21 August 2017

Dress for the success.



It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a dog agility competitor in possession of a good dog, must be in want of an excellent capsule wardrobe that mixes and matches based on weather conditions and dog personality disorders. A capsule collection limits you to thirty seven, give or take a halter top or two, most excellent mix and match articles of clothing that hang right, come in your favorite colors, facilitate extra fast running, and make your mid section look fine. Say it like this. F-i-i-i-i-n-e. There are no muffin top lumpy bits in the well constructed capsule wardrobe.

Kind of like the tiny houses, and Japanese de-cluttering, fewer clothes is clearing out space in life for more time to spend with dogs, or is just quantifying what some of us have known all along. The not wealthy have smaller houses and fewer things. Either way, it's called simplifying. Days are shorter than what they used to be. A capsule wardrobe requires no brain cells at dark o’clock of getting dressed, so brain cels have the golden opportunity to stay relegated to much more stimulating topics like fixing weird dispositional quirks of dogs. You just reach in the drawer, grab the first thing on top of the stack, and you’re guaranteed to look and feel fantastic. Just like how we want our dogs to feel. It’s what every busy dog trainer needs, not to worry about what to wear, but simultaneously not to look like a Crocs footed, mismatched psychopath strolling down the street in a little number both inside out and backwards, with visible mud prints and a tear in the sleeve the shape of dog teeth.

It’s also a truth universally acknowledged that everybody’s stressed out these days. Did you already mutter how you're “So stressed out” today? Truer words never spoken. Isn’t this one of the reasons we have dogs? Walking the dogs. Playing with the dogs. Petting the dogs. Supposedly lowering the cortisol levels as a healthier alternative to over eating massive amounts of sheet cake or having an opioid crisis.

Except that, now the dogs are stressed out, too. It's supposed to be exactly the opposite, dog agility causing prancing around proclaiming, “I feel great! I feel amazing! I feel like a true patriot!” while the dogs are earnestly slobbering and wagging their tails and flying off the startlines with ease. After calmly staying in place.

Instead, there are the dogs who come to the start line fade and go flat. Their bubbly effervescence fizzles like a sugary death drink left out to congeal in the sun. A lazy “S” of wrongness vapor visibly leaking out their ears whispers, “I've had enough. Get me off this start line. Get me out of this dog show. Get me to a beach or a couch or anywhere but here.”

Or the dog who comes roaring into the ring in a blaze of over the tippy top wackadoodle bug eyed frenzy. Who can’t hold it together enough to even sit down at the start line, who prefers up down and sideways all at the same time to sit, who’s wrongness vapor is jolting electrified hotwire zapping willy nilly also up down and sideways. Eyes bugging so far out of head that they are close to dangling in the turf, and their incomplete sentences just trail off at, “Get me...”

And how might one dress for this, you may ask? A good stylist always starts from the bottom.

Foundation is key in dog agility. It’s not all pivots and spinning round cones and contact positions on boxes. There’s no one size fits all way to train it. Maybe the dog who tends to flatline needs a lot more rewards for enthusiastic attempts. Maybe the dog who tends towards high volume explosive frazzling needs a lot more rewarding for a calmly thinking things through. Look deep in your heart to figure out what drives your dog’s pulse, then go deep inside your underwear drawer and find that one sports bra that fits just so, perfect. It’s a lady thing, gentlemen. Maybe you have a pair of boxer briefs that make you feel the same. You feel incomplete on wash day.

I don’t think there can ever be enough foundation in dog agility. More impulse control for the crazed. More playing for the undemonstrative. More sports bra for the jigglers. More fun, more tricks, more reinforcing the things that you’ll need forever that you don’t want to break. More noticing. Training things you didn’t even know you wanted. Things that you had a little feeling about, and then glossed over.

Do more of those things, because, oh snap, is that glossing going to come back and get you. Your future self is weeping, like they did when that one perfect pair of underpants was on sale, and past self didn't buy them in every single color (you do get a pass on underpants numbers when curating your capsule). The elastic will eventually fray and you’re left thinking, I knew this was going to happen, as the startline disintegrates before your eyes. More with the crazy puppy impulse control. So much more. More toys and games with the low key puppy. More playing! More love, more snuggles, more of everything. Mind the gaps and fill them up.

Maybe if you can help your dog feel like a million bucks, dress for success not the stress, there’s less fading. Less crazies. They know you got their back covered. You can cover yours with an upmarket athleisure hoodie with a pocket big enough to hide the toy and you're ready to go.

There’s a look at agility. Sporty and sensible, with the occasional tutu paraded out during team events. Not so many blouses and slacks. Tank tops and stretch bottoms stitched from fabrics bestowed with drag queen names containing the letter X. Lux Treme. Sup Plex. Moxie Flex. Cool Max. Junior cuts for the slim and wide cuts for the less so. All bodies are equally valuable. It took me a long time to become cool with dog agility-wear. While the ease of sloppiness was rad, the footwear thing and appropriate sporty pants was hard to get into. I ran in jeans and boots for a long time. Sometimes my beautiful dog Ruby, she of the crazy jumping, would crash through a jump and vanish to chase gophers outside the ring. It was embarrassing and I just wanted to blend. The subliminal art of camouflage was the ticket, if I could look the part of dog agility, maybe I could successfully play the part of dog agility. I bought neon colored running shoes with grippy soles and shorts that weren’t cut off jeans.

But my dogs still got stressed out.

