Is Rain…TIRED? Weekly Agility Report

Misty Cow Pasture Behind Agility Property

Winter has been pretty mild in Portland so far this year. Remember back a couple years ago when agility class got canceled for several weeks due to a series of winter weather events? This winter I think the temperature has dipped below 32F a grand total of two times, both overnight lows. It has been more dry than usual, and also windier.

We did start getting some patches of rain recently, so the low areas at the park we go to before agility have been collecting some water.

While we were at the park before class this week, Rain started out with her usual excitement but before long she would fetch the ball but not bring it all the way back. She got pretty barky, barking at me instead of completing the fetch game. If I walked to her and grabbed the ball she’d be ready to fetch again. I think she was trying to convince me that she wasn’t tired, when in fact she was. Is Rain finally slowing down, at nearly nine years old?

Rain Relaxing at Beavercreek Park

We arrived at agility to find a gray mist hanging over the cow pasture behind the agility property, hiding the road we can usually see from the pens. It looked peaceful, yet slightly mysterious.

Our newer Sheltie classmate wasn’t in class this week—his person had apparently gone on vacation to Hawaii (much like the measles recently did!)—so it was just Linda with Aria, and Jackie with Poppy and Cedar, until Flute’s person walked in without Flute and just observed us for part of class.

We walked a partial course, numbers 1-11, where “1” was actually two obstacles. The opening also ended up being the toughest part for Rain and I—we had to practice a couple of things I know Rain is normally comfortable doing—to get the opening sequence. Normally she’s all over “out” and rear crosses don’t faze her, but there was either something different about this setup that was making them difficult, her brains weren’t completely turned on yet, or something else was going on with her.

Descending in jump height, Poppy went next, then Aria.

Aria Running the Agility Course

After we had all had a chance to run the first eleven obstacles, we tackled 11-16. Molly thought most of her students found it easier than the first part, but the first time through Rain didn’t quite get the tire right, so it disconnected at the bottom, which spooked her a bit.

Here’s Poppy doing the tire. Poppy was having a great day, and Jackie noted that she has been performing well since she lost some weight. Poppy didn’t need to lose weight, but Cedar did so the whole pack has been slimming down a bit in solidarity.

Poppy Jumps the Tire

There was a set of twelve weaves (in channel form) on the second half of the course. Rain had one pretty successful run of those, but there was one she seemed to pop out of a fair amount. Our last time through I realized it was set a tiny bit closer in than the others, which might have been the problem.

Rain was significantly calmer at the end of class than at the beginning—although she still wanted to go outside and play. It was now raining and getting chilly, so I obliged her but not for long. She didn’t seem very happy to be heading out, but I thought she might be a little extra tired. And once she had her dinner at home, she was pretty much zonked for the rest of the evening, so I might have been right.

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Doggy Attack!

Street Scene in Outer SE Portland
The streets of our neighborhood may look quiet, but you never know when terror will be unleashed.

On the way home this morning from our daily park visit, Rain had a run-in with a ferocious beast! She wanted to explore and sniff around the streets near our house a little more than normal, which is how we ended up one street past our house, in front of the houses we normally see the backs of.

Paused in the street, I heard some frantic yipping followed by a girl shouting, “[dog’s name], noooo!!!” It appeared to be coming from a house with a tall fence, so I figured the tiny dog would run to the barrier and that would be that.

Apparently it’s not a fence, though. This tiny tawny terrier raced out toward us, fully barking. I could see its teeth as it ran. A pajamaed girl scrambled after it, but the dog was nipping at Rain’s tailfeathers before she caught up.

As soon as the terrier tugged Rain’s fur, I figured Rain would react back—and she did, but as soon as the young girl had grabbed the dog Rain completely stopped. The child and dog retreated to their yard, and Rain immediately started shaking it off. We headed back toward home, and over the next few minutes she had a little extra sparkle in her eye, like “wasn’t I good?” Otherwise we picked up our morning right where we left off.

The dog’s tiny size likely had a lot to do with Rain not having been too stressed by the incident. Having just had good physical and mental exercise at the park helped too. But I’ve increasingly noticed that Rain seems to have crossed the threshold into Good Dog territory, and it makes me quite pleased!

GOOD JOB, RAIN!

Going Deep: Nosework Report

It was time to debut our new leash with harness as an ensemble! Rain and I headed to nosework on a very chilly, windy January evening. Once we did our pre-class sashay around the grounds so Rain had a chance to stretch her legs 💩 , then I cooped her up and headed inside.

