Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Summer of Parkour

Summer has been excellent so far!  I have spent so much time training with all three dogs, and we have all been enjoying it thoroughly!

And . . . Dean Dog, Tessa, Bandit, and I have gotten into something new this summer . . . dog Parkour!



I really had not intended to get involved with this.  Do I really need one more dog sport on my plate?  Not remotely!

However . . . 

When Tessa got close to earning her C-ATCH, I really wanted to try to find something that she and I could do together that would be a big reward for her for all of the years of work and commitment that Tessa has put into our Agility.

When I saw some dog Parkour videos around on the Internet, I knew right away that it was something that Tessa would just eat up.  She loves to do anything that involves interaction with "stuff" - Agility, fitness, you name it!

A good friend of mine took the Parkour class that was offered by the Fenzi Academy in the spring, so she and I made a deal - she would teach me about Parkour and I would teach her some skills that I learned in the class that I was taking with Bandit.

A couple of friends of our were also interested, so we all got together for an introduction.  At some point I made the decision to work with Dean instead of Tessa, at least to get started.  He is mostly retired now and I thought it might be something that he would enjoy.  I figured that Tessa and I could always jump in later on.

At our first lesson, we worked on some of the basics that we would need if any of us wanted to video for the Training Level Title - Four Feet On, Two Feet On, Under, Through, In.

Dean had a great time.  I enjoyed working with him because he had the chance to dust off some old skills and use them in a fun, and kind of different, context!

But I do have to say - training for Parkour is . . . . different . . . from most of the training that I do.  Normally I am training with the ultimate goal of creating behaviors that will be fluent in the ring, with me not having food present (usually), that will be performed under a certain cue structure.

However, Parkour really is about movement.  Although we cannot lure with food in the videos that we submit for titling, food can always be in a pocket for immediate reinforcement after the behavior is completed.  And hand signals are welcome, as long as they are used as targets, not lures.

So, when working with Dean on the Parkour behaviors, I was much more focused on what Dean was actually doing with his body than I normally am.  And I found that to be a very, very good thing.  Dean clearly enjoyed the shift in my focus, and I did, too.

Everyone in the group had such a great experience that we got together a week later and we all filmed our submissions for our Training Level Titles!

Here is a compilation of Dean's Training Level video clips.  And, I just found out this past week that Dean did earn his Training Level Title: PKD - T



Once I did this with Dean, I found that I simply had to give it a try with both Tessa and Bandit.  I had returned to my original thought that Tessa would just love every second of it, and it became very clear to me that Parkour could potentially be an excellent confidence builder for Bandit.

So, we dove in with some training at home!

Tessa's first Parkour training session:



Bandit's first Parkour training session:



The difference in their attitudes toward this is quite striking!  Actually, Bandit and I have done some work since this first video and he is already getting more confident!!

Here is a video of his first outdoor training session:



So, now I am working with all three of them on this, and we are having a really nice time with it!

One of the things that I love most about this discipline (I think of it as a discipline more than a "sport", and maybe I will write a post about that later on) is that I really can customize it to the dog that I am working with for his or her greatest benefit.

For Dean, it is something we can enjoy from time to time as a fun retirement activity.  I am hoping to film with him for the Novice level, but I plan for us to take our time and get our videos gradually and really enjoy the process.

For Tessa, it is a format where she can use a lot of her Agility and physical skills in new and fun ways.  We are also in the process of filming for Novice.  I could see going on to try Intermediate with Tessa after that!

And for Bandit, it is great for confidence and him learning what he can actually do!  He and I are working on the skills that he needs for Training Level, and are gradually creating the videos that we will need to submit for that tile.  Bandit could go all the way through the levels with this, and I am kind of hoping that we will!

I find that I really appreciate the opportunity to work toward titles in this discipline.  That gives me a specific structure to guide my training and goals, and it provides motivation to actually get out and work with my dogs on a consistent basis.

I believe there are a few different Dog Parkour titling organizations out there.  We are working on our titling through the International Dog Parkour Association.  So far the experience has been good.

I look forward to continuing on with this through the rest of the summer and into the fall!





 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Going on . . .

Going on after losing a heart dog . . . in life, in sports . . .


Recently I have seen this topic raised in several different online discussion contexts, and I wanted to take a bit of time to share my own answer.  I share this in hopes that it might be helpful to somebody out there . . .

I even hate the fact that I have an answer to this question.  But I do.  I realize that this is a highly personal and subjective thing.  Not everyone is going to find the way to keep going in exactly the same way.

