Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trial Report.

Today is not a good day to have a blog.

There are good aspects to having a blog; it forces me to think though things as I write posts, it connects me with other people and their suggestions, it encourages other people in their own training, it lets me report to several friends at once on our progress. But there are bad aspects to having a blog, too, like reporting bad news. It's awful enough to live through it, worse to report it to friends, and worse still to have to tell the people from other states or even other countries who have written or commented to wish success.

But I set myself up for this, so I can't blame anyone but myself.

The day was not a total loss, actually. Tracking went decently; Laev started correctly and, though she got excited and overshot each corner by a body length, she self-corrected and showed a deep nose. Parts of the track the judge even called "excellent." Too bad she failed to stop at the first article. (Where did that come from all of a sudden?) So she finished with a score of 80, which isn't going to knock anyone's socks off but was at least mostly respectable, considering she lost a lump 10 points by missing the article.

Shakespeare struggled considerably more at both corners and wobbled, also missing the first article. (Note to self -- leather articles no good today!) However, he finished the track and squeaked by with a score of 71 to earn his Tracking 1 title. (The judge was even kind enough to specify later over lunch that it was earned and not a gift.) That surprised and pleased me. Not bad for a dog I suspect has a handicap! I collected my skipped articles and left tracking feeling fairly happy.

Laev had showed very nice focus prior to the track and good self-control in starting the track, so I was anticipating a good obedience session. During the 45-minute drive from tracking to the club field, I listened to music. By the time I arrived, I was even singing along a bit, having conquered most of my nerves and compartmentalized the stressful stuff from earlier in the week. (I had an upsetting event this week, which hurt and challenged me personally.) I was feeling pretty confident and mostly competent.

I don't know what the temperature or wind chill really was, but it was COLD. Less wind than predicted, which was good, but colder too, I think. We were cold even with our multi-layered winter gear. Still, less wind and no rain was good for obedience. And I liked the judge, who was easy to show to and didn't give me trial jitters like I get with Laev.

BH dogs went first, and there were two. (Someone else came after all!) Alena and Valenzia did better than anticipated, given that Alena had only 10 days notice of the trial and Valenzia had done almost no outdoor work previously. They did not pass, but I was happy for them with their overall showing.

Us next! We had an honor dog working the other half of Laev's flight, as we were the only Schutzhund entry. Laev and I got to the field first -- I really thought the other dog was right behind us! -- and had to wait for the second dog. I had Laev sit while we waited. Then the second dog came and we checked in, Laev offleash and the honor dog on a long line, as approved by the judge. She asked if I wanted to do the down or heelwork first, and I looked at Laev shivering hard and said that we'd work first, to warm her up. Seemed reasonable.

I took her to the start line and sat in basic position, ready to begin. But the honor dog had to get across the field and start his down, which took a couple of minutes. Laev had been fidgety during the waiting but then had focused well for reporting in, and I thought that I didn't want to burn out her focus while waiting again. So I downed her and stepped to one side, so she didn't have to wait all keyed up.

This would have been fine during normal training. But this wasn't normal training, was it? There were strange people on the field, a different atmosphere in general, and we'd already waited in limbo before reporting in. Laev was slightly off-kilter and not quite certain of what we were doing. When I stepped back into heel position beside her, ready to begin, she didn't look up at me as she ALWAYS does.*

(* Almost always, except in times of stress. The last time she missed my stepping back as a cue to focus was during a seminar where I was in conflict, and Laev just checked out. Hey, I wasn't focused on her, either. But it's a distinct sign of disconnect.)

Now, a SMART handler would have not only noticed that the dog was not in tune, but done something about it. I could have stepped away and stepped back again. I could have said her name and asked for a simple hand target to reset her before taking a new basic position. But nope, I noticed that she wasn't focused and I just said, "Heel," to pop her forward into the sit. Laev, her eyes across the field, didn't respond. So I cued again and got her, but now we were already out of sync.

