Wednesday, May 29, 2013

One of Riff's Tricks

This trick is all about Patience.  I saw a video on FB, and decided this would be a good thing for Riff to learn.  He's so FAST all the time, and all-too-quick to react.  Sometimes he's moving so quickly he forgets to think. This is a great trick for asking your dog to slow down and think.

Interestingly enough, it's also a great trick for practicing PATIENCE.  You need to be patient, while you're teaching your dog to think about it.  The only way this trick really works is if you dog is happy to do it.  Riff enjoys this trick, and I'm grateful for it.  Each step was a lesson in patience for me.  It surprised me, how much patience (and time) it took.  (For instance:  the first step was "do not chew up the rings.")

Now we've got it down to where I keep this little toy in the car, and pull it out wherever we go.  He learned this trick in our living room, and it was challenging to move it out into "the world."  Now he can do it anywhere.  At an agility trial, in the park, on a sidewalk, in a mall.  And the whole time I was teaching him, he was teaching me.... 

Some people say that if they had to describe "love" using only one word, it would be "patience."
Interesting thought.   

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Keeping Hope Alive

Lovin' this little cartoon, because this is me on the agility field, thinking...WOW! when my dog handling is actually more along the lines of O-K-A-A-A-Y.  But you know what?  No problem!

We each get what we want out of the game.  Headaches and heartaches?  Well, yes.  Those arrive in droves, whether you want them or not.  You can't help but notice that you're not making it all the way through the agility course during your group lessons.  Like...ever (at least not for several weeks).  You can't help but notice how many classes you've entered at trials, compared to how many qualifying runs you've earned (a lot - a little). 

This "comparative pain" is exacerbated if most of the teams in your class are Masters Level and Red Hot.  It's exacerbated if you read a lot of FB posts from dog agility people.  So many handlers boast (understandably) about how quickly their 1.5 year-old pup zipped through the ranks of Starters and Advanced and into MASTERS.  (You virtually "celebrate" with them, while you lean over to pet your 4.5 year-old Starters dog....)  You love keeping up with your FB friends, and you LOVE watching those cool videos, but you have to remember: 

Agility is Not An Easy Game. 

Everyone makes progress at their own pace. 

As long as your dog is having a healthy, happy Good Time...all is well.

So.  Yeah.  Here I am, zooming through my sixties (graying hair, bad knees, tweaky back, tired all the time) and still determined to see the Happiness.  I am not alone.  There are plenty of old-and-olders out there, enjoying the heck out of agility.  We like the thrill of a good run, even if our achievements are comparatively small. 

We can feel it even if we're laying on our backs looking up at a beautiful blue sky, realizing - once again - that being alive and in one piece is a gift from the gods.  (That was me, a couple of weeks ago, after Riff collided hard with the back of my right knee.  Damn! For a split second I thought I could stay upright....   .....   ....but then my old body folded and flipped like a pancake.  Riff was fine, thank heavens!) 

We're all different.  We march through life at different rates, for different reasons.  I don't actually know what other people are going through when they're working with their dogs.  I watch the handlers in my class and at trials...(I love cheering them on because it's fun to clap and yell)....but I don't really know what's happening in their heart of hearts, or what kind of effort it takes for them to be out on the agility field.  Are they fighting the black pit of depression?  Is that creepy Mr. Ego beating them up?  Are they distracted by family issues?  physical pain?  ADHD?  broken bifocals?

Our dogs are all different, too. Training my young dog has been very different from my experience with my older dog.  It has been much more challenging, for many reasons...but I keep at it.  Ever onward!!! Am I suffering from some sort of age-related dementia?  If so, please don't tell me.  Not just yet.  Because whatever it is - wherever this glimmer of dog agility HOPE comes from - I want to hang on to it for as long as I can.  

PS.....A heartfelt THANK YOU!!!! to the group of ladies at the Dixon USDAA trial who cheered loudly when Riff and I got through a qualifying run on a tough Team Jumpers course. Usually after our runs I concentrate on finding Riff's toy quickly, so we can go play tug.  I don't often hear crowd reaction...but I sure heard you!!  What a super-lovely surprise.  (We won third place! After not qualifying in any of the other team classes - although, in Riff's defense, we had some wonderful moments...) 

