Training The Baby Dog – The Chronicles of River

under_constructionNot having a dog to run in agility has been a test of patience. It has been 5 months since Merlin started rehabbing his knees and River is still too young to do a lot of the training that needs to be addressed eventually.

River has been 19″ tall since June (11 months old) so last month I decided to take her for X-rays to check her growth plates. She was just over 14 months old at the time the images were shot. The vet we normally see took the X-rays and gave me the all clear that her plates had closed. Inside my head I let out a quiet “woohoo!” which was quickly followed up with “are they really closed?” I emailed them over to Dr. Woodside for a second opinion and while they are almost closed they’re in fact still open. I guess the small hole in her tibia wasn’t all that obvious. I really love our vet, but the important take away here is to work with a specialist when dealing with your k9 athletes. Having someone that understands exactly what the dogs put themselves through with any sport is paramount. I don’t want to imagine the possible damage that could have been caused from starting to ramp up her training with plates still open.

As she turns 15 months with her growth plates still open I’m pretty sure this is part of a larger conspiracy of the agility gods. Running a jumpers sequences with bars set to 12″ with what appears to be a fully grown BC who is full of piss and vinegar has forced me way out of my comfort zone. My attention to our training has shifted to areas I may not have focused on nearly as much if her growth plates were already closed.


Video: Unleashing the beast on a jumpers sequence.

The Twitch Effect – Going slower to go faster.
Improving my movements has probably been my largest area of focus, and a lot of it I’ve worked on without having a dog present. If the neighbors are watching I’m quite sure they’re wondering “WTF is he doing out there?!?”

Handling River is much different than handling Merlin. The boy is in need of constant cheer leading and exciting movements. The girl wants to go as fast as possible all of the time. The extra twitchy movements just confuse the daylights out of River and nothing good comes of it for either of us. We’re still learning each other’s timings, but I can consciously feel my cues and motion being more precise and direct. I’m excited to see how Merlin responds to this whenever we are able to get him back up and running. I was been able to guest handle a few dogs at a recent trial and none of them had any issues reading my motion. I hadn’t run a full course in five months and it feels like I’m headed in the right direction. I’m conscious of when I revert back to “Twitch Mode” which is a big mental victory. Being able to run a full course at a trial has tempered my “need” to get either of the BC’s out running before they’re ready. Thank you Steve, Dave and Lori Sue.

Commitment Issues
Early on it was very apparent even with my speed, there would be no outrunning the Little Bits on a course. Consequently we have spent a considerable amount of time working obstacle commitment. I’m really happy where we are at this point in time. The speed bump jump heights have really forced my hand of cueing the obstacle and getting out of there as quickly as possible.

Impulse Control – The Start Line Unlocks The Game
Merlin has a number of confidence and stress issues. Start lines can shut him down as he starts to overthink what is about to happen. With River the game has become the reward and from early on the game didn’t start until she offered up a sit or a down on her own without me cueing it. In the beginning this meant we would spend our entire time in class waiting for the behavior to be offered. I needed her in an exciting environment and this became class time well spent. This has developed into a single hand single that send her between my legs to get her placed where I want her and right into a down position. With as amped as she gets, I smile every time she patiently waits with excitement for the game to begin. The little firecracker has some impulse control. We continue to proof this on a daily basis.

Understanding Your Most Valuable Commodity – Time
I’ve set goals for Team River. We’ve got a number of short term goals to work towards as well as some specific medium and long term goals. I work two jobs and over the last year and a half I’ve seen more doctors than any individual should have to see during their life time. I never see the wifey as much as I’d like to and free time for training becomes a very precious commodity.

We work multiple skills at once to maximize what we can fit in. A simple game of fetch is transformed to combine start line proofing, blind crosses on the flat and recalling to heel. You can get very creative with what else you can work while focusing on a specific skill. I try to remain aware of what we need to focus on and what we actually have time to work on.

I’m very excited to see where all of the work we’re putting in now away from equipment gets us when we start working on weaves, contacts and raising the jump heights. For now we’ll continue to launch out of puppy cannons and fly around sequences with short jumps all while smiling and enjoying the moments of a young dog learning and loving the game.

Happy Training!
-Tony


Bonus Video: Running Flyer USDAA Masters Standard

I’m Not Okay. I Will Be.

It’s a wonderful problem to have so many people in your life that are concerned for your health that it actually becomes exhausting to talk about it. I figure now is as good as time as any to give an update since I finally have some clear understanding of what my body has been going through. It started with my hip, then my shoulder and now my eyesight. The joys of being a Type 1 Diabetic.

18 months ago I started experiencing right hip pain. My mobility and strength in the leg started to suffer. Normal activities started to present challenges. Simple things like sitting cross legged were no longer possible. The pain would very from day to day ranging from 6 to 8 on a scale of 10. Driving more than 20 minutes was awful.