Otterpop always wished all the other dogs would just go away. Agility trials would have been so much nicer for just her and her alone. Otterpop wanted to do all the things, and win all the things, but she wanted all the other dogs invisible. The more she had to deal with, the more stressed out she got. She sometimes fizzled flat until her very first tunnel. Once in a tunnel, the tube of invisibility, the other dogs disappeared and she was good to go. Never really fixed that problem. Just looked for the most convenient first tunnel and that was that.

Sometimes, too, we used the element of surprise. If I thought she was having a bad day, feeling a little overwhelmed, I’d leave her frisbee outside the ring somewhere random, and part way through a course, where she felt fast and confident, we’d just dive out under the ring tape without even blowing a kiss to the judge, and run off to frisbee. An investment in that confidence bucket, the potential of a course ending somewhere, anywhere, not just the very end, went a long way with Otterpop, who everywhere else in life, acted like she didn't give a f&*k. Almost always, I wore a pearl snap long tailed short sleeve cowgirl shirt when I ran Otterpop. Or a long sleeve t-shirt with her drawing on the chest. Looking like I didn't give a f&*k. That seemed like the right way to deal with her stress, and easy to procure without shopping at establishments governed by corporate robber baron management.

Gustavo, oh Gustavo. He of the on course alien communicados, he of the terrors of teeters and the tunnel vortexes. There isn’t just one outfit that goes with that. I tried expensive sweat pants from the snobby yoga lady store, I tried old work jeans and boots, I even entered the universe of gore tex waterproofing, not just water resistance, for Gustavo. I bought abundant red white and blue European dog team shirts from plethoras of fundraisers for the questionable cause of flying dogs on planes, and even started wearing shirts with cartoon dogs on them. I found the perfect shorts, during the peak of Gustavo’s agility career. Clam diggers, pedal pushers cargo style capris, call them what you will. Their breezy, bohemian chic thigh covering, plentiful in pockets channeled seaside afternoons sprawled, cocktail in hand, in hand painted Adirondack chairs at a Hamptons beach cottage and I had three pairs.

Eventually Gustavo learned how to negotiate the scarier things in life. The waistband got tight on those long shorts. The trade off wasn't too bad, years of carrying around cookies for random rewards had rendered the pockets stained and the organic cotton layers reached mid thigh. The agility became Gustavo's cookie and he was happy and confident to do all the things. Well, maybe not tables in public. But everything else.

Banksy has the over the top up-stress. I discovered stretchier nylon and spandex fibers for bottoms as my border collie grew along with my pants size from stress eating sheet cakes. Her craziness improved slowly, at about the same rate that I upgraded from size 8 to 10 to 12. I discovered, though, that those fibers with double XX names were more forgiving than Gustavo's cotton knee shorts. I have to run very, very fast with Banksy, so that nylon/spandex/vita mix blend served us both well. Now that I have stretchy shorts, I think I can handle a lot better. They also leave room for another beer.

It's time to make your capsule, if you dare. Empty your drawers, take all the things and throw them on the bed.What a mess! This is supposed to inspire you to start the editing and count down to the 37 items for success. So far, just in dog t-shirts alone I'm at 35. I also have 14 leashes and 26 totes and 3 really good sun hats. But only one pair of suitable sneakers. Not to be tacky, but what’s the worst thing thats gonna happen? Better dog training's gonna get you the best dressed award at the next trial? I finally will remember not to leave the house in Crocs? Dress for success, not for the stress. Avoid Ren Faire garb. God bless Crocs. And reward your dog accordingly.

13 July 2017

You Should Be More Scared.


Banksy's been declared clear by the fancy orthopedist from San Jose. She has his blessings to go out and jump again, and do so injury free. He laid his hands on her and said those words and we left the office feeling 11lbs lighter.


Dog agility, you’re the sunshine in my bag, sticking out of my shoe and dribbling yellow tracks behind me, sunny little cookie crumbles pointing the way for the men in black suits to find me at a more convenient time.


I don’t have much to complain about, dog agility. My startline, yeah, I guess that could use a little work. There are far grander train wrecks crashing around out there, hovering around on the periphery of dog training. The economy’s a gig where parched and tired masses are programmed to crouch down to hold up the bright and shiny optimism of a very few. We have disposable immigrants to do the dirty work. Everything is disposable! So many, many paper cups, with so many misspelled names scrawled across the tops! Inventors are currently programming drones to express deliver my next batch of dog food by flinging it out of the sky onto my roof. There’s even an app to pick you out an online puppy, a little bell will ding when it’s ready to go, just like an angel losing it’s wings.


It’s just so convenient to ignore things. Are you watching your startline very carefully while you lead out? Do you see your dog get a little hunchy, like she’s ducking under the shadow of a pointy witch finger? Did you ignore it? Then it turned into a foot shifting just one millimeter forward? And you ignored that? Then you didn’t notice the foot move a little more and the hunch go a little hunchier then the butt scooched up just a bit. But you kept walking. You were all, what’s a millimeter? What’s one more disposable plastic thingamajig going into the trash can? I’m no litterbug. I throw it in the trash! And then all of a sudden, the earth is too hot for human habitation and you’re all, Why’d she break that startline?


Fact: Your release word can be anything you want but probably not curse words.
Alternative Fact: My dog’s stay is perfect at home.


So actually, dog agility, you couldn’t be better. Technology has made you fat and happy, and your podium pictures sparkle across social media every single weekend, beaming radiance and shiny hair, carefully protected by sun hats with extra added SPF across the globe. Nobody running dog agility grumps and pouts and sits in the isolationist corner. In fact in dog agility, everybody is friends with everybody! On social media, I just click you. Super easy. Now I know what your backyard looks like and what you had for dinner at that cute restaurant after the big dog show when you were drinking with all your friends. Ha, ha, yeah, that was an awkward one! I probably hid you so I don’t have to see your emojis anymore.


