The Intricacies of Jumps: Weekly Agility Report

We didn’t have class last week—this report is from the prior week, which we procrastinated on reporting about due to having an extra week. Whoops!

Agility this week was more handler-focused. Molly set up a simple course at one end of the arena with a tunnel at one end, a jump at the other end, and two jumps at a slight angle between them.

Sounds pretty easy, right? WRONG!

This was in fact the only thing we worked on this week, as Molly had the dogs and handlers using those side jumps in unusual ways. The dogs were sent around the back of one jump, and on the other the handlers were essentially guiding the dog around the jump backwards and then picking them up at the other end of the jump to continue forward. Each dog was more or less taking an S curve around this jump, but to do so the right way meant the handler needed to have a certain position when the dog came out of the tunnel, then quickly change their body/hand position to get the dog around the other side and keep moving.

It was difficult enough that it took all of us more than one round to do it successfully.

If you’ve ever taken a dance class without having much dance experience, one of the most difficult parts can be watching someone do something with their body and then exactly mimicking it with your own. Which arm was up in the air? Was the weight on the right or left foot to shift to that next move correctly? That is what this felt like to me.

It took a little puzzling to figure out exactly what was being asked of me, but then my inclination was to put the wrong hand out until Molly and I worked through the details. Eventually I did get it all put together but I feel like I got far more of a mental workout during this class than Rain did. When we focus more on handling moves than working the dogs, I feel like Rain’s not getting the workout I want—the reason I wanted us to try agility to begin with! Rain’s the one who is supposed to be getting worn out, not me!

My brain was so engaged during class that it wasn’t until we were back home that I realized I hadn’t taken any photos for Rain in the Forecast. More recently though, I was flipping through the November edition of Clean Run Magazine, and my eye caught a glimpse of a setup diagram that looked remarkably like our course for this day. If you’re so inclined, go to the link and check out the “Backyard Dogs” article on page 64 for some diagrams that show just how much stuff you can do with a simple setup.

 

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Rain’s Siblings: Researching the Mystery

Skye tending to her puppies, June 2010

While working on a special project I will report about in a future blog post, my mom and I unearthed paperwork from when Rain was born which included the information for the people who adopted Rain’s siblings.

I immediately rushed to the internet in order to see if I could track down some photos of the puppies to see how they were doing and what they were looking like as adults.

“Do Jack! I want to see what Jack looks like!” my mom said. Jack was the other surviving blue merle in the litter, born with more white markings than Rain.

JACKJack on the deck

This took more work than anticipated! His person had moved from the San Juan Islands in Washington State to Hawaii. She had an online presence including photos of a red Aussie, but Jack was nowhere to be seen. Hawaii does have special procedures for plants and animals coming/going from the islands, but evidence suggests Jack did not make it to Hawaii. His whereabouts so far are still a mystery.

MARCUS/MYKISS

Marcus on the deck, looking up at camera

Marcus was my favorite of the puppies (sorry, Rain!). We were told that he would be going to a couple. The man had a career in fishery sciences and his name would thus be changed to Mykiss, which is a species name for the Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). I was able to find the man online but only a professional presence. A few years ago I recall finding a photo of Mykiss doing agility with his other person that had run in a newspaper on the Oregon coast. This would make sense since the couple lives a bit inland from one of the larger coastal towns.

LUCY

Lucy lying in grass, looking at camera

Lucy was my dad’s favorite puppy—Lucy and Ethel were the female black tri Aussies and the calmest of the litter. Lucy’s person had no presence on the internet that I could find. She has an address a couple of miles from our house…at a UPS store. Dead end.

ETHEL/ROXIE

Ethel sitting in grass, looking cute

Ethel became Roxie when she went to her new home. Her people lived in the suburban parts of NW Portland, and a Google street view timeline suggests they may have sold their house and moved in roughly 2007. That said, the person who adopted her has an online presence and I found photos of Roxie online! It looks like she is having a great life, having gone on many outdoor adventures. I could see resemblances to Rain and Skye, but in one photo with her shorter ears perked up, she looked unmistakably like Ethel.

(Sorry, I’m not going to post photos or links to the photos unless I get permission at some point to do so. While I may be an internet stalker, I am an ethical internet stalker!)

