Things have been crazy busy. The shelters is crazy..classes are doing well....and then there is the training center. Things have finally emerged from lawyer-land and the application has been submitted to the towns zoning board. Today I called the surrounding neighbors to ease their minds and answer questions and got really good feedback. So far, the only caveat is that the barn is 35 feet from the property line and according to the rules, it needs to be 50. So a variance is a possibility, but we wont know until the town meeting which wont be until the end of April. I posted a few pics and wish I had taken more on my last trip out. Its simply the most beautiful piece of property and if it works out...it will be a dream come true. We have so many plans including an agility ring that overlooks the river (how great would it be to run agility, take your dog for a dip in the river and then walk the 11acres of open field?), and small barn to house a small herd of dog broke sheep.
Yesterday Brees and I joined our good friend Amy & Andy for our herding lesson. The winter lessons meet in a barn of a working farm in beautiful Searsport right on the coast. The woman who owns the farm popped in to watch the lessons just in time for Brees's second pass which consisted of his ADD moment and 'crazy eye' stare. At this time I asked him to 'down', which he didn't. So I tried to step on the line to get him into the down, and was fumbling as Brees was able to pull the the line through the treads of my new Bog boots. This prompted my instructor to yell out 'next time wear real farm boots and leave those high fashion boots at home!' What?? Herding then went on the back burner as we had a 'Housewives' moment with a boot debate (Muck vs. Bog vs LaCrosse). I learned that my Bogs, by far, are NOT what the mid coast farmers are wearing this mud season. The conversation then went to how a salve made for horses can help with liver spots. Really? I had no idea when I went to my herding lesson that I would leave with beauty and fashion tips! I do think that Bravo should consider the Mid coast of Maine for the next 'Housewives' show. That would be entertainment!
Found out today that the barn (training facility) doesn't meet the '50 ft from the property line' requirement. Its my task to call the surrounding neighbors to let them know of the plans before they get the letter from the zoning board (Who are incorrectly calling us a 'kennel'...yikes!) and ease their minds. Sheesh...I feel like its over before we even began! I have faith that there will be a 'work around'(using the words of a lawyer friend!)
I wantto share about the opportunity that came up for my little dog training business. A good friend of mine and I are looking to share a 1400 sq training space! The best part is that its on 11 acres of beautiful field which abuts a river. I have been given the title of 'project manager' and am able to remodel the space as needed and pick out the flooring of my choice! The truth is that this business plan has been in process since last fall, the contract on the property has finally been signed and we are filling out our applications for zoning. It all seems so grown up and strange! I am overwhelmed after all these months of negotiations at how much work that needs to be done! But if all goes well, I will finally have the 'home' my little business has been looking for! Stay tuned for adventures in zoning meetings, contractors and other 'new business' woes!
Not sure what happened to the shy puppy that I had to sweet talk to get him to walk (on leash) around my neighborhood. He now struts with all the bravado and swagger I expect from a 16 year old human boy. Ten feet tall and bullet proof. The past few weeks he has decided how much fun it is to lunge and scream at the end of his leash whenever he sees another dog.
When Liam was his age he went through the same thing, although his response to other dogs was a lot more serious. Liam came to me when he was 6 months old, and I used a gentle leader and worked on focus games and classical conditioning to desensitize him to other dogs on leash. Gimli was a 'city puppy' who by default, learned to deal with traffic, people, bikes, skateboards and other dogs.I think poor Brees is suffering from 'suburban dog syndrome' who unfortunately, has minimal positive exposure to other dogs in my neighborhood. With a combination of poor weather and a gap in training, I realized that I just need to commit to getting him comfortable with dogs around him in all situations.
So I fit him with a gentle leader, which he accepted right away (good sign), and we started working super early in the morning. I take him out on a solo walk with a handful of mackerel treats and we work on 'silly walks', turn-aways, and lots of verbal praise mixed with treats. The worse thing about working a full time 'real' job is that I don't have the time I need to work him they way I want to. But I have to follow my own advice and look for small success's and not get discouraged.