I’m moving like a pioneer right now, exploring options, but with the caveat of occasionally dropping my head into the sand. You know what they say. Facts don’t vanish into thin air just because they get noses turned up at them, willing them away. Yet it happens all the time. I’m losing my edge, Mr. President. I’m early basking on the beach of late capitalism. I thought what I was doing was spreading love, compassion and kindness, watching my dog with a smile on my face. I spread this by clicking the little heart icon, located conveniently below every single podium photo. It’s just there, drag the mouse finger three millimeters at the most and you’ll find it in a jiffy. Just click, and your heart goes on.


Oh, I just let her go on that one. I saw her scooch, but it was only a little ways, but I REALLY wanted to run it.


Oh, so now your dog kind of creeps into their sit on the startline? And their butt comes up a little higher more often? And it happened at the trial last weekend? But you were really hoping to get that QQ so you just ignored it, just that once? Or twice? Because really, she knows she’s supposed to stay there. She’s just a little too excited, being at the trial and all. And you mostly enforce it at practice, unless you’re in a bit of a hurry, or sometimes you can’t exactly see it, she’s so fast and you’re so slow so you’re already off and running. But, she knows, she’s smart. We’ve trained it a lot.


You should be more scared.


Magician David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear in 1985. She didn’t really disappear, it was a magic trick. He wasn’t even wearing a cape. Let’s call it an illusion.

An iceberg the size of a festive tropical island just broke off of Antartica. Looks like when a dog takes a bite of dog bed, gives it a shake, and a chunk comes off, all the fluff scattering across the floor. It’s cool, was made in China, just sweep it up and go get another. No capes, no magic, did that really just happen?


You had me at sit. There was a different vibe before. It’s hard to explain how it felt. It felt like yes we can and I don’t feel spread too thin. Didn’t feel like I’m pulling my hair out and waiting for the other shoe to drop down. It didn’t used to feel so, hard. Is the vibe ever going to come back? I present, these, dig, as a gift of good vibes, an outpouring of love, like lei covered watermen paddling out during high tide to honor their dead, holding hands as they gently bob on their boards, hearts swelling in love of the dear departed. A passage of an icon now gone, a passing of a vibe that may now be obsolete. We hit it smack in the middle of a golden era.

14 June 2017

When I didn’t have a dog - Woodrow Ave.


The rent at Woodrow was $100/month. We didn’t really realize this was a good deal to live four houses away from the sea. The house leaked big time in the winter as the walls were made from paper thin boards, propped lightly on a cement slab. I acquired a fear of hot tubs there, not just because it meant there were always naked strangers lurking around in the back yard, but because it also functioned as a flame thrower when you turned it on. There was a hose and the neighbor’s fence survived every small fire started when it fired up.

Our house was known for being Notorious. I didn’t know this at the time. It was just my house. Or actually Missy’s house. She was pretty bossy. She didn’t like the kind of bread I bought. But later on, when I told people I used to live at Woodrow, they would nod and go, oh yeah, that house was Notorious. We had a lot of parties. That was when Woodrow was a double wide street, a popular spot for night time drag racing.

You have to really think back, to how it used to look. There’s a double tall, uber modern beach house there now with expensive looking finishes. Same thing with the house next door, and the next. I always see a shiny new Audi parked in the driveway, and they fixed the retaining wall so the yard no longer tumbles down to the street.

The Cheese Man lived out back in the garage. Maybe you remember him, he used to sell cheese twice a week in the afternoons. His business plan was this. Drive around San Jose and buy massive blocks of expired, moldy cheeses from major supermarket chains before they were thrown out. That’s where he said he got them, anyways. These were wheels of cheese as big as tires. He brought them home, and sliced them up in the yard, and sold cheese by the pound in somebody else’s yard to anyone who wanted cheap cheese. He sold pot, too, stored in white five gallon buckets in his garage lair.

Once I was a movie extra with him. Our job was to sit in his car by the boardwalk during a night shoot for the Lost Boys. The car smelled like cheese.

A lot of people lived at Woodrow. And a lot of people hung out there, always. I guess they didn’t have anywhere else they needed to be. You could walk in our living room at any time of day and people lounged on the couch, bongs parked by the wall, watching the tiny black and white tv that always played Bruce Lee movies. I know some of those people are dead now.

For a while the naked hippies lived there, in the room at the back. They didn’t believe in refrigerators, so they stored their food in boxes in the hall way. They worked at a farm and brought home crates of green things that would eventually go rotten, in the hall with the cheese. One overcast day I came home from work and the house was full of them, naked and sandy from the beach, having a dance party, blasting Talking Heads and filling the house with their wet, naked sand. This wasn’t a last straw to living there, it was just how it was, living at Woodrow. I would go in my room and hang out with my cat.

One of the naked hippies still lives around the corner from me. I see him in the mornings, riding his bike in his wetsuit with his surfboard under his arm, slowly peddling down to Cowells, early enough to beat the rush. He looks pretty old. He quit farming and works doing something in insurance.

That’s when I got my cat, at Woodrow. Acquired slightly underhandedly from a friend who lived in his car. I took care of her for a while, then said he couldn’t have her back, once he lived in the living room of someone else’s house in the neighborhood. She was a good cat, brought me lizards through the window and dropped them on my bed.

11 June 2017

Ouch.


I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s ok
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
Til things are brighter, I’m the man in black
-Johnny Cash

Arm waving, charismatic charlatans with radiant smiles avow to change lives for the better in a moment, in a breath, in just one second, all you have to do is pay your five thousand bucks upfront. Click the tiniest movement of the foot, of the head, you are looking for the smallest bit to reward. Change can be excruciatingly slow, or it can happen in a blink of an eye, one beat of a heart, one exhale out lungs to nose.

