Straggling: Weekly Agility Report

This week our afternoon of agility seemed to involve quite a bit of being just behind. It felt like congested traffic got me home a little late, then we left home a little late, then we hit all four of the school zones (each with a 20 mph speed limit and/or congested auto traffic) en route. When we were approaching our last turn I pondered whether I should go straight to class and arrive a little extra early or head to the park and play for just a few minutes (no more than just a few!).

Thinking of Rain’s energy level and the piece of paper I signed at one point that promised we would not arrive earlier than 15 minutes before class, I headed to the park. It was a lovely afternoon and Rain thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of running in the sun and playing fetch. When we started heading for the car though, I decided I’d get a video of Rain playing in the enormous puddle at the edge of the parking area.

Her second favorite puddle. #australianshepherd #splishsplash

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Of course that took longer than expected so we rushed to class and arrived right at 3:30pm. It was at that point I felt the desire to use the restroom, but I ignored it and headed into the arena for class. I thought I was asked to wait before coming in due to a loose dog, so I used the time to fill one of the dog bowls with water. I also noticed an unfamiliar dog inside and thought they’d be heading out.

Turns out it was a lot of misunderstanding—the unfamiliar dog was in our class, at least for the day, and there hadn’t been any reason for us to wait outside. Once we came in then, we had to sit off the platform on the dirt part of the arena, which made it even more difficult for me to keep plugged in to what was going on.

It was one of those afternoons I guess!

We did do an exercise that took up most of the class time involving a jump. Humans were calling the dog to them while starting to travel parallel to the jump. The jump separated the dog and handler, and we started very close to the jump and increased distance as we had success. Close together, the exercise gave each dog experience in doing short jumps, which would also work new and different muscles. When we were further apart, it was reinforcing hand targets and I think there was some taking-a-jump-laterally that was happening.

As Molly set up a course for us to perform at the end of class, I took the opportunity to use the bathroom. Rain barked at me while we were in there, as she does for reasons I have yet to understand. The dogs had started running the course when we returned—and in keeping with the theme of the day I was a few minutes behind everyone else, not yet knowing the details about how we were running this course.

Rain did okay, but not as great as she did running last week’s course. Perhaps the weakest link was bringing our team down again on this particular day!

Rain and I enjoyed a few minutes of fetch in the pens out back after class before I remembered we couldn’t dawdle too long getting home. I had another commitment that evening, which meant my mom would get to enjoy  the fruit of my labors. Rain is delightfully quiet on these evenings, having been worked physically and mentally during our agility class.

Easter Treats: Weekly Agility Report

In her inherited Easter bandana. #australianshepherd #EasterAussie

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Rain was excited to get back to agility class after last week got cancelled due to the wind storm. Underexercised mentally and physically this week, she hopped right in the car so we could get to class. While we were en route she whined more than usual. She was aching to get out and unleash her Aussie energy!

We stopped at the park before class but only had a few minutes to enjoy the grassy field. During our drive I realized I had forgotten to bring poop bags, and emphatically warned Rain she was not allowed to poop at the park. Naturally, the first thing she did once she was out in the field was have a big one. 💩 Thus, I burned even more time rifling around in the storage areas of my car looking for an emergency bag. Fortunately I found something that would work! (I have since put a roll of bags into my vehicle for the future.)

Molly brought everyone Easter treats! There were doggy cookies in one basket and chocolate human treats in the other. The only bunny in the basket of dog treats was pretty enormous—but Easter and bunnies go together like peanut butter and jelly so I fed it to her anyway. The cookie was so big she didn’t quite know what to do with it—a first for food-motivated Rain! She quickly figured it out while I rooted around in the basket of human treats for a chocolate bunny.

Poppy and Cedar weren’t at class so it was just Linda and her papillon Rudy with us. We tend to share “brags” at the beginning of class—training victories or other things our dogs did that are impressive. Linda told us that Rudy had just gotten some high marks in an obedience competition over the weekend!

Then we began to work. First we put Rain on the teeter, then sent her to it from different places to see if she had learned her component apart from where I might be standing at a given time. She and Rudy are both on “full teeter,” which means they’re allowed to use the teeter without anything to shorten the drop or keep it from banging when it hits the ground. (All our shopping cart work paid off!)

