Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Cost of Responsible Dog Ownership

Today I heard a story that made my heart break. A fellow agility competitor told me the story of her young, medium sized dog who, while being walked on a leash, was viciously attacked by a roaming, large breed, guarding type dog, unattended by any human. The hair on the back of my neck stands up when I imagine the terror she and her dog went through during this attack. How she managed to get this dog off of her dog, I'll never know. She herself is not sure what made the dog give up the attack. How she managed to not get bitten herself is also somewhat of a mystery. She had no one to help her during the attack. Her dog was a budding young sport dog, trained in multiple disciplines. She herself is an expert handler, easily considered one of the most responsible dog owners society could ask for. Her dog survived the attack, yet suffered a broken leg and permanent damage to the affected limb. The psychological effects of the attack on her dog may never be fully known.

The sad fact of this story is that because no human was bitten by this dog, no one appears to be taking the attack seriously. This dog is known by the community to roam freely in the park where the attack occurred. The owners refuse to take responsibility for their negligence and continue to let the dog roam free.

So, what is the cost of responsible dog ownership? Well, the cost of irresponsible dog ownership in this case is physical and emotional trauma to another dog who did nothing to precipitate this attack. The cost is this dog's career in dogs sports, and perhaps normal function of the affected limb. The cost is large veterinary bills which may never be compensated for by the party responsible. All this simply because of an extremely negligent dog owner who was ignorant enough to allow a dangerous dog to roam free. This innocent dog's happy life has been changed forever all due to the fact that another dog owner refused to contain their dog to their own property. The cost of responsible dog ownership? It could have been the cost of a fence, a suitable tie out, a dog run, or a little bit of education on their part to know enough that letting any dog roam free is dangerous for many reasons. The cost of responsible dog ownership is quite minimal when you consider the cost to others of irresponsible dog ownership.

Agility Lessons 2008

Above, Cole and Blaze.

Today Blaze, Cole, and I had our first private lesson since summer of 2007. My school schedule in the fall and winter prevented me from pursuing ongoing lessons throughout the fall of 2007 and winter 2008. Also, because I have become quite particular about the style of coaching I prefer, I was extremely hesitant about switching coaches and decided to wait until my instructor of choice was available. I think when you have found a good match, then it's best to stick with it.

I found myself lacking a bit of confidence while walking the tricky sequences today. I had been out of practice and not in the agility mindset for quite some time. It's also hard when your instrutor is watching your every move waiting to see if you can see the light and figure out the best path for your dog. I felt like a beginner again! Blaze, however, was once again flawless. His only errors were my errors, and when I was clear in my handling, Blaze performed like a pro. I found myself wondering if Blaze would trade me in for a better handler if he could...... It seems I am the only thing holding him back. It was amazing and also comforting to me to see that when my handling was clear, Blaze was perfect. What an eye opener and a definite motivator to improve my skills.

With Cole, it becomes so obvious that I have done so little work with him in any discipline. Had it not been for his elbow surgery at 10 months of age, he would have been in agility lessons as a young adult. It wasn't until after a few years of observing his behaviour on our 1 acre property that I considered teaching him agility. He is able to get into a full speed run, and will stop dead and turn on a dime. He wrestles with Blaze, jumps down the steps from the porch instead of walking all the way down, and charges full speed at my neighbors cattle behind the fence. All of these activities put far more pressure on his elbow than agility ever will. So, once we started agility, we never looked back. He absolutely LOVES agility. It is clear though that we have some important foundation work to focus on. Time to get training!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blaze - Masters Agility Dog of Canada

Blaze went 4 for 4 today at the Rat Pack trial in Orangeville. This was our first competition since AAC Nationals last August. Also, we were not able to secure agility lessons in the fall and winter due to my extremely busy school schedule. Because of this, I figured that our first time out in 8 months with no practice time in between would have been a bit ugly... Nothing could be further from the truth! Blaze was happy, driven, motivated, and he had so much fun. What a joy to run with a dog who is truly loving what he is doing and staying with me on course. We've had so many training issues along with my own bad handling maneuvers, I had gotten used to having disappointing results at agility trials. Knowing all along that Blaze was capable of doing so much better made it all the more frustrating for me. Now, it finally feels like we are working as a team, and he is "on his game" all of the time, instead of a few moments here and there that get lost. It's hard to describe in words really, the feeling of being out in the ring, on course, with a dog that is working in unison with it's handler. I'm literally on cloud nine.

Blaze received his VMAD title today, his Veteran Masters Agility Dog of Canada title. What an accomplishment for us. I'm so proud of him. He received qualifying scores in Steeplechase, 2 Master Standard runs, and a Master Gamble. We have been struggling with the Gamble event for some time now, so to finally get a Q in Gamble was so exciting for us. And, I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the score sheet and saw that Blaze placed first in Master Gamble today!!!!!! This is an amazing accomplishment. We are now competing in the very competitive 16 inch veterans class, and Blaze beat 8 other qualifying dogs in this division to take first place. He also received a first place in one of our Master Standard runs.... again, an accomplishment I never would have even dreamed could be possible.

At the end of the day, it is not the titles or ribbons that matter. What matters is the bond you have with your dog, and the incredible working relationship you have developed over the years. What matters is the joy and happiness in your dog's eyes when he sees you are taking him to the agility ring, where he knows he will have fun with you, where he knows good times will happen. What matters is that you have taken the time to teach your canine friend skills that are truly amazing. What matters is that you are spending time with your dog, his greatest joy, and that he loves you enough to want to be with you. At the end of the day, he is just my dog, my little buddy, my companion, my best friend. At the end of the day, that is all that matters. Here's to Blaze, the little puppy that was abandoned on the streets of Toronto..... if those people only knew what they were missing.