Antarctica is melting as we speak, the penguins are now walking across the dirt. In drive thru coffee window overnight shipping google time, climate change is slow. In penguin time, it’s horrifyingly fast. Ice melts, oceans rise, and the penguins now need flip flops for the sand. Life is weird.

In one blink of an eye a few months back, Banksy crashed through a jump and landed in a pile of head, neck, and scrambling legs. I’d like to say I was the epitome of calm and rational, but the spectacle was too gory, all I could see was ass over tea kettle over ass.

I would like to say I didn’t freak out and drop to my knees, crying out, “Banksybanksybanksyohmygod!” while the judge came scurrying over, clapping her hands to whip me out of my frenzy, with the classic dog trainer make-it-all-better response of, “Yay!” as Banksy scrambled up with a dazed look on her always crazy eyes.

It’s a running dog, jumping over a plastic stick 20” high. How can that be that bad?

It was that bad. Something went wrong, and she smashed right through it and flipped over and splat smacked hard into the dirt.

So this is a thing in agility. Our dogs run and jump and climb, they go really, really fast, and any dog who doesn’t spend it’s life wrapped in bubble wrap and soft blankies on the couch runs the risk of an ouch. We do our best to not make it happen. How to Throw the Ball is a thing. We tug Just Like This, but Not Like That. We try to handle in a timely fashion, we check the approaches on the contacts for danger zones, we crawl through the tunnel to see if there’s any pokies jamming their way through. We inspect the footing, we look for errant chunks of hardware rearing their heads, god forbid anything amiss that could damage delicate dog limbs as they come flying through.

But sometimes, shit happens.

She wasn’t limping, didn’t seem all that freaked out. We even ran one more course afterwards, just to test the waters once more. Onwards and upwards. All her systems were on go, mine were a bit shaky. But we persevered, and went home.

Then the fun started.

The next week, she got scared to jump during class. Popped out of the weaves once while practicing. Cried while tugging in the house. Mom always says, don’t play tug in the house. But not because she thinks it’s going to send a dog running to hide under the desk in tears.

I figured, she had a little ouch somewhere, that really was quite a tumble. Something pulled a bit, maybe something tweaked, maybe her back, maybe her neck. I’ve been there, done that. So we took a little training break, a couple weeks off of agility, no big. Things would be fine. Banksy is a dog who’s agility was unassailable, she was born to run.

Vets. Rest. Walks on leash. This part is boring. It’s a relief, though, that nothing shows up that needs a surgery or a pin. It’s a mystery though that nothing shows up. Medicine for dogs is hard. I didn’t call a psychic. She told her doctor that she wasn’t feeling all that bad.

Dog training is a slow and methodical journey of love. Fifty years ago the summer of love brought on the age of Aquarius. The plan was for moon to be in the 7th house and Jupiter would align with Mars. Peace would guide the planet, and love would steer the stars. So yeah. Not much changed in fifty years, except that tie dye became a wardrobe staple.

Dogs are fast, change is slow.

All those jumps that came before, all those moments that didn’t change. Until that one, one moment, where change was fast. The motivational speaker has spoken, and he’s right! All it takes is a moment.

She thinks that jumping over bars on the ground is fantastic. Her agility looks amazing, until we jump a normal sized jump. And some of the time, a normal size jump is fantastic. Until it isn’t.

Chasing the specter of elusive potential, I am helping Banksy channel her peak performance with my radiant smile. Everything is fine and dandy, then there’s a wrap that dreaded left wrap, and PTSD steps in and her eyes bug out, she stops, and considers the options. Keep going? Maybe! Stop for a moment, then play with a toy? Maybe! Have a break? Maybe!

If there’s a hole in the boat, don’t start rowing. I am chewing gum as fast as I can and plugging up the hole. I toss cookies when she offers to run through jump wings with bars on the ground. At five hundred cookies, I moved onward. More! I reward oodles of multi wraps on very low jumps. Especially those dreaded left wraps. I study every video judiciously, looking for if she does a splat on a left wrap. Why the splat? Why the sadness? Does it hurt her neck? Does it hurt her back? Her brain? Her feelings?

Life can change in a moment. Or not. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

How does an elephant eat you? In general, they’re herbivores, although I read about an instance where an elephant who had had it up to HERE (gesturing above my eyebrows) rampaged through a village and ate several people. Urban legend, or fed up elephant?

Cool points plummeting, we miss you agility.

22 May 2017

Doing it in a different way.


We walked back into the woods this morning, where we haven’t been in months. I hadn’t really thought about this in a context, but it’s been a rough few months and I've been a bit lost. Ruby’s health was in decline, then Banksy went and hurt herself. I’ve been sticking close to home for Ruby, and then when Banksy hurt herself, sticking even closer.

Also in this time, I had a difficult horse run into a difficult situation with a life threatening injury. I don’t often write here about horses, you should know they're a big part of my life. I struggle with why they separate in my mind, I constantly look for bridges to bring training dogs and horses closer together. A few years back, I started changing a lot of things about my horsemanship, venturing slowly in baby steps down a whole different rabbit hole of doing things that I’ve been doing for nearly a lifetime. This has slowly led me to the world of old school vaquero horsemanship, a parallell upside down world where everything is exactly the same an at the same time exactly different.

