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!

Bonus Video: Running Flyer USDAA Masters Standard

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.