The earlier class was winding down, and soon I noticed there was a younger face in the group. A few minutes later I thought the face might be familiar, but I wasn’t sure. When she left the building, I asked Kristina her name, and yes—it turns out that for a short period, she and her dog Coda were in our agility class, also with Jackie, who is also in the earlier nosework class! (Small world, eh?)

My guess would be that Coda is the one in nosework, but I have no idea if she is doing nosework with Coda or the other dog. She stopped coming to agility shortly after she had adopted this newer dog and it developed separation anxiety, even eating the headrest of her small car one day! Perhaps I’ll find out in the future, perhaps not.

Four of us, including Kristina, sat for a spell at the beginning of class and talked about the truffle festival that had happened the prior weekend. Everyone at the table but me had participated in some fashion, and our classmate Hector even won third place in the truffle hunt! (Go Hector!) Hector’s person won a big plaque. Whe mused about how telling her coworkers would be utterly meaningless to them, whereas we all said we’d take the plaque to work, put it in the middle of our desk, and make a big fuss about it at any opportunity. 🙂

Kristina and Linda (Trini’s person) told us about a young couple who had come up from Carmel, CA (ooh, fancy!). One or both of them were highly trained chefs, had “just bought a place” they were planning to turn into their own restaurant, and seemed mystified when Kristina gave them some truffle salt (opposed to selling it to them). They were there to do a workshop and were over the moon when their dog found his very first culinary truffle.

Eventually the dogs got to do some searches too. The first search was in the great room, with the boxes placed pretty deeply into other things. Kristina mentioned before we started that we would notice our dogs spinning in areas that had converging odor. (I mention this because I’m very proud I actually spotted this behavior when it happened.)

Our second search was in the side room next to the warm pellet stove. The hides were deep again, and in one instance I knew that Rain would still do what she needed to do to get to it.

After we all made it through the second search, I told everyone that I have been feeling like the weakest link again during our searches—not quite catching when Rain shows me something, staying put when I should be moving, not catching what Kristina is saying right away, that sort of thing. I want to blame the colder, windier weather we’ve been having, but it probably also involves the fact that it’s winter and my brain would rather just go home and hibernate after dark.

Since there were only three of us again, and everyone was fast, we were done at a very decent time! Unfortunately the other two wanted to stay and chat a little more, whereas I had some serious business I wanted to nail down. So I waited. And waited. And waited a little more. It wasn’t until Kristina was turning out the lights and I was still firmly planted in my chair that I went for it.

My strategy was a success, so I’m glad to say we finally got to schedule some truffle sessions! Expect to hear more in the days to come.

Nosework Leash Obtained!

Nosework Leash and Tag

We didn’t have agility class this week, but we did receive Rain’s nosework leash in the mail yesterday! What do you think?

I wasn’t planning on a custom purchase (oooh, faaaancy!), but it turns out the leash length I was told to get wasn’t offered by the vendors I found online. I found an Etsy seller that would make a leash to any length and had a rainbow of colors to choose from—and two colors could be used on each leash!

Hand Stamped Copper Dog Tag

I had a look around the CSJ Creations shop and also discovered some hand-stamped copper dog tags. Rain didn’t need a new dog tag, but I had noticed the engraving on the back of her current tag is pretty hard to read, especially when the tag is dirty. Which I’ll bet I don’t need to tell RitF readers is OFTEN. USUALLY, even.

CSJ Creations, as it turns out, is a mom-and-pop business located in Alsea, OR. Located about halfway between Eugene and Waldport, the little town has a special place in my heart. It’s a cozy town with a a historic covered bridge nearby, a well-stocked general store, a cafe that makes good pies, and some townspeople who make goat cheese and periodically show up at Portland-area farmers’ markets to sell it. If you’re ever passing through, stop and check them out!

Rain’s new tag is quite charming. The moon and star piece almost exactly matches the necklace I wear every day, and the stamped name (and phone number on the back) are far easier to read.

…and with that, Rain’s nosework ensemble is all put together!

Between all the harnesses and leashes and changing for different activities, we’ll need to start singing as we get her changed:

Cottonball Crew: Nosework Report

Trini searches the dining room chairs

Nosework class this week consisted of just three people with three dogs, and not the people who tend to be chatty. Things were relatively quiet…so class went fairly quickly! Sort of.