We spent the bulk of class working with a line of jumps with one further away from our line than the others. We were working on the “out” command, getting the dogs to drive away from us to get a jump. Rain and I had to work on this one for a while, but as is often the case I was the weakest link.

As Rain and I were working, a heavy rain shower came through, pounding on the roof enough to start making Rain nervous. Since we’re not sure if the threat of rain on the roof of my car is what’s making Rain nervous about getting into the car, we decided to take a break and not give her any negative associations with working on jumps or the command “out.” We had another go after the shower passed, and aced it!

Rain has come a long way since jumping off the dog walk last fall.

At the end of class we ran a course that was set up around the perimeter of the arena. This course involved jumps, the A-frame, tunnels, and the dog walk. Rain did great! Better, really, than I expected her to with the “feet” command at the end of the A-frame and dog walk! Then we reversed course and did the same course moving in the opposite direction around the room.

Once again, Rain did great! She really is a natural at this agility thing. We made our way home and Rain was blissfully settled the rest of the evening, having gotten some great mental and physical stimulation for the day.

Hoppy Easter from Rain in the Forecast!

Hoppy Easter from Rain in the Forecast!

Rain inherited a series of holiday-themed bandanas from her Uncle Atticus as well as a few costume pieces I used to use to stage photos with him. (Here’s Atticus as the Easter Aussie.)

When I tried putting Atticus’ bunny ears on Rain, she immediately slapped them off her head about seventeen times. But on the eighteenth try, she gave up for about 20 seconds and I managed to get a photo. She was clearly not very happy about the situation, and she reminded me of another grumpy bunny…

We’ll stick to the bandanas for now. We hope your Easter is full of happy bunnies, chocolate, and all the eggs you can eat!

A Mighty Wind: Weekly Agility Report

Our normal Tuesday agility report was delayed this week due to the fact that class was cancelled! Portland got a pretty crazy wind storm that day.

Funny thing, I saw the National Weather Service issued a wind advisory beginning the prior evening. We did have some wind but the next morning I looked out the window and chuckled to myself about the stillness outside, declaring the wind advisory a complete fizzle.

It wasn’t until later in the morning, when Rain and I were at the park, when I realized things were just getting warmed up. First, I started cursing my decision to go without a hat. Then when we were playing fetch and it was just about time to go home a couple of serious gusts nearly sent us blowing away in the middle of the field. Rain looked sheepish.

A neighbor’s full garbage bins were waiting in the street for Friday’s pickup and two of the three fell on their side in seconds. When we were about to leave I glanced over at the opposite corner. I saw a downed tree covering the walking path we had just been walking on minutes before.

It happens that there were downed trees—big ones—messing things up all over Portland. In my part of town, a tall Douglas fir fell on a parked RV and another fell into a woman’s house. Closer to the center of town, an enormous tree fell in a fairly dense neighborhood, crushing two parked cars. There were some arterial roads completely blocked by downed trees, and at one point Portland General Electric had 160,000 customers without power.

Molly cancelled class early in the day. The wind advisory was originally supposed to be over by 3pm, but it never really petered out until about 6pm. At work that day I took video of the row of large trees outside my window doing the hula and the large fountain behind our building spraying the sidewalk due to the wind blowing the water the four jets sprayed upward. It looked a little like Willy the Waterbug.

As it turned out canceling agility class was just the start of a tough week for Rain. Over the weekend I had some activities that took me away from her quite a bit, then the same thing on the subsequent weeknights. It meant she was particularly squirrelly each morning, itching to get to the park and be a pupper as much as she could in the limited time available.

Naturally then, she was very happy to get back to class. More about that on Tuesday…

Out of Practice: Weekly Agility Report

Rain looking happy to be at agility on a nice spring day.

As spring hits in the Portland area, sunny days bring a pandemic joy to its citizens. Hidden away from the rain all winter like mole people, Portlanders will often flock outside, squinting, as the nonstop grey skies start to subside for the year. Each day of sun is a gift, and treated as such until July when the weather gets more reliably warm and dry.

Agility took place on one of these gifted days again this week! And it was a grand day to head out to the countryside.

Rain hopped right in the car again after two weeks of serious hesitancy, which only made me revisit my theory about the weather impacting her feelings about riding in the car. It saved us time though, and we were able to spend our surplus moments playing ball at the park in an attempt to wear off Rain’s extra energy before heading to the arena.

