Dog Training Advice from a Mega-Corpo-Uberglomerate CEO

Well I am stretching that a bit. I was invited to a presentation last night by a media company I have a close working relationship with. The media company is owned by a much larger—well, massive really—corporation that does over $4 billion in revenue each year. Wowzers. The head CEO came to give a talk, a pep talk I guess, to the media company here in So Cal who also hosted some of its advertisers and partners.

The gist of the talk was obviously the company’s current and future success, pretty standard stuff. But what I walked away with was a refresher on the philosophy that we all tend to forget—both in work but also with our dogs and life in general. Its supposed to be fun. All of it. Work will definitely not always be fun, nor will life, nor is trying to get your dog to enter the weave poles correctly each and every time. But if its not fun, in some capacity, you’re wasting your time. And if it is fun, then guess what, everyone wins. Happy workers make better products which makes money. Trainers that create a motivating environment build happy, willfully working dogs that progress faster and try harder. Which makes everyone happy.

Thats one of the biggest lessons I have learned from Laurie. Who cares what you are working on—motivation and interest comes first. If the drill you are working on needs to be thrown out the window, so be it. No point in drilling on and on with a miserable dog. Thats not to say you never reprimand or let the dog do whatever it wants; I saw her get on a student last week for being too passive as his dog was being naughty and blowing him off after obviously knowing what was expected. But, for a soft or sensitive dog, you need to build the drive.

I was horrible in class on Monday. Pete was there, he hadnt seen the new facility and hasnt seen Forest working in a while, and I had been recently bragging on and on about how great Forest is doing. I, however, was a hot mess that night, we were working on some tougher sequences and I completely mucked it all up. It sucked. But, Forest kept working. He was “up,” and in the game and maybe checked out minorly once or twice–but in relation to how shittily I was directing him, he was a total champ as kept at it.

His drive is building and his skin is getting thicker. And, I need to buy another new food-dispensing toy because my non-tugging dog has torn holes in the mesh and we were spraying sardine bits all over the course as he gamely latched onto the tug…

That, makes me happy.

Pop.

My grandfather passed last night. It was as good as it could have been, he was ready and we were all ready for him to go. The family was there with him, and I got to say goodbye.

I helped haul dear Lady–his ancient Chesapeake Bay Retriever–up the garden path and into the bedroom so he could touch her and she could be with him for a bit. He was gone mentally at that point but I hope he knew it was her. Even when his mind started to go, he still was always asking “Where’s Lady?”, and demanding and ordering everyone around, “Let Lady out!” He loved his dogs.

At Los Rios Rancho, sorting apples with Blue. 1980s.

My grandfather was undoubtedly the host of the DNA many of us acquired featuring the dog and horse bug. He grew up riding around the high deserts of Southern California, including on my great grandmother’s Yucca Loma guest ranch. During WWI she hosted many high-falutin’ LA types on her ranch, including some movie stars of the day. Family lore has it (or at least Pop told me, which means it was taken with a grain of salt) that as a teenager, he was driving Clark Gable around hunting rabbits from a car. They saw a rabbit and Pop slammed on the brakes, whereupon Clark Gable flew forward and knocked his teeth out on the dash. Whether or not that’s entirely true I have no idea, but its a good story regardless.

From the time I was born, and well, well before there was always a big lumbering hunting dog somewhere within spitting distance my grandfather. He had “gun dogs”. He loved them to death but wasnt much of a dog trainer. He was exceedingly nice to everyone, including his dogs, and never could see why my grandmother would get so infuriated by a Labrador tail clearing the coffee table or knocking over a small child. If you grew up in our family you were relatively dog savvy whether you cared to be or not.

He loaned me his old, handmade saddle when I wrangled dudes out in Wyoming after college for 3 years. Being a hunt seat bumpkin up until that point, I didnt know how nice of a rig it was until all the real cowboys started trying to buy it off of me. (No way you thieving bastards!!!)  I still have a gorgeous pair of braided roping reins I unearthed from one of his stashes. I need to go dust those off and clean them up.

He was always dressed, as long as he could get out of bed—which was really up until only a few weeks ago. Slacks, button down, bolo tie, cowboy boots. And if going out somewhere, a hat. And always ready to sneak us a $20 for gas money or just because. He was generous to a fault, and we all loved him for it.

Thanks Pop. We love you, will miss you, and are happy you are in a better place. Nanie will be glad to see you.