I knew immediately I didn't have the same dog I'd left in the down. But I wasn't really sure what to do at that point, and normally heeling will bring Laev's brain back. So I started the pattern. She was a bit wide, and I didn't feel we were "dancing" as we should have been. The judge said in her critique that Laev looked happy and focused, and I don't want to argue with the judge, so I'll just say that I knew it wasn't nearly as good as it can be. Laev was definitely a bit stressed and not in sync.

Still, she was starting to settle in just as the gunshots were fired. They even caught me by surprise! as I was thinking about my dog. Laev didn't startle out of position, but I saw a small reaction in her. I think it was just the straw that broke her concentration. Mine, too; I had no idea where I was in counting steps, which ususally isn't a problem for me. I guessed at a location for our turn. Probably Laev sensed my uncertainty and it didn't reassure her, because a moment later she broke and bolted.

I shouted, but the judge waved me quiet. "Let her check for the toy," she advised. "She's just trying the vor aus early. You get three commands to call her back; don't waste them."

I knew Laev wasn't trying the vor aus; I haven't been sending her that far down the field. She was running to relieve stress. Stupid greyhound genes. She disappeared into the woods, where there were barking neighbor dogs and lots of squirrels.

#*&@$! squirrels.

Laev appeared again, moving at Mach 8 across the edge of the woods. I called. I don't know if she even heard me. She cleared a brush pile -- "She must have jumped 13 feet!" gasped the judge -- and kept going. Out of sight.

I started to worry; Laev has never run that far from me, ever. I made my final call, and she didn't reappear. "Go and get her," said the judge.

I walked toward the end of the field, but there was no sign of Laev. I was getting more worried, now. I was also remembering the whistle I had in the car. I had considered tucking it into a pocket today, just in case -- okay, so I'm paranoid -- but Laev had been doing so well at staying right with me, ignoring the woods, etc. of late that I hadn't thought I'd need it.

It felt like eternity, though it was probably only about a minute before I sighted Laev galloping across the next field. She was moving really, really fast. Maybe, if I don't kill her, we can give up Schutzhund for lure coursing.

I called and she swerved to come to me. We heeled back to hear the brief critique. There wasn't much; the judge liked our early heeling (though I didn't) and then Laev was dismissed for being out of control.

That's it. No more chance to do obedience, no chance to do protection. Epic fail.

On some pathetic level, it was almost nice to see my club's disappointment. Several told me that they had expected Laev to do well; one said that after the morning's track he thought, "Obedience, and then it's in the bag." It was nice to see that they had really expected success.

But then, I feel like we failed not only ourselves, but our club, the judge who flew out for us, my friends who wanted us to succeed, and everyone who read the blog and wished us well, publicly or privately.

And, hindsight being 20/20, of course I can see where I could have done better as a handler. I mean, on at least three occasions this week I carefully explained how movement and simple, successful behaviors can manage and dispell stress safely. Laev was already focused on me when we reported in; I should have done some heel movements and targeting to keep her occupied, moving, and successful while the honor dog went to the down. Then I wouldn't have added stress by changing the routine ("why are we waiting again?") and compounded it by freezing her in place with a down, denying any relief through movement.

The bigger part, of course, is that I did not train for limbo. We've never practiced waiting on the field for the judge to get a pen or the other dog to down or someone to find a missing dumbbell or who knows what. Laev is used to coming on the field, focusing, and working. When I needed her to wait yet again, I required something other than that which I'd trained. So we're going to add dead time into our routine.

I was very disappointed. People were largely sympathetic -- heck, we've all failed sometime, right? -- until it came out that I was writing an article for Then a few comments shifted tone, which frustrated me. I mean, if we had passed, would it have been said that we did so only because I was a clicker trainer? Then why should it be said that we failed because of that?

