All the Barky Doggies: Rain’s First Agility Event

Rain just attended her first-ever agility event! And boy, did we both need a nap afterward.

Regular RitF readers will remember the unanimous results of our recent poll sent us to a small facility in the western reaches of the Portland area this past weekend. We weren’t sure quite what to expect, but it was clear that this event was pretty small potatoes. Safe. Perfect for us!

Steven came with us for moral support, which included getting up before sunrise and heading west before 7am on a holiday weekend. After we picked Steven up we continued west to a modest horse arena in Helvetia, a small agricultural community established by Swiss and German folk in the 1800s. Car traffic was light that early in the morning, but we passed many cyclists on our way and tons more after leaving.

As we approached a group of cyclists next to Helvetia Tavern, Steven rolled down his window as we gingerly passed and said, “sorry about the dog who’s going to bark…” As if taking her cue from Steven, the end of his sentence was cut off by her barking as she saw the strangers.

Once Rain had a chance to sniff around the property a bit, I put her back in the car. Dogs are often left in crates inside vehicles during events like this for a variety of reasons. As it was early, vehicle heat wasn’t an issue but as the forecasted high was in the mid-90s, I realized another reason why “dog activity people” contain their dogs in crates in their car. In a situation like this, the vehicle can have all the doors and/or the rear hatch open for maximum ventilation while keeping the dog(s) safe. Many of the cars even had a large silver cover draped over their entire vehicle. Made of reflective material, it reduces the heat absorbed by the metal car in the sun.

While we were outside, Steven pointed out all the barky doggies. Rain was in good company! Had she finally found her people?

Inside the arena, things were pretty chaotic as organizers got the facility set up for the day’s activities. Before I knew it the arena itself was filled with over 20 random people walking every which way, nearly bumping into each other at times. Were they setting up the course or walking it? (Both, as it turns out.) One organizer handed me a course map and my eyes crossed. Even the novice course had two sets of markings, but I overheard someone say “black squares” and went to work trying to find #1. I learned that “open” means “intermediate” in agility lingo. After I found everything on the page I ventured into the ring to walk the course a few times before it was about time to start.

A border collie kicked off the activities, plowing through tunnels so fast they came out of their supports! Once the event started, the chaos seemed to calm significantly and I started identifying “knowledgeable” people who I could approach with all my questions. The next 45 minutes were more or less a waiting game, as the dogs using the tallest jump heights went first and Rain was about halfway down the list overall.

Dogs using channel weaves were put in the front of their group though, so we got moved up a bit. Around 9:45am, it was time for Rain to hang out in the staging area until it was our turn.

A look into the arena from the opposite side of where most of the action was.

THE FIRST RUN

Rain and I entered the ring, and I set some things on a table just over the wall so they wouldn’t fall out of my pockets as I ran. At some point my understanding was each person would have a short period to work with their dog on little tricks before starting, in an effort to warm up and gain the dog’s focus. This turned out to be incorrect and since I was kind of nervous myself I didn’t take time to do much of anything before placing Rain at her starting point. I walked ahead to my starting point and called her to begin.

Two obstacles in, she was already missing an easy tunnel entrance. Rain ascended the teeter next, and promptly launched off the end, Dukes of Hazzard style. (Yeeeeee haaaaawwww!) I’m pretty sure I stopped in my tracks and just stared for a moment. O_O

Rain landed facing the gate through which we had entered the arena, and she sauntered over there next. It took me a bit to get her moving again, and when she more or less missed the channel weave I knew I wasn’t going to go back—she just hasn’t practiced on it enough to be worth wasting much of our two minutes in the ring. We moved on, and Rain had a few more misfires/distractions. Our time ran out when we were roughly working on #10.

Rain certainly had a memorable first round! In shock, I escorted her back outside to sit with her for a bit and wait for the second round.

