Hot Dog!

Summer may officially start on June 21st, but in our part of Oregon it doesn’t really start until July 5th. There are two events that you can usually count on each year for having overcast or rainy weather: the Grand Floral Parade for Portland’s Rose Festival, and Independence Day.

Now that our area is getting more summer weather more consistently, it has been increasingly important to think about keeping the doggo cool.

Rain has a really thick coat. When she is fully wet and hasn’t shaken out her coat, she looks like a drowned rat. Her undercoat is thick which is great insulation for winter, but she seems to get warm fairly easily in summer. And with only the pads of her feet and her tongue to act as an exhaust valve, sometimes it’s better to assist in the cooling process.

Here are a few of the things I do to help cool off the pupper in the dog days of summer:

Cool Treats

It started when I spotted Frosty Paws in the freezer case at the grocery store. Eventually I bought a package to try, but vowed it would be the last due to the $4.59 price tag. (The package contains four treat cups, making them $1.15 each!) My resolve strengthened when I read the list of ingredients—largely additives. Fortunately there is no shortage of recipes for homemade Frosty Paws on the internet, but the one Frosty Paws recipe I’m hoping to whip up soon is from Geek Girl (she has Aussies!). Do you have a blender and a freezer? Then you too can make frozen treats for your canine companion.

If you don’t have a blender, many dogs appreciate other cold treats like an ice cube (fed to them or by bobbing for ice cubes in the water bowl!), a few cold baby carrots, or a slice of cold cucumber.

Kiddy Pool

During our recent 100-degree Sunday, I remembered the kiddy pool I had stashed in the shed and decided there would be no more appropriate time to bring it out. Less than five minutes later, Rain was splashing around, chomping at the globules of water she was kicking up.

She looked noticeably more happy once she had been in the pool. When she hopped out and stood around for longer than a few minutes, I took my shoes off and we followed each other around in circles in the tiny pool. (I’m not embarrassed to admit it helped me cool off too!)

The next morning when the forecast was for much cooler weather I tipped the pool up, watered some of my grass, and had the pool back in its storage spot in less than two minutes.

Escape from the City

When temperatures climb in the Portland area, we have two options for escaping the scorch: heading up to the mountains or heading down to the Oregon coast.

Rain is always up for a doggy adventure, and over the last couple of years her behavior has improved enough that she’s not making as much of a ruckus the entire time we’re on a trail.

These exact options may not be available to everyone, but many people have some good options nearby: a shady forest or a cool creek for wading. Whatever your region offers, chances are it will be a great outing for everyone involved.

Go AWOL for AC

Our last tip is directly from Rain to her canine brethren: when it’s just too warm outside and your human doesn’t have air conditioning, refuse to leave when you visit the house that does!

On our recent 100-degree Sunday after splashing in the kiddy pool, after the last Frosty Paws had been enjoyed, after lying under the ceiling fans for hours, Rain and I visited my parents and she simply refused to leave their haven of frigid air. Normally she is attached to me like chewing gum to hair, so this was a pretty unusual move. But I was happy to have some quiet time for a few hours until Rain decided she wanted to come home.

What do you do to keep your dog cool? Is there anything else we should be trying?

Rain Gets Hot: Weekly Agility Report

The weather was once again idyllic for going to agility class this past week. The temperature was warm, but not nearly as warm as the previous weekend. Rain was feeling good.

We arrived at the local park before class to find that the hip-high grass had finally been cut. It appears a community group has been holding work sessions as well—large mountains of wood chips now dot the park, I believe for the purpose of legitimizing the footpath that circumnavigates the field.

The cut grass was great except it appeared to have been executed by a hay machine. I’m not an expert on farm tools, but all the tall strands of grass were lying in rows in the same direction, cut at the base. It meant that running in the field was easier for Rain, but finding the ball was more difficult. The ball would roll under a layer of long dry grass strands and Rain would need to sniff around for several moments to find it again.

Nonetheless Rain ran after her ball with plenty of gusto again and again. She was winded before it was time for us to leave, so we left a bit early so she could enjoy some nice cool water before class.

When we arrived at the class facility Rain definitely enjoyed some water but was still panting pretty hard. There were puddles outside the arena where other people had hosed down their dogs. Rain enjoys standing in water but has never indicated enjoying getting her fur wet so I hesitated to do the same. We waited for class in one of the pens and I encouraged Rain to hang out with me in the shade to help her temperature regulation.