Yes, it's obvious I have a problem. And I'll work on it. Someone asked me what I planned to do, and I answered, "I plan to think about it when I'm sober." Because, really, the initial burst of disappointment and frustration is not the best time to make decisions. (I did think, during that moment that Laev was gone, that if I just walked off the field and disappeared, being nowhere in sight when she returned, I would probably prevent leaving me for a long time. But of course I couldn't do that in the trial....)

We worked dogs after lunch in preparation for tomorrow's helper seminar. Laev garnered compliments on her bitework, but when the helper slipped the sleeve near the edge of the field -- I didn't know he would do that -- she ran with the sleeve. She did return, and she was never out of sight, but it's a disturbing trend. (Of course, she'd had HUGE reinforcement for running earlier in the day. Relief of stress is a very powerful negative reinforcer.) We put a long line on her and I worked on recalls after the sleeve is slipped, and she was returning to me even unprompted by the end of the session and in her second session as well. I don't kid myself that it's fixed, however.

Her obedience was shot to pieces during the helper sessions, too. Because the focus was on training helpers, not training dogs, the guest helper working her was talking frequently to observers instead of focusing wholly on Laev and me. He also just does some things differently than I prefer to do. What this meant, however, is that bad behavior was getting inadvertently rewarded. I told Laev to down while he was talking, for example, and then before she did he turned and agitated. So the next time I told Laev to down, she hesitated, eyes on helper. Then I was chided for not having a good down and strong corrections. I know I can get proper obedience if the helper and I are working together, not separately; I need to be hard-nosed about that tomorrow during the seminar. We agree that the bite is the ultimate reward for the dog; we disagree in that I say it must be earned though behavior performed entirely by the dog without handler help. (I'm not blaming the helpers; their job wasn't to focus on us at that time. I was clearer in telling helpers to wait during the second session and Laev's downs got more stable again.)

"There's no crying in Schutzhund!" someone told me today, but I really wanted to cry. (I need stress relief, too!) After stuff this week and now with failing our attempt at the 1, I feel like a huge loser and something of a poser. I mean, I'm supposed to be a professional trainer, and I can't pass the lowest level of titling? And we lose it in obedience?! It's tough, too, when someone says before the trial, "I'm not worried, you and Laev are both so good!" -- that's a lot of pressure, y'know? And then when we do fail, and we're supposed to be so good... yeah. I don't think I like being a novice and yet not a novice. And one with a label, too.

But mostly, I don't like failing.

It's not right; I shouldn't be so disappointed about Laev when Shakespeare earned a new title today. Yes, I expected Laev to pass and Shakespeare to fail, but this is the same 50% success ratio, right? And now I've got 4-5 months to train and polish, right? (No trials anywhere before that, I checked.)

And then, at home, Laev came to me and poked me with her long nose, wagging her tail and looking faintly worried. I was obviously upset -- not angry, just upset. She licked my face tentatively, which is pretty unusual; she's not a kisser.

And I remembered that I'd written to someone just a couple of days ago, "Your dog doesn't know he's failed a trial unless you tell him." Laev didn't know what today meant to me; Laev didn't know why I was upset hours later. So I knelt and snuggled and wished I were more balanced as a person.

Really, it's a dog sport. That's all. Some people were joking today, "Schutzhund isn't life or death -- it's much more important than that!" but that's not true. I have a friend whose brother is in the ICU fighting for his life; Laev's score doesn't matter to them. Laev's score doesn't affect whether I'll eat or pay the mortgage, or whether my husband loves me, or where I'll spend eternity. Sure, there's a permanent ugly mark in her scorebook, but really, it's one day in a long and happy relationship with my dog.

I still intend to improve our performance. I'm still not happy. But I'm trying to get over myself.

Shakespeare's Nose

I realized I'd forgotten to mention something in my last post....

I was talking with Alena today, and we think that my previous supposition -- that perhaps Shakespeare really had suffered some loss to his sense of smell in his head injury -- might be valid. Alena has always said that Shakespeare got much ruder around food after the accident, pushing his nose closer to something a human was holding or sniffing at counters more often. "Did it knock the manners out of you?" she would demand of him. That would make sense if he used to sniff and identify a tidbit from a distance and now had to get closer. And Shakespeare does get excited about tracking -- he's eager to start -- but he definitely worries and frets on the track, and he "falls off" the track much more easily than Laev. He will check a corner several times before settling on the right direction.