It wasn’t clear whether we’d be able to do our second run or not, as another renter was slated to have the space at noon and this event apparently had a pretty huge turnout. While waiting, Molly let me puppysit the latest addition to her family: Eclipse! Eclipse, or Clips, is a border collie that Molly got while she (like many of us) traveled to the path of totality for the recent eclipse. The puppy smelled nice and I enjoyed my time with him.

Pasture lands outside the facility.

Another dog demonstrates how to properly end a contact obstacle.

THE SECOND RUN

Eventually everyone got their turn and the organizers started working on second runs. In order to save time they shaved each dog’s ring time down to 90 seconds. I knew we needed to be time-conscious so I had Rain in the staging area early and entered a little too soon, before the dog before us had fully exited the space. (Whoops! When I’m focused I can get like that.)

Once again I placed Rain in her starting spot and walked to mine. I felt like her focus was sharp, and we had a connected gaze before I called her. We started our second run, and Rain was much more like her usual self. As we came out of the first tunnel, Molly said “skip the teeter,” so I did. It turns out they had a tip assist on the other end that they forgot to take off before we came in. No matter, I gladly skipped it. Rain’s joints don’t need any more hard landings.

Then I started forgetting where my next obstacle was. Turning away from the teeter I remembered after a second, but then my memory started breaking down a little further as we ran the course. After all, it had been at least two hours since I had walked the course! Molly and our classmate Jackie (Cedar and Poppy’s handler) started calling out “tunnel,” “jump,” “A-frame” just to jog my memory and I am so grateful they did!

During this second run, Rain was a champ! Even when I was inadvertently miscueing one jump (thanks for the info, Molly!) Rain was totally with me. After that, we started flying through the course—through a tunnel, up the A-frame (with some pausing for “feet”), through another tunnel, up the dog walk, and to the pause table.

At the pause table, Rain hopped right up but then her tendency to take a while to lie down kicked in. “All the way…” I told her. She did lie down and someone started a countdown, but I think I messed up and released her before the counter got to “and zero.” Whoopsie! A timer had warned us that we had mere seconds remaining. We only had one more jump to do after the pause table, so sorry/not sorry.

When a dog is getting introduced to the ring, it’s important to end their experience on a positive note, so I made sure to cheer and give Rain some good pets when we were done. After her second run I had a special treat for her outside, too.

Molly saw us outside and suggested we do plenty more “fun run” events for practice. Rain knows how to do everything that was in the course (although she’s more solid on some things than others), so it’s a matter of getting experience at coming into a completely new space and building success.

Personally I was really impressed with how Rain improved between her first and second runs! She was also a model citizen during the periods when she had to wait in the car outside.

When we finally got home—far later than we originally anticipated—we were both pretty wiped out. After a long afternoon nap, we were both a little more ready to take on the rest of the day and start reflecting upon what our next agility shenanigans may be.

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Rain Comes Back

Image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region,
via Creative Commons on Flickr.

One morning last week at the park, Rain and I had stopped at our usual place where I unhook her leash and dig a ball out of my pocket so we can play fetch for a few minutes before we head home.

In summer I frequently end up picking up after other park-goers who have littered, and on this morning I had two returnable cans in my bag. I dug my hand under them to fish for the ball that was deeper inside.

Cooler mornings have meant the return of crows to the park. Rain loves to chase birds but when it’s time for fetch at the park, she is singularly focused. (She may also remember how she lost her off-leash privileges last summer by going rogue a few times.)

There were several crows scattered around the park, but none so close that I thought Rain would run at them. But as it took me a little extra time to fish that ball out of my bag, she spotted a group of 5-6 crows foraging in the park’s parking lot and took off in their direction.

Gasping, I said “Rain, COME!”

…and she did!

Rain immediately came right back to me, and when she returned I jackpotted her choice by giving her several treats. I praised her. I was ecstatic!

This is probably the proudest I’ve ever been of this little mischievious doggy since we started working together two years ago. Every so often you get a sense that all the hard work you’ve done has made a significant difference, and on this morning I got a glimmer of this feeling.