Once in the arena I was reminded that the air inside is a bit warmer and more humid than outside.

Class started and Rain was still a little overly warm to perform the given tasks as quickly as she normally would. If that wasn’t enough, Molly admitted she was pinch-hitting her lesson plan because she had arrived and several large obstacles had been moved out of the arena.

Class got sort of sidetracked toward the end (my fault). When I was pointing out Rain’s lack of engagement we detoured to training a “whiplash command”—that is, a word you can say that has been reinforced with treats, so as soon as you say it the dog will turn their head quickly to you.

We all did what we could during our time together. For every awesome class where you run backwards and your dog still takes the jump, you have one (or more!) where you accidentally overexercised your dog before class. Whoops! As we’ve entered the warm part of summer, I’ll have to keep tabs on this to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Rain Finds Adventure at Sandy River Delta Park

Sandy River Delta tends to have a specific type of trash left behind.

Portland was facing a three-day heat wave, and Rain’s agility class had already been rescheduled to an earlier time meaning we wouldn’t be able to make it.

In order to save my own sanity (not wanting a repeat of the extra excitable Rain I had after my trip) I decided that Rain needed an adventure in lieu of going to agility class. Originally I thought I might be able to sneak it in Friday afternoon/evening, but it didn’t work out.

Early the next morning I loaded Rain up the car and headed east.

Rain has visited Sandy River Delta a few times in the past. It’s a ginormous dog park on the eastern edge of Portland, where the Sandy River meets the massive Columbia River. The park is at the westernmost point of the Columbia River Gorge.

Rain’s behavior gave me pause when we first arrived. On leash at the trailhead, she barked at me nonstop as we were inside the vault toilet, then outside she barked at passing dogs and humans. She was drawing a lot of attention to herself.

We headed out though, and she soon piped down in order to start sniffing. When we reached the off-leash point I set her free and she was fully in her element. She ran back and forth, she ran wide circles around me as I walked, and she jumped in every mud puddle we encountered.

Did we play ball? Of course.

It was my hope to visit the portion of the park where dozens of dogs usually play on a gentle beach beside a small channel of the river. When we ascended the berm leading to this doggy paradise, we were sad to see the river level was still high enough to make the area dangerous for Rain. The gently sloping beach was underwater and the current banks were muddy cliffs.

We’ve been to this place enough to know of other river access points, and so we walked to the other side of the park. When we were nearly to the main part of the Sandy River Rain spotted a huge puddle and had plenty of fun splashing around and fetching her ball as other dogs and hikers meandered past. The other access point had higher-than-usual water as well but still offered enough of a slope that Rain was willing to wade in a few feet. She swam once, but not for long. She seemed happier sticking to the places where she could touch the ground, unlike the nearby Labrador retrievers who were halfway across the river fetching sticks.

Once we were done in that portion of the park, we took a new trail and ended up back at the beach we had abandoned. When we were out of the shady cottonwoods and into the wide expanses of grass, I could tell the temperature was starting to rise. Rain and I sat in the shade of one of the few trees in this area. I noticed that Rain was taking a rare respite and I was feeling like I had done a good job wearing her out. Once Rain started getting antsy again we headed back to the trailhead.

When we arrived the parking lot was mostly full. It seems that everyone else had the same idea I had that day but arrived earlier than we did. As we left, the parking area felt pretty deserted. Cognizant of hot asphalt, I did my best to keep Rain from standing in one place too long but she did lift her feet once or twice as I raced to open the back of the vehicle.

It wasn’t until after we had been home a bit and she was licking a paw that I had a look and noticed she had some raw skin on one of her front paw pads. It was at this point I also did the math and realized we had spent three full hours adventuring around the park!

Let’s unpack that stat: Rain is now a senior, at seven years of age. And it still took three hours of running around a huge parcel of land to wear her out! On a really warm day, no less. Aussies were bred to work cattle ranches all day long  and I really wish I had the ability to match Rain with the surroundings that would let her use all of her energy all of the time.

It was blissfully quiet that afternoon. Rain did not bark once between the time we got home and later that evening. She still followed me around if I made major moves around the house, but otherwise she was happy lying down and hanging out.