FRECKLES/RAIN

Rain standing in grass, looking at camera

Freckles (now Rain) was the only female blue merle of the litter, who started her time in the world by surprising us as she has been doing since. I know exactly where to find her people on the internet and offline.

Now that I’ve given an inkling of how good (or disturbing, depending on your world view) my research skills are, the question I’ve been pondering is whether I should attempt to contact the people I uncovered. Given the commitment each of these people had to make to get their puppy, you’d think they’d be eager to also find out about their dog’s littermates. They may be willing to send photos, and maybe even let me post some of them on Rain in the Forecast! But in general I get nervous about reaching out to strangers who may have feelings about privacy, or at least one who might get some sad memories stirred up if her dog is no longer with her.

What do you think, readers? Should I stay in the shadows and visualize the awesome life each of Rain’s siblings is having, or should I reach out, say hey, and find out how each of the puppies is doing?

Cute Raccoon

Rain Squares Off with a Raccoon

Cute RaccoonRaccoons: Innocent, Cute Creatures of the Night…

It began on Sunday afternoon. Rain started paying close attention to a hole in the material protecting the crawlspace of the house, just outside our back door. We go back and forth between the two houses on any given day through the backyard, and on this afternoon I needed to call Rain away a few times so we could keep moving.

Rain’s interest in the hole only increased once night fell. In fact, she started pawing furiously at the ground next to the house, knocking a bucket aside. It was then that I lead her into the house, got my best flashlight, and went back out by myself.

When I shined the MagLite and struggled to peer into the hole, I saw a patch of fur about a foot away. Was it a strange cat? Was it a raccoon tail? It looked a little more like the latter but I couldn’t discern any breathing. Was it dead? Why wouldn’t it have moved when Rain barked at it? For the rest of the evening, Rain was only allowed to travel between the houses on leash, and mostly via the front instead of the backyard.

Googling “is there a raccoon under my house?” lead to results that did not sound promising. A dead raccoon would mean struggling to get it out before it hatched maggots and made a stink; a live raccoon might mean a nest which would be VERY bad news for us for quite a while. Overnight I hoped that the raccoon was alive and would move on at some point in the night.

When we woke up at 5am I took Rain out on her leash to pee, and I could instantly tell from Rain’s demeanor the critter was gone. PHEW. I texted my mother next door to tell her the good news, and she responded that Mindy had been pretty interested in a smell near their deck next door, so be careful bringing Rain over later on.

Rain and I went about business as usual for the next hour and a half. It wasn’t until I was taking Rain next door before heading to work that I remembered—about two seconds before Rain started barking furiously and disappeared under my parents’ deck.

Raccoon walks toward cameraDoesn’t look so innocent now, does he?

The next 20 minutes were filled with barks, raccoon hisses, and me frantically figuring out how to ameliorate the situation. Given how worked up Rain had gotten last winter when she cornered an opossum behind my compost bin, I knew there was no way she would voluntarily leave the raccoon. They were in the middle section of the deck—the section that is inaccessible and impossible to view due to the deck supports.

Rain barking

First I grabbed my parents’ garden hose and tried spraying through the deck access points next to the house. One side, and then the other, trying to untangle it for reach as quickly as I could and move the lumber and other flotsam we’ve used to keep critters out of there in the past. It was no use—the deck support was completely blocking the water spray. Every so often there’d be a lull in the barking, and I’d start worrying about what was happening. After all, I couldn’t see anything—I could just hear what was going on in that middle section of the deck.

Then, I got an idea: the deck has gaps in the top, meaning I could feasibly break things up by spraying them from overhead. Rain’s barking meant I generally knew where they were, so I pulled the hose up there and started hosing just about everywhere I could in the vicinity.

About 30 seconds later the raccoon emerged from one of the access points next to the house and started ambling through the backyard. I tracked it with the hose, thumbing the nozzle to encourage it to run, not walk, out of our yard. If that wasn’t enough, I started yelling obscenities at it, telling it I’d kill it myself if it didn’t get out of our yard NOW. Neighbor dogs inside their house heard me and started making a ruckus too. And a few seconds later, the raccoon vanished into the shrubbery.