Fashion, I Quit You. (aka–an Unagility Post that May or May Not Tie Back to Agility)

So I use a website called bloglovin’ to keep up on the majority of my blog readings. It doesn’t work seamlessly 100% of the time, but for the most part, its pretty cool. I have about 25 blogs or so feeding into there, and all I have to do throughout the day (or maybe more like at least 56 times a day), is hit the refresh button and a brand new batch of mostly-dog-centric goodness appears before me to devour. Its like an RSS feed but prettier.

Judging by the home page and their featured blogs, bloglovin’ seems primarily to be used by fashion bloggers, plus a healthy amount of cooking and home sites as well. I love all of that stuff and in my past lives spent probably the same amount of hours trolling those sites as I do now with the dog blogs. I even have a smattering of style sites in my list that spits out new posts. However, in my use of bloglovin’ I have noticed what seems to be a new phenomenon. These are not the fashion bloggers a la New York magazine in which they detail every outfit that came down the Lanvin runway at the Spring shows, but instead, they are along the vein of “look at me I am SO achingly fashionable that I take pictures of myself in new outfits multiple times a day and post them and detail exactly what 16 items and brands of clothing and jewelry I am wearing”. Seriously. These things are apparently a dime a dozen. They get the most “favorited” on the aggregated site and seem to have a LOT of followers. I get the whole “real people’s movement” and DIY and all that, but c’mon. And the ones that are the most favorited are the ones wearing the Alexander Wang leather shorts, platform Prada shooties, and a Chanel headpiece. Something about the self-absorption and corresponding fawning makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

Maybe I spend a lot more than the average person on things like food-dispensing tug toys and collapsible crates, but I still dont think I could afford a Chanel headpiece even if all my dog expenses disappeared tomorrow. And I am hardly poor. Who are these 100lb 20-something year-olds with pockets deep enough to laze around at hipster coffee shops and clubs wearing Marc Jacobs and toting a $1500 camera?

Then again, maybe its not any different than what I do. Chronicling every obstacle and every training class, every mood swing of my neurotic pound puppies could be seen as just as self absorbed. Minus the glam factor and bank accounts, with a lot more poop and cut up hot dogs thrown in.

Fashion in its varying levels will always be of interest to me, but I think I am growing out of it. Or maybe I am at least transitioning.  I did spend too much money on some designer-ish running shoes and fancy workout pants specifically for agility use. And I feel fairly confident in saying I wont ever commission a t-shirt that has my dogs’ photo on it. But, I did buy a straw, huge-brimmed old lady visor at the supermarket a few days ago that looked awfully practical.

*shudder*

Hooray for agility. I know no matter what, even in my darkest hour, I know I will never be the least fashionable one out there. And I thank you for that.

Slow Summer

The posting has definitely slowed down around here, mainly because I/we’ve been moderately busy in non-dog activities, but also because on the dog front things have just kind of been cruising. I decided to skip trialing in July and August—with the exception of one local beach-climate trial—to both give a break and just flat out avoid putting ourselves into any sort of heat-related melt down situations. Plus, the budget could use a bit of a break too. I guess I should say the funds are still being spent, just diverted to less um, enjoyable areas (ie. other people’s wedding gifts, wedding travel, car maintenance, etc.).

After next week we also wont have any group classes until September as Laurie hates the heat and the facility for Monday night has no AC. Oh well. That just means I’ll have to take a few privates and get on my own program of practicing before or after work. I have been doing some running box work at home in the patio which is going fine, but for some reason I have a hard time packing all the training crap in the car, driving somewhere to practice, and not being bothered by the weird stares I get. Insecurity Me.

We did have class on Monday night and again Forest did awesome. We did more of a skills class than full courses per usual, so all the dogs were inside the room with the equipment instead of outside. Forest was the only one in his crate as he was the only one with “issues” with other dogs. Other than one incident with a dog coming in and running right up to his crate, he actually did really well in the situation, and had really relaxed by the end. He also is impressing me with his ability to fail and reboot. We are doing so much better in that department, thank you Laurie. We practiced weaves which he did well with, even on some tougher entries, though he still likes me to be nearby. We definitely need some coaching in the driving-thru-weaves independently department. He also hit the A frame at a 100 miles an hour and screamed down the backside, which ended up scaring him a bit but I really tried to praise the hell out of him for it. He is getting fast and it is fun!

As I mentioned in my last post, he also has really changed his personality over the last month or two. He has really relaxed a lot in general, and is becoming more lovey and cuddly. This morning he would not get off my lap and just wanted to love on me. This is totally not normal. I’d say I am worried about him feeling “off” or something, but I feel like its been fairly gradual so I will just keep an eye on him. Having Pierre come in really reorganized the entire dog dynamic in our household—seemingly with Forest for teh better and Diego for the worse.