16 months ago I started experiencing left shoulder and bicep pain. Lifting anything up over my head was very difficult. The pain would bounce around to different locations throughout the shoulder and sleeping more than a hour or two a night was impossible. The pain, while inconsistent in its location, was always an 8 or 9 on a scale of 10. Simple tasks like putting on pants were anything but simple.

On June 25th, I started experiencing vision loss in my right eye. If I closed my left eye the entire world was a blur. Anything 8-10′ or further away from me was in focus. Anything closer than that distance was foggy and hindered by black spot. The closer the object the more difficult it was to see . My right eye was hemorrhaging…

Since all of this started back in 2013 I’ve seen more Doctors, Therapists & Specialists over the course of 18 months than most people will see in their lifetime. Five MRI’s, a few ultrasounds and countless x-rays never produced answers for the hip or the shoulder. The positive was no major damage was showing up. The negative was that everyone seemed to be at a loss as to the cause of the pain. A few friends wondered when I would be calling Dr. House. The only pain relief I was able to get was from cortisol injections. I have had 3 different injections since 2013, the last of which was given in May of this year for my shoulder. The issue was finally diagnosed correctly as Diabetic Frozen Shoulder. The injections would cause my blood sugars to elevate and take on a mind of their own for 2-3 months, but I would be able to actually get some sleep and and much needed recovery. Since I can remember I’ve always had what is considered an abnormally high tolerance for pain. From an early age I was told by Doctors that if I though about something more than 2 or 3 times, that it was time to get it looked at. The shoulder pain was beyond anything I had experienced before. The lack of sleep was destroying my body and my mind.

With the blood sugars bouncing around from injections trying to help fix my hip and shoulder, my Hemoglobin A1c tests had risen to 8.1 – 8.6%. A result of under 7% is preferred for Diabetics. A non-diabetic should have a range of 4% – 5.6%. The elevated and inconsistent sugars have resulted in my now compromised vision in my right eye. The difference in what my eyes physically looked like before the steroid injections and after is insane. You can find information on what my eye is going though by looking up Diabetic Retinopathy. Basically the vessels in the eye have started hemorrhaging. The “fix” is to have lasers shot in my eye to stop current bleeding and prevent further bleeding. It involves multiple treatments and there is no guarantee that my vision will ever return to normal. Over the last month the migraines have started to lessen (a product of having one eye in focus and one eye out of focus) and while I don’t necessarily think my vision has really improved I have started adapting. There are two more surgeries scheduled in August. I am hoping to have more answers as to recovery after those visits.

Lately it feels like my life has been taken over by the medical issues all stemming from Type 1. The hip and shoulder were likely minor injuries that most people would have healed easily from. For me it took me down this crazy medical three ring circus which while trying to fix certain issues ended up breaking something else. It ended with multiple specialists having said you’re on your own or we cut you open and my vision being compromised. Pain had become my identity and it wasn’t only physical. A day didn’t go by that I didn’t think about how much of a burden I was to the people closest to me. The harder I tried to get things under control, the worse it felt like things were getting. The only child in me started taking over and instead of asking for help I was internalizing everything. I had hit a point of feeling lost with who I was.

Ten days ago without even thinking about it, I sat down on the floor cross-legged. This one simple movement, one that I haven’t been able to do since this all started, cleared my head and let me know that it would be okay. Even if life wouldn’t be what I was used to I will make it work. I refuse to let this crap take over my life any more than it already has. I have always been a very visual person and to have that aspect of my life compromised is awful. It’s a crappy set of cards to be dealt, but I am thankful that I am still able to see. Now it’s a matter of assuming that the right eye wont get better and figuring out how to adapt. As far as the hip and shoulder go – I will keep working on getting physically stronger and eventually I will end up back doing what I love.

bruce_leeThe sun will rise and set no matter how you choose to live your life. There are way too many things out there to enjoy and it’s really hard to find that enjoyment when you’re angry at the world and feeling sorry for yourself. I will remove the useless and negative influences in my life. I will make it a point to not give a shit when someone says, “That sucks. I don’t know how you do that. I could never…” I am dealing with it because the alternative really sucks. It’s only as bad as we allow it to be. I will adapt and figure out how to continue to do the things I love. I will get stronger. I will be okay.

-Tony

Injuries, Adversity & Staying Positive

Over the last couple of months Merlin and I have had a great deal of growth and success as a team at trials. The game has been turning on for him. We still have some training opportunities to address, but he has a genuine excitement to be at trials now which is a far cry from where he was last year. I don’t find myself getting quite so exhausted ramping him up before and during our runs. No longer am I having to wait until the very last moment to signal collection in order to keep him driving towards the obstacle before we turn. My last second cues are now starting to send him out wide and I couldn’t be happier with his performances. We’ve worked very hard to keep it fun and exciting and that work it starting to show.

