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.