Before class, Kristina recruited me to do a little work at the trial she’s hosting in February. She has advocated for nosework newbies to work at a trial before participating in one, just to observe how the event is run without the pressure of needing to perform as well. She recruited me to do some video work, which pay$—hopefully more than just gas money to the trial location. At any rate, I had been meaning to ask her about volunteering, and a little cash to help fund this whole crazy thing does not hurt.

Detailing boxes

Kristina was working on detailing work this week, and she warmed us up by setting out a row of boxes. It would be interesting to see, she noted, which dogs came in and ran down the line before catching odor and turning back; and which would start detailing immediately. In my head I could already see Rain barreling down the line and then doing a sharp head turn.

But I was wrong! Rain came in and started detailing immediately. A surprise considering how she burst in the room at the start of class the week before! Kristina kept the exercise going by switching the live boxes around as she was being rewarded for other successful hides.

Sponge in the windowsill

The second search happened in the great room, where Kristina had placed some sponges along the windowsills in front of the chairs. I had watched part of the class before ours as they did an activity involving finding each edge of an odor cone, so I thought the sponges were doing something to diffuse the odor.

How the dogs were only finding odor under the chair instead of going straight for the sponges, I had no idea. I thought that the odor was in the sponges, specifically for making it more diffuse. It was our turn and I was still trying to figure out what was going on in this search.

When Trini the German shepherd was searching, Kristina tilted one of the chairs up, revealing one of the metal boxes where hides are kept. That confused me even more! Soon Kristina clarified that the hides were under the chairs, and the sponges were in the window solely as a visual cue for the humans.

Ooooooooooooh.

Searching the chairs

Rain was first in the run order, meaning we ran each exercise before anyone else in class.

Our third search involved more chairs, and replicated one Rain and I had done last week. The others hadn’t though, and to be honest I didn’t feel we had done the exercise very well so I was happy to have another chance at it. This time went better but this time we had new and different issues!

Sometimes (okay, often) in class I feel like I’m slow on the uptake, steps behind everyone else. It might be because Rain is so fast, or that I’m happy to just let Rain do her thing so I zone out a bit. It can be difficult for me to focus on every small movement Rain makes and listen to whatever chatter might be directed at me (versus a side conversation), but I am trying my best. It’s a lot easier in nosework to just go with the flow, having faith that from night to night I may or may not be seeing a certain something, and that over time the general trend will be toward improvement.

Hector alerts

Kristina had asked during class if any of us might be willing to stay an extra 10-15 minutes after class to help her with something. Since we were done at a decent time, I was all game—as were the other two women. Kristina sat at the round table in the great room and pulled out a sack of supplies.

Assembling truffle hide materials

We were assembling doo-dads that are used for hiding truffle odor—over 180 of them. I cut short lengths out of an electrical housing and later untwisted a mountain of cotton balls, while the others used tweezers to stuff the lengths of housing with cotton. Once assembled, the doo-dads would be put into a bag with truffle oil and left to soak in the odor until they were needed for events at the Oregon Truffle Festival this weekend in Eugene.

Fortunately for Kristina, she recruited a group of people determined to see the project through to the end, as otherwise she would have been putting things together until the wee hours all by herself.

Turns out the task at hand took all four of us working the better part of an hour to finish! When I was unfurling my last few cottonballs I noticed my shoulders hurt and my iPhone said it was past my bedtime. PHEW!

New Harnesses!

Rain in Julius K-9 Harness

Rain got some new equipment this week, but the acquisition has been in the works for months.

First up, Rain got a Julius K-9 IDC Powerharness. This brand had been recommended to me a few years ago when I was specifically in search of harnesses like what Rain’s Uncle Atticus had worn—an easy-on, easy-off style that the dog didn’t have to step into, nor did it have multiple clips. The Julius K-9 one looked quite like what I wanted—but with more material and a higher price point than I was expecting.

Julius K-9 makes harnesses used by police dogs, narcotics dogs, search and rescue, and the like. Their top-of-the-line harnesses are serious business!

Once I received the harness, close examination of the object and the booklet that accompanied it revealed a few more bells and whistles than I had anticipated. Reflective material is placed along the entire front-facing chest strap, as well as accenting the edges of the rest of the harness. The handle on back can be smooshed down with the help of an extra tab that snaps shut, so the handle won’t get caught on brush or the like, depending on the dog’s surroundings. An elastic loop alongside the handle serves to hold a small flashlight. (“Oh, Rain’s fur and head would be in the way to be of much use,” I thought, until the next morning at the park when she was sniffing the ground at length, before sunrise.) A few accessories are available, including a LED light, packs that attach to the velcro sides, and a cavalcade of patches that can customize the harness to say things like “ADOPT ME,” “WORKING DOG,” “DO NOT PET,” and the like.