Rain Attends a Party

Doing her thing in the kiddy pool. Note the water in mid-air on the right.

Happy Tails, the local store where I have been buying critter food for the last few years, had a 20th anniversary party this past weekend. And what a party it was! There was a coffee stand with free drinks, a kiddy pool with toys, pupcakes and cupcakes, a couple of vendor booths with free dog food samples, a clown, a portrait artist, and more! The store shut down a large strip of parking lot outside their doors to allow enough space for all the festivities.

Happy Tails used to be located in a different location—a nearly windowless concrete block building along SE 82nd Avenue in Portland. Even though it was just as close to my house as it is now, I had never visited because it didn’t seem very inviting. I think moving to Milwaukie was an excellent choice for their business, and I suspect the owners might say the same!

I wanted to take Rain, but didn’t know how she’d fare surrounded by a lot of activity. She still tends to get reactive and barky when there’s a lot of activity happening around her, as evidenced by our recent trip to the beach. My intention was to show up right as the party started, gambling that fewer people would be there, but the cake I was baking went into the oven at 11am. Whoops.

When we did set out to go visit, I prepared mentally for a quick trip because I just didn’t know how Rain would do. I didn’t know how many people would be there, or how many strange dogs. I didn’t know how close the quarters would be. I didn’t know how fast Rain would start barking, and how much.

Once we arrived I took her on a short walk around the surrounding streets so she could sniff and get engaged with her surroundings. We approached the perimeter of the party a couple of times before we got closer. When we did get closer, she was doing a fine job of being an enthusiastic—but quiet—partygoer!

The woman running the coffee cart offered me a (free) berry smoothie, and I started noticing how well Rain was doing. We checked the booths out from afar at first, paying particular attention to the portrait booth.

We waltzed over to the booth with pupcakes for dogs and cupcakes for humans, each arranged on a tasteful cupcake tree. Before I realized what was happening, Rain had climbed into an unattended camp chair, stretched forward, and her tongue ended about two inches from the edge of the pupcake tree! After telling her to get out of the chair, I looked at the pupcake display and carefully chose a pupcake that had some toasted coconut sprinkled atop a dollop of cream cheese frosting.

Before I could take a photo of said pupcake with an eager doggy, Rain reared up on her back legs and started digging in to the treat! CHOMP. I didn’t even have a chance to remove the paper before her lips were around my fingers and the pupcake was gone.

Guess she liked it.

When I grabbed a human cupcake, Rain thought that was for her as well. I held it up high but when a dollop of icing fell, I’m not even sure it touched the ground before it was in her mouth. She’s that fast.

It turns out there was no line to get a SamToon, so Rain and I came into his booth next and sat down for a spell. Rain hopped up in a chair across from Sam and I ended up moving my chair so she could be facing me but Sam could still see her.

Rain more or less sat still for the entire time it took to do her portrait! I know we were sitting for at least 20 minutes, and he said hers was taking a little longer because of all her spots. No matter, since she seemed to be content on the chair, engaging in little games with me and behaving herself.

One of the reasons Rain was so manageable during this time is that Sam’s booth had banners and tarps on three of the four sides. This provided shade for Sam, as well as minimizing distractions for Rain. (Remember the doggy blinds we used in Reactive Rover?)

Of course it wasn’t until it was time to pay Sam for his art that Rain started getting antsy. A man and his kid had approached the tent and Rain reacted, then once she was out of the chair she wanted to start moving again. But soon we were able to take our SamToon back to the car for safekeeping.

When we got back, we went inside the store and overheard about a drawing we could enter by having four booths outside sign a card. Rain was doing so well I decided to do it, since we hadn’t yet visited the booths with dog/cat food samples. Rain did great in the store except when it came to Hoot, a young female border collie that belongs to one of the owners.

Back outside, the other co-owner asked if we wanted to participate in their game of musical dog beds. I wanted to, I said, but I was afraid of Rain being close to the other dogs and getting barky. She offered to spread the dog beds further apart, and I thought that was a good idea. But Hoot came out to play too, and Rain started making more of a ruckus, even removed from the center of the activity.