That said, I have been through the sudden and unexpected loss of that one special dog that I will always call my "heart dog".  And I have gone on.  I have experienced the months on end of abject grief, and I have found the way to deal with his loss, and even to continue on in the dog sport that, for me, was completely defined by Speedy himself.

". . . what it does to you when such a dog dies is not fit to print."




My Speedy, of course, was my heart dog.  To say he was special doesn't even do it justice.  I have never known another dog anything like him, and I doubt I ever will.  I always used to say that Speedy didn't just have "screws loose".  He had "screws loose", "screws too tight", he was "missing some screws", and he "had screws that didn't even belong"!!  Suffice it to say, he had mental challenges that were completely out of his own control.

Early on in our training and work together, I considered Speedy's "issues" to be a problem.  Later in our journey, I came to know that he was unique and highly gifted.  We ran with that together, and it was the ride of a lifetime!

I could write an entire book about what Speedy was to me.  (Maybe someday I will!)  We were joined at the heart from the day we brought him home as a 12 week old puppy.  I used to rush home from work every day bursting with excitement to see him.  We played silly games, I sang songs to him, and I was delighted in everything about him.

My favorite of all of Speedy's puppy pictures

Speedy wasn't perfect.  In fact, he was seriously flawed in many ways.  But in one way it never mattered - he was perfect in my heart, and for me the world was a better place simply because he was in it.

When we got into training, and then behavior modification, and then dog sports, our bond only grew.  I got the equivalent of a college education through our work together.  He was always a partner in that work.  And I remember every step of the journey as an amazing adventure.

Learning how to help him deal with fears and overstimulation, learning how to train Rally and then Freestyle skills, learning how to be a performance competition team, and the actual performance of all of our dances - at demonstrations, at competitions, at video filming, and even just at private practice - was an intensely emotional experience.  And that experience forged a bond between us that was like no other I have ever known.

Every dance was a tribute to the bond that Speedy and I shared

There were moments along the way when I realized that he would not be with me forever, and I wondered how I was going to go on without him when he was gone.  The very thought brought tears to my eyes when it happened to pop up in my mind.  I simply did not allow myself to think about it.  And, in retrospect, I am very glad for that.  There was literally nothing that I could have done to prepare myself for life without Speedy.  It was far better that I appreciated every second of the time that I had with him.

But . . . that indescribably horrible day finally came.  And it came too soon.  It will always seem to me that Speedy should have had a few more good years.  The reason why he died was so stupid.  He was not young, but he still died too soon.

It did help that he died peacefully, with Ben and I both there with him.  There was no fight in him.  No resistance.  Just the total trust that he always had in us.  It was time to go, and he was perfectly fine with that.  I will always be grateful that he left this life quietly, peacefully, and with trust.


But none of that made dealing with the bottomless pit of a black hole in my heart that was left behind when he was gone any easier to handle.

So . . . how did I go on?


I cried A LOT.  

Speedy died on a Saturday and I spent the rest of that day, and all of Sunday, crying my eyes out.  There was no consolation.  Any little thing could start it off again.  And even after that - for weeks, for months - I just felt this horrible pit of sorrow within myself that nothing could change.  I didn't try to fight that.  When I was in a situation where I could go ahead and cry, I would do so.

I gave myself permission to ask, "WHY?" and cry endlessly over that question.  I fully felt the emotions that would wash over me when I caught sight of his food bowl, or his collar, or something else that reminded me of him.


I looked at photos and videos of Speedy and remembered our life together.

Somehow it helped me to see pictures of Speedy full of life and vigor.  I felt that I was somehow still connected to him.  I found watching video of him particularly helpful.

Sometimes I could do this and actually feel just a tiny bit better, and at other times I needed to avoid his pictures and videos.  Even now, two years later, there are times when it is upsetting to me to listen to his Freestyle music, but that is more the exception than the rule.  Usually I like to listen and remember the good times he and I had moving to that music together.

I actually started to look at pictures and videos and listen to his music very soon after losing him.  For the most part I found it more helpful than not - even when it made me start crying all over again!


I went through the motions of life.  

I would have liked to have crawled into a cave somewhere and just mourned for months on end, but life went on and I had to go on with it - even if I was just going through the motions.

I had to feed and care for my other dogs.  I had to go to work.  I had to teach my dog training classes.  I had to teach lessons and grade papers.  I had to do what life required.

I can't say I found much joy in much of anything for a while afterward, but I went through the motions because there was no choice.