Diego sort of seems to be coming back to earth. For a while he was a nightmare—marking on everything, being just generally annoying, and he even went after Forest a second time (a la the Palm Springs incident) last week. Not rad. But, I’ve been trying to give him fair attention, and not set us up for that situation, and he seems to be coming back around. Fingers crossed he stays on the happier side of things.

On a completely unrelated note, I just took the dogs to the dog park for lunch. On the way out I saw a Yorkie in a little pink outfit–with a pinch collar on. Seriously? Seriously. This dog could not have weighed 8 pounds soaking wet and it has a pinch collar on? Gross…

Oh, and the weather has regressed to June Gloom… Again. Lame.

Summer, Finally

Its finally hot. Mid-July and all I guess. But its about time. The heat slows down the dogs, which in my book is a good thing.


Diego snoozing, happy to be cuddling on the couch on his very own custom bunnies quilt (thanks Pete’s mom!).

Last night I waited to take the dogs down to the cove until it was almost dark—I figured it’d be cooler by then and we could wear them out with some swimming. Neither of them particularly dig swimming, but I force them to do it anyways, especially Forest. I figure what better way to simultaneously cool him off and wear him out? Diego is so cute when he swims, he looks like a little water mammal, snuffing and snorting and using his tail as a rudder. Forest tears away as soon as he is out of the water (still on his long line of course), up to the dry sand so he can do faceplants and mash as much sand as possible into every orifice on his head. How on earth that is a worthwhile endeavor, I am not clear. But, to each his own. He then violently shakes off, and then does it again. Everyone got multiple towel-dries and a warm bath last night.

It was really pretty last night—in that weird only-in-the-Summer kinda midWesty high humid clouds way. Good sunset, good light.

I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning, I have no idea why. I laid in bed for a while, finally got up at 5:30. I think it was my obsession keeping me up, the thought of a puppy. No, no, no no no. Not soon. Not soon at all. But in the sorta foreseeable future. Like a year or two. I have been obsessing and thinking and researching. It still might be too early, and I truly don’t know housing-wise where we will end up in the next few years. We cant be squatters forever unfortunately, and we cant really go home to San Diego now as we are both working up here in OC. Bleh. Plus, our mortgage is a lot, and collectively we are not making a lot, and I just don’t know. I can’t sell our condo. Well I can, maybe even should, but the thought pains me dramatically. It is the perfect little old lady house and I will just die if I have to sell it. I want it to be my Last Stop place. Very handicapped and old person friendly. Small, flat, and previously inhabited by both old ladies and blind children. However, not-so-friendly for dogs of more than two in quantity or over thirty pounds in weight. At least according to “The Rulez”. Stupid HOA.

But the puppy. I have a breed in mind and have reached out to the most local breeder—aka the only one in Southern California—listed on the American Breed Club list. Problem is I have to go and obsess on a fairly rare… Whoa… wait, what? Backpedal a second… Yeah, I am thinking about purchasing a puppy. Icky. I said I’d Nah-He-Ever Do THAT. Don’t hate me. I said thinking. From a good, reputable, certified health-testing, small scale well-rounded performance and show dog breeder. And I will be thinking long and hard. And dreaming, and internetting, and waking up too early.


I heart this dog. Even when he steals Diego’s brand new toy. Note the Ikea carpet hairs all over him…

Problem is I actually do want a Forest 2.0. Another shocker I know–I am full of ’em today! And, unless I get into breeding designer dogs, that’s not really an option. And I knooow I’ll never get Forest 2.0, even if I clone his DNA. But, I want to get close. At least in size and type and athletic ability and energy level and sorta maybe a bit personality-wise.He seems to have blossomed in the last month or so into this amazing, lovely, most-special-thing of a dog. Which I have always known was there, and I have no doubts we will backslide, but he is just so, so awesome.

Another agility dog, that I can start from scratch. Just one. But that my friends, may change as my many flitting mindy thoughts often do. Lets check back in a year.

Happy Weekend.

Unagility Trials

I learned a lot over the last week or so, most of it not having to do with dogs or agility…