In the end, Bizzy the Clown quite kindly offered to step in for us. Wait—wouldn’t this make us automatic winners? I thought. But no—Bizzy got out three rounds from the end. Perhaps she was clowning around too much while walking. 🤡  (See Bizzy standing in for us here.)

Still though, it was very sweet of her to offer to step in and help. And for the most part the people at this event were very understanding of Rain and our work together. I told many people how amazed I was about how well she was handling the event, and how far she has come in the last two years. One woman repping at a dog food booth had a papillon with similar struggles.

Hoot was hanging at the kiddy pool after the musical dog bed champion was crowned, and I asked if we could come over and meet her so Rain might finally settle down. Rain sniffed her bottom for several moments and they very carefully took turns inside the kiddy pool. Hoot wanted to fish all the toys out, whereas Rain just wanted to cool her paws. But they were more or less okay at that point. Guess Rain just wanted to meet her herding cousin!

Even so, it was clear that Rain’s patience was about done for the day. Perhaps because she had sniffed everything and nothing was novel anymore. She was drawing more attention to herself with barks, and less interested in splashing around the kiddy pool. After popping inside one more time to turn in my card, Rain and I made our way home where Rain could express a little more energy in a safe space before crashing for her afternoon nap.

School’s Out! (and Poll Results): Weekly Agility Report

Agility got cancelled this week. We’ve had cancellations in the past for various weather-related issues, but this one was a little different. In fact, you could consider it a once-in-a-lifetime cancellation, due to the total solar eclipse!

Our agility class isn’t held in the path of totality, nor is it even held on Mondays, but the eclipse brought a lot of visitors to Oregon and Molly wanted to ensure people weren’t stuck in pre-eclipse traffic. State officials were forecasting epic traffic jams across Oregon. So it was very thoughtful that Molly made the reluctant decision to cancel class.

There were only two problems. First, the forecasted traffic jams largely happened in Central Oregon and the local jams came after the eclipse. Second, it was our last agility class before the yearly facility maintenance closure!

You may recall last year when Rain had a short summer break in August/September. Each year the facility closes for a few weeks to do structure maintenance and improvements. After that break is over, on September 15th there will be a day-long class in the space meaning we won’t have class again that day. This means Rain won’t have class again until late September!

How will we fill her time? Perhaps she can do some yoga…

Ride her scooter around the park…

Or perhaps try to reach Roy perched high up in his new kitty tree!

I’m sure there will be plenty in Rain’s life to report on in the coming weeks.

But wait a second, wasn’t there some other activity that might be coming up? Ah yes—what about the “fun run” agility event happening on September 2nd?

POLL RESULTS

Rain in the Forecast readers clearly enjoy reading about our misadventures, because the poll results were unanimous. You all think Rain and I should attend the upcoming event! So that’s what we’re going to do. Without any serious practice before then. Gulp.

Get ready for a fun story in a few weeks!

 

Ominous Foreshadowing

Rain and I have been working together for about two years, and I recently got a dark hint of what may be coming in Rain’s future.

After a particularly boisterous session of fetch at the park, or sometimes after running at full speed on uneven ground, Rain’s right front leg will sometimes get a very slight limp. One recent week the limp showed up a little more frequently than usual and I started worrying.

One of the times she was careful with her leg was right after agility, when the A-frame had been set fairly high so the angle up and down the obstacle was pretty steep. I secretly fretted that the end of her agility career may be nigh.

The next week I mentioned it to Molly when we were discussing Rain’s “feet” issue at the end of the A-frame. Molly offered to lower the A-frame a bit for her when needed and suggested a few shoulder-strengthening exercises we might consider doing to help.

Rain hasn’t shown any further problems with her leg in the weeks since. She has been tiring a bit prematurely while playing fetch at the park, but that may be due to the much warmer temperatures we’ve been having. Maybe her leg was just having an iffy week.

