Friday, September 24, 2010

If He’s Not My Heart, Then He’s My Soul

Robbie at 6 months
Robbie at 11 years
 Robbie, officially know by the AKC as CH MACH Otterby Abercromby and Fetch CD RE NAP NJP XF. He is close to having the “MACH” read “MACH2” (hopefully in another few months). I also hope to add a “JE” after his name too for earthdog.

I often call him “Little Man” or “Roberto”. He is my ball-obsessed (definitely OCD) wonder boy.

He has a confidence issue, albeit tempered over time. His puppyhood was tough as I was still fairly inexperienced and as much as I tried to socialize him and help him through things, I probably made enough mistakes to undo everything.

I had a 3 ½ year old MacDuff who was a very confident dog and pretty easy as a puppy so Robbie was a very different experience for me.

Dog training and competition with Robbie was polar opposite from MacDuff. Duff was always game and eager for anything. Robbie was excited to work with me too, but often would shrink back or shut down on me, leaving me puzzled on what to do.

When I changed my agility training to train with Dee ( the differences in my dogs and my necessary training techniques was pointed out to me. Dee stated it very simply, “MacDuff is your cheerleader, bounding through a course. You need to be that for Robbie.”

My thought at the time, “Holy crap!” I was not as upbeat as MacDuff.  I am one of those "glass is half empty" people who really tries to pretend it is full.

I had convinced myself that Robbie and I would not be competing at the pinnacle of agility (obtaining a Master Agility Championship-MACH title). I threw the challenge out there that if my Little Man ever got his MACH, I would run his MACH lap wearing purple spandex (envisioning the purple spandex I had for at-home workouts).

Dee’s comment was “Look out, we’ll hold you to that.”

What proceeded to happen from that day forward is an experience that has forever cemented my relationship with Robbie.  We learned quite a bit together.  I learned to reach deep within myself to capture patience and use a soft approach with him in training.  I also had to sharpen my attention to detail with handling as Duff was game to take anything in front of him, but Robbie would make me be deliberate.

It was a long road to Robbie's 1st MACH.  But he did get it, in 2008 at a June trial in Indianapolis.  I wore purple spandex under my warmup pants where the pants could be modified into shorts.

I will honestly say that running that MACH lap around the ring in celebration with Robbie was pure joy.  He knew something good happened, I am sure it was emanating from the smile on my face.  I had a lot of fun running around the indoor soccer field, showing off my little man and his major accomplishment.

It was a lot of fun.  Since then, we have slowly chipped away toward attaining a 2nd MACH title and are fairly close to it.

We will get there, of that I am certain.  Robbie has shown himself to be one of the bravest little guys I know.  He does not face pressure from me to perform.  I enjoy stepping to the line with him and he rewards me with being a happy working and having fun.

One of our next goals is to try to get his Junior Earthdog title. Typically, this is something that can be attained with the raw instinct of the dog.  However, if you only expose a dog to simulated hunting twice a year, you have to figure that your success will be somewhat limited.

After years of just signing up for earthdog tests but not actually getting rats and practicing, I am known as a regular donor to the clubs but not a competitor.

Now that I have decided to actually practice, Robbie has learned the incorrect behavior in playing earthdog.  He races to the rats through the tunnel very quickly, but watches them silently.  He'll work them (bark, dig, whine) when the cover is lifted off and he can see me there.  Poor training & reinforcement from early on that I now have to break.

Labor Day weekend 2010 saw him come the closest to closing in on qualifying.

I have spent years playing this game (albeit with 1/2 a deck) but not succeeding. I publicly compared Robbie and myself to Charlie Brown trying to kick the football with Lucy always yanking it away.

Like Charlie Brown, we still try.  But unlike Charlie Brown, I know the feeling of kicking that football with Robbie.  He has his breed championship and his agility championship.  Neither was easy to get. We can nail earthdog too.

Robbie faced being the 2nd banana when I owned Duff.  He is now by stalwart standby as I have the vivacious little Ghilley to contend with.

