Friday, March 26, 2010

The Utter Frustration of Training

I am keeping a pretty busy schedule for myself, outside of work.  Prior to owning Ghilley, my training night was Thursday at 9pm.  Occasionally I would try to get to obedience class on Tuesday nights but had pretty much given that up in the face of work.

Getting Ghilley (and losing Duff) have helped to re-prioritize things.

I now find myself scrambling to leave work "early" (not really but early compared to those that live at work) on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays.

Tuesday night is conformation class night where I am working to perfect Ghilley and my ring-readiness towards getting her breed championship.

Thursday night is agility class where beginner's for Ghilley is at 7pm (Robbie's class is at 9pm still).

Wednesday night is kind of a bonus thing for me.  I go to Dogs in the Ring ( to have a private training session for Ghilley with Dee Lulik (

Dee is our agility instructor on Thursday nights.  I have referred to her before.  She is much more than that too.  She is also a coach to her students and, often, a confidante and counselor on dog-related and other matters.  It is pretty amazing all the different queries and issues she manages.

Well, the purpose of my blog post today is with respect to my private session this past Wednesday night.

We did not have a lesson on March 17th due to Dee already being in Louisville for a 4-day cluster of shows and my journeying down there for it.

Once at the trial, I found myself running Robbie in agility and then managing to show Ghilley in conformation.  It can be quite busy but I actually did not have too many conflicts that could not be managed.

I was concentrated on managing Ghilley's conformation ring manners as far as training goes so our work on other things such as targetting, sits, stays, etc. took a vacation for my time in Louisville.

Well, it showed in my lesson this past Wednesday night.  While Ghilley did really well, I know I was still tired from a Sunday drive home that brought me home at 8:30pm and am still (on Friday now) trying to get some extra sleep to eliminate the fatigue.

I was not at my best on Wednesday as far as patience goes.  Ghilley is good a sitting, but only if I am in front of her.  Trying to get her to sit on my left or my right is painful.

Years of training Duff and Robbie in obedience, first, has made me very capable of getting a heel-like sit on the left.  But I am completely mentally challenged to produce the same result on the right from a puppy who does not understand it.

Both Duff and Robbie knew sit and were good about cueing into a sit at my side.  Teaching the right side was not a big deal.

But Ghilley is a different matter.  I looked like a first-time dog owner trying to do it and I could see Dee struggle to be patient since she knows I am not new to this. 

Dee smiled at me as she calmly directed me to get Ghilley into position on my right.  We were not going to be able to manage the jump-tunnel-jump sequence without a sit at my side.  But I could see the pain in that smile and I felt pretty pathetic that I have a 9 month old puppy who is basically a knucklehead.  Kind of like having a 5 year old kid who is not potty trained, I think.

I talked about my lesson the next day with my friend Hope.  She asked if I see the training I have to do as a monumental task.  My response was "yes".  I am in training classes 3 days a week.  Two of those days, it is 8:30 or 9:00pm before I am home.  I need to spend time with Robbie (who comes along but does not train).  At some point I need to get back to a workout routine but am thinking of a 4:30am wakup call for that end of things.  I am also tired at the end of the day before work is stressful with what appears to be a constant steady state of financial reporting insanity.

Hope's advice is simple, break it down to 2-3 minutes in little bits everyday and end it there.  I keep thinking of 30 minutes or an hour here or there and find myself overwhelmed.  This is not new.  Dee has mentioned similar quick bursts.  But I keep harkening back to the way I used to train my boys.

So, here is to the quick bursts of things to, eventually, get little Ghilley to a point where she will concentrate a little more on the task at hand, figure things out and have fun while doing it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Better Living through Chemistry

That was certainly a motto I repeated when I worked for a pharmaceutical company more than a decade ago..."better living through chemistry."

Since then I have probably joined a few skeptics in wondering sometimes about pharmaceutical drugs.  Frankly, if possible, I would rather find an alternative, if possible, than taking something.  That does not make me a proponent of homeopathics, which are not tested for efficacy at all.

But, I would rather find some way through diet or lifestyle change to manage things.  However, not everything falls neatly in place like that.

Take, for example, my dog Robbie.  Last June (2009) my vet did a series of tests on him for a full heart workup.  He had blood tests, chest x-rays, EKG and blood pressure tests.

The result?  Well, just about everything checked out with one noteable exception.  The exception was his chest x-ray.  It showed an enlarged heart.  His heart was taking about about 3 1/2 rib spaces on the x-ray where it should be about 2 1/2 rib spaces.

It means he has mild cardiomyopathy.  His heart muscle is compromised and is not working efficiently.

Since it is a mild form, Robbie's vet recommended visiting a cardiologist and getting a cardiac ultrasound to see what was going on.

We did that and the result was about a 5% degredation in the heart muscle contractions.  He also showed a slight regurgitation in both valves on a cycle of the blood through the heart.

The prognosis, in 2009, was that Robbie did not have severe enough heart disease to warrant heart medication but rather address it through dietary means.

So, since late June 2009, Robbie has been taking VetriScience Cardio Strength supplements to boost his taurine and carnitine levels.

The cardiologist also provided me with furosemide (brand name "Lasix") to use if I ever detected a cough from Robbie when he was agitated.

I was given all of 12 pills of furosemide and until last week, had about 8 of them left.

Robbie started to really have some coughing spells, mainly when I got home from work.