Myself, Blaze with his VMAD ribbon, and AAC Judge Francine Lalonde.

All of Blaze's ribbons from the Trial today.

Blaze with his ribbons.

Sleepy boy on the way home.

Even the daffodils were happy for us.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Box Classes

Blaze and I had fun tonight at our first Box Class. What is Box Class? Well, it is an agility class designed to focus on the all important crosses..... front crosses, rear crosses, and the handler's successful execution of these crosses. Are we being clear to our dog? The theory is quite simple... but perhaps not so simple for handlers who may have been handling a course to compensate for training weaknesses. We learned some very important foundation work, dissected a sequence with front crosses, and then moved on to some rear crosses.
How shocked I was when I moved to the "rear cross" section, and drew a complete blank..... Wait a minute.... I had been using rear crosses as my cross of choice in the past, so it should have been easy for me, right? Well, as it turns out, my current coaching had given me such a strong background in using front crosses and serpentines that I simply couldn't figure out how to do the rear crosses! I felt so silly!!! So, when I got myself in the correct position, Blaze did the rear crosses flawlessly (He didn't forget!!).
It was a great night, and Blaze worked with enthusiasm and drive. Now we have some homework to do before next week...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Furry Fashion Show... Fun for All

In April, at school, our class decided to have a "Furry Fashion Show" to raise money for the shelters that support our program by allowing us to treat their shelter animals. At first, I had no interest in participating in this fashion show, as I am not known for dressing up my dogs...

Well, after a little thought, I began to see how much fun it could actually be... So, I decided to go for it! I offered up Arlo, as he is what I call my "All Purpose Dog" ----- I can take him anywhere and ask him to do anything, and he is all for it, calm, confident, and cool in all situations. I was not too sure how he'd feel about being dressed up, but we'd find out!

My outfit of choice for him, after much thought and consideration, was a police dog vest. He is a German shepherd after all, from German working bloodlines. He sire was an active duty police dog, along with many of his close relatives. And, what are German shepherds most known for? That they excel at police work. My classmates organizing the event also had some outfits picked out for him, namely a doctor's outfit, a hockey outfit, and a Georgian college vet tech outfit.

This event was really well organized, I have nothing but praise for my classmates. The "Change room" was a classroom they booked. There were a whole bunch of people and a lot more dogs in there, some loose, some on leash, all getting dressed and undressed for their chance on the "stage". Arlo did great of course, no issues. And I was surprised at how well he took to being dressed up. It did not phase him one bit, even when he had the stethoscope around his neck, bouncing to and fro. What a great sport he was, I was so proud of him.

The "stage" they set up was a bit of a challenge for us... They wanted the dog to walk on the handler's right side... Arlo is a competitive Schutzhund dog, always working on the handler's left side. No matter how many times I tried to get him to walk on my right, he would correct himself and move to the left side. Getting him up on the "stage" was another thing..... it was a bunch of tables pushed together covered in a "red carpet". Arlo is never expected to walk "up" on things that move slightly.... My solution? I got up on the tables myself, and he followed. Then, he was rewarded with his ball. After that, he was dragging me to get up on those tables. The power of positive training and reinforcement can pay off in ways you wouldn't expect. I allowed him to walk on my left, but then stopped him while he was up there and asked him to sit, down, or stand so the audience could see him. Later on, I heard some of the audience members were amazed that he actually "stayed".... Hm-m-m-m-m....... If they only knew all he was capable of and that a simple "stay" was really nothing for him.

It was so much fun, and I was glad I participated. Arlo had fun, and was such a good sport and once again, a great ambassador for the breed. In his down time before his appearances on stage, we would hang out in the hallway, and all sorts of people would pat him, feed him, even little kids were paying attention to him. Nothing phases this dog. If these same people would have seen him work on a SchH field before this event, I can bet that many people would have been afraid to approach him. This is part of the misunderstanding of the sport that only aggressive dogs participate. This once again proves that not all SchH dogs are "aggressive", and that a SchH titled dog can be a stable, friendly, approachable canine living in the community.

Way to go Arlo, I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful dog!

Below, Arlo in his Georgian College Vet Tech T-shirt posing before he goes on stage...
Below, Arlo on stage in his Dr.'s outfit, stopping for a small bite of cheese...

Below, hanging out in the hallway in between appearances...

Below, Arlo on stage in his Police Dog vest doing a down-stay... unfortunately the picture is blurry and it's the only one I have...

Below, at the end of the show, all the dogs and handlers were together, posing for pictures... Arlo is hard to see, his black head is against my black shirt... he's the one in the yellow t-shirt.

Some other dogs at the show:

Below, here is border collie Schooner, one of the faculty member's dogs... One of my absolute favourite of the staff dogs...

Below, classmate Veronica's dog Tito, a chihuahua what a cutie!!!!

Below, classmate Laura's border collie Molson...

Classmate Christine's Dogo Argentino, Malek. Malek is a young dog, and he absolutely would not get up on that stage!

Faculty member's dog, Golden retriever, Ruby. Ruby is also a valued teaching assistant and is so extremely patient with all of the students.