Robbie has a mild form of cardio-myopathy with a slightly enlarged heart. He takes Lasix to clear congestion from his lungs 3 times a week due to an occasional cough.

He had an updated cardiac-ultrasound yesterday. I have to say I was concerned. I was hoping his condition had not worsened, though I know from a chest x-ray in the spring that his heart had grown a bit more.

I want my 11 year old little man around longer. He means the world to me. I love nothing more than to hold him close and he returns that feeling as he is very content to cuddle up.

The ultrasound came back well.  Robbie's heart has gotten a little bigger, but it has strengthened.

We are okay.

Good thing because while many would say Duff was my "heart dog", I can honestly say if he was, than Robbie is my soul.  He always reminds me to keep myself grounded with him.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Learning the Rules of "Go to Ground"

The Border Terrier clan was up in Roscoe, IL at earthdog tests for 3 days.

Earthdog was mixture of two things: (1) the progression of trying to get Robbie past some early mistakes in training it years ago and (2) the teaching of little Ghilley in learning the ropes.

Robbie (and Duff before him) were taught at the tests in a manner that was not conducive for them to work rats on their own. They were openly “encouraged” to work the rats with the cover off of the tunnel instead of having them figure it out and let the instinct kick in. Since both my boys are very good “companion event” competitors, they take direction very well. Consequently, they learned that the “deadly stare" was the way to go in hunting unless the cover was removed to prompt them to bark. Trouble is, in AKC earthdog, they need to bark, whine or dig for 60 seconds.

Duff finally picked up one qualifier but, at age 12, it was so late for him in life that he could not finish it off if time. Squeezing his larger frame into an 8-inch tunnel got to be too much to get to the rats in 30 seconds. He would make it there, but it took 35 seconds.

Robbie has been getting closer but it is always a matter of confidence. He really relies on the encouragement that was, unknowingly, solidified in his early earthdog experience. He stared them down on Saturday. Then we played some games and practiced with tunnels & rats on Saturday evening. Good results. He ran in "intro to quarry" and worked the rats, passing that test but it is not a title qualifier. Time for junior's again...more staring and Mom is wanting to sacrifice a goat or anything else that will get him to work.

I actually found a GREAT analogy for earthdog with me I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football when Lucy keeps pulling the football away. Like Charlie Brown, I keep trying (and failing).

Monday comes, I work Ghilley first (as you can run your dogs in any order) to just geek him up some more. Robbie gets to the rats in 8 seconds (through a 30-foot tunnel with 3 90-degree turns). I wait. After 6 seconds he starts barking...hallelujah!....time passes, he stops barking. I know it has not been 60 seconds. They need to work 60 seconds. He worked for 35 seconds and then backed up 2 feet. Charlie Brown ALMOST kicked that football!

Ghilley ran "intro to quarry" on Saturday and passed. It took her 3 seconds to go the ten feet to the rats. Her issue last time was not understanding to go in the tunnel. Junior earthdog comes and after 10 feet, she comes back out and sniffs over the top to find the judge. A VERY common thing. Typically, once your dog passes "intro" (the pre-test), you want to stop doing that so that they know to traverse through a 30-foot tunnel in junior. I snatched her up to try for Sunday.

Sunday, no intro as I had Robbie take her spot (he passes it YEARS ago and then again Sunday). She went in the Junior tunnel and came back out. Fortunately, the earthdog judge, Duane, knows BTs and slammed a spade/shovel at her to discourage her, I redirected her into the tunnel and she went the distance to work but that was an NQ at that point.

Monday comes and Ghilley shoots in like a rocket. Like Robbie, it takes her 8 seconds to get to the rats. Unlike Robbie, she works right away. Everyone can hear her barking, yelling, growling. She is telling the rats all sorts of horrible things. She Q's!!! My first Q since Duff's 1st leg.

Unlike Duff, though, she is 15 months, not 12 years.

We plan to trek to Des Moines, IA in early November to give it a go before waiting until next spring.

I think she is abtly named "She's Got Game".