We’re definitely going to change out the patches, I’m just deciding which ones would be best. Should we go with a pre-made option like “CRAZY DOG,” or should we go for the custom option? If custom, what should it say? BARKY? If you have any thoughts on this, leave them in the comments!

Rain took a couple of minutes to adjust to the new harness covering her differently than the old model. Once she had the chance to shake off a couple times though, she seemed perfectly comfortable. We’ve had two morning outings so far with the Julius K-9 and I’ve only discovered more to love about it.

Rain outside wearing Ruffwear Front Range Harness

Originally I intended to buy a blue Ruffwear Front Range Harness from the same online retailer where both were on clearance over the holidays, but they no longer had the blue one. Fortunately I had seen it for sale during the holidays at two locations in town, so I knew picking one up wouldn’t be too hard. Ruffwear is based in Bend (which is in Central Oregon, a few hours from where we live) so plenty of Portland shops carry their gear. Oregonians love outdoor gear, dogs, and supporting local commerce almost equally—in heaping amounts.

Why do we need TWO new harnesses, you ask? I discovered both these harnesses during the process of looking for Rain’s nosework gear.

I learned many years ago that some dogs have “work clothes,” things that signal to them that they’re on the job. Service dogs wearing their cape know that it’s not playtime—it’s time to assist their person. Likewise, nosework dogs aren’t supposed to eliminate 💩 while searching—even when they’re working a deliciously green field of grass.

So nosework dogs generally have some setup that is different than what they wear for other activities. It is my plan that the Ruffwear will be our nosework harness. The Julius K-9 harness is at least equally suited for outdoors work, but it is so amazing that I didn’t want to limit its use to just nosework. Because reasons. Such as…

DOG WITH HANDLE = GOOD

We’ve had both harnesses less than a week, and they both seem perfect for what they’ve been designated for. Meanwhile, Rain’s biothane leash has been ordered as well, from a pretty amazing Etsy seller in Alsea, Oregon called CSJ Creations. Getting Rain set up with her nosework gear has been in the works since October, and things are coming together just in time—it looks like we’ll be starting to learn some truffling skills in the days ahead!

Fresh Meat: Weekly Agility Report

Muddy Rain in water

It was another wet afternoon going to agility this week. Rain was happy as ever though to explore the expanding seasonal wetlands at the park before class.

Rain biting at water
Rain shakes off

You may recall that class was pretty full last week, and one of the dogs was in class again, this time inside a soft crate when he wasn’t working. Hunter is a fluffy, spunky Sheltie who could give Rain a run for her money if anyone held a World’s Barkiest Dog competition. Even though we sat inside the arena like normal this week, Rain takes a few weeks to get used to strange dogs in class, so I knew whenever Hunter was running I’d be working my hardest to keep Rain from a barking explosion.

Agility course January 18, 2019

Our course this week started off with a tricky triplet of obstacles around a center point, proceeded through (channel) weaves, up the A-frame, down to a teeter, through a tire, a back-and-forth between two parallel jumps, up dog walk, over another jump, through a tunnel, and ending with a few more jumps. We split into a large chunk of 15, adding the last few bits on the second run.

There was certainly plenty to keep Rain and I working—Rain seemed to be having some issues that she nailed last week (specifically the weave channel, although the tire was more challenging than it should have been too). My biggest issues were two specific parts of the course where handling choices are key. Rain and I both needed to work some rear crosses in the beginning of the course before we were navigating that successfully. Eventually though, Molly saw us shine in enough places that she seemed pretty pleased.

As always though, my gauge on how successful class is tends to be highly dependent on how quiet Rain is—and while she did eventually focus and settle while we were running, she was far from quiet when it was Hunter’s turn. At times during his run when he was nearby and trotting toward us, I had to stick a handful of cookies in Rain’s face to get her back from the very edge of a barking explosion. I did whatever I could, used every tool in my toolbox, to keep Rain relatively settled despite being in the presence of another barky dog. It was pretty tiring!

Aria sailing over a jump

Despite Rain’s challenges, she did not cower (at least in a way that was obvious) due to the rain that only increased throughout our hour in class. When class was over, the rain outside was heavy enough that I considered just loading Rain up to leave. I knew she’d have none of that though. So although it was nearly pitch black and raining heavily, we engaged in our usual post-class ritual for some minutes before heading home for the evening…sopping wet.