So, I don't know if there's a test to measure scent ability, and it's probably not worth testing, anyway. I don't know where scent-processing sits in the brain, but Alena points out that even if it wasn't at the site of impact, there could have been damage with a ricochet effect, just as in human head injuries.

I could be totally wrong on this, of course. It's just guessing re observation. But it wouldn't be impossible, I guess. If it is true, I'd feel pretty bad; I volunteered Shakespeare to do a track instead of an obedience routine because I thought it would be easier on him than repeated jumping and climbing for retrieves. It's a good thing that the stress he displays while working out the track doesn't seem to affect his willingness to start; he's always happy to go to the scent pad.

(Though Shakespeare is semi-retired -- he does only Rally and CDSP obedience at present -- we needed another dog to make minimum entries in our club trial, due to other teams pulling.)

It's clear that, no matter what else, he does have some sense of smell and enjoys working, even if it harder for him. He likes finding articles and anticipates the treats for that. :)

The weather forecast has definitely improved; no more freezing rain! Instead, they are predicting a mostly cloudy day without precipitation, which is much better. There's supposed to be a lot of wind, though, with a wind chill of about 11 in the morning and working up to lower 20s by afternoon. Brr! That wind across open Indiana plain is going to make the long down pretty brutal.... Severe weather warnings have been issued regarding windstorms on Sunday. At least we aren't competing in that!

Laura's Final Thought
What I know, and what I want to get on record before tomorrow, at least for myself: I know that Laev is capable of doing each and every thing I'm going to ask from her tomorrow. We may or may not get all of it; the wind is certainly going to make some parts harder, and sometimes she -- or I -- can have an off day. But I do know that she knows each exercise and each part of it. We hope to get it all together on the same day while the judge is watching. :)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dress Rehearsal.

I took the dogs out for one final practice.... Shakespeare's track had an ugly section where he seemed to lost the straight line, and then he did okay. Indicated both articles, even did corners. I'd really helped him on the first corner, laying strategic treats in the footprints, but the second he did largely on his own. That was more impressive because I'd been distracted while laying (by a couple turning their young dog loose in the park!) and hadn't given a lot of help in the track or on the line.

Laev, on the other hand, did an ugly track. I'd laid a TON of food, trying to do a last minute reminder that slow, focused tracks were good! but she tracked right over most of it. Struggled on the first corner after a long leg because she was going fast, then settled down and worked the zig-zags in a semi-decent fashion. The shocker, though, was that she skipped both articles until I stopped her! Laev's article indication has typically been very good. I'm calling that an obligatory dress rehearsal failure, because otherwise I'd be stressing big time.

Then we went to do obedience. Man, I love this dog, even to almost forgiving her article mistakes. She tried so hard for me today. It was cold -- in the twenties, with pretty steady 15 mph wind, according to the weather. I don't know what the wind chill was, but I can tell you, it was cold! I left Laev in a down to practice the honor, and when I returned, one side of her face was decorated with snowflakes, while the other was black and Doberman-like. She was shivering, so we played tug to reward and warm up. Then we practiced our obedience routine.

She was not quite as dazzling in her heelwork as I know she can be, but it looked good enough. The awesome part, though, came during the retrieves. I sent her over the wall and waited -- I always wait nervously, I hate not being able to see my dog -- for her to come back over it. Instead, I saw her appear to the left of the wall, having picked up the dumbbell and returned to one side. Before I could even react, however, she froze, glanced up at the wall, and then BACKED UP and leapt at the wall! I didn't think she'd have the angle or momentum to make it, but she came over it with the dumbbell!