To the Cheering Ladies: you made my day.  THANK YOU!! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

One Way to Renew Your Faith in The Human Race

They said 9,500 people showed up for The Human Race yesterday - 1,000 more than last year.  The Human Race is Sonoma County's premiere fund-raising effort for non-profits of all kinds.  My son and I were volunteer workers this year.  We were given the assignment "course monitors," and our specific job was to make sure the 10K runners took the correct route through a confusing little section of dog-leg turns, about 2.5 miles out from the start line. 
It was beautiful.  Perfect weather (foggy, then sunny), wonderful people.  It was lovely out in the quiet of Spring Lake Park, close to Annadel.  We missed most of the big costumed groups, because they stuck to the 3K route.  We missed the pancake breakfast and the big crowds and all the booths and the live band...but we got to soak in Mother Nature - the best show on earth! 
Wearing my bright yellow volunteer T-shirt, I stood at my little intersection of paths, jumping up and down and cheering people on for over two hours.  Almost lost my voice.  (Hey, I could make the serious runners smile - not an easy feat!)  I got to meet babies in strollers, and an 85-year-old man who was walking so fast he was almost jogging.  He had the biggest smile you ever saw.  All kinds of folks of every age and shape tackled the 10K. I heard plenty of different languages, too.  I got to play with a gaggle of Canine Companion puppies, and say Hi! to a bunch of silly mutts and a couple of friendly pitties.  EVERYONE WAS SMILING!
And I could see my very quiet young son, over at his intersection, clapping and smiling and waving.  He was even chatting with a lot of folks.  The whole experience was terrific.  LOVED IT!

Friday, May 10, 2013

To Trial or Not To Trial

Sometimes I hear agility folks say, "We do this just for fun."  Or "It's all about having fun."  And I agree!  I've said these things myself. 

How many times has my Goal for the Weekend been:  HAVE FUN!?  Many.  It's a darn good goal.  Something we can reach.  A positive outcome.  Encouraging results. 

Other goals have been:  A solid start-line for at least one class.  A smile.  A wag.  A good weave entry.  No ants in the tent.  Etc. Etc.  These are all terrific goals.

But I must admit that I ask myself from time to time:  Do I really want to keep showing this dog? 

Why do we take our dogs to agility trials?

Everyone (nearly everyone) says IT'S FOR FUN.  A few of us admit we're there because we want to win a title.  We're competitive.  We want to win - and not just a title...we want first place!  (Ohhhhh, yeahhhhh.....) 

I once had a team partner repeatedly insist to me that she was not the least bit competitive.  But then she told me all the titles her dog had, and admitted that she went to an agility trial "at least three weekends every month, all year long."   Now ask that competitive?  Or not? 

I'll be the first to admit that I have a competitive streak about a mile wide.  Yet at the same time, I Don't Care About Titles.  (I just like winning.)  So I can kinda understand why my teammate said she wasn't competitive. 

But I still don't believe her. 

Anyone who (without being asked) rattles off all the titles they've won lately has just a wee bit of the competitor in them, wouldn't you say?  Anyone who goes to trials nearly every weekend of the year is definitely a competitor.  Plain and simple.  They like winning.  They like achieving qualifying runs and titles....if nothing else. 

Are you REALLY running just for fun?  Are you REALLY there because you just want to play with your dog?  I don't think so. 

If you just want to play with your dog, you can go out to the beach and toss toys, or teach him a bunch of really cool tricks.  Your dog will be completely happy, and it's a lot safer. 


Riff and I have not been trialing much in the last couple of years.  There are many reasons for that - chief among them the knee thing, followed by the back injury, and then the broken arm....(and the fact that his start-line was broken for a good long while, then his weave-entry). 

But a lot of people - many competitors, young and old - rise above such paltry physical set-backs.  I mean, I've seen people in wheelchairs showing their dogs on the agility field.  I've seen 90-year-old women tottering about with huge smiles and qualifying runs.  One of my classmates is 76, and she's got a darn-good dog with a string of titles after his name, and no end of enthusiasm.  (Although I did hear her say, the other day, that this 6-year old Aussie is her last agility dog.  NOTE:  She started training him when she was about 70 years old.) 

People say it's good to have a goal - and a championship title is a very defined goal.  A good goal.  It's an achievement that takes a lot of work, a lot of practice, and a measure of luck.  It's totally worth the effort. 

BUT.  Titles and ribbons have lost their shine for me lately.  They seem to represent Fleeting Joy.  Which, if you think about it, is a hella-lot better than No Joy.  BUT. 

What's wrong with me?  I haven't been entering trials.  Because of injuries, I tell myself.  Hmmmm.  Some of it has to do with the pocketbook.  (Yes - definitely and sadly true.)  Some of it has to do else, exactly?  I can't say.  I wish I could.  If this stutter...if these dragging feet....if this whatever this is were identifiable, maybe I could banish it and get back to trialing. 