The deeper you get into something new, the more facets and flaws you find as you examine things closer and closer. Over the weekend I rode the difficult horse in a clinic with an astute young horseman, a protegee of Brannaman, who travels the country helping riders by passing along a legacy handed down from Ray Hunt. This is a thing, with riding, as it is with dogs, following a circuit of clinicians, hoping in a weekend to transform some old habits into something new. Gain a light bulb moment, fix a problem, come home transformed.

A fish out of water, I went in with an open mind, hoping to gain some new insights and get some help with a lot of questions I had. I'm humbled by looking at something I've done for so long with different eyes, placed way out in left field. It's hard for me to ask for help. It's how I felt when I first ventured into agility, like I've been handed a giant puzzle that I should know all the answers to, but that instead, I've got nothing and am stumbling along in the dark.

The first day, the cowboy advised me to trust my instincts, to be me, to work with my years of experience as I ventured into something new, not to try be like anyone else.

“Like, I gotta be me?” I asked. He didn’t like much talking from his people, and my big mouth smart ass comments seemed vexing to him. The way I was asking my questions hadn't been working for him. But he didn't seem to mind that one.

“Exactly.”

“It’s hard to be a student,” I said, to nobody in particular, as I went off to work on just being me. He laughed. On this, we did agree.

The next day, as I was just being me, I forgot to follow an instruction. It wasn't the first time. This is a thing I know about myself, I might try to do things by the rules, but I do consistently veer off beaten paths. He laid into me hard.

"What's it going to take? WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE? What if I started chopping off your fingers, I took you over to one of those fence posts, and one by one, every single time you started back into your old pattern, I took off a finger? Is that what it would take? How many fingers would I have to chop off? Right THERE. On that fence post. How many? HOW MANY? Would it take losing a child, losing a limb, breaking your neck and never walking again? What would I need to do to get you to understand?"

That went on for a while.

People stayed pretty quiet after that. Maybe he woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. Or maybe he's just a misogynist dick. Biggest take home message, inconsistency is hard to learn from. We'd been talking about best emotionally supporting our horses. I could be generous and say he made an important point about being consistent, fair, and not over reacting and trying to teach from a place of fear. Or I could just say, he's got a lot to learn about tempering his ego to refine how he delivers his message. I like to see both sides of things, both sides are probably right.

So I learned some things, just not all of them what I thought I'd be learning.


It’s been a lot to think about, the last few months. A huge gust of luck blew my way after the clinic though, and I brought home something to go along with some newfound knowledge of how I do and don’t want to move forward out of this rough patch. I didn't lose a finger, instead I got my arm back, just not the way I thought I would. When we walked all the way down to the creek this morning, for the first time in many months, Ruby came along.

Things might be different now, but I think we know how to go on. Nobody's losing a limb. We're just doing things in a different way.

19 May 2017

Seventeen years.


Ruby was seventeen. Seventeen years is a long time for someone to be with you.


We hadn't owned our house very long, seventeen years ago. I'd just thrown in the towel at being a fancy dotcom graphic designer, was teaching at a couple junior colleges, making art projects in my garage, and had just gone back to riding part time to help a friend at a small training business she'd started. I went to the beach every single day.


Seventeen years ago, we had survived the y2k, nothing exploded. I bought my first dog crate after 9-11 happened the next year, figured if we had to evacuate somewhere from beach hating terrorists blowing up our neighborhood, I could put Timmy and Ruby in it. That eventually became Ruby's crate, and she learned to ride in the car in it. But she always liked to ride on the console, that's how Ruby preferred to roll. Otterpop has Ruby's blue plastic dog crate now, it's faded and coated with all those years of stickers, layers on layers, lots peeling off. I left her bed in there, so she feels like she's riding with Ruby.


First thing when I get up I always get Ruby up. Last thing before bed, I always take Ruby out. All the timing of my schedule, based on I gotta get home for Ruby. How's Ruby? So many phone messages, can you get home for Ruby? How's Ruby? When I sit on the couch, I can see Ruby in her blue chair, and I noticed last night how many times I always look over at Ruby, to see if she's ok. I know she's just sleeping, but I always got to check her. Over and over, how's Ruby? But she's not there.


I have thousands of pictures. Ruby smiles in maybe, six of them. She was serious most of the time. If she was a Game of Thrones cast member, she wouldn't have been a princess, or a warrior. She would have been an espionage agent for the Wildlings, blending secretly and silently into the forest, moving through shadows, but getting shit DONE. Fast and under the radar, brilliantly effective, but camouflaged perfectly into her surroundings. She would have some kind of weird, psychic skills, that nobody really understood. But she would have done anything for the cause. She loved pancakes and chicken more than anything. But not as much as she loved me.


Ruby was like a piece of my arm, a piece you don't always have to think about, because it's just part of you. A section, always there. A piece you need, you don't worry about, it's your arm. But when it goes, something like an arm, then yeah. You realized, how much you need it.

17 May 2017

16 May 2017

Ruby.



Her Grave
by Mary Oliver


She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile-----
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
perfect arch of her neck.


It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
slowly.


Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.


Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.


My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her
wild, slightly mossy tongue.


Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
He is wiser than that, I think.


A dog lives fifteen years, if you're lucky.


Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?


A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.


Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?


A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
almost nothing.


Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace
of his own making?


She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.


Now she is buried under the pines.


Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not to be angry.


Through the trees is the sound of the wind, palavering


The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?


How strong was her dark body!


How apt is her grave place.


How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.


Finally,
the slick mountains of love break
over us.

Mary Oliver

01 May 2017

Broke.


Ouch. Banksy is still broken.

It all started with her crash in March. I gave her some time off just from agility and sprinting at the park, a couple of weeks. She looked ok to me! So we did some agilities with low jumps, all good! We did some with higher jumps, all good! Until they weren’t.