MC Jumpers 05-17-2015

MC Jumpers 05-17-2015

We had some absolutely phenomenal runs at our last USDAA trial, including a 1st place in Biathlon with quite possibly our best technical run ever. I was able to give him the information he needed sooner, and we weren’t experiencing a drop off in speed. We’ve typically done quite well with technical on its own or with wide open on its own, but when the two are combined we start to flatten out in the speed department. However, we were both running happy and the results showed it. We Q’d 6 of our 9 runs, all with first place finishes as well as wrapping up all of the needed qualifications for Cynosports.

The success of the weekend was an exclamation point for me mentally. Decisions that I made with our training were proving to be correct, even though they were scary as hell at the time. Voices in my head were being silenced. For whatever the reason, over our relatively short time learning and competing in agility the words “he can’t…” and “he wont be able to…” have been whispered behind my back on a few occasions (funny haha… it’s really interesting what audio can be picked up at trials when runs are being recorded). I have no idea why these opinions were shared, and to be completely honest there are times where I feel like an outsider in the sport. I didn’t come from a horse background. I didn’t have a BC from a big name breeder. I like running & sprinting my ass off on the course. Finally I’m a guy in a female dominated world. Perhaps it’s their own insecurities being spoken, but to an introvert it can be mentally crippling. When I started this adventure with Merlin I had zero training in agility. I had a dog, a dream and an open mind. In the end it really doesn’t matter what is said… now all it does is help to motivate me. These last couple of months have shown that we can and we will, and it has felt great.

The overwhelming sense of joy I had quickly came back down to Earth on the following Monday. When I had got home from work I could tell something wasn’t quite right with Merlin. It was just some subtle things that most folks wouldn’t pick up on, but when you have a sensitive dog you tend to be aware of everything they do that isn’t “normal”. This is where it’s extremely nice to be working with Dr. Woodside. I brought him into work and he got a nice little checkup. He appeared to be his normal self, with the exception that he was dragging his rear toes while walking and jogging. Decided to give Merlin some rest from agility and take him to our regular vet for x-rays to see what’s going on with his back, hips and knees. Hopefully the X-rays wouldn’t show anything and I’d now know what I had structurally.

"Hi. I'm sorry you don't understand how f'ng awesome I am!"

“Hi. I’m sorry you don’t understand how f’ng awesome I am!”

The X-ray appointment was scheduled for 30 minutes and I figured we’d be in and out pretty quickly since it should have only really needed the tech and assistants. Our regular Doctor, who has been nothing short of amazing for our animals, was not in the office that day and this trip reaffirmed my belief in going to specialists when it comes to the athlete and injuries. The standard couch potato house dog and the canine athlete are different animals and it seems a number of vets are not used to seeing fit dogs these days. Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a drive through service for x-ray referrals, and I’m pretty sure there were less hoops to jump through for any of my five MRIs. Instead we got the full clinical treatment with multiple diagnosis being tossed out at us to see what would stick. Ninety minutes later and I was finally out the door. My brain was fried and quite frankly I was pissed at the laundry list of problems that were given as possible reasons for his discomfort. I of all people know the struggle it can be to diagnose an injury in humans, let alone in the pups. I was appreciative of Doctor’s help in trying to figure out what was going on, but I don’t think I could have made it any more clear that I just wanted the x-rays shot. Life would be much easier if the animals could just hold up a sign.

Once Dr. Woodside was able to view the x-rays I had some answers as to what has been ailing Merlin…

Partially Torn Cranial Cruciate Ligaments. Yup… he managed tear both knees… at the same time. My little over achiever.

The next few minutes are a complete blank. We had just gotten done dealing with a multi-day Emergency Vet trip for one of our cats, and now this. I then started asking all sorts of questions I already knew the answers to. “So no agility?” “For how long?” “Can we go to Cynosports?” “What about swimming… it’s summer and he loves swimming…” At this point the devastation of reality set in. While this was not the news I wanted to hear, part of me knew that this could happen. We had been through a full tear of one CCL with our Ridgeback and looking back at that learning experience Merlin was starting to show similar symptoms.

FragileA few friends have asked me how did this happen and there really isn’t an easy answer. First off, I have no idea when the injuries happened. Considering how well he has been running, it either happened recently or he did an extremely good job of hiding his pain. He has lost three pounds (12% of his body weight) since his last checkup 4 months ago. He could have been compensating for some time and masked it very well. Single ruptures of the CCL are not all that uncommon. Tearing both at the same time is all sorts of special. Merlin didn’t exactly win the genetics lottery when it comes to his structure and that has most likely factored into the injury. He was also neutered at eight months, which I think played a larger role in this. Looking back at it I wish we would have had a vasectomy done instead of the castration.