Rain is seven years old now—approaching seniorhood. I get through each barky morning and bouncing-off-the-walls evening by telling myself she will slow down eventually. Will she start having arthritis issues before her spirit mellows or her energy wanes?

Hopefully all this training we do helps her stave off signs of age—now that she has been able to discover all the fun things in the world, it would be a shame if she couldn’t enjoy them all for as long as possible.

Walking the Course and a RitF POLL: Weekly Agility Report

It was once again a pretty warm afternoon when we headed to agility class this week. Once again I was concerned about Rain overheating before we even got to class so I wanted to limit her fetching time. Before I could though, I noticed she was increasingly engrossed in sniffing holes sprinkled throughout the park. Critter holes! Before I knew it Rain was entirely engaged in sticking her nose as far into each hole as she could and picking up whatever scents she could. (Rodents, I imagine.) Maybe she has a future in nose work?

We took it pretty easy in class too, since the arena building was warm. At the beginning of class Molly had us “warm up” by doing a ten-obstacle course. She told me to walk the course while she set the jumps to Rain’s height. It seemed relatively straightforward to me and I figured out the details while walking through it one time. When Molly suggested I walk it again we had a conversation about specifically what one is doing when walking a course multiple times.

The first time, Molly says, you’re primarily figuring out where the obstacles are. You’re looking for the cones with sequential numbers which will show you not only which obstacles you’re taking, but the side of the obstacle you’re taking. On this course, for example, Number 9 was hidden on the other side of a jump from where I was looking for it at Number 8. It meant that the jump was to be taken backwards (“around” to Rain).

The second time walking a course, you’re figuring out your dog’s line while running the course. Where the best place to start your dog will be, potential trip-ups (remember the trickery of the tunnel opening next to the dog walk last month?), and so on.

Finally you consider your own line on your third walk through the course.

When she presented this information I thought I had more or less considered all those things—the course seemed fairly straightforward to me and when I had a question, I had asked it. Molly and I talked about two places where Rain could start the course and how it would impact her line, and we decided we’d have her try it both ways.

We ran the course both without too many problems (except “feet,” because I have yet to put the time into this that is needed). Rain did about equally as well starting from both proposed starting points, but since Molly’s starting point had a straighter line for Rain I imagine if we were being timed it would have been the faster option.

Once I stopped running, I felt fairly sweaty! This is a fairly unusual phenomenon for me, particularly while wearing shorts and a tank top as I was. I regained my usual coolness a few minutes later, just in time for a humans-only exercise.

We used the rest of class to work on a front cross exercise mostly for the benefit of the humans. Molly told us we’d be “dog dancing,” and in the beginning the exercise we did largely did have an element of learning footsteps for a dance. Once we had that down we took it to a couple of jumps facing each other, and then finally added our dog into the mix. Rain and I didn’t have any problem with the exercise, although I was disappointed when Molly said she needed me to do the exercise with “300% less arms.” (She says this to me fairly often. Apparently she doesn’t appreciate my desire to add panache to my movements!)

At the end of class, I asked about an email Molly had forwarded the week prior. The email promoted a “fun run” agility event, organized by a regional agility organization, taking place Saturday, September 2nd at a barn on the western edges of the Portland area. She sent it to us with a note that it’d be a good way to expose our dog to an actual agility trial without any pressure—we were paying for time in the ring more than any expectation of how we would use that time in the ring. Treats and toys, normally not allowed at agility trials, would be completely acceptable.

I asked Molly about this email, noting that it sounded like the lowest-bar possible for an agility event. We talked about Rain’s barking (“So what? You know there are other Aussies there, right?”) and she mentioned she might attend as well. The price is really cheap, too! The biggest investment may just be the traveling time and mental energy.

I’m sort of still on the fence about doing this event but am leaning toward giving it a shot. What do you think, friends? Would you like to see Rain attend this “fun run” agility event in a few weeks?