Her team suspects it's her back. Her team is everybody who let's me obsess over what is wrong with Banksy. Yep, I'm one of those. She has something ouchy somewhere in there, that only feels ouchy when it does.

She’s visited the doctor, she couldn’t find anything obviously wrong. She prescribed more rest. Next on the list is to visit a chiropractor, and after that would be the big guns doctor with all the fancy things.

So another rest, this time a big one. Much longer, much less doing of the things she likes. More doing of the things she doesn't like, walking around on a leash.

Ouch. More hanging out around the house, more of less. Hopefully to get less broken.

18 April 2017

OTTERPOP!


Here's exactly what I think Otterpop can hear now.









A big space. A lot of nothing. I don't think she can hear at all.

I do think she can read lips. Waving arms. Smiley faces. Frowny faces. Clapping. Reaching into my pocket to pull out a cookie. Pointing fingers. I think she can see this all from quite far away. So her eyes are smokin' good.

But no ears. Nada. Not a thing. And I think she may have been tricking me about this fact for quite some time.

About three hundred thousand times every day I say, "OTTERPOP!" At least. Maybe three million. Maybe three hundred million.

She sneaks herself into the dirty clothes bin.

"OTTERPOP!"

She's observed heading towards the trash.

"OTTERPOP!"

I believe she's trying to sneak into the garage where the dog food lives.

"OTTERPOP!"

She's got her eye on a jack russel over there, with a ball.

"OTTERPOP!"

Oh, the chickens have appeared at work!

"OTTERPOP!"

Oh, Banksy has the ball!

"OTTERPOP!"

Oh, I'm just setting my dinner down here on the couch for a minute.

"OTTERPOP!"

Gustavo has such a nice comfy spot there in the pillows.

"OTTERPOP!"

Nobody tip Ruby over.

"OTTERPOP!"

Mail lady's here.

"OTTERPOP!"

Here comes Shorty the free-range basset/corgi/pitbull from around the block.

"OTTERPOP!"

And so on, how our day goes. Every day. All day. It's a habit.

Guess it's time to change the habit, Otterpop.


16 April 2017

Tuggy bunnies, for a happy Easter.


Big bunny, little bunny.

A lot of beginning agility class involves me trying to get people to play with their dogs with toys like they've got a dead bunny in the grass. Activate a little prey drive. They didn't sign up for this. They thought we'd be learning the weave poles and dogwalks like they saw on tv. Instead, they drag their toys around, drag them away. Faster! There's running and flopping. Somehow I decided this is what dead bunnies do, when really, if it's dead, it's probably laying there immobile and headless or gutless or missing some limbs.

Oddly, most people totally get it, when I'm yelling about the dead bunny. So it's not just me, who can envision the spectre of the bloody baby animal trying to get away. Sorry, Easter Bunny. A popular idea, a sacrifical rabbit, standing in with candy eggs and Peeps for a bloody Jesus, dying for the sins of all mankind, the mankind that believes in that, at least? At least believes in the seasonal Cadbury egg and mocktail flavoured jelly beans.

"Dead bunny! Dead BABY bunny!" Because BABY makes it that much more, um, what?

The lady runs away, dragging the furry thing tied to a tennis ball on a rope along the grass. The dog is pouncing. This was the dog that didn't want a cookie. And was sort of blah earlier. But now it's gone a bit manic.

"Make it MORE Dead! Not that dead! Dead but it's running AWAY!"

Bam. Success. Dog grabs the toy and tugging is on. It kind of almost always works.

A lot of people try to start playing by flapping the dog toy in their dog's face. Which is a sure way to get most dogs to right away be all, not gonna happen. Even Banksy, who's over the top in sometimes not such a great way about tugging, does not want a toy flapped around in her face. That is saying a lot. Yuck. Too much pressure, too much whisker and sensitive fur hitting.

"Your bunny's an asshole! Don't be a scary bunny! DEAD bunny!"

Toy goes back on the ground, gets fastly drug and wiggled some more. Maybe it squeaks. Oh MY. Dog usually will go after it that way. Not always. But a lot of times, yes. Much of the time, the person is breathless and drops on the ground to play with their dog some more, because it's exhausting, manhandling a dead bunny on a string.

I have a rag tag collection of fuzzy ducks on ropes, furry stuffies on strings, bungee things with balls and rubber nubbins and god knows what in my toy bag. People trip and fall down. I'm screaming about the bunny. The mellow dogs start to get worked UP! I've explained at length that agility involves chasing the person, and I'm bloody, dead, baby bunny serious about this. And I'm a vegetarian.

Happy Easter, Easter bunnies.

11 April 2017

Teeter terror, freak flag flying.


A comfortable life could be lived in the manner of being held hostage in a continuous loop of Tom Petty songs. Like a living inside a souvenir snowglobe, the wilder things in life only observed from within the bubble of a carefully polished glass. With sparkle glitter for air. Always on the verge of thrilling, instead of ever having actual thrills. Tom Petty is really super ok for sometimes. His soothing thin lipped voice, wry with a nostalgic and singable hook. But sometimes we crave more. A jolt. Elation. Sun Ra's entourage cloaked in majestic tunics descending with unsingable grooves from outer space. We are agility folk, after all. We live life in the intersection between impulse control and crazed balls to the wall speed. Where Talking Heads meet Wu Tang Clan, and exposes our adventurous souls.

But what about our dogs?