Training and working with my other dogs was the worst part.  The last thing I would have chosen to do would have been attending training classes, but I learned long ago that it is not fair to my dogs to take away what they enjoy because I am mourning a loss.  And, it was good for me to be there even if I couldn't do my best work at class.

I remember that Tessa had an Agility trial at Periland not long after we lost Speedy.  I took her even though I felt it was much, much too soon.  I was glad that I did.  I distinctly remember running those courses with Tessa as the first time I started to feel normal again after losing Speedy.  Tessa and I were still who we are, and running her in competition helped me tap back into that.


I hid the loss from some people.  

Of course, I told my friends, but there were some people that I did not tell right away.

I did not tell my High School students, nor did I tell my work colleagues right away.  I needed my privacy for a while.  It was good for me to have one context in my life where nobody knew and I could put on the face of "everything is normal" during those first weeks after this devastating loss.


I pushed myself through the "first times"

Every one of the "first times" after losing Speedy was difficult, but some were much worse than others:

  • My first Freestyle competition without Speedy.
  • Our first trip to the beach without Speedy.
  • My first trip to Glen Highland Farm without Speedy.
  • My first hike with Tessa without Speedy.
  • Our first spring, summer, fall, and winter without Speedy.
  • Our first Christmas without Speedy (this was particularly difficult because my last good memories of Speedy, alive and happy, were at Christmas time).

That list could go on and on and on!

But . . . the first time was always the most difficult.  After the first time I had an experience in my memory of each of those things without him.  That helped.


I gave myself lots of breaks.

I couldn't train my dogs like I used to.  In fact, it was over a year before I really found that I could put something of my old effort into training, although I didn't quit - just went through the motions.  I gave myself permission to be where I was in that regard, even in the midst of raising a puppy.

I couldn't choreograph Freestyle routines.  Speedy had been my heart-Freestyle dog, as well as my heart dog.  I lost all of my love for the sport, I lost all of my desire to go on in the sport, and I lost my ability to create.  And you can't do Freestyle if you can't create routines.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen - if I would ever get that back again.  But I accepted that for what it was.


I put a deposit down on a Border Collie puppy.

This was a very individual choice.  I realize that if, and when, to bring a new dog into the home after such a devastating loss is a very personal thing.  For us it turned out to be the right thing to do.

I had always thought that when that inevitable horrible day came, and we lost Speedy, I would honor him by going to a shelter, finding a fearful Border Collie to adopt, and then give that dog the best possible life.  But when the time actually came, that wasn't on my heart.  I felt that I already had that dog in Tessa, and I was not inclined to do that again at that time.

Almost right away, I started to think about a puppy.  I mean, I started to think about a puppy so soon it struck me as positively indecent!  I felt guilty, and might not have pursued the idea if not for two things.  Within a day of losing Speedy, my husband said to me, out of nowhere, "maybe we will get another puppy"!  He is not usually one to want to add new dogs to the household, so I took that very seriously.

Shortly after that, an online friend sent me an article that contained advice that was rather shocking: "Another dog.  Same breed, as soon as possible".  After getting over my initial resistance to the idea, particularly the "as soon as possible" part, it resonated with me, and I knew that starting the search for a puppy was right for us.

It was too soon.  I really only wanted Speedy back.  I wasn't anywhere near emotionally prepared.  But it was clear to me that it was time to act right away.  I put word out among my Border Collie friends that I wanted to try to get a working bred Border Collie puppy.

I did not think this was going to happen immediately.  I rather expected to search for a breeder for a good long while, and then sit on a few lists for at least a year.  Within just a couple of weeks, I had put down a deposit on the puppy that would be Bandit.  At that time, the pregnancy had only just been confirmed!

Committing to a puppy who was not even born yet opened up a whole host of new conflicting emotions that I had to deal with, but I was confident that everything was happening exactly as it was supposed to be happening, and we went with it.

At the time the plan to get a puppy, and then waiting for the puppy to be born, and then watching him grow through pictures, seemed to upset me more than it helped.  But, in retrospect, I believe that process forced me to deal with the emotions of loss and that more good came from it than upset.

And, even if I did not feel it at the time, having plans to bring a new life into our home did give me just the tiniest seed of hope that someday better times would come.



Enter Bandit

When I think back about that time after losing Speedy, it seems that in my memory the world went black that day, and it stayed that way until the day I held baby Bandit in my arms.  On that day a ray of light burst in, the sky turned blue again, and it seems that color and warmth and light and hope came back into my life.

That doesn't mean I forgot about Speedy or that I stopped mourning or that it got easy.  In some ways it actually got harder for a little while.

But the day I met Bandit was the day I really started to heal.