I didn't wait for a sit-front, I just started cheering her good decision and reinforced right away. Turkey hearts, today. Raw turkey hearts. (I'd been stretching for long periods between reinforcements, so I wanted it to be good!)

Note: Raw turkey hearts in a bag in the pocket can make quite a mess if the bag happens to invert inside the pocket during heelwork. Note also: freshly defrosted raw turkey hearts are COLD when the blood and juice runs down the inside of one's coveralls and saturates one's jeans all the way to the ankle.

Anyway, Laev had a good time with the turkey hearts.

We have one final issue. I've been working really hard on dropping her, so that we didn't risk leaving the field during the sendaway in search of critters. The woods at the end of the field is just full of squirrels and rabbits! What I discovered today, though, is that Laev isn't expecting a long sendout, but hesitating in anticipation of the platz. I should be able to work through this easily enough, but not on less than a day's notice :) so I just sent her further down the field to a target. I hope she doesn't stop when she doesn't see the target tomorrow!

Still, I'd rather take the point loss for an early platz than the utter failure of her leaving the field, and she hasn't offered to do that again lately. So here's hoping....

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Grr. Angry. Our Tracking Is Mega Fail.

I am not happy.

Today was rainy, but I need the tracking practice, so when a private lesson was canceled, I took the dogs to a school field. It was by then both dark and rainy. The lights from the parking lot lit the field enough that I could see my footprints in the sodden grass, so I used starting flags only and laid two zig-zag tracks to practice corners. That's what both my dogs are having trouble with; Shakespeare worries, and Laev likes to run over them with enthusiastic speed.

Shakespeare went first. He started okay, and then he said the track just vanished. He could NOT find the next leg. I learned, too, that the footprints showed only from a particular angle, and I lost that leg, too. Never did find our second article. I finished with a very frustrated dog, which isn't good.

Laev went next, and she was wired. She dove onto her track and exploded. Within a couple of seconds she had obliterated her first leg by scrabbling over it, trying to drag down it, and I couldn't find the corner myself and I'd laid it. She kept swearing the second leg wasn't there. I was totally stumped.

Fortunately, I'd flagged the articles on her track, so I simply took to the first article and restarted. No real trouble from there, though she was still way too fast and frantic.

So I told my husband via phone that we'd just had the worst tracking session ever and were going to another field for another try. This time, I wasn't going to lose my track in the dark! I flagged every corner and along straigh legs. I flagged articles. I took Shakespeare out and tracked him.

Shakespeare's tracking really worries me. He's never been a fantastic tracker, but he always tries. Now, though, his corners are so very bad that I am seriously wondering if his head injury a few years back might have damaged his sense of smell. (I haven't done any competitive tracking with him since then.) He just seems so confused at corners, even easy ones. He'll check the options 2-3 times, and it's not just methodical, but he really looks worried about it.

But Shakespeare finished his track and I traded dogs. Laev started a bit better this time; I may have discovered a way to slow her frantic start. We'll see if it holds up. She tracked decently 'til the track ran through a mud slog (we'd had about an inch of rain so far, I think) and she REALLY didn't want the track to run through that muck! But it did, and so she did, though not prettily.

She ran over the first article but indicated when I prompted. Then she restarted, cornered, and ran over the second article. I prompted her again, annoyed, and she ignored it. Prompted, ignored. Prompted, Laev dragged past it. I went up to point out the article.

Heck, I couldn't find it, either. There was a flag on either side of the track and one in front, the way I usually mark my endings, but no article. I felt around, but found nothing. I downed her and checked to see if I'd made a mistake, if there were more flags further on, but I found nothing. Laev pulled away, scenting where I"d walked on, but it was just a mess and so I took her back to the car.

I got a flashlight from the emergency kit and went back. Twenty minutes later, I still hadn't found my article.

So I tracked twice, frustrated both dogs, screwed up both dogs, lost two articles, and came home in a foul mood. I can't believe that I've been working so hard on obedience and protection and we're going to fail tracking, losing our chance at a title first thing in the morning.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

"...Whether the Weather Will Let Us or Not...."