We went to visit his vet this past Saturday and updated his chest x-ray.

The new x-ray shows that his heart has enlarged a bit more (now almost 4 rib spaces) and has tilted a little.

We are due to visit the cardiologist again to update his ultrasound to see what is going on.

Again, nothing can still be detected as abnormal through listening with a stethoscope and his vet did emphasize that while his condition is worsening, it is not alarming.

Our next steps are to medicate Robbie with furosemide three days a week and see how that goes.

So, for now, it is better living through chemistry.  I pray to God that I can have my "Little Man" for a few years yet.  He is a very special part of my life.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Getting Back to Business

Most of my friends and family can tell you that I successfully lost about 34 lbs. last year.  I measured it from mid-to-late April to about mid-September.

Since then, progress has been slow or non-existent.

Two major things hit me in the fall of 2009 that contributed to the slow down.  I had the unexpected, but wonderful, addition of Ghilley to my household.

Added to that was a very demanding budget season at work.  Yes, work is always stressful but seemed to be more so with some of the newer personnel we had in some positions (outside of my group).

I decided, then, that I would just hold steady and not sweat trying to lose anymore but concentrate on not gaining either.

My regular workouts, though, started to wane with the pressure of work, a puppy and my oldest dog, MacDuff, who seemed off somehow.

Things did cruise along okay for a couple months.

Then, what has really turned out to be a devastating blow to me occurred.  I was suddenly faced with the reality that I was going to lose my 14-year old dog, MacDuff.  I knew before I went to see my vet on Dec. 11th that whatever was going on with him was very bad.  I did not know, then, that I would have to make my choice in 2 days following that visit, however.

I have been through a blog post on losing my superstar already.

What I have not posted on is how deeply it has affected me.  Oh, I have cried, but not in big sobbing tears as I have seen from others.

Instead, it seems to be a slow burning sense of loss that does not want to shake loose.

People often talk about their "heart dog".  I know I struggled to understand what that was when I first heard it.  I know I talked to my friend, Hope, about it and we figured we did not really have one.  We love all of our dogs, one is not more special than the other.

But now I wonder.  Duff is my standard in comparing dogs.  I do not mean that I measure my dogs against him in a way of downgrading Robbie and Ghilley.  But he is an anchor point for me.  Like Ghilley, Duff was a very confident puppy.  Some things she does remind me of him.  But, Ghilley is a bit more cautious.  She is also more sociable.  Duff was a social butterfly but he was so sure of himself that he would puff himself up like a big dog when meeting other dogs, almost challenging them.  Ghilley is a bouncing little bundle of fur that just wants to play.

Ghilley is starting out in agility training.  I will build a foundation with her that will be stronger than that built with either Duff or Robbie.  But I have been told to expect her to be somewhere in between Duff & Robbie in her approach to things.

I am cool with that but I will honestly write that I want my superstar.  MacDuff was a superstar.  I have not seen many Border Terriers with his enthusiasm and speed in agility, similar to a Parson Russell Terrier.

I mistakenly held Robbie to Duff's agility standard.  It was unfair to both of us.  I will not do that to Ghilley.

I do not miss the tension that existed in my household, at times, with Robbie.  It was not a constant stress as others may have with dogs who have tangled before.  However, the potential for locking horns was always present when some outside influence (e.g., another dog, vacuum cleaner, etc.) was around.  Anything that heightened the arousal level could set them off.  More often then not, I stopped them with a verbal command before they made eye contact.

Robbie is a nervous guy.  I wish he was a little more laid back but he is not.  Ghilley, however, takes his nervousness in stride, she pretty much ignores it.  Either that or she tries to engage him in play.

When I move around in the kitchen, I sometimes have Ghilley with me, hanging out to the side.  But, often, she is wrestling with Robbie in the adjoining room.

Duff was almost always my constant sentry and companion.  I typically did not need to look for him.  He was always at my side.  We shared the same temper, it seems.  I have a firecracker temper and so did he.  If I was stressed out, he would share that.

I miss pressing my nose into his broad topskull.  He had the most wonderful smelling head.  Robbie has a smokey smell.  Ghilley sometimes is spicey-smelling.  Duff smelled like that comfortable blanket you wanted to curl up with.  Trust me, you can ask my family and friends, they all loved what they called the "Duff smell".

I have kind of plodded through the past couple months, attending training with Ghilley but only going through the motions.  I have also fallen back into bad habits of stress eating and drinking more than 1 Coke Classic a day.

I am feeling the fire come back into my head to train again.  I keep a daily log of my training with Ghilley now.  She will benefit from the patience I now have in using positive reinforcement and clicker training.  Robbie was my guinea-pig with that.

I also feel the fire to get back to tracking my calorie intake again.  I have remained with Weight Watchers the entire time, but the past two months have been spent watching (and tracking) a small weight increase.  Time to get back at it and aim for my goal of a 60-lb. weight reduction.  I will get there.  I want it enough.

I needed to acknowledge, however, that as much as I may not have outwardly shown it, I hurt for the loss of my superstar.  He meant so much to me and I feel his absence at every agility trial right now.

I will journey on and enjoy myself with my new pack, Robbie & Ghilley.  They are a terrific pair together and with me.  I love them dearly.

I loved Duff too.  Miss you buddy.  Yeah, I felt your presence that afternoon on December 14th.  I know you are with Grandpa (my beloved dad).

courtesy of Great Dane