How could I not have hope and joy in my life with this in front of me?

I can't really explain this.  Bandit did not take Speedy's place.  He is a very, very different dog.

I think at first the tremendous amount of work that taking care of a puppy requires became a distraction, and that helped for the very practical reason that I didn't have the time, nor the emotional wherewithal, to dwell on Speedy's loss so much!

But, of course, it was much more than that.  Against the background of devastating loss, watching Bandit grow was a daily miracle.  Getting to know him was a pleasure I will never forget.  He was so full of life and potential, I could not help but feel that life was going to be good again one day soon.

Naturally, I have come to be head over heels in love with Bandit because of who he is.  Still, I will always love him a little bit more out of gratitude all that he did - simply by his very presence in our lives - to help me deal with Speedy's loss.

Everything that Speedy and I did and experienced together
prepared me to love and learn from this master teacher

Dog Sports

Almost two and a half years after later, I really do believe that the most difficult part of going on after losing Speedy was continuing in dog sports.  Life happened whether I wanted it to or not.  Dogs had to be fed and cared for, work had to be done, and everyday living was not an option.

I could have quit dog sports.  I entertained the thought very seriously at several points, especially when it came to Freestyle.

After all, I got into dog sports with Speedy.  He was the dog that I discovered the joy of training with.  He was the dog with whom I earned my first Q and my first title.  I had so many years of memories of training with him, classes with him, Rally trials with him, Freestyle competitions with him, and some of the best of my dog sport memories happened with Speedy at my side.

I probably would not have quit Agility.  By that point Tessa and I had become a very solid Agility team with a competition history of our own.  And it helped that the place where we trialed in Agility at the most was one that Speedy had never even been to.  Speedy and I had few Agility memories in spite of the fact that he did study Agility briefly at one point.  I never really thought of Speedy as an "Agility dog".

Rally FrEe was a lot more difficult.  Even though I had actually started in Rally FrEe with Tessa and Dean, and Speedy had done very little of it, Rally FrEe is closely related to Freestyle, and, of course, that is where my most intense memories of Speedy are.  Both Tessa and Dean were involved with Rally FrEe, and I really did go through the motions with them for several months without putting much heart into it.


As for Freestyle itself, as I mentioned above, it became nearly impossible to continue on.  Really, I should have taken a break, but I tried to push forward with Tessa, and it was almost entirely disheartening.

I came to a point where I realized that the best of me as a Freestyle trainer/choreographer/performer/trainer was Speedy himself!  How was I to go on in the sport without him?

I felt that I couldn't.  Any attempt I made to train made me feel inept.  Performances were flat.  I had no inspiration, no ideas.  I wanted nothing more than to find some of the "magic" that I had in Freestyle with Speedy, but the best I could do was muddle . . .


In the end, I did take something of a break, and then I got myself some help when I was really ready to start trying to move forward again.  I took an online choreography class with both Dean, and the not-quite-one-year-old Bandit to get some assistance with creating routines for them.  I needed a lot of help, but we got it done.  We actually ended up creating one of Dean's nicest routines, and the routine that I think of as Bandit's "baby routine"!

Now I am at a point, with Dean Dog, Tessa, and Bandit, where I can create routines.  Tessa and I, of course, had our success with her New York, New York routine.  Bandit and I have created a phenomenal dance that is going to be nothing but fun to perform once I finish the training!  I still believe that I lost something of myself as a Freestyler that I will never get back when I lost Speedy.  But I can continue on in the sport with my current dogs, and I can find something with each of them that Speedy never had.


" . . . because that way you can pick up somewhere near where you left off, say that you have it in you."

In order to get to this point, I had to find it within myself to continue on.  I had to be willing to fumble along, I had to be willing to accept that it will never be quite the same, I had to allow myself to feel completely and utterly incompetent, and I had to focus on each of the dogs in front of me and learn how to allow the best in them to shine.

Things are much better now, and I genuinely enjoy training, trialing, and performing with each of my three current dogs.  I still run into a difficulty here and there, but I find that my dogs and I work through those much more easily these days.

Getting into Rally with Bandit brought me to such point of difficulty.  A good deal about his Rally style is very similar to Speedy's style.  And when we would first move though some of the Rally exercises together - fronts and finishes, right pivots, pace changes, etc., Bandit actually felt exactly like Speedy, if that makes any sense.  I would look down into Bandit's eyes riveted at mine, and I would see Speedy there.

