Bit by bit

When training a young dog like Tai…I’m often reminded that skills are built bit by bit.  Those individual skills form a matrix that when cemented make a solid foundation.  Rushing the process can result in a pretty shaky house!

I’m writing this post from Florida…where we have escaped from winter for a couple of weeks.  When packing…clothes, cameras, computer, some food to get us started, crates, pads, dog toys…I thought…surely there will be room for a couple of jumps, 2×2 weaves and the travel plank?  Sure enough, we managed to fit it all in.

We are renting a house with a partially fenced small yard.  Move aside the outdoor furniture, do a little raking and there it is…my agility “field”.  What a welcome change to walk outside, play agility for a few minutes  – with at least a little room to “rock”  — without slogging through the white stuff — and then repeat the fun later in the day.   Then a short walk and we are at the beach.    At low tide….perfect place to practice sit-stays and flat work handling.  I’m happy; dogs are happy.

One of my continuing challenges with 13 month old Tai is his excitement around other dogs doing agility.  I guess its a reaction to the motion and the noise – dog’s barking, the whoosh of  a dog running through the tunnel, the bang of the teeter.  He can lose his mind.  No use complaining or judging…it is what it is.  This little demon didn’t appear until he was about 7 or 8 months old.  So…starting in the late fall, I’ve been working regularly with other people training obedience….which is clearly not as exciting and was a good place to start.  He’s made good progress in this context…able to keep attention on his work while others work or play with their dogs.  At the few agility events I’ve attended over the winter, we’ve worked on attention around the rings or simply watching calmly.  Making progress but a long way to go.

At a trial we attended on our way to Florida, we had a perfect setup for this type of work.  The arena entrance and crating was at the top level and looked down on the rings.  Thus, we were pretty far away and I could back up toward the wall and remove the visual or go closer to the top of the stairs and give Tai a full ringside view of the dog running.  First day, we spent most of our time near the wall.  But by day 3, he could sit next to me, respond to cues and even watch calmly for a few minutes.  And at one point on day 3, he was lying quietly by his crate as we got organized for a walk and a handler RAN past Tai with two shelties in tow; practically leaping over him.  He never moved.  Problem solved?  Not a chance.  This is just one step in the journey.  Case in point.  I trained with a new friend here in Florida this week.  While her exciting “talkative” sheltie was running, Tai and I were behind the car where I could at least remove the visual.

The skill of self-control around running dogs is an important layer of our agility house.  Right now the matrix is a little weak but we’ll keep working on it!

Magic Moments

It’s winter here in update NY and since it started way before the official date of Dec 21st, we are well into our 3rd month – snow covered and temps ranging from single digits to low 30’s if we are really lucky.  Not counting wind chill.  But I grew up in this area, so I’m used to it and make the best, generally “embracing” winter…getting outside for walks with the dogs nearly every day…taking note of the visual beauty, the quiet, the soft feel of freshly fallen snow, the crunch of cold, cold snow.  The dogs seem to love it – no complaints from them!

Yesterday, I joined a friend for training in my “winter” horse barn with Tai and Breeze.  While it wasn’t all that cold, my “thermal” layer was inadequate and I left after 2 hrs thoroughly chilled, yearning for a hot cup of anything to warm my bones.  And hey…didn’t the weather forecast say SUNNY!!  Not where I was.   But, I was out and about and decided to stop at a favorite park to go for a walk with the dogs before heading home.  I left the training session with mixed feelings.  Tai is now 13 months old and this was only his 4th trip to the barn, he’s full of hormones at this age and sometimes his choices are unexpected or at least unwelcome.  Fresh horse urine is really big distraction afterall .  Even though I KNOW it’s a journey, I left feeling a little frustrated.

We stopped at the park and started our walk, me still trying to shake the negative feelings.  All was well with both Tai and Breeze, checking in often giving great response to their recalls.  The meatball treats no doubt helped!  Tai and I also played tug a few times with my glove (forgot a toy).  But still, I just wanted to get the walk over with to get home and get warm.

Then it happened…I saw a flash of blue.  With a little orange.  What is that?  Oh my…an Eastern Bluebird!?!?  It landed on a bush just 20 feet or so away.  I stopped with mouth agape.   I don’t see Eastern Bluebirds that often in the summer, but had never seen one in the dead of winter.  Then another bluebird joined this one.  We stood still – and this is one of the reasons I call this a magic moment – the dogs stopped too and just waited.  They seemed to sense from my stillness that something was up.  We waited and yet another bluebird joined the group.  Then another.  So for a little while, I watched – with some interest from Tai and Breeze – this little group of 4 beautiful blue and orange birds flitting around in the brush.  After a bit, we left and continued our walk.

Suddenly, my perspective on winter and dog training had righted itself.  I began to see all the positives in winter and felt lucky that because of my dogs I had found myself on that trail at that time; and I could better see the positives in our training session too.  Afterall, wasn’t it Tai that executed the short jumping sequence so beautifully and with such enthusiasm?  Spring will come and Tai will grow up.  Best to enjoy the now while its here and the journey that gets us to those “better” days.  A reminder that they aren’t really better, just different.  And one day in the heat of a hot humid July day, I’ll look back longingly on this winter day.  And when Tai is fully mature, I’ll look back fondly on his puppy adolescence.  Enjoy today; more snow expected.

Note…according to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, upstate NY is not part of the Eastern Bluebird winter range.  However, their migration patterns vary from winter resident (generally in milder climates) to long migrations from harsher climates to the south.  This winter, I’ve seen several flocks of Robins as well.  Seems to be an unusual winter on many counts.