Adventure Is Out There: Weekly Agility Report

It started the day before agility class—an email about the weather. Portland was in for some pretty warm temperatures. Molly was trying to avoid cancelling our class altogether, but didn’t want to subject the puppers to a lot of exercise during the hottest part of the afternoon. Our agility arena has large doors on either end but it gets pretty heated inside on warm days. Combined with the dirt floor that gets watered to keep dust down, humidity inside the arena on a warm day can be kind of stifling too.

Molly asked us all if we would be able to come to class earlier in the day. Rain was certainly available, but I was not. Regular RitF readers may remember that our current class time/day required some special arranging at my workplace. Instead of a hard no, I asked Molly if we could do class later in the day. She wrote back that I was the outlier of the group and I would get credit for a future class since we wouldn’t be able to make it. 😞

Whaaaaat? We’re not going to class?

It wasn’t the financial aspect that was fueling my disappointment, though. Last week Rain worked really hard at class, did really well, and ended up snoozing relatively early in the evening. She had a lot of pent-up energy before going to class that week, and going to agility helped immensely. I didn’t want her to miss class and be paying for it the next week. (To be clear, I mean I would be paying for it, in needing to deal with an extra barky, antsy Rain again all week.)

This meant I needed to take her on another adventure in lieu of class. I pondered: could I leave at our regular time for class and take her somewhere else for the afternoon? Should I get up early the next morning and take her for an adventure before the day’s warmest temperatures came into play?

As the day wore on it became clear that the afternoon option wasn’t going to happen. So we’d have to head out early the next morning, before the temperatures climbed into the forecasted upper 90s…

Moonwalking: Weekly Agility Report

It had been a challenging week, returning home to Rain after being gone. She was bursting with energy all week—at least in part because I hadn’t taken any days off after returning to just stay home and be with her. Thus, there were just short windows of time each morning and evening to work out all her pent-up energy. By the afternoon of class, she still had crazy to spare.

It probably shouldn’t have surprised me, then, that she was a real loudmouth leading up to class. Just after turning on the street to approach the agility facility she started barking excitedly, whereas during a more typical week she won’t start barking until we’ve turned into the property driveway.

Rain and Rudy were the only dogs in class this week, but from the ruckus Rain was making at the start of class you’d think there was a crowd. Rain even barked while running the first course during class—something that her mom Skye used to do during agility but Rain generally hasn’t. Until now.

Evidence was suggesting that Rain was happy to be back in class.

We started out by walking a six-part course to think through how we’d handle it with our dog. There was one tricky spot, a jump right next to a tunnel. We’d have to give our dog the jump and then get them back to us to feed them into the tunnel which was sitting next to it. Sounds fairly easy but when a dog is running at full speed and sees a different obstacle in front of them they may be more inclined to just power ahead to that one.

Rain didn’t fall for the trick and we navigated the tunnel more or less just fine, pleasing Molly immensely. During the next part of the same course (7-12) there was a similar gotcha in the setup. Coming off a teeter, the dogs approached a tunnel with an A-frame over it and many dogs might go straight for the A-frame. Not Rain!

Molly has been gently trying to steer me away from the cookie belt (bait bag) I usually wear during class, for a variety of reasons. Most recently she suggested that Rain’s reward for pausing at the end of a contact obstacle would be her release. During the first part of the course I caught myself giving her a treat so I decided to just ditch the cookie belt altogether.

Molly suggested I keep a few treats in my pocket but we went the rest of class without the cookie belt—and Rain didn’t instantly go on strike.

Why does Molly want you to get rid of the cookie belt (bait bag)?

  1. Bait bags/treat rewards aren’t allowed at agility trials.
  2. When Rain and I run a course, training treats will often fly out, depositing themselves around the arena floor and other dogs will get distracted by the free treats when it’s their turn to run.
  3. Treats are supposed to assist in training, not be a crutch. I started using them a lot when Rain was going through Reactive Rover but now that Rain knows her stuff at agility I shouldn’t need to use them as much.
  4. It’s freeing to run a course with a dog without worrying about cookie logistics!

In addition to challenging ourselves, Molly threw an unexpected challenge at me during class. During one run she had me approach a particular jump backwards and send Rain over it. Moonwalking, sorta! The first time it felt so awkward that I bailed on the backwards part to signal the jump, but the second time it worked just beautifully. Molly praised how smoothly it went, and then pointed out that as we got better doing agility would be more of a fluid dance.