While you never want to deal with an injury of any sorts, I am thankful for the positives that are in play. First and foremost, we caught it early and its not life threatening. The tears are hopefully minor enough that we can avoid surgery with proper rehabilitation and rest (which could be considered a BC’s death sentence) and eventually return to a normal life. Secondly, I can’t imagine trying to go through this with my previous work/employer. There are definitely some perks to working with a rehab vet when your pup is in need. We’ll get to experiment with a few new toys and see how it goes. I see weighted vest walks for both of us in the near future and as crazy as it sounds, I actually enjoy doing strength and stability exercises with the pups. Third, he is young. Merlin turns 4 on Saturday and the healing process should be much easier now than say at 9 or 10 years of age – Happy Birthday Buddy…

As this has all settled into my brain, I’ve spent time re-evaluating our goals. For now the dreams of his ADCH title he’s ever so close to (1 Standard & 1 Gamble), going to Cynosports and participating in World Team Tryouts are shelved. They have been replaced with getting him stronger and avoiding surgery. It is my hope that we’ll be able to return to playing the game we both enjoy, but I’m also aware that there is a chance that his body just wont allow for it. We won’t spend time worrying about things that are out of our control. Right now we are focused on his 8 weeks of crate rest, walks and stability exercises. We’ll re-evaluate and go from there. The hope is to start bringing him back into agility slowly after the 8 weeks. Mentally to get through this I need to believe that we will return. Thank you to everyone who has offered their support and kind words. We shall rebuild him bigger, faster and stronger.

“When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

Merlin enjoying the sunset at the Fox River

Merlin enjoying the sunset at the Fox River

Know your dog. Know yourself. Believe in both.

When you have a psychological test done (more on that another day) and you answer it honestly, it’s quite possible you’ll find a few things out about yourself you weren’t expecting. I scored in the 99th percentile for perseverance… in other words I don’t let difficulty or challenges stop me, to the point where I may need outside intervention. This came as a bit of a shock (that noise you just heard was my wife slapping me upside the head), because I had never seen this as a trait in myself. It would explain why I enjoy CrossFit so much and very much miss it.

The test results will also get you thinking… a lot. In regards to the pups it’s left me doing some deep dives on what I may or may not have done in Merlin’s training which has resulted in some of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type trial stress he exhibits. With River I wanted to make sure I wasn’t destined to repeat those mistakes.

When I tell most people that Merlin has stress and anxiety issues at trials, I get a look of shock which is usually followed up with a statement of disbelief. It has taken me awhile, but I have learned to take this reaction as a compliment. If he isn’t showing such outward signs of stress that completely shut him down, we’re doing things rights. It means we are progressing.

If I look back to my teenage years, one of the most exciting times I can remember was the acquisition of the driving permit / licence. The licence was new and full of wonderment and adventure. It represented freedom from the “evil” and “controlling” parents. It was an all access pass to seeing the world with windows rolled down and music blaring. Now some 20 years later it represents car payments, insurance payments, stop and go traffic, construction, road rage, accidents, finding a vehicle that can hold 2 dog crates… the list goes on and on. Some how we have managed to take an activity that we couldn’t get enough of in our youth and turned it into quite possibly some of the most stressful experiences we go through on a daily basis. The act of driving and its purpose changed, turning something joyous into something most of us rather not deal with and at times loathe. I’m pretty sure this is how Merlin feels at trials.

The Blue Eyed Yin: Merlin
When we brought Merlin home, I knew I wanted to do agility with him. I did the research and felt like I had set us both up for success. We had solid obedience work and he was a very outgoing little guy. He got his CGC at 6 months of age and we were now enrolled in “Agility Foundations”. Over the next couple of months we were both soaking in a lot of information. We were going to class once a week and at least four days out of the week we would work on stuff at home. At one point we skipped a class level as the instructor thought we had progressed passed that curriculum.

Yin YangWe continued our training and when he turned 16 months old we entered our first trial. It was an awful experience. We were signed up for a total of 6 runs for the day. We got to the trial site at 6:30am and didn’t finish until 8:30pm. The trial moved incredibly slow, had what seemed to be an extraordinary amount of complaining by grumpy old women and I was wondering what had I gotten myself into. Why would anyone subject themselves to this? Thankfully I kept with it and we experimented in a few different venues before finding our home in USDAA. Going to the different venues gave me a glimpse of how environmental stress was starting to effect Merlin. Three of our first trials involved either major thunderstorm or shotgun blasts going off fairly close by. It wasn’t until more recent events that I truly saw how strong our connection is. When I look back at all of the things I did wrong with Merlin it leaves me wondering how we even get through a course without him wanting to kill me.

As our relationship grew and we started to trial more, part of me was looking for validation that we were doing things right. Some people were talking about us, more specifically his breeder/breeding, and not in a very complimentary manner. Mentally a switch went off and these voices started getting to me. I started looking at the different classes and what was needed to get the different titles to move us up to the masters level courses as quickly as possible. Clearly getting titles on Merlin would be validation of all the hard work we had put in and silence those that complemented me to my face and talk trash behind my back.