I might have quit over that, but Bandit clearly enjoyed Rally training, so I put my feeling aside and we continued.  As the weeks and months have gone on since we started, our experience has changed.  Now I am starting to feel like this is how Bandit works, and when I look down into his eyes, I see only the light brown eyes of Bandit himself.


That's the way it is now.  Something reminds me of Speedy, or a regret crops up, and I am able to focus on the dog in front of me and move forward.

Speedy will always be a part of everything I do in dog sports.  His memory is always in my heart, and he will always be a part of who I am. 


I am the trainer, handler, and person that I am today because of Speedy
In that sense, he really always will be with me


Quotes from "Oyez a Beaumont" by Vicki Hearne

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SuperPups 2016

Our trial on Saturday was not exactly the super relaxed fun time that I had hoped it would be.  It was good, but somehow it seemed that Tessa was just a little "off".  She was not her normal sparkly, waggly self.  She was OK - she was in good enough spirits and more than willing to run.  She just seemed uncharacteristically skittery.

There were some thunderstorms in the area.  We did not get a direct hit at the facility, but there definitely were storms around.  That would definitely account for her being a bit subdued since she certainly would sense that in the atmosphere.  Also, we had some stress around the house last week, and it is possible that she was still trying to deal with all that.  Or maybe she was just feeling tired . . . who knows?

In any case, we did have a nice time together, and, aside from being a little pokey and slightly distracted, Tessa ran well.  As always, she put her heart into it and gave me her all, and I never ask for more than that!

First up was Wildcard.  The course started out nice, but ended rather strangely!  Just before the last obstacles - which were actually the last discrimination - there was a set of weave poles, which we would approach coming out of a curved tunnel, and then a jump set back on the side of the approach to those weaves.  Then there was another set of weave poles, parallel to the first, which had a rather difficult approach from that middle jump.  Then, coming out of those weaves, was the last discrimination - a single bar jump near the exit to the weaves (definitely an easy option) and a double set back toward the entry to those weaves (a challenging option).

And if you did not understand a word of that, no worries - I have video!

I elected to have Tessa do a tunnel early on instead of an A-Frame, which meant that we would need to do the more difficult double at the end.  I wasn't sure if my handling plan through the ending was all that great, but we went with it.

Many dogs ran right through that last set of weaves to try to shoot for the double!  Tessa saw it and headed for it, but came right back without even getting hear it!

Coming out of the last set of weaves, I was not set up right to send her to that double.  I ended up kind of leaning in toward her and gesturing toward the double with my opposite arm, and lo and behold, Tessa sent right to the double and took it!!

I joked with some friends that Tessa and I have created a new "International Move" called the "Tesso"! 

It actually does not look as odd on video as it felt in real time!

Here is our Wildcard video:



It was a Q!  Our sixth Level 5 Wildcard Q!  Six down, nine to go!

After that we had a short break and then we moved on to Colors.  The course in Colors seemed pretty straightforward, so it was a surprise to me when Tessa spontaneously meandered off course and took a straight purple tunnel!  That is SO uncharacteristic that I was shocked!!  But Tessa never knew it!  When she came out of the tunnel, I called her and we went on and finished.  The ending of that run was awesome!!  A really FAST run down a row of 4 jumps!

So, an NQ, but we did have fun.

That was followed by a longer break, and I took Tessa to Subway and got a sandwich.  Tessa got bits of turkey and pepperoni as I was eating it!

Finally, we ran our Jumpers run!  It went pretty well.  There were two small blips - both totally my handling.  When she came out of a curved tunnel toward the end of the run, I didn't make sure to reconnect before going on.  She almost ran around the next jump, but read my line at the last second and took it.  Then I failed to turn all the way on a front cross and she ended up going behind me!  That time I managed to call her off the purple tunnel and got her back on course!

So, that one was a Q - our 7th Level 5 Jumpers Q!  8 more of those to go!

After that trial, I did seriously consider not entering the Rocky Creek trial in two weeks, thinking that maybe we need to take a bit of a break.  Thing is, we are going to have a good long break after Rocky Creek because there is simply nothing to enter for quite a while after that.

Also, after this "iffy" weekend, I'd like to have a chance at one where Tessa will be happier.

So, I entered - Jumpers, Snooker, and Colors!!  Should be fun!

I am also thinking about other things with Tessa for a while.  I am going to work up a Heelwork to Music routine with her.  I entered her in the Star Spangled Swing at the end of June and we will perform it there!

I would also like to go for our Alternate Advanced Rally FrEe title, do the pre-Bronze Cyber Rally-O Dance Division patterns, and do some Cyber Rally-O with Tessa!