The poll will close on Saturday, and perhaps we’ll have some adventures to relate soon thereafter!

Beating the Heat at the Beach

Portland recently had a week of weather misery which included record-high temperatures, higher-than-it-should-be humidity, and air thick with smoke that had drifted south from some forest fires raging in British Columbia.

It was time to take Rain to the beach!

Friday’s forecast indicated the beach would be an amazing escape from the misery that was Portland. In fact, I had a specific mental vision that kept me motivated to keep moving and packing on Friday evening: the cool air and water that would await while summiting the Coast Range, where a roadside water station delivers fresh spring water to miserably warm travelers. (That water did not disappoint, either!)

Rain enjoying the creek at Sunset Rest Area, about a mile downstream
from the roadside water station.

Portland’s high was in the upper 90s when we were enjoying 65 and morning clouds that burned off to make a gorgeous afternoon and evening.

As soon as Rain hopped out of the car at the place we stay, she tried to make a bee-line the other way. She knew where the beach was, and she was ready to get running!

Instead we had to take care of a few logistics before getting out on the sand. When we did though, she enjoyed an hour of beach time fetching balls, rolling around in whatever ocean-scented bits she could find, and even getting her feet wet now and again. She was mostly off-leash during our walk, but felt the need to keep her closer when we were in areas with more people at the beginning at our walk and the turnaround area next to Barview Jetty.

(We weren’t the only people who escaped the misery of Portland’s weather through a coastal escape that weekend, as it turns out…)

Rain was having so much fun on the beach she got a little tongue-tied when we told her it was time to head back.

After two-thirds of our party had a nap, we decided to head for our favorite pizza place on the coast, The Pizza Garden in Nehalem. Rain had to wait for us in the car but we got a great spot on their back deck where I could monitor and get to her in seconds if needed. When going to Pizza Garden, the usual routine consists of a post-meal doggy walk around downtown Nehalem.

Rain got to explore several docks along the Nehalem River and even had the opportunity to try on a personal floatation device, or PFD. They’re an absolute must when boating!

Rain was pretty quiet the rest of the day after our long walk on the beach, and after her evening walk around Nehalem she easily settled down for the night.

In the morning though, she was raring to go to the beach again and let us know it. We ended up driving a little and had another long walk starting from the beach access in the center of Rockaway. This day brought far cloudier skies, so our walk on the beach was gray and misty.

There were fewer people on the beach, but once again they were concentrated near the start and end of our walk. This meant Rain got to go off-leash faster and stay off-leash longer. She seemed to stick to me a lot more than the day before, so she may have still been tired from our prior beach walk. We made our way south nearly to Twin Rocks where we turned back where a freshwater creek drained into the ocean.

Enjoying the sunset from Rockaway.

After getting some of her energy worked out we returned to pack up our things, close up shop, and start the haul back home. It took a little while to truly get going, as we decided to “make a quick stop” at a popular gift store in town that ended up having a pretty long line at the register.

Summer weekend traffic between Portland and the Oregon coast can be pretty sobering, and our travels back were no exception. Surely everyone noticed the Doggo on Board magnet on my car, and noted that the precious cargo inside must not be creamed! At least that’s what I want to believe.

The roadside water station is more or less at the summit of the Coast Range, and it wasn’t too long after our stop there that I started feeling a little uncomfortable in the car. Once we realized we were descending down into Portland’s meteorological misery again, I took my fleece layer off. By the time we were back to the western edge of the Portland metro area we were all miserable once again, and would be for another few days before the warm temperatures finally took a respite.

Rain will be getting a bath as soon as possible to get all the things she rolled in out of her coat, and I’m starting to work on cleaning the sand out of the tennis balls she fetched ad nauseum during our time there. But we made some pretty good memories, and we won’t forget the sweet relief our trip brought from the August weather. Rain wants to visit again before the end of the year, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea!

One more visit to the creek at Sunset Rest Area.