The people who own the property were trying to take advantage of the weather as well, in the form of doing some spraying on their property. When Rain and I arrived a woman approached us and told us they were keeping the spraying to specific areas of the property, largely away from the arena building. It wasn’t a great thing, but it’s their property, right? Rain and I are around pesticides so infrequently it was unlikely to do significant harm. I thanked her for telling me and proceeded to take Rain to play a little more ball in the back before class started.

Once class did start, spraying began in the gravel patch in front of the arena. One of us remembered their car was wide open and didn’t want to get pesticides inside her car, so there was a bit of a disruption. We had another bit of a disruption too. While we waited at certain points, I thought about how coming to class in the afternoon felt different. It feels more relaxed, which has been both good and bad. When class is over it’s not pitch black out, and we can saunter home without encountering congested traffic. But there can be downfalls to a more relaxed feeling as well.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before we discovered Rain was having some issues remembering her “feet” cue (above). It seems that feeling more relaxed in class may have lead to my being lax about practicing some of our cues over the last few weeks! It is hard to focus and be serious when it’s so nice outside.

After working on “feet” a bit, Molly introduced us to an “out” cue. This means the dog goes out from the handler to perform an obstacle. We started by walking a straight line and putting a safety cone in the dog’s line, adding a gesture and vocal cue to help them tie their natural reaction with what we were saying. After a few passes with the cone right in front of the dog’s line, we started moving it further out.

Poppy worked her way up to pushing out to the wing of a jump during her turn.

When it was Rudy the papillon’s turn, he got to practice using a new method of reward. He has been so focused on his handler’s hands that Molly has set up a system where the treats stay in a chair and he can run to the chair after he has done the task. This way he’s focused on his handler as a whole rather than where those treats are and how close his handler’s hands are to them.

(Why yes, this method MAY soon be assigned to Rain as well!)

Once Rain had her turn learning “out,” class was over for the afternoon. And Rain looked so happy the entire hour! Her face beamed the whole time, despite my forgetting her frozen Kong and intentionally leaving her dinner at home. She got to spend a beautiful day with her adopted human, playing ball, and getting fed string cheese. What could be better?

Absent for the First Time: Weekly Agility Report

Watching out of the upstairs window, waiting for my return.

Rain didn’t get to go to agility this week! This is the first week in nearly a year of going to class that we’ve needed to miss. I don’t like to waste money, for one thing—but this week I had to be away on a work trip so there wasn’t a lot that could be done about it.

I’d be lying if I said I spent my time away from home worried about Rain. Unpacking at a hotel, it became clear just how pervasive dog hair had become in my wardrobe. It was peaceful to wake up without being barked at by a bossy Aussie. I could more or less go wherever I wanted without needing to consider whether dogs were allowed or whether Rain might draw unwanted attention if she saw a squirrel. It was pretty nice!

The trip ended though, and when I came home I had a couple of animals who were VERY happy to see me.

Rain saw me and got really excited. She does that every time I come back at the end of the day, but this was different. Her excitement lasted far longer than usual, bouncing and yipping and fetching toys to play with even after we got home. Rain doesn’t have a smiley face as often as we’d like, but when I came home she was all sunshine.

Roy, our kitty pal, was happy to see me too. Since winter he has been spending more time inside my house than elsewhere, and he was mostly left on his own for almost a week! My mom brought him in and fed him in the last couple of days, which renewed our talks about adopting Roy in a more official manner.

Both Rain and Roy were very happy to sleep nestled up to me in my bed again that night. I had the next day off from work and they both clung to me the whole day. If I moved from one room to the next, everyone felt like they had to move with me.

At one point, Roy jumped on my kitchen counter, pushing my wallet and iPhone into a sink full of hot, soapy water. Shenanigans like this are why they’re both challenging companions…but I guess I like them too.

(Nobody tell them about the trips I might be doing in June and July!)

 

A Moment of Sheepishness During Her Herding Test

It had been a while since Rain got exposed to something 100% new, so I scheduled her for a time slot to test her herding instincts. We would be heading to Brigand’s Hideout, a small farm in Clark County, WA, that regularly hosts herding lessons, dog shows, and more. Once upon a time Rain’s mom Skye was even in a dog show at Brigand’s Hideout!