– I learned that some parents will never stop parenting, even when their children are well into middle age. And that at some point, middle-aged kid has to say “enough”.
– I learned that Forest really, really likes lamb, especially when it is baited at the end of the dog walk for him to run to. “Super Speed Dog Walk”- brought to you by Lamb Chunks!
– I learned (again) that I am lucky to have a very down to earth family and sisters, and that our micro-dramas are nothing more than micro and silly.
– I learned that other people really do have a penchant for drama, even though they are 30 (or 40, or beyond). And that maybe that’s something you never really grow out of. Unfortunately.
– I learned that a cat can hiss and not actually be upset (assuming that a hiss while also being in a completely relaxed posture, no struggling, teeth or claws bared, means he’s just testing the waters or working for effect)
– I learned that some people think its okay/normal to take their 6 pound Chihuahua shopping in public stores, wandering unleashed and unsupervised, all over town without concern of the dog’s location or actions (Pete and I both separately encountered this women in 2 different places around town. We think she’s incredibly arrogant or incredibly stupid, we don’t know which.)
– I learned that Charlie Bear treats in excess are not good for two dogs whose owner has decided recently switch them over to an almost all protein–almost zero carb diet (sorry guys!).
– I learned that sometimes in life, you just gotta throw in the towel and walk away. Relationships are important, especially long-standing ones, but you gotta look out for your own sanity first. If its not working for you, its probably not working for anyone.
– I confirmed that regardless of what happens when I am there, I really, really, really am enamored with Palm Springs. My heart does flip flops when I drive around town there and I catch myself repeating over and over “I love it here I love it here I love it here I love it here…”. I have a desert problem.
– I learned that eggs left to boil on the stove in my favorite vintage enamel pot for an hour will actually explode once all the water is gone. And they smell like burnt hair. Charming.

Class tonight.

Of Dry Heat and Dog Bites

We were planning on holing up and hunkering down at our place for the long weekend. We knew the family would be invading (which is what happens when you squat in a communally owned house) and that it would be chaotic with the dogs and children and fireworks and general mayhem that goes on here this time of year. My side-biz partner mentioned last week that his wife had got a place out in Palm Springs that was big and a total steal and asked if we wanted to come along, dogs and all. Pete is less-than-a-fan of Palm Springs for the most part, but he quickly jumped on board and we were on, back out to the desert!

That was one of the better decisions we’ve made in a while. Not only did we miss out on fire crackers, potato guns and D-bag boyfriends at our place, but we enjoyed a big, fully-fenced yard, a salt water pool, and the vintage Palm Springs cool factor that makes my heart flutter. Plus, I knew we’d be less likely to be subjected to mass fireworks drama—Diego HATES fireworks. We just layed around in the pool, played with dogs, drank cocktails and made food at home, watched fireworks from the driveway (with Diego melatonined-up, securely crated and adult contemporary blasting along with the AC). We walked around the neighborhoods and lusted over all the ranch houses, napped, read a bit. My biz partner is like my second husband/annoying brother, which is good in that its almost like hanging out with a family member. Minimal obligations or drama. Except for Maddie.

Maddie is a small mixed breed, she looks like a black beagle. She gets along fine with our dogs, she really is of their ilk. Shelter dog, various issues, but leaves them alone. However, she absolutely runs the show in her house. As in, jumps on the dinner table, sleeps on the pillow, gets cookies for every little thing. (In contrast, we are “mean” for crating our dogs.) She will snarl or snap while sitting in her people’s lap. I’ve never really been afraid of her, I dont think she knows what to do with me. However, after a few mimosas I for some reason felt the need to push her buttons. I started roughhousing with her like I do with my dogs—she turned around a nailed me three times within one second on my right arm and hand. No breaking of the skin (miraculously), but I have a wicked bruise on my arm. Nasty. She is a little bitch but I also learned my lesson. There was no reason for me to harass her, the devil made me do it. In some ways I think it was good for them to actually see her do that, maybe it will motivate them to action. Or not. They’ve made a few half-hearted attempts to get her into training, but they never stick with it. Hopefully chomping me is as far as she gets down that road…

Then, strangely, as Forest and I were growly-facing and playing together this morning on the carpet (shag!) Diego came over and inserted himself into the fray, playing with us. Just like we always do. Then next thing I know, he’s bitten Forest in the face—and this was nasty, not a play bite. Again, no blood or wounds, but that one actually shocked me way more than getting bit by Maddie. Diego was swiftly and quietly removed to his crate, and Forest was no worse for the wear other than being a bit of a baby about it (he cant help it, he’s the baby of the family).

So, not sure if I am completely clueless when it comes to dog signals, or if there was bad ju ju at that house or what. Diego is a little weird—he has gotten way more growly over the last year or so. We kind of provoke him and usually the second we stop tickling or touching him he stops. And again today, he came into our space, seemingly with the intent to play, then unleashed on Forest. I have never seen him do that before, it was really weird. So, no more tolerance for growling, and no more provoking. Dog psychiatry anyone?

That aside though, we had a very relaxing weekend. No class this week, and I actually get/have to turn around and head back out to Palm Springs again for a bachelorette party obligation next week. Joy, oh joy. And I mean “obligation”… That one can wait until next week for an explanation.

Happy back to work…