I think the break will do us good.  And then next fall we will really get back into our Agility trialing again.


Yeah, Freestyle . . . !!!

Friday, May 13, 2016

New Goals

Tessa and I are going to be trialing this weekend, provided it doesn't thunder.

It was fun to ride the wave of "We got our C-ATCH" excitement for two weeks, but now I am really ready to get back to normal with my girl in the sport that she and I enjoy so much together.

So . . . new goals!  Tessa and I would not be who we are if we weren't working toward something!  It will never be quite the same as our journey toward our "lifetime goal", but still . . . we need a direction and something to work toward.

In addition to Standard Agility in CPE, there are six categories of games: Fullhouse, Jumpers, Wildcard, Colors, Snooker, and Wildcard.

It is possible, once in Level 5, to earn a Championship title in each individual category.  This is actually independent of the C-ATCH title, and so the Q's that we got toward our C-ATCH actually count toward the individual level Championships, as well!  So, we are actually already on our way to earning all seven!

And that is going to be our goal.  We are going to see if we can earn all seven individual level Championships!  It requires 15 Q's at each game.  Currently we have: 11 toward Standard, 9 toward Colors, 6 toward Jumpers, and 5 each toward Wildcard, Snooker, Jackpot, and Fullhouse.

For a while I am just going to enter classes that I feel like entering, and focus on having fun with Tessa in the ring.  As we start to naturally get close to one or two of those titles, we will dig in and really start to work toward them!

Tessa and I are ready and it is going to be fun!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Walking Club 2.0

Yesterday I took Tessa and Bandit hiking at Kings Gap State Park.  I have taken the two of them out walking many, many times but somehow yesterday was different.

I have struggled with hiking with the two of them.  It always brings back memories of so many hikes that I took with Tessa and Speedy, aka - the Walking Club!  It was always so peaceful walking with the two of them.  They were like two peas on a pod, usually keeping pace with each other, meandering along companionably.

Walking with Bandit and Tessa has always led to me missing Speedy and wishing that he were there with us.  It always seemed wrong to be out in the woods with Bandit and Tessa instead of Tessa and Speedy.

But something has changed.  Yesterday was different.  For the first time it just felt right to be out hiking with the two of them.



Maybe it is because Bandit is maturing.  He and Tessa are becoming a much more appropriately matched pair.  The two of them seem to think that sniffing the same spot of ground, as we walk along together, is quite sporting!

So, Bandit, Tessa, and I are now officially Walking Club 2.0!


I am looking forward to taking the two of them around together more this summer.  I would like to take them up on the Watershed Trail sometime soon, and to the Nature Trail at Colonel Denning State Park.

Fun times ahead!

It's a beautiful day.  Can we go hiking now?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

More Than Just a Dog Sport

Of course, now that Tessa and I have finished her C-ATCH (YAY!!), I am in a very reflective state of mind!  I have been thinking back and just enjoying all of the memories of what it took for Tessa and I to reach our goal together.

The one thing that stands out the most for me is that - with one notable exception - I have never worked this hard for this long and put so much of my heart, mind, and soul into something with one of my dogs as I have with Tessa on this.

The exception - Speedy.  Really everything about Speedy.  Helping him learn to be comfortable in the world.  Helping him learn to enjoy training contexts with other dogs and people.  Working with him to be able to do live competition.  And - probably one of the most difficult challenges that he and I dealt with - helping him learn to control his stimulation levels so he would not be overstimulated by his own movement in Freestyle.



I put as much of myself into my work with Speedy, and accomplishing everything that he and I did was intensely amazing and satisfying.  I am who I am today because of Speedy and our experiences together.

I do believe, though, that after all of this, I will say the exact same thing about Tessa.

Both dogs started out with a great deal to overcome, and in the end both of them transformed from fearful dogs into bright, shining, confident dogs - in life, and in dog sports.

But . . . this was different, too.

Tessa and I set out right from the beginning with a clear goal.  And I knew that she was 100% with me from a very early point in our work together.

And, of course, Tessa and I were mastering a game.  Speedy and I were changing brain chemistry.

The thing is, Agility was never just a game for Tessa, and it was never just a dog sport.  Back when Tessa and I first started her Agility, that training really was the first place where I really saw Tessa experience real joy.  Something about jumping over things, walking across things, learning to tip a teeter, learning to weave, etc. tapped into something at the very heart of Tessa that nothing else in life seemed to be able to at that point.