And while I wonder, and still feel hesitant, I look at my Bay Team Certificates, which have been sitting on my desk for a couple of months.  I was an All-Day Worker for these.  Primarily because I love watching agility...but also because I want to be able to afford trial entries.  I want to show everyone how well my sweet Riff is doing.  He's a good dog! 

And that's ANOTHER REASON!  "Everyone."  All those whacky dog people that I know and love so well.  Where am I going to have a chance to visit them?  An agility trial!


What I need to do now is....I need to fill out these entry forms, put the certificates and forms in an envelope and MAIL THEM IN! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Nosework Story

For the last eight months or so Riff and I have been in training with Environmental Canine Services, West Coast division.  A friend of mine invited me to Aroma's coffee shop, oh-those-many-moons-ago, and asked if we were interested.  My callous reply "Does it pay?  I'm totally interested in making some money."  (Although, if truth be told, doing something positive for the environment rings bells for me.  Claxon-type bells.)  She assured me that it would, indeed, PAY.  "Okay.  I'm in."
As a result, Riff has been trained to detect and alert on illicit discharges in storm drains.  This is not the same as the NOSEWORK training lots of other folks have become involved with, although it started in a very similar fashion.  LL took me out to several parks and introduced Riff and I to Nosework.  She said we were getting six weeks of training in three days.  He was good!  She was pleased.  (Note:When you train for Nosework, you get to enter trials and win titles.  When you train for ECS, you get to take a couple of big tests for certification, and then hope you get called for a job.)
There is a group of six dog/handler teams that were trained in this work.  A couple of the handlers have a couple of dogs, and there are young puppies coming up into it's really more than six.  The outfit running this enterprise - ECS, based in Michigan - originally wanted just two or three teams.  Ah, well.  We're on the West Coast.  What can I say?  We experiment.  Riff and I were the only team without Nosework experience.  Everyone else had Nosework titles.  On top of that, I broke my upper arm (near the shoulder) the first weekend the Michigan guy came out for training.  I was in a lot of pain and Riff and I did not do particularly well.  We were almost cut from the experiment. 
But Riff - sweet, sweet Riff - is good.  He is smart, and he learned the game.  He knew when the sample was "positive" and when it was not.  He knew when the stuff in the open manhole cover was "positive" or not.  I had no clue.  So I decided to totally trust my dog...and he was right, right, right....and then right again.  Some of the other dogs consistently "false alerted"....but not Riff. 
The handlers studied too.  I know a hell-a-lot about water management and storm drains now.  We were given huge binders to study, and Power-point presentations...acronyms and photographic examples for the field....what-ifs and because-ofs.  Some basic science with administrative bureaucracy thrown in.  Ask me about water sometime!  I'll never again look at a creek or a storm drain the same. 
The BIG TESTS were held last month, in conjunction with a "presentation" at Cal/EPA in Sacramento.  Riff was chosen as a "demo dog," because he's been doing Really Well. 
Cal/EPA is in a big schmancy building....marble tile, sweeping staircase, multiple floors, etc etc.  Really quite impressive.  (I thought California was broke.  And it may be, now...but it certainly wasn't when this building was made.)
Riff and I flunked.  We were not certified. 
Well, I passed the two-hour written test.  "Handily," was the only feedback I got.  But we flunked the field test. 
Riff and I were blown away by the sounds and energy of a downtown Sacramento alley.  Every other part of the field test was good.  But that alley......    killed us.   I quickly realized that we are not "city people."  We have a quiet, country-type lifestyle... 
We were one of only two teams that didn't pass.  For several days I felt devastated and like giving up on the whole lousy idea.  It was totally my fault.  I didn't react properly, I didn't "cover" for Riff.  I felt terrible.  I never expected to cry over this goofy experiment, but I did. 
The guy from Michigan encouraged me to stay in training.  He said he really likes Riff and doesn't want to lose him.  The team seems encouraging, too.  They are still meeting once a week or so, to train.  (They all know they have much more to learn.  LEARNING.  Ah, yes....learning.  LOVE LEARNING.)
So....we're still in it.  Even though we feel more than a little out of it, while we're in it.  (Are we REALLY welcomed?  Do they REALLY think we'll make it?  Sometimes I can drive myself nuts with that line of I put it away.  Shove it away.  I try to live in the moment, just as my dogs live in the moment.) 
Last week a couple of other teams and I met up at a park in Sebastopol.  We had lots of "distractors"...a pond with ducks, a protective goose, culverts, and noisy preschool children.  Riff aced it.  He always aces it.  (Except in that Sacramento alley...where we were so tired, and so confused...) 
Riff takes time out to smell the flowers....
They say there may be a new ECS job coming soon (for those that are certified...not for us).  It will involve "creek work" so everyone is anxious to get their dogs working in creeks. 
Riff and I went to Brush Creek and looked around.  Even though we won't get any job any time soon.  It was pretty.  We liked it there. 