This isn't looking good.

I went out Friday morning to train and it was COLD. Seriously, my fingers had lost feeling inside my gloves before I made it from the car to the field. It was cold. Granted, those are my second-best gloves and not my warmest pair. But I don't have training mobility in my warmest pair, so that's how it is on the field.

Laev did her best and was okay for a while, but it wasn't long before she was shivering while she worked. Long downs in the snow just aren't likely this weekend, I'm afraid.

It isn't helping that Laev can't spend much time acclimating to the cold. I had been feeling bad about training in the cold, asking her to jump 39" and climb a 6' wall with cold muscles and frozen ground. That was before I learned that her recent escape ability is because she's leaping (not from the doghouse, but from the kennel floor) out the top, through the shade cover, and dropping over 8' to the frozen ground. So 39" doesn't sound so bad.

That means, however, that she's presently inside all the time except for short bathroom breaks, and so she isn't building up the cold resistance she'll need for a successful trial. So she's more sensitive to the cold AND she's going more and more stir-crazy with the change in exercise schedule.

Adding insult to injury, we're supposed to get a warm snap this week, according to weather predictions. The temperature will jump above freezing and rain, they tell us.

And then it will freeze again. Meaning we'll be tracking and working on ice.

And the current prediction for this Saturday is "wintry mix," which, for those who don't live in the midwest, means a lovely mixture of snow, rain, and sleet. All coming down together, making surfaces treacherous and bodies cold.

I'm hoping our judge has some understanding about the weather. Schutzhund trials don't get canceled except for lightning or other life-threatening conditions, but it's going to be very difficult for the dogs and handlers both, I suspect.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Schutzhund trial pressures

So, next week Laev is attempting her SchH 1. I am getting a bit worried about it; I felt much more confident a few weeks ago.

Last night's practice went better, though. I discovered that if I leave the country for a week, keep Laev in a crate for several days in a row, and then don't feed her for a day due to resuming normal schedules after pet-sitting schedules, then all that works together to give me awesome energetic focus during obedience. That's good.

However, not even all that kept Laev from making a brief detour during the sendaway to check for critters. Stupid Laev. She came back pretty quickly, but I do.not.want.her.leaving.the.field. Ever.

I know she comes by her insane off-the-charts predatory behavior honestly, that it's very strongly genetic, but that doesn't make it much easier to deal with.

We practiced a full protection routine, for both Laev and myself. (I always forget to disarm the bad guy after Laev apprehends him. Stupid handler. Thank goodness it's not real.) Most of it is decent, but we have rough places; Laev finds it hard to sit quietly at heel while the helper is called out of the blind and then heel with focus to set up for the guard/escape bite. She's wholly capable, has done it, but she's just excited. She also finds it hard to leave the guarding position and heel around for the side transport to the judge. And heeling away from the helper to set up for the courage test is more difficult as we get further and further away -- completely my fault, because I've only done that heeling stretch twice ever in practice.

To be fair to Laev, last night she was wired for sound and loaded for bear, after her week of forced inactivity and people deprivation. But she's going to be wired on trial day, too.

So in the next few days I need to rev Laev enough to sustain that awesome energy and focus through our full obedience routine (the phase in which I feel least confidence right now), yet calm her enough that she focuses properly on her tracking instead of racing along it (as she would prefer), and polish some bobbles in protection work (she does not like heeling away from the helper). No sweat. And of the two scheduled training sessions, one is opposite my facility's open house, which will occupy me all day.

I have stated that if Laev does well, I'll buy her a ham. I hope she remembers that.

Squirrels. Dumb squirrels.

(Warning -- this post may be offensive to lovers of small, furry, and exceptionally stupid rodents.)

I have lots of squirrels. I also have two Dobermans. This leads to hours of entertainment, of the variety the ancient Romans would have cheered in the arenas.