Around this time, I had a lot of changes going on in all aspects of my life and found myself with a new instructor and a new way of handling that would change everything I thought I knew about agility. We reworked a lot of our foundations to fit into a completely different handling system and tried to turn our weaknesses into strengths which has resulted in a great team on course… when he’s not trapped in his own head. He enjoys the game, but he’s still unsure of himself at times. This is how we can go from melting down at a start line, to putting up beautiful runs on challenging courses all on the same day. The less he thinks about doing, the better we are connected and the faster he is. As we continue our training I focus on doing less and rewarding more often. It’s a very fine line of too little versus too much when it comes to Merlin. Having a driven little female in the house has been great for sibling rivalry.

Merlin is my soft, noise phobic, cuddly, loving, lower drive BC who wants to do everything 100% right and will sacrifice speed to do so. He will take naps with the wife and he will alert me when my sugars are out of whack. I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world.

The Naughty Spotted Yang: River
When we brought River home last year, it was quite possibly the worst possible time to do so. Diesel was still recovering both physically and mentally from his ACL surgery. Tucker, our 13 year old, was starting to feel the aches and pains of old age more often and I knew her days were numbered. I had lost my job and was looking at changing careers since retail was sucking the life out of me. Were we really driving out to New York to get a puppy? Yes… Yes we were.

Yin YangRiver’s first 7 months with us have been very different than any other dog I’ve owned. She is by far and away the most driven dog that has been under our roof. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes I had made with Merlin, and our training went in a different direction. She has had the least amount of “rules” and I often refer to her as a feral dog in need of training. At some point we’ll figure out that whole walking on leash thing. She has also been the youngest of our dogs to figure out what relaxing is.

We did one “Puppy Class” that I think left most of the other owners in a state of shock – I guess they had never seen a BC “smiling” and growling while tugging on her leash after successfully leaving treats on the floor. We were using the class for distraction training and politely excused ourselves from group play activities to focus on attention and preventing her from getting injured as most of the class was 2-3 months older. We were on the anti-socialization program if you would. We were doing more relationship building games, body awareness work and playing while allowing her to figure things out on her own. We didn’t enroll in any agility classes, instead we opted for taking a series of foundation seminars that are run about every 6 weeks.

River is an independent little bitch who is very biddable. She is over the top in everything she does and I don’t think she’s had a bad day in her life. She’s developing into a very sound little girl that has very little fear, a whole lot of recovery and a tremendous amount of speed. Merlin and Diesel can both attest to the fact that she will wear you down with her cuteness and perseverance, and then swipe the toy they had out from under their noses. She loves to work and I have to be careful to stop well before she’s ready to. She’s very hungry to play games and much like a teenager learning to drive, she always wants to be out there – it is my responsibility to always leave her wanting more. There hasn’t been a day since we got her that she hasn’t made me smile and laugh at least once.

The Human Factor
I’ve tried to avoid making the same mistakes with River as I did with Merlin, but in a brief moment of clarity I realized that it is impossible to do that. They are very different dogs both mentally and physically. The boy who must do everything right and the girl who will do everything and see if any of it was right. Additionally the dynamics of the house are very different. The experiences that I’ve been through are also very different. The “support staff’ I have in my life is much stronger. With all of these variables I may make similar mistakes, but they will never be the same mistakes.

Merlin and River are walking on different paths and different timelines to achieve similar goals. Events and experiences in our lives are always changing and each dog will respond differently. River does have an advantage over Merlin, and that is the confidence I now have in myself. I am no longer seeking validation at the expense of myself or my dogs. I know where I want to go. I have a plan to get there, and I know I belong there.

As she gets older and starts to train more and eventually trial, we will enjoy what we do every time we go out. We will stay in the Starters class as long as is needed to make sure we are ready for the next step. Then we’ll sit in Advanced as long as it takes to make sure we are ready for Masters. I have goals for both Merlin and River. Those goals have some very different and difficult challenges, which in the end will make the journey all that much better.

In the grand scheme of things we are not on this planet very long, and our dogs are here even less. At the end of the day the titles are great and the “Q’s” are nice, but it’s the journey that I will always keep with me. Merlin and River have shown me it is going to be quite the ride. I believe in my dogs and more importantly I believe in myself. You have to. If you don’t, why should anyone else?

I will. Just Wtach Me.

The Good The Bad & The Ugly (USDAA NC Regional Recap)

Over the last seven days, Merlin and I have done more agility training and trialing than we’ve probably done in the last seven weeks. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend CSA’s Spring Camp which featured John Nys and Dudley Fontaine. The courses that we worked during the seminar didn’t leave me with any “How the ef am I going to handle this sequence?!?” moments which left me feeling pretty confident where our handling had gotten to as a team. I was able to get some wonderful insight on handling a low drive, nervous dog. We figured out some new games to play to keep Merlin excited and happy at the start of our runs, which made the seminars very well worth it. John covered a bit more of driving hard to the next obstacle, while Dudley focused on figuring out the fastest line of the course. It was a wonderful combo that really drove home some great information and I look forward to working with both John and Dudley in the future. Neither looked to re-do anyone’s style of handling and this was a great primer for the USDAA North Central Regional the following weekend.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in reverse order… who really wants to end on the ugly?

