Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On the importance of building tolerance to handling.

Oh, the indignities I make her suffer through...
The recent trip to the vet got me thinking about the importance of having a dog who is tolerant to body handling and being physically manipulated.

When it was obvious that Cohen had hurt herself she allowed me to give her a layperson's examination where I could ascertain roughly what was hurting her. She communicated clearly that she was in some degree of pain, but allowed me to palpate, stretch and squeeze as I went. Her "okay that hurt" signal was orienting to me and licking her lips.

When she was brought to the vet's, his examination was more thorough than mine. He checked patellas, hips (through some pretty invasive stretching) and other joints, not to mention taking her temperature. Clearly Cohen was stressed to be in a new environment and uncomfortable in a number of other ways, but she had very appropriate responses to her stress. All the while I was very mindful of her stress level and watched closely for signs that she was overwhelmed. I know that all animals are capable of biting, and those who are stressed and in pain have a lower bite threshold.

After how well she coped with the examination (and seeing an overweight elderly beagle having to be muzzled for an examination in the back room) it started me thinking about how much of Cohen's tolerance is genetic, and how much has been learned.

On the day we brought Cohen home, her breeder had just finished cutting her nails, and had recently bathed. Since then I've been cutting her nails every few weeks, brushing her weekly, and bathing her as necessary. Nail cuts are quick and uneventful. She's fine with being brushed, and unhappily tolerates me brushing mats out from behind her ears. "Do you want a shower" causes Cohen to toss out appeasement signals left and right, but she accepts bathing without additional complaint. I've taught Cohen to jump into my arms, and she is often picked up in play and is accustomed to being carried.

I've always made a point of handling her body casually while we play, and I'll offer up treats for particularly invasive methods. Lately I've been working at handling Cohen's mouth: pulling back her chops or opening it manually. In a perfect world all this preparation would be for naught, but accidents can and do happen.

The examination yesterday served to be a marker of my success. I won't deny that some of that success is due to her genetics -- she is unusually emotionally resilient when you look at how flighty she can be at times. It gives me confidence that Cohen will cope with whatever the future may have in store for her.

Don't underestimate the importance of desensitizing your animals to being handled. It can be achieved in mere minutes a day, and can really pay off in the long run.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hurty paw

Hurty paw: right rear 
Cohen has hurty paw. 

On Sunday I had a marvelous walk with her in the valley, where we stayed out and enjoyed the wonderful sunny fall weather for well over two hours. On the way back to the car I noticed a peculiarity in Cohen's gait, but it was minimal and I expected that she would walk it off soon. It wasn't the first squirrel-chasing injury she'd had, and she's a tough little dog. 

Sunday night her limp was more exaggerated. Monday morning it was worse - she wasn't putting any weight on it at all. Monday afternoon I ran her into the vet's. 

The vet suspects a tendon injury on her inner weight bearing toe (not a break). So he prescribed an anti-inflammatory and said that exercise was to be restricted for the next two weeks. If it doesn't improve, she'll go back for x-rays in a couple weeks. 

Historically, Cohen isn't a big fan of exercise restriction. After her spay she was up and rearing to go the next day. But yesterday she seemed (mostly) content just being let out for bathroom breaks, and taken on a car ride where she could stick her nose out the window and take the air in. The poor girl must be pretty uncomfortable. 

So, limited exercise it is! Unfortunately this means that I've cancelled tonight's agility class, and the weekend's performance at the Exhibition Grounds.It also means that walks will be practically non-existent for the next little while. That's what gets me most: no walking. I've always used dog walks through the woods as a method of stress relief, and I've got stress a'plenty right now. Ah well. I think both Cohen and I will cope. 

Get well soon, hurty paw. 

Cohen, what a big butt you have. Also, hurty paw.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bad news made badder

The only one looking at the damn camera is Cohen. 
We got some bad news yesterday.

We were told that my father's cancer had spread, despite him undergoing chemo/radiation for the last 5 weeks. The doctors have told him that it's terminal.

It's funny - he was laying on the same couch, saying the same thing as my mom said 5 years ago. Everything feels like déja vu. I'd been braced for the worst since his diagnosis, but I really felt like we were going to get some good news this week.

So it goes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You know you're too into your dog when...