I had no idea what condition Rain was in. I grabbed her Kong, which I had tried to use at one point to lure her out, and sweetly coaxed her out by telling her I had a Kong for her. She emerged slowly, as she had to shimmy under those deck supports—and she was muddy but appeared unscathed.

I checked her out more thoroughly inside the house and she seemed to be A-OK. She looked about the happiest I have ever seen her in her life—tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, ears perked, and raring to go. Inside, it wasn’t long before she returned to the back door and started whimpering. She wanted to go outside and do it again!

Originally I was going to leave early for work but this meant I had a late arrival that day. I called the vet before leaving Rain and moved her scheduled appointment on Saturday to that afternoon.

Arriving home that afternoon I didn’t know if Rain, post-adrenaline rush, would start showing soreness or bruising that hadn’t been noticeable in the morning. We headed to the vet where she got a thorough exam and nobody could find any raccoon damage whatsoever. Dr. R. suggested that as a herding dog, her instinct is to chase and corner instead of getting in a fight. She reported that terriers, bred to kill small animals, are a higher risk for raccoon damage. At the clinic, they had seen a small Yorkshire terrier that got a chomp in the leg and lost quite a bit of the muscle!

My brain was still pretty frazzled in the afternoon but after our appointment I decided to take Rain for a post-vet treat at Mike’s Drive-In. The nice woman who took our order asked if we wanted a pup cup or a pup cone, and minutes later Rain was slurping her ice cream. The remainder of our afternoon was uneventful, spent quietly recovering in the comfort of home.

Rain slurps ice cream

Yoga Dog

One of the less optimal parts of having a full-time job and then going to a regular yoga class is more time spent away from your beloved doggo. At least that’s what I thought when Rain’s Uncle Atticus was still alive.

Frankly, I enjoyed the additional time away from Rain. I could have some time to myself, as my yoga class was delightfully full of other people who didn’t want to talk to strangers, and I’d also enjoy time away from working with Rain on her barking or what-have-you. She can be pretty demanding of one’s attention.

Then the yoga class I had been going to for nearly four years was cancelled. I stuck with an alternative class for a few months, but one night I decided I’d be happier practicing by myself at home.

Rain has made that a constant challenge.

Mlem mlem mlem mlem mlem mlem mlem mlem mlem. Rain doesn’t seem to be able to handle my being on the floor without wanting to lick me. If I’m in downward-facing dog it might be my leg, but then my face as move into upward-facing dog. (Have you ever had a dog tongue flick inside your nose?) And these aren’t just a few licks of friendly affection, these are “let’s clean her with my tongue” sessions. I’ve tried waiting it out, but it doesn’t stop. Now I do what I can to discourage it, gently but firmly pushing her away or just lifting up the arm she’s licking at that moment. It’s pretty difficult to be aware of your inner sensations and breathe into a stretch if you’ve got company like this.

Rain also loves yoga mats, as it turns out. My MO has traditionally been to work sans mat, but I picked up a couple this summer as a local studio was liquidating. The studio owner warned me that animals seem to really like yoga mats, and she wasn’t kidding. When I unroll one it seems Rain is lying on it within seconds.

Last week, I got an idea. Since I had purchased two yoga mats, I laid the less-pristine one down for her and rolled out the brand-new one for me. If she could just lie next to me on the mat while I used the other we’d both be happy! After some coaxing, I finally got her to lie on just her side…and she promptly rolled on her back, feet in the air, lying half-and-half on both and requesting a bellyrub.

Once I started doing my thing, Rain started bringing toys over to keep with her on the mat. She brought her stick toy, she brought her squeaky sheepy, and she brought an old sock I had given to her. She was behaving herself, chewing her stick toy. Before I knew it Rain had slipped her legs under the brand new yoga mat and torn a small chunk out of it during her subdued play! It was at that point I lost my calm for a second, irritatingly shooing her away. Of course Rain pulled out her sad puppy dog eyes until they worked their magic and I reluctantly patted her head.

Around the internet I’ve heard people rave about their canine yoga buddy. I’ve seen videos of people who incorporate their dog into their home exercise—weightlifting, yoga, running, hiking, and biking. There’s at least one book about Doga, and the Huffington Post even has a piece about doing yoga with your dog which claims that “dogs make the perfect yoga companions.”