At Gustavo’s very first trial, he flew to his teeter like he had flapping bat wings taxidermied on his hairy little feet. The teeter totter was a rocket he loved to fly on, his astronaut ticket to the moon. He was one of those WHEEEEEEEEE dogs who rode the teeter with flourish and style, running to the end and hanging on to grab the adrenalin rush of wind blowing in his bouncy hair on the drop, then running off to do the next thing. It was like a shampoo commercial of awesomeness! He had an ear to ear smile on his face! Because Otterpop had started out with an aversion to teeters, I'd worked hard for a year to make the see saw an object of his cult like devotion.

The teeter was Gustavo’s Fountain of Donut. His go-to, non negotiable It Bag. His rainbow unicorn waving banner of Magnificence.

Except at one of his very first trials, he scooted off before I could tell him to, and as he ran off the end the teeter totter rebounded back up and hit him squarely in the sensitive ass.

This is living life on the agility edge. With great daring, but with copious oodles of careful preparation. Trying new things! That move! That are high above the ground! Extreme adventure sometimes involves getting a little bit scared. Like jumping out of aircraft, and risking, oh, I don’t know, horrible smashing death by parachute non opening? Galloping a horse across a wide open plain knowing that you have an ice cube’s chance in hell of stopping them before their lungs blow out of wind on their own? Hiking through deserted woods where you see mountain lion tracks laid out right under your feet?

I saw a mountain lion track the other day, and got heart palpations. Always prepared, like the junior nature scout I am, I had choices of how to face the terror. I could turn back and efficiently, not frantically, hightail it to where I left the car on the side of the road, expressing to the dogs that we need to keep our tushies in right now high gear, and then stay out of that forest for good. I could use my super effective mental techniques of positive thinking, moving on into possible danger, not worrying because my brain extinguishes all negative thoughts. Even if they have claws and fangs. Or, I could just pick up a weapon, the stick kind with sharp twigs poking off of one end, swing it around my head as I moved onward, singing loudly a smash hit from Broadway’s Hamilton.

Did you guess the third one? Yep. That’s me. Grapevining down to the creek waving around a pointy stick, pretending to be Thomas Jefferson.

Whatever works. But what if our dogs have a different threshold for excitement and less knowledge of musical theater soundtracks?

That one big butt slap from Gustavo's former best friend teeter totter pretty much wrecked him. Teeter terror is an endemic in little dogs. My spouting of this statistic is completely made up false news, but I will randomly guesstimate that twenty five percent of little dogs encounter teeter terror at one time or another. Even little dogs like Gustavo, who are lovingly trained and conditioned to love the teeter. Who dive into the adrenalin rush every time.

Maybe not for the rush at first, but for the cookie. Then the rush becomes part of it. Operant conditioning, the cookie is the ride, the ride is the cookie, until the teeter ride is just cool. It's how we teach the game of agility. First it's for the reward, then the agility itself becomes the hook.

But we live in the moment, on this journey. Shit happens. For some dogs, there’s more sensitivity than others, and when that sensitivity has a perfect storm with the teeter plank being loud or slappy or moving too fast, the terrors can begin.

There are lots of ways to retrain a teeter totter. There are entire books and movies devoted to the subject. I consider myself a connoisseur of this topic.

Ways to Retrain a Teeter Totter:
The lower the teeter for a million cookies method.
The hold on to the end and hold a cookie there method.
The teeter on the tables with soft blankets method.
The teeter in your driveway on a whole bunch of pillows and moldy old sleeping bags method.
The teeter in your driveway with all the dogs leaping on it and bouncing around together on really disgusting and wet old pillows and sleeping bags method.
The teeter in your driveway with all the dogs leaping on to it and bouncing it around in really disgusting, wet, muddy and moldy old pillows and sleeping bags with the kids from down the street helping out and throwing cheese around and applauding method while their parents are probably judging you regarding the amount of dirty, wet bedding you keep stored on the ground in your driveway method.
The visit all your friends who have teeter totters in their yards method.
The visit and pay a lot of money for every fun match within a three hour’s drive just to go do one teeter totter and reward and go home because your dog did one single teeter totter method.
The visit and pay a lot of money for any trial within a three hour’s drive just to go do one teeter totter and run out of the ring to the secretly stashed super reward of triple flamboyant glory and go home because your dog did one single teeter totter method.

Perhaps you’ve tried these methods yourself? We tried all of the above. My favorite method was pressure removal system. Go near the teeter, then we ran away together, squealing. Touch the teeter, run away together, squealing. On the teeter? Yep. Run away. Do the teeter? Yep. Same thing.

Gustavo re-earned trust in the teeter totter. It took a long time. However. He did not re-earn complete trust in teeter totters at places where other scary things were possibly ganged up and ready to get him.
Kind of like being passengered in a robot powered self driving car through a dark and derelict amusement park riddled with shrapnel spewing firebombs while being chased by cops and machete wielding druids as adjacent sea levels are rising in real time. Something along these lines, I believe, is how teeter totter looked to Gooey. I think because he already had sensitivities to other spookies like tarps blowing in the breeze, low flying bugs with wings, weave pole bases that would potentially touch his hairy little toes, and generalized conspiracy level alien problems lurking in nearby trees. He had never been one to enjoy laying on a table for five seconds with all this going on, so throwing a table into the mix didn’t help things, either.

Aliens, toes, butterflies, blowy things, whatever. That’s Gustavo. I’d never hold it against him. When he’s scared by a funny piece of wood in the forest, he does the same thing he does when the dogs sense a coyote near. He comes and finds me and tells me he wants to be safe. I love that about Gustavo, with his beady black eyes looking up at me, asking if I can make it all turn out ok.

The question of dog training here was, where to draw the line of socially acceptable fraidycatness? Is it always the right thing to train through dog fear? What exactly is the point? To have an unscared dog, or to have a dog who can do agility?