After class Rain was still being a real loudmouth but after we played more ball in the pens out back a wave of calm washed over her. It was like a heavenly vacation for my ears, and I decided to step out of the pen and observe the next class a little, reveling in the silence. (Rain was still supervising me from the pen.)

Rain’s temporary silence gave me hope that she’d settle down for the rest of the evening when we got home. She took a nap in the car on the way home and resumed being energetic and noisy once we returned.

But then, around 8pm, I noticed something unusual. A sleeping Rain! She had settled down for the evening much earlier than usual. I was able to have another nice little vacation at the end of the day, with evidence suggesting I had finally worked out Rain’s pent-up energy from my time away from her.


Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Weekly Agility Report

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. We’re testing that theory, as Rain and I were absent from agility this week! In fact, we were also absent from each other for the week. Rain was in the continental US, and I was not!

Rain and Roy both made strong arguments for stowing away into my bag so they could visit Hawaii by my side. After all, Roy mewed, you don’t need to pack all those wool sweaters when you’re going there. A bathing suit, sunscreen, and a ukulele leave plenty of room for two loving furballs who will miss you while you’re gone. Rain astutely noted that she could not adequately guard her flock (that’s me) if we were separated by miles of ocean!

Despite all their sound arguments, I still left them behind. I’m so cruel.

We’ll be back next week with more hijinks!

What’s It Like Running a Course with Rain?

Recently I was writing an agility update and realized that people might wonder what it feels like to be the human running the agility course alongside a dog. Not only a dog, but an Australian shepherd who is fast. Or maybe there are people in our audience who just wonder why I’m always the weakest link in our work.

First, it’s the human’s job to walk through each course before running it with a dog. Not only do you have to keep track of what is being asked of you and in what order, but theoretically you should be using this time to figure out how you want to ask your dog to take an obstacle for best results. We’re not to a level yet where we have such amazing insight into our dog’s tendencies, nor can we watch other dogs getting tripped up by a detail and think through how we might avoid the same pitfall. But theoretically this is all stuff the human gets to keep track of in agility.

Second, unlike others I came to agility knowing the human was a key part of the work, that we wouldn’t just be “training dogs” with no human involvement. BUT—getting involved in agility wasn’t something I was doing for ME. I was doing it purely for Rain. As she has been working over the last year, her behavior has changed and my relationship with her has changed. If I thought of agility as a human activity, I’d say no way—I’m not really interested. As we have started doing courses though, I’ve gained far more understanding about the handler’s importance in the process. It’s like flying a plane—a very fast, very barky plane. Often the reason Rain doesn’t get something right is because I am not doing something right. This means that I should be learning as much as she is, and because I’m there for her, I’ve been pretty slow about letting those lessons sink in.

Finally, Rain is FAST. When I watch our classmates saunter through a course, one with her tiny Papillon and the other with her deaf dog, I get jealous. Rain can outrun me in every scenario. Even when she’s in the kitchen and I drop a chopped vegetable at the cutting board, she slurps it up before I can bend down to keep it from her. She’s a lightning-fast dog, even as she approaches her senior years.

What’s it like running a course with Rain, then? It’s a little like storming a castle. You’re running with all of your might, trying to execute the tasks as quickly as possible, but doing your best to keep track of a thousand details. Details like at what point on the dog walk you need to say “feet!” so Rain will stop at the bottom with her back feet on the contact area. How far back you need to be to say “out!” so Rain will drive away from you to get a jump instead of bypassing it completely.

Ultimately your brain shorts out a little—or at least mine does—so having Molly there to observe is infinitely helpful. If Rain continues to not get a command, Molly can point out that I should say it sooner (this has been a big one), or my shoulders are pointing the opposite way from where I want her to go.

As you can see in the photo above I am leaning forward, running at full speed. I am trying to connect with Rain but also look ahead to see what I need to tell her. And this was just to use the dog walk, no other obstacles were involved! As you can see, Rain looks like she’s about to yawn of boredom.

Eventually, I’m hoping some of this will get easier. That’s how training works, right? You practice and build your skills slowly but surely. But with such a fast dog, I often ponder whether I should take up some form of running just to try and improve that aspect of my performance.