And when Tessa and I started trailing, the most astonishing thing to me was that in the competition Agility ring, she always glowed with happiness and fun, which was something that I did not often see outside of that context.  Right from her very first Agility trial, it seemed that in that context Tessa transformed into the dog that she always should have been, and the dog that she always had the right to be.

At the same time, Tessa was helping me out in a significant way.  I was mourning the loss of my first Agility partner, Maddie.  Every time Tessa and I went to a trial, I felt like crying most of the time.  And Tessa was never phased by that in the least.  She accepted me where I was at and still put her whole heart into her Agility runs.

And while I might have felt like crying in the crating area, or while we were walking, or when I picked up ribbons, in the ring, my mind and heart were always right there with Tessa.

So, she found her confidence and her joy, and I found the way to move forward.  We did that together and we became . . . us!

One moment that stands out in my mind was the day we were driving home from the first CPE trial where we had run in Level 1.  The trial that was held at our home training center.  We had qualified in 4 out of the 5 runs that day, and it had just been an amazing experience.

I looked at Tessa on the way home and I said, "we're C-ATCH bound!"  And she looked back at me with happy eyes.


That was it.

Going from Level 1 to C-ATCH, we would have to earn 120 Q's.  We were in it for the long haul, and it was the perfect goal for the team of Kristine and Tessa.

I have never been a cut-throat title chaser.  Had something happened along the way that would have indicated that this was not a good goal for Tessa, I would have changed something.


But that never happened.  We ran into challenges along the way, but they were Agility challenges.  The kind of things you can train to overcome.  And coming off of my work with Speedy and Dean, whose issues were always grounded in problems with brain chemistry, the difficulties that Tessa and I faced together were really just worthy challenges that we both loved to dig in and work through together.



So, Tessa and I dove in and chased this title together.  And I am pleased to say that we did this with mutual respect, with mutual enjoyment, and completely in synch with one another every step of the way.  I was never upset with her or disappointed in her for mistakes on course, although I have to say - relatively speaking, she made very few!  I would take myself to task for handling errors, but Tessa had all of my appreciation and respect for every effort she made on the course.

Honestly, I would want to have exactly that kind of relationship, and that same approach to competition, with every single one of my performance dogs!

With Tessa, each level was never really a goal in and of itself.  Each level was a step that we needed to complete in order to move closer to where we were going.

Tessa really put herself out there.  She ran, she jumped, she teetered and weaved and tunneled over and over and over!  She found more speed when we needed it.  She ran in the heat and sat around in the cold!  She waited through long days, ran when she was tired, and she put her heart into every single run.  That tail waggled and that girl preened without fail as we came to the finish together!  And she did all of that with her whole heart and with great joy.

I gave up weekends, and drove, and went to new places, and sat around waiting, and ran and ran and ran.  I learned new handling.  I learned how to train Tessa better.  I worked with instructors, and took classes, and went to seminars, and took online classes.  I learned how have Tessa work fitness exercises.  And I did all of that with my whole heart and with great joy.

Tessa and I did all that together and in the end it really was the perfect journey! 

We reached our goal.  And the feeling is beyond amazing!

I love the giant ribbon and the bar that I got to decorate and that our friends are signing.  I love being able to write C-ATCH Tessa!! 

But most of all I love the memories of this entire thing.  I love to remember where Tessa started, and what tiny little steps she had to take at the very beginning.  I love that the real Tessa has left the Agility ring and is present now in our everyday lives.  I love to remember all of the learning that Tessa and I have done together.  I love to think of those shining eyes and that waggling tail.  I love to remember all of the time that she and I spent together walking, hanging around, and running and running and running and running and running!




Agility has been an incredible gift to Tessa - it really is one of her favorite things in life.  And it is absolutely exhilarating to run week in and week out with a dog who doesn't do it just because I ask her to, but because she genuinely loves it!

I will be honored to continue to enjoy the game with her, hopefully for a very long time to come!

Now we will enjoy it strictly for its own sake, although that has always been a big part of it for us anyway!  And that is a really cool place to be!






Tuesday, May 3, 2016

C-ATCH Tessa!

We did it!!!

On Sunday Tessa and I earned her C-ATCH!

I am beyond excited and overjoyed and proud of my girl!

To have come from where she and I started makes it all the more satisfying!

And Tessa had fun every step of the way.  She loves Agility.  She adores trialing.  She enjoys training.  And she loves our "girl's days"!

Last week was surreal.  I thought about very little other than the upcoming trial.  We needed one Wildcard and one Snooker.  We would compete in Wildcard on Saturday and then Snooker on Sunday.

I knew that we were perfectly capable of qualifying in both games.  But . . . you really never know.  Anything can always happen!

I tried to be normal and be involved with other things, but I could hardly get my mind away from what Tessa and I were going to attempt to do!

Finally, Saturday came, and we were off to Periland!  I was very grateful that I had decided to scratch Jackpot altogether when I added Snooker to our entry.  I actually think I would have enjoyed trying our hand at that Jackpot gamble, but some other time!  I was also very glad that I did not have to get up early and rush.  I was able to sleep a bit later, and Tessa and I took our time getting to the trial.

Our first run of the day was Standard.  That went well.  I made a handling mistake that cost us the Q, but it was actually an extremely fun run.  Tessa did some really nice stuff!



I was glad that if we were going to NQ on anything it was this Standard run, since we had all the Standard we needed for our C-ATCH!

Next up was Wildcard.  I had the darndest time deciding how I wanted to run this course!  The first discrimination was between two straight tunnels at #3, and then the second discrimination followed that at #4 - a double that was the "B" and a single bar jump that was the "A".  Then there were a couple of jumps and then the third discrimination was the A-Frame, further out, which was the "B" and a straight tunnel, closer in, which was the "A".

I considered every different combination possible, and finally decided on doing the further tunnel (which was "B") and the double, which would make it so we had to do the straight tunnel on the last discrimination.  I thought this was our best bet, but I knew I would really have to stop to make sure she wouldn't go over the A-Frame!

There was one more tricky piece of this.  If Tessa was running fast, I was going to need to rear cross the jump after the double.  But if she was going slower, I would need to blind cross the double.  I was going to have to see how she was running and decide on the fly!

In the end, it went perfectly!!  I did blind cross the double, and after that she really picked up speed!  Then, I stopped to signal the tunnel and she was taking it before I even realized it!!

The end of the course was very straightforward, and we got it done!



And that left us with one to go!  It was surreal, it was exciting, it was nerve wracking, but it was awesome, too!

So, we headed back on Sunday for our Snooker run.

When I first saw the map, I was dismayed.  It looked difficult!  But I figured out a strategy that would work for us, and when we walked it, I saw that it was incredibly straightforward.  Really, this was the kind of run that Tessa and I could do best!  It was perfect!

For some reason, I had it in my mind that she was going to knock the bar on the second jump when I did the front cross!  I don't know why - she has never knocked a bar in competition on a front cross that I can recall!  But I guess I had to obsess over something, and that was it.

I practiced it a couple of times on the warm up jump to try to convince myself that it was not going to be a problem, but that didn't work!

We just had to do our best!

Finally the moment came!  This was it!  Really, the run we had been working for the privilege of taking together since the day I sent in her first CPE entry in spring of 2012!  And it was one I knew we could get done!

It was flawless!



Snooker is the best game to finish a C-ATCH on!  We beat the horn and finished everything, so there was no doubt that we had qualified!

We got a round of applause and we got to take a victory lap!  With the big ribbon, of course!!

I do have the victory lap on video.  Unfortunately, my camera got fussy and the video is blurry.  I am SO glad the run was clear!

Here is the video, in spite of that!


Tessa loved that!!  Look at her tail!!


Here is our ribbon!!  It is the biggest one I have ever gotten for anything!!!



And I got to decorate our C-ATCH bar!


Tessa got a rain of chicken after that!  We didn't walk much because it was raining, but we did take a bit of a walk!

That was just an incredible experience - all those trials, all those Agility runs, all those classes, all those years!!

And Tessa is the best Agility partner in the entire universe.  She will always be my Agility dog the way Speedy will always be my Freestyle dog!

I was extra happy to finish this at Periland.  Maddie and I, eons ago now, earned our very first Q's, and our very first Agility titles, at Periland!  Of course, that was when it was outdoors, and it was very different.  But it still makes me feel like starting with Maddie, and then going on with Tessa, all came full circle in that experience.  Tessa and I finished our big goal on the same ground where Maddie and I really got started.

What now?  Oh, we are going to take a few trials and just have fun.  Run what I feel like signing up for, and just enjoying our Agility together.

Then I will think about new goals!


For now, I am going to just be thrilled beyond words for my girl!!

Waiting for our Pizza after the trial.  Yes, Tessa got some pizza!

Congratulations to:

C-ATCH Tessa CRO-I(3), P-CRO-II, RL-1, D-CRO-Preliminary, WFDX-MF, WFD-HTM, RFE-X, RFE-Alt-X, ATD, DCD-CH(2) Team Hammar,
DCD-Ent(3) Team Hammar