Brees and I made the 2.5 hour trip up to Searsport Maine on Sunday for a herding lesson with Suzanne along with my friend Amy and her GSD, Andy. We had a storm Saturday night and I was on the fence about making the long trip up in potential bad weather. However the weather quickly cleared and I am so glad we didn't cancel! I think Brees is going through his second 'fear stage' as he was fearful of things that he has been exposed to. So we went slow introducing him to flappy tarps on the fences and noisy gates. We started on ducks, and Suzanne had me start working him on 'get around', and ' stop' to teach him not to rush into the flock once he moved him to the corner. He did well, and I am getting better at manipulating the rake and line and watching the ducks and my dog at the same time. My timing is still slow, but as Suzanne says, it takes a dog/handler team average of 3 years to work like a well oiled machine and even then the factors of livestock and environment are always changing. That made me feel better! We put him away for about an hour while Andy & Amy worked sheep and they were fantastic!! Suzanne decided that the sheep were low key enough for Brees. So, I got the 'thighs of steel' workout walking backwards in the dirt barn while Brees joyfully chased, barked and worked his livestock. Like his introducton ducks, Suzanne wanted him to work on instinct. I moved the sheep from one side of the arena to the other, and Brees was able to hold them in the corner without rushing them. He did split the herd a few times and chased the singleton to get him back with the group, which was fun to watch! I have to say I love herding! I love the smell of the farm, the dirt on my boots, and watching a dog work and working my own. Its so much harder than it looks and is one of the most rewarding sports I have ever done. Suzanne is a fantastic teacher who knows exactly what each student and dog needs and pushes her students to be better. She ends each lesson with a hug and encouraging words. We will make another trip up to Seasport next month and then back to the farm in April.
If you aren't the agility/trainer type, the title isn't what you think! Now that Brees is just about 6 months old, its time for him to know that he has two rear legs waaay back there. Yesterday I received my 'training ladder' from Affordable Agility, and I picked up a few PVC poles to make cavalettis. I figure there is no way to cure the winter blahs than continue on with agility training. So we got out the clicker and started working slowly with the ladder. The first few passes he fumbled, stumbled and tripped his way through. But we continued slowly and after a few more passes he started to make progress. Tomorrow I am heading over to my friends place who has a huge cleared out basement and will be bringing the wobble board, ladder, tunnel & cavellettis and we are going to have a little training party with Brees, Gimli and a 5 month old golden pup named Elliott.
I hate this time of year..specifically the end of January to mid February when it feels like winter will go on forever. Between the unbarable cold tempertures, no sidewalks, salt on the streets and 5 foot drifts, walking the dogs in my suburban neighborbood has been a big drag. I feel lucky that I can get the dogs to the beach once a week to give them proper exersise, but that doesnt help with the other 6 days. My husband and I decided to join our local gym to counter the winter carbo-load diet of pancakes and pasta. I know this funk will pass...I just count the days when spring arrives.
I used to be an avid raw food feeder. Not just a feeder..I was obsessed with it. I owned a freezer, meat grinder & cleaver. A Saturday afternoon consisted of wheeling my cleaver into 15 lbs of beef heart or grinding whole rabbits. I would even come home on my lunch hour to split up a case of turkey necks. My husband was afraid of looking in our bathtub as he was uncertain of what kind of frozen animal part would be thawing. Both Liam and Gimli were raised on raw diet, and they never looked better. This past weekend, my mother showed me a picture of the boys when I was raw feeding and wow..they really did look fantastic. Gimli had the build of mini bull-dog.. great muscle tone and a small waist. Liam looked like an athlete and both had shiny eyes and beautiful coats.I had to stop feeding raw a few years ago due to the increase of fuel costs and a shift in jobs. But it was seeing that picture that has prompted me to revisit raw. Gimli has turned into a chunk, even though I only feed him 1/2 cup of kibble a day and Liam is sore and his coat is dull. I have him on Dasaquien (joint supplement), but it isn't the miracle I was hoping for. I purchased dehydrated raw to dress up their kibble, but still...it isnt cutting it. So I did a little research and found a Omas co-op just minutes from my house, and the next order is scheduled for March. Plenty of time to prepare my husband that he will see those recognizable chubs in our freezer.
