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Being a full-time freelance writer means working from an internal stash of motivation and drive (and lots of chocolate) because there certainly isn’t anyone popping by my home office giving me pats on the back. In fact, most of the feedback I get from day to day, week to week, is about what needs improvement. That *is* editing, after all. So, it’s not like I’m the kind of gal who needs a lot of hand-holding. Yet, early in our agility career, derision felt like the norm in training. And, it wore me down.
I’ve mentioned before going months as a very green handler without ever hearing a single word of praise for my efforts. Not one.
When I accidentally did a blind cross (where you turn your back and assume your dog is coming up behind you), I got lectured on how only “show-off” handlers did blind crosses. Newbies like me were more likely to end up with a snout right in the caboose.
Let’s be clear: I didn’t even know what a blind cross was. I couldn’t feel or see the difference between what I was asked to do and what I was really doing. Turns out, I’m spatially challenged, but that’s a story for later.
When we first learned contacts, I heard all about the la-di-da handlers who taught dogs to stop with two feet on the contact and two feet on the ground. Trust me the tone of this soliloquy was entirely negative.
(For what it’s worth, a lot of people are going away from this contact method due to shoulder injuries in dogs as a result of stopping from a full sprint down a steep slope.)
I don’t mind strong opinions, but I do mind when they are not balanced with at least a little bit of concession that others believe otherwise. Tell me opinions vary. Tell me there are debates on the topic. But don’t tell me or imply that everyone else is an idiot and you know everything.
Sorry, but the journalist, the skeptic I am, automatically thinks you are full of beans.
Happily, I got myself and Lilly out of Dodge quickly and found more supportive and constructive trainers, who can point out exactly what’s going wrong without making me feel like a chump. Even when they do laugh with me (or even at me), it’s totally fine because I’m making the kinds of mistakes that most new handlers make, and it is kind of funny.
I once tripped and landed face first, after Lilly shot out of a tunnel, and we headed for the A-frame. C’mon that’s funny. I was totally fine. It happens.
I have made friends, and there are social aspects to agility. But, I realize now that dog training can be a lonely endeavor, especially if you have a dog with any issues.
It’s hard, solitary work sometimes. It’s just me and Lilly and our collective challenges. I need better body awareness because she notices everything. She needs my support to build confidence.
I often wish I had someone to follow me around and click/treat me with chocolate for my efforts. Or, at least to say, “Good try.”
The one and only time Lilly did the competition-sized teeter I nearly cried with joy. It was a fluke that’s yet to be repeated. So, months of endless frustration followed those brief moments of happiness. Here’s how it happened …
We popped by Biscuit Eaters, the training field we use in Boulder, for a quick drop-in practice. Alone on the course, Lilly played with abandon. (Remember, she’s fine alone but slow or totally shut down if other people and dogs are around. It’s like training Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)
So, we ran a few short sequences, then played. Work, play. Work, play.
We rounded a turn, and I called “weave.” My body must have told her something different because she blew off the weave poles and ran half-way up the big teeter, which she typically gives wide berth – ever since another dog banged it in January 2005. (I’ve been screwed ever since. We hadn’t introduced it yet, and it scared her to death.)
She realized her mistake and ran back down toward me. She seemed really jazzed, though, so I thought what the heck. We circled back to pick up the weaves. She carried such speed out of the final pole that I called “Lilly, Teeter.”
And, she flew. No hesitation. No worry. No pause at the middle. Just sprint, tip, bang. Lilly even held her two-on, two-off contact.
I started praising like mad, dropped to my knees, and opened her jackpot bowl. I let her eat everything in it.
She seemed thrilled with herself for about three heartbeats. Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. Then, she freaked, realizing what she’d done (I guess).
She tucked tail and slunk off to hide near her toy bag along the fence. Moment over.
I cajoled her into playing some more and tried again later, but no luck. Refusal.
So, I jacked the adjustable teeter up to near-full height and tried that instead. Run, tip, bang. Perfect. Over and over. So, the day wasn’t a total loss. Then again, she’s been doing the adjustable one for more than a year.
I know a lot of other handlers wish their dogs thought more, made better decisions on course. I have the opposite problem. My sweetie girl thinks too much, worries too much.
But, for that one moment, she forgot everything and ran.
Springtime in the Rockies!!
(Sorry if the photos look funny. I’m still learning how to adjust their size.)
Ginko and Lilly enjoy their tiny patch of real grass. This is a tough STAY since their best ball sits right between then.
Here, Ginko waits for daddy to throw the ball. Lilly waits to herd his sorry behind while he tries to fetch it. (Notice how muscular she is.)
This is Lilly’s favorite spot. She can see down the valley and the whole front pasture. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but she’s on the edge of a hill.
So, happy birthday, Lilly and Ginko.
This year Ginko will be 7. Lilly will be 3.