#NCRegional2015 The Ugly (Merlin The Broken Collie)
The majority of Saturday was a very emotional and frustrating day. We had some very nice team runs on Friday. Merlin was confident and flying off the start line as though he had something to prove. Later in the night I found out that one of our team members needed a Q for cynosports – no big deal, we were all running great. If Friday was our Yin, Saturday morning was our Yang. Merlin had decided that start lines were stupid and broke all three of our morning runs. He popped out of the weaves, which he’s been rock solid on since getting his first rib put back into place. Some how he managed to skip a set of poles and correct himself so he exited the correct pole. I missed the pop and that resulted in an E for team jumpers… CRAP! After our first run the majority of his back and pelvis was hot to the touch. We ran Fancy Jumpers next and he was moving slow and pokey. So slow that I was focused on his movements looking for signs of injury and forget where the hell I was supposed to be going for the course.

I got Merlin back to the crating area and started checking him out. His range of motion was lacking in the shoulders. His back was hot and bouncing up and down as soon as you touched it. The ribs were nearly as bad as the back. I got him over to Dr. Lisa and we gave him a good going over. He had been adjusted earlier in the week, and on Saturday it was as though he had never seen a doctor before in his life. Lisa got him to settle back down the best she could, but I now needed to figure out what the rest of the weekend would hold for us. Was he hurt and this was causing the stress and inflammation, or was he stressed out which then triggered the inflammation? Dammit Merlin, hold up a sign. I pulled him from Grand Prix, but really didn’t want to pull him from Team Snooker as it would mean certain doom for our chances at getting the Q our teammate needed. Lisa didn’t think it would be an issue, and I could come up with a plan that didn’t involve a lot of hard turns on his body or a start line stay…

We got through snooker and he was definitely running better. He was able to run in extension with no issue and ended up missing a weave entry since I was out of position. What the hell… lets go play some Steeplechase.

#NCRegional2015 The Bad (Questions With No Easy Answer)
Merlin has been running great over the last two months, so I was absolutely baffled as to what happened on Saturday. It once again left me questioning if I should be running him in preferred versus championship. Is it the a-frame that is causing his stress and flare ups, or is it just the environmental stress of trials that is causing his inflammation.

One thing is for certain, he does not enjoy start line stays in the least at trials. Keeping a connection with him when he’s in a stay versus when we sling shot the start is a night and day difference. For the foreseeable future, I don’t see us using a start line stay. I want to build his confidence out on course, and not shut him down. Those first 5-9 obstacles it takes us to regain a connection just isn’t worth the lead out. We’ll continue to work on it, but for now speed and drive is more important to me than a dog that can hold a stay at the line and be stressed.

High hits and managing of the A-Frame have been an issue for us for a few months now. They will have spells of being really good, or being really bad. He managed to miss an A-Frame while doing a 2o2o this weekend which cost us some points in Team Gamblers. He shot right past the contact zone and then rocked back. This gives us something to work on.

#NCRegional2015 The Good (Who was that dog?!?)
After everything we had been through on Saturday, we still had Steeplechase to run. The course had nice flow to it and I didn’t think it would do any harm to run him. You can check out the course map below. I had decided before walking that I would not hold him to a start line stay. We would sling shot the start and make the 60′ straight line sprint to the tunnel work one way or another. I ended up blind crossing between jump 2 and 3 which left him hot on my heels. At this point something magical happened. He was moving around the course at a speed I had never seen out of him. Anything that happened earlier in the day was clearly not in his head. Any inflammation that was present sure wasn’t slowing him down. He was a free spirit on course. We had connected immediately after the blind and kept that connection the entire run. He finished 9th out of 89 dogs in a very competitive 22″ class. This was quite possibly the best run we had ever had in a trial environment. I saw the dog I knew was hiding behind his mental and physical issues.

We were now headed to the Steeplechase Finals on Sunday. The course was a let it all hang out sprint, with the only real sticking point being a bitch of a weave entry. Once again we took a sling shot approach to the start line and off we went. Everything was going great until he had a high hit on the first A-Frame. I knew the fault would take us out of contention, but we kept pushing. He nailed the weave entry like a champ and the crowd started cheering louder. Merlin was feeding off of it and I found myself once again with a BC on my ass during a blind cross. I hope that someday my shoulder mobility will return were I can reach back a little easier. We finished off the course in 27.82, a full 2 seconds under the qualifying cut off time. I was beyond thrilled and didn’t give a shit that he missed the A-Frame. After everything he had done this week, the stress he showed physically and mentally, and now running in a finals with more people watching us than ever before… he was running, nipping at my heels and feeding off the crowd cheering us on. My boy was happy. I was ecstatic.