The Rottweiler likes the squirrels, too, but she just isn't in their league. She will watch them out the window and occasionally will amble toward one outside, but there's not a chance of her really endangering a squirrel.

The Dobermans, however, are another story. Our squirrel population is benefiting, one could suppose, from the systematic weeding out of those individuals who don't realize that Dobermans can JUMP.

Arrogance + stupidity = fail, in my yard. Coming to low branches to tease and taunt is not a good idea.

We have lots and lots and lots of trees, most of which are decades old (up to 100 years or so), so the squirrels have ample safety and lots of height if they choose. Most of the year they aren't a problem, but as winter sets in, the squirrels get more focused on collecting their food (a good thing) and hiding it (a good thing) and sometimes on hiding it in inaccessible-to-other-squirrels locations (not a good thing, as sometimes those areas are squirrel-free for a reason) and they forget about the dogs.

Today Shakespeare wanted out the bedroom door. I let him and Laev out, not taking any pains to be quiet about it; anyone in the area could have heard the door bang and my voice and the dogs jump out. But apparently the squirrels weren't listening, because less than a moment later Shakespeare proudly displayed his catch at the door. (I wasn't impressed enough to let him bring it inside.)

I don't know how he got that one; perhaps it was simply too dumb to head up the tree when he came out, perhaps it was distracted and missed his exit. A couple of weeks ago, however, I watched a squirrel get caught, and I have no excuse for the thing.

I'd opened the door to send Laev to her kennel. A squirrel was sitting between the door and her kennel, just a few feet from either, and it didn't run when the door first opened. It did run when Laev started toward the kennel. A darting squirrel shooting from nearly between her feet certainly caught her attention and she chased it to the nearest tree.

I didn't think the squirrel was going to make it; Laev is fast. But it shimmied up the tree trunk an inch or so before Laev, who did a flip as she careened past too fast to turn. Laev jumped at the trunk and shrieked at the squirrel.

"Okay, that was fun, let's go," I said. "Game's over."

Laev looked at me. But there's a squirrel in the tree!

"Come on. The squirrel's not coming down."

But -- squirrel!

Laev turned toward me, hesitated, and -- I am not making this up -- the squirrel fell out of the tree. Almost on her head.

So much for my credibility.

The squirrel hit the ground running, but not fast enough. And it didn't take advantage of any of the three trees immediately next to the tree it fell out of, but instead it ran across flat ground toward another cluster of trees behind the garage.

There is no squirrel alive which can outrun a Laev on the ground. The squirrel never reached the next tree.

But I have a hard time feeling sorry for a critter which didn't take first warning, clumsily fell out of its safe place, and didn't head for the next logical escape route. The way I see it, Laev just improved our squirrel breeding stock.

We've had lots of smart squirrels. At our previous house, the squirrels discovered they could run alongside the fence and drive the dogs insane, just 3" on the safe side of chain link. I'm sure that's what Shakespeare is taking vengeance for now. They also knew how to dine safely at the bird feeder, how to cross the yard without risking the dogs, etc. But this current population, well, I'm not so convinced of their cleverness.

More TDI Ridiculousness

Quick review:

1) Shakespeare was rejected by TDI because "he could be a risk if he encountered another dog on a visit." This rejection occurred despite the fact that Shakespeare regularly works around other dogs and has been the neutral dog for countless CGC and other tests, including TDI testing. So he's good enough to use for TDI testing, but not to make a TDI visit.

2) Laev was apparently also rejected by TDI. That's unconfirmed, but it has been months since I was told the review board had to meet for a special decision, and I've never heard back. Stated reason, in writing: I reported on her enrollment that she was "indifferent" toward other dogs. They wanted me to check "friendly." (Interestingly enough, the letter which told me she'd undergo review also instructed me to simply check "friendly" and return the form, which I did though I found it very odd. Still never heard anything back.)

Now, the latest update:
Though I've yet to receive an answer to my questions, I have received an invoice for the renewal of our TDI team registration. They want another check.

