to get searching.

I brought a card and jar of homemade plum preserves for both Rachael, our teacher, but also Deborah, the person whose office we had been using as our private room over the prior six(ish) weeks. Everyone at Oregon Humane Society (OHS) has been really nice to us, from accommodating Rain and her “special needs” to fostering an overwhelmingly positive, yet completely professional, environment. Two of our classmates were “insiders” (staff/volunteers) and they too brought a sunny tone to our weekly gatherings. Several years ago I interviewed for a job at OHS and now I want to work there more than ever!

On this night of our very last class, we had plenty of fun. We started things off with another novel search location: outside! The humans grabbed our coats and headed out to the secured grounds behind Oregon Humane Society where a group of boxes was waiting. There was just a little light left in the sky, but the brick patio with boxes scattered around it was adequately lit. The ground was dry, the temperature was warmer than it had been in weeks if not months—being outside was great.

Rain was moderately better about being upset when I left her by herself on this night. She was not pleased when I came in just to grab my jacket and didn’t fetch her for a search though. Later on during class I did catch her hooooooowling again, but I think(?) she has made progress on this since our first week of class.

We conversed among ourselves as we waited for the next dog to come have their turn. We learned that Fiona and her person had been on a long hike at Coyote Wall that day and Fiona had roughly 30 ticks picked off of her at the end of it!

Ticks aren’t generally a problem in the wet Pacific northwest, but they can be found in drier, grassier areas east of the Portland metro area. Spring and fall are when ticks are most active and numerous, and our relatively mild winter may have meant a bigger than usual early bug hatch. Our vet Dr. Ricker has heard similar tick reports recently so depending on how much hiking we plan in the coming months, I may level up Rain’s flea medication to include tick prevention this year.

When everyone was done with their outside search, everyone grabbed a box and we came back inside to find rows of identical white boxes inside our big room.

Rachael explained that this exercise would be a blind search. All but one of the white boxes had never had anything in it, and we wouldn’t know coming in where our hide would be—it was our job to figure it out based on clues from our dogs. This search would be timed.

When Rain beat Fiona’s time, I was pretty happy—but when the subsequent dogs beat Rain’s time, I remembered that Fiona had also been on a lengthy hike that day and might be tired. It wasn’t until Ralphie’s person pointed out that putting all the treats in the same box was probably making the box more smelly, thus leading to faster times. Good point!

Before we put the identical white boxes away, Rachael talked about the next step in nosework—training on an odor. She passed around a jar of halved Q-tips that were scented with just two drops of birch oil. It was strong when I smelled the top of the jar—and it occurred to me that birch smells just like what they call “wintergreen.” Well, to my dull human nose, anyway.

Rachael decided to demonstrate odor work by asking us to place one of the birch-scented Q-tips in the designated box and hiding it while she went to get her dog Elsa. They came in and performed the same exercise we did, only with birch odor instead of treats.

We also learned that once a dog switches to odor work, they get switched off of food hides. This is a potentially important consideration moving forward with Rain, as we usually hide a Kong with food in it every morning for her to find. If Rain starts working on truffle dogging, we’ll have to reconfigure how this game is played.

After the white box setup got cleared out Rachael placed an array of everyday objects out on the floor. She placed the same four hides around the room for each dog—each presenting a new wrinkle. One hide was right inside the door before the dog was released (Rain spotted hers before I even let her off leash), one was at the bottom of a laundry basket (everyone laughed when Rain’s front paws lifted off the floor as she tried to reach deep into the basket but couldn’t quite get it), one that was in a relatively open space, and one that was atop a mesh bag containing dozens of plastic balls—the type you find in ball pits.

That mesh bag was an interesting challenge based on where the scent flowed. The treat was placed at the top, pretty much in plain sight—but the scent was dropping down into the air pockets of the balls inside and created more challenge for the dog to find. We watched Davie follow the scent nearly from the floor up the side of the balls until he finally reached the top and got his apple treat.

Our very last round was similar, with different hides in the same room. Rachael switched around a couple of objects, but nothing too major.

And that was our class! She talked about the upcoming class for odor work, and another idea they’re developing for a drop-in nosework class where they can help dogs work at whatever level they’re at. As for Rain, I need to find out whether training her on a birch or anise odor (the two odors they’ll use in the upcoming odor class) would be a waste of time since we don’t plan to do competitive nosework, and whether we should just start training using truffle odor.

We bade a final goodbye to Rain’s room once we had packed up to head home. Rain had a fun night but settled down fairly quickly for the night once we were back home.