My 86 year old grandmother passed away last Thursday, so the entire family is descending on Burlington NJ for the funeral. I used to be terrified of death. But as I age, its not so much the idea of dying, but how death is perceived in our culture that concerns me. My father, being the open minded philosophical man he is, encouraged me to think very independently about heaven, religion and 'where we go' after death. So at the tender age of 7, I turned my pet cemetery into a archaeological 'dig', so I could examine the physical evidence of death.
Working at the shelter, the hardest part of the job is making the difficult decision of euthanasia. Its spiritually and emotionally draining to make these decisions, and I don't take them lightly. When I took the job, I knew that euthanasia was part of the job. We don't euthanize often, but in a open access shelter, its a reality. I made the decision that each dog that had to die was going to have as much dignity and respect that we could provide. They were going to have a wonderful meal of fast food and were going to be held with kindness, and hear loving words as they left this world and went onto the the next. That is a promise to the dogs that the staff has embraced. I have been present for every euthanasia except for 1 since November, and as hard as they are to do, its the kindess release we can give.
I think my grandmother had a full life and I think her release was a kind one surrounded by people who loved her. I hope there really is a 'rainbow bridge' and, if given the choice, I hope to end up there surrounded in death by the same lovely creatures I chose to spend my time with in life.
Today I cut out of work early which meant there was enough daylight to work with Brees and the rake. In herding, a small thin rake is used as a 'crook'. Because the tynes are made of plastic, its a harmless 'bonker' in case a dog gets a little to heavy on the sheep and is also used to train the dog to slow down, stop and 'get around' Herding is about toning down the prey drive to get the dog to think, the reward being that the dog can chase livestock. But a dog has to be trained and in the burbs its hard to keep livestock hanging around, so creativity is needed. To try to simulate 'ducks' I had my husband walk Gimli and Liam about 1/2 block ahead of us. With Brees on a 4 ft lead in my left hand, and the rake tucked under my right arm we started toward them. As my instructor suggested, I swung rake like a pendulum in front of us. As predicted, Brees lurched forward, but backed off quickly as the rake blocked his path. When he looked up at me, I smiled and rewarded him with a treat. I kept this routine for about a block, then started to add 'stops' and plunked the rake in front of him (tynes always away from the face) as my husband would continue to walk ahead. We then added an occasional down. Always rewarding for walking calmly next to me, and occasionally walking in a tight circle with a treat at my side. I worked both sides of my body, but I am better with him on my left side than right. So we have more work to do, especially on 'get around' where the rake is used to start turning the dog in the opposite direction and to keep distance from the handler. Its a weird motion and takes practice ( I am trying to practice with out the dog to get the muscle memory) By the end of our walk, I only needed to flash the rake slightly at my side for Brees to slow down. Our next lesson is in February and It will be interesting to see if he generalized the work we will do in the neighborhood to the barn.
Today the entire family (husband included) went to an obedience Show N Go...our first one. I decided to hand the handling of Gimli over to Jill, and wow! He did great with her! His head was high, tail wagging the entire time and he was just so dang attentive! I loved watching him...his feet moved so fast and with pure joy! So, I think I have my obedience handler. Jill and I have decided that competitive obedience is like math where agility is like recess. Jill, being a former school teacher, is all about structure and following the outlined rules. Where I like having the ability to have a plan A or Plan B...or maybe plan C if A&B aren't going to work. So, I am hoping to work with her golden Tally in agility and she will help with Gimli in obedience...perfect! I did one run with Liam and will start him in classes next week. We did OK..as always, I forget how to walk normal in the obedience ring. Total handler errors. Brees had fun going through the agility tunnel that was set up, and got a lot of socializing. Fun day had by all!