That's right. They cashed my check without accepting either of my dogs, and now they want me to pay for another year of non-acceptance.

I'm fully aware that blogging on this means we'll never be accepted (TDI is aware of my posts), but I'm growing more and more comfortable with that. I'm hearing from other people complaining that TDI personnel are often both disorganized and rude.

Quick rant.... TDI is reluctant to accept a dog focused on her handler and her tasks instead of seeking to greet any other dogs in the area -- isn't a therapy dog supposed to interact with patients instead of other therapy dogs? That should be a benefit, it seems. And a special review board for indifference? Indifference is not risky!

The sad thing is, I've now turned down several requests for visits. My friend Melissa is developing a program for a couple dozen facilities. We encourage them to use only tested dogs, to develop and keep a high-quality program, and yet now that means I bar myself from participation. Who loses here? Not me, not my dogs, not TDI (who cashed my check anyway). The kids lose. Something's wrong with this picture.

The Escape Artist

So last week I went on vacation. It was a great vacation -- 10 people (two full families with assorted attachments and hangers-on) on a cruise in the Caribbean. Very fun and relaxing, and I did definitely need a break.

I called our usual petsitter (whom I highly recommend) and also called in a friend to help supplement with extra visits, as our sitter was very busy over the holidays. The dogs and cats were to be visited twice a day.

I mentioned briefly that my husband had wondered if Laev had escaped her kennel once, a week or so before. He had put her in, he thought, and then left and returned home to find her at the gate to greet him. However, this was an isolated incident -- I even tested by leaving Laev for quite a while, and she stayed in. No other escapes, and she's in the kennel for at least a while almost daily. I wondered if perhaps Jon had been distracted while he kenneled her; he's been known to do such things with a book in his hand. :-) But just in case, I let the petsitter know and left an emergency recall whistle on the counter.

This whistle means one thing -- copious amounts of cream cheese to the dog who gets here promptly. I have it because originally, I used a whistle where Laev was too far to really hear my voice (she looked around for the source of the sound and then noticed me) and then I realized that it could be trained as a cue itself (duh!) and used by more than one person.

But, Laev has been in that kennel for almost three years with a perfect safety record. I figured it was a freak thing -- the door wasn't latched properly or something.

So, Sunday morning we flew out to the Caribbean. Sunday evening, I was spazzing out because of phone calls from my pet watching crew....

It seems Laev didn't wait long before making her move. Thank God I had left Melissa's number on my voice mail, because the person who found her -- after she had escaped both her kennel and our surrounding 5' fence -- was able to call her. Laev's collar tag reads "ALONE = LOST!" and I'm glad the family believed that instead of thinking that she was just a roamer.

So Laev went back in the kennel and promptly got out again. My poor pet-sitters blocked the gap under the front gate through which she left (Laev does not dig new holes, that I've ever seen, but we know that she will take advantage of holes made by others -- and she's lithe enough to use raccoon paths, etc.) and went over her kennel minutely. They reattached the sides to the floor where staples had worked loose, they rewired the sides themselves to reduce flexing between panels. Yet they'd find Laev outside the kennel (but still within our perimeter fence, at least). Once Laev was so happy to be running free that Amy had to use the whistle to get her back to the house. Good thing it was there!

So Laev's lifestyle got a lot more cramped; she stayed in the crate indoors except for brief potty breaks. This wasn't ideal by any means, but it was the safest option remaining. The dog is an eel, when it comes to body movement, and no one wanted to risk losing her again.

So Laev was just a bit... WIRED when we returned Sunday night. Fortunately, we had training scheduled for Monday night! I am very, very grateful to my excellent pet-sitters, who had to deal with such a stressful situation (above and beyond what they signed up for!).

Our best guess at the moment is that Laev is using her dog house as a launch point to go over the 7' kennel walls and then dropping 9' to the ground. (The kennel roof was destroyed in a storm this year.) We've moved the dog house, and we're looking into new kennel/roofing options. Sheesh! At least she's safe for now.