After our very old Dalmatian dieWe don’t really know Lilly’s birthday, but the humane society guessed (based on her teeth) that she was about 5 months old when we adopted her in October 2004. Counting back, that means she probably was born sometime in May. Since we do know that our big boy Ginko was born May 13, we decided to make life easy. d in June 2004 from kidney failure, all of us needed some time to grieve. Plus, Ginko was still recovering from bi-lateral knee surgery (TPLO, for those who know the lingo), so we didn’t want him running around too much until we were sure the bone had fused and the muscle strength was rebuilt.
Yet, it was a lonely summer for Ginko.
Come fall, we started searching local dog rescues for a new buddy – for him and us.
Shelters, however, freaked Ginko out, and every time we took him to meet potential pups, he got a little snarky with them. I was very discouraged. It seems all the time here in the boonies, all the time with an old, crotchety Dal did not prepare Ginko for meeting lots of strange dogs. (I realize now that I did a bad job socializing him. Live and learn!)
But, we really wanted another dog. So, thanks to my friend Connie, who is the director of operations at the humane society, I got permission to bring Lilly home to meet Ginko.
(By the way, the shelter was calling her Daisy, but my mother-in-law’s sheltie Daisy had died recently. I wanted to stay in the flower family, but my husband would not go for Poppy Anne, which I thought was *very* cute. You see, he could not get that Seinfeld episode where Poppy pees on the sofa out of his head. I looked through a flower book and settled on Lilly Elizabeth.)
Anyway, the deal was that we’d introduce them here, and if it went well, we’d return the next day to do the paperwork. If not, we’d bring her right back. You can guess what happened. ;o)
He snarked at her just once, then when he realized she happily ran around and played with him, he was sold.
He’s been a very good big brother to Lilly, and she’s an enthusiastic partner in mouse and vole hunting, swimming in the pond, playing fetch and all manner of other crazy things –like eating and rolling in horse poop.
So, on Mother’s Day, we’ll also raise a glass to our best, best friends – Mr. Ginko Cornelius Hawn and Miss Lilly Elizabeth Hawn.
I stopped mid-sentence with my fingers poised above the keyboard when several things registered in my mind at once. Ginko was sprinting toward the upper pasture. The thing he wanted to chase was Lilly. She was outside the fence, sprinting low and hard toward the road. And … there were cars coming.
My emergency mode kicked in, and I screamed, “Lilly! No!” That got her attention and slowed her pace, so I followed with the most authoritative “COME!” I could muster, considering I felt like throwing up.
She stopped short of the road and began wiggling like a small hover craft toward our gate. (That’s her standard submissive posture. She does it any time she’s scared or thinks she’s in trouble.)
As I grabbed my cattle gate opener out of my car and ran up our football-field-long driveway, I saw the lure … our neighbor John and his new pup Charlie were outside. Charlie sometimes comes over to play. Lilly, it seems, decided to return the favor.
Out of breath, my heart racing from terror more than the run, I reached the gate to let her in.
I did not scold her. I just squeezed her tightly and cried. I was already having a stressful, deadline-soaked day. Utter terror did not help.
It’s a blessing that my husband got a new laptop today for his work. I happily took it outside to write. Had I been working inside in my south-facing office, I never would have known Lilly was loose to the east and running hard. She very well might have been hit by a car on the road.
After I finally stopped kissing her, I walked toward the back fence since that’s the last place I saw her before I settled on our front patio to write. She had been digging for voles. I thought maybe she’d accidentally made a hole under the fence.
Lilly followed, smiling, as I walked back to her hunting ground and asked over and over, “How did you get out? Show me.”
Seriously, the kid is an accomplished escape artist, but now that we have three of the four sides of our acreage stalwart with new fences, her wandering ways have stopped. (It helps that snow banks no longer top our fences.)
As I approached the 30-year-old back fence, I saw the problem. One whole section of wire was bent 90-degrees away from the corner post. A good 10-feet of boundary sat completely open, entirely unprotected. (… and what dog doesn’t see an opening like that and think, “Whoo-hoo!”) She likely poked around on the ranch behind us, until she saw Charlie.
It looked like someone used a can opener on the cattle fencing, but evidence pointed elsewhere.
Today our entire property is dotted big piles of elk scat. It seems members of the large elk herd that spends calving season near our home came visiting last night. And, they’ve been known to mangle fences during their spring-time stay.
If the tracks around the pond are any indication, they came to get a drink and to get some sleep.
I secured the section of fence the best I could, asked Lilly to please stay home from now on, and went back to work.
That was hours ago, and I still haven’t recovered from the scare.
Yet, I’m thankful for the laptop that got me outside at the right time. I’m thankful for Ginko, who is ever watchful over his baby sister. And, I’m thankful for the power of the well-placed (and rarely used) “NO!” which saved Lilly’s life.