Our readers probably know that Australian shepherds were bred to be herding dogs. Despite the “Australian” moniker they were bred in the United States, originally for herding sheep but they eventually became more closely associated with cattle. Border collies have historically been associated with sheep herding in both the United Kingdom and United States.

I planned to leave about an hour before our appointment but wanted to finish up a project. Then Murphy’s Law got payback, as Rain could tell I was about to ask her to take a car ride and didn’t want anything to do with it. She didn’t even want to leave the house! I coaxed her outside onto our front porch. In the interest of time I had to pick her up and put her in the car again as I had done for agility class this week. Once we were on the road, a bit later than hoped, Google estimated a 48 minute transit time, including a couple spots of traffic.

As soon as the car stopped during arrival, Rain started barking. She didn’t want to be in the car, and she was in a completely new environment. At first I brought her out of the car, thinking that she’d hush up once she got to sniffing the environs. When that didn’t happen I put her back in the car so I could fill out the required release form before we got down to business.

Dave Viklund told me where to bring Rain when the release form was filled out, and she managed to bark nearly the entire way. Dressed in a black full-body rainsuit with the hood up, Dave looked suspicious to Rain and she barked at him too. He asked me to tell him about us but it was difficult to hold a conversation over Rain’s barking. It was one of those moments when it felt like we had taken two steps forward and then one and a half steps (or more) back. Hoo boy, what had I gotten us into?

Dave ushered a few sheep into a small, circular pen, and escorted Rain and me past the gate. I thought I had dressed for the weather, but even with straw laid on the ground the mud was thick and slippery.

Situating ourselves, Rain started directing her barks at the sheep, nearby but out of her range. Dave instructed me to take Rain off leash to see what she’d do. I unclipped the leash from her harness…and Rain very boldly stepped behind my legs!

“Do you know why she did that?” Dave asked. “She’s afraid of the sheep and wants me to go first!” I said. Ha ha, Rain. Good one.

I took a step forward and that’s all we needed. Rain trotted out from behind me and started circling the pen. My job was to hold a herding stick with a rattle (like this one, only with a green paddle). It told the sheep I was in charge, as they started closing in on me, and I was to use it to direct Rain. I learned that ideally, Rain was to remain on one side of the sheep and I was to remain on the other. When she came over to my side, I stretched the paddle out to keep her back on her side.

Rain, unsurprisingly, did great—she seemed to be a natural at trotting around and herding the sheep. At one point when one of the three sheep strayed from the group I noticed that Rain’s attention moved solely to it, and it was quickly back with its brethren right next to me. Rain was also perfectly quiet the entire time she was loose inside the pen with the sheep. Her brain was thinking so her mouth wasn’t moving.

Soon there was a new issue: the sheep were getting really up close and personal with me! I thought I had dressed for the weather, but I hadn’t anticipated three muddy sheep, whose backs were as tall as my waist, body slamming against my front and back! Frankly I hadn’t known what involvement I would have in this “herding instinct test,” but I certainly didn’t wager that I’d be surrounded by sheep! They were a lot bigger than I had imagined. Crowded around me, I found it difficult to move the herding paddle quickly enough to redirect Rain.

Once I think I was starting to get the hang of the exercise, we were done. I put the leash back on Rain’s harness and Dave put the sheep back where they came from. Rain started barking again, and Dave showed me his preferred method of correcting for it. Essentially it involved annoying the dog while they barked by jiggling their harness/collar with the leash. Once Rain stopped barking, even for a moment, the “reward” was cessation of the jiggling. It seemed to work better for Dave than it did for me, but I’m always happy to have new ideas in the toolbox.

We chatted for a few minutes after our test and Dave said Rain did better than he thought she would. If we were to continue visiting, his next step would be to help me be more comfortable with the sheep. 😀 His next lesson had arrived and he moved along with his day, allowing Rain and I to walk around the grounds a little bit so Rain could sniff and and I get some photos before we set out on the trek back home.

It was all such a whirlwind—particularly due to Rain’s barking—that it took me a few days to wrap my head around everything that had happened. Now that I have though, I’m not sure how to proceed. Rain seems to be a natural at herding, it seems to be a good challenge for her, but I still have some reservations. For one thing each one-way trip was longer than our actual time spent working! Can we afford to pay for herding plus agility classes? Would it be worth our time?

In the meantime Rain will just have to continue herding Roy and me around our very modest house!