It really ended up being a pretty special weekend. I hadn’t planned on running much more than Biathlon, Grand Prix and Steeplechase yet I found myself on a team with Judy Riley and Mary Lou Hanlon aka “The East Coast Hotshots”. They are both very skilled handlers with some amazing dogs, and our team Batsh*t Crazy Fantasia ended up finishing 8th overall. It was very exciting and a privilege to be running with them. The three of us quickly became friends and had a wonderful time. Judy we are are very thankful for your extra loud cheering during the Steeplechase finals. I still think next time the team name should be “One Working Pancreas”.

Time to take a bit of a break, set some new training goals and work on some of our weaknesses to turn them into strengths.

Steeplechase Round 1 [Video] [Course Map]
Steeplechase Finals [Video] [Course Map]

Drive It Like You Stole It (Running Sequences With River)

River is nearly 9 months old and this past weekend we had some time to work short jump sequences with the bars on the ground in a 50′ x 60′ area. We had another handler out with their 5 month old puppy working on the other side of the ring. It was a great way for both of us to test our focus with the pups. River and I had done some work with two jumps and a tunnel, but the majority of our playing had been with just one jump. We kicked it up a notch and went with four jumps and a tunnel, giving us 6 to 7 obstacles to run in sequence. Thank you one jump foundation work…

Merlin had to deal with me having high expectations and wanting him to be perfect. He had to deal with my upbringing as the son of an Army 1st Lieutenant / Accountant – where things were either right or they were wrong. There was very little grey area when it came to dealing with my father. There was a spreadsheet for everything and diabetics don’t get cookies. Thankfully Merlin’s a very forgiving boy, and we continue to work on fixing my mistakes.

River is a very different dog and thankfully I’ve grown as a trainer. I can only imagine the disaster that would be our house if Merlin wasn’t here first. From an agility perspective we took a much different approach to our foundations. One jump work became her love, and we celebrated everything. Daddy’s little girl could do no wrong. Sorry Merlin, it sucks being the first one.

While playing with different sequences we worked for a total of maybe 3 minutes over the course of 15 minutes. She was absolutely brilliant. While working she had zero interest in the other puppy and it was all about running with me. She was reliably sending to jumps (fronts and backsides) from 12′ away and from all sorts of different angles. The more we played, the happier she was. Our foundation work had paid off.

More Please!

More Please!

It became very clear to me that I had done such a good job reinforcing her jump work that she only knows one speed when it comes to playing the game – OVERDRIVE! She has figured out how to work and keep focused on me while amped up out of her skull. Without realizing it I had been sprinting with her the entire time, which left me hands on knees exhausted by the end of it. I felt slow and out of shape. It’s a feeling I can’t stand and will need to adjust my own workout programming to keep up with her – who would have guessed that?!?

I couldn’t be happier with the way we are progressing as a team. As I change my approach with handling River, it helps me make better adjustments to my training with Merlin. They will never run the same way, and I’m ok with that. When I push Merlin too hard for speed, bars tend to fall or off courses are taken – our connection gets lost. He doesn’t enjoy the extra push. River seems to thrive off going as fast as f’ng possible all of the f’ng time. Running her reminds me of watching chase scenes out of movies like Transporter, Fast & The Furious, Days of Thunder & Gone In 60 Seconds. It’s pedal to the metal and you better hang on to the oh shit handle.

As I continue to focus on making clear motion based cues I know I will make mistakes along the way, but she can do no wrong and will reap the glory of the tug, cookies and hugs as a reward. My mental focus & physical conditioning are both going to need some extra training to keep up with her. Each session we work will push me, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The Dog Is Always Right

i-m-so-alpha-my-beta-cells-stopped-functioning-white_designOne would think after dealing with Type 1 Diabetes for 28 years, that there wouldn’t be too many surprises left to give you a “how the hell didn’t I see that” moment. At times no matter how hard you try to manage Type 1, it will get the best of you. This past Saturday I had one of those moments.

Merlin and  I headed out to the Contact Sports Agility USDAA trial and we were both very excited. Recently he had gone through some applied kinesiology chiropractic treatments, which is a different methods of doing adjustments than we had tried before. The results have been great.  Over the last month he has been moving wonderfully and our teamwork has really started to click. Less and less I was wondering which of the many faces of Merlin I would see at the start line and I was more confident in my plan of attack for the course.