Of course there are plenty of videos of pet yoga fails too. Maybe I just need to watch more of those to remember I’m not the only one—and count my blessings I’m just getting a tongue bath instead of getting my head humped.

 

A Sense of Normalcy: Weekly Agility Report

Remember how our first day back at agility went awry last week? This week went far, far better. Thank goodness.

The week’s weather had been warm and sunny—a last gasp of summer. Friday’s forecast called for a transition to rain, and it had even rained on Friday morning. Afternoon brought sunbreaks in the clouds, but Rain went back to being very reluctant about getting in the car! My hunch about the weather was right on. This is not a great situation for a dog who lives in Portland, but at least now I know what the fear is about and can do what I can to address it.

Since the weather was cooler Rain got to do as much running as she wanted at the park before class. Even during her morning walk, I made sure that day to give her extra brain stimulation and take her to some novel areas to sniff. I wanted to work out as much energy as I could so we wouldn’t have a repeat of last week.

Have I mentioned I DID NOT WANT TO REPEAT OUR EXPERIENCE FROM LAST WEEK?

Rain got her barking out before class this week.

In class we started with a series of three jumps in a line, and the dog was sent around the second in an usual way. The first time each dog went around via the back. Rain’s cue for this is “around,” and I make sure my feet are pointed to the side of the wing when sending her. We practice this one nearly every day at the park using the balance beam, so I knew it would be relatively easy.

Next we started working with a lead-out setup where the handler is on the other side of the second jump with his/her back to it and a hand out. The point of this one was to get the dog over the second jump and then send them around to jump over it again, then move on to the third jump normally. Once I understood the body positioning we did it without any problems on both sides (right and left). Molly invited us to continue on the nearby dog walk and tunnel and I knew Rain would love to do more stuff, so we did that each time after the exercise in question.

Our class is a bit of a motley crew, with dogs at different skill levels. Our two classmates both have two dogs, and are now in the class before ours as well. Linda (below) will sometimes run with Rudy her papillon (who is older and more experienced), but sometimes she’ll work on exercises with Aria her Havanese (who is a puppy). Here she’s working on a jump skill with Aria.

Last week when I was feeling frustrated with Rain, Linda had been talking about Rudy taking first place in his first agility competition. Linda is pretty involved with organized dog obedience, and I figured that Rudy was now teacher’s pet (figuratively, not literally). In that context, Rain was Jeff Spicoli.

This week, Linda needed a little longer to understand a handling move that was being asked of her, and when she returned to her chair she declared Rain “star of the class.” Clearly this means that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, good and bad times, and everyone is in the right class. All of us are teacher’s pet, even the humans!

We were missing Jackie and her dogs Cedar and Poppy this week, but we also might have added to our class. A young woman and her Australian cattle dog Koda joined us, having taken agility classes in their former home of southern California. Koda was enthusiastic but quiet, and took to a couple of new things she learned.

Rain did not fuss too much about the strange new dog, which was a nice improvement. In the past Rain has gotten distracted by new dogs for one session, then went back to normal once she learned there was nothing to be reactive about. On this day she was remarkably quiet in general, really. That may have been because I was playing treat dispenser, desperately trying to avoid a repeat of last week. We went through the better part of a string cheese during our one hour class, in addition to the puppy pacifier and the Charlee Bear training treats.

And that was class this week! A sense of normalcy has returned. Now that the excitement of the first day back is over, everyone has settled back into the routine and we’ll be working hard each week until fall floods or winter weather start threatening classes again.

Bark to School: Weekly Agility Report

Rain investigates to discover what transpired at the park while she was away.

At last! It was time to go back to agility class after about a month-long break. The week’s cool rainy weather had cleared up that afternoon, and the week’s deadlines had been met at work. Rain got very excited when I returned home that afternoon and started gathering our things—and her—to get to class. She hopped in the car without incident and we were back to our routine again.

<record scratch>

That’s about where the good vibes ended on this particular afternoon.

Since the weather was getting warm again, I didn’t work Rain quite as hard at the park as I might have, given her excitement about returning to class. I didn’t want to have a situation where she overheated and thus was dragging at class. So we played ball for a few minutes and then we walked about halfway around the large field before leaving.