  • You can not only predict the time of a dog's bowel movements, but the consistency they will be. 
  • You find that musty doggy smell not only endearing but tremendously comforting.
  • All activities on the long weekend are centered around dog activities.
  • You automatically think, "great day for a walk" on sunny days.
  • You spend more money on your dog than you do yourself.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trial summary - October 2nd 2011

Cohen and her (single) Qualifying Score ribbon.
Cohen and I competed for the second time this weekend. It was a very different experience from the last trial. The last trial was idyllic. This one was cold, wet, rainy and kind of lonely. I was huddled with the dog in my car for most of the afternoon trying to stay dry.

In brief:

  • AAC, Daytripper Dog Training, Valencia ON
  • 4 runs total.
  • Qualified: 1 Starters Standard.
  • Did not qualify: 1 Starters Standards, 1 Starters Jumpers and 1 Steeplechase. 

First in Starters Standard #1.
Second in Steeplechase.
Third in Starters Standard #2.
Do placements still count when you NQ?
In detail:

First run:
Steeplechase. NQ. 
Judge: Shelly Price
Second place.

I don't think I appreciated quite how fast you have to move to qualify in Steeplechase. Cohen ran very nicely, received no faults, but ended up being over time by 3 whole seconds. Yikes. It doesn't help that I arrived at the trial a bit late and almost missed the walkthrough. 

Second run: 
Starters Standard 1. Q!
Judge Shelly Price
Run time: 51.72 seconds.
SCT: 63 seconds.
First place.

This was what I had hoped to achieve this weekend: a qualifying standard run. Woot! I thought I had blown it when Cohen refused the dog walk twice before I finally got her on it. I think a cracked pylon might have been throwing her off - I've never seen her have a problem with the obstacle before. Despite thinking we'd blown it we ran the rest, and, well, turns out you can have a few refusals on contact obstacles without faults. Because of that it wasn't quite as pretty as I would have hoped, but Cohen did wonderfully. 

There were a set of 12 weaves that she handled like a pro, she nailed both the teeter and the table (and I remember to decelerate for each this time!), and, well, she just ran her heart out despite it starting to rain just as we started running. The unusually high run time is mostly due to our dogwalk issues. 

Third run:
Starters Standard 2. NQ.
Judge Shelly Price
Run time: 59.58
SCT: 65
5 faults.
Third place.

You know when you ignore a potential problem because it's not actually a problem yet? Yeah, that's probably what happened here. 

I've always been very pleased with Cohen's start line stay. I tend to take long lead outs to get ahead of her. Well, lately she's been getting really barky on the start line as she gets more worn out. Today she was barky, but I set her up fine, turned my back and when I turned around again Cohen was walking towards me, eyes locked on me, every muscle in her body tense...

She walked right past the start line (starting the time) as well as the first jump. I went back, fixed the start line, and started again. I think I was faulted a refusal there since Cohen did technically walk past the jump and had to be circled around to reset her start. I blew the run before we even started. And funnily enough Cohen ran wonderfully again. 

Take home lessons:
  • Address problems before they become Actual Problems.
  • Keep an eye on my dog as I leave her at the line. 

Fourth run:
Starters Jumpers. NQ.
Judge Shelly Price

I'm not too sure what happened here. It was a bit of a disaster. I had been tugging with Cohen when the dog ahead of us ran. I think this amped her up too much, and coupled with her being wet, cold and tired from being out all day it pushed her over the edge. She was a barky mess on the start line, and when I released her she blew past me and decided she was going to make her own course.

It's never happened before. Cohen is normally so keyed in on me that I never considered she'd get zoomified. It was disappointing since I had thought that this jumpers course would be in the bag, and I could complete it and move up to Advanced. But it was interesting to see Cohen really running at (almost) full speed. She's normally more focused on me than running super fast. She can be pretty damned speedy when she feels like it. 

I didn't even look to see how many faults we gathered. It was a lot. 


Cohen didn't knock a bar all weekend, which was fabulous. Her weaves were flawless. She's really starting to love the sport. 

This is how most of our downtime was spent between runs. Hiding in the car trying to stay dry. 

Sleeping in the driver's seat. 
I'm not too sure how I feel about the weekend. At the time when I was cold and damp I was feeling poorly that we didn't do as well as I felt we were capable of. But what I really wanted was for Cohen to get her first Standard Q, which she did. Now that I've had a chance to warm up a bit I remind myself that we're both pretty new at this and if we're both having fun then we're doing marvelously. It is just a game, after all!

We keep making lots of little rookie mistakes which I'm worried we may never grow out of. But damn if I don't enjoy it. Next time I'm going to try to make sure I go out with friends, and I'll hope for sun.