We followed our typical morning routine of a trial by getting up at the crack of dawn. Testing my sugar and calibrating my Dexcom Platinum CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor for my non diabetic folk). I was at 78 and the CGM said 74. Couldn’t ask for a better match. On a typical day I will calibrate the CGM 3-4 times to make sure it’s getting the correct readings. In the 7 months I’ve been using the CGM, the most it has every been off was 20 points. The venue for the trial was a 90 minute drive and once we got there I did another blood draw and calibration. This time it came back 145 vs 160. Still a very normal range for me after breakfast.

csa_gamblers_judy_reillyRoughly 30 minutes later we had our first run of the day… Gamblers, which has been our nemesis ever since changing almost all of our training & handling nearly 2 years ago. The course itself was not easy. The opening was a very wide open setup & there were some well hidden traps. The closing looked deceptively easy… it wasn’t, but it was something we could definitely handle. He ran the course perfectly, with the exception of my motion sending him off to the chute instead of completing a back to back a-frame. This isn’t something we get to practice very often, so I wasn’t surprised. He ran the closing like a champ and we got our Gamblers Q. I was feeling good. He was happy and confident.

Judy Reilly, who is also a T1D, has graciously allowed my to share her Gamblers course. On paper and even at first glance while walking, it doesn’t appear to be that difficult of a gamble… sound the alarm. A number of teams got caught short of time in the open and then had a difficult time setting up a smooth transition into jump 1, which you could either wrap or rear-cross. We ended up going with the rear-cross as my motion forward pushed him through it setting up 2 to 3 very nicely. Some teams got stuck in the Bermuda Triangle that was the jump – tunnel – jump. The dogs didn’t see the tunnel for whatever reason coming out of 2, and when the handlers motion was stopped at the gamble line, the dogs were almost spinning in circles looking for the tunnel. The fourth jump had a surprising number of knocks. Handlers that ran away from the jump while calling their dog didn’t seem to have any issue with it. Those that stood in place calling their dog  over seeming had more issues. These are the types of courses I absolutely love. Those tiny surprises on course that show up even when you think you’ve noticed every possible off course. I was rather surprised that no one I watched started on the dog walk side to setup the weaves. Some folks went for the chute to weaves and the large dogs with their big strides struggled to hit the entry.

Fast forward a hour to our Standard run. I checked my monitor before we started warming up and I was at 163. We got to the start line and I could see it was a different dog than at the start of gamblers. During the run, he was a loose cannon. Contacts were no longer needed, off courses to contacts instead of tunnels?!?! Ears pinned back. The boy was stressed and I had no idea why. I was starting to feel as though my sugar was a little out of sorts, but the CGM said I was in range. It’s a feeling that is difficult to describe, and I’m sure each Diabetic has a different sensation. For me it’s as though the muscles in my body feel warm and swollen while my skin is compressing down on them from all directions. It’s not pleasant and it’s a creeper that all of the sudden hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s also a feeling that you become accustomed to after dealing with it for so many years. Partially because of age, and partially getting so used to trying to push through highs or lows at work, or school or at an event. Striving to be ‘normal’ can make you ignore what your body is telling you and then those signals get lessened as it becomes part of the routine.

We had a bit of time before our MC Standard run so I took Merlin and River out to play, did some basic trick work and some massage to try to set him at ease. I ate my lunch, did my insulin and got ready for our next run.  The same dog that was there for Standard was at the start line for MC Standard. We got through the first 10 obstacles without much trouble, but he was stressed. So stressed that he bailed on the dog walk near the top of the down ramp. He blew off his a-frame contact and we walked off course, something we have only done once before.  Our day was done, something wasn’t right and I didn’t want to risk him getting hurt. His head clearly wasn’t on the game.

I still had the high blood sugar feeling and I checked the CGM again and it was right at 160. Started packing stuff up and grabbed the tester from the car. Another blood draw and the tester reads 438… WTF?!?! I looked at the monitor. 163. Do another blood draw and it comes back 441. Something went terribly wrong. Outside the fact that the monitor basically was giving me false readings since mid-morning, the insulin I did do seemed to have no response and I had been ignoring the signs my body was giving me. I quickly realized that I was Merlin’s stress.  He has alerted me in his own way a few times before I started using a CGM when my sugar were dropping. He’s woken me up in the middle of the night when my sugar has been low or high. We’ve done no formal training for this, he’s just very in tune with me and my diabetes. I ignored the signs and I trusted technology. I didn’t listen to myself when I was feeling a little off. I sat in the parking lot waiting for my sugar to return to a normal level thinking I had let my boy down. The distractions of the trial aside, this stupid f’ng disease had gotten the best of me.

Needless to say Saturday was a learning experience in so many ways. Going forward my approach to management on trial days is going to need some fine tuning. It was a stark reminder that sometimes we just need to slow down and listen to what the ‘verse is trying to tell us. As always, “Mr. Honest” Merlin was right. We just need to work on his method of alerting.

Out of all of this, I did finally come up with some direction for this site. Throw Diabetes, Health, Wellness and Dog Training into a blender and that’s what you’ve got. We all have our struggles in life and I’m hoping that some of my adventures can help inspire others. So much of what we do and what we do with our dogs as athletes goes well beyond what we think is possible.