Another mistake I made was stopping at the farm down the street before going to class. Rain expected to go to class but instead our next brief stop was someplace where she could not get out of the car. I faked her out!

In my defense, they had a sign on the main road that said peaches were ripe and available. I stopped in for some peaches, two types of pears, and corn. Given the quality of these items as I’ve been enjoying this week, I stand by my decision 100%.

We got to the arena and played ball out back a little more while the prior class filtered out, as is our routine. Once we set up inside, Rain polished off her puppy pacifier in seconds.

Rain started making a fuss after that. I used the wall ties to keep her on the platform area while Molly wanted me to walk through our modest course and talk about our dog’s line.

Rain barked. And barked. And barked. Then she whined loudly for a bit, before going back to barking.

We couldn’t hold a conversation over her loud voice, and soon I was removing Rain from the arena in an effort to quiet her down. Didn’t work.

I put her out in the pen where we played ball, and then returned to the arena to try and listen to the human part of class. Moments later, I heard jingling outside the arena door—she had squeezed through the gate because she wanted to be with me, and in class.

It was really frustrating. Rain either wanted to run a course, wanted my full attention at all times, or more probably, both. We were getting nothing out of class so far. My week hadn’t been all that great and I had looked forward to our class return, but it was proving frustrating enough that my emotions were starting to crack through.

When it was our turn to run, Rain did as great as always. She was fast and responsive to every cue. I, however, got the jumps backwards in what was a very simple setup. That part didn’t matter too much to me, I just wanted Rain to run and work out her excitement. But between the barky dog and my feelings I was starting to feel self-conscious in front of the others too. I also started channeling my frustration into my tone of voice, projecting commands more forcefully than I might otherwise.

That was pretty much the only thing we were able to do in class that week. I noticed it was time for our class to end and Molly had mentioned she needed to leave on time for an event, so I gathered our things and headed back to the pens for some more ball playing before we headed home.

When I told my mom a brief version of the afternoon’s events, she pointed out that Rain’s mom Skye had a similar problem when she was in agility. Skye loved doing courses so much that she would make a vocal ruckus whenever it was another dog’s turn to be in the ring. She would also bark while running a course, which Rain sometimes does.

Is Rain getting to love agility so much that her excited behavior is going to get us kicked out?

Another Tern at the Beach

Rain got to go to the beach again this weekend!

It wasn’t an action-packed weekend but we did get a couple of good long walks in.

Saturday was cool and overcast. At times, it rained!

In Oregon a rainy day isn’t generally a big deal. But each summer there’s often a very long spell without any precipitation. When it comes back, even just a little, people are pretty excited. Especially when it has been as warm as it has been in Portland the last several weeks, and especially because the skies have been clogged with wildfire smoke.

Once the rain subsided, we took our first long walk. We walked from our family’s place up to—and a bit past—the twin rocks. I noticed a dead sea lion in the sand, nearly indistinguishable from the large pieces of wood that were strewn about the beach near it. We were surprised Rain didn’t notice it until we were a little past it–downwind, if you will–and that keen nose of hers picked the scent right up and led her back in order to check it out.

When we turned around to head back, we were suddenly facing the wind and our walk got a little less pleasant. Rain still had a great time playing fetch on the beach, splashing in the inlet creeks we crossed, and generally being a salty dog.

Those overcast skies cleared up Sunday which made for a pleasant walk indeed. We realized that there was just a small sliver of beach we hadn’t walked between the center of Rockaway (a small coastal town) and the massive Barview Jetty to the south. That’s approximately three miles of beach. Of course being a completionist, that’s precisely the sliver of beach I wanted to make sure to hit.

Okay, I also wanted to see if the dead sea lion was still there.

There were more shithawks gulls out on the beach Sunday, and Rain chased a few. Rain loves chasing SKWERLS, but chasing birds ranks pretty high as well. She had shown relative restraint on Saturday when we passed near a large flock in a group on the sand, but Sunday was a new adventure and Rain didn’t miss her chance to shoo them away.

Being off-leash for an hour or more did a number on Rain’s energy level both days. Between being in a novel environment, running around, sniffing all the interesting things, sending pee-mails ad nauseum, and even meeting some other dogs(!), Rain would settle down when we got back to where we were staying. It was delightful.