What I decided for Gooey was a psychic pressure washing, the removal of all the pressure to run in a conventional manner, as if to win. We didn't have anything to prove, dig? I decided that one way for me to get his pressure off him was to forget about titles for him. For me to forget. He doesn't know they exist. Poof. Irrelevant. Titles were letters for my ego, and don't have squat to do with him. I don't write down if he Qs, I just run him in things I think he feels like running in. Usually Jumpers and Steeplechase, with an occasional Grand Prix or Snooker thrown in for good measure. Sometimes a teeter, usually not. Rarely do we visit Standard with a table. Sometimes. Never pairs, never teams, where I would feel even an ounce of pressure to ask him to do something based on anybody other than me and him. I enter him on whims, not in places he's told me witches live, and whether I actually run him in what I entered him in depends on both our moods. He's run in Nationals and Regionals, and survived.

Did I cop out on his training, or is this an actual training method? Could I have done this if I didn't have another dog who had achieved high level titles in her own agility career, or a brilliant young dog just starting out? Both questions that I don't know the answer to, in case you were going to ask.

So how has this all turned out? I have an amazing little dog named Gustavo. He loves teeters. He's an agility champ on his own terms, a smurf shaped peg who is never going to fit into a round hole. Every time I take him out on the field, he runs his heart out for the both of us. Just this morning we were running, and I yelled, “Teeter!” and he lit up and took his rocket ride to the moon. Bam. It hit the grass, and he stayed put and when I yelled out, “OK!” he flew off to the next thing and his smile was as wide as the ocean. Either my bad pointing or the pressure of it all can send him into the wrong side of the tunnel, that happens all the time. He runs really fast, and if we make mistakes, we just keep on trucking, as fast as we can.

Am I a flawed dog trainer, or am I letting him be who he is? Probably both. Free to be, you and me, Gustavo. Everybody's on their own trips. I'm afraid of climate change deniers, bears, and surveillance drones disguised as delivery lackeys flying over my house. Nobody told me I gotta get over it so we can win some prize. But I will bravely stand up for my dog. We let our freak flags wave proudly, me and him, and don't care what anybody else thinks.

06 April 2017

Ssh, don't talk so loud.


During a scrolling timesuck of facebook, I noticed someone asking for some good places to walk their dog. And I noticed some answers contained one of our quiet places.


I am a sneaky walker, I frequent places that not many others do. They're off the beaten path, perhaps are of nebulous legalities. But many years of stealth use has given me an understanding of the whens and hows to be low impact and under the radar there. I think the woods appreciate that. I pick up trash strewn by high impacters, keep my nose down and my ears up. We have learned to do things very, very quietly.

Social media doesn't mention exactly how to get on the path or where to park your car. And I'm not the only one up there. We all share, there are people that live out there, walk and bike in spots that are frowned up. I suppose everything comes to an end sometimes. The quiet dissolving of some of our woods shouldn't be a surprise, it's been happening all along. Ours? It isn't. We borrow them on borrowed time.

The more time spent borrowed for walking, the less time spent timesuck scrolling facebook. Best way to remedy that situation.

03 April 2017

An unexpected vacation.


I think I've broken Banksy.

The wrong way I held up my arm and pointed crashed her through a jump a few weeks ago. She seemed fine right after that, no ill effects, we did some more agility that day and called it a day.

Last week, she had a mini crash on a jump in class, and got scared and tried to hide. The next night at home, she was playing tug with Gary, suddenly cried out, ran and hid. A couple days later, in the middle of some poles, stopped in her tracks and ran to the car.

I never saw her lame, never saw anything any other time. Couldn't find a sore spot anywhere on her. She was entered in a trial, I almost cancelled and decided, well, just go and see, maybe whatever happened those days was a fluke.

On her first run, she landed hard and with a little twist over a jump in big extension. I have a video, I've watched it now four thousand times now. Her stride shortens, she gets in a tunnel. She comes out, she says she can only turn left not right on the next jump, and I say, "Hey Banksy!" thinking, huh, that's so weird. She runs to me and tries to do a couple more jumps and says ouch ouch ouch.

She doesn't limp, but I saw right there in her eyes and her short stride, something is wrong and I feel a horrible panic feeling.

I try not to freak out, tell her YAY! And leave the ring. And the dog show. I think she's broken.

I don't know what, I think there is a pinchy feeling that on the right landing says OUCH! In her back or neck. I feel really bad. She does anything I say and if I don't say it right in agility language, she will still do it. I don't think I did anything bad in the video, she was in full extension that I cued with a blind, but I had thought, maybe just skip this trial, and I didn't listen to that thought.


We haven't gone to a doctor, I think what she is is very subtle, so this is good and the animal doctor in me prescribes some rest. The next few weeks, just walking with no leashes, and some tricks and no balls or tugs or agilities. All her favorite things. Well, she does love walking in the woods and she does love doing tricks, too. But she loves the other stuff as much. I'm hoping whatever it was goes away forever and we can go back to Banksy being her amazing agility self.

27 March 2017

Fast and slow.


We have the whole gang together again! Part of the gang moves very slowly, and part of it moves very fast. If Ruby can get a ride to the park, we move very fast and she she's an easy rider, looking through her windows at the scenery passing by. When we get there, the fasts get to run and I throw a ball around and Ruby can follow slowly through the grass wherever I go.


Fast! Ruby doesn't do this.


Slow! Ruby doesn't go this slow. But who knew such a prize lay in the gutter, an ancient, bisected, skinned tennis ball, a thing to be admired.


On the way home, if Otterpop lags, up on top she goes. The rest of us can sprint walk to the finish. Hooray for the new car!