Brush Creek

We're spending some time in alleys, too, in and around Santa Rosa.  Certainly not the same as that alley in Sacramento (with its dark shadows, noisy metal garage doors and big-truck air-brakes)....but better than nothing.  We've taken to hanging out downtown, and at shopping malls, and at the bus terminal.  I walk him on a lot of different surfaces.  (Riff doesn't like shiny surfaces.  Is this because of the snow and ice in the yard up north, when he was a little puppy?)  What a nervous Nelly he has been!  But he's calming down, and becoming BRAVE.  I am, too.  We're helping each other. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Turning Pages


A few years ago I decided to stop teaching.  The reasons I turned down an adjunct faculty job at SSU (after working as a team-teacher there for a year; after being a member of the Theatre Arts faculty at SRJC for about seven years; after teaching drama and public speaking at a high school...) were many, and varied.  I must admit I would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. 
I would just say "No!"  ("Thank you anyway, I totally appreciate the offer...")

We call it retirement.  On my bad days I think of it as quitting.  On my good days I know I've just turned another page in the story of my life.    

This is not the first page I've turned (having enjoyed many interests and jobs over the years), and it's not likely to be the last.  EXCEPT....sometimes I have trouble focusing on the words of the next chapter. I miss all my students, who loved to learn.  And they taught me so much!  "Learning" is the best part of life, in many ways.  I miss teaching.  I'm still learning. 

NOTE:  Even after you turn 62 and begin to muddle through each un-structured day (thinking about what to do, now that you're definitely-too-old-to-find-another-job-in-this-economy) you continue to learn.

Isn't that why we carry our iPhones everywhere?  We can look stuff up on a moment's notice.  You don't know where that African country is?  Wait, I can show you on my phone....   

I love looking stuff up.  But I still struggle with figuring out what to do with my days.  Life's lessons are many, and varied.  Sometimes they are so varied they seem to splatter on the wall and it's difficult to make sense of them.  Writing I write....     

Retirement Lesson #1:  Learn how to be okay-without-a-job, when at a social gathering. 

For the first year or so, when someone said, "So what do you do?" my brain would always think "Not a goddam thing" while my mouth formed all the appropriate phrases regarding being retired and having enough time to fully enjoy my hobbies, like competing in dog agility. 

Then there would be that little silence that often greets the phrase "dog agility."   

So I would try to explain agility to non-agility people...but my words, more often than not, would fall on deaf ears.  After the first year, my explanations got really short.  How do you define dog agility to actors and academics??

Occasionally someone would really seem to be listening though, so I would start sharing how much dog agility has contributed to my life:
countless opportunities for learning
physical fitness
living in the moment
personal growth
the love and attention of my wonderful dogs

But it's not the same as putting up a play, writing a book, painting masterpieces, or making clay pots.  It would seem that I'm not actually building a tangible object for regular people.  I'm not teaching anybody anything.  It would seem that I'm no longer "in the arts," that I've sequestered myself into a small group of odd dog people, that I've become somewhat foreign....  

...and I find myself at fewer social events.  Even when I am there, I'm pretty darn quiet. 

This is probably a common by-product of retirement. 

One thing for sure:  I know, in my heart of hearts, that we dog agility people ARE contributing to our communities.  If not to the community-at-large (by doing our best to be fit and goal-oriented), then we are at least contributing to the community-of-people-who-enjoy-dogs.  We are showing them just how much they can enjoy their dogs.  We are showing them just how much their dogs can enjoy them.  MUCH!!!   Doesn't that count for something? 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What's Up?

We are still on the hunt for agility titles.  As fleeting and ethereal as they may seem at times.

We are going to enter the next couple of BAY TEAM USDAA trials.  We're very determined about this, even though I fell (after a hard blow to the knee) during our last training session.  Riff thought I would zig, but I zagged.  How often has that happened during my life?

Often!  Ah, well....

So many thoughts to share with you, I hardly know where to begin.


Inspired by the book "Tales for the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki, I decide to blog again.  If not for me, it is for my three "followers"....

This is a Big Step.  While I'm not sure you can understand just how big a step (unless you get Really Sad from time to time), I realize that doesn't actually matter. 

That said....expect more. 


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