Brees is growing and growing...big head, thinnish-gangly body and total tween! 3-4 nights a week I pull out the tunnel, wobble board and the mini 'table' (a plastic bin with a piece of yoga mat on top) and we play. With each piece of 'equipment' he gets more and more excited. He LOVES the wobble board, we have been playing on it since I brought him home and he tries to jump on it before I even get it all the way on the floor. Run...Bang!...surf...TREAT! I have also been working on his release..he stands on the edge of the wobble, and waits until I say 'OK' then he runs off to get the treat that I tossed or the toy to play a game of tug. With our mini 'table' I get him jazzed with holding his collar and 'Reaaaady...steaaaady...GO table!' and he runs across the room and hops up...treat..treat....treat! We have also been working on stay on the table with the countdown (5 and 4 and 3....blah..blah..) I picked up a small orange cone at Lowes last week and have been working on go outs a little...but not much. I keep the training short...no more than 3-4 reps on each thing and ALWAYS end before he wants to. We have our favorite training tug toys, a riot stick and a woolly toy that I use to start and end all training. After each session I bring the other dogs in and work on group sits, downs, stays. I finally found a small rake yesterday (the nice sales clerk at my local hardware store let me scrounge around in the basement where they store them for the winter). He is great on leash when I am working with him alone, but when he is with the other dogs on leash he is a lunatic. So my husband will help me by using the other dogs as a distraction (ducks) while I use the rake and work on 'walk ups' and 'stops' He has another herding lesson next month AND I received good news this week that my most favorite agility instructor, Cindy Ratner, will be offering day classes at a facility only minutes from my house this winter. Wa-Hoo! I think I am an official soccer dog-mom!
I had been searching for a new coat and at my last herding lesson, I envied my instructors durable and practical Carhartt . I found one and think its the best coat I have ever purchased. Its incredibly warm and I love the deep pockets (plenty deep for poop bags, treats and keys), as well as two inside pockets with Velcro seal. The zipper is wicked heavy-duty, unlike the wimpy zipper of my Lands End coat from last winter. My co worker called me a hick when she saw it in the office. I dont care....I love farmwear!
It seems as though every couple of years, I have a' transition' year. Sometimes transitions are a span of years, like when I went back to college in my early 30's. I hate that I am old enough to think that a transition takes years.. on the other hand, I wouldn't 'turn back the clock' for a million dollars.
In 2010 I quit my comfy and soul-less corporate job and jumped into dog training full time. I became 'legit' by incorporating, acquiring a logo, accounting software and a laptop. Being a business owner has always been a dream of mine, but the down side of being a 'one woman show' is that I got lonely. I missed the opportunity of bouncing ideas off others. I love being busy...all the time. And with the poor economy, jumping into dog training wasn't probably the smartest move, but its one I don't regret.
At first,I tried working with a brand new training center but I soon realized that when working with other trainers, chemistry is everything! So I branched out on my own and picked up a part time job at the local animal shelter, not knowing that a part time administrative job would soon be a full time kennel management job. After months of teaching in different locations, I found a fun and supportive training center to work in, where trainers are like minded and laid back!
On the dog front, Liam had a small sarcoma removed early this year and we celebrated his continued health by playing agility all summer. At 9 years sold, I am grateful that my big guy still has the ability to play our much loved game. Brees came into our life this fall, and he was the missing piece we have been waiting for. We are having blast with him!
I feel like I am were I want to be...working with shelter dogs, teaching and training. For 2011 I hope for more of the same. I don't make resolutions as I don't keep them. I